Home economist and food stylist, Jill Weatherburn from Low Fell, is hungry for success having gained a Covid recovery grant of £1,350 from Open North Foundation, after her business suffered badly during the pandemic.

Jill has over 30 years’ experience in the food stylist and home economist industry and travels the UK to provide her expertise at a range of events.

By keeping up-to-date with the latest food trends, she shares advice on cookery, nutrition and good health to a range of audiences. Her home economist services include live cookery demonstrations and creating and developing recipes.

As well as working with some impressive names such as Quorn Foods, The Vegetarian Society, Neff, Hovis, Co-operative Foods and Aldi, she also supports some of the biggest stars in the food industry, such as James Martin and Mary Berry.

During the lockdown, Jill connected with a charity in Middlesbrough for whom she provided healthy food and gave advice on recipes. She also became aware of an organisation in Gateshead looking for volunteers to help make and distribute meals to families during lock down.

Jill, said: “I started volunteering at the Elgin centre, Gateshead, preparing meals for local families during the pandemic. I have not been able to do my usual home economist and food styling work, so volunteering during lock down has been such a rewarding experience.

“There are many families struggling to prepare healthy meals, so we developed lots of really tasty and healthy meals for them to enjoy. We created a range of delicious recipes, including cottage pies, burritos, pasta bakes, beef ragu, chicken casserole and a range of tempting desserts.”

A private sector-led, not-for-profit company, established in summer 2020, Open North Foundation assists small firms in the North East to recover from the pandemic. Those meeting strict criteria, receive grants ranging from £1000 to £5000, donated by companies and individuals in the region, plus in-kind support such as marketing, HR and finance. Directors, ambassadors and supporters of the Foundation provide their time pro bono.

Jill added: “When the lockdown hit, I lost all of my work. I heard about Open North Foundation via Gateshead Council’s website and made contact. The £1,350 grant is most welcome and I intend to use it to invest in a camera and video kit, so I can do more work on line.

“Being self-employed, it has been difficult obtaining grants and support. Open North Foundation is fully aware of the situation facing so many small firms and the fact the North East business sector has mobilised to help its own, is just incredible.”

Recipients of grants include a small manufacturing company, a sports therapist, a brewery, a café and a health and fitness centre.

The Foundation has also formed a strategic partnership with Northumbria University, as a result recipients of a grant can nominate staff to take part in a Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP), a free 10-week strategic development programme for senior leaders in SMEs employing between 5-249 employees. The programme, which is funded by The Dept for Business Energy Industrial Strategy, covers a range of practical topics and is hosted online by SME experts, including entrepreneurs, business leaders and academics from the university’s Newcastle Business School.

Richard Swart, chair of Open North Foundation, said: “The North East business community comprises a rich tapestry of businesses and talented individuals, providing a vast range of products and services. It is this melting pot the Foundation, backed by our incredible cash donors, is looking to support, so that when we finally exit the pandemic, all of our companies are ready to move forward as one. Jill Weatherburn reflects the type of entrepreneurial spirit that is in our region and the fact she is recognised on the national stage for her skills and expertise, reflects very well on the North East. We look forward to seeing her grow and develop her enterprise in the years ahead.

“Open North Foundation is now supporting a wide range of small businesses but we can only continue to do that through the generosity of organisations and individuals who are prepared to support our initiative by donating cash, however small, or in-kind support.