Mum went from living on the streets and begging for food to running an £100k office space start-up

AT the age of 16 most teenagers are worrying about their GCSE’S, not whether they’ll have a roof over their head. 

When Jem Henderson, now 33, was kicked out of home by her abusive mother and she had to beg for food, she couldn’t have even imagined 17 years later she’d be running a successful business with a projected turnover of £100,000.

�Andrew McCaren

Jem went from being homeless at 16 to launching her own company, which is now aiming for a £100,000 turnover.[/caption]

But at the age of 16, things looked very different for the young business owner, who has set up a shared working space in Harrogate.

Her abusive single-mum, who suffered from a personality disorder and severe mental issues, threw her out on to the streets.

She had to beg for food and cash, surviving on handouts of an average of £40 a week.

‘I would sleep on the streets or in a squat’

“I would sleep on the streets or in a squat then I couch-surfed for a while. I eventually moved into a family hostel, for which I had to pay £90 a month for. It seemed like a fortune,” Jem, who is now mum to Rufus, three, told The Sun.

“It was a brutal time. I remember a heroin addict once knocked at my door, when I was living in the hostel. She blamed me for stealing something from her. It was a pretty scary environment to live in, but I was fine most days.”

Fortunately, Jem’s grandparents, who moved away to Hartlepool three months after she was thrown out from home, came back to Harrogate and took her in when she was 19.

�Andrew McCaren

Indieworx Collective is a co-working space in Harrogate, which offers permanent desk space and hotdesking for freelancers in the area[/caption]

�Andrew McCaren

Indieworx members pay £18 a day or £220 a month – which includes unlimited free tea and coffee.[/caption]

�Andrew McCaren

Jem suffered from PTSD for several years after living on the streets but her drive to learn and succeed helped her to power through difficult times[/caption]

But despite having a roof over her head, Jem didn’t really know what to do with her life.

She went from a spell as a hairdresser to being an apprentice painter and decorator before being signed off sick with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – an anxiety disorder caused by stressful, frightening or distressing events – that she developed from living on the streets.

During this time she lived on disability benefits and also had some support from her grandparents.

�Andrew McCaren

Jem started her new venture with a £25,000 loan repayable over five years from the Government-backed Start-Up Loans Company[/caption]

©Andrew McCaren

The firm offers up to 25 formal desks on a flexible basis as well as a meeting room to seat eight people[/caption]

Jem's tip for budding entrepreneurs

JEM went from being homeless at 16 to running two businesses. Here are her tips:

  • Do not give up: There will be setbacks but there’s always a light at the end of tunnel. Whether you’re struggling with money, or you’re stressed about how slow things are going, just remember – things do get better.
  • Keep learning: This is not the time to rest on the laurels of the qualifications you have already gained. Think of how you can improve your business and the new skills you can learn.
  • Make good use of your contacts: Good communication is an important part of any business. Speak to people around you. Fantastic relationships within the industry will help your business grow.
  • Commit: I used social media to announce that I was starting Indieworx. This meant I felt an obligation to actually achieve it; I didn’t want to let anyone down.
    Committing and talking about it with your family is a good technique to stick to your deadlines.

She said: “I don’t suffer from PTSD today but at the time I had severe anxiety which made it tough to hold a job but I didn’t want to waste my time.

“I always loved books, learning and writing so from the age of 19 to 25, I took out a student loan and did three degrees – a foundation degree in Visual Arts at Harrogate College, a BA in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University.”

Jem then got a job as a tech copywriter, which she did for two years, before setting up her own copywriting business – Weasel Words in 2013.

‘In London co-working spaces are booming – I want the same for Harrogate’

The mum-of-one was inspired to launch Indieworx Collective – one of the city’s first co-working spaces – after reading Harrogate council’s economic growth strategy plan.

It aims to support small start-ups and create a sense of community for lonely freelancers who would otherwise be working from home or out of coffee shops.

She said: “I was born in Harrogate and I love this city so I was always interested in knowing about the new projects in town.

“The document highlighted a lot of positive things about Harrogate. For example, that we have a lot of start-ups and an educated population but equally that these people work elsewhere because there’s a lack of opportunity.

©Andrew McCaren

The building also has a 50″ screen for presentations or workshops and high speed WiFi.[/caption]

©Andrew McCaren

With Indieworx, Jem is hoping to create a sense of community and also address the issue of isolation for people who work for themselves at home.[/caption]

“I wanted to change that. I could see there was a gap for a project like Indieworx Collective and I thought ‘let’s do it’.”

While setting up her new company Jem continued running her copywriting business which only convinced her that places like Indieworx are needed.

She said: “I worked from home for six years and I was getting fed up with only talking to the goldfish. I wanted to help other freelancers like me by creating a sense of community and also address the issue of isolation for people who work for themselves at home.”

Jem started her new venture with a £25,000 loan repayable over five years from the government-backed Start-Up Loans Company, which offers a 6 per cent fixed rate on borrowing up to £25,000, and now business is picking up.

After just three months in business, Indieworx is becoming part of the Harrogate landscape with the company predicted to turn over £100,000 this financial year.

How to get a start-up business loan

IF you need financial support in setting up your business, you can get loans of up to £25,000 to help along the way.

  • Virgin StartUP offers government-backed loans from £500 to £25,000 to help entrepreneurs launching or growing a business that’s under two-years-old in England or Scotland. It has a rate of 6 per cent interest.
  • The Start-Up Loans Company, which lends government subsidised loans up to £25,000 at a rate of 6 per cent.
  • The Princes Trust also offers loans, up to £5,000, at a rate of 6.2 per cent.

The firm offers up to 25 formal desks on a flexible basis as well as a meeting room to seat eight people, a kitchen area and a cluster of comfy sofas, in offices created from a former carpet showroom.

Jem did some research and took out a three year lease on the building just outside Harrogate town centre and pays £42,000 in rent a year – although this was reduced by £10,000 in the first year.

Indieworx members pay £18 a day or £220 a month – which includes unlimited free tea and coffee.
The building also has a 50″ screen for presentations or workshops and high speed WiFi.

Jem said: “In London, co-working spaces like Indieworx are booming. But in Harrogate we see roads packed with professionals heading out of of the city to go somewhere else. I want them to stay here by offering them a cheap and cheerful environment where they can work, meet other people and share their knowledge.”

�Andrew McCaren

These days, Indieworx has 40 regular members and one full-time employee[/caption]

©Andrew McCaren

Jem said the most difficult part about being a business owner is to never be able to switch off[/caption]

These days, Indieworx has 41 regular members and one full-time employee paid £13,200 a year, who helps Jem with running day-to-day operations and offers business advice.

For now, the mum-of-one doesn’t take any money out of the business herself to make sure as much cash as possible is kept in the company.

In addition to providing a co-working space, Indieworx also has a programme of regular workshops and events aimed at freelancers and start-ups to allow people to meet, chat, share problems and find solutions to their common struggles as young business owners.

These are usually run in collaboration with local organisations and universities

Jem said: “We’ve got a great mix of people from children’s book authors to garden designers and young entrepreneurs. The last thing I wanted was to create a sales environment for established businesses. We want people to help each other and grow together.”

As a parent, running her own business has also given Jem the flexibility to look after her son at the same time. She said “Running my own business also gives me a lot of flexibility particularly as a parent and I feel very grateful for it.

“But the most difficult day-to-day part is to never be able to switch off. That’s something I am still working on.”

�Andrew McCaren

The mum-of-one is particularly excited about transforming Indieworx into an education hub this year[/caption]

My first proposal was turned down by the council but I didn’t let it stop me

Of course, setting up a business also has other drawbacks. Jem confessed: “There have been so many challenges to get the business to open open. From the council turning down our original proposal for the offices to the planning process taking three months instead of six weeks, costing us three months in rent and bills needlessly.”

Jem also lost an anticipated grant funding of £12,500 in September through the Ad:Venture programme – which provides business support to young companies with an ambition to grow.

She said: “It was devastating. The grant money we’ve lost was my working capital to get us to the point where the members of the space paid for the cost of the rent and bills. We’ve downsized the plans and thankfully had a number of donations of furniture and art which meant we were ready to open on time.

“The day I was told we wouldn’t get the funding I also got four enquiries from businesses to hire out the space. So it felt a bit like a Hollywood movie – when everything goes horribly wrong before being great again:”


EASY MONEY How to make money from home – earn up to £1,000 without leaving your sofa


‘Going from homeless at the age of 16 to running two successful businesses at 33 is my proudest achievement’

Looking to the future, Jem is particularly excited about transforming Indieworx into an education hub this year. She is working on implementing a teaching programme about business for start-ups, coding clubs for teenagers and back-to-work coaching for young mums. But she has no immediate plans to open a new venue.

She said: “Let’s see how this one goes first! I’d love to do similar projects across the region but each one will take someone like me to make it be a success – someone that loves their town and wants it to be a better place.“

And she feels that even in its infancy the business is still a huge achievement given where she started from. “Going from homeless at the age of 16 to running two successful businesses at 33 is my proudest achievement and I know there are more good ones to come.”

Last week, The Sun chatted with a 26-year-old entrepreneur who grew up on a council estate but now runs a ticket company worth £22million.

Earlier this month we revealed how this mum-of-two turned painful bunions into a £250,000 shoe business after getting laid off while pregnant.

In December, we spoke to a young lad about how he started a million-pound video business with just £50 after his parents lost £150,000 in the Northern Rock crisis.


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