New Age fills a business gap: Centre for self-employed offers personal growth along with success

THE Breakthrough Centre is a business centre with a difference - offering a holistic approach to self-employment.

Andrew Ferguson, its founder, proprietor and director, chants sometimes, meditates often and plays the saxophone. He is 46, has a degree in classics from Oxford, a background in marketing - and the look of an Old Testament prophet in casuals.

The centre, in Shepherd's Bush, west London, has been going for five and a half years. Its cornerstone is the Breakthrough Club, where members meet, make contacts, brainstorm, attend workshops, one-to-one sessions, and even parties. There are currently 175 members.

According to the centre's new-age philosophy, personal growth and business success are inextricably meshed. 'The people whom we work with are combining working for yourself with working with yourself,' Mr Ferguson says. 'It can be lonely sometimes, so our task is to relieve the isolation and make sense of where your life and your work is heading.'

Richard Arundel, a communications specialist who teaches people effective public speaking, joined the club in 1989 after leaving his job as a marketing manager for a computer company.

'Suddenly, I found myself on my own, with no one to talk projects through with, no accounts department to send my expenses to, no network to plug into.' He says the club has been 'invaluable for the networking, the brainstorming and as a resource base'.

He has chanted at a singing workshop and made a lot of business contacts through the centre and is keen to spread the word. 'There's a great need to get the holistic approach to business into the mainstream, but you can't just slam it in front of people. If what they are seeing is applicable and fits, the holistic approach of empowering people to take control of their lives will get across.' For Mr Arundel, it is paying off - he has just published his first book, Sell Your Way to Success, and has another in the pipeline.

There's no doubt that Mr Ferguson's life is informed by holistic tenets - but he also spotted a gap in the market, especially for people who have taken the leap into self-employment, established themselves, but are too small to qualify for the next tier of support from conventional sources such as the Government's Training and Enterprise Councils.

Workshop modules take Breakthrough Club members through seven steps, from vision ('finding inspiration and using imagination') to action ('ensuring commitments are met and the vision made manifest'). Via intuition, form, love, concentration and vitality, members find themselves 'tapping the different energies each step represents'.

The centre has always attracted people who fit into the new-age mould - aromatherapists, reflexologists and homeopaths. In the 1990s, as the recession has cut swathes through white-collar jobs, more and more people are 'questioning the railway tracks they started out on', says Mr Ferguson.

So it is hardly surprising that the Breakthrough Centre makes money. Club members pay pounds 17.50- pounds 35 a month, depending on how far they live from the centre. There's a legal hotline, telecounselling, a members' directory and the noticeboard and leaflet display - crucial to the centre's networking ethos.

Profit is not a dirty word for new-agers in the business world. 'Of course we all have to make a living,' says Mr Ferguson. But attitude is crucial. 'Money is just energy, and if you are heading in the right direction, doing the right sort of thing, the money will make itself available. So money is jolly useful. When it stops coming in, it's a sign that you've got to stop and take stock.'

Mr Ferguson himself is taking stock. He is considering turning the centre into a co-op and looking at other joint ventures around the country.

(Photograph omitted)