Gainsborough: Iain thrilled to have gone from unemployed despair to being a business success story

A Gainsborough man has been talking about he turned his life around after getting involved in the Government’s Work Programme.

Friday, 20th June 2014, 12:00 pm
Iain MacDonald has started a successful new business through the Government's Work Programme

When an industrial accident ended Iain Macdonald’s career as an HGV driver, his biggest fear was that his children might grow up seeing him jobless and depressed.

But inspiration for a successful new business idea, creating t-shirt workshops in schools, came from an unusual source.

Iain spent almost two years on sick leave after his hip was badly injured in a collision with a fork lift truck in 2009.

When his employer’s company folded in 2011, he was determined he did not want to go on to disability benefits.

So he started applying for jobs, any job he thought he could do with his injury, sending off for at least 10 applications a week.

“I was so desperate to work because money was tight at home and I was stressed at not working,” he said.

“I want to instil a sound work ethic in my children, not let them see me waste away on benefits.

“I was despondent, disheartened and felt worthless. My relationships at home were suffering. I was even applying for jobs that would have seen our family income drop by £1,000 a year because of the loss of benefits and cost of working, but it would have been worth it, just to be back at work.”

Just as he was beginning to fear he would never work again, he had a Eureka moment, inspired by the children he and wife, Michelle, 30, care for as foster parents.

As foster carers, Iain and Michelle often had children arrive with very few personal possessions.

“I was always struck by how little they had,” Iain continued.

“Just a handful of clothes and no toys. Because they moved around so much, their belongings were scattered between family members and foster homes.”

He and Michelle, who have five children of their own, thought it would be give them a sense of identity to let them design their own t-shirts.

But when they looked online they were shocked by the prices.

So instead, they looked into buying their own printing equipment and it was then they thought they could make a business out of it, and so they decided to try to set up online sales and run children’s t-shirt workshops.

However, it was a big step up to turn a homespun idea into a commercial business.

Neverthless, Iain and Michelle put together a business plan.

But it was only when Iain spoke to an advisor at A4e, the service provider which runs the Work Programme for the Department for Work and Pensions, that he realised his plan was flawed.

He said: “I was referred there because I had been out of work for six months and told them I had a business plan and wanted to be self employed, but didn’t have funding.”

“My advisor, Steve Richards, really knew what he was talking about.”

“We had done our own market research, but he pointed out that people will promise anything when they don’t have to put their hands in their pockets so we should scale down our unrealistic targets which had been based on strangers in the street telling us they would definitely buy our t-shirts.”

“He gave us lots of great advice that helped us get a viable business plan together and gave us confidence that we could make this work with his expertise behind us.”

“We had had the idea for some time but it started to feel like it might really happen.”

“It wasn’t long before we secured a £5,000 start-up loan from a local business contact of mine and invested it in equipment, a starting stock of blank t-shirts, business cards and everything we needed to get it going.”

He and Michelle now go into local schools and, working alongside the National Curriculum, turn classrooms into t-shirt factories, letting children run wild with their imaginations and then learn various methods of printing before creating their own t-shirt to take home.

Parents can then buy additional copies of their designs online.

They also print merchandise for local companies.

Iain said: “It’s just fantastic feeling that this is all down to our idea and our hard work.”

“It fits in perfectly around the family, and now I spend every evening with the kids instead of driving around the country.”

Almost 22,000 jobseekers in the East Midlands have escaped long-term unemployment and found lasting work through the Work Programme, since it started in 2011.

Figures released by the Government this month, show record levels of employment and long-term unemployment falling by 108,000 across Britain over the past year – the largest annual fall in 16 years.