A couple who have invested millions of pounds to regenerate a North East market town will this week open a small business centre designed to help the entrepreneurs of the future.
The Pod in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has been set up by Jane Ruffer, whose husband Jonathan in 2011 bought Auckland Castle and is chairman of the charitable trust which now runs the visitor attraction.
Set to be managed by Hannah Waterston, whose background is in working with social enterprises, The Pod is taking a redundant shop in the town’s market place and turning it into a space for work, exhibition and retail space as well as advice and mentoring.
The facility will open on Thursday and is the latest initiative the Ruffers have been involved in since Mr Ruffer donated £15m in 2011 to save first the Zurbaran paintings and then Auckland Castle itself.
They have also set up a £1m fund with the County Durham Community Foundation to help people find work.
Ms Waterston said: “The aim of the Pod is to act as an incubation hub for small businesses where they can begin to grow their idea over a period and then move out into the community.
“We want to prepare people for business so that when the town is full of visitors attracted by the developments planned for Auckland Castle, they will find an upbeat place.
“The Pod is running alongside the primary vision the Auckland Castle Trust has for the rejuvenation of the town. This is the outward facing part of it, if you like.
“It’s wonderful to be involved in such an exciting project that is breathing new life into an area and helping put Bishop Auckland on the cultural map.”
The scheme has received a grant to enable it to push ahead with its work from a London-based charitable trust, but it is hoped the Pod will become self-sufficient.
Businesses will be housed in pop-up spaces and they will be able to sell their work on site. They will have the chance to be mentored by experts in running their enterprise and promoting their products.
They will be charged a small initial rent which will increase as their endeavor prospers, and prepare them for moving to their own commercially rented shop space.
The Pod will also have room for local artists to exhibit their work on an ongoing basis.
The first business to move into the hub will be a design business led by 43-year-old artist Gillian Arnold and her husband Tim.
He said: “We were delighted when Auckland Castle Trust approached us to be the first business to move in and to work with them in setting things up.
“The Pod gives us the opportunity to concentrate on growing our own business, whilst working alongside other enterprises as they begin to grow.
“This has come along at the right time and is a great stepping stone for any business that wants to grow in a nurturing atmosphere.
“Gillian and I see our business as a catalyst for training and employment for the town. The Pod will give us the space to do that and to help push forward the plans to fill Bishop Auckland’s empty shops with viable businesses and return the town to the vibrant place I remember it being as a boy.”