Business owners and managers in North Staffordshire are being encouraged to sign up for free online mental health training next week.

The Mental Health Awareness webinar, which is being hosted by Staffordshire-based business consultancy Strategi Solutions, is being held on Friday, February 12 from 10am – 12pm.

The two-hour event, led by Strategi’s expert and qualified Safety and Development Director, will provide attendees with a basic but robust understanding of mental health, and focus on three core topics – awareness, understanding and communication.

It will cover common mental health issues that are faced in the workplace, including stress, anxiety, and depression, and how to notice these issues in yourself and in those around you. The event will also provide tips on how to look after your own mental health and wellbeing.

Bob Barlow, Safety and Development Director at Strategi, said: “At Strategi, we’re committed to taking a stand against the stigma of poor mental health in the workplace, amongst colleagues and amongst friends, breaking the barriers that surround it.”

According to mental health charity Mind UK, one in four adults will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. The term mental illness covers a broad range of mental health problems which can involve changes to thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

At Strategi, all staff have completed Level 3 Mental Health First Aid training.

He added, “It’s been a tough year for us all and it’s no secret that many have suffered with mental health issues more so than ever before.

“Awareness is the key. Knowing what to look out for, spotting early symptoms of something untoward, being aware of changes in behaviour are all elements of looking out for each other. This can be a challenge in the best of times but keeping on top of this via a laptop or phone screen can be even harder.”

“We’re therefore encouraging all responsible business owners or managers of people to come along to this free training, so they can ensure that their employees are happy, safe and protected and, if they’re not, that they know what to do and where to go to seek help.” Anyone interested in attending the webinar can register via Eventbrite for free here. To find out more about this and other upcoming training events visit

Building work is now underway on a £14m town centre development that will create 89 new homes for over-55s in Staffordshire.

Aspire Housing’s Holborn Place development will introduce 75 one-bed and 14 two-bed apartments for affordable rent on the site of the former Ashfields Grange and Hall Street flats, in Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre.

Dan Gray, Executive Director of Property at Aspire Housing, said: “It’s great to see work taking place on this development as we enter the new year. Holborn Place will be Aspire’s flagship community living scheme in Newcastle-under-Lyme. With an investment of £14m, it will create a new standard of modern, age-friendly homes for our customers.

“It will also act as a community hub, bringing local partners together and providing valuable community services to all the residents in the surrounding areas.

“We look forward to seeing this exciting development take shape as it progresses in its journey to create aspirational homes for generations of future customers.”

Vistry Partnerships is building the scheme in line with the Government’s Future Homes Standard, meaning that the building will incorporate energy-efficient materials and technology resulting in at least a 31% improvement in carbon emissions.

Darren Beale, Managing Director at Vistry Partnerships West Midlands, commented: “The Holborn Place project is a great scheme for Newcastle-under-Lyme, delivering much-needed, high-quality homes in the heart of the town.

“However, we’re not just transforming the supply of housing for older residents; we’re also helping to create a real and sustainability community. We are thrilled to be helping Aspire Housing make this idea a reality.”

Holborn Place is expected to be completed and ready for residents to move in by Autumn 2022.

Fleet Operations, the UK’s leading independent provider of outsourced fleet management services, has enhanced its management team with the appointment of Commercial Support Manager Rachel Davies.

Rachel, who joins from IAM Roadsmart, brings with her more than a decade of commercial development expertise.

In her new role, Rachel will be responsible for strengthening the company’s go-to-market strategy in line with its commercial targets.

“I’m delighted to be joining such an accomplished team and look forward to drawing on my experience to help the company build on its success and industry-leading position,” said Rachel.

“I have gained a wealth of career experience in business development and customer retention, while acquiring in-depth knowledge of driver risk management, safety and training. I hope this will prove invaluable in my new role with Fleet Operations.”

Sales & Marketing Director, Jayne Pett, added: “Rachel has demonstrated a strategic understanding of Fleet Operations’ business and will be an important addition to our team, helping us achieve our ambitious plans for growth. We are delighted to have her on board.”

Fleet Operations’ outsourced fleet management services include strategic consultancy, multi-bid leasing, pay as you go maintenance, dedicated hire provision, EV transition as well as supply chain management, policy creation and risk management.

A Midlands-based entrepreneur is excited to announce the publication of his practical guide to Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

The much-anticipated RPA with Automation Anywhere enables readers to easily build software robots to automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks. Launched by tech specialists Packt Publishing, it’s based on the unique Automation Anywhere software—which doesn’t require users to have any knowledge of coding.

The author—Husan Mahey—was approached by the publishers last year, due to his status as a leading expert in Automation Anywhere. “I’ve worked in tech for almost 30 years and this is the first thing that’s really captured my interest since I was a teenager” said Mahey, who is Chief Technology Officer for SkySoft UK Ltd.

“Just as the Amstrad computer got me hooked on programming back in the ‘80s, I’m hoping that my book will inspire a new generation of developers, as it’s an affordable route into an exciting new field. However, it’s equally as important that experienced developers don’t get left behind and can tap into the power of this game-changing technology. Fortunately, my book provides the perfect reference guide to ensure they remain on top of their game in this competitive, fast-paced field”.

“I find that the best way to learn something is by doing it, so I’ve included lots of practical walkthroughs to give the reader the experience and skills needed to build bots to perform a variety of tasks. There are over 20 step-by-step guides to automation—Excel, XML, emails and PDF files, to name just a few examples. The guide is deliberately based on the Automation Anywhere Community Edition, as it’s available for free.”

Robotic Process Automation with Automation Anywhere is available to purchase directly from Packt Publishing, as well as Amazon and Waterstones. For further information and press enquiries contact Jodie Taylor on 07771 801 810, or email

A new vaccination centre has opened in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent to deliver the coronavirus vaccine.

Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT), Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Unitas Stoke-on-Trent have worked in partnership to transform an empty warehouse into a brand-new vaccine roll-out facility in just over two months.

Neil Carr, Chief Executive Officer of MPFT, who is also Senior Responsible Officer for the Vaccination Programme, said: “This site represents a major step forward in what is already a very impressive network of facilities locally that are providing vaccinations that will help defeat Covid-19.

“To begin with, the Tunstall site will concentrate on vaccinating frontline staff who work in health and social care in community settings. These include staff from local NHS trusts, local authorities and private organisations, who frequently visit vulnerable people in their own homes.”

The 12,000sq ft. site includes a triage area to administer the vaccines, an observation area, and staff welfare facilities including lockers and toilets.

Unitas, alongside their suppliers and contractors, carried out the installation of key infrastructure at the warehouse, including installation of an electrical lighting system, heating system, kitchen facilities, security systems, a PPE storage area and public access toilets.

Operations Manager for Unitas Stoke-on-Trent, Justin Moore, said: “We are incredibly proud of our team who were able to mobilise so quickly to deliver these works, collaborating with the designers and our supply chain partners to make this roll-out facility possible.”

“The joint effort from the NHS, the City Council, Unitas staff and contractors to deliver on this project has been fantastic.”

Neil Carr added: “The development of the community vaccination sites has been a great example of partnership working between the NHS, local authorities and other partners. Together we have efficiently implemented facilities which will play a significant role in supporting local residents to protect themselves against coronavirus.”

The warehouse, owned by the City Council, is expected to accommodate up to 500 people per day to receive the new vaccine.

Councillor Abi Brown, leader of the Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: “I am delighted to see the first vaccines take place at this new vaccine centre.”

“This is an essential way out of the virus for us – not only to protect our loved ones, friends and colleagues but also to ensure essential services can continue and so that we can get back to normal life as quickly as possible.”

“It was really important to me that people in the city were able to access this service locally so it’s a huge step forward. Hope is shining through and we just need to keep working collectively to do all we can to kick coronavirus out of Stoke-on-Trent.”

Visits to the centre will be by appointment only. If you are eligible for the COVID vaccine you will be contacted directly.

World-leading clay manufacturer, Valentine Clays, announces that construction is due to take place on its new Production facility which forms part of its ambitious £4m expansion plan.

Nearly four years since completing its HQ, distribution and Ceramics Centre, in Fenton Stoke-on-Trent, the ceramics business is excited to be starting its next expansion phase by completing a new Production facility in late summer.

The 1,651 sqm facility will enable the company to meet the demands currently displayed within the industry and to help to continue its growth plans. This expansion allows the company to bring its presently dispersed activities onto one single site in accordance with the long-term business plan.

Local company Intium Construction has been appointed to commence building works from 1st February 2021 with Project Management support from Prosurv Consult and other local businesses part of the design team to bring the project to life. This includes architects Hulme Upright, services engineer Hopkins Coats, and structural engineer C2C Consulting,

The intention of the new production facility is to increase production capacity and meet the current demands of the industry with the creation of additional jobs too.

The facility will further add to Valentine Clays current HQ as the company aims to be symbolic of the importance of clay throughout the city. The commemorative spade will once again be used to signify work commencing on the new building and will be showcased within the contemporary gallery facilities.

Hannah Ault, Director of Valentine Clays, said: “We have worked extremely hard over the past few year’s focusing upon our business growth and it’s exciting to be in a position to complete our next stage of our expansion plans that are aimed at helping our industry to grow.

“Valentine Clays has an ambitious expansion plan, and the continued development of the Fenton site is vital to our aims to increase sales, production and storage capacity and to create new processes to help develop new products.

“Our new production facility will enable us to fulfil the demands that we are currently seeing from our customers worldwide.

“Although COVID has proved challenging for our business we have also seen positive sale increases over previous months, everyone seems to be making from home, and it has also enabled us to focus on restructure and growth.

“Being a proud local supporter, we were delighted to have appointed Intium Construction & other Design Team members to help to complete our growth plans to support our historic industry and county.”

Andrew Slaney, Managing Director of Intium Construction, commented: “We are all very thrilled at Intium Construction to be part of such an exciting and local project. We have a great deal of experience with similar construction projects and look forward to realising the completion later this year.”

Richard Berry, Project Manager & Director of Prosurv, said: “It’s been a pleasure working with Valentine Clays and their team for the past five years and we are looking forward to the completion of phase two of their plans. The development will provide investment into the local economy by drawing on the expertise and skills of Stoke on Trent’s local supply chain to Construct the fantastic new facility.”

For further information on Valentine Clays please visit or call 01782 271200

We are nearly at the end of our first month of life outside EU rules and regulations and I am sure you are all aware from the news what a stressful time it has been for anyone involved in the movement of goods between the UK and the EU.

As a chamber offering a Customs Declaration Service, we are a part of the ChamberCustoms network, a subsidiary of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

As soon as we knew what the new customs regulation requirements were, we had four members of staff trained to process the paperwork. The four are now fully BCC accredited and are working to process the required paperwork for our exporters.

The team are working seven days a week to clear the goods through our ports and, to the end of last week, Staffordshire Chambers was ranked third nationally by number of customs transactions in the chambers’ network. Incredible when you think of the size of other city and regional chambers.

I am extremely proud of our international trade team headed up by Rob Lawley. They are here for our exporters, not just processing paperwork but offering advice, guidance, and training to ensure our exporters get through this tough transitional period and continue to grow trading relationships with EU member states. For all export enquiries visit or call 01782 202222

Much of the Chambers’ work centres around enabling people to start their own business.

Now, Staffordshire students in further education are also set to discover their inner entrepreneur through a brand-new programme aimed at helping them make the move to self-employment.

The Ignite Programme, delivered by the Chambers and funded by Staffordshire County Council, is a new programme of free advice, workshops mentoring and support for post-18 FE students looking to set up their own business. It has launched at Burton and South Derbyshire College, Leek and Buxton College, Newcastle and Stafford College Group and South Staffordshire College.

Economic downturns lead to particularly large increases in unemployment for young people and the Coronavirus pandemic is no exception. It has already hit hard in the retail and hospitality sectors which traditionally employ younger people.

The aim of the programme is to make sure that young people in the final year of further education, who aspire to starting up on their own, are provided the support they need to make their new business a success. It will help develop entrepreneurial thinking, alongside existing studies, and thus open self-employment opportunities.

The programme will cover; business basics (company formations, taxation, VAT etc); business planning; marketing planning; developing networking and sales skills and business finances (basic cashflow forecasting and funding).

Sessions will be delivered by the Chamber’s experienced business start-up advisers, virtually or in college settings dependent on restrictions. All participants will also have access to mentors from a range of backgrounds, many under the age of 30 who have started, and are successfully running their own businesses, and a new online platform designed to help deliver the modules.

If you know any young person who would benefit from the Ignite programme, please pass on this information. More information from Tom Nadin, or call 01782 202222.

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:

Adult language learning provider, Language for Fun has partnered with Keele University and the Staffordshire Business Innovation Centre to launch a new virtual learning environment.

When lockdown first hit in March 2020, Language for Fun was faced with making huge changes to its existing business model. The company, founded by Jessica Bonnard in Newcastle-under-Lyme, has grown to a successful, national business due to its different approach to language learning.

The concept is simple, to create a fun learning environment where like-minded people could meet, socialise, make new friends and learn a new language at the same time. However, the social element of this model was always key, so when the world went online in March, Jessica and her team had to adapt to make sure their learners could still enjoy their language course.

Before Covid-19, its franchisee language teachers, known in the company as licensees, taught over 2000 learners across the country, exclusively in face-to-face settings.

Plans to grow and incorporate e-learning were already in the making with an expected launch of 2023. Jessica completed a Leadership and Innovation Development course with the Mercia Centre for Innovation Leadership at Keele Business School which gave her the confidence to invest in innovating her business. However, Covid-19 catapulted these plans forward. With the help of Keele University and an apprentice Jessica had already recruited to support long-term innovation as well as a grant from the Staffordshire BIC of 37%, she has been able to launch the new product this month.

Jessica said: “In March of last year I was faced with a decision. If I didn’t react and invest in the VLE I would have left my language schools with no way of delivering their product, which would let many people down.

“Just weeks before the Covid-19 crisis hit the UK, I recruited a part-time computer programmer as an apprentice from Keele University under the Santander scheme.

“With his help, to combat the potential issues that the pandemic and lockdown could bring, we set a stretch goal to create an e-learning platform for our teachers. This enabled them to share our teaching documents online in the space of one month.

“This really helped us to navigate spring of last year and minimise impact. We quickly realised we could harness the same technology to bring the development of the VLE forward by two years.”

The VLE has over 1000 online resources which learners can access from anywhere in the world. Teachers can host interactive quizzes, manage their teaching schedules and run online classes in conjunction with their face-to-face classes if they choose.

The virtual learning product is an extension to the existing business model which is simply to make learning a language fun and engaging.

Jessica added: “When we teach languages to children, we don’t expect them to read from a book and just pick it up. We make it fun and memorable and practice it with real life situations. But for some reason, when people become adults, they’re expected to learn differently. In my experience, I learn better when I’m enjoying myself and so I developed Language for Fun. This way of teaching and learning is at the very core of our business and will not change. “The new virtual learning environment will help to take the business to the next level and strengthen our existing offer.”

The VLE has also been integrated with the bespoke business system for managing enquiries, administration, learners and classes  developed over a two-year period as a KRISP project in conjunction with Keele University. The two systems operate seamlessly so that entire classes can enrol at the touch of a button.

Language for Fun offers French, Spanish and Italian courses around the UK. To find out more visit:

Several people have already been fortunate enough to take part in our Peer Network launched back in November last year.

Peer Networks is a networking programme for senior businesspeople to share ideas, solutions, and support to ensure a business thrives and moves forward beyond the effects of the pandemic. It is delivered by the Chambers on behalf of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP

I know that many businesses missed out on the first programme because the timing was not right, or they were too late to sign up. However, I am delighted that we have secured funding for a second Peer Networks programme cohort commencing 28th January.

It is a fully funded programme and all we ask is a commitment of 21.5 hours to complete six virtual networking sessions.

Participants also receive 3.5 hours of bespoke mentoring from an experienced consultant who will help you implement the ideas and strategies that you have discussed in the networking sessions.

As a special bonus, all those completing the programme get an opportunity to join an exclusive talk on ‘Teamship’ from 2003 England Rugby World Cup winning coach, Sir Clive Woodward.

Spaces are limited so I would recommend acting straight away if you want to be involved in Peer Networks. For eligibility criteria and booking details click here:

And whilst I am talking about getting business geared for recovery and new opportunities…

I am very pleased to announce that the Chambers in partnership with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub are joining the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Certification service.

Continuing Professional Development is a recognised standard used by professionals through the CPD Certification Service, to further their career and develop vital skills. It is a proactive form of learning which employs various methods to help individuals learn new skills or develop existing ones.

For employees, CPD helps to keep knowledge and skills up to date. It also ensures that the professional standard of their qualifications and registrations is maintained whilst contributing to a professional sense of direction.

CPD helps to build confidence and credibility, allowing employees to showcase their achievements. It also equips employees with tools to cope positively with change and aids career progression and advancement.

The CPD offering will be a fantastic benefit to employers, allowing them to develop focussed and motivated teams, who have a sense of value and direction, which in turn benefits the business through enhanced skills, a competitive advantage, and increased staff retention.

We will shortly be releasing further details of CPD courses and related events which businesses can engage in to access this new service. Watch this space!

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: 

The expression of interest window has opened for employers looking to receive Silver and Gold Award status in 2021 through the Ministry of Defence’s Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS).

The Employer Recognition Scheme, now in its eighth year, recognises those companies that support the Armed Forces community by proactively demonstrating a forces-friendly approach as part of their recruitment process.

Silver and Gold employers are recognised for having supportive HR policies for Reservists and Cadet Forces Adult Volunteers. They work with government-funded agencies to support service leavers and veterans to transition successfully into the civilian workforce. They also actively promote the benefit to business of partnering with Defence through the Armed Forces Covenant.

Our ex-military personnel and Reservists can bring highly valued skills into the civilian workplace, with the Chartered Management Institute estimating their training value at over £8,000. Reservists are given world class training to develop essential core skills such as leadership, management, planning, problem-solving and communication.

Interest in the ERS scheme has grown alongside the number of Armed Forces Covenants signed by businesses. The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise from the nation that those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, and their families, are treated fairly. At present, 6,200 organisations have signed the Covenant, making public pledges of support to the Armed Forces community to show that they are valued by society.

The West Midland Reserve Forces and Cadets Association (WM RFCA) are on hand to support employers in the West Midland region with their ERS applications. Phil Sinclair, Regional Employer Engagement Director, said, “By offering employment to Service leavers, granting flexible leave for Service spouses and partners before and after deployment, and supporting Reservists, these employers ensure that men and women who have done, and continue to do, so much for our nation are treated fairly. ERS winners demonstrably stand out as employers that truly go the extra mile.

To find out more about the Employer Recognition Scheme, and the criteria and process involved, please email or visit the WM RFCA web page here.