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A thriving local business has had its cake and eaten it after support from Durham County Council helped it expand to a second location.

The move has also seen a significant building in Consett restored and brought back into use after sitting empty for nearly five years.

Sweethart’s Coffee and Cakes was opened in Blackhill by Mark Hart in 2012 after a back injury forced him to retire from the building trade. Having previously made cakes for friends and family, Mark’s switch from bricks to bakes quickly proved extremely successful and after winning awards he soon found himself thinking bigger.

Mark said: “The growth of the business has been amazing. It’s grown from not knowing whether we were even going to be open in a year’s time to where we’ve outstripped our premises.”

Having already worked with the council’s Community Economic Development team – who have supported Mark throughout his journey, offering everything from advice on pensions to providing food hygiene training for the café’s staff – Mark knew who to speak to when he was considering the possibility of a second location in Blackhill.

With the council part funding the restoration of the frontage of the nearby former Derwentside Arms public house on Durham Road, Mark has fully renovated the inside to create the new Sweethart’s Café and Bistro. As well as a new coffee shop and restaurant, the second location will also feature a private dining area, artisan and gluten-free bakery areas, and a training room where baking and decorating courses will be delivered.

Mark continued: “It’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication but making a success of your own business – and winning awards for it – gives you a feeling you just can’t put into words. We’ve really benefited from the support the council offers to retailers and it’s helped enormously as the business has grown.”

As well as bringing a significant building on the main street in Blackhill back into the use, Mark’s expansion has also created eight new jobs which the council are supporting with further staff training.

Cllr Neil Foster, Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “Mark is a brilliant and hugely successful example of the kind of people across County Durham taking that leap and opening their own business. We were delighted to have supported Mark along the way as he created one award winning business and are equally delighted to have helped it to expand to a second premises which we’re sure will be just as successful.

“Not only have we helped a business prosper but the expansion will see a major building on the high street brought back into use after nearly five years of standing empty and create eight new jobs. I’d encourage any retail businesses in the county to look for information on our website and contact our Community Economic Development Team to see the range of help and support the council has on offer.”

The contribution to the improvements to the front of the building came via the council’s Targeted Business Improvement scheme which helps retailers to meet the costs of upgrading premises or renovating the appearance of new buildings to improve high streets across the county.

People can find out more about the council’s ongoing support for the retail sector and how they can benefit by visiting www.durham.gov.uk/retail.

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