Richard Bearman is Managing Director of Start-Up Loans, a government-backed programme launched in 2012 to provide loans to new and early-stage businesses throughout the UK who may have struggled to access finance (up to £25k) elsewhere. Here he discusses how the programme is helping keep heritage skills alive around the UK.
In the public consciousness the term ‘start-up’ is sometimes associated with small offices of budding tech professionals designing the ‘next big thing’. It’s an unconscious bias that our brains create because of the origin stories of many of the biggest tech-brands in the world, which now have become a ubiquitous presence in our lives.
Yet many start-ups around the UK, in fact most of them, aren’t tech related at all. At Start Up Loans we take a particular pride in offering finance to budding business owners from all walks of life, without some of the restrictive criteria that some traditional lenders might put in place. It means if you have an idea, and one that can sustain a business, we can help you start it. And one of the groups of start-ups I’m most proud of supporting is the small business community who operate in the heritage skills space.
Heritage skills covers practical craft skills such as stone masonry, carpentry, or glass blowing that are essential to keeping the historic buildings and landmarks of the UK in good shape, as well as being services we need as part of modern life.
Entities like Heritage England have made good ground over the last few years in raising awareness in the decline in skills needed in our traditional crafts, and in tandem I’m delighted that the Start Up Loans programme has supported a number of entrepreneurs looking to become crafters of their own skilled trades which contribute towards the same economic footprint.
One such business owner is Will Smith, who is based in Comber, Northern Ireland. Will, a carpenter, was recently the recipient of our six hundred millionth pound of funding outside of London. A huge milestone for us, it reflects the broad diversity and ambition of our support for the nation’s small businesses at a grass roots level across the whole UK.
He took out a loan of £6,000 in January 2020 to launch Woodwork by Will ‘ a bespoke wood furniture company. He used the money to invest in essential machinery and a table saw.
Prior to receiving the loan, he was using a friend’s machinery for some of the bigger jobs, which was logistically complicated. Now that he has his own machinery, a job that would have taken three days can be completed in just half a day.
In his own words, Will told us:
The support I have received from the British Business Bank has accelerated my business 12 months beyond where it would have been.
I found the whole process with the Bank very straightforward and would have no hesitation in recommending Start Up Loans to other entrepreneurs. I would go as far as saying that if you are serious about growth this type of investment early on is essential, provided you are determined to put the work in.
The mentoring elements would particularly suit someone who is starting their own business but doesn’t necessarily have a business background. I was offered mentoring from successful entrepreneurs on areas such as marketing, legal issues and insurance that kept me on the right track from the start.
I had planned moving forward to take on bigger projects such as kitchens, fit out projects etc and now my goals are much more realistic.
I’m extremely proud that our loans, mentoring, free support and guides for aspiring and existing entrepreneurs are helping to support smaller businesses and we’re delighted to have been able to help Will make his dream into a reality. I hope that he will continue to inspire others around the country to keep these skills alive long into the future.