Ards Business Hub has given specialist support to 55 craft entrepreneurs involved in the creative industries during the past 12 months.
The figures were revealed as it celebrated the first anniversary of its Handcrafted Gallery in South Street in Newtownards.
Chief executive Nichola Lockhart said that the aim of the gallery was to provide support for local makers to enable them to grow their businesses with a view to opening their own premises.
She added: “The Handcrafted Gallery was a new venture for us as it is the first time we have opened our own retail unit to provide support to the creative industries. It is an important addition to our mission to encourage entrepreneurship and grow the local economy.”
“We would appeal to all arts and crafts makers in the area to come to the Handcrafted Gallery, talk to the makers already here and see how we can work with them to develop their businesses.”
The Handcrafted Gallery offers a range of services including a retail hub, co-working space, finance and business planning, one to one mentoring and advice and expertise on marketing plans. At the moment there are 30 makers exhibiting their wares in the gallery shop.
These include people working in a range of disciplines including jewellery, textiles, metals, glass and fine art. Many of the makers use recycled materials that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Deborah Anderson, who makes her own range of natural soaps, cosmetics, preserves and chutneys, was so successful selling her products in the gallery that she opened Broom Cottage, her own coffee shop and deli next door.
She commented: “Being a retailer within The Handcrafted Gallery has led me to the next stage of my business. The increase in sales of my products meant that when the adjacent unit became available to rent, I seized the opportunity to open Broom Cottage Coffee Shop and Deli, selling my own products to complement items sold by The Handcrafted Gallery.”
A number of newcomers have recently started trading in the gallery and include: Bluebird Jewellery Designs – using polymer clay; KBurridge Designs – textile artist using upcycled and reclaimed fabrics; Forget Me Not Crafts – making miniature houses and scenes; John Magill Art – painting; Ross McMullan Welding - metal art made out of recycled horseshoes; Sharon Millar Art – painting; Creatures & co – hand-drawn cards, prints and water colours; Artificial Happiness – handmade creations; Saltwater Bay – framed pieces using glass and pottery recovered from sea; Simply Concrete NI – homeware using waste concrete.
This year, Ards Business Hub plans to support 60 creative businesses and host ten ‘Meet the Makers’ events at the gallery. It is also arranging for makers to attend trade shows in Ireland and to carry out business needs assessments to help them to develop and grow.
It is the first year of a three year strategy that aims to engage with 200 makers to encourage them to be involved in the Handcrafted Gallery and take advantage of all the business support programmes.