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Brilliant Businesses is here to showcase the amazing people that create businesses in the UK.

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Recruitment

Neil Simmons

TN Recruits

“I left school with very few qualifications and initially coached Football and Gymnastics but fancied doing something a little bit different, so I worked in entertainment. I was a Blue Coat for Pontins and then became an Entertainments Manager for Airtours overseas. Towards my late 20’s, my wife and I decided we wanted to move back to the UK and settle down. I was originally from North West London, my wife and her family were from Tunbridge Wells and the surroundings. Having visited a number of times, we fell in love with Kent and Tunbridge Wells quite quickly and realised it was the right place for us.

When we arrived here I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I sold advertising for the Courier for three years, which gave me a grounding in sales whilst finding my way around Kent and Sussex. I then discovered recruitment and quickly realised it was something I really enjoyed as it combined all the people skills gained during my ‘university of life’ along with the opportunity to be directly rewarded for working hard. After eight years in recruitment, my Dad passed away, he was only 66 and at the time I was 38, based upon those ages I had 28 years left. This experience gave me the kick up the backside I needed to start my own business. I believed I had some good ideas that I could put into practice and wanted to put my own spin on things and so TN Recruits was born. Because of my love of Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding areas, I was motivated to help local companies and candidates fulfil their potential. Along the way I joined BNI, Tunbridge Wells which helped me to meet a number of local suppliers who are now my support network. TN Recruits now has ten members of staff to date and will continue to expand in the coming years.”

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Creative & Marketing

Carol Navis

Cut Above Productions - Cappure

“I have always been interested in film, and during my teens and early twenties (before iPhones) I always had a camera of some sorts on me and loved filming friends and events. I started full time employment age 17 and after a few junior roles my most exciting and rewarding job was working in the hotel and travel industry for Cat Publications and became the sales manager for their exhibition, The Meetings & Incentive Travel Show held at Olympia and then one of the first shows to go into Excell. I loved my job and the industry, my clients were high end hotels and conference venues that I would travel the length and breadth of the country to visit. After six years I decided it was time to expand my experience and went to work for a PR and Marketing Agency in the same industry and then after a year there along came our first daughter Louise so life changed. I took a short career break to decide what would come next.

I had always wanted to have my own business so I decided to turn my hobby into a career and retrain to be a professional videographer. I needed to learn how to film on decent cameras and most importantly to learn how to edit which was an extreme learning curve. To start with, I was just filming everything I could, friend’s weddings, performances and dance shows and then it just grew from there and I opened Cut Above Productions officially in 2008. I realised how much I loved filming weddings and capturing a memory for someone that will last a lifetime, it is an exhilarating days work and immensely satisfying. Luckily, we became recommended by Hever Castle back in 2013 which was a real honour and the business grew quickly so I needed help. Paul Midcalf came on board and then soon after Dan and Rebecca have also joined us. We have also been doing corporate work since 2014, with my understanding and experience of the corporate market this really enables me to help clients with the whole process of creating a video and transmitting the right messages and not just the filming and editing. As the corporate and wedding market are so different we decided to create a separate company called Cappure where we do everything from talking head videos, corporate videos, product demonstration, music videos and filming events, Dan helps me run Cappure. We film between 35 and 40 weddings a year. We are now recommended at Hever Castle, Penshurst Place, Ashdown Park, Buxted Park, The High Rocks, The Spa Hotel and Wadhurst Castle so we get to work in some fantastic venues and there is never a dull moment. Our most exciting wedding so far was filming Brian May’s daughters wedding where he played which was amazing! I am a huge animal lover, we have one dog, four cats and for one of my hobbies I also run a retirement yard for horses which is very much a labour of love and has been running since 1999, it supplemented my income when my starting my new career and I just love looking after horses. Life is busy and hectic but I would not have it any other way!”

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Automotive

Jonathan Reilly

Home Car Charging Solutions Limited

“Having been in the commercial signage industry for 12 years, I decided I wanted a change so retrained as an electrician, gained all the necessary qualifications and registered with the NICEIC. That was back in 2010 and during that time, as a sole trader, I wasn't really getting enough electrical work to grow as a business, so I started doing other work for people, handy man type jobs, which turned into fitting bathrooms and kitchens. However, that wasn't my plan; I was looking for a niche.

In 2015 I tried the solar panel industry. However, I soon found that as a small company, it was very difficult to claim the grants on behalf of the customers due to the management systems you had to have in place. Then the subsidies effectively vanished so I dropped that idea and carried on doing what I was doing before. Then back in 2016 I was at Live South –the NICEIC electricians’ annual conference which I always attend to keep on board with any up and coming rule changes and regulations. While I was there, I attended a seminar about the electric car market and found it so interesting and I thought let's do it, let's see what this is all about. At that time, there were electric cars about, but far less than there are now, but I could see potential in the market. By this time I had employed another electrician and, we stopped doing any bathroom and kitchen works and moved on to installing electric vehicle charging points. I changed the name of the business from TQM Limited to Home Car Charging Solutions Limited. When we started out, we thought it would be great if we installed 3 or 4 charge points a month but now having employed more engineers, we are installing somewhere near 80 - 100 units per month. People will always say: it must be great working for yourself, you can take time off when you want to. But what they don't see is when you're on holiday, and you're still checking your emails and taking phone calls. Having your own business and working hard at it, watching it grow and develop is a continuous source of motivation and you never stop learning. If I was to give advice to someone starting a business, I would say start out by thinking big. Build the foundations of your company on that basis from the beginning and put good systems and working methods in place. Essentially, be ready for it to be big one day.”

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Retail

Abigail Willis

Willis Bloom

"With a dream of running our own business, we set the wheels in motion. I had a successful career in marketing for many years, but I had always said that when I had reached a milestone birthday I wanted to be my own boss. Eventually Chris, my husband, persuaded me to be brave and just do it.

He gave me the massive nudge I needed. He was also hankering after a fresh start after a career in engineering so we decided that we would set up a business together. This would give us the flexibility of time together away from the 9-5, give us a fresh challenge professionally and would be something I could really truly love doing. Willis Bloom was created with a simple ethos in mind. Live happily, embrace colour, have a passion for pattern and a desire for things that are naturally elegant. Creating glorious fabrics and wallpaper which start off as hand drawn designs is what we love to do. Our inspiration comes from everyday things; our family, the nature surrounding us, real homes; we treasure the simple and beautiful. For us it’s all about having a passion for where we live. It doesn’t have to be on trend or a show home: in fact, quite the opposite. We want to help create timeless places to love where our designs are cherished over years."

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Legal

Neill Thomas

Thomas Mansfield Solicitors

"In 2004, Jonathan Mansfield and I established Thomas Mansfield Solicitors specialising in employment law. We wanted to give a really good service without charging astronomical sums. We became popular in London as our practice grew. Over the years we have recruited an excellent team of solicitors, many of them from the larger City or regional firms.

In 2014 the government introduced a fee for employment tribunal claims, which had quite a negative impact on our business in 2015/16 and made us think about spreading our risk profile. I always thought family law would do well in Tunbridge Wells. Although there are many firms of solicitors not many purely specialise in family law so I saw an opportunity. In 2017, we recruited Susi Gillespie, a very experienced family lawyer to target the Kent commuter towns. Later, we employed Anthony Kiernan followed by Alice Scambler, both very experienced family lawyers. In February 2018, we opened an office in Tunbridge Wells and the business took off. We have also hired two family solicitors for our London office. In 2017 the Supreme Court overturned the government’s decision to introduce employment tribunal fees so now both aspects of our business are thriving. This year we are looking to open an office in Guildford and establish a new department specialising in wills and probate. Much of our success has been down to getting involved in the local business community and I’m happy to say it’s thriving in Tunbridge Wells."

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Creative & Marketing

Nat Sharp

Sharp Thinking Marketing

"I set up Sharp Thinking Marketing after having my girls and taking a career break. I had always loved my job and had spent all my career in marketing having worked in advertising agencies in London, as well as in house marketing roles for the likes of Vodafone and not for profit organisations. Like many mums, I wanted to get back into work and pursue my passion, whilst ensuring it fitted around the family and I could still do the school run.

I thought I was well placed to launch a local marketing consultancy service having been the client myself and worked in advertising agencies. I decided to take the plunge and I've never looked back. My clients range massively from business to business clients in the digital printing industry and corporate gifting sector, to local care homes and personal trainers. I love the fact my work is so varied from brand launches and websites, to creating product marketing plans and prospect databases. I enjoy working with clients that are driven, passionate about what they do and risk takers. I find it extremely rewarding knowing you are helping them achieve new things with their business and of course seeing your work live!"

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Recruitment

Dean Hunton

DSR Global Limited

"I often hear people saying they fell into recruitment. It was never a career choice at school and yet everyone knows somebody who is in this sector. Well, that was definitely the case with me and I guess I have to thank my German teacher at secondary school for that. Mr McDonald also taught rugby and when he asked me to be captain in the 3rd year (today’s year 9), I started showing more interest in his subject! All this fuelled an interest in modern languages and a few years later I found myself studying German at university with a year in Cologne and even managing a ski season in Austria, not knowing then what I really wanted to do.

My working career started temping at a bank in London and when a recruitment agency said we have an interview for you doing IT recruitment I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for. It turned out however to be a perfect match; IT Link was a start-up recruitment business specialising in a software called SAP that only happened to have its headquarters in Germany! In 2005, after 9 years within the same organisation, I was starting to get itchy feet and decided to set up my own business. Ideas flew past me from Starbucks to corporate training, but in the end I decided to better the devil I knew and stuck with SAP recruitment. DSR was born! When I look back over the years, business has been solid and steady but it wasn’t easy though at the start. Re-mortgaging in the first year and digging into savings were tough decisions. Six months in I even had to borrow €20k from a couple of friends because one of my suppliers was late paying me. Having worked in big corporate teams, working on my own initially was tough, making all the decisions yourself, with no one else to bounce ideas off. It was the one thing I hadn’t really considered. More than 10 years on, DSR has developed into an £8 million business with 15 staff. Our customers and candidates are from all over the world – from Boston to Beijing. Tunbridge Wells is a great place to run a business from and we have built up an amazing team with most living in the local area. We’ve created a strong work family, looking out for each other’s best interests as we have grown. The opportunities ahead look very promising for all. On the whole, I’d have to say I loved every minute of my career (well, almost!) and have a lot to thank the recruitment industry, and Mr McDonald, for!"

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Fashion

Lorenzo Colangelo

The Gallery - Hair and Beauty

My Dad, Tony, came over from Italy in 1957, he trained as a barber and a tailor, there wasn’t much going on in Italy, so he came over here and started working in private houses. He worked for the Astor’s and at Scotney as a butler and doing personal grooming etc. Over the years he decided he would set up his own business and in 1982 he bought The Gallery, which was Barnet Fair back then. Having built up clients over the years from the private houses, he started the business and it was a real old chintzy salon, nothing flash at all.

I grew up with that as our salon and it wasn’t long before I saw Bentley’s and Rolls Royce’s parked outside and they were all coming in to this old fashioned salon, but it was all because of the great service my dad offered. He was very customer focused and I had done some training with him and had also worked in the West End where everything was business focused. I worked out if you could connect the great customer service with the business element, you would see a good marriage. So, in 1995, I took over Barnet Fair and renamed it The Gallery, then in 2000 I brought the property next door, then in 2005 I brought the property next to that, which gave us complete ownership of the whole site. I worked really hard in creating a good team, many of which are still with me from the start. We saw the niche in creating a good business with strong customer service and in 2014 we entered the hairdressing business awards, Salon of the Year, which we won and then won it in 2015 and 2016 and then went into the hall of fame. It was an amazing thing! An amazing coming together of our vision and our customers were so involved with the process. It was a huge family thing, not just with our own families and staff but with our customers as well. Then in 2017 I bought the final piece of our property, which allowed us to take out staircases, re-organize entrances and complete the final project. We’re offering a real touch of the West-End in the heart of Kent, when you walk in, you get that wow factor that you don’t get from many places. But above all, it’s not about the chairs that you sit on, or the plushness of the salon, it’s about the welcome and that family feel which makes this place very unique.

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Health & Lifestyle

Scott ‘Skip’ Innes

The Surrey Hills Adventure Company

“We started The Surrey Hills Adventure company about 5 years ago, I was in a business that I didn’t particularly enjoy doing and did as a means to an end for about 15 years and It got to a point with that, particularly when the financial crisis hit, that I needed a change and that gave me the opportunity to change what I did.

That business wouldn’t have worked well in that climate and at the same time my son was 7/8 years old and I watched him get drawn into the word of computers and gaming. I’m a big fan of the Scouts, I’d been a Scout leader and I knew that my passions would benefit kids that were being sucked into that world. The way I figured it would work, would be to get them out into the woods doing bush craft style stuff, but try to avoid structure and people telling them what to do all the time, the big reason they enjoy what we do, is because they have the freedom to choose and have what I call ‘mind space’ to allow their minds to develop and pull them away from always being in front of the screens. So the combination of my original business, not being happy and in a difficult place and seeing my son being dragged into this world and knowing I could potentially do something about that for him and other kids, is what inspired us to start the business. We’re now 5 years in, offering more elements including paddle boarding, mountain biking and open water swimming, reconnecting children and adults with the great outdoors!”

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Floristry

Sharon and Charlie

Colonnade Florist

“About ten years ago, I realised that perhaps I should be changing how my business operates, lots of other businesses were coming off the high street and I knew it was something that I needed to be doing, but for a very long time, I was reluctant to take the plunge. It was a scary thought- and I loved the shop, the customers, my lovely team of girls that I had around me- I thrived off that! However, I could see how much our high street was changing and how much other businesses in my industry were benefitting from similar changes.

My lease was coming to an end and It was a good time to seriously think about doing it, so I started researching as to what it would involve, where I could go, see the costings and try to figure out how it would all work. We made the decision to begin putting our plans into motion about two years ago, the girls – my staff at the shop, knew two years ago too. It was a difficult decision to have to make as I would need to downsize the team to just me, Charlie and our driver Nick. But we are all great friends and they have all been so supportive of the need to keep up with the times and evolve the business. Luckily, they have all found other jobs now and are all happy bunnies- so I feel like a contended mother chicken! So, after Mother’s Day this year, we decided to finally go for it, and we moved to our lovely studio here in Broadwater. It’s absolutely perfect, the scenery is beautiful and we’re right in amongst the nature which is very inspiring and motivational. We do still miss the buzz of the shop and our customers coming in, but this private space now means that we have time to get on with the essentials - basically the money-making things! Our main business now, is phone business and website orders with the majority being via funeral directors, weddings, functions etc. Obviously when we moved, our turnover dropped, as we no longer had the walk-in customers or plant sales, but without the huge costs that come with running a shop, the bottom line is looking much better. The pressure has been taken off somewhat now, and we are really enjoying having the time to put 110% into each arrangement, instead of having to put our bouquet down every 5 minutes. However, we don’t have the high street presence, so we do have to actively get out there and market ourselves more effectively. Social media is a massive part of our marketing, Charlie does a fantastic job on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and because of that we get a lot of wedding work – our industry is very pictorial, so we’ve got to use that opportunity. We’re starting to move and shake in the wedding industry a lot more now. Charlie is passionate about weddings and has worked hard to grow that side of the business. We have lots of plans in the pipeline that we are really excited about- our next move is to start doing our own deliveries across the whole of the country, in our own packaging with next day delivery, as an alternative to using a relay service. We also have a few more plans in the works that we haven’t announced yet- so watch this space!”

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Creative & Marketing

Fred Latty and Hannah Patterson

Key & Quill Ltd

“We met when Hannah was working in marketing for a local theatre, and Fred was a lifestyle journalist in Tunbridge Wells. It wasn’t long before we became good friends, and soon began working together in publishing.

Earlier this year, we decided to take the leap and go it alone, officially launching Key & Quill at the start of July. It’s been a wonderful whirlwind of an adventure ever since; we’ve met some incredible – and incredibly supportive – people along the way, and our client base is continuing to go from strength to strength. Offering blogging for businesses and brands, our particularly keen interest in food and drink has led to some fantastic collaborations with leading restaurants and producers throughout the South East, as well as a variety of other industries and sectors. With a focus on providing ‘quality content for a modern audience’, we tell our clients’ stories through engaging blogs and posts that capture the essence of who they are and what they do. Ours is a softer approach that combines great writing and digital expertise, to entertain and inspire their audience and customers through strong content first and foremost.”

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Health & Lifestyle

Julia Maitland

The Yoga House

"I started Yoga when I was really small, about 5 years old in the local community hall. My grandmother got me into yoga, she must have been one of the first western ladies to study yoga, as yoga only came to the Western world really in the 1960’s. I always loved it. Then, when I was about 13, I was diagnosed type 1 diabetic, I also had really bad asthma. You lose control of your body when you are diagnosed with lifelong chronic conditions like these, it was awful! I subsequently developed panic attacks and claustrophobia as a teenager and at the same time my Dad was working in the City and after the Black Friday stock market crash around about the same time, he was under immense pressure and became physically ill through stress, so much so that his blood chemistry changed which was due to the stress.

My Dad found us this old guy, who was a Doctor, but he called himself a hypnotherapist and he worked with breathing – he completely cured both of us! I had a real link with him, he was much older, a bit like a grandfather figure, unfortunately he died when I was pregnant with my son. The strange story is that – one night I woke up after having a nightmare where I couldn’t breathe, I thought I was going to die! The next morning, I thought about him, I gave my Dad a call and asked if he had heard from him, my Dad told me he had a phone call from his wife, and he had died that night! What he hadn’t told us was that as a youth, he suffered from TB and as a result, only had the use of half a lung, so he survived to the age of 85 – simply by mastering his breath. He was my first yoga guru (although he would have laughed at the idea of being called that). I studied philosophy at university, I’ve always been interested in it and I’ve always wanted to help people. After that I started a degree in psychotherapy – it really wasn’t for me, not hands on enough. Then after having two children, I realised – actually I love yoga, I had always done it, but only for myself, so I thought it would be a perfect combination. It combats stress, it works a lot with breathing, it has a vast body of philosophy and wisdom and at a basic level it just helps people. I did my teacher training and as we were building our house, I thought; you know what, if I build a studio, people will come – so that’s what I did! I have a USP where I have a collection of teachers that use the studio, they take their own bookings and I don’t take any money from them apart from the room hire. It makes it really nice here, with a great atmosphere that helps the teachers and makes it extra nice for their clients"

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Finance

Andy Myers

ABMV Ltd

"I was a late entry into the accountancy profession, I actually Chartered qualified in my late 20’s in Sheffield, after having done nearly 9 years in the RAF. Once I qualified, you can imagine my delight when my first job post qualification was in Bermuda! So I spent three years in paradise, but then I got it slightly wrong by getting my next job on the Isle of Man, where the weather was different!

I was in my early 30’s and whilst being on the Isle of Man for around a year I realised I was ready to set up by myself. I had always admired my father, who’s still alive, for being in business. He’s not an accountant but I had always respected him for being an entrepreneur. So I came back to the UK and rather going back to the North, because of my network, I felt it best to be near London. We loved Kent, and West Kent specifically, and had friends near Sevenoaks so we based ourselves here. The accountancy business (ABMV Ltd) started in a shoe box room in a house in Matfield, starting with one client from the Isle of Man and one from Australia, and with this overseas consultancy it allowed me to grow the business locally and we became a more conventional, local accountancy practice. I’m one of those people who just can’t sit still. I love fresh challenges and I really enjoy working in the West Kent’s business community. I’ve bought and sold a few businesses over the years and, dare I say it, I enjoy it more than the tax calculations!”

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Creative & Marketing

Siobhan Stirling

Sharp Minds Communications

I was at the BBC for nearly 20 years and, as a part-time working mother, there was a point of realisation that it was a job and not a career. My husband also works in the BBC, reporting and presenting, so he’s out a lot and when the two of us were doing shifts, we seemed to always be working at the same time. We didn’t see our kids and it wasn’t why I had a family; there had to be an easier way to earn money that had less impact on my home life. When I left the BBC, my aim was just to be a well-respected copywriter and PR freelancer. As a journalist, I’m really good at filling a brief, but at the BBC you don’t have to sell what you do – that’s negotiated with the government – so identifying clients and having the courage to explain to them how I could help them was the biggest challenge.

I white labelled for a couple of years which gave me access to a good customer base with some interesting projects, which led me to realise that I was providing much more than just copywriting and content creation; I was providing complete marketing strategies. It was no longer freelance, it was real agency services and I needed to bring other quality people in, which is why we rebranded to Sharp Minds Communications, to communicate the whole range of services and to attract other Sharp Minds to enable us to look after a wider range of clients with the same quality service and outputs. We’re really making a difference to businesses and that’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. I’m very good at getting the information from people to find out how and what makes them work, what makes them successful and what’s different about them. Our real benefit is actually understanding people’s stories and communicating those in strategies that deliver on their business objectives – that’s what makes us successful. Running is my sanity and my strength, the first time I ran, I took my little dog to the field, I ran round one side and collapsed. I then did what every sensible person would do and entered the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon – and told everyone about it, so I couldn’t back out! I trained and completed it in less than 2 hours. I then absolutely got the running bug. Running races is so different to running on your own, it’s so inspiring to run when you have a crowd cheering you on and other runners around you. I then entered the London Marathon and, at that time, things were tough at home and running a small business is difficult, so the only positive, measurable thing in my life was the running. After completing the London Marathon in under 4 hours I went on to do the Beachy Head Marathon, then the Rome Marathon, then New York. I miss running when I’m injured and to able to do it; I love being outside running and everything that comes along with it, the birds singing, watching the flowers and trees change across the seasons and the freedom.”

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Photography

Emily Brown

Emily Brown Photography

When I was in year 10 my Dad got sick - he had Oesophageal cancer. He was ill for almost two years and sadly passed away in the September when I started year 12, at the beginning of my A Levels. I had chosen to study History, Drama, Psychology and English, but near the end things went downhill rather quickly and I missed quite a bit of school around the time that Dad passed. When I went back I struggled to catch up with History, as I had missed too many names and dates, so I decided to change to Photography to add some creativity to my week.

Having always been a lover of the visual arts, this ended up being my best A Level subject and enabled me to go to my first choice university, King’s College London, to study Film. Originally the plan was to get my degree under my belt and then do something Film related, but because King’s is an academic university I really missed the hands on, creative side of holding the camera, so I started coming home at weekends to photograph friends in the beautiful Kentish countryside. I continued to do this the whole way through my degree, but meanwhile was increasingly asked if I photographed weddings, how much I would charge for a family photoshoot and more. I realised that people really wanted to pay me for the thing I loved doing the most, so on the day I handed in my dissertation I booked my first paying client and the rest is history. It seems that the universe thrust me down a path that I didn’t expect to go down, but I really feel that it’s the path I was meant to be on. Now I get to spend my time capturing life’s special moments, witnessing so much love and happiness, and I couldn’t ask for a more fulfilling job.

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Retail

Mandy Johns

Cuckoo Corner - Shere

"I come from a family of artists. I went to college after school and there I learnt how to dress shop windows. After that, I went straight to Bally shoes, at the age of 18, and I worked for them for 15 years, ending up as a Display Manager. I travelled all over the country, doing their shop window displays.

I then had my children and although I went back to Bally, I could no longer do the travelling, so I started to work in Retail. I worked at Gatwick and Heathrow, but I always retained my passion for the theatrical and display side of the business. After Bally, I worked in a gift shop in Guildford for 7 years, and also had an opportunity to open a gift shop business jointly. I have been at Cuckoo Corner for 5 years now and I adore it! I love doing the window design; I love it when new stock and deliveries come in; I get so excited putting it out on the shelves and I always think, ‘that’s so lovely, people can’t not like this!” There is a risk being self-employed but it’s worth it. I am lucky with the location of the shop as it’s always busy and in the summer, there are plenty of tourists. That’s the beauty of Shere."

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Book Publisher

Donia Youssef

The Monster Series

"I worked in publishing for around 15 years, including working for Alan Sugar on Amscreen, giving demonstrations and selling advertising space. Then, after having a child, I decided I wanted to juggle my work life balance and work from home and take control of my own destiny rather than work for someone else. My daughter, who was only 4 months old at the time was doing baby modelling, so I got a good knowledge of how that worked and decided to set up my agency overnight, created the website myself, literally created it from scratch, we’re now one of the top leading child modelling agencies in London, with around 600 children on our books. Then I got cancer ...

I was diagnosed in April 2017 and obviously had to take a step back from the agency, so I went through the chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery and took a back seat, put some managers in place to run things and over saw the business when I needed to. With the extra time I had, I decided to start writing, I’ve always enjoyed writing and used it as a therapy. I started a diary and then one day, I woke up and realised I just wanted to publish a book, I reached out and managed to get a publisher to help and I created ‘The Monster in Mummy’ in quite a short space of time. I got the illustrators and decided I wanted to retain my rights, film producers were contacting me, wanting to turn the book into a movie, so I retained my rights. As things progressed, I had other cancer patients and survivors who also wanted to share their stories. So I set up a platform to help others as well, and contribute some of the proceeds to the charities, that was where I wanted to go. Amidst the chemo and everything else, I also decided to invest in property, it was a way of leaving a legacy behind, I manage 5 properties now. I also organise events and am really trying to get the publishing moving forward, it’s all books related to cancer with peoples stories, cook books, animated films and basically giving the information to children via different messages, which maybe books or films." ‘The Monster in Mummy' is available at Waterstones and Amazon.

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Creative & Marketing

Laura And Olivia

Calvermont

“We set up Calvermont because we have been working for big corporate companies in London for a long time, predominantly for property investors and national campaigns. We live in Tunbridge Wells and are really keen to bring our business locally. We’re both Mums, so our question was - if we can work for global names, why couldn’t we do the same for local businesses and places that we’re emotionally and long term personally invested?

We could be close to our children and help provide for their future, both in terms of helping the local community in which they are going to grow up in and in terms of being closer to them with a more flexible lifestyle. We’re a PR & communications agency, with work spanning across the brand picture as well. We’ve worked across schemes such as Here East and East Village on the Olympic Park, as well as the Raffles and Kempinski Hotel Groups. We devise business, brand and placemaking programmes to help projects come alive and add value for stakeholders and communities, as well as supporting planning processes, business change and crisis. Our name Calvermont was born from a mix of Calverley Park and Claremont Road in Tunbridge Wells, two local destinations our HQ sits between. Our values are create, collaborate and communicate.”

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Branded Products

Hugh O'Neill

Branded Products

I was a senior manager for the largest contract caterer in the UK. It got to the stage where everything I was doing was behind a computer and it wasn’t why I joined the catering industry. It was at the time of the recession and I’d had enough, timely I got a nice redundancy package and so I thought, what do I do with my life now? I came away and really didn’t know what to do, I thought of going back into contract catering, but I always had a desire to work for myself. I looked around at starting a business, went to a business show and saw in a magazine an advert for Recognition Express. I knew of them because they supplied the name badges for my previous company, but I didn’t realise the extent of the services they provided.

I went up to see the franchisor and liked the idea of running my own business but with a supportive franchisor behind me. I wanted to offer quality products, give excellent service and use my business skills to run my own business. So, because of the redundancy pay, I was able to buy the franchise. It was a tough time because it was the start of the recession, however we grew quite quickly, mainly in the branded clothing sector due to the recession. Budgets were tight and customers still purchased uniforms but held back on promotional products. We came out of the other end of the recession and as times went on, we’ve managed to get clients that are more interested in marketing their businesses with the use of promotional products. We’ve moved on now where 60% of our business is promotional products, 30% is clothing and the rest is name badges and banners. We’ve been going 9 years and have grown really well with more growth forecasted this year. We were delighted this year to have been rewarded with Franchisee of the Year. The best bit of working for myself is the reward of personal satisfaction, where everything I do I achieve for myself, rather than doing it for someone else.

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Food & Drink

Steve and Sophie

Surrey Hills Beer and Gin Company

“Ten years ago, we were both working up at the William Bray pub, Steve was running it and I was the restaurant manager, we ran the pub together and became good friends, we had a real laugh and we both had a bit of a passion for the alcohol, but never thought we’d run a business together.

I then went to work for a wine company and studied wine, that was for about 4 years and that’s where the wine knowledge comes into this business, Steve started his sandwich shop 5 years ago and we always kept in touch. The idea came to Steve when someone came to him and said they wanted a bottle of Silent Pool but the distillery was closed, why isn’t there an off licence in Shere? So the seed was sown. Then just through searching on Google for breweries and wine distilleries in The Surrey Hills Steve found it amazing as to just how many there are in this area. This place had been empty for 6 weeks so he put the idea to the landlord who thought it was a good idea and he said, yes, go for it, so he did! We’ve now been open for 18 months, Steve approached me to see if I would like to help out and invest in the business and that happened last April so it’s been nearly a year that we’ve been doing it together. Since then we’ve made it a lot bigger, we go to regular farmers markets, we’ve got ideas to do tastings and have expanded the stock hugely. Our next step is to get online, get bigger, better and more out there! We stock some continental wines, which are sourced locally, every single thing that we sell is local and that is our biggest ethos! We call ourselves a specialist boutique, off licence.”

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Insurance

Pierre Roche

Aardvark Automotive Solutions

I left University with an HND in rural estate management, it was in the 80’s when the first property crash occurred. I wrote to about 50 estate agents and property management companies and got 50 thanks, but no thanks. So, I ended up in insurance, a friend of mine asked for help with some part time work, and 25 years later, I found myself still in the Insurance Industry. I worked for several blue chip companies, Direct Line, Churchill, RBS and AXA, I’ve learnt my trade through motor claims and I’ve seen some very good, but also not so good practices, some excellent customer service and also some very bad. I eventually found myself on the non-fault side of motor claims, there are two sides, the claimant side and the defendant side, one is at fault and one is not. After a period of time I wanted to learn more about the accident management side - credit hire side.

It’s potentially looked on quite dimly by some of the insurers, but ironically they actually use those companies as a revenue stream, it’s a bit of a strange situation. In 2017, a fellow employee and myself, felt we could inhance the customer journey even further. All insurers and accident management companies deal with their own niches, some deal with prestige vehicles, some with taxis, or buses or lorries, whatever it might be, but no one deals with all of them. I wanted to provide that, as well as a bespoke customer service and a customer journey, so that’s what we’ve done in setting up Aardvark Automotive Solutions. We’re a one stop shop for all non-fault claims, whatever your vehicle, providing like for like replacement vehicles, a repairer of your choice, with legal cover and all the trimmings an insurer would give, however you’ll be speaking to either myself or my business partner, not a number behind an insurance policy. Our unique selling point and the difference in what we provide within our service promise, compared to other claims providers, is that every claimant receives an inconvenience payment of £150 per claim when we deal with a claim for them. I’m really passionate about providing a first class service, we like to support people in any way we can, my son plays cricket at his University, Canterbury Christchurch, which we proudly sponsor and my daughter has just turned two so I’m looking to build a legacy for my children. Looking back on things, my father unfortunately passed away last year, he was an inspiration to me and he taught me a lot about family values. I promised him I would create my own business one day, it’s weird because I can still feel him around me, certain things happen that make me aware that he’s watching over and looking out for me.

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