Lancaster University: LUMS alumnus scoops ‘Best New Business’ prize after turning around failing firm

In 2020 when Brendan Donnelly remortgaged his home to complete the purchase of his new business in Cumbria, he was excited for the future. However, 19 working days later, Covid-19 hit the UK – and he was forced to close his new business’ doors.

Despite the challenging circumstances, Brendan – who graduated from LUMS in 1985 with a Behaviour in Organisations degree – took the opportunity to stop and think carefully about the direction of his new business, Coniston Stonecraft, and set about steering the firm in new directions. As a result, the struggling business he took on is now thriving. He has doubled his workforce, is now generating what he once earned in a month on a daily basis from web sales, and is flat out with a full order book.

The small business has also transformed to be more eco-friendly, using a nearby beck to cool machinery as opposed to oil, and powering their workshop with hydro electric power from a local plant. Its products are also wrapped in cloth or recycled bike boxes that would otherwise be destined for landfill.

The success of the Coniston-based business has not gone unnoticed, and Brendan was presented with the ‘Best New Business’ award at the In-Cumbria awards ceremony last month – an acolade he attributes in part to his time studying at Lancaster University.

“I was so delighted to win. I think it was down to the fact that the business survived when, really, we should have died. But dying isn’t an option when you have a craft business so steeped in history and skills,” Brendan explained. “If we closed for good, then generations of skills that have thrived in Coniston would be lost.”

Brendan says studying at Lancaster shaped him into the business man he is today: “It gave me the confidence to go out and live the life I wanted – the best years of my life without a doubt. I’ve run five businesses and have won and lost throughout my career, but my degree at Lancaster has given me the confidence and ability to always go for it.”

Brendan’s daughter Kathryn is now following in his footsteps as a first year student studying Geography at Lancaster. Though, as a proud Fylde college member in his day, Brendan’s a little disappointed his daughter Kathryn is a firm member of Lonsdale!

“Lancaster is the right place for Kathryn because of her personality – I knew a collegial university would be the way to go for her. She’s much more suited to being part of a community,” Brendan added. He thinks that while her experience has been more of a rollercoaster because of challenges caused by Covid-19, he’s hopeful she’ll look back on her time at Lancaster as positively as he does.

“I am still in touch with the same circle of friends I made at Lancaster, it’s set me up for life. And, now, I look forward to what the future holds with Coniston Stonecraft – it is the business I’ve always dreamt of having.”