Fund Lends More Than £500k To Small Firms

A fund set up to benefit small businesses in Northern Ireland has lent out more than half a million pounds after three more firms received support.

Boutique candle maker Castle-hill Candles from Portaferry, gym and fitness studio Push Fitness from Enniskillen, and education supply company Learning Space NI in Belfast are the latest to receive support from the Northern Ireland Small Business Loan Fund.

The money has gone to the creation of new jobs, purchase of new premises and investment in support systems, enabling the companies to expand.

The £5 million Invest Northern Ireland fund is managed by UCI, a subsidiary of social finance organisation Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT).

Invest NI’s director of corpo-rate finance William McCulla said the fund was “attracting a lot of interest”.

“In just six months the fund has offered over £500,000 in loans to local businesses. This clearly demonstrates the need for this fund as part of our Access to Finance portfolio and how vital access to such support is for small businesses if they are to achieve their growth plans,” he said.

Lorraine McAleer, manager of Learning Space NI, said the support her firm received had been “instrumental in helping to develop our business, fulfilling bigger orders and putting us on track for future expansion. They’ve seen the potential in our business, enabling us to take on two new members of staff”.

Richard Linton, co-owner of Push Fitness, said the money had been used “to deliver a whole renovation and meet our working capital requirements. The planning process necessary to help secure the loan was really helpful. It’s given us a structure to plan for growth and the process has been very straightforward.”

Managing director of Castlehill Candles Connie Mercer said the investment had been “crucial in helping us to develop new product ranges and continue to innovate in our designs”.

“By 2015, we’re hopeful that 60 per cent of our sales will be made up of export to markets such as the Republic of Ireland.

We’ve taken on two new members of staff and plan to grow with a further two each year,” she said.

UCIT chief executive Harry McDaid said the trust had “a proud history in supporting a wide range of community, voluntary and social enterprise clients to create social and economic benefit, increase employment numbers and secure jobs that might otherwise be lost.”

“As managers of the NI Small Business Loan Fund we are extremely keen to deliver support to as wide a range of businesses as possible across Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Our approach is to channel support to dynamic businesses capable of expanding their product / service range to find new clients and new markets. Each of these businesses has demonstrated an ability to target new opportunities, and they have solid plans for growth.”