Teddies mean more to Andy West than a nostalgic childhood companion.

Bears have become his livelihood and a way of overcoming a crippling illness.

He started sewing them to exercise his hands when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, a condition related to rheumatism.

But the therapeutic hobby soon turned into a small company and is now a thriving cottage industry.

Mr West, of Norfolk Road, Horsham, has been named one of the country's business heroes.

He is shortlisted for Barclays Trading Places Awards which celebrate people who have battled against the odds and set up their own company.

Mr West said: "Business has trebled in the last year and people are buying them as quickly as I can make them.

"I'm not sure how much the business is worth or how much I make each year but it's enough to pay the bills and not rely on benefits.

"The work is non-stop - I can be sewing for 16 hours a day - so it's a good job I'm not a person who needs much sleep.

"Sometimes with long-term conditions, people become so wrapped-up in the illness itself that they do not turn it into something positive.

"I'm involved with groups teaching people with disabilitating illnesses how they can gain confidence and move themselves forward."

The 46-year-old father was advised by a physiotherapist to use a needle and thread so his hands would stay supple and not seize up.

He met a teddy bear artist at a fair in Hove who encouraged him to sew the toys and Mr West soon found out he had an eye for design.

When his disability forced him out of his job as a social worker and confined him to a wheelchair, he launched Westie Bears.

The bears are all one-off collectors' items - fetching between £40 and £150 each - and Mr West sews about 400 of them a year.

Business has grown so quickly he employs a part-time worker as well as his family lending a hand.

Mr West added: "We are all over the world now with customers ordering online and they're particularly popular in Australia, Japan and Denmark.

"I've been asked to make bears to go on tables at an English tea shop in America and I also design bears for people so I can customise them."

He has taken an order for a gay couple in Brighton who want to give their wedding guests a personalised bear each.

Westie bears range from traditional to cute and even risque.

Mr West has made lap-dancing teddies and recently took a commission for a Scottish one call McTodger who was wearing a kilt and little else.

The Trading Places Awards winners will be announced in October.

John Davis, Barclays marketing director for local business, said: "We hope the stories these awards have uncovered will help inspire other men and women in Sussex to turn their own business dreams into a reality, despite what might seem daunting odds."