Bright Times for Dark Realms

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When we met with Nigel Swan and Andrena Bidgood at their new shop Dark Realms in Wisbech, the pair were busy stocktaking their range of goth, punk and heavy metal clothing, homeware and gifts.  

The store which they opened a month ago aims to meet what they saw as a gap in the market for these items which were not available locally. “Normally people have to travel to Norwich or Peterborough to find the products they wanted,” explained Nigel. “There is a large market for alternative clothing in the area and being part of the scene ourselves, we wanted to provide a place where people could find them easily.”  

Dark Realms

The couple moved from Essex around a year and a half ago, wanting to set up their own business and initially looked into running an animal sanctuary, but repeated requests from people that they bumped into for where they had bought their T shirts from, prompted them to rethink that decision, especially after the house they purchased did not have enough land for their original plan. 

“Neither of us had run our own business before,” stated Nigel, “However we started to ask people what they would like us to stock in the shop and we have built a good following on Facebook for our idea.”  

Their accountant, R B Consultancy recommended the Start and Grow programme from the Growth Hub, so they got in touch and were amazed by the support on offer, which included grant funding to help kit out the shop with display racks, shelving as well as an EPOS till and counter display cabinets and a printing machine for T shirts, mugs and hats. The funding also helped with advertising for the shop opening, which is working in bringing customers in, along with their location in a popular part of the town.  

“We were really grateful for the funding that Start and Grow provided through the programme as it helped us to get up and running with the shop,” commented Nigel. “We want the shop to be more than a retail outlet, offering the local community somewhere to come for a chat and our future plans potentially include opening a goth style café where like-minded people can relax in a friendly environment.” Andrena also wants to have a goth wedding shop as part of their future business operations which is in response to customer demand.  


“The grant application was a lot of work, especially putting together all the documents required, but luckily AndrenaDark Realms Display had some business and finance knowledge, which together with the 1:1 support from the Start & Grow team, helped us to pull it all together,” explained Nigel.  

The pair took a stall at the Wisbech Rock Festival to help promote their business which was popular, selling a limited range of stock to show potential customers the type of goods on offer. “We’ve had customers aged six to 92 years old and many have heard about us in the local area or popped in while they were in town,” said Nigel.  

Dark Realms DisplayFuture plans also include offering an online shop to help them provide a flexible option for when the shop is not open or for those unable to visit in person. They have installed a changing room in the shop as their research has shown that customers are 67% more likely to buy a product if they have had the chance to try it on first. “This will also enable us to widen the range of products we offer, as we are limited by the size of the shop.”

“Without the grant from the Start and Grow programme, we wouldn’t have been able to get the shop running,” stated Nigel. “The money has really helped us to achieve our dream to open a business and the process has helped bring our family together, working to make it happen.” The couple have combined the business venture with a busy family life with many demands on their time. “Even Andrena’s son, who has mental health issues and has not left their home for a long time, has shown interest in helping with the shop, which is fantastic,” adds Nigel.  

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Plunkett UK Grants

Plunkett UK Grants

With funding from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Plunkett is currently able to offer early-stage community businesses free advice and support on how to get their business off the ground, including guidance on community engagement, legal structures, business planning and raising the funds to do it.