A Bideford woman who battled between ill health and zero-hour contracts to start her own business is hoping her story will inspire others.

It’s been nearly 30 years in the making, but Sharon Winchester, 55, has achieved her life dream by opening ANnIEdesign in Chingswell Street, Bideford.

Sharon, who offers alterations and bespoke dresses, trained at the London College of Fashion some 27 years ago.

But over the last three decades, she has endured around eight surgeries, fought thyroid cancer and had a heart attack – putting off her dream of running her own business.

Sharon spent a lot of these years on benefits, and during the times when she was well enough to go back to work, all she could find were zero-hour contracts.

ANnIEdesign in Bideford.ANnIEdesign in Bideford.

“I had given up; life hadn’t allowed me my dream,” she said.

“Eighteen months ago I was at home at Christmas, having just had a heart attack and with no job; I never dreamed this is where I’d be now.”

But there was hope. Through the JobCentre and her work coach, Sharon, who lives in Woolsery, found out about the New Enterprises Allowance, and signed up for it.

She was given a grant and the training to start her own business, and also successfully applied for funding from Bideford Bridge Trust.

She opened ANnIEdesign on May 19, and said she has hit the ground running with a full order book of alterations already.

“Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to, and I hope that if there is someone out there feeling the way I was, that this might inspire them,” she added.

Sharon has been sewing since she was seven-years-old, and was inspired to consider it as a career when she saw dresses on the cover of Elle and Vogue she could never dream of affording.

“I thought I’d learn to sew and make them myself,” she said.

“Throughout everything I always kept sewing, even when I was working in a factory on a zero-hour contract.

“I’d like to say a huge thank you to the people that helped me and supported me.

“And I hope this can reach out to the young people that don’t have much hope. It’s taken me nearly 30 years but I have finally materialised my dream.”

Find ANnIEdesign in Chingswell Street, open Monday-Friday (closed Wednesdays).