A woman from Preston who chose to pursue her dream of running her own coffee business has praised the support that she has received from the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) Centre for SME Development.

Anne-Marie Craven purchased a local franchise of Cafe2U back in 2017, delivering quality coffee, hot drinks and snacks to offices and businesses around Fulwood from her van as a mobile barista.

Having started a new business after working in insurance since she was 16, Anne-Marie needed advice on growing her business, and opportunities to network with other business owners to expand her new venture.

UCLan support gets ideas brewing

As a single business owner starting out for the first time, Anne-Marie approached UCLan’s Centre for SME Development for its benefits of networking opportunities and business support on a no-cost membership.

She says: “As a single person business, I wanted to develop my networks to grow my new company. A lot of the customers I get are moving between different offices and workplaces throughout the morning – the more networking I can do creates more opportunities in terms of companies I can visit and might open the business up to new suppliers.

“I was aware of UCLan’s business support from working with the University before and wanted to find out more about what business support was available to sole traders like me. I attended a social media event to find out more about using it to promote the business and have continued to attend their events ever since.

“I have found the events to be really valuable and it’s great to learn new skills and meet new people.”

Ingenuity and support through Covid-19

As Anne-Marie’s business was starting to flourish, she was hit by an unprecedented business challenge. As the government told businesses across the country to work from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, her customers began to stay at home and the demand for their morning coffee disappeared overnight.

Workplaces she was serving daily had closed completely. Undeterred by the challenge, Anne-Marie contacted the membership team at the Centre for SME Development to gain business support and advice on the options available to help keep her business afloat.

In addition to offering advice, the membership team were able to provide 1:1 support for Anne-Marie through a personal business mentor, who helped identify Government financial support enabling her to bounce back quickly and safely.

Together with Anne-Marie’s own ingenuity the business diversified to overcome the lockdown. She started home deliveries of her gourmet coffee to her regular customers now working from home. Soon after others in the locality came out to the van and communities contacted her via Facebook to book a slot.

Anne-Marie was bringing communities together over a socially distanced brew. Anne-Marie then set her sights on paying back to key workers, giving out free coffee in return for donations to serve key workers with a well-deserved hot drink.

Wanting to support even more key workers, Anne-Marie approached local businesses and was overwhelmed by the response, raising over £2000 which transferred to over 900 free cups of coffee and hot chocolate given away to NHS workers, carers, teachers and ambulance staff.  Anne-Marie will be arranging more visits to give away free drinks and her campaign remains ongoing, setting up a just giving page dedicated to free brews for key workers.

Valuable resource for all small businesses

For Anne-Marie, the support offered by the Centre for SME Development has been invaluable.

“It’s been really easy to work with the Centre and I’m really glad that I joined. I’ve been able to call them and ask for support whenever I’ve needed it and I’d definitely recommend it as a valuable resource for all small businesses.

“For those small businesses on their own, it’s good to have someone independent to rely on for advice and support when you need it.”

Alison Hitchen, Head of the Centre for SME Development, added: “As a small business, it can be invaluable to have a support network of other business owners to share with and learn from.

Centre membership is part of UCLan’s support for small and medium businesses. The Centre is led by our members needs and we will continue to pivot our support as we emerge from this pandemic, ensuring we deliver the support and guidance our members need.

“Lancashire is a hub of business support and I encourage SMEs to seek out to all the support available, we will help business owners navigate the wealth of support available to them.”

The Centre for SME Development supports small and medium sized businesses from across Lancashire, creating a community that is inclusive, cooperative for mutual benefit of its members. Free to join members have access to quarterly business breakfasts, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange discussions and good practice groups.

Visit the Centre for SME Development area of the UCLan website for more information, or contact Alison Hitchen, Head of Centre for SME Development, by emailing smedevelopment@uclan.ac.uk or tel 01772 894321.

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