Dressed for success

Hundreds of young North Easterners have received help in setting up their own businesses thanks to a £2.1m cash injection from the European Regional Development Fund.

Hundreds of young North Easterners have received help in setting up their own businesses thanks to a £2.1m cash injection from the European Regional Development Fund.

The Prince's Trust Youth Enterprise project in the region has benefited from two large ERDF grants over the programme period.

The first tranche of funding in 2001 helped more than 450 young people aged 18-30 in the North East with a package of financial assistance. The second, which ended in 2005, has assisted nearly 1,000 companies to get up and running.

"Our business programme package of assistance includes low interest loans, grants and mentor support to enable people to start their own businesses," says Judith Gill, head of enterprise and skills with The Prince's Trust, North East region.

"The ERDF funding provided the grant element of this support. All of those helped were unemployed and unable to raise all of the funding they need by other sources.

"The support of ERDF was invaluable, helping reach disadvantaged young people, and start many more businesses than would be possible without funding."

Wedding dress designer Tara Wilkinson from Wingate, County Durham, established Exclusively Yours in 2000.

With a Trust loan and ERDF-backed grant, she expanded the business, moved to new premises and took on more staff.

She said: "It has been, and still is, very hard work but I was determined to make a success of it. I knew the idea was a good one and I was sure I could make it work.

"I can customise any dress so a bride gets exactly what she wants and well within any budget range. There is a massive demand for what I do."

She has been proved right. The service she offers - to design and make wedding gowns to her clients' requirements - is highly popular.

The shop is now stocked not only with her own dresses but also 500 gowns from 19 different designers, offering customers a massive choice. And Tara has established a website: www.exclusivelyyoursuk.co.uk

The Prince's Trust in the North East has high survival rates for new business starts.

Of the 400-plus young people it supports into business annually, 55% of them are still trading into their third year.

Technological entrepreneurs in the fields of graphic design, IT consultancy and web design have benefited, while the service sector is also represented - with florists, beauty therapists and complementary medicine practitioners helped into business.

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