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Start-up gets hooked up with business support

PUBLISHED: 10:27 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:27 17 April 2019

Business support and advice from MENTA enabled Laura Remblance to get Lovingly Handmade Crochet off the ground

Business support and advice from MENTA enabled Laura Remblance to get Lovingly Handmade Crochet off the ground

Archant

If you've ever wondered if it's possible to turn a hobby into a career, just ask Laura Remblance. Thanks to a unique product and some free support and business advice, she's done just that.

Clients provide photographs of their pets as reference for Laura and RiccardoClients provide photographs of their pets as reference for Laura and Riccardo

After chronic illness left her disabled, Laura Remblance took to crocheting to cope with the pain and depression. She has now turned her hobby into a full-time business thanks to free business skills training offered by MENTA, an award-winning enterprise agency which provides support for established businesses, self-employed people and start-ups.

Laura, founder of Lovingly Handmade Crochet, was nervous about starting a business from her home in Swanton Morley, Norfolk, where she creates lifelike 'plushy' cuddly toy versions of people's pets.

The business venture was the result of “turning something negative into something positive” says Laura. After years of misdiagnosis for severe pain, Laura was finally diagnosed as having rheumatoid arthritis 
when it was discovered that she had the knees of a 90 year old aged just 19.

She was prescribed a long-term drug that took the edge off the pain, but further complications with fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression meant Laura had to quit her teaching job and had been out of work since 2016.

Laura's fiance, Riccardo Veronese, has taken up the hook to help fulfill the large volume of ordersLaura's fiance, Riccardo Veronese, has taken up the hook to help fulfill the large volume of orders

“I found crafting and crocheting an amazing distraction and outlet for my troubles,” says Laura. “I began making up some character plushies that looked like our pets for fun.

“I started sharing them with my Conscious Crafties buddies online and people wanted one of their own. That was when I realised I could make them for anyone and started advertising them on Facebook.”

The 30-year-old didn't know whether her hobby-turned-business venture would work. With health concerns and little idea of how to start a business, Laura decided to try MENTA's start-up workshops as her initial approach to setting up had been directionless.

She says: “The three, free courses and great business advice gave me confidence that my unique products would sell, and I could establish myself as a sole trader.”

The personal pet plushies take from 50 to 60 hours to complete and each one is uniqueThe personal pet plushies take from 50 to 60 hours to complete and each one is unique

MENTA's business advisers inspired Laura to take her business seriously, without being overbearing in their approach. “Because of my disability, I am sensitive to criticism,” Laura says. “A put-down would have been a shut-down to my business. But this was not the case.”

Laura's fiancée, Riccardo Veronese, is also an integral part of the business. He left work to care for Laura, and as the demand for plushies grew, Riccardo even took up his own crochet hook. The business has expanded, selling via online platforms such as notonthehighstreet.com where the products reach a wider range of potential customers.

The plushies take from 50 to 60 hours to complete and each one is unique, with clients providing photographs of their pets as reference for Laura and Riccardo.

Alex Till, CEO of MENTA, says: “It is fantastic to hear such a success story developing from our business workshops. More than 500 people based in Norfolk and Suffolk have completed the 12 hours of start-up training and 270 have started their enterprises. The Start Right, start-up programme (which is unaffected by Brexit), is funded by the European Regional Development Fund.”

The majority of the plushies Laura produces are of dogs, but she can also make other animalsThe majority of the plushies Laura produces are of dogs, but she can also make other animals

For more details regarding MENTA's free business skills training, dates and locations across Norfolk and Suffolk visit www.menta.org.uk and the start-up page or call 01284 760206.

Lovingly Handmade Crochet can be found at www.lovinglyhandmadecrochet.co.uk

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