JEAN Swain sits in the rose garden of her Southend home, presiding over an afternoon tea table.

Cakes and cream scones are arranged picturesquely on a tiered stand, the china is fine English bone. It’s the picture of English elegance – but it’s also business.

Jean, 61, has just launched All the Tea & China, a unique catering hire firm that rents out everything necessary to recreate the gracious rituals of afternoon tea at the Ritz, at a customer’s location of choice.

The starting point of the business was Jean’s passion for fine china. The hire items are all sourced from Jean’s collection. “It was a way of turning my interest and knowledge into a business,” she says. “There is a definite demand. Afternoon tea is always in fashion. It’s recession proof.”

Jean’s collection has been acquired from antiques fairs, auctions, shops, boot sales and internet sites. She does not specialise in any particular label or era. “I just like it to be pretty,” she says.

There are so many items in the collection Jean has lost count of the total number. Customers can now take their pick from this huge selection.

All the Tea & China is Jean’s first business. “I’ve always worked for other people before,” says the former dental nurse and veterinary receptionist.

While happy to joke about her “OAP business”, Jean is equally happy to be presented as rolemodel for sixtysomethings everywhere.

She says: “There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t set up your first business when you retire. Retired people have the time and the experience. There’s nothing to stop them.”

She has, however, had to learn to cultivate a detached attitude to the stock. “I can’t become too attached to any of the items, in case they get broken,” she says. Though she adds: “There have been no breakages or losses so far. Customers treat our china with great respect.”

Jean’s hire service has already delighted one distinguished customer. Sir Paul Smith, the fashion designer, used All the Tea & China to provide a complete afternoon tea experience for an office event. “He was so intrigued by the arrangement he took lots of photographs of the china and cakes, which he’s letting us use,” says Jean.