A dog groomer, crafts shop, wedding events company and a miniature models business are just some of the enterprises benefitting from accessing free support from Karbon Homes’ self-employment initiative.

Karbon’s aim is to support residents into work through employment or becoming self-employed and to develop their entrepreneurial skills. Following the success of its Brighter Futures programme, the SOLO project was launched last May to encourage even more residents into employment.

The initiative has already helped six residents to set up their own businesses with several more accessing free advice and support to explore the opportunities of becoming self-employed.

The project provides residents aged 16-65 years old living in Derwentside and Chester-le-Street with access to experienced advisors to help them develop their ideas into sustainable businesses by providing advice and support on business planning, market research, marketing and financial advice and access to small business grants and loans.

SOLO is a joint initiative between Karbon Homes and social enterprise company Social Enterprise Strategies (SES) and is funded by Prosper – a North-East based procurement consultancy.

Residents who are thinking about setting up their own businesses or those that are already established and are looking to grow were invited to a self-employment celebration event held at Karbons’ office in Stanley last week to discuss the project and speak to other residents and staff about their achievements.

Lisa Jefferson from New Kyo set up Lily Paws – a mobile dog grooming business three years ago and is currently accessing support and advice from the project about growing her business. She attended the event with Harry – a five-year-old Cocker Black Lab Cross to promote the work she does.

Lisa, 47 said, “The business is doing well but I wanted to speak to an experienced advisor to find out how to grow my business. I have received advice on marketing, social media, business planning and although it is a mobile business, I would eventually like to open up my own premises so I have been looking in to how I would go about doing this. There is so much to learn so it has been useful to speak to an experienced advisor.”

Rachael Stewart, 29 from Medomsley, Consett runs Diamond & Lace Events – providing chair covers and accessories for corporate events, weddings and parties. Now in her third year of trading, the business is really growing. She has already taken over 50 bookings this year and has bookings up to 2020.

Rachael is hoping to expand the business and said: “The support I have received from the SOLO project has been excellent. I’ve spoken to my advisor about further developing my business plan, marketing, employing staff and accessing funding to develop a website. It’s good to know that initiatives like this are available and it is not just for those who are thinking about starting up in business but to support those who are already in business and need some help and advice to grow.”

Karbon tenant, Harry Waterson, from Annfield Plain also attended the celebration event. A retired joiner of over 50 years, he makes miniature models and is exploring the possibility of turning his passion and hobby into a business. He has many collections and is running out of space at home, so he is thinking about becoming self-employed and is looking for premises.

Harry said: “I have been speaking to my advisor at SES about looking for some premises and turning this into a full time business. I just love making models, it’s my passion and hobby and it would be great to be able to make a living from this. It’s been really useful to be able to speak to someone about how I would go about becoming self-employed.”

Also attending the celebration event was Annette Cooper from Burnopfield who has reopened The Crafts House at the Old Post Office in Marley Hill, Gateshead and Leslie Shaw from Catchgate who is in the process of setting up her business, Sweet Maple Leaf, which produces handcrafted cushions, picture frames and much more.

Michelle Graham, Employment Initiatives Officer at Karbon Homes, said: “We are passionate about supporting people into work and the aim of the SOLO project is to raise awareness that self-employment is an alternative route to employment. If you have a business idea or a hobby that you are passionate about, why not set up your own business? Some of our residents have some excellent ideas but don’t know how to go about setting up their own business. Through our partnership with SES and Prosper, we can help them to access free support and expert advice to explore those ideas.

“In addition to those thinking about becoming self-employed, we have helped established businesses to grow and access funds and support to take them to the next stage. This event was an opportunity to bring together residents and businesses to celebrate and share their experiences from this project.”

Rod Brasington, Chief Executive of Prosper, said: “It’s great to see how successful the project has been so far. We are delighted that the funding has helped so many people in the community and we’re excited to see more people get involved in the future.”

SES has more than 30 years’ experience working with organisations and individuals to provide business development advice and training workshops, which promote the benefits of enterprise and entrepreneurship in local communities.

Ernest Dodds, Business Start-Up Worker from SES, said: “It was a pleasure to provide support with business planning to get these enterprises up and running. I wish them every success as they continue to develop their business.”

For more information on the SOLO project, please contact Michelle Graham at Karbon Homes on 01207 524 205 or emailmichelle.graham@karbonhomes.co.uk