As most parents know, balancing childcare and getting the right job can be a nightmare.

For some single parents, it means they are simply locked out of work, particularly in areas where childcare costs are high and after-school places for children are patchy.

Recent analysis by Gingerbread shows that the single parent employment rate in London alone has risen from 48 to 63 percent in the last five years.

However, after two years of struggling to find a job after bringing up her children, now aged 16 and 11, mum Suzanne Cloake has risen to the challenge - setting up a successful new business, up-cycling old furniture, with support from the Government’s Work Programme.

Suzanne, 41, a former fabric assistant to designer Paul Smith, said; “Returning to work after taking a career break was really difficult. I was limited because I could only get something between 8.30-2.30pm, during school hours, so it was really hard to find a job, and I lost a lot of confidence. I also have epilepsy, so I felt under a lot of pressure.”

Suzanne’s fortunes changes after she was referred to employment and training provider PeoplePlus, which delivers the welfare to work scheme on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions in Surrey, Sussex and Kent, and she met employment advisor Kirsty Haram. Suzanne, of Rainham, Kent said: “I went to interviews, but the hours weren’t right and I wasn’t having much luck. Then Kirsty asked if I’d ever thought about self-employment and it made me think.

I’ve always been arty and made things at home and it got to the stage where people were telling me that I was good and could make money out of it. The main thing was getting the confidence to get started. It’s scary going out on your own.

Through the Work Programme, jobseekers are able to get support from one of our dedicated enterprise coaches, who can provide advice on all aspects of self-employment from creating a business plan to advertising and calculating tax.

“While I knew I was capable, I was worried about the money situation – I had to earn enough to be able to support myself,” said Suzanne, “I was able to talk through my ideas and the coach put my mind at ease so I knew what I could still claim. He was also able to help with practical things like completing my tax returns and using social media to get customers.”

Suzanne’s business, Protea’s Little Attic – named so because of her South African roots and because she works from the spare room in her house – was launched in March. And, much to her delight, the business has been an overnight success.

“It’s been mad, so hectic,” said Suzanne, “Right now, I’m very, very busy. I’m currently working on a set of chairs for a customer after renovating a beautiful old table for her and I’m getting lots of interest. I have a page on Facebook, which a lot of friends have shared and through that and word-of-mouth, I haven’t stopped. I haven’t even had time to send out leaflets or advertise yet. It’s been crazy.”

Best of all, Suzanne is able to fit her work hours around her responsibilities for her daughter. “It works so much better for me,” said Suzanne, “Obviously, I can fit in what need to do with my daughter and do the furniture. I’m even getting my daughter involved. She loves it.”

Looking back, Suzanne added: “Now that I have the business, I feel that I can walk with my head held high. The pressure is off. It isn’t very nice trying to find work. You lose your self-esteem and when you’ve gone for an interview and get a knock-back, it puts you back down.

“Now, I feel really, really good, and I think it’s great for parents to show their children they’re working hard and setting a good example. Going into business for myself is the best thing I could have done.”

Kirsty, Suzanne’s employment advisor at PeoplePlus, is also thrilled. She said:

Since turning her hobby into a flourishing business, Suzanne has grown in confidence and has made a great new start by doing something she loves.

Now in its fifth year of operation, the Work Programme provides tailored support for unemployed customers who need more help to undertake active and effective job-seeking, helping them to gain new skills and find work.

The scheme is part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) ESF in England is investing in jobs and skills – focusing on people who need support the most and helping them fulfill their potential.