Lethenty Cabinetmakers Ltd

“Out of adversity comes opportunity,” American author, politician, inventor and statesman Ben Franklin famously said.

Cabinetmaker Graeme Winram would certainly agree after rebuilding his business from the ashes of a devastating fire which destroyed the bespoke kitchen and furniture designer’s workshop and much of his stock back in April 2016.

With around six months of work on the order book and the goodwill of the local Aberdeenshire community, Graeme set about transforming Lethenty Cabinetmakers and turned to his pension for finance for the second time to put the finishing touches to the job.

“We were overwhelmed with the support and help we received from our community. We were offered the use of storage buildings, workshops, vans and tools. One tree surgeon even gave us four large Elm trees,” Graeme remembers.

“The fire at Lethenty Mill was certainly a major setback for us but, rather than dwell on what we lost, we saw this as a fabulous opportunity to really transform our business for the better.”

Prior to the fire the need to pay off debt and purchase a briquette machine as a way of creating additional income and dealing with workshop waste, first switched Graeme onto the possibilities of Pension-led funding.

“I have had funding through my bank before but I was interested in pursuing Pension-led funding because it looked like I would be lending to myself and paying myself back which sounded a better option than going through a bank.

“I am also keen at some point in the future to purchase the building I am currently leasing and that would be a good vehicle for doing it because then the building becomes owned by the pension fund.”

With our help Graeme’s existing pension was transferred into a Small Self-Administered Scheme (SSAS) and used to provide a £50,000 loan to Lethenty Cabinetmakers. With guidance from the pension trustees, Graeme set the interest rate at 12% with a five-year capital repayment term.

Fast forward to autumn 2018 and Graeme and his team of four, who have been with him since the beginning, have rebuilt their workshop just north of Blackburn in an ex-fruit picker’s building at Cairntradlin.

But the conversion took longer than anticipated and Graeme turned to his pension again to fund a £35,000 shortfall and boost the company’s cashflow.

Graeme made a second loan to his business from his pension, again at an interest of 12% with a five-year capital repayment term – to himself.

Lethenty produce some of the country’s most innovative kitchens from local timbers, buying hardwood trees from farms and estates, with customers from some of the most prestigious houses in Aberdeenshire and the National Trust for Scotland.

“I just love the whole process,” said Graeme. “It’s so satisfying to me to see the whole process through from a rough heavy log in a farmer’s field to a shimmering surface of a beautifully made piece of special furniture. Local Elm in particular has a wonderful rich colour and swirling grain patterns.”

The luxury handmade kitchens produced by Lethenty cost on average between £30,000-£40,000, take four-six weeks to make, a week to varnish and a further week to install. Graeme and his team have recently refurbished several kitchens he fitted 20 years ago. “Hopefully these kitchens will be good for another 20 years of service.”

Does Graeme, who has also worked as a ski instructor, tree surgeon and furniture restorer, have any advice to help his customers look after their investment? “Use it, enjoy it, relax with it – don’t roller skate on it.”

Graeme said: “Cabinetmaking is really what we do. Making kitchens is the mainstay of the business, that is 80 per cent of our work, but we do like the creative challenge of making bespoke furniture.

“We will always miss our old workshop at Lethenty Mill but we are very proud of our new facilities at Cairntradlin. It feels like we’ve really turned a corner and we are now all set for the future. The new workshop is bright, clean and efficient and we are now in an ideal position for growth.”

Solec Energy Solutions Ltd

Renewable energy specialists Solec have ensured a sunny outlook for their business by staying one step ahead of the game.

Solec started installing heat pumps three years ago as a way of surviving the solar crash.

Surviving not one, but two cuts in solar power subsidies by the Government, Solec now has doubled the size of their order book. They have also given something back to the community by installing a new 10kw Solar Array on a new sports pavilion – for free.

Solec were recently crowned Renewable Heat Incentive installer of the year in the Regional Energy Efficiency Awards and also commended as Solar PV Installer of Year.

A remarkable turnaround, achieved in part following an injection of finance secured using Pension-led funding which “took our business to the next level”, said Gaye Wilmot, who runs Solec with her husband Robert, in Horsforth, Leeds.

“The renewables award was so exciting for us. It was such a positive thing after a time of such uncertainty, it put us out there as renewable experts.”

Solec has come a long way from the electrical contractors who spotted the commercial opportunity of installing Solar PV Arrays which were backed by generous coalition Government grants.

That was until the Government decided to slash the subsidies in half within a month back in 2012 and when the axe fell again in 2015 it had a massive impact on the renewables industry.

“Solar PVs fell off a cliff in 2015,” said Gaye. “We went back to being electrical contractors.”

From a peak of more than 5000 Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited Solar installers in the UK this plummeted to 2,500 within a year of the 2016 Government cuts and now there are only 1,850.

With cash flow reaching “crisis point”, Gaye and Robert feared Solec wouldn’t survive.

Gaye said: “The kit is very expensive. Heat pumps, solar panels, converters, they are pricey – 70% of what we charge.

“We had run out of our own resources without putting the house on the line. Although the bank was incredibly supportive, they couldn’t actually loan us anything because our turnover had dropped considerably.

“We knew it was alternative finance we had to look at. Pension-led funding made perfect sense to me. My accountant told me why I shouldn’t be doing it.

“We spoke to a couple of Pension-led funding customers and they said: ‘Absolutely brilliant, the best thing we have done’,” Gaye said.

With the help of Pension-led funding, Robert and Gaye gave their business a vital £30,000 injection of pension cash.

Their existing pension pots were transferred into two Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPP) set up by us and used to purchase preference shares in Solec Energy Solutions Limited.

The shares will be redeemable over a five-year term with a 12% coupon being paid back into Robert and Gaye’s pension schemes.

Robert and Gaye are big believers in the renewables and highlight the potential of heat pumps to provide an efficient alternative to oil heating in areas where there is no mains gas supply.

“A lot of builders are now putting renewables into their builds, they have finally realised the potential.”

The possibility to give something sustainable back to the community proved irresistible during the construction of Horsforth Sports Club. “Robert said ‘why not put solar on it? And we’ll do it for nothing’. The club gets free daytime electricity and we get the feed in tariffs,” Gaye said.

“The system is generating way in excess of what we hoped, it contributed over 10,000 kw hours towards their bill last year.

“We generated £800 from the FIT scheme (Feed-in Tariffs) in the first year and should recoup our costs in 6-7 years. After that it is an asset.”


A noisy New Year’s Eve party was music to the ears of businessman Rick Parsons.

The neighbour’s complaint sounded like an untapped market and the business opportunity he had been waiting for. The idea for soundproofing specialists iKoustic was born.

The first year was all about establishing the company website and marketing the soundproofing products to home owners and the building trade.

But for the business to thrive, iKoustic needed to also target those contractors with the potential to be repeat customers, such as builders, dry liners, joiners and carpet fitters.

Rick also needed to educate prospective clients, encouraging customers to move away from the traditional view of soundproofing as only for recording studios.

“People would say we have a partition wall in the lounge and we can hear the neighbours through it. What can I do?” Rick said.

“The goal of the website and supporting information was to demystify acoustics. We had clear online prices, installation instructions and encouraged independent feedback. Those three points differentiated us from the competition at that time.”

Like any new business, cash and growth are significant challenges and stresses began to appear as iKoustic attempted to develop new products when average orders were still only £400.

Rick remembers: “I had sold my house to start the business in 2010 during the recession and didn’t have a lot of additional cash. I needed a cash flow strategy.

“We went through a couple of years trying to grow in difficult financial circumstances, this was the peak of the recession.”

A loan from the bank was out of the question because the business was not yet profitable, meaning Rick had to look at other options.

He had read about Pension-led funding (PLF) but it wasn’t until he applied for a loan and was told to come back in six months or try PLF that Rick approached us.

Rick was looking to borrow £50,000 to inject into his company which, at the time, had a turnover of around £400,000.

He ended up borrowing £60,000 secured against the company’s Intellectual Property and balance sheet. The iKoustic brand had value, had secured a significant amount of website traffic and had developed its own products. The company also had some domain, trademark and brand protection.

“Securing that pension gave us a lift, a really positive self-funded future. Suddenly everything looked a lot stronger. We still look back to that dark winter, where we had a three-month period of strong P&L but little cash. We didn’t know whether we could keep the cash going,” he said.

“The pension funding catapulted us forward in one leap to better security.”

iKoustic have now grown their number of products from 25 to 125 with the European market potential growing as modern living becomes more minimalist with noisy hard surfaces and electronic devices create more noise in more rooms of the home . . . creating a fertile, expanding market.

“We are getting more technology in homes, mobile phones, docking stations, bigger TVs. The level of sound is growing. People are also moving closer together, we have more density of population. We also have a preference for cleaner living such as no carpets. It’s a perfect storm of noise.”

“We have now expanded our reach into more markets, selling to resellers and installers as well as direct to domestic and trade. We started off with the home market. Now the workplace, from cinema to studio, hospitals, from schools to nurseries and gardens.

Their latest customers this week include a stylish gym in Edinburgh, an industrial production unit in the North West, a firm of architects in London and a house builder in Yorkshire. Their home market reputation has grown from Wetherby in West Yorkshire to shipping orders to over 30 international countries in six years.

“If it’s noisy we can help,” said Rick.

He said the quietest environment most of us have experienced is 30 decibels. Noisy neighbours normally register around 70db.

iKoustic’s Genie Clip system can cut out 70db in principle but Rick said: “That doesn’t mean it will stop the sound of the bus going by or the washing machine. It reduces the average. We are not trying to get to zero but trying to get back to background noise levels in most scenarios.”

What is not in doubt is Rick’s satisfaction with the funding from his pension.

“I am borrowing the money from myself for my company. I can’t lose. iKoustic has contributed more to my pension in the last year than any other single investment. That is a positive feeling all round.”


Luxus Home Fragrance

When James Debnam had a burning ambition to start his own candle-making business he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

He was just three months in and two companies had already approached Luxus Home Fragrance with major orders.

“We just didn’t have the money to do it,” remembers James.

Funding was needed, and needed quick.

The problem was his bank had said “no”. He had approached a start-up loan company, spent his weekends filling out forms, and they had said “no”.

He had already spotted the potential of Pension-led funding after a Google search for finance but his own financial adviser was not so sure.

“He flat out said: ‘I don’t advise it, it’s too complicated, it’s really not a good idea’.”

But James was determined to find someone, or some form of funding, before the flame went out.

Everything changed when he approached the crowdfunding and commercial funding platform Fundsurfer, who recommended he speak to Clifton Asset Management and Pension-led funding.

“Everyone else said ‘no’ but Clifton said ‘yes’,” added James, who met consultant Lewis Metcalfe in a coffee shop.

“I didn’t want him to come to my house because there were candles everywhere.”

“We were doing orders in our house for a month. We had the sofas up on end in the corner of the room and a gas burner in the middle of the lounge melting wax. We were pouring candles on the table.”

James said: “It wasn’t like going to a bank. Lewis actually came and listened. He took the facts and the figures and came to see what we were about. I felt Clifton had faith in us as a business.”

Those facts and figures added up to a £50,000 personal pension which was transferred into a Small Self-Administered Scheme (SSAS) and the pension loaned the business £25,000 secured against the assets in the business.

By adding a further final salary pension to the pot a further cash injection is available to Luxus to purchase machinery or more stock in the future.

A couple of months before James had been working for Oakleaf Candles in Suffolk, arriving via a degree in forestry and jobs as a saw mill production manager and in the chemical engineering industry in Scotland.

He had also met his “life and work partner” Zuzana Sabadka and, as the new owners of Oakleaf Candles targeted larger orders, the couple spotted a gap in the market.

Now Luxus Home Fragrance has seven good customers and James is predicting a turnover of between £250,000, and £300,000 in the first year with the potential to hit £500,000 next year for the contract manufacturer of candles and diffusers.

“Our customers have their ideas, they have their designs but they don’t make candles,” he said.

His customers are High Street brands including retailers such as Neom, who distribute to John Lewis and Marks and Spencer, and Timothy Dunn London, whose products are on sale in Harrods.

Luxus are also launching their own range and developing their own vegetable wax as an alternative to the traditional paraffin wax.

James said: “A normal order for us is between 1,000 and 2,000 units whether its candles or diffusers. We have another lady who wants 250 per fragrance, she may only order 250 candles, but next week we start work on an order for 40,000.”

Now based on a trading estate on the outskirts of Plymouth, James, 42, can look back and smile at the time when pallets arrived daily, sometimes delivered at 7am, to his parent’s house.

He has come a long way in a short space of time after investing his pension in his business.

“I paid the money in and I want the money out. I want to do something with it,” he said.

“I know we can make this business successful and I believe the rewards we will get out of it will very much outweigh any benefit from the pension. I have plenty of time to put money back in and have a better standard of living when I do retire.”

Only Natural Products

Afternoon tea is quintessentially English but when it comes to producing the nation’s favourite brew there is a distinct foreign flavour.

Step forward Keith Garden and Only Natural Products who are reversing the current trend for overseas production while showcasing the best of British by exporting a range of high-quality teas and infusions around the world.

But when Keith launched the stand-alone company back in 2008 after a career in sales and marketing there was one missing ingredient – funding.

Keith remembers the banks were not being “terribly helpful” when it came to lending money and he needed £150,000 to fund a management buyout.

“I was scratching my head. There was a sum of money in the pension that was sitting there and not performing very well,” he said.

Pension-led funding became an attractive option for a small company which needed major investment in machinery, design and packaging. With the help of PLF, a small self-administered scheme (SSAS) was set up, the pension purchased the company Intellectual Property and a loan was made to the company.

“It was fantastic to unlock some of our own money in pensions and pay ourselves back. The pension is performing better than it was. A real win, win.”

Keith has since returned several times to his pension to fund his growing export-led business in Gloucester.

He said: “It was a quantum change, for years everything was packaged for us. We felt to move forward we needed our own production to improve our service level. We wanted to be masters of our own fortune.”

While major British tea producers were focusing production in Eastern Europe, Only Natural Products were pouring their efforts into development back at home.

“We wanted to do the opposite, we believe in British production, particularly for tea. When you mention tea people around the world think of England, they believe we stop at three for tea and scones!”

Sales have grown steadily which has been backed up by continued investment in people and machinery.

Further pension loans and Intellectual Property purchases have funded the launch of brands such as Dr Stuarts, a range of herbal infusions called Higher Living and the latest, a South African organic, single-estate rooibos tea called Kromland Farm.

The investment and focus on overseas markets, such as trade stands in America and Hong Kong and at organic and food shows, has built on all the hard work.

With the home market becoming a more challenging place to trade, the last four years have seen a huge swing in the split of the company’s export and home market output.

Keith said: “Our production has swung around to become 65-35 per cent export led.

“Tea is synonymous with the UK. We have a huge advantage over companies in France, Spain and Germany. We can deliver 20 million packs of tea around the world, have seen fantastic growth internationally, in Europe, Scandinavia as well as in America and the Far East.

His latest Pension-led funding deal has helped to purchase a loose tea machine to target drinkers Down Under. “We are now the leading organic tea brand in Australia,” he said proudly.

“The market for premium tea is growing around the world, by 35 per cent in Sweden and 20 per cent in USA. We firmly believe it is the way forward. The market for tea is growing, coffee is in decline.

“The relationship with Pension-led funding has been superb. The advice and assistance given has been really strong, communication has been at a really good level.”


Keith started Only Natural Products back in 2008 after a career in sales and marketing. He has since launched brands such as Dr Stuarts, a range of herbal infusions called Higher Living and the latest, a South African organic, single-estate rooibos tea called Kromland Farm.

Funding needs

He needed £150,000 to fund a management buyout but the banks were not lending. “I was scratching my head. There was a sum of money in the pension that was sitting there and not performing very well,” he said.


A small self-administered scheme (SSAS) was set up, the pension purchased the company Intellectual Property and a loan was made to the company. Keith has since returned several times to his pension to fund his growing export-led business in Gloucester.

Going forward

Sales have grown steadily which has been backed up by the continued investment in people and machinery. His latest Pension-led funding deal has helped to purchase a loose tea machine to target drinkers in Australia. Only Natural Products now exports 65 per cent of their output. “We can deliver 20 million packs of tea around the world, have seen fantastic growth internationally, in Europe, Scandinavia as well as in America and the Far East.”