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Deena, who is a resident of Kibworth Beauchamp can finally, proudly state that she has achieved her life-long ambition of being a self-employed entrepreneur, through the help of the Work.Live.Leicestershire (WiLL) Project.

Deena who is in her 50’s has had a varied career history, starting her first job straight after leaving school at the age of 16.

Her work history has ranged from: working in the hosiery and plastics industry, working as a cosmetic consultant, a care worker, a support worker, a special educational needs teaching assistant and many other part-time and casual jobs. All while bringing up a family, running a household and additionally providing care and support for her mother, step-mother and mother-in-law.

After over 40 years of working full or part-time, Deena was forced to register as unemployed. This came in 2019, after her last job came to an end. It was just after this point that she was referred to the WiLL Project by her local jobcentre.

Deena was subsequently signed up to the WiLL Project in November 2019.

The WiLL Project supports those who live in rural Leicestershire and aims to improve accessibility and creates opportunities for participants by working and collaborating with other locally operating partner organisations – making it unique to other similar projects. Deena had the opportunity to work with the many partners that make up the WiLL Project.

“When Deena signed up to the WiLL Project, she felt she was lacking in confidence and required some guidance and support streamlining her goals”, states WiLL Keyworker, Tori Haines. “Despite her lack of confidence, she was so positive and had a real ’can do’ attitude, which made it a joy to keywork Deena”.

Being self-employed had always been something that Deena had considered over the years, partly because of her additional role as a carer and the flexibility that this would give. But the idea took root when she started helping her neighbours, on a casual basis, with their gardens and allotments after being made redundant. Deena loves the outdoors and had grown up being around allotments.

She knew that this was what she wanted to do – working for herself providing a gardening service for those who couldn’t or were not able to maintain their gardens and green spaces.

This is where CASE (Co-operative and Social Enterprise) - a WiLL delivery partner, was able to step in and help guide Deena on her journey. CASE offers 1-2-1 business support to those wanting to work for themselves as well as establishing ethical, co-operative and community ethos within their businesses. Deena attended a series of weekly workshops that covered how to set up in business; including business planning, marketing and financial planning. Deena also meet with a CASE adviser on a regular basis for mentoring and to discuss aspects of her business and received further tailored training on bookkeeping and business management.

Deena was also enrolled on a number of courses via another WiLL delivery partner WEA (Workers Educational Association). These included a number of well-being courses as well as IT and digitals skills, book keeping and excel.

“I had never considered myself to be particularly academic and definitely did not consider myself to have any skills to run my own business. The WEA courses changed that. They gave me the confidence and skills that I needed, and for the first time, I believed that running my business was a real option”, states Deena.

“Deena was like a sponge. She wanted to absorb as much information and knowledge as she could, as well as learn new skills. She was determined to apply that learning to setting up her own business. It was a pleasure to help and guide Deena on her journey”, added Dorothy Francis, CASE Advisor and WiLL project Keyworker.

Deena’s next step was to start marketing her own business by getting flyers and business cards printed and getting these distributed. She started off using her own car and gardening equipment. Getting customers was not a problem, however, once the Lockdown period came into force, Deena found herself getting more and more requests from customers who were shielding and needed help, with their often very large gardens.

Through funding that is available through the WiLL Project, Dorothy and Deena submitted an application that allowed her to purchase gardening equipment that was more suitable for professional and commercial use, and importantly for Deena, environmentally friendly and sustainable.

“Being able to update my equipment was a game changer”, states Deena. “I was able to take on jobs that I had to refuse before simply because I didn’t have the right tools and machinery.

"This has meant that I have been able to stop using my own car and have been able to buy a van specifically for business use”.

“Since Lockdown, it feels that I am providing more than a gardening service, especially to those who are shielding. I am often the only person that many customers are talking to in person - albeit from a distance. Many of my customers have not left their homes for several months and look forward to my visits when we can share a cuppa in the garden. This has been invaluable.”

“I still can’t believe that I am running my own business doing something that I absolutely love. Doing my own bookkeeping and marketing, and also finding some ‘me’ time along the way,” states Deena. “It really has been a dream come true. I am so grateful to Tori and Dorothy at the WiLL Project for their support and encouragement, and unlocking doors and options that had never been open to me before. For the first time in a long time I am excited about the future”.

(NB – Deena business is called Helping Hands Leicester and she can be contacted on 07709556141)