ENCOURAGMENT from friends and relatives gave Sabiha the push she needed to enter The Mall Blackburn’s annual Retail Factor contest.

And victory was sweet for the 33-year-old mum of three as she picked up her prize of two months free trading in the shopping centre for her business Simply Chocolicious.

She secured the winning slot after a two-week trial in The Mall – which ended at Easter weekend, perfect timing for a firm selling personalised treats made from chocolate.

Sabiha first started crafting chocolates for friends and family after attending a course in London five years ago.

“I was a chocoholic, am quite creative in the kitchen and had mastered cupcakes, so my husband thought it would be something different to try,” she said.

But with her youngest child not yet in nursery, Sabiha put her ideas on hold while she snatched nap times for researching and experimenting with chocolate.

“In the back of my mind, I guess I was realising I had a high end product and was doing something enjoyable.

“Not thinking of it as a full-time venture, I went to the business start up agencies for advice with some samples and they told me to take the products to Debenhams.

“I didn’t do that – not for fear of being knocked back, but for fear if they came back asking for 100 boxes.”

Working from home, using one kitchen worktop for family curries and one for chocolate, Sabiha built up her business eventually launching Simply Chocolicious officially two years ago.

And walking through The Mall one day she spotted details for this year’s Retail Factor.

“The Mall has been a fantastic opportunity for me. I had thought about having a shop but with the current market for rates and rent it would have been a big commitment to make.

“My friends encouraged me to apply, I was shortlisted and got a two-week trial – and I loved it.

“I was working a full day on the stall, coming home getting the children to bed and then going back into the kitchen from 9pm to 2am to keep up with the demand. I did not expect such a good response.

“People were disappointed I might not be there after the two weeks, and they are getting used to knowing I’m here now.

“It has been a whirlwind. My prize is two months rent free, but after the first three weeks I’m already considering taking it on full time.”

Sabiha is following in the footsteps of last year’s Retail Factor winner Sophie Patel, of Cupcakes And Cookies, who won the local and national contest last year, and now has a permanent base in Blackburn Market.

Sabiha said: “I hope to see that kind of success and to become a permanent fixture too. I’m ready to get my brand name out there as a master chocolatier who makes quirky products.”

Among the unusual goods on offer are chocolate roses, pizzas and even engagement rings – encrusted with edible sparkles – and her family and friends are ready and willing volunteers when it comes to sampling the goods.

But she admits it has been hard work: “I’m juggling three kids and family commitments, so my social calendar has gone out of the window. But you have to grab opportunities and I’m enjoying the ride.

“When the children leave for school, it’s a normal house but then from 9am until 2.30pm it’s chocolate, and back to normality before the school run – but the smell of chocolate in the house gives it away.

“Chocolate is my passion, but family is the number one. If it ever came to the point I couldn’t be there for my children, I wouldn’t compromise that.”