An award-winning film and video company has bucked business trends during the pandemic and recorded record results, thanks to diversification into sector leading online conferencing services.

Along with many companies, Inspired Film and Video saw much of their summer work programme melt away as lockdown hit the UK in March 2020.

But the Stoke-based film makers have recorded their best-ever trading results after forging a partnership with a major US conferencing platform.

Working on their home turf in Staffordshire and with international brands, the company has produced a service to successfully deliver major conferences and exhibitions.

“Like many companies in the film and events sector, we saw almost every project for summer 2020 disappear with lockdown,” said Mike McDonald, one of three Directors at the Federation House, Stoke, based business.

“It I no exaggeration to say that the company was under threat, but we took a decision to take our skills and use them to help companies and organisations move major events online.

“Research led us to partner with a company who had built a world leading online platform. Together with PSBE Cyber News Network, we’ve developed a secure, bespoke service and rolled it out across the UK and Europe.”

Mike said that the platform was designed as a space for major conferences and exhibitions, rather than a space for smaller scale webinars and online talks.

It means that a large conference or exhibition can take place fully in the virtual world. For example, Inspired has delivered a global conference for the Orange cyber security network and, in the local area, a virtual freshers’ week for Staffordshire University.

“The platform is extremely secure and that’s demonstrated by its use for cyber security events,” said Mike.   “We can create a virtual exhibition hall, where visitors can not only view products on stands but can talk to exhibitors in real time.  We’ve taken on the US built platformed and used our film making expertise to add in additional content.

“For one event, we had six international speakers in six different time zones, speaking to a global audience, there were large conference hall style sessions and small breakout rooms.

“Adding in entertainment packages has also led to positive feedback, for example, we have provided special content for conferences and exhibitions, including a comedian, DJ sets, Northern Soul and even a magician who starred on Britain’s Got Talent.”

Mike said that the pandemic had forced companies to innovate in how they communicate with their audiences and he predicted that new ways of virtual working will continue to develop, even when the world opens up again,

“We began to get more deeply involved in online events due to lockdown, but the potential is huge even when the world starts to return to pre-COVID-19 practises. People use the term the new normal and the new normal will be different than before as major organisations recognise the benefits to their business practices of using international online conference services.

“There’s major efficiencies in terms of travelling times and that also benefits the environment, as companies become ever more aware of the environment and global warming.”

Inspired Film and Video has seen a rise in film making again as lockdown has eased and believe there’ll be a pent-up demand for their services in 2021.

They now plan to run both on site film services and virtual conferencing in tandem and have set up a new website with PSBE Cyber News Group to promote the virtual offer, see www.virtualeventservice.co.uk.

Inspired Film and Video is now predicting growth in 2021, employing at least one new member of staff and forecasting financial growth in both arms of the business.

Keele University’s Denise Coates Foundation Building has been named as a 2021 Civic Trust Regional Finalist, recognising the building’s universal design excellence.

Located at the entrance of Keele’s campus on the University’s Science and Innovation Park, the Denise Coates Foundation Building is a purpose-built facility for student-business collaboration.  It is home to both talented students and leading business academics in the Keele Business School as well as housing the Smart Innovation Hub – which offers a range of office space and business support opportunities to enable for new businesses and entrepreneurs to grow and develop.

The state-of-the-art building has now been recognised as a finalist in the 2021 Civic Trust Awards which recognise the very best in architecture and environmental design, inclusiveness and accessibility, as well as rewarding projects that offer a positive cultural, social, economic or environmental benefit to their local communities.

In partnership with architects from BDP the building was constructed with a key focus on accessibility and inclusion for all users.

Designed to encompass the ethos of flexibility, simplicity and collaboration, the core of the building is the triple height atrium space and includes shared pods designed specifically to encourage collaboration. The rest of the building is a single corridor, filled with offices which have been wrapped thoughtfully around the atrium space resulting in all offices either having a view of the atrium space or a view of nature from an external view out to the wooded surroundings. The building as a whole acts as a catalyst for new businesses and academic collaborations both within the university and throughout the local and wider community.

Since opening the space has become a hive of activity for students, businesses and academia.  A series of high-profile events have been held in the atrium since its unveiling, including Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce’s ‘Let’s Do Business Festival’, the University’s Breaking the Mould Awards celebration and TEDx Keele, as well as a number of smaller workshops, seminars and guest lectures.

Director of the Smart Innovation Hub, Dr Nick Gostick commented: “It is brilliant to be part of a building that is creating so much value to both the University and businesses, creating opportunities for growth and offering many avenues of support for local SME’s.

“The building provides a central location that encourages interactions across the business-university community, due to its variety of open spaces allowing staff and students from Keele’s Business School to interact and collaborate with business tenants and service users.”

BDP Principal Architect, Sue Emms, commented: “BDP is delighted that the Smart Innovation Hub has been shortlisted for this prestigious award which celebrates excellence in the built environment. The Hub building has been designed around an ethos of collaboration, user engagement and entrepreneurial spirit and is a positive contribution to the university campus and the wider community”.

To find out more about the building and the opportunities it is creating for businesses please click here.

An expanding Staffordshire based mortgage company with a passion for growing its own talent has appointed Jonathan Edwards as Compliance Manager.

My Simple Mortgage has grown rapidly in recent times, appointing four new staff and adding independent mortgage advisers across the Midlands and North West.

Jonathan joined the team as a junior case manager in 2017 and his rise to the important role of Compliance Manager marks a significant change of fortunes for the former supermarket delivery driver.

James Adams, a Director and founder of the Basford-based business, said: “We’ve concentrated on building a strong team at My Simple Mortgage and a big part of that is developing our staff. Jonathan joined us in 2017 with no experience in the mortgage sector but with a clear desire to learn. Growth at My Simple Mortgage has led to the establishment of a Compliance Manager role and we see Jonathan as a perfect fit.”

Jonathan, aged 29,  said: “I was working at the warehouse at the Waitrose superstore, Leek, and it was due to close with everyone being offered redundancy. At the time, I had recently bought a house and I was interested in how the mortgage process worked, so I asked a friend in recruitment if there were jobs available in that sector.

“That led to an interview with My Simple Mortgage and a job offer. It was a completely new career to me but I was able to learn on the job. The company has grown by reputation and I’ve seen the team expand rapidly and mortgage applications treble.  The Compliance Manager role is important as it ensures all Financial Conduct Authority requirements are met, and standards of customer services are as high as possible. With in-house mortgage advisors and a network of independent advisors working for My Simple Mortgage, a compliance manager is essential.”

My Simple Mortgage has grown year on year since it was founded by James Adams in 2014, primarily working with customers in Staffordshire, Cheshire and Shropshire. Growth has continued in 2020, with demand at a high level following the lifting of the severest Coronavirus restrictions in the summer.

The company specialises in mortgages and re-mortgages, conveyancing, buy to let mortgages, bridging finance, home insurance and finance protection services.

To find out more about My Simple Mortgage, please go online to www.mysimplemortgage.co.uk.

If I could meet up with myself as I was in December 2019, I am not sure how I would handle the meeting.

The conversation would go something like: “Take a seat, I need to have a word about next year. You’ve been at the heart of business and commerce for several years, witnessing upturns and downturns and seen the effect political decisions can have on the economy, but you have never seen anything like what is just around the corner.”

For years we have lived under the threat of a viral pandemic which had the potential to stretch health facilities to breaking point, disrupt daily life and widespread and long-lasting damage to the world economy. After false dawns, such as SARS and MERS, did we think it could really happen?

When it finally did, it caught us out big style. Months after we knew about the spread of Covid19 in Asia, and its subsequent migration to Europe, we carried on going to pubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres, and sporting events and were told if we washed our hands whilst singing ‘Happy Birthday’ we would be alright.

Between then and now there has been nothing short of a revolution in the pattern of day-to-day life the way we behave and in the way we work.

The pandemic has brought on a heightened appreciation of what a fantastic and crucial job many people do to make sure that we are kept healthy, fed and supplied with essential goods and services.

Business has been amazing in the way it has stepped forward to help out and there are countless examples such as manufacturers switching production to make ventilators, manufacture PPE and setting up networks to supply meals and food to those in most need.

Above all, after the initial ‘rabbit caught in the headlights moment’ we’ve all just got on with it and done what we needed to do.

Thankfully, the job retention scheme and financial help from the government was rapid and, if not totally universal, it kept many businesses trading who could have disappeared.

Many businesses, especially leisure and hospitality continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic are suffering and may do for some time as infection rates continue to rage. We may have a vaccine but there are a few months yet until immunisation starts to make a positive difference to our daily lives.

I would like to think that at the Chambers we have done everything we can to help business through advice, information, connections and support in many ways.

Next year we will deliver more of the same with an additional focus on creating new employment opportunities through the Kickstart scheme for young people up to 25 and through our start up schemes for new entrepreneurs.

Some business will fail through no fault of their own, but the talent that runs that business or works for the business is still there and we want to harness this talent, re-skill if necessary, advise, empower, and offer continuing support to the next generation of entrepreneurs who will power our post-Covid economy forwards.

So, I would conclude the conversation with myself by saying: “If anything like 2020 happens again, we have proved that we have what it takes to get through it. The spirit of cooperation and the feeling that we are all in this together, and therefore we must all come out of this together, has never been stronger.

“You can rest assured that the Chambers team was there for business right from the start of lockdown. You have a dedicated, brilliant and adaptable team of people who proved their worth and were prepared to go the extra mile to help business get through this.”

Merry Christmas and here’s to a positive and prosperous 2021.

If you want to talk to us about any business issues, you can call our switchboard on 01782 202222 or call the Stoke and Staffs Growth Hub Helpline on 0300 111 8002 or email: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Day 20 – Make Some Noise

Share a #SongToBelong with Make Some Noise this December!

Local music charity Make Some Noise is inviting people of all ages to share a #SongToBelong with them this December as part of its Christmas fundraising appeal running from 14th – 20th December 2020. We hope that you’ll consider supporting us this year, so we can continue unlocking the extraordinary potential in children & young people in 2021!

www.make-some-noise.com/songtobelong/

Day 19 – North Staffs Mind

North Staffs Mind provides mental health services to adults, children and young people across North Staffordshire and surrounding areas, including counselling, online chat, support groups, workshops in schools, mental health training and more.

2020 has been a challenging year, and has really taken its toll on people’s mental health. So this Christmas we’re simply asking our local communities to support better mental health as we move forward into the new year. Help us to be there for everyone who needs us across North Staffordshire, so that no one faces a mental health problem alone.

For more information about North Staffs Mind, our local services and self-help resources, visit www.nsmind.org.uk.

Day 18 – Vast

VAST is a charity dedicated to developing, advancing and promoting the voluntary and community sector in Staffordshire. We do this by providing key services and valuable support, and by encouraging professional development. Our aim is to help the local voluntary and community sector prosper and grow.  We do this by providing representation and advocacy at a strategic level both locally and nationally as well as through helping organisations recruit and maintain volunteers, supporting them with the running and development of their organisations and providing them with professional and affordable accountancy, graphic design and digital services.

Throughout the COVID 19 pandemic VAST has worked alongside Stoke on Trent City Council on the Stoke on Trent Together project which brings together local statutory and voluntary sector services to co-ordinate help and support to the most vulnerable residents of the City all in e place. Through this project we have received over 3,500 requests for support to date and almost 300 individuals have been placed in volunteering roles to ensure the voluntary sector can meet the increased demand being placed on their services.

Day 17 – Cross Rhythms City Radio

Cross Rhythms City Radio is a community radio station based in Stoke on Trent and broadcasting on 101.8FM and online: https://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/radio/console/

As a registered charity, they have 160 volunteers a year and work with young people including those not in employment, education or training and provide training, work experience, volunteering and school placements. They offer a nurturing environment, increasing skills, self-esteem and confidence with many finding subsequent employment.

The community radio promotes local events and with about 300 interviews a year with members of the community including community groups and the Police, Fire, Museums, Mental Health, Advisory Services, YMCA, Business Brokers…

Day 15 – New Vic Theatre

New Vic theatre is a registered charity and as such they rely on the generous support of individuals to help them continue to create ground-breaking theatre-in-the-round together with their community and education work – being a force for positive change in the region.

Leading Midlands digital agency Netbiz Group has donated hundreds of gifts to Stoke-on-Trent based charity, The Hubb Foundation as part of their ongoing partnership.

Dedicated to supporting local communities, The Hubb Foundation helps disadvantaged families across Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme. They work to provide nutritious meals and fun, educational activities for children and young people during school holidays.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the charity has provided over 200,000 meals to families.

Working towards their goal to help vulnerable families enjoy Christmas, The Hubb Foundation launched an appeal for gifts to support their Christmas Holiday Sessions in Schools campaign.

Set up to provide safe spaces for families to spend time together, the sessions offer a wide range of activities, from physical games to mental challenges, sporting events to arts and crafts. All, with a focus of getting children and young adults involved and engaged in enriching experiences over the Christmas break.

Having supported The Hubb Foundation for over 4 years, Newcastle-under-Lyme based Netbiz Group has donated hundreds of gifts to the appeal to help families.

Community Business Manager and Head of Community Liaison at The Hubb Foundation, Adam Yates commented, “we’re so thankful for this amazing donation from Netbiz Group. The Christmas period is especially hard for so many families, so these gifts will mean the world to children across our city”.

As well as this donation, Netbiz Group also designed and developed The Hubb Foundation’s website and supported the digital campaign for the ‘Ay up duck’ initiative free of charge, along with other projects in collaboration with the charity.

Account Manager at Netbiz Group, Susan Erlam said, “we’re so proud to be able to support this incredible cause. We’ve been working with The Hubb Foundation for many years now and their dedication to helping families and children in our local area is just incredible to see.

Susan finalised; we’re already working on some exciting joint projects for the start of 2021, so we can’t wait to see The Hubb Foundation continue to grow from strength to strength”.