With the latest Covid19 variant infection rates soaring and hospital admissions at a pandemic high, the new national lockdown was inevitable and necessary.

This lockdown will be particularly difficult as the weather is harsh, the days are short, and we are all extremely tired of living with restrictions and unpredictability.

The latest restrictions are much more stringent than in the previous lockdown and will remain in place until at least mid-February. There are serious considerations for businesses – individuals can only leave their homes if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ or risk a fine. The fact that colleges, primary and secondary schools will only remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers only places more pressure on parents trying to juggle work, childcare, and home schooling.

At the Chambers, we have redoubled our efforts and put a series of measures in place to help Staffordshire businesses through the pandemic. Staying informed and connected and taking advantage of all our services and schemes will help to keep your business on course to get through the next few months. Here are a few options to keep your business running smoothly.

Employment advice

Lockdown will inevitably affect you and your staff. We have our own in-house advisor, Joe Gill who can advise on any HR issues. In addition, members can utilise the free HR portal and helpline from QUEST. You can get in touch with Joe Gill, by emailing joseph.gill@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

For 24hr support with HR, Legal and Finance queries via the QUEST support service call 01455 852037.

Staying connected

We offer lots of opportunities to network with fellow businesspeople through our events programme and schemes such as our Peer Networks programme connecting Staffordshire SME business leaders to address ongoing business challenges and finding practical solutions with like-minded businesspeople. This is a fully funded programme – all we ask of you is a time commitment of 21.5 hours. Places are limited and you must register by 13th January by completing the online form at: www.staffordshirechambers.co.uk/peer-network

Mentoring Support

We have a team of experienced business mentors who can help guide and support your business through this current lockdown and beyond. Mentors act as critical friends, guides, and sources of significant expertise, depending on your needs. For more information contact Richard Carty richard.carty@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Post Brexit Support

Our International Trade Team are currently classed as key workers providing help and advice on trade with Europe post-Brexit. Our offices are also open as usual for export documentation and customs declaration services. Call 01782 202222 for more information.

Start-Up Support

If you are looking to start up on your own, we have a team of experienced business advisers who provide tailored support to help you get up and running with essentials such as cashflow forecasting, business planning, marketing, and helping you to access grants and support. Contact tom.nadin@staffordshirechambers.co.uk for more information.

Financial support

The Chancellor has announced additional grant support for impacted businesses. This is over and above the ongoing support of the Jobs Retention Scheme and the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. Businesses required to close in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors will receive one off grants worth up to £9000.

Additional discretionary grant support will be made available for local authorities to support impacted businesses outside of these sectors in addition to the grant payments and other existing local authority managed schemes. We will post details as soon as we have further information.

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

Keele University has supported the growth and development of hundreds of local businesses since its Business Gateway was launched four years ago, and now even more organisations are benefitting thanks to the expansion of support available.

Since its launch in November 2016, the Business Gateway has facilitated access to Keele’s knowledgeable academics, talented students and experienced business support experts for some of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire’s most innovative companies.

Over the course of the past four years, the opportunities available through the Gateway have increased significantly, meaning that organisations, charities and social enterprises in the public and third sectors are now also able to take advantage of the unique benefits that University collaboration can bring.

To better reflect the opportunities now available to the wider community, the Business Gateway has recently relaunched as the Keele Gateway.

Support for businesses still remains a significant component of the Gateway, with a number of collaboration opportunities available exclusively for Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire’s small-and-medium-sized enterprises, including:

  • Research & Innovation Support programme – Develop the products and services that will enable your company to grow.
  • Innovation Leadership programme – Be equipped to lead your business through future challenges.
  • Smart Energy Network Demonstrator – Support the UK’s drive towards a zero carbon future by collaborating with Keele to embed sustainability in all aspects of your business.
  • Business Bridge – The rapid development of new healthcare and medical technologies has never been more in focus, and this programme has the networks and resources to help your business enter and develop into these markets.

Thanks to the ongoing expansion of the Gateway’s initiatives, organisations of all shapes, sizes, sectors and locations are now able to access more elements of support, such as:

  • Talent – The students and graduates at Keele University are amongst the most employable in the country and, with funded internships available, they offer a fantastic opportunity to integrate the latest industry and academic thinking into your workplace.
  • Workspace – Relocate your business to Keele University Science & Innovation Park and you’ll be in heart of the UK’s largest campus, with immediate access to everything that the University has to offer.
  • Expertise – Keele University’s interdisciplinary institutes are undertaking cutting-edge research that aims to tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges.  By bringing together students, academics and researchers from across the University to partner with businesses, organisations and the wider community, these collaborative hubs are able to drive forward innovation.

Dr Mark Bacon, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Research, Innovation and Engagement at Keele University, said: “The Business Gateway has been a tremendous success since its launch, enabling hundreds of innovative local businesses to get the support and expertise they needed to take the next step.

“Relaunching as the Keele Gateway builds on the impact that our collaborations have had to date and reiterates that even more organisations across the region and beyond are now able to reap the benefits of partnering with the University.

“A number of our business support programmes are fully-funded, meaning that the only cost to an organisation is their time.

“My message to any organisation that is looking for support – whether you know exactly what you need or don’t know where to begin to solve your problem – is to get in touch with the Keele Gateway.  Our team of experts will be delighted to help guide you towards the innovation solution that you’re looking for.”

Find out how your organisation can benefit from partnering with Keele University at keele.ac.uk/business.

Kate Barnard, a Director at Richard Jacobs Pensions and Trustee Services will undertake a marathon walk this summer to raise funds for breast cancer charities.

Kate, a breast cancer survivor, will be joined by friend and exercise partner Dawn Tomkinson, as she treks from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Llandudno over five days.

The duo are appealing for sponsorship support for the walk which will raise funds for Breast Cancer Research UK and locally-based charity, the Pink Sisters.

Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 41 and Dawn  who lost her mum to the disease.

Kate said: “We will be setting off on Monday, 26th April 2021 with the aim of completing around 20 miles a day. We chose the distance because we think it is achievable and the end point is a lovely place to spend time with our families. I had the idea in 2019 and invited Dawn along as she’s my regular exercise companion, whether it be the gym, running, yoga, horse riding or walking.

“ I want the walk to both raise money for charities and to highlight the fact that breast cancer can hit people at any time. It is so important to check yourself, which is how I discovered the lump in my breast.  I was a healthy 41-year-old,  exercised regularly and had no previous health problems, so it came as a huge shock. I had the full support of my husband and vowed to keep positive to set the best example for my young son.”

Kate was treated at the Royal Stoke Hospital and received exceptional care.  During her illness she received the full support from Richard Jacobs Pensions & Trustee Services, where she has worked for 20 years and has become Business Manager and Company Director. The staff at the Lymedale Business Park based company are fully behind Kate’s marathon trek and the firm is sponsoring her by gifting a week’s additional leave for the walk which is greatly appreciated.

“We chose the two charities because they support breast cancer sufferers in different ways. It is vital that research is funded as breast cancer is common, with one woman in the UK diagnosed every 10 minutes. That’s around 55,000 a women a year, and 370 men, diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK.

“While the Pink Sisters offers support to breast cancer sufferers, people who have recovered and their families.”

Kate and Dawn, who works for B & B Vending, based on Festival Park, have set a target of £2,000 to be split evenly between the good causes. If you are able to support them, they have a Just Giving page on the internet – www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/nultollandudno

In the season of goodwill, award-winning chartered accountancy firm, Mitten Clarke, have been busy with the team, clients and associates at Signature Financial Services, responding to the Christmas shoebox appeal for The Macari Centre in Stoke-on-Trent and Mustard Tree in Manchester.

A grand total of 108 shoeboxes full of essentials and gifts have been donated to support those facing homelessness this Christmas through the two incredible charities.

Mitten Clarke have also made a cash donation of £1,080, after the company pledged an additional £10 per box gifted. A cheque was presented to Stoke City and Manchester United football legend and founder of the Macari Foundation, Lou Macari.

Lou said “It is fantastic that companies like Mitten Clarke offer support to those that find themselves homeless and working towards better lives. I am immensely proud of good work of the Macari Foundation and contributions like this will help us do more.”

Scott Heath, Managing Director at Mitten Clarke, said “I am thrilled by the passion and community spirit demonstrated by the team. They stepped up to the challenge to help make a difference in our local communities. We set ourselves an ambitious target, which I am proud to say we exceeded in true Mitten Clarke style.”

The Mustard Tree and Alice Charity were also benefactors of Mitten Clarke’s recent food donation, whilst The British Heart Foundation, Dementia UK and North Staffs Mind received donations from the team’s weekly zoom Bingo winnings.

For further information on Mitten Clarke, please go online to http://www.mittenclarke.co.uk.

Leading digital agency Netbiz Group has added 3 new members to their team in the final quarter of 2020 as part of the business’s growth strategy.

Based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, Netbiz Group offers website design and development, PPC, search engine optimisation, social media and digital marketing as well as PR and branding.

Recently joining the team is: Sarah Smith as Marketing Assistant, Kieran Hymus as Digital Marketing Assistant and David Wren as Web Developer.

Sarah Smith joins in a newly created role to support Brand Manager, Jessica Oliver with the internal marketing of Netbiz Group as well as client marketing and branding. Sarah brings with her 3 years’ experience with brands such as ATG and regional radio stations.

Kieran Hymus was also recruited from ATG in a move to save both employees from job uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kieran is supporting the current Digital Marketing team at Netbiz Group, with his in-depth knowledge developed through previous positions with Sky and Scunthorpe United Football Club.

Joining in December, David Wren has been appointed to join Netbiz Group’s current team of website developers. David brings over 15 years of experience with brands including HPI Racing.

The business is proud to have employed a total of 7 new team members in 2020 despite the current pandemic, creating a 30% growth in team members.

Commenting on this, Managing Director at Netbiz Group Will Hayes said; “It’s great to see new team members joining us despite the current situation. We’re very proud to announce that this growth in team members is the result of growth that we have seen both in new client numbers and business turnover.

Will continues, the new additions form part of our commitment to attract and retain top industry talent to further expand current and prospective clients with services of the highest quality”.

Currently with offices in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham, the business is also set to announce the official opening of its first office outside of England, in The Highlands, Scotland.