A GENEROUS entrepreneur who supports heart patients has won a prestigious endorsement from a Dragon's Den star for her fashion business.

Alison Hitchen, from Middlewich, is celebrating after receiving a Small Business Sunday Award from Theo Paphitis.

The 37-year-old is among only one per cent of retailers chosen from more than 250,000 applicants for this unique nationwide recognition.

Each week retail magnate Theo selects an elite number of small businesses to share with his 500,000 Twitter followers, offering professional support, advice and networking opportunities by being part of his friendly business club.

Alison was among guests at his annual awards ceremony at Birmingham International Convention Centre and has already seen an increase in sales.

Alison said: "Little old me, I was overwhelmed to have won. Since winning the award, I have received lots of interest."

The win for her business Fab Accessories is especially poignant as it was founded with her late boyfriend and business partner John Wilkins.

At the age of 24, John was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that forced him to apply for ill health retirement.

He underwent open heart surgery and subsequently had a pacemaker and defibrillator fitted at Wythenshawe Hospital.

The couple set up the business in August 2015, but sadly two months later, John suffered a cardiac arrest and died. He was only 30.

Despite having to cope with her personal loss after living with John for seven years, Alison has used her designer accessories business to help other cardiac patients.

"I donate 10 per cent of all sales to Wythenshaw Hospital's cardiology department," she said. "My aim is to keep John's memory alive forever so people don't forget him.

"He was a cheeky chappy who made everyone laugh. When he passed away there was a sudden silence because you were always laughing with him."

Alison has more than 15 years' retail marketing experience working with brands such as Focus DIY and Ryman stationers.

She has controlled nationwide campaigns and managed more than £8 million of sales per month.

Her marketing agency Fab Marketing Solutions Ltd was named in the Best Newcomer of 2015 category by Downtown in Business.

She was the winner of the Business 2012 award where she met Sir Richard Branson for business advice and was a finalist of Business Accelerators featuring Dragon's Den investor Deborah Meaden.

In 2015, Alison decided to use her online expertise to open a fashion accessory business, selling handbags, purses and scarves.

"I have a passion for handbags so it made sense to do something I absolutely love," she said. "It has taken off massively."

Alison now plans to expand and open market stalls and pop-up shops in beauty salons in Winsford, Middlewich, Northwich and Sandbach.

"I am only planning to open one in each town," she said. "I'm going to a fair in Birmingham for new suppliers and different brands. We currently stock only Red Cuckoo.

"I am always looking for new projects. My aim for 2020 is to create a job so I have someone to help me."