A talented South Tyneside baker is finally set to open the doors to her new shop after a three-month delay caused by the pandemic.

Leanne Cummings set up dessert delivery service Elsie’s Kitchen two years ago, making a range of different cakes and puddings in the kitchen of her South Shields home, and soon expanded her range to include savoury products and dinners.

The concept proved so popular that, at the end of last year, Leanne decided to give up her job as a housing officer, concentrate full time on developing her catering business and open a new shop in which to base it.

Having found a suitable shop at 126 Westoe Road in South Shields, Leanne worked with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to secure a £25,000 investment from the North East Small Loan Fund Supported By The European Regional Development Fund to get the money she needed to kit it out.

The official opening of Elsie’s Kitchen was due to take place in April, only for the coronavirus outbreak to force Leanne to put those plans on hold.

During the delay, she launched a new afternoon tea delivery service which quickly proved extremely popular and which will form part of the menu available in the new shop.

The doors to Elsie’s Kitchen will finally now be opening on Tuesday 7 July – and Leanne is already planning on opening a second store elsewhere in the region within the next couple of years.

Elsie’s Kitchen also provides event catering services across South Tyneside, North Tyneside and Gateshead which started after Leanne received a huge amount of positive feedback for the food she made for her own engagement party.

She says: “We’ve had to put lots of extra work into ensuring that we can maintain all the right distancing protocols and protective measures in place in the shop, but we’re pretty much ready now and looking forward to finally welcoming our first customers.

“We launched the afternoon tea delivery service as something to keep us ticking over until we could launch, but the response was amazing and we were often struggling to keep up with all the orders that were coming in.

“We’ll be continuing to offer the same service from the shop and it’s really helped us build local awareness of what we’re soon going to be offering.

“Baking and cookery were always just a hobby, but the response I had from customers gave me the confidence to turn my passion for food into a full-time business and we can’t wait to get going.

“I want to get the Westoe Road shop up and running now, but think there’s a great deal more potential in the business that I can realise and establishing a physical presence in a second location in the near future is high on my To Do list.”

Councillor John Anglin, Lead Member for Regeneration and Economy at South Tyneside Council, adds: “In the current economic climate, funding of this nature will become more important as a means to support sustainable business plans and to ensure businesses can secure affordable finance.

“South Tyneside Council continues to work with the NEL Fund Managers to raise awareness of the funding opportunities with the local business community, so more businesses like Elsie’s Kitchen can be supported.”

Mike Guellard, investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, says: “It’s been a very frustrating few months for a lot of businesses that have had to unexpectedly put growth plans on hold.

“It’s great to see Leanne finally moving into her shop and it’s exciting to see her take the next step on the journey of turning her hobby into a thriving business.”

Part of the £120m North East Fund and aimed predominantly at smaller SMEs, the £9m North East Small Loan Fund typically offers loans of between £10,000 and £100,000 to businesses in Tyne & Wear, Durham and Northumberland.

It is designed to assist with the creation of over 1,200 new regional jobs in more than 320 SMEs over the life of the fund.

The overarching North East Fund will provide financial support for more than 600 businesses, creating around 3,500 jobs and delivering a legacy of up to £80m for further investment into the region.