A Helping Hand at Grass Roots Level; in Association with RBS Interview A Cabinet in the Office of Kate Welch, OBE, Buckles under the Weight of Awards, from North-East Woman Social Entrepreneur to One of the UK's 20 Most Outstanding Entrepreneurs. the Honours Recognise the Achievements of the Social Entrepreneur after She Established the Acumen Community Enterprise Development Trust Five Years Ago

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Byline: Peter McCusker reports

AT a free broth and stotty event in Horden organised by Kate Welch's Acumen an ex-miner, who hasn't worked for almost 15 years, says: "Well I do miss getting out with the lads. I haven't got much money to go out drinking these days."

Welch responds: "Have you thought about going back to work?"

Ex-miner: "There are no jobs for the like of me."

Six months later Joseph is now back in employment in a call centre after undergoing intensive training sessions under the auspice of Welch's social enterprise business.

In nearby Haswell Welch proudly states: "Even the naughty lads are going to see our adviser Alyson Upton. They say 'There's the girl who can get you a job'."

You couldn't get much more grass roots than handing out free broth and stotties for ex-miners or hosting a leeks and chrysanthemums event.

Other quirky initiatives from Welch's team have included and "I'm in Haswell get me out of here" and "Chicks who fix."

By taking her education, enterprise and learning message into the grass roots Welch has propelled it into the consciousness of east Durham.

She now has plans to take forward her entrepreneurial regeneration agenda across the region - and then the country.

She says: "Our goal has always been to encourage people to start their own business or to move back into the working environment. Our watchwords are learning, employment and enterprise.

"People Acumen now has offices in Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street and a third will soon open in Stanley. We have been doing a great deal of work in Wansbeck and are in talks to take the service into Newcastle. We are also looking at expanding into Yorkshire and the North-West."

Now putting in a 60-hour week, chief executive Kate has never shirked graft and even quit her physics degree after two years of study at Sheffield University to help out in the family business.

Born in Cambridge, her family moved to County Durham when she was 10. Her father John Maddison was a pioneer in the horticultural world after starting one of the region's first garden centres in Lambton Park, Chester-le-Street.

Welch, who became deputy managing director, immediately got her hands dirty helping out in all aspects of the business and the shoots of her future career were planted when she developed a forte for training and a community engagement.

By the time the business was bought out Welch was deputy managing director and had gained qualifications and awards for her work including undertaking a small business programme at Durham Business School.

She was a director of the British section of the International Garden Centre Association and a director of the Local Agricultural Training Board.

Welch says: "After we sold the garden centre I decided I wanted to change direction. I had reached a junction where I now believed I could make a difference. I loved the training aspects of the job. I thoroughly enjoyed that sort of work."

Her first appointment after leaving the garden centre in 1993 was a centre manager for Community Industry in South Tyneside.

Between 1995 and 2000 she was adult training manager for County Durham Training and Enterprise Council and between 2000 and 2005 Welch was operations manager at Jobcentre Plus.

While working in Easington with its high levels of individual economic inactivity through high unemployment and high levels of incapacity benefit claimants saw the seeds planted which developed into Acumen.

"That is where I began to understand how I could help people. I saw how people could respond if given the right encouragement.

"The Easington Action Team was very successful. We really started to see some major improvements although I was unable to do a lot of things I wanted to do because of the constraints of working in the public sector, such as not being able to access external funding. …