Treacle & Ginger

When Michael Green was looking to put a name over the door of his family’s new arts café the answer was staring him in the face.

He had also found the perfect way to finance his lifestyle change from corporate community to café counter equally close to home – and without putting his house on the line.

“When we bought the business, it was called Treacle and Co, but since the previous owner had let the trading name lapse at Companies House that name had been taken by a construction company in Scotland,” Michael said.

“So, we sat down with the kids for a bit of a brainstorming. Lisa, my wife, is a redhead, two of my kids are redheads, we’ve got a ginger dog, and I love eating ginger. We just thought Treacle & Ginger! It just sounds great and is quite cafe-like as well. And it means something to us.”

Michael was 52 and wanted to spend more time with Lisa, an artist and former retail buyer for Dorothy Perkins and Top Man, and his three children. International and national travel was taking him away from home two or three nights a week after a successful 30-year career in orthopaedics. It was time for a change.

“I wanted to do something different. Now my commute is four minutes – I time it every day!”

Michael and artist Lisa got a taste for running their own business from the café culture of Sydney and west coast USA, and by running an Open House art event as part of the Brighton Festival in Brighton – when over 200 houses turn into galleries every weekend for a month with up to 300 people a day coming through the door.

“Although we didn’t have much experience in catering we have strong commercial customer-facing backgrounds. Importantly, Lisa also ran the Open House event. We had decided to start serving teas and coffees for a charity we support, with the artists making cakes and found that we were serving over 100 people a day. We were actually effectively running a café. We thought we could do this for a living,” he remembers.

Funding the launch of Treacle & Ginger, in Hove on the Sussex coast, was taking on the feel of a choice between your least-favourite cake – remortgage the house or look to traditional bank funding with high interest rates – until he discovered Pension-led funding.

“I had never heard of Pension-led funding. I knew vaguely what SIPPs could do but I had no idea you could fund a business using your pension,” Michael said.

“Using my pension meant that we could move quicker, we could buy quicker, we could invest properly in refurbishing the cafe and it removed the worry. We may have to live off savings for a while but the business can wash its own face early on. It is a help for cashflow, which is huge.”

Michael accessed £105,000 from his pension pot after his existing savings were transferred into a Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP). His pension bought preference shares in the business to be paid back in five years, with Michael himself setting the coupon rate at 17%.

“If we get an eight per cent return I’d be happy, that is probably twice we would get anywhere else,” Michael said. “Seventeen per cent and I’d be over the moon.”

Michael and Lisa have a vision to make the café “aspirational”. Michael said: “We want people to sit here and say, ‘I want this look’,” which fits perfectly with their passionate support for localism and using local suppliers for the café’s food and drink and supporting local talented artists and makers.

Visitors can buy the paintings, sculptures and ceramics on show as well as T&G coffee cups, light shades made from recycled milk bottles and even the tables you sit at to eat brunch or their best-selling cake Chocolate and Guinness cake.

“The art has helped the business,” said Michael. “We have sold around £1,000 of art each month since we opened. We have two revenue streams from our art, one is the wall art and the ceramics and the other is the Treacle & Ginger specific items.”

Looking to the future Michael would like to spread the Treacle & Ginger name by opening three or four more cafes in the Brighton and Hove areas.

Would that dream have been possible if he had not dipped into his pension pot?

“In practical terms it was easier access to the money and, importantly, it was my money,” Michael said. “If we fail I will have a slightly worse retirement than I thought, if we succeed then I have a great retirement!”

Shambles Tavern

A generation of successful people are reaching retirement and asking the question: What do I do next?

Keith McLean’s mind was made up for him. After just six weeks his partner Sue Woodward said to him: “How do you feel about an investment in a retail unit.”

When it came to funding their unexpected alternative to retirement Keith was in for another surprise. He was later to discover that he could have avoided dipping into his pension pot and paying “stupid rates of tax”, he could have borrowed from it instead.

Keith and Sue joined the new generation of start-ups on one of the oldest streets in York, launching a business on the historic Shambles in York, a medieval street mentioned in the Doomsday Book with overhanging timber-frame buildings dating back to the 14th century and a magnet for tourists.

The early years running a souvenir gift shop and coffee lounge were challenging through the recession and Keith and Sue have pumped a significant amount of money into the business to keep it running.

“If you hadn’t been in our position the business would have gone to the wall,” said Keith, an accountant by profession.

But reacting to customer demand proved the spark they needed and for the past few years business has been booming, as a bar and restaurant. The Shambles Tavern now serves food and around 120 different Yorkshire beers seven days a week.

The opportunity to use Keith’s pension pot to build on that success – and boost his pension – came at the perfect time for Keith. He was about to take more cash from his pension.

“I had worn my pension away significantly by taking money at stupid rates of tax,” he said.

The business needed a cash injection to upgrade the kitchen, beer dispensing system and to further develop their popular outside space in the marketplace at the rear of the building, as well as working capital and paying off their overdraft.

With help from Pension-led funding Keith’s existing pension was transferred to a SIPP (Self-Invested Personal Pension) and he accessed 50 per cent of the SIPP’s value with a coupon of 15% preference shares over five years.

The coupon is paid once a year and at the end of five years the business buys the shares back from the pension scheme.

Keith said: “Ok, we had a bad start, we chucked money away but we are moving forward in a way that I think will pay dividends down the track.

“One, we will be into significant profit. Two, we are building a business that is saleable and three, my pension fund is doing very nicely thank you.”

Would he recommend Pension-led funding? He has, to Sue!

“It felt to me to be a well-balanced risk on my side when we were going through the process. I’m more convinced now that we are through the process,” Keith said.

“I thought the concept seemed absolutely spot on.

“The fact that you could use a vehicle to release funds that were earning not a lot to help grow our business, pay back to my pension fund a much better return that I was getting elsewhere, and by using that money we could grow the income stream of our own business, our own profitability, and pay back some of our directors’ loans as well as pay the coupon, just felt to me like it was a good idea.”

Looking back, Keith and Sue were stepping into the unknown. “The last job I did, I ran the health service for the Trent region, which is a huge area. To go from Chief Executive of a big public organisation to running a small independent outfit like this we have reinvented ourselves.”

Both had impressive CVs. Following a long career as a public servant Keith was at the forefront of an operation to re-introduce general management into the Kosovo health system after the war and had taken an academic post Sheffield University.

Sue was a deputy regional nursing director when Keith invited her to help him out in Kosovo. A “couple of weeks’ holiday” in the war-torn country ended with Sue becoming head of mission for the World Health Organisation and spearheading the introduction of primary care into Kosovo.

They also faced a number of unique challenges closer to home as they transformed the struggling gift shop and café into the popular tavern it is today, although this was not their first customer-led business having owned a small boutique hotel in York.

What started with a desire to provide the option of wine with lunch has become the renowned Shambles Tavern boasting a professional chef, a wall of Yorkshire ales in the bar, their own label brews, Shambles Stumbler, a light ale and Shambles Dark and Shambles Cider, and ambitious plans to develop further.

“We pride ourselves that every time someone walks through the door they should be greeted with a smile and a happy face,” Keith said.

Now Sue is semi-retired enjoying the fruits of their labour but not Keith. “I just find it difficult to stop working. I’m 69 now, I don’t want to retire.”

A fear of becoming boring is driving Keith to continue working. The last few years have been anything but boring.

(Pension-led funding carries the same risks to the borrower as other commercial credit facilities)

Ecco Gelato

When Chancellor George Osborne introduced Pension Freedoms in April 2015, Andrew and Philippa Tarling could not have imagined this would spark a new career as luxury ice cream makers.

But, with the help of Pension-led funding (PLF), two family windfalls and 25 years’ experience in the pub trade, that’s exactly what happened to the couple who have joined the new wave of olderpreneurs.

Both Andrew and Philippa had plenty of financial acumen, having left successful roles in the City with major independent banks before taking on a country pub in Horsington, Somerset.

Although successful, with the UK’s pub trade in decline the couple knew they would have to diversify and were looking to offer food. After reading about a publican in the North of England offering Gelato, Andrew sent Philippa on a ‘taster’ course at the UK headquarters of Carpigiani, the world’s largest supplier of gelato making machines.

No ordinary ice cream
For the uninitiated, gelato is ice cream made the Italian way, with only the best milk and ingredients and is lower fat than regular ice cream. For vegans, there’s sorbetto which, according to Philippa, tastes just as good as the milk-based version.

But making gelato comes at a price. “We thought we could just buy a machine for about £3,000, set it up in the pub and go from there. But, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t that simple”, Andrew explains. It was clear there was a lot more involved in making top quality ice cream and it was going to need the best machinery and stand-alone premises. The costs quickly escalated.

No ordinary funding
The Tarlings saw their pensions as an opportunity to expand their horizons but, rather than simply cash them in, they sought an approach. They met with Clifton Asset Management and recognised Pension-led funding (PLF) as the solution.

Philippa’s pension plan – a defined benefits scheme that had closed in 1996 – had previously been valued at nearly £90,000. But in the subsequent 14 months, that value had almost doubled, thanks to the collapse in interest rates. According to Philippa: “That made the decision to set up the gelato business easier, because we could buy more, better quality equipment to allow us to produce higher volumes.”

The pension pot was placed in a SSAS set up by Clifton which allowed the Tarlings to back their own business. Their pension scheme loaned them £75,000 secured against the gelato machinery, along with £40,000 in cash from two windfalls. The Tarlings decided on an interest rate of 12% so that the loan could be paid back to the pension fund more quickly, and experience further growth. “It’s all about the money in the end, and with the money being made by the business only being owed back to our own pension fund it’s a perfect circle”, says Andrew.

The cherry on top
“The inheritance money was on deposit at 2.25% and my pension was going to give me about £100 a week and that doesn’t get you very far. It was clear to us as ageing professionals that PLF would work and Clifton were very efficient in the way they sorted it out”, says Philippa.

Andrew adds: “The state won’t be giving us anything”, Andrew adds. “The goalposts will continue to move because they will have to. We’ve seen our parents go through it and they’ve had the best of it. Baby Boomers won’t have the same support that they had and it won’t be there for our children either.”

The Tarling’s retirement plans are ambitious. While Andrews continues to run the pub, Philippa is building a gelato empire –In just its first month, Ecco Gelato has proved a huge hit in the affluent Dorset town of Sherborne, with takings already well into the thousands, and the target is three or four outlets. “With a gross margin of more than 80% on turnover, we’re looking at strong returns on our investment. We have confidence in our business and we plan to get up to three or four outlets and keep the pub as a place to live.”

Most importantly, the whole family is set to benefit according to Andrew. “Our business will grow our pension and the children’s inheritance money faster than almost any other investment. Once we’ve made provision for the kids, we’d like to buy a couple of nice cars and holiday a lot. That may sound a bit selfish, but when you do what we do for a living 24 hours a day, I think we deserve a break.”

Felbrigg Lodge

DeeDee Lomax found herself on a rollercoaster when she started running her Norfolk hotel.

The ride took her from “six months of hell” to the “strongest position” she could remember and occupancy rates of 73 per cent.

Along the way she was hit by the financial crash and a fire but also saved herself “shedloads of tax” by using Pension-led funding to develop Felbrigg Lodge rather than drawing a lump sum from her pension, an investment she has forecast would add £100,000 turnover in the first year alone.

DeeDee bought Felbrigg Lodge, near Cromer, in 2007. The following year, in the middle of renovation work, came the banking crisis. Everything was thrown up in the air as the “mortgage people suddenly changed the rules” and refused to lend all the money she was banking on.

“That was our introduction to being here,” said DeeDee, who has spent most of her working life in the hotel and catering industry.

Fightback No1 came with the rise of the staycation.

“People, for all sorts of reasons, were not going abroad,” remembers DeeDee. Light at the end of the tunnel perhaps? But just as her business began to thrive again, she was hit by another hammer blow.

“Four years ago we had a fire in the restaurant. We thought that would be the end of us. It came right at the end of the recession and was six months of hell.”

DeeDee was determined not to be beaten and launched fightback No2.

She had already raised initial funding to finance a family-friendly unit sleeping six aimed at those who wanted a break with elderly or infirm relatives or somewhere offering the attraction of teenagers having their own room.

Now she had to find a new home for her restaurant and planning permission for a second family unit was about to run out.

The solution was to move the restaurant into her own house but that didn’t come cheap. “I thought I’m not going to spend all that money to comply with regulations and then move it back again.”

The market was also changing. The wellness sector was booming and Dee Dee was desperate to add a second identical 800 sq ft unit to be able to offer spa-style breaks as well.

“I looked at conventional routes for funding but you had to jump through too many hoops and I didn’t want a second charge on my property,” she said.

“My pension was sitting there and I thought who knows what is going to happen to it? I wanted a bit more control over my pension.”

An email from Pension-led funding arrived at an opportune time to stop her using pension freedoms to cash in her whole pot.

DeeDee and her husband, Philip, transferred their existing person pensions into a Small Self-Administered Scheme (SSAS). The funds were then used to lend 50 per cent of the fund value, £75,000, secured on the company’s balance sheet assets.

The couple also drew down their 25 per cent personal tax-free cash entitlement of the whole pension fund amount, resulting in excess of £100,000 being raised for the business.

“I saved myself shedloads of tax,” she said. “And I’m going to pay that pension back within five years so it’s a no brainer.”

DeeDee said she had enhanced her business which now has 12 rooms, as she targets those looking for rest and recuperation and potentially recovering from serious illnesses.

The area’s patchy mobile phone coverage has become a blessing. “When people arrive they shout at me because they can’t use their phone. By the end they are hugging me!”

She has also discovered an unlikely benefit from borrowing from herself.

“The banks only offer you an umbrella when the sun shines. I thought I would be working for the bank but now I’m working for my pension fund, my money.

“When it comes to paying the bill at the end of the month I’m paying myself. I’m always happy,” DeeDee said.

“I would definitely go back to my pension without even thinking about it.

“I’m thinking about how I can put more money into my pension fund so I can get more money out of it to invest in the restaurant. It’s changing the whole way I run my business and fund my business. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Hungry Monk

The challenging times taught Paul Dawbarn not to take no for an answer and now his hunger to succeed is driving a restaurant business appropriately named the Hungry Monk.


Paul opened the family-owned and run Hungry Monk on the site of an old restaurant in the centre of Southport which had been closed for four years. “Somebody told me I was a good cook. I have set up a couple of businesses for people which have been a success and decided to have a go myself.” Paul, with a background in post offices and a greetings cards business, had been through challenging times. “I have been there, made it and lost it,” and saw the opportunity of serving up a menu of good food and free entertainment as his “last chance”.

Funding needs

The Hungry Monk was decorated on a shoestring because of the need to keep costs down with furniture and artefacts bought from eBay to create a shabby chic environment and trendy cafe atmosphere. But Paul needed hard cash to get the business off the ground and turning to traditional funders was not an option owing to his low credit rating at the time. Despite repeatedly being told he “couldn’t do it”, Paul knew his pension, and ultimately, could help. His business plan was studied and independently valued before Paul utilised £30,000 from the pension pot he had managed to hang onto.


After just over a year in business the Hungry Monk is doubling its forecasts. Paul now employs 25 people and his restaurant is open seven days a week. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is served as the business caters for a huge variety of tastes with hearty breakfasts and a grazing menu, similar to tapas with a modern British twist, and a signature dish of a huge 28-day matured Inka Charcoal cooked steak pulling in the punters. With a shopping centre nearby he has a thriving day and evening trade. “We serve anything from a T-bone steak to a tea cake,” he said.

Going Forward

Paul is eager to build on the success of the live music and entertainment nights he launched which are fully booked at least two weeks in advance. Two to three nights a week the Hungry Monk is packed as diners are treated to free entertainment featuring anything from music, comedy, race nights and tribute acts. With a taste of success returning, Paul’s fortunes have turned full circle. “Now I’m adding to my pension pot, not taking out. I’m putting in a weekly contribution and my pension pot is growing,” he said.