Music-lover Gillian Mills is among the first candidates from the Larne area reaping the benefits of a programme to help long-term unemployed people to get back into work and explore the opportunities for running their own business: the Exploring Enterprise2 Programme (EE2P).
42-year-old Gillian is the brains behind a new music recording studio, rehearsal space and independent record label business in Larne, Red 7 Entertainments.
Larne-born Gillian, a tourism graduate, worked for a UK airline for several years before returning home to take on an engineering role with FG Wilson, where she worked for eight years. When the first round of redundancies hit the company in 2008, Gillian took voluntary redundancy and started a family.
When her daughter was nursery school-age, Gillian returned to work part-time in a neighbourhood shop. By 2012 she was looking for a new direction and was thinking about starting her own business. She was referred to the Larne Enterprise and Development Company (LEDCOM) where she was introduced to the Exploring Enterprise2 Programme (EE2P).
The programme gives unemployed people a first insight into starting a business and a foot up onto mainstream business support programmes. It is part-funded by the European Social Fund, the Department for Employment and Learning, Larne Borough Council, Enterprise NI and the local Enterprise Agencies under the NI ESF Programme 2007-13.
LEDCOM has delivered a comprehensive training and development programme which gives candidates a formal CCEA qualification, as well as developing essential skills and improving confidence. Candidates come from a broad range of backgrounds and have varying levels of experience, but all have in common the drive to run their own business.
Patricia Brennan, business advisor from LEDCOM said: “Through the Exploring Enterprise2 Programme we hope to create a pool of new business talent within Northern Ireland’s most deprived communities. Candidates don’t need to have a specific business idea to join. The programme provides an insight into starting a business and gets candidates thinking about the possibilities within their grasp. We can then help them take steps to help them fulfil their ambitions.”
Gillian explained: “The programme provided me with really useful support and advice. I have some friends who are musicians and I am passionate about live music, so I had a gem of an idea about rehearsal and recording facilities and I knew there was nothing else like this locally. Thanks to the enthusiasm and encouragement of the LEDCOM advisors, I quickly developed my idea and I was filled with the belief that I could make something happen. Within a week of joining the programme I went out and found my premises. Both Patricia and David Gillespie from LEDCOM have been there for me, giving me so much support – they are lovely! It’s great to know that you aren’t just left on your own – if I lift the phone, they are there to help.”
Gillian was inspired to run her own business by the example of her father Sammy, who started his own business Mills Coach Hire, over 20 years ago.
Gillian continued: “I would advise anybody to consider the Exploring Enterprise2 Programme, even if they don’t know what they want to do, or even if it’s just to get help in polishing up your CV and identifying your own experience and strengths. It gives you a real insight into what you can do. I had reached a point in my life where I knew I wanted a change of direction. The Programme showed me that you shouldn’t give up if you really want to do something.
“It’s still early days but things are going really well for the business, and I am able to balance work and home life as I’m my own boss. I am thrilled to have been able to take on two employees through the Steps to Work programme and the YES Scheme. One of our own record label (Ward 12) signings, Demargeo is already enjoying digital sales success of two debut tracks from their first album. So who knows, the Next Big Thing could be discovered out of Red 7 Entertainment!”
Patricia Brennan said: “This is an exciting time for Gillian as she gets her business off the ground.
“Through the programme she has been given the insight and confidence to think about how she could use the skills and experiences she already had to work for herself. She is already starting to reap the benefits so we’re thrilled for her and really look forward to seeing this business grow.”