Necessity is the mother of invention, or so the proverb goes. Janice Watson was forced to reinvent her career in her early fifties when she was made redundant from housing association Riverside in Carlisle, where she was a control room operator for the Careline service.
She began trading as Prosecco Al Fresco a year ago this week, selling chilled sparkling Italian wine from a van at events, parties and weddings.
The new venture couldn’t be more different from her old job, and it came about entirely by chance.
Janice said: “When I lost my job, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew that I didn’t want to be stuck in an office all day. I went on holiday to Turkey with my husband Alan to think things through.
“While we were there, I met a lady from down south who had a prosecco van and was making a success of it. She told me how she secured bookings at festivals, fetes and weddings. I was intrigued.
When I lost my job, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew that I didn’t want to be stuck in an office all day.
“I started to research the idea when we got home. There wasn’t anybody in Cumbria doing it – the nearest were in Glasgow and Leeds, and everybody I spoke to said, ‘What a good idea’.”
Her timing was opportune. Prosecco sales in the UK grew by 25% last year making it the most popular sparkling wine, outselling even Champagne.
Janice invested £20,000 of her redundancy money and savings in Prosecco Al Fresco. This enabled her to buy a Piaggio Ape van – imported from Italy and adapted by a company in Hull – set up a website and buy stock. She also had to complete a licensee course so that she could serve alcohol.
At the same time she enrolled on the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme. This is a Department for Work and Pensions initiative, delivered by Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, which provides financial support to help unemployed people become self-employed.
She also received advice under the Business Start-Up Support (BSUS) programme run by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
She said: “I went on a three-day course for start-ups and Kevin Thistlethwaite, my Growth Hub adviser, was a great help with marketing, the website, business planning and projections.
“It was just what I needed. Anything I wasn’t sure of, I’d ask Kevin and he’d know where to get the answer. I’d still have launched the business without his help but I wouldn’t be where I am today.
The business has been featured in the Daily Mirror and Prima and Italia! magazines.
“Kevin helped me get publicity in the local press and since then the business has been featured in the Daily Mirror and Prima and Italia! magazines.”
Her first event was the Cumbrian Vegan Festival at Rheged last August. Now she is busy most weekends. Her latest booking was for the Carlisle Fringe and she will be at Silloth Carnival on Bank Holiday Monday.
Her van has made appearances at agricultural shows – including The Cumberland Show – Muncaster Castle, Maryport Blues Festival, Christmas light switch-ons, wedding fairs and Chilli Fest in Workington.
Chilled wine is served from kegs as ‘Frizzante’. This is Prosecco in all but name because Italian wine laws stipulate that Prosecco must come in bottles.
Customers can buy a Bucks Fizz for £3, a glass of Frizzante for £4, various cocktails for £5, or a bottle of Prosecco for £20.
Janice said: “It’s been hard work. You have early starts because you have to set up on site even if you’re not selling until the afternoon.
“It’s mostly been events but I have got a couple of weddings booked in the next few weeks. I get a lot more work in the summer although I have a Hallowe’en booking at Muncaster and then all the Christmas lights.”
Now she is planning to expand into Scotland.
She added: “I need to get a Scottish licence then I’ve been offered work at Annan Riding of the Marches and I can do Langholm Show.”
If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.
Our comprehensive package of support includes:
- Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
- Free training covering business planning and self employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
- Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
- Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
The £1.7m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is creating almost 700 new businesses and nearly 1,200 jobs. It is also supporting around 250 young businesses and generating more than £92m GVA.
For more information, call us today on 0845 226 0040 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund.
Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.