STRABANE-based balloon artist Sharon Walker is looking ahead to the easing of restrictions later this year with confidence after a grant from Derry City and Strabane District Council's Covid Recovery Scheme allowed her to set up her business last year.
Sharon is the proprietor of Budget Balloons who offer creative balloon decoration displays of all shapes and sizes to celebrate every occasion.
Her Covid Recovery Business Start Up Grant allowed her to purchase a balloon stuffing machine and stock to make up the themed displays from her home.
The grant provides new businesses with funding of up to £500 to encourage start-ups and help them through the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic.
"I started making the displays for family and friends as a lockdown project last Spring when I was off on maternity leave," she recalls.
"People began to take an interest so I started to play around with different designs and take orders and it just snowballed from there.
"I spoke with Orla McNulty at the Strabane Enterprise Agency for advice on how to get things off the ground and she recommended the grant scheme without which I wouldn't have been able to buy the equipment and stock to get started."
While the restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have had a devastating impact on many businesses, it has created opportunity for others and Sharon encouraged anyone with changed working circumstances during the pandemic to consider dipping their toes into the entrepreneurial waters.
"It is possible to generate an income from your home and social media is so popular now that you can gain a following very quickly if you have a unique service," she explained.
"The lockdown has actually helped my business because people haven't been able to host parties over the last year so the balloon displays allowed them to do something to mark an occasion within their households and share photographs of them on social media.
"I am hopeful that, as restrictions ease and with the following I have built up on Facebook and Instagram, I can grow the business this year and we already have some really unique design plans for this year's Easter celebrations that I am really excited about.
"If anyone is at home with a business idea at the moment, I'd recommend that they contact the Business Support Team at council and learn more about the support available to get things off the ground."
The Covid Recovery Business Start Up Grant is delivered by council as part of the Go For It Programme, in partnership with Strabane Enterprise Agency and Enterprise North West.
Grants for the Derry area have been completely allocated however a small number of grants are available for the Strabane area.
Council's Business Team have been working closely with the local business community throughout the COVID crisis through a dedicated Covid business recovery and referral service to assist and support companies as they have had to adapt their services and premises to meet the needs of both staff and customers.
Businesses can access the scheme by completing the Go for It Programme and going through a formal eligibility process conducted by Enterprise NW and Strabane Enterprise Agency.
You can find out more about the scheme at derrystrabane.com/business.
You can follow Budget Ballooons on Facebook and Instagram where there are product details and further information on how to make your order.