Case Studies

Case Study: Propelo

Propelo, based at York Science Park, is a successful business providing high-quality interim support to the education sector, nationwide.  Propelo work with schools, multi-academy trusts and local authorities during times of change offering expert level support in school leadership. This support is targeted and suited to the needs of the individual schools and projects. They also offer full-service recruitment support when a school or trust needs to attract new talent within its leadership team, working alongside governors and local authorities to get the right fit and overseeing this crucial process.

Propelo was referred to Make It York at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown period.  The unforeseen disruption to schools created an unclear plan of what lay ahead.  Louise Saw, Business Growth Manager listened to what the business was facing and was able to guide Propelo forward with clear signposting to the help they needed, opening up new networks, contacts and funding opportunities.  

With recommendation and support from Louise, Propelo applied with success to the Digital Resilience Voucher Scheme, offered through the Digital Enterprise project. This grant was to help businesses mitigate the effects of COVID-19.  They received match funding of £4.5k, allowing them to invest in and improve the infrastructure of the business. This provided warranties for IT equipment, new machines and access to software that improved how the business works remotely, enabling them to develop the efficiency of the business for the future. Louise has also provided connections and contacts to help support Propelo as the business grows.

Their profile within this essential sector and access to business support has enabled Propelo to weather the challenges faced early in the year, with a strong flow of new projects secured for the autumn.    

Propelo is continuing to work with Make It York as it looks to access further funding to develop their IT infrastructure and readiness for future growth.

“2020 has presented a real turning point for Propelo.  Working in the education sector, we faced an unprecedented situation at the start of lockdown with the threat of national school closures causing significant disruption to our operations.

We were in a position where we had applied for COVID-19 grant funding which hadn’t been successful and left feeling that there was no support available to aid us through this time of challenge. I was referred to Make It York through a colleague at York Science Park.  It was reassuring to find someone at the end of the phone who listened to the reality of what our business was facing, and which gave me an outlet to talk through the issues we were working through.

Louise provided clear signposting to grant funding that would help our business. Without her guidance and support we wouldn’t have accessed the Digital Resilience Funding, which gave us the opportunity to invest in making the business digitally resilient and much better equipped to continue working remotely.

This year has reframed every way we work, and we are fortunate to be in a better position at the other side of it all. This period of time has made many organisations in the sector think about their plans for the future – and that has led to us picking up a range of new projects and we’ve seen a strong flow of new opportunities. 

Our business journey is continually evolving, and it is reassuring to have access to support and guidance with clear signposting that ensures we find the right fit for our business.”

Phil Watt

Director, Propelo

Case Study: One to One Recruitment

One to One Recruitment is a full-service recruitment agency based in York, helping small and medium-sized companies hire the best talent for their businesses, as well as finding jobseekers inspiring places to work. They offer a range of solutions for the recruitment of temporary and permanent staff from their Fixed-Fee package to an all-encompassing 360° Service and Senior Appointment Service.

Established by Clare Hutchison 10 years ago, this owner-managed micro-business has a long-standing business support relationship with Make It York. The team have worked closely with Clare as she has applied for grant funding, helped with signposting to relevant information, making tailored business introductions and more recently, guiding Clare through a period of change as the business was forced to explore a new direction due to the impact of COVID-19.

An invitation and steer to join the recent Leeds City Region Peer to Peer Workshops from Simon Middleton, Make It York’s Business Growth Manager, led to a new turning point for One to One Recruitment as the connections made have led to the launch of their new Outplacement Service. The host of the peer to peer session was a recruitment specialist, someone who in recent months has become a mentor to Clare as she explored new ways to pivot the business as a result of the recruitment standstill during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new service brings a whole different area of revenue-generating activity for One to One Recruitment and has allowed the business to develop and move forward in this unprecedented and challenging business landscape.

The new Outplacement Service will support employers to help those employees they are forced to let go due to the economic downturn – the best chance of securing a new position rapidly. One to One Recruitment will run practical and intensive job-seeking coaching workshops on behalf of the employer. For some, they may not have reviewed and updated their CV in many years, have little understanding of where and how to look for a new job or how to perform well in an interview. These sessions will give guidance and support at a time they need it most and enable the business to focus on revival and survival.

Clare has also become a Board Member for the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership – the first micro-business owner to be appointed.

“My business relationship with Make It York over the past five years has always been very proactive and has brought opportunities my way which I would have been unlikely to pursue without the backing and support of the team. I was able to cut through a very detailed Digital Funding Grant application with Simon, helping pull together the relevant information I would need and then going above and beyond to keep on top of the process on my behalf – saving me valuable time and pursuing something I may have given up on. This grant helped me set up a much needed CRM system for my business.

I’ve always felt that there is a thorough understanding of me and my business and what I wanted to achieve, with very tailored and very relevant business support and information proactively sent through to me, and the time taken to signpost me to opportunities that I felt confident I can invest my time in. Networking opportunities shared have always offered a real synergy with my business goals and offered mutual benefits to work together.

The recent Peer to Peer sessions have been invaluable, opening doors I may not have come across at such a timely turning point for One to One Recruitment. COVID-19 brought a halt to recruitment and I needed to find a way to pivot my business offering. The extra nudge from Simon to attend these virtual sessions certainly paid off and my continued relationships from these are still proving fruitful for me and my business.

The business support landscape is vast and there is so much out there to be tapped into, but as a business owner you don’t always have a huge amount of additional time to find the best route for you and your business. This is where Make It York have stepped in for me and navigated me through to find the right support to develop my business and being a vital sounding board for my business journey.”

Clare Hutchison, Managing Director

One to One Recruitment

Case Study: City Cruises York

Reopening Success for City Cruises York

As lockdown restrictions have been eased, City Cruises York – which had to close down during this period – have reopened with new COVID-safe measures, seeing positive ticket sales and fantastic customer feedback.

A series of new measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of all passengers – including ensuring all seating is socially distanced by marking off rows, new signage, hand sanitising units, new cleaning processes and a track and trace system. City Cruises have been awarded both the Visit England ‘Good to Go’ mark and the ‘AA COVID Confident’ accreditation – showing they have carried out the rigorous safety checks and risk assessments needed for visitors to be fully confident with the measures that have been adopted for their safety.

City Cruises York, who are Visit York members, have now fully resumed operations of their sightseeing tours throughout the day, seven days a week. Pre-booking online is encouraged for the one-hour cruise, which takes passengers along the Ouse with a fascinating sightseeing commentary. Dining cruises are now also back running on Saturdays, Sunday and Wednesdays with new systems and hygiene procedures in places in line with social distancing guidelines. More information and details on how to pre-book can be found on

“The response we have had from customers on the changes has been incredibly positive – with feedback showing that people feel really safe and secure when on board. We are very pleased with how ticket sales have gone since reopening – the changes have meant we have a new on-board capacity but we are already starting to see the boats filling up. This last week we were up to 99% full and we are seeing a definite trend week-on-week of an increase in customers.

“We are also seeing a big increase in bookings online – with this up 150% from last year – and it is great to see that people are planning ahead – with our forward bookings for the summer looking really encouraging. Our self-drive boats are becoming increasingly popular as they lend themselves particularly well to social distancing – providing passengers the perfect opportunity to relax, have a picnic and enjoy the sights of York with their family and friends. Our recent booking stats also show that we have a higher proportion of passengers from York which is great as we really want to encourage local residents to come and explore their home city from a different perspective on the river.

“Just before lockdown we received Visit England’s Welcome Award for outstanding customer service – this is something we are incredibly proud of and want to build on as we return. Above all we remain committed to operating safely and providing a welcoming and safe environment for passengers – and we are open to continuing to adapt our procedures based on customer feedback.

“Looking ahead, we are considering ways we can plan for seasonal events with social distancing in place, and whilst it is too early to confirm details as yet, we are incredibly confidents that we will be able to offer a different but imaginative approach to on-board entertainment. Over the coming months we will also be continuing to develop our partnerships with other businesses across the city – looking to launch combination boat and bus tour tickets with City Sightseeing and Golden Tours. More widely we will also be looking at how we can collaborate with Visit York and other organisations across the city to be part of the overall marketing activity that helps to drive visitors and residents to explore York again.”

Mark Mattinson

Sales and Marketing Manager of City Cruises York

Case Study: The Little Seed Group

The award-winning Little Seed Group, run independently by Director and Founder Ellen Cole over the last four years, is sprouting a new cutting as it takes on its first ever intern to help support and establish a brand new, inclusive e-learning platform. With support and guidance from Make It York, Ellen has been able to take the next steps in growing and developing her marketing, PR and social media services business.

A proactive business owner, Ellen began working with Make It York in April, joining our network as a Visit York member. Conversations led to a connection with Business Growth Manager Louise Saw and Ellen has been able to access invaluable one-to-one support for making her ideas for diversifying and expanding her business services into reality.

This summer, the Little Seed Group will be taking on an intern from the University of York Internships Programme, a connection which also led the business into successfully receiving funding from the Santander Universities SME Internship Programme. The internship will be focused on the research and development of an e-learning resource, focusing on providing accessible and affordable training as more businesses look to adapt and upskill as they connect with their customers and stakeholders in a digital space.
As the first and only approved Mailchimp Partner in North Yorkshire, Ellen’s aim is to share her knowledge and fill the access to training gap for smaller businesses struggling to afford this through more traditional routes – a need only heightened as businesses work through economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have been working with Louise at Make It York now for a few months now and have been surprised how much support there is out there for businesses like mine.

She has put me in touch with other like-minded connections, forwards business funding opportunities to me and helps me work through business challenges when I am being indecisive. Taking on an intern through the University of York is something which I never would have done without Louise’s help.

Expanding my business from being just myself and bringing another person into the mix was a daunting business decision but something I felt passionate about doing to expand the reach and accessibility of the services I offer. Being able to share the aspirations and direction of where I wanted to take the business and gaining support, ideas and connections to do so means I now have the opportunity to launch this new training platform to new audiences, and helping businesses to upskill.

If any York-based B2B sole-traders or organisations are looking for some support to grow their business, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Louise and the team at Make It York.”

Ellen Cole

Founder and Director

Case Study: Ainsty Ales

Independent brewery Ainsty Ales will be launching a new online shop, offering next-day delivery across the country following a recent grant funding win from innovative business support programme, Digital Enterprise. With support from the Make It York business team, the brewery successfully applied for the Digital Enterprise Digital Growth Voucher to develop their website and create a new route to market for their products.

The new online shop which is currently in development will be available on the website – stocking cans of the popular Ainsty Ales beers for delivery across the UK. York-based agency United by Design will be supporting the brewery with their e-commerce site launch which aims to go live next month.

With the impact of lockdown impacting sales through traditional markets, in addition to the new online shop, over the last three months the brewery have also worked on a number of new initiatives to diversify what they can offer customers. This included new fortnightly free deliveries and a weekly ‘drive-thru’ shop for the local community

“Lockdown has been a tough time for us, as with many businesses, however we’ve tried to use the opportunity to look at ways that we can diversify and find new ways of engaging with our customers. From initiatives such as our community shop and drive-thru, to offering free home delivery – we’ve used this time to look at how we can adapt our ways of working and help our customers – and have found these to be incredibly successful and popular with the local community.

‘The Digital Enterprise Grant which we’ve been successful in applying for, has now given us the opportunity to focus on creating an e-commerce platform to sell our products online – giving us the chance to reach new audiences and offer next-day delivery across the country. It is going to make such a difference to our company to have this online sales platform. Whilst our key focus will still be on continuing to sell to pubs and restaurants as lockdown restrictions ease, we are excited about the new opportunity this gives us to promote Ainsty Ales up and down the country.

“The support from Simon Middleton, Business Growth Manager at Make It York has been truly invaluable over the years and since the coronavirus outbreak hit he has really helped with highlighting funding opportunities and guiding us through the application process for this grant. I’d encourage any businesses like ours who are looking for support to grow their business to get in touch with Simon and the team there to talk through potential options.
A huge thank you also to our customers in the local community who have really supported Ainsty Ales to grow and especially over the last few months during this difficult time.”

Andy Herrington

Founder of Ainsty Ales

The Ainsty Ales taproom has also reopened this week with new health and safety measures in place for customers and staff including a new one-way system and outdoor seating area.

A new ‘Growler Club’ will also be launching at the end of July, offering discounted four pint fills for customers to take home and enjoy. For more information visit

Case Study: Bioelements

Bioelements is a bioscience business based in the Innovation Centre at York Science Park, specialising in organic farming technology suitable for the 21st Century.

The business operates in countries around the world but their focus in the UK is currently research-based, conducting field trials with farmers for further product development. Organically-certified, Bioelements concentrates on sustainable, biological farming practices rather than those using chemicals.

Bioelements has had a long-running relationship with Make It York as a business connected to the SIAFs (Stimulating Innovation in the Agri-Food Sector) ERDF-funded project. They were also signposted to and supported through the Ad:venture programme which helps businesses that are up three years old, and more recently have been working with Louise Saw, Business Growth Manager at Make it York.

Louise has been helping with introductions to businesses in the waste, agriculture and turf sectors, signposting to a grant to support field trials and help to find training and during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted City of York Council’s Micro Business Grant scheme, which they applied for. The application was successful and a £1k micro grant was boosted to £5k through the Council’s Extended Discretionary Micro-Business Grant scheme.

This grant enabled Bioelements to run more field trials with local businesses to develop their products, at a time when investing in sustainable food production research for the future has become even more important.

“It has been great to work with Make It York and the support we have received for our business has gone way beyond our expectations.

We have been able to access connections that would have taken us much longer to do on our own, time which we have gained and been able to use to focus on our business and what we want to achieve. These connections have led to exposure that has helped us build on our reputation in our field. As a result, we are now seeing proactive enquiries coming to us and we have recently set up a partnership with a company to sell our products in the UK, Ireland, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The grant funding from City of York Council took the pressure off at a time when it became increasingly difficult to bring money into the business, letting us focus on our important research trials and continuing to look to the future.

Any business looking for help to grow, develop, or just be supported as you navigate through all the funding information out there, should contact Make It York as we were able to access the information, support and funding we needed to keep the focus on expanding and developing our business operations.”

Dominic Fox

Commercial Director, Bioelements Agro Ltd

Case Study: Your Memories Photography

Following the launch of a new support fund by the City of York Council which aims to provide up to 1000 businesses with free membership of the Federation of Small Business (FSB), a range of micro businesses from different sectors have been taking advantage of the positive benefits of membership. Available to businesses with 30 or fewer employees, membership gives access to a range of services, covering everything from legal advice to cyber protection and insurance.

We talked to one York business owner, Alice Etherington who runs Your Memories Photography, about how she has benefited from FSB membership to support the development of her business and innovate and adapt following the coronavirus outbreak.

Alice has also been successful in applying for the City of York Council’s micro business grants scheme, which provides funding of up to £1,000 for 1,000 self-employed, micro and small businesses who need it most. Alice explains what this grant means to her and the plans she has to diversify her business and create opportunities for growth in new areas using the funding.

Alice Etherington is a professional photographer specialising in wedding and events photography. Her company was founded in 2018 and as a sole trader, Alice looks after all areas of the business including marketing, advertising and developing her website. As a result of the coronavirus outbreak many of the photography jobs that she had lined up for the summer have had to be cancelled or postponed and as a result Alice was looking for ways to use this time effectively to plan and look at ways to grow and diversify her business. She applied for both the FSB membership and the City of York Council micro business grant – with the aim for both to help her boost her business.

“I am thrilled to be getting the opportunity to access FSB membership, especially during this time when I am focusing on how to plan ahead, future-proof my business and look at ways of expanding. As a small business owner, it’s incredibly helpful to have access to the advice and guidance of the experts at the FSB on so many different topics. Areas such as business insurance and ensuring I have the right liability cover are hugely important for me and it’s great to know I can get the support of advisors at the FSB who really understand the realities of operating a small business.

There are so many useful and interesting resources available – including webinars and networking events – which will be of real value to my business long-term. Looking at the website I feel that whatever issue I may have as a business owner, there is support there for me and professionals I can get in touch with to help point me in the right direction. I am looking forward to utilising all the tools and support available to help me plan ahead for my business.”

Alice Etherington

In addition to the FSB membership Alice was also successful with applying for a City of York micro business grant – which aims to help small, micro and one person businesses experiencing financial hardship due to coronavirus. Alice plans to use the funding to explore a new area for her business – product photography, using her stunning natural landscapes to create gifts available for purchase via an Etsy shop.

Alice said: “With a large part of my business being wedding photography, the coronavirus outbreak has obviously had a huge effect on the jobs I had lined up for the next few months. With the grant funding, I really wanted to look at how I could diversify my business and use my photos in a different way to help boost income during this time. I am really excited about the opportunities the grant has given me to purchase some new equipment that will help with extreme close-ups to create high quality product shots and create a new online shop. The grant will make such a difference and enable me to try something new and expand my business so a huge thank you to City of York Council for this.”

Case Study: Love to Eat Cafe

Love to Eat Café was taken over by Fiona MacKenzie almost three years ago and continued to build on the ethos of providing great customer service and fabulous food and drink. As a small, local food and drink business, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was huge. When the UK went into lockdown, Love to Eat initially had to close for a short time, staff were furloughed, and the business was uncertain, but resilience kicked in. Additional challenges presented themselves, such as supply chain disruptions, which had a direct impact on the quality of service. Café life was no longer normal or predictable; Love to Eat pretty much had its outside catering calendar stripped overnight which had been a building block of its core business. No amount of business planning could ever have anticipated this pandemic.

The UK went into lockdown just before Mother’s Day for which Love to Eat was fully booked. However, even during the pandemic, customers still wanted to treat their mums for an afternoon tea. So, with support from the customers, Love to Eat have transformed the bookings into a takeaway offer. Customer feedback was very positive and since then, “Lockdown Afternoon Teas” became a big hit. With the support from the local community groups like Woodthorpe Community Group, York Mumbler and the local Covid-19 group and many other networks sharing the news, bookings started to evolve. Love to Eat’s social media following increased significantly, growing from around 1,000 to 1,900 within just a few weeks. This service has put some smiles on customers’ faces at such a difficult and challenging time for many, and Love to Eat will continue with this valuable service for the short to medium term. Fiona says “without a core service, Love to Eat would really have struggled to keep going. The local community has been critical to our survival”.

Support from Make It York helped Fiona to identify the funding available to her and the team have linked her to a number of helpful training sessions and contacts. In this time of uncertainty, Fiona noted that the City of York Council has been very responsive to general queries and the Covid-19 Business Support Pack has been a very useful resource. Fiona has also received the Small Business Grant Fund, administered by City of York Council. The grant will help Love to Eat develop future opportunities for the business, including training and upskilling staff and re-branding the café to better promote exciting new products and services.

Fiona MacKenzie, the owner of the Love to Eat café, said: “The spread of Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown has had a huge impact on my business – everything happened so quickly. It was a big challenge to think about how to keep the business going! We had to consider new ways of offering our products to customers and move our ‘normal’ café service to takeaway and delivery services.

Louise Saw, Business Growth Manager from Make It York has been a big help, offering advice and introducing me to other contacts and businesses, who could help deal with the impact of Covid-19. Charles Storr, Economy and Enterprise Manager from Make It York was also very proactive in getting in touch and sharing information about the available funding and financial support. I was delighted to receive a Small Business Grant Fund from City of York Council. The application process was easy, and the funding arrived promptly.

The funding will allow me to focus on future business priorities, setting up an online platform to streamline the booking process, continue the delivery service, and work on raising the profile of Love to Eat. Receipt of the grant has been critical in reshaping the café to provide a facility which will enable us to continue to grow and flourish in a very different market.

There are quite a few exciting developments for Love to Eat so watch this space. In challenging times, opportunities can be positive as well as negative. Love to Eat is a very important part of the community and we hope to still see our wonderful customers, albeit in a very different world!”

Case Study: Perfecting Pilates

Perfecting Pilates is a fitness company run by sole trader Sarah Owen, focusing on providing pilates classes and one to one sessions to help clients with postural correction and rehabilitation. As a small business, the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak was huge – resulting in Sarah having to pause the classes and look at ways to adapt her business and take it online.

Within a few days, Sarah created an online programme via Facebook and changed her pricing strategy to make the classes more affordable. Focusing on the needs of her clients and the community she had built up, Sarah created a range of online classes for all skill levels offering four online sessions for the price of one studio-based class. Offering these on a flexible basis, Sarah also focused on ensuring her clients continued to have the personal connection and quality service which had resulted in her winning ‘Pilates business of the year’ at the Leeds & West Yorkshire Prestige Awards, despite the programme now going virtual.

Support from Make It York helped Sarah to identify the funding which as a small business she would be eligible for and as a result Sarah received a Micro business grant from the City of York Council to help promote her business online. With digital marketing now being a major focus to reach new audiences online and raise the profile of the business, the grant has enabled Sarah to invest in Facebook advertising and gain exposure for her page to help attract new clients.

“The impact that the coronavirus outbreak has had on my business has been huge – I had to act really quickly to completely adapt my offering so that I could to continue to support my clients and create an online programme of activity in a matter of days. The help that Louise Saw, Business Growth Manager from Make It York provided has been so valuable – with advice on potential funding that I could apply for, and I was delighted to be awarded the £1,000 grant from City of York Council. This funding will enable me to promote my business online and reach new audiences via advertising which is a new area for me but one which is so important in this current climate. I have been so thrilled with how my clients have received the new online classes and the positive feedback I have received –and I look forward to building on this and developing my business further over the coming months.”

Sarah Owen

Owner of Perfecting Pilates

Case Study: Andrea Morrison – Business Coaching

Self-employed/one person businesses are also eligible for this grant and many have already been successful in applying and receiving funds to support the development of their business.

Andrea Morrison is a Transformational Coach, Ted X Speaker, Columnist for the Yorkshire Post and writer. She founded her company in 2015 to specialise in state of mind coaching, particularly working with women, and has trained with a number of world leading coaches, consultants, and psychologists in this field. She now works with women’s innate capacity to reach their own potential; understanding and unlocking any blocks that they may have to prevent this from being achieved. 

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Andrea had been planning a two day ‘retreat’ for her clients and despite current lockdown restrictions she was keen to look at how she could continue to support with an alternative online option. The £1000 grant she has received has enabled her to work on an eight-week online ‘The Courageous Females programme’ which includes a combination of video modules, group coaching, and a community of like-minded women offering each other support. The funding is being used to support four other businesses who are helping to create the ‘behind the scenes’ element of the programme to enable it to be produced to a high standard and leave Andrea to focus on the facilitation & coaching. It is hoped that this will be an evergreen programme, running not during this time, but several times a year, helping countless women in the future too.

 The ‘Courageous Females Programme’ starts on 8th June and places can now be booked by visiting:

Andrea said: “The grant has been crucial in allowing me to put together this new online programme which I have designed to really help the women who take part – recent research is pointing to the corona virus hitting women even harder than their male counterparts as they face the double burden of home duties as they try and keep their businesses and careers afloat.

“With the money I’ve been able to enlist the help of experts in areas such as graphic design and copy writing – working with other local businesses to help make this programme a success. It was also important that there was a repeated return on investment on the funding, which whilst I knew this wasn’t an essential criteria, it was such a good opportunity to help as many professional women and businesses as I could going forward.

“The whole process of applying and receiving the grant was very easy and I was very impressed with how quickly I received the funds following the application. I would highly encourage any other businesses who are thinking of applying to do so as it’s a great opportunity to get some additional support for your business. A huge thank you to the team involved in setting this up and processing the applications!”

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