More of us are ditching 9-5 to start over again
FROM home-baked cakes, pungent pickles, potent beer, dog sitting services or guitar lessons, you have no idea what kind of cottage industry is going on in your street, behind closed doors.
It seems one of the upsides to the squeeze on the employment market is that it has prompted stay- at-home-mums, the newly redundant, those in a career rut, and independent- minded graduates to take a long hard look at how they actually want to spend their working hours.
New figures released yesterday by the Office Of National Statistics show that the home-working sector is a healthy one in England and Wales, increasing from 9.2 per cent in 2001 to 10.7 per cent in 2011 — so it seems the answer many of us are coming up with, when it comes to working woes, is that we want to be our own boss and we want to work from home. Latest figures point to around 7,500 new business start ups in Wales last year.
With careful pre-planning, a good idea and with self discipline and drive it can be, says one such entrepreneur, the best move you will ever make.
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Julie Richards set up her knitting company after some chronic health problems made a more conventional working life impossible to maintain.
Knitting was something she had loved as a child, but when it came to starting her career it never entered her mind that she should take up the needles.
After studying for a music degree she went on to become a music teacher.
But throughout her studies, Julie was crippled by a severe form of endometriosis and she struggled through university. "But I kept going and never failed to hand in my work, " she recalls.
Her health travails did though, put paid to her school career, but Julie, 44, from Sketty's Westbourne Grove, was determined to work.
"I was going crazy in the house and I needed to find something to do.
"I saw something on television about knitting and I thought about giving it ago.
"I researched the market and realised that there was a demand for knitting and general DIY crafts.
"I started making some things for myself, then toys and some pictures."
Julie put some designs on the internet and a big online company got in touch with her.
She soon became a partner for them and she now sells knitting kits for beginners, using nostalgic and unusual designs, via her Little Knit Kit Company.
The late, celebrated Swansea author Iris Gower told a similar story of her beginnings as a writer, with chronic ill health making a more traditional working life impossible for her.
So she began by sending her stories in to women's magazines before graduating to novels.
Of course the traditional cottage industry that has kept families afloat for generations had been cooking up goods in the kitchen and selling them on.
Visit any food market at the weekend and you will see people offering cakes, biscuits and spreads, just like your mum used to make, often cooked at home in the kitchen. What they are really selling is nostalgia of course. This weekend, at the Get Welsh Food, Drink and Craft Festival, you will find Chris Evans, who started her now-thriving business, Pembrokeshire's Homemade Country Preserves, on her kitchen stove.
"I started this 13 years ago. I was on my own and I had nine children to look after.
"I always used to make jam when the children went blackberry picking and I saw a woman selling pickled onions at a car boot sale.
"I thought "I could do that".
"It was something I could do at home with the children around and it has grown from there."
Pitching up at food festivals, fairs and food markets Chris is now a source of knowledge to her regulars, who appreciate the fact that the food isn't processed in a remote factory.
Chris says being a small business means she can respond to the needs of her buyers because she has a conversation with them.
"I make jam for diabetics which people travel to markets to buy because they know I will be there.
"When I first started making it some customers would say 'it could do with being a bit sweeter', so I adjusted the recipe.
Julie says those who are planning to take the plunge shouldn't be nervous of doing so, as long as they have researched their idea to see that it holds water.
"The initial idea of setting up a business dedicated in this area was a dream for quite a while.
Julie says: "When I thought of the idea I was worried it may be dated.
"But I think because of the recession people have been staying in more and being creative."
Now the firm runs on a production line, with her husband able to step in if Julie's health puts the brakes on her activity levels. Even if the jobs market does stabilise over the next few years, school leavers and college leavers are entering a working world far removed from the one their parents and grand parents did — one of multi-internships, short contracts and extreme competition for each post.
And some think we should be adjusting the curriculum to help nurture entrepreneurship among the young.
A former toolmaker at Ford's Linamar plant, Nigel Lewis set up as a plumber when the axe fell on him and on 200 colleagues.
The 54-year-old started retraining part-time when there was an inkling that the writing was on the wall for the plant and plumbing proved to be a canny move.
"It has been great,'' he says.
"I can start when I want and finish when I want. No more shift work. And I am my own boss.
"But is hard out there. I have three children, with one at university and one hoping to go to Tycoch College, so I hope my children all find jobs.
" People are going to have to think differently about their careers, but it isn't always a bad thing."