When Teesside grandad Steve Allport was struck down with a rare brain condition he thought he’d never work again.
But thanks to a love of traditional cake recipes, a never-say-die attitude, and help from Redcar and Cleveland Enterprise Team, the dad-of-two has launched a pop-up vintage tea room and catering company with his wife Julie.
Although it’s early days for the business the couple have been inundated with requests to attend events in 2015 meaning the diary is filling up nicely.
Steve, 54, from Nunthorpe, was struck down with a rare brain herniation in 1998 – called Arnold Chiari Malformation with Syringomyelia the condition saw part of his brain shift from within his skull into his spinal column causing devastating effects.
The brave dad-of-two underwent major surgery at Middlesbrough General Hospital to correct the hernia but the condition left him with limited sensitivity to heat or cold and he is now unable to feel pain.
After his life-saving operation, the former civil servant struggled to find another job.
With little prospect of any improvement Steve had almost come to terms with his early enforced retirement.
But a bizarre experience while on a day out changed all that!
Steve said: “After being out of work for so long, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever work again but after a day out in our vintage campervan with friends at Blakey Ridge, we were mistaken by other holiday makers as a refreshment van and it planted the idea for the business.”
The couple then contacted the Enterprise Team – part of Redcar and Cleveland Council – and say it was thanks to the help they received that the business got off the ground.
The team is made up of skilled business coaches and is focused on providing free support to companies across the borough helping them achieve their business goals, including moving premises, increasing their turnover and improving profitability.
Annie’s Vintage Teas is one of more than 250 companies being supported by the team.
Steve said: “They gave us support when we needed it, helped us create a business plan, put us in touch with other organisations who could support with funding for transport and held an array of priceless workshops. I could not recommend them enough.”
Councillor Mark Hannon, Redcar and Cleveland Council cabinet member for economic development, said: “It’s great for the region to see such great success stories thanks to the continual help and support of the Enterprise Team.
“It’s businesses like Annie’s Vintage Teas which help boost our growing local economy and inspire other future entrepreneurs to start-up their own companies.”
Steve and Julie renovated a vintage caravan which they call Annie to take to summer events and from that they launched Annie’s Vintage Teas in August this year.
The husband and wife team now operate from their home kitchen in Nunthorpe and a commercial kitchen they’ve leased in Middlesbrough.
They then load up Annie and attend events, selling the goodies they’ve baked.
With a diary quickly booking up until next summer and events including Saltburn and Middlesbrough food festivals, Pickering War Weekend and Red Tractor Week on the horizon, Annie’s Vintage Teas is taking the region by storm.
Steve and Julie pride themselves on using vintage recipes, such as malted Ovaltine cake and Camp coffee cake, and insist on only using organic and free-range ingredients.
Steve said: “We wanted to do something different, and offer service like no-one else, so we use authentic old recipes and trade from Annie.
“Julie is an incredible baker and I love to make high-quality savouries, we seem to have hit on a winning formula.
“If you’re ever at an event with us, not only will you be served authentic vintage food, you might even be treated to a jive dance or two from friends of ours who often help out.”
• For more information about the Enterprise Team visit www.theenterpriseteam.co.uk or call 01642 438500