Sara’s Blog: Stoke Reads

By the time schools return in September it will be six months since most children have had regular education and schooling.

We already know that many primary school children in our area fall behind in their literacy by comparison to other areas of the UK and that for many there is limited or no access to books.

Stoke Reads is an organisation that works incredibly hard to inspire families across the city to read together and helps parents to support their children’s literacy skills. They also work with schools to support the teaching of literacy, and partner with local businesses who support them in their mission to raise literacy levels in the city.

Importantly, Stoke Reads also gives positive support for working parents, particularly over the summer through initiatives such as Story Quest or the Book Bench Trail, which features eight trails based throughout the parks of Stoke-on-Trent.

Stoke Reads relies on the support of many partner organisations such as YMCA, HUBB Foundation, Port Vale Foundation, Stoke City, Santus, the BID, VAST, Stoke Speaks Out and Middleport Matters as well as many local businesses.

They have already worked with 53 primary schools and 14 local organisations to provide nearly 3000 activity packs and over 5000 books to children across the city. Five external organisations have provided donations to the city including Harper Collins, Bloomsbury publishers, KMPG and REY Paper. These donations have included Harry Potter books, activity packs and paper, children’s magazine, and instant libraries for primary schools.

However, they are still only scratching the surface and need continued support from our business community to reach even more children. Any help is appreciated no matter how small – and it is a great way to fulfil your corporate social responsibility requirements.

We are looking at our future workforce here and we all know that grasping the skill of reading and a love of books at primary school age sets you on course for academic achievement and a fulfilling career.

I would urge all employers to take a look at the Stoke Reads and the support on offer to employees and their families. To find out more about how you can help Stoke Reads you can visit www.stokereads.org.uk or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/StokeReads/

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.

I have seen a few economic downturns over the years, and if there is a silver lining, it is that we get some fantastic new businesses emerging from the aftermath.

Necessity being the mother of invention creates new entrepreneurs, with an idea to launch a new business that could be one of the employers and innovators of tomorrow.

I have been there myself and I know what an exciting and daunting time it is. You have got it all in your head, but you need someone to help you rationalise your ideas into a working plan with structure, a clear vision and a sound financial base.

Thanks to our fantastic new business start-up service we can now give even greater support to anyone thinking of starting or already engaged in starting, their own business.

The service is totally free, and working with our start-up advisers Peter Ball, Andy Riley, or Aly Davidson, you can take advantage of our 4-step business start-up programme to help with business planning, cashflow forecasting and marketing planning.

We are delighted to have Aly join the Chambers team of start-up advisers. She has a wealth of experience in commerce and education and has set up and run two successful businesses.

Aly says of her new role: “My observations so far are that many employees are starting to think more seriously about setting up on their own, some offering a mini version of whatever their employer does.

“The effects of the pandemic on employees has given them the time and courage to think about how they want to spend the rest of their working lives. Many are being driven by emotion rather than financial need. We have had a surgeon developing a new medical app, a trauma survivor becoming a life coach, and several people commercialising their hobbies and passions.

“There are, and will be, the inevitable redundancies but it is exciting to see that people seem to be taking control of their future and making their dreams a reality.”

So, if you are needing someone to share your ideas with or you are an employer making redundancies and wanting to signpost employees to new opportunities, you can contact Aly: aly.davidsion@staffordshirechambrs.co.uk 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.

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce has been matching mentors with businesses for several years through its Let’s do Mentoring scheme.

Mentoring has been even more vital to businesses since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic with many firms facing a battle to survive as the economy stalled and locked down in March.

One business who has seen an immediate benefit from their mentor matches is Roundpeg Outdoor Buildings, based in Fauld near Burton-on-Trent.

Business partners Sallyann Smith and Adam Timmis set up Roundpeg Outdoor Buildings in January 2020. Having worked together in the same industry for 15 years, they had finally realised their dream of setting up their own business to capitalise on their experience and take charge of their own destinies.

Move on two months, and Covid-19 has forced the country into lockdown and brought all but essential business to a standstill.

Add to this, the fact that as a new business with no history of paying tax, government financial support was looking highly unlikely.

Roundpeg were already involved with the Chamber as they had received help through their package for start-up businesses. In February they took possession of a new unit and were assigned Richard Carty as mentor. By the time they had got electricity into the building and their equipment set up it was mid-March. With timber due to arrive on the 24th March they were ready to make up their first orders. Lockdown was announced on the 23rd March, but fortunately the timber had been loaded and the delivery took place.

Sallyann said: “For the first two weeks of lockdown we didn’t work as we weren’t sure if we could travel and fit buildings.

“However, after this time we noticed that tradesmen were working so we decided to work locally, fitting customer buildings that could be accessed from outside. Orders grew and we were even able to pay our first month’s rent. Due to the fine weather in April, we noticed people were working on their gardens and wanted buildings.”

Sallyann and Adam had kept in touch with mentor Richard via Zoom through this period and now Richard advised them to speak to another mentor, journalist and digital communications specialist Justine Halifax, owner of Angel Media.

Justine said: “I spent some time researching Roundpeg’s presence on social media and put together an action plan to boost their online profile. The warm weather and the fact that people were confined to their homes and looking for an additional workspace at home, meant there was no time to lose.”

Sallyann added: “Justine went into a great deal of detail regarding our business. She checked the website thoroughly, checked our Facebook and Instagram pages. Her advice on what to communicate and when to do it, and through which of our channels, was extremely helpful and I went away feeling very positive and energised.”

“Home offices and working from home was an angle I hadn’t really considered. This was a totally different culture to my previous company where I did not get to make the big decisions. It made Adam and I realise that we were now in control of our destinies and we had the choice to make key decisions which could mean the difference between survival or failure.

“Almost immediately we have had interest in the home office and have taken orders which should see us through this difficult time. If we can get through our first year in such tough conditions, I am sure we can survive anything.

“I can’t thank Richard and Justine enough for their guidance, expertise and faith in us and our business.

“Hopefully, we will continue to work together. I thought I knew how to market but I clearly had a lot to learn and I now know the true value of working with experts. I certainly won’t be shy in asking for help in the future.”

Justine added: “I find mentoring extremely rewarding, especially so in lockdown when mentees such as Sallyann and Adam act on your advice immediately and it makes a real difference to their bottom line.”

If you would like to find out more about how to become a or how a mentor can help your business visit www.staffordshirechambers.co.uk/businesssupport or contact Ann Steele ann.steele@staffordshirechambers.co.uk 01782 202222

We are actively seeking Council and Local Area Advisory Board members

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce are looking for active, influential members who would like to take their involvement to the next level by joining Chambers’ Council or one of the Local Area Advisory Boards for Stafford and the Staffordshire Moorlands.

Chambers CEO, Sara Williams said: “Serving on our Council, or a Local Area Advisory Board is a great way to keep abreast of what is going on in business and the wider economy. As a businessperson you can get directly involved and can represent the views of businesses in your community right up to the highest level.

“In addition, you will make new contacts within your peer group and forge valuable business connections.

“We welcome applications from all businesspeople from all backgrounds from self-employed to large business in any sector. “

Here are some quotes from existing Council and Local Area Advisory Board members:

“I would recommend Council membership to any Chamber member who would like to get more involved in Chamber activity and in the local community.”

Margaret Michell

“Being a member of the Chambers Council is an amazing opportunity to be a bridge between the Chambers team and the local businesses they support. It has enabled me to meet with some fascinating and inspirational people in the local business community.”

Lisa Cooper, Socially Grown

“I can honestly say that being a member of the Staffordshire Moorlands Board has totally transformed the way that I operate. It has introduced me to likeminded businesspeople who are willing to work together and collaborate on initiatives which make a real difference to all our businesses and the local economy.”

Jed Eatough, LSGK Accountants Ltd

“I joined the Chamber’s Council because I believe that it is vital to be willing to serve in order to support local businesses and jobs – no more so than now when we face such major challenges.”

Jeremy Lefroy

If you are interested in becoming a council or board member, or would like to chat about what is involved please contact Vicki Hardie vicki.hardie@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Sara is away this week, so our guest blogger is Rob Lawley, Head of International Trade

Increased international trade support ready for January 2021

With the end of the EU withdrawal transition period drawing closer it is vital that companies trading across borders prepare thoroughly for the implications from 1st January 2021.

As always, it is our intention at Staffordshire Chambers to be the ‘go to’ organisation for support on all matters international trade.

To this end, from 1st September we are increasing our support package and changing the existing Export Club to the International Trade Club with the following greatly increased benefits:

· Up to six hours free advice per annum on import/ export technicalities.

· Priority service for customs declarations and access to specialist advice.

· 50% discount on a customs compliance visit – currently charged at £2,000

· £50 discount off a Chamber international trade training course

· Premium walk-in service fee waived for two ‘walk ins’ per annum – currently charged at £15 per walk-in

· Completion of first export document free of charge – currently charged at £25

· Discounted letter of credit and export documentation collection service.

· Discounted credit reports on overseas companies.

· Access to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) global network

· Exclusive invites to four International Trade Club breakfasts per annum

There will be workshops from the beginning of October covering the topics associated with the new customs regime which will be underpinned by our existing suite of courses and more new workshops focussing on the customs declaration service.

In the meantime if you have any enquiries or issues please contact our international trade team on 01782 202222 or visit www.staffordshirechambers.co.uk/internationaltrade/

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. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has dug deep into the coffers again this week as he announced measures in his Wednesday statement, worth £30bn, to prevent mass unemployment and stimulate the coronavirus hit economy.

Measures include:

· A bonus of £1000 payable to firms for every member of staff kept for three months when the furlough scheme ends in October

· 50% off ‘Eat out to help out’ vouchers’ during August

· A VAT cut on hospitality from 20% to 5%

· An ‘Apprentice recovery package’ to create more high-quality jobs for 16-24-year olds

· A stamp duty holiday for properties valued up to £500,000

The Chambers welcomes all the above announcements whilst we realise that further stimulus will be needed to help the UK economy restart, rebuild, and renew over the coming months.

The Chancellor admitted that there will be further job losses, and this is evidenced by the daily announcements from big name retail, travel and hospitality firms who are cutting their losses. Evidence that the £1000 job retention bonus will not be enough to save jobs.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) will continue to lobby the government to address concerns – including the impending end of key business loan schemes, and the unanswered question around what support will be offered to communities that face local lockdowns.

If you have any concerns or issues you would like us to take up on your behalf then please let us know by sending them to info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Good news for the tourism sector as the government has announced to boost the visitor economy, drawing down on remaining allocation from the EU’s Regional Development Fund.

Up to £5000 will be available to pay for new equipment, technology, professional help etc.

Funding locally will be allocated to the Stoke & Staffordshire Growth Hub, based at the Chambers.

Funding will be concentrated in places such as Staffordshire, where the employment share of tourism and hospitality is especially high.

Whilst we await further clarification you can register your interest by calling the Growth Hub helpline 0300 111 8002. You can view the scheme announcement at https://bit.ly/2DlAOS9

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. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

I have not been looking forward to seeing the results of the latest British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) published earlier this week.

It seems that my fears were well founded with the survey concluding that UK economic conditions deteriorated at an unprecedented rate in the second quarter of 2020. In fact, it was the worst set of results in the 31 years of the survey’s existence.

Hopes of a swift economic recovery could be dashed, as forward-looking indicators – orders and investment intentions – dropped to record lows for both services firms and manufacturers.

Cashflow, a key indicator of business’ health, is at its lowest level with two thirds of respondents reporting worsening cashflow.

With such a stark warning to our economic welfare and with the Chancellor’s economic statement due later this month, the BCC, with Staffordshire Chambers input, has set out measures to ensure matters do not deteriorate, including:

· Supporting jobs through substantial reductions in employer National Insurance Contributions

· Supporting cash-flow through wider business rate reliefs and extended loan and grant schemes

· Supporting young people through wage subsidies for apprenticeships and work experience

· Supporting investment in productivity, people, and carbon reduction through major incentives

· Stimulating demand e.g. via targeted ‘restart vouchers’ for all UK households, or a temporary VAT cut; and

· Streamlining regulatory processes to make life easier for businesses without compromising safety or the environment

If you feel there is anything you would like to add to this list, please let us know by emailing your suggestions to: info@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

On a much more optimistic note this is a landmark weekend as many more non-essential businesses including pubs, restaurants and hairdressers and accommodation reopen after more than 100 days of lockdown.

I know that business owners have been working incredibly hard to make sure their premises are geared up for safe trading with increased hygiene, social distancing measures and technology to keep customers and staff safe.

You will probably have no chance of visiting any of these establishments this weekend if you have not already booked. However, it is not just about this weekend but about helping these and all our businesses to survive. In making that happen, we all have a part to play and I am sure you will join me in wishing them luck this weekend and by visiting them in the coming weeks and months.

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. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Coronavirus is the economic shock that business didn’t see coming, and while it’s been difficult for the whole economy, many Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent businesses have grabbed the opportunities that the pandemic has brought, helped communities and other businesses to adapt and embrace the digital world, and even been on the front-line of medical support and exploration. Many have survived thanks to business support services, and some have even thrived.  There are some great untold stories that need telling, both of how getting the right support at the right time has really helped and of business people making a difference both personally and through their business.

Working together, the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Enterprise Partnership and the Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce are developing a showcase of business through written and video case studies that will be seen by customers, stakeholders and other businesses alike throughout the year  – helping others to see the benefit of using the range of business support that is available and also how they could adapt to ‘the new normal.’

So, do you have a story to tell?   Has getting the right support at the right time made a difference? Have you helped the community or other businesses through the crisis?  Is your business in one of the ‘critical/key worker’ sectors and can tell us your experience of the crisis through your work?  How have you adapted?

If you have a story to tell and want the free PR that it will bring, get in touch with brief details before close of play on Monday 6th July. The LEP will be back in touch asap.

Please share:

  • Your name, role and company
  • Company activity (which may have changed recently because of Covid-19)
  • Where you’re based
  • A brief summary of your story – what have you done? Why? What impact has this made?
  • What business support did you  get and how has this helped?
  • Contact email address and phone number

Send your entries to > communications@staffordshire.gov.uk

As the economy begins to gather pace in a return to open trading, Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce remains committed to supporting our members and the wider business community to get through one of the toughest trading environments most of us will have ever seen.

We are partnering with customer experience specialists Insight6 to announce a brand-new Chambers exclusive membership offer, discounted for members, that will help businesses to reopen safely.

Insight6 have developed a business tool that enables all businesses, regardless of size or sector, to regularly engage with their staff and customers to obtain feedback on their experience and how safe they feel when visiting business premises.

With the retail sector preparing to reopen on 4th July, safety now sits at centre of the customer journey. Operating in a way that helps colleagues to feel safe whilst at work, and giving customers and clients confidence that your business is a safe place to purchase the goods and services that you need them to buy, is now the most important part of any business’s operation – and future survival.

Each customer will judge for themselves if they think your business is a safe place to visit, not the business itself, and regardless of how many signs you have on display or how much hazard tape is on the floor, it is the feeling of safety that will determine if you keep them as customers or lose them to your competition.

The Team Safety and Customer Confidence Portal enables staff members and customers to anonymously raise concerns regarding safety to allow a fast response from management. This immediate response will help to resolve safety concerns and ensure that colleagues, clients, and customers feel comfortable returning to the workplace.

 

Creating a safe place for colleagues to work in and customers or clients to visit will be essential to business recovery.

 

You can access the Insight6 portal at: https://www.insight6.com/scc-team-safety/

 

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. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat

Once more we have some changes in how we are to control the spread of Covid-19 – just when we have planned spaces and bought the signs for a 2m spaced working environment, the Prime Minister’s announces changes to England’s lockdown from 4th July. For once though, official guidelines for businesses have been published at much the same time as the announcement.

The 2m social distancing rule will be relaxed to “one metre plus” where 2m is not possible – but people will be encouraged to have mitigation in place to reduce transmission. This is confusing and will businesses want to, or be able to, police how this operates in practice and in different places? The works kitchen may have different rules from the office or the factory floor.

However, it is great news that our hospitality sector can reopen, indoors and outdoors, with safety measures such as table-only service. Hotels, B&Bs, campsites, caravan parks, hairdressers, playgrounds, museums, galleries are among the businesses that can reopen.  I have booked a B&B in Cornwall to go and see my parents-in-law – even though I can’t go into their house but can at least talk to them across the garden.

And none of us can be complacent. All this comes in the wake of an open letter in the British Medical Journal from health leaders who are calling for an urgent review as to whether we are properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus with further loss of life. How will businesses cope if there is another lockdown, even in specific areas?

You can view the government guidelines in full at: https://bit.ly/2BwzfzR

Late last week the government announced its Code of Practice for commercial property relationships during the Covid-19 pandemic to help landlords and tenants work constructively to find solutions that keep their businesses open and people in work.

The pandemic has created severe cashflow problems for many SMEs who will need time to rebuild and recover. The Code sets out principles for landlords and tenants to work together and stresses that transparency and collaboration is needed to manage the issues and situation as we move to a post lockdown environment.

You can view the Code of Practice in full on the gov.uk website : https://bit.ly/3dsC2XO

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. We also have a Twitter hour each Tuesday and Friday from 11am – 12noon #StaffsChamberChat