One of the first ever startups to benefit from Prince’s Trust business support is going from strength to strength 30 years on.

Alan Sharpe, 51, from Workington, was working for the Forestry Commission back in 1988 when he saw an advert  in the local paper about The Prince’s Trust offering bursaries to those looking to start their own business. Already intent on exploring setting up on his own, Alan completed an application which involved outlining his business plan and providing year-on-year financial projections. His pitch evidently impressed those at The Trust, then only in its thirteenth year, as Alan was awarded an initial bursary of £1,000 followed by a £3,000 loan.

Alan recalls:

"I became a one-man band and used the money to buy my first proper piece of equipment, a tractor, which made such a massive difference. Starting out in business, especially on your own, can be a very lonely place. But what The Prince’s Trust also gave me was a mentor who offered free, regular one-to-one advice and support. That was more important than the money in some ways, as it meant I had somebody else to bounce ideas off."

A year later, Alan went into partnership with fellow forester and former colleague Paul Coombe and the pair formed Coombe & Sharpe, initially continuing to specialise in forestry and tree surgery but soon branching out into landscape gardening and fencing.

Paul said:

The grant and support Alan received was the first step on the ladder, and a big confidence boost. We’ve had to change with the market over the years, but we’ve always played to our strengths and have never lost that fight in our bellies! Sometimes we look back and think, how did we get here?

Coombe & Sharpe, based on Pitwood Road in Workington, became a limited company in 1997 and today employs 12 members of staff.

Alan said:

I’ll never forget the help and support I got from The Prince’s Trust when I was young and starting out. Back then, there just wasn’t a lot of help out there from anybody. What I would say to anyone starting in business now is, the more help you can get, the better.

Vicky Lannigan, Senior Head of Enterprise and Employment Programmes at The Prince’s Trust, said: “Stories like Alan’s are so inspirational, both to us here at The Trust hoping to unearth and nurture today’s entrepreneurial talent, and to those starting out now. That he still partly attributes the success of his thriving business to the support he received back in the 80s goes to show just how important the right advice and guidance in the early stages can be.”    

Since 1983 The Prince’s Trust has helped over 80,000 young people to start their own business. To find our more, visit our Employment page.