Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Women-only business centre opens

Barbara Richards and employee
Barbara Richards (left) employs four women at her accounting firm

The UK's first business centre for women is to be opened in Kent.

The South East England Development Agency (Seeda) agreed to provide £700,000 for the project which includes facilities for events and training.

The people behind the centre in Chatham said firms run by women had a more immediate impact on the economy.

Julie Kapsalis, director of business support at Seeda, said there was an "enormous untapped potential for women entrepreneurs" in the South East.

Recent figures from the Labour Force Survey showed that unemployment rates in the South East were rising faster for women than men.

And Seeda said the decision to fund the centre was part of its plan to encourage women to start businesses during the recession.

The organisation said national evidence showed that female-owned firms started with lower levels of overall capitalisation and debt and were much less likely to use external sources of finance.

'Boost the economy'

Women starting up in business tended to provide a more immediate contribution to the economy as around one in five came into self-employment from unemployment compared with about one in fifteen for men, according to Seeda.

Ms Kapsalis said: "A new centre in Chatham will be the first physical Women's Business Centre in the UK.

"It will be dedicated to supporting women across the region from disadvantaged and hard-to-reach communities, and Seeda will provide £700k over the next two years for the project, which will include facilities for networking, events and training.

"In the South East, there is an enormous untapped potential for women entrepreneurs to help boost the economy."

However, Barbara Richards, who runs her own accountancy firm near Maidstone since 1995, said she did not think a women-only help centre was the answer.

She said: "We all have to get finance, we all have the same problems with cash flow, with sorting out our budgets and so on. I can't see why it should be specifically for women.

"The only problem I suppose that women encounter is people's attitudes, but if someone's prepared to go and start up their own business they're probably used to dealing with it, and they're going to cope with it."

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