A Helping Hand

It has been an interesting and informative couple of weeks at Cakes & Cardies. It turns out that there is a scheme run by the government to help new businesses! I discovered this when I went to sign on. I was a bit apprehensive about signing on as I wasn’t looking for a job now that I had decided to start my own business. But it turns out that they have a scheme for people like me, called the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA). I went along to a session about it last week to learn all about it and as of yesterday I am enrolled.

It offers mentoring to help with setting up a business, they help you to write a good business plan, work out the business cash flow and once the business starts trading there is an allowance to help out in those first few months. I now have a questionnaire to fill out about the business that will go some way to writing my business plan. This will be helpful as I haven’t really put anything on paper as yet and it will be good to think about it in a methodical way. Having someone on the other end of an email/phone to help is also great, they have run their own business so they know all the problems and pitfalls as well as the advantages. It also gives me more of a structure, the business plan has to be ready within 8 weeks, so it means I have to get my skates on. It really gives me a goal to aim for.

As well as this program I also attended a free seminar funded by the City of London called Pathway to Self Employment run by basls. This was a three hour session that went through all the things you need to think about when opening your own business (business name, market research, legal issues etc), they also offer a mentoring scheme but as I am already on the NEA scheme this did not apply. But one of the great things that came out of this was the information about the City Business Library (this is part of the Guildhall Library). The library is a great resource for all things business, it has books and journals but also lots of software that can help with market research, company profiles, HR etc. I became a member immediately after the seminar, this was lot to do with the fact that it was lashing with rain as I left! I was going to do it anyway but the rain just nudged me along! So one of my mornings next week will be spent in the library getting as much information as I can.

I have to say that I have been impressed by the amount of help there is out there for new businesses, both from the government and charitable organisations (the seminar at the Guildhall is run by the GLE). I’m not always the first person to ask for help in this way but I am glad that I have, I don’t have to do this on my own. There are people out there who want to help.

Last Friday I did the second day of the Food Safety course and sat my exam. As you will remember the exam is 30 multiple choice questions and you have to get 20 correct to pass. We started the exam at 13.35 and I finished at 13.47 and I tried to slow myself down! The tutor then checked it and, unofficially, I have passed. It has to go off the CIEH to be marked and I will hear officially in about three weeks. Now all I have to do is put it into practice in my kitchen. My big project or rather my other big project is to get the kitchen up to scratch so that it will pass an environmental health inspection. This means a lot of cleaning, re-organising, sorting out storage and much more. Keep tuned for all the fun and frolics that will bring!

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A Room of One’s Own

All this going out on my own business has got me thinking about why I am doing this, why put myself through a lot of hard work at my age (not ancient but turning 50 this year)? It has got me thinking about my life and what it means to me now and in 20 or 30 years time when I look back at what I have achieved. We all want to leave our mark on life, make some impression on the universe, leave a bit of ourselves in the people that are left behind. I can’t do that with children as most people do so what is it all about then? A bit deep and meaningful for this cake blog I hear you say but nonetheless valid questions and searchings. Don’t get me wrong, this is not about the big and bold it is about living a life that you can be proud of, a life where you have taken all the chances you are given and used them as wisely as you can.

It is about the small things. Sharing your life with people that you love, that someone special, friends and family, waking up every day and looking forward to getting on with it, taking the bad with the good, capturing wonderful moments. These moments all build up to make a happy life, we hope. So Cakes & Cardies is about me and what I want to do now, something that is just for me, something that I can work on and build up to become a part of my life, another moment to capture.

Ok, enough already I hear you say, what is going on here?  I guess writing about setting up the business means that you may have to listen to some of my thoughts on life, the universe and everything! It won’t happen too often, I promise, I don’t sit around thinking about this stuff all the time but sometimes it just surfaces and that happened this week as I started to prepare a space for me to work in (that isn’t the dining room table!).

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own was published in 1929 and was about the need for women writers to have both a literal and figurative place  to write. I remembered this book as I started to clear out our back bedroom with the intention of making it into an office/workroom for me. A lot less lofty work will take place in my room but I am really looking forward to having a room that I can go to every day where I am surrounded by all of my stuff, cake business stuff but also all my craft stuff (wool, material, sewing machine etc). This will be my space to retreat to, to work in, to create in.

The back bedroom has become a bit of a storeroom in the last year or so, everything that we are not using or don’t need has ended up in there. The first job was to sort through all the junk. A lot of it was my husbands, he is a hoarder of electronic things. Old computer screens, laptops, cables for what I don’t know, the list goes on. “You never know when you will need some of this” Ok but in the meantime we need to put it somewhere and after a bit of nagging he moved it all over the weekend. There was a chest/table in there too that came from my previous house but there isn’t any space for it here so I put it on ebay last week. It sold and was collected on Monday.

Now that the room was clear I could think about what I wanted to put in there. I would need a desk and chair, storage and that was it really to begin with. For storage I turned to Ikea, always good to turn to in these situations. One metal shelving unit and four plastic storage boxes later I was all set. It all arrived on Monday so my afternoon was sorted. I put the shelves together (the instructions said that there should be two people but I managed all on my own!) and then started working through all the various bags of wool, material, needles that have been lying around the house in various rooms. How therapeutic it is to go through things and throw out stuff that you know you will never use, nothing like a good clearout.


The room was ready now for the desk, which I bought on ebay over the weekend and we collected yesterday. From today I have my space and can add to it as time goes on but for the moment it has everything I need and the rest is up to me.



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Back to School

As part of my preparation for the business I booked myself onto a Food Hygiene course. Apparently, having this certificate is not mandatory, there is no legal requirement for me to have it! Of course it looks good if you do and it turns out a lot of markets etc will ask to see it as part of vetting you. I also felt that it would help me work out what I need to do to my kitchen to make it ready for inspection by the local environmental health officers.

I found a course at my local adult education college in Peckham, a CIEH (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) Level 2 course in Food Hygiene in Catering. A two day course over two weeks, 5 hours each day with an exam and a certificate (if the exam is passed, of course) at the end. There are a lot of providers out there and just a simple search on the web brings up hundreds of options. This one seemed like a good one and it is local, about a 30 minute walk from home. It costs £58 for the two days.

The first day was last Friday and I don’t mind saying I was a little bit nervous as I walked over to the college. I haven’t done any formal learning for a long time and  this was a whole new world of food hygiene. I am a trained nurse (I trained straight out of school and practised for about 12 years) so there is some knowledge about the subject deep down in the recesses of my brain, hopefully. As it turned out I didn’t need to be nervous, it was relatively painless.

It’s always interesting to see who attends these sort of courses, why everyone else is doing it. There were five other people (all women) there and four of them needed the certificate for child minding and one for her catering business. And me for my cakes. Our tutor was Danish and a strict timekeeper! If you weren’t in the room when he said he would start and you would miss out, he kept to his word too and three of the students missed the first 5 minutes of one of the sessions. Their attitude was interesting, they felt aggrieved that he had started without them even though he did warn them. I was a model student, of course! But then I can’t bear to be late for anything.

A lot of the course is fairly common sense, some science, law and temperatures. Lots about temperatures, disinfection temperature (82C), the danger zone (between 5C and 63C) and many more. At the end of the day I felt a bit deflated as I worried about how to do all this in a domestic kitchen, overwhelmed with all the information and things that have to be translated into my kitchen. But other people do it so it can’t be too hard and once I have completed the course I can then attack the kitchen and get it ship shape.

The second day is this Friday and the exam is in the last hour, 30 multiple choice questions of which you need to get 20 correct to pass. Hopefully after studying my course book this week I will pass with flying colours. I will update you after Friday.

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