County Durham has been named one of the top five areas in the country for business start-ups to excel.
Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions ranked it third in the UK after 1,180 businesses were set up under the Government’s New Enterprise Allowance programme in the county.
Stephen Metcalf, 56, who lives near Durham, benefited from the programme after he was made redundant from an apprenticeship training company and decided to turn his life-long passion for photography into a business.
He turned to business advisor Debbie Simpson at CDC Enterprise Agency and accessed support on finance, marketing and networking.
Two months after launching his business he won a contract with an online car company and works across the entire North East. His daughter Sarah has also launched her own photography business, taking school photos, after following the same programme.
He said: "I was down when I was first made redundant but one of the things I’ve learnt from it is not to panic. I could have quite easily jumped back into a steady, more mundane job, but by taking my time working with Debbie, I had a look at different options.
"I’d always contemplated starting my photography business but I never had the courage. Now I’m working flat out and loving it."
In County Durham, four enterprise agencies worked together to deliver the New Enterprise Allowance Programme, as members of the North East Enterprise Agency Ltd, in partnership with JobCentrePlus, which provided financial support to the businesses.
Joe Murray, of CDC Enterprise Agency, said: "We’ve supported a wide range of individuals from all walks of life who have found themselves out of work in recent times. The support of the agencies along with the generous assistance of our dedicated volunteer mentors gives new businesses in the county the best possible start."
South Durham Enterprise Agency helped former college lecturer Julie Maddison start up her prom dress and wedding accessories shop, Special Occasions, in Bishop Auckland. She expanded it to include bridal gowns last year and has featured in OK magazine. Fellow entrepreneur Kevin Charlesworth was also given support to move from Job Seekers Allowance to a new career making jewellery where he took a unit at the creative collective No 15 Festival Walk, in Spennymoor.
Paul McEldon, chairman of the North East Enterprise Agency Ltd, said: "We’re delighted to have played a part in this significant achievement for County Durham. Our Durham enterprise agency members have provided invaluable business advice to help each of these businesses start up. We wish them all every success in the future."
Sarah Slaven, business development director with Business Durham, the economic development company for County Durham, said: "As these enterprising individuals show, there are so many people with an entrepreneur inside them and great ideas, and with the right support that we have here in County Durham, their hobbies and interests can become thriving businesses."
Start-up support from the NEA is available to people aged 18 and over and claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support claimants who are lone parents or who are sick, and some Universal Credit claimants.
After showing their business idea is viable, NEA participants are eligible for a weekly allowance worth up to £1,274 over 26 weeks for claimants to establish their start-up.
The top five start-up areas were: Liverpool (1,410); Sheffield (1,250); County Durham (1,180); Birmingham (1,140); and Glasgow City (1,140).