A CAMPERVAN enthusiast, whose 20 years of Army service was ended by a serious leg injury, has been backed to start his own business in Redcar.

Hardy Johnson, 38, who lives in Normanby, has won support from UK Steel Enterprise to set up Turtle Interiors, a business fuelled by the former soldier’s passion for the classic Volkswagens that have been the vehicle of choice for festival-goers, surfers and rock stars for more than 60 years.

UK Steel Enterprise, the Tata Steel subsidiary that supports businesses in steel production areas, has provided £3,500 from its regeneration fund towards essential equipment.

It is also providing workshop and office space for Turtle Interiors at its innovation centre, on the Kirkleatham Business Park, in Redcar.

Mr Johnson’s talent for creating bespoke, hand-crafted van interiors has attracted the attention of VW enthusiasts from around the UK who are keeping the fledgling businessman busy.

“My accident was sustained in a charity motorcycle race and meant that I had to leave the Army for medical reasons,”

said Mr Johnson.

“I knew I had a good idea for a viable business but I just couldn’t get finance anywhere.

“Fortunately, I found UK Steel Enterprise, otherwise I could never have got started.

They have been brilliant.”

Mr Johnson’s globetrotting career with the Army fuelled his passion for tanks, cars, motorbikes and, especially, the vans which became synonymous with Sixties counter culture.

“It is so satisfying restoring the interior of a van that could be nearly 40 years old,” he said.

“Depending on whether people want a facelift or a full custom build, I can spend up to three weeks on each van.

“We can replace everything from cupboards and bed bases to upholstery and the electrics and have a wide range of materials and finishes available.

“People can spend thousands of pounds on their interiors and are happy to travel from as far afield as London.

“I have already moved into supplying special teardrop trailers to order, hope to start selling a range of spares and accessories in the near future and have so many ideas for the business that I could soon need additional space.”

Mr Johnson’s passion is so infectious his partner, Karen, a skilled machinist, will take on the firm’s upholstery work.

Nick Johnson, of UK Steel Enterprise, said: “Like many start-ups and smaller businesses, Hardy has really struggled to get the small amount of finance he needed.

“Our regeneration fund is specifically tailored to help people in this situation. We have every faith in Turtle Interiors and are delighted that we have been able to support Hardy with both funding and premises.”

An open day at Turtle Interiors is planned for Saturday, June 11, when all bookings made on the day will be eligible for a ten per cent reduction.

The company is also exhibiting at the VW Mighty Dubfest, in Druridge Bay, Northumberland, on June 17 to 19, and at an event at Redcar Rugby Club in July.

For details of UK Steel Enterprise’s support for businesses, call 01642-777777 or visit uksteelenterprise.co.uk Turtle Interiors is on 01642- 777704, at turtleinteriors.

co.uk and on Facebook.