A Northumberland luxury hamper business is preparing for what it expects to be its busiest ever Christmas with the help of a five-figure investment from the North East Small Loan Fund Supported by The European Regional Development Fund.

Heather & Bale sells a range of luxury handcrafted hampers and gifts to private and corporate clients right across the country, with the vast majority of its products being sourced from independent producers across Northumberland and North Tyneside.

Based in Alnwick, the business was set up by co-directors Carolyn Wilson, Susan Smith and Laura Millar in spring 2020, right at the start of the pandemic.

Despite the various restrictions and the hurdles of remote working, the team maintained its commitment to fulfilling orders, helping customers across the UK bridge the distance between friends and family when physical presence wasn’t possible, and managed to completely sell out of the first online product range several weeks before Christmas.

The business has continued to grow organically every year since, and it has now worked with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to bring in the capital it needs to accelerate its growth through the rest of this year and beyond.

The £50,000 investment will be used to upgrade the business’s digital marketing and advertising campaigns, as well as to support recruitment as the business grows.

It will also help further enhance the company’s presence in the corporate gifting sector, where it already works with clients including Paul Smith, Accenture and Broadchare Partners.

As well as selling via their own www.heatherandbale.co.uk website, Heather & Bale also features on a number of other well-known online platforms, including Not On The High Street, Yumbles and FodaBox, and stocks around 150 different artisan gift designs and hundreds of artisan products at any one time.

The Heather & Bale management team was introduced to NEL by Geoff Maclauchlan at the Rural Business Growth Service.

Carolyn Wilson, director at Heather & Bale, says: “Our commitment to delivering high quality products has always been central to our journey. We carefully select items that resonate with our own values, prioritise products that are a treat for the senses and maintain a shared commitment to sustainability.

“The success we’ve achieved so far speaks volumes about the effectiveness of this approach and underscores how this commitment to purposeful sourcing distinguishes us from others in our industry.

When we first started this adventure, we didn’t fully realise how many amazing independent producers were on our doorstep. Collaborating with this community of artisans sparks our creativity, and is opening up many ideas and avenues that we’re eager to explore.

“We are now at the stage where we have developed a signature style and product range that resonates perfectly with our target audience. Our focus now is on unlocking the potential for growth within our business by attracting and retaining an expanding customer base.

“The support we received from the NEL team during the investment application process was invaluable, and as we prepare for what promises to be our busiest season, we are excited about the future that lies ahead.”

Jonathan Armitage, investment executive at NEL Fund Managers, adds: “The product quality that Heather & Bale and its North East suppliers offer really make it stand out from the crowd and we’re very pleased to be working with a business that places such importance on our home region.”

Part of the £130m North East Fund and aimed predominantly at smaller SMEs, the £9m North East Small Loan Fund typically offers loans of up to £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 £130m North East Fund will provide financial support for more than 600 businesses, creating around 2,500 jobs and delivering a legacy of up to £80m for further investment into the region.

NEL Fund Managers is also responsible for managing the £18m North East Growth Capital Fund, which offers unsecured investments of up to £500,000 to established businesses looking to realise their growth potential