Thanks to Oban entrepreneur Susan Irvine – with a little help from the Government’s New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) scheme – her home town on the west coast of Scotland now has more in common with Thailand’s Koh Samui than people might think.

One is a tropical holiday paradise, famed for its sandy beaches and chilled-out atmosphere. The other is a remote coastal resort in Scotland known for its extreme weather, wilderness scenery and single malt whisky.

Drawing on teaching she discovered on her travels around Thailand, Susan, 34, has brought the ancient discipline of Yin Yoga to some of the most isolated villages on the west coast of Scotland.

Although she set out to run just two classes a week, local appetite has seen Oban’s newest business expand beyond Susan’s goals, and she now runs ten yoga classes a week, covering in Oban, Taynuilt and Connel, Dalmally and Lochgilphead.

Susan said: “It’s been overwhelming really. All I want to do is help people to feel happy and get the benefits from yoga that I have. That’s all I’m after.”

Susan was supported into her new business by the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) scheme which we deliver on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions across the UK.

Participants receive access to a business mentor who will provide them with guidance and support as they develop their business plan and through the first six months of trading. Once they have demonstrated they have a viable business proposition with the potential for growth in the future, they are able to access financial support.

Susan is the first to admit that the new business has completely transformed her life. Sixteen months ago, the trauma of losing her mother to cancer made her take a hard look at herself. Inspired to make far-reaching changes, she took the plunge and quit the job she’d held for 14 years, sold all her possessions and went off to travel the world.

Susan said: “When I lost my mum to cancer, I realised that life’s too short and you have to follow your dreams. I was working as a paralegal and plodding along in the same office I’d worked in for 14 years. I felt I needed a change.”

“I had always wanted to go travelling and to go to a yoga retreat. I managed to book 200 hour Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training Programme in Thailand, and after going around Australia and Bali, went back to Koi Samui to start. I carried on practicing every day and went back for a further 100 hour Yin Yoga Training Programme, using up my last savings before I flew back on 18 September last year – the anniversary of my mum’s passing.”

Susan added: “When I got back, I signed on with the Jobcentre and my intention was to start something up, but I didn’t know if it would work. Then the Jobcentre told me that because I was unemployed, I was entitled to get help under the NEA.”

“The scheme offered £65 a week for 13 weeks and then 13 weeks at £33 which helped me get established while I was building the business. I was sleeping on my step-dad’s sofa because I sold off all my possessions to go travelling and so had nothing to come back to. That money really helped because I managed to get someone to rent a flat to me where I could offer holistic massage therapy – which I’m also qualified to do – while I was setting up the yoga classes.”

Emilio, my NEA coach, was very supportive and gave me a lot of information. I enjoyed the security of having a business adviser to call on at any time and he continues to support and help me as my business grows and develops.

Susan now hopes the business will continue to flourish. “People have really embraced the style of yoga I teach, and we get people of all ages, from 18 up to 70, coming along to the classes,” she said, “While some yoga is based around meditation, Yin Yoga, which I practice, involves a lot of stretching and working on the joints. I often get comments from my students saying they’ve changed their mental state and feel more relaxed.”

Emilio Giannini, Susan’s NEA business advisor, said:

Susan has been a model client and was so enthusiastic in her business start up it was always going to be a success. Although she launched her yoga business in one of the most remote areas of Scotland, at no time did she see this as a limitation. She has now marked her first two months trading and has a turn-over that most established city centre practices would envy as well as a waiting list for her classes.

“Susan had virtually no financial backing or funding and the availability of the NEA and the structure business planning process gave her the confidence to see this as a commercially viable entity. We wish her every success in her new business.”

Are you local? Click here for more information on Susan’s yoga classes.