Richard Bearman is Managing Director of Start Up Loans, a government-backed programme that launched in 2012 to provide support and loans to new and early-stage businesses throughout the UK who might struggle to access finance (up to £25k) elsewhere.
London often takes the limelight in discussions over the nation’s economy and the general health of our start up population. It feeds the narrative that England’s capital is a thriving hub of creative enterprise, that it is a place where entrepreneurs can make a name for themselves and the aura of ‘if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere’. While all this is true, London doesn’t hold a monopoly on the UK’s enterprising spirit. It never has nor will.
We recently reviewed Start Up Loans’ historic data to rank the most enterprising local authorities in the UK, weighted against the number of loans issued to individuals since 2012 per thousand members of the adult population.
The top local authorities ranged from 5.9 to 4.1 loans per thousand adults since 2012. As anyone might have guessed, London authorities ranked highly throughout with Hackney taking top spot. However, there were also a large number of constituencies from the North West, North East and Yorkshire & The Humber at the top of the list, which was fantastic to see.
Ranking second place was Hyndburn with an impressive 5.7 loans per thousand adults. There was also the Ribble Valley with 4.8 and Harrogate with 4.7 – equal to both of London’s Lambeth and Southwark authorities.
It’s hardly a surprise that these non-London constituencies, joined by North Tyneside, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Scarborough, featured so highly. Not only are their histories rich with enterprise, manufacturing, industry and creativity, they also surround many of the major cities where population density and local economies are strongest.
The reality is that London is where we have the greatest concentration of start ups and so it can simply seem to be where the conversation is loudest. However, there is an extraordinarily rich tapestry of start ups all across the UK. In my time working at Start Up Loans I’ve also found that you often see a greater variety in the kinds of businesses being founded outside of London.
Being closer to the natural world and beauty of the British countryside must be a contributor to the creativity we see in start ups that are outside of big cities. One such business is Hellion Toys, run by Selina Ellis-Gray in North West England.
Selina set up her workshop in Clitheroe on the outskirts of the Forest of Bowland. She used a start up loan in 2018 to set up a workshop with a self-build CNC kit, and since launching she has been able to move into a bigger workshop and purchased two additional pieces of equipment after taking out a second loan in 2021.
In addition to producing toys, she undertakes illustrations, design commissions and now partners with companies to create interactive signage for wildlife parks.
Talking about the foundation of her business and its inspiration, Selina told us: “After spending years in academia as a digital designer, I decided to use the knowledge I had gained to set up a designer-maker space. The origins of Hellion Toys lies in the research I undertook during my PhD and weaving together a passion for playful, educational, and sustainably focused design.”
“Hellion designs are rooted in a reimagining of the places I wander with my little boy, local history, folklore and legendary fables.”
Businesses like Helion Toys, fuelled by creativity and inspired by the local area, add so much to their surrounding communities. In many ways they’re more distinct because the density of start ups around them is less great than it would be in a major city.
In the national conversation around start ups, we must be better at increasing our focus outside the metropolitan areas, such as London, and celebrate the diversity of small businesses like Helion and what they can teach others.