Meet the Yorkshire lockdown startups doing business their own way

One of the last major acts of Philip Bolson’s time in employment was to close a range of hotels following the Government’s decree ordering all hospitality businesses to shut.

Philip Bolson's last major act as managing director of a group of hotels in the Lake District was to shut them for the lockdown.

Only months before he had left his job as the general manager of The Grand in York to take over as managing director of a hotel group in the Lake District.

“Once I’d closed all the hotels I was pretty much furloughed straight away,” Mr Bolson says.

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The hospitality expert spent the time off work to reevaluate what he wanted from his career.

Philip Bolson realised that his role had completely changed as the country started to gradually reopen.

He said: “Like many people I went for a lot of walks over late spring, early summer. ‘What did I want to do?’ ‘Where did I want to be?’ I was talking to a lot of people who I trust.”

As the country started to gradually reopen, Mr Bolson realised that his role had completely changed. Faced with cash flow constraints, exciting development plans kiboshed and question marks still at large over the hospitality industry, Mr Bolson decided it was time to go his own way.

Rather than turning away from hospitality, he decided to put his decades of experience to use by becoming a consultant in the industry. It’s a path that others are also taking, says Mr Bolson.

It’s not just the hospitality industry that has been turned upside down. There was already a trend towards lawyers seeking more control over their careers than that offered by traditional law firms.

Clare Young joined Legal Studio in Leeds last year to work for herself.

Clare Young joined Legal Studio, where lawyers work for themselves under the firm’s banner, in November.

Ms Young too used the coronavirus disruption as time to reflect. She was working for a firm in Cheltenham but has since moved to Bedale to be closer to her family.

“It has brought into focus what you think is important in your life,” she said. “One of those things is obviously family and how near to family you are.”

The trend of lawyers going to work for themselves under a banner such as that of Legal Studio has been accelerated by the pandemic, Ms Young says.

Adam Walsh, the former managing director of The Right Fuelcard Company in Leeds, used the pandemic to follow his ambition of setting up his own business.

She added: “We as a profession realised how easy it is to work remotely. We can have that flexible lifestyle.

“We can take the children to school in the morning or walk the dogs out at midday and as long as we do what we have to and make sure that clients' expectations are managed and we’re in control of our workload, nothing really suffers.”

For some, the pandemic has just helped bring plans that they had previously put on hold to the forefront.

Adam Walsh had a successful career as the managing director of The Right Fuelcard Company in Leeds. He left that post in November 2019 to set up his own venture. However, he was enticed to join another business.

Lily Hartley was placed on furlough in May from her job at a marketing agency in York. She used that time to look into setting up her own cosmetics business.

Then the pandemic came and despite successfully continuing to work from home he felt there was a “void” of “wanting to do something for myself”.

Mr Walsh and his business partner Mark Kilvington have set up Driving Down, a business that helps small firms and sole traders manage their overheads better.

Driving Down has already taken on two other employees and is planning on bringing in two new recruits in the next few months.

It has also taken office space in Leeds but Mr Walsh envisages a hybrid home and office working model for the company.

For many, the disruption caused by the outbreak led to them picking up new skills, which they have turned into business ventures.

Lily Hartley was placed on furlough in May from her job at a marketing agency in York. She used that time to look into setting up her own cosmetics business.

Laura Hirst is now a personal trainer, running classes online from her home in Huddersfield.

The 29-year-old was then made redundant in the autumn and decided to establish an eco friendly bath products business called Salt + Steam from her home in Buttercrambe.

“It’s the best way to get a grip on your own future,” Ms Hartley says. “It’s quite scary and a very big leap to take but people should do it.”

Laura Hirst also took time on furlough to expand her skill set. Prior to the pandemic, she worked as an event executive for Jane Tomlinson’s Run For All.

The 31-year-old is now a personal trainer, running classes online from her home in Huddersfield.

Ms Hirst admits to feel slightly apprehensive about setting up her own business.

She added: “I just thought financially and mentally that this would be a great opportunity to take the time to set up for myself and really go for it.”

Business support programme AD:VENTURE, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), helps new businesses trading for less than three years in North and West Yorkshire.

It has seen a 26 per cent increase in the number of businesses registering on the programme from 2019 to 2020.

Mr Walsh believes that the pandemic could see the country end up with an army of new entrepreneurs.

“A lot of people during the pandemic have had the opportunity to assess what’s really important to them,” he says. “I do believe that generally there’s a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the UK.”

Back in Wakefield, Mr Bolson is enjoying being in control of his own destiny. However, he admits that there are days where “the sun isn’t shining and the cricket isn’t on in the background”.

The lockdown has changed the course of several people’s lives and by becoming their own boss many are seizing the future.

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Philip Bolson is enjoying being in control of his own destiny. However, he admits that there are days where “the sun isn’t shining and the cricket isn’t on in the background”.