A FORMER steelworker has opened an authentic Jamaican restaurant and takeaway in Middlesbrough with help from the SSI Task Force.

Mark Hill, 38, from Redcar, has set up the business to bring the flavours and cooking techniques from Jamaica where Mark was born, all the way to Parliament Road in Middlesbrough.

The restaurant, which received funding through the Business Advice Start Up Fund, serves homemade Jamaican food that Mark cooks himself.

“I’m originally from Kingston in Jamaica, where the cooking skills and recipes are handed down by generations. I was very close to my grandmother, who taught me how to do it.

“At Irie Jerk, I want to give people an experience. We have just changed the menu, and spiced it up a bit, but I want to emphasise that it isn’t overly spicy. There’s something here for everyone to try.”

Working as a production operator at SSI, Mark was among the 2,200 people who lost their jobs in 2015, when SSI in Redcar closed its doors.

“It was a really hard time,” explained Mark, “this was supposed to be a career for life, and I had only worked there for four years.”

Mark explained that he had joined the British army when he was younger, and served a few tours, but needed to be medically discharged after being shot in the leg.

“After SSI, I was really fed up. I had already lost what I thought would be two life-long careers and thought to myself, why even bother getting a job if I’m just going to lose it again? That’s why I decided to set up my own business, so I could do something for myself.”

Mark heard about the Task Force through two of his friends who had gone into painting and decorating.

“They put me in touch with the Task Force. I received funding which really helped me get going, but it wasn’t just the financial support, they assisted me with my business plan, the lease, and all the receipts.

“For me, cooking is definitely the easy part,” laughed Mark, “I’m passionate and proud of my culture, so it gives me a buzz when people try Jamaican and Caribbean food for the first time and tell me they enjoy it, that’s what I love the most.”

Amanda Skelton, chair of the SSI Task Force, said: “Mark clearly has a passion for cooking and I’m pleased that the Task Force has been able to help him into a new career after SSI closed.

“So far we’ve helped over 260 new businesses start up, and money is still available to help people who are interested in doing something new. When SSI closed, many people took the first job that came along which in many cases meant a big cut in pay. We are offering targeted support to help people improve their circumstances by setting up in business or training for a better career.”

To find out more about Irie Jerk, please search for Irie Jerk Jamaican Takeaway on Facebook, or visit the restaurant at 104 Parliament Road, Middlesbrough.

For more information about the Task Force funds available, please visit the website at www.ssitaskforce.co.uk.