A Christmas Toast to Courage

The last few months have been a blizzard of names and faces and places for me as I get under the skin of North West Hampshire. From schools to hospitals, charities to care homes, factory floors to farmer’s fields, I have listened and learned a huge amount. I have also met some inspiring people, from David Mellor, the Andover jeweler who took on a pair of smash and grab robbers in his shop, to Caroline Hardy-Dye who has worked at Andover and District Mencap for 15 years, first as a support worker, and now managing all the adult support services. David, Caroline and many others I’ve met have needed to call on their reserves of personal courage during their careers.

Courage comes in many forms of course but there is one that is often taken for granted: financial courage. And no one needs it more than the person who wakes up one morning and in a moment of inspiration decides to start a business.

Entrepreneurs are inherently hopeful and optimistic. They have to be. Whatever their market research reveals and their financial projections prove, they need faith both in their own ability and in their idea. More often than not they will be investing most of their savings, perhaps putting their home on the line, giving up a salary, and risking their family’s financial security. Often they have to persuade friends and family to invest alongside them, all the while balancing the belief that things will work out against the horrible dread that they won’t. In the early days the stress can be enormous, especially if you have debts and employees to be paid. You’ll often go without yourself to make sure others get fed.

I know because I have been there. I started a business nearly 20 years ago, and it is still going strong despite economic ups and downs. I have lain awake at 3am sweating about how I was going to pay the payroll or agonizing over a bad debt that might spell the end. Happily for my team we’ve made it through with just a few cuts and bruises.

So when I meet someone who has decided to strike out on their own, I am always delighted, as I was when I met Mark Betteridge in Hurstbourne Tarrant.

Mark served for 37 years in the forces, retiring at 55. But rather than join the corporate world, he decided to call on a different courage than the one he used so often in the Army: he started a business. In April this year, Betteridge’s Brewery was born in a barn at the back of his and his wife Jenny’s house. Mark had retrained as a brewer and – with a gulp – written some large cheques, investing in state of the art equipment. He honed his skills, brewed, binned, and brewed again until he was happy with his pint. But would anyone else be?

You can now buy Betteridge’s witty and tasty beers, “Private Sector” and “Jenny Wren” in pubs across the county and his “Serious Black” cream stout beat 124 others to be crowned Champion Beer of the Hampshire Octoberfest this year. It’s a great success story, and a lesson in courage and hard work. I am sure Mark and Jenny will go on to build a really great business in the heart of North West Hants.

So as you raise your glasses this Christmas be sure to toast courage, including that of the financial risk takers among us. Their bravery fertilises our economic roots, creating future jobs and supporting their suppliers’ businesses in the process. They need our recognition and encouragement, and I will stand behind them up to and I hope beyond the 2015 election.

Wishing readers and staff at Andover & Villages a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year