A major delegation of South Korean political leaders will visit the Midlands following an extraordinary link up with a small Staffordshire tech company.

Enlighten is at the forefront of developing “tech for good” in the education and health sectors.

Now the small, two-year-old business is in advanced talks with South Korean government officials to build ground-breaking AR applications designed to stem a mental health crisis in Korean society.

Enlighten will host seven senior government officials over four days in early March. The high-ranking delegation will meet business, education and local government leaders in Tamworth, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham. The group includes department heads for the investment department of the Gyeonggi Provincial Government and senior officials from Pyeongtaek City. Gyeonggi is the most densely populated region in South Korea and major centre for technologically advanced industries, while the city of Pyeongtaek has a population of over 400,000 people.

Enlighten has developed a range of material which is being used by UK mental health charities, colleges and universities and the armed forces. The South Korean link would see Enlighten work with that country’s first suicide prevention centre and wider health bodies.

It would mean extraordinary growth for the small Enlighten team. The South Korean proposal involves access to millions of pounds of European funding and has a clause which will see Enlighten open a second office in South Korea.

Steve Wileman, Head of Technology and Development at Enlighten, said: “We have introduced AR solutions into local colleges, worked with armed forces and are part of the West Midlands Smart City Alliance, but this deal is beyond anything we imagined.

“The seeds were sown when we successfully applied to take part in a trade mission to South Korea last year. Rather than selling to companies, we talked to officials and listened to their issues. We were told that South Korea was in the grip of a mental health crisis and were looking at innovative ways to tackle it. South Korea is technologically advanced with extensive 5G networks and high smart phone usage and this means the augmented reality phone based mental health resources developed by Enlighten are ideally suited for the country’s needs.”

Delegates will meet at Enlighten’s office at Tamworth Enterprise Centre, Philip Dix House, before moving to the Tamworth Town Hall for talks and demonstrations on mental health applications and from the Enterprise Europe Network and the Smart City Alliance (West Midlands).

At 4pm, the party will move on to Tamworth Castle for a VIP tour and this will be followed by a tour of the local microbrewery, Tamworth Brewing Company, and a drinks reception (29 Market St, Tamworth, B79 7LR).

Tuesday, 5 March, will involve events in Stoke-on-Trent. The Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce will host a breakfast reception at Commerce House, Festival Park, Stoke-on-Trent, where the South Korean delegation will meet Sara Williams, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Chambers, David Frost, Chair of the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and representatives from the Department of International Trade.

They will move on to Staffordshire University for lunch where there will be a tour of technology based educational facilities and meetings with key personnel who helped to roll out and support AR mental health strategies and Enlighten resources.

Wednesday,6 March, will focus on Birmingham, with visits to both Aston and Birmingham universities. Discussions and demonstrations will include a focus on the Smart City Alliance.

The final morning of the visit will be back at Enlighten’s Tamworth office, with a focus on consortium building and the next steps, prior to an anticipated further visit in October.

Suzanne Edwards, Enlighten’s Head of Education, said: “We are so proud to be able to welcome the South Korean delegation to our home town of Tamworth and to the wider area. While this is an incredible opportunity for Enlighten, we want it also to be a showcase for our partners in business and education as there’s so many opportunities available for other organisations to partner with South Korea.”

Sara Williams, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “Staffordshire Chambers has worked with Enlighten since Suzanne and Steve started their business and it is fantastic to see their development and ever growing reputation as experts in augmented reality technology in the UK and now around the globe.

“Following our support to help Steve attend a trade visit to South Korea last year, we are now looking forward to joining Enlighten as we host an event for the South Korean delegation, which offers a golden opportunity to market not only Enlighten but the capability of our members to work in one of the world’s busiest commercial markets.”

Enlighten created an Augmented Reality mental health awareness raising app, in partnership with charity Rethink Mental Illness.

The resources were also used in a campaign with South Staffordshire College. This highly successful initiative saw a 47% increase in self-referrals via AR posters, 43% increase in self-referrals for anxiety and depression and 27% increase in self-referrals for self-harm and 8% for suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

Enlighten has also worked with serving military personnel from DAT-R (Defence Animal Training Regiment) to devise a campaign based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The campaigns involved the creation of a variety of mental health themed posters. Once zapped using a phone with the free downloadable app, the posters are triggered to show a video that gives mental health support and guidance.

Suzanne added: “Mental ill-health, including stress, depression and anxiety, is thought to be responsible for 91 million lost working days each year in the UK, more than for any other illness, costing workplaces £24 billion each year. By raising awareness and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness Enlighten want people to become more open about their feelings and help friends, colleagues and family members identify mental health issues in people close to them.

“South Korea faces an acute mental health crisis. We were told that much of this can be traced back to major economic changes with the economy moving rapidly from old fashioned industry and farming to the development of hi-tech industry in huge cities. South Korean health officials fear that a culture shock and the migration of many people from small rural communities to large, new urban cities can spark anxiety and mental health issues.”

Waseem Ahmed has joined the Dispute Management team as a Solicitor at Freeths in Stoke-on-Trent. Waseem began his career at International law firm, Freshfields before coming back to the area to complete his training.  Waseem qualified as a solicitor in July 2018 and has broad experience in a wide range of commercial litigation disputes.

Waseem said: “I am delighted to join Freeths at such an exciting time, where there is not only rapid growth, but also a personal touch across the firm.  I am looking forward to working with the team at Freeths, and our clients in the Staffordshire area”

Stephen Hadley, who leads the Dispute Management team in Stoke-on-Trent added: “We are delighted to have somebody with Waseem’s quality and enthusiasm join the department. His appointment strengthens our general litigation offering supporting our existing team of experienced lawyers.”

Peter Gavin, Managing Partner of Freeths’ Stoke office commented: “We are really proud that we are making rapid progress in Stoke-on-Trent, underpinned by our ability to attract high calibre lawyers, such as Waseem. Further growth for the Stoke office in 2019 is very much on our agenda. Financial growth at Freeths has allowed us to invest across the UK, including a new Liverpool office in 2018 and plans to open in Bristol in 2019”

Freeths LLP is a top 50, full service commercial law firm. With 12 offices across the UK, Freeths has a presence in the majority of the major cities. Staff numbers have increased to 890 including 195 partners & directors in recent years.  The Legal 500 2019 states “Delivering ‘excellent service all-around’, Freeths LLP is praised for its outstanding depth of knowledge’”.

PM Training has secured a new grounds maintenance contract with Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which could lead to apprenticeship opportunities for up to 800 young people across the region.

The contract will see the Staffordshire-based training provider delivering a range of services for council tenants through its Homeworks division. Services will include garden maintenance, carpeting and soft furnishings, and painting and decorating.

The contract continues a 23-year partnership between Homeworks and Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Around 150 to 200 learners go through the Homeworks scheme each year, with over three-quarters of learners progressing into full-time employment, apprenticeships or further education.

Will Nixon, Managing Director of PM Training, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be awarded this new contract which will allow us to build upon the 5,000 young people who have already benefited from our ongoing collaboration with the council.

“The partnership allows local school leavers to learn invaluable trade skills along with a range of transferable career skills, opening up a world of job opportunities for them.”

Councillor Janine Bridges, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for education and economy, said: “We’re serious about giving our young people the best opportunities to learn the skills and gain the experience to prepare them for their future careers.

“This new contract will make a difference to the lives of hundreds of young people, providing trades and services that will support our residents and communities.”

The contract will run for two years with an option to extend for two further years, at an estimated cost of £3.6m over the four-year period.

Beta, is set for growth as it celebrates two years in business.

In its initial 24 months, Staffordshire Moorlands based Beta Commercial Finance, has provided funding to support business growth and more than 50 jobs and now plans to add to its own team.

Beta Commercial Finance has more than doubled its turnover from year one to year two.

Managing Director, Tom Wilkinson, has revealed plans to double his team from two to five in 2019. Plans are at an advanced stage to employ an apprentice, an FCA-registered (Financial Conduct Authority) Commercial Manager and an Office and Compliance Manager.

Tom said: “Beta has the ability to search the whole of the market as we are independent and not just linked to one bank or lender. We constantly explore the markets and by building relationships with the lenders, we can negotiate the best pricing and funding packages on a customer’s behalf.

“This is paying dividends for our client and it is fantastic to be able to use my knowledge to support a varied range of growing companies.”

Beta has worked on deals to provide new or bigger premises and to finance business machinery for companies as diverse as an accountants, a dress designer, a printer, a day nursery and a travel agents.

An early deal involved brokering a financial package for the new Daisy Bank Business Centre, Cheadle, opened by HCA Developments in 2018.

Beta also worked with So Marketing to fund the purchase of their offices in Broad Street, Leek. James Aberley, Managing Director, said: “We were recommended to Tom to help us during a very fluid situation with securing finance for our offices. Due to some extreme time pressures, Tom helped us to push all the players in our chain to ensure that the funding we needed was in place and on time and that enabled us to purchase our commercial premises in November 2018.

“I would recommend Tom to anyone who requires commercial lending facilities in the future due to his over and above attitude to getting things done.”

Tom added: “The deal hinged on an application for grant funding and the timings were tight, so it was a challenge to get everything in place to meet deadlines.”

Beta Commercial Finance has also fostered growth by developing relationships with many of the area’s accountancy practices who refer clients searching for finance. Vanessa Fuller, Director, at Premier Tax Solutions, said: “We have referred several clients to Tom at Beta and we do so with the confidence that he will find the best available solution. The feedback from our customers about Beta is always positive.”

Guests at The Erwin Hymer Centre Travelworld launch were treated to a star line up in the form of TV favourites, Julia Bradbury and Jilly Goolden, in celebration of its new site opening. 

After an address from Managing Director, Ross Edwards, Julia, who launched her new ITV series, ‘Australia with Julia Bradbury’ last week, spoke to the 400+ guests who attended about her love of the countryside and how motorhome ownership is one of the great ways of connecting with all the outdoors have to offer.

Julia said: “It was wonderful to see so many guests at the event yesterday, so many like-minded people, enthusiastic about their motorhomes and the outdoors. Stafford is a great location for the new centre and there is a real buzz from the Travelworld team about their new venture.”

Jilly Goolden, Wine Critic and Former Co-presenter of the 1980s Food and Drink programme, entertained guests with two wine tasting sessions, providing tips on how to sniff and slurp wine correctly and experience its full flavour. Her sessions included recommendations on where to take your motorhome to experience some of the best wine tasting in Europe.

Jilly said: “I totally ‘get’ the romance of motorhomes. Being part of the opening of the new site near Stafford meant I could combine the romance of discovering wines… with the notion of discovering new places, free as a bird. I’m inspired to explore the combination out on the open road.”      

Following the entertainment, a formal ribbon cutting took place outside the showrooms with the Mayor and Mayoress of Stafford Borough, Councillors, Ray and Jenny Barron.

The Mayor said: “We were pleased to be invited to the grand opening of the new Erwin Hymer Travelworld event. It is most encouraging to see another new business relocating to the Stafford area. This is great news for Stafford Borough and also for the many new local jobs that will be created. I hope their new business venture will be a tremendous success.”  

MP for Stafford constituency, Jeremy Lefroy and Staffordshire County Council’s economic growth Chief Councillor, Mark Winnington, came along to the launch to show their support for the new site.   

The launch event continued throughout the week with UK National Mountain Bike Champion, Scott Beaumont, to talk to guests about his adventures with his bike and his Dethleffs motorhome.

Ross said: “This was the perfect start to our event, having Julia and Jilly come along was hugely popular and we aim to continue to deliver to all of our new and existing customers as we start our exciting new phase in Stafford.”

A talented young Stoke-on-Trent Accountant has won national recognition after passing part of his taxation exams with the highest marks in the UK.

Josh Draycott joined Geens Chartered Accountants after A-levels and has won the Kimmer Medal for the best paper in the Inheritance Tax, Trust and Estates section of the ATT (Association of Taxation Technicians) qualifications.

Geens is celebrating a double success as Hannah Sutcliffe, who only joined the staff at the Stoke town firm in the summer, passed her Level 3 AAT,, gaining a distinction.

Geens’ Director, Karen Lowe, said: “Josh is part of our Trust and Tax team and has been studying is tax exams after already passing his AAT, accountancy exams. 903 students sat the ATT exams but just 73 selected the Inheritance Tax, Trust and Estates paper due to its complexity, with only three achieving distinctions. To come out on top is a remarkable achievement for Josh.

“Hannah only joined Geens in the summer from a non-accountancy role. She is making rapid progress and has now passed her Level 3 AAT with distinction. Hannah’s commitment to gaining industry qualifications is matched by her work at Geens where she has progressed very quickly.

“We have a proud record of training our own staff and all five of our Directors came through their examinations at Geens, gaining promotions along the way. Geens is experiencing a period of growth, adding new clients and staff. We recently extended into Probate services, an area once reserved for the legal profession.”

Fleet Operations has further underlined its commitment to tech innovation and growth with a key appointment.

David Gallimore has joined the Newcastle-under-Lyme company as Chief Information Officer, bringing with him almost 20 years’ experience in the information technology and services industry.

David will be tasked with broadening the scope of services available to customers and ensuring IT systems are as efficient and innovative as possible, from vehicle ordering processes to data security.

As well as looking after the existing IT infrastructure, David will focus on developing IT products that meet ever-changing customer need and create systems that drive businesses forward.

David said: “My experience developing, designing and managing IT products and making strategic operational decisions has given me key insight and understanding of the marketplace and its demands on technology, so I can help ensure Fleet Operations is developing ahead of the curve.

“Fleet Operations will continue to have its finger on the pulse and be at the frontier when it comes to the use of technology.”

David joins Fleet Operations from Zonal Retail Data Systems, where he was responsible for the strategic direction and operational delivery of the marketing technologies division.

He has enjoyed entrepreneurial success, having run his own digital marketing company TXD for 15 years, before successfully agreeing an acquisition by hospitality technology solutions specialist Zonal.

David has worked with Fleet Operations in the past and helped develop some of the firm’s IT systems.  In his new role, he hopes to put all users, including drivers, at the heart of the company’s services and offerings.

Richard Hipkiss, Managing Director at Fleet Operations, said: “We are delighted to welcome David on board and look forward to him spearheading and driving technological development at Fleet Operations.

“David joins us at an exciting time, as we prepare to launch innovative new systems, harnessing the power of analytics and automation to streamline processes, manage costs and support strategic, data-driven decisions.  His appointment reinforces our commitment to develop innovative systems and applications in the fast-evolving fleet landscape.”

David’s appointment follows a successful year for business growth, with the company’s workforce growing by 15% over the past 12 months.

JCB has announced an exciting partnership with a new British motor racing team as the company continues to expand its presence in global markets.

The partnership with SportPesa Racing Point F1 team (formerly Force India) will see prominent JCB branding on the two cars driven by Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez from the first Formula One race in Melbourne in March. Branding will also appear on helmets, overalls and the team’s trackside clothing.

In addition, JCB will play a major part in Racing Point’s development by providing machines to help in the construction of the team’s planned new factory later this year. JCB will also provide a range of power tools and workwear for the British team as well as equipment including access platforms and generators to assist the team when it races in Europe.

JCB began its Formula I association in 2017 with a Williams Racing sponsorship which has now concluded. The new deal offers JCB the opportunity to develop customer relationships at race meetings and to promote its brand in new and existing markets to increase global sales.

JCB Chairman Lord Bamford said: “The popularity of Formula 1 gives JCB an excellent platform to promote our products on the international stage to both new and existing customers. JCB is one of the world’s biggest construction equipment brands and this partnership will help us cement and build customer relationships. We see great synergy with the Racing Point team; we both have a passion for pushing the boundaries of new technology and an ambition to succeed.”

Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal and CEO of SportPesa Racing Point, added: “This is the dawn of a new era for this team and we are delighted to welcome JCB on what is certain to be an exciting journey in the years ahead. We are hungry for success on and off the track and it’s great to have such a dynamic and world-leading brand supporting our efforts as we head into the 2019 season.”

SAVE MONEY AND MONKEY AROUND

Our favourite furry friends are back as Staffordshire’s Trentham Monkey Forest reopens its doors for another season.

The locally loved attraction reopens on the 16th February, just in time to entertain your little ones over half term.

As well as seeing the monkeys for the first time this year you can also save money with the forest’s new online tickets. Simply buy your tickets online in advance and save on admission – what’s not to love!

“Our customers can now plan their day in advance and know that their tickets are sorted before visiting which is perfect for busy parents. We’ve also added a discount to our online tickets which we’re sure our customers will like!” commented Monkey Forest director, Matt Lovatt.

“As well as online tickets we’ve also launched annual memberships so our customers can enjoy visiting the monkeys as often as they like whilst we are open”.

The forest hopes their new membership tickets will help encourage locals to visit multiple times throughout the year and start from only £20. With a range of events planned during the season, and the anticipated arrival of little ones in the spring there’s so much to see throughout the season.

With a matter of days to go before reopening the Monkey Forest team (and the monkeys) are looking forward to opening their doors to the public again.

“As the winter is coming to a close, we can’t wait to for the season to begin and welcome lots of new customers during half term. It’s always a really exciting time for all the team” continued Matt.

“It’s the visitors first chance to catch a glimpse of the monkeys and see how our little ones have grown. We also have face painting during weekends in half term. That’s always very popular with the kids!”

The forest opens from the 16th to the 24th February, as well as weekends in March, before opening daily from the 30th March. To plan your visit and book your tickets online (and SAVE) visit monkey-forest.com.

#SHARESTORIESNOTSTIGMA

Mental health campaigners say an e-book in which they share their stories could be ‘life-saving.’

In the free e-book, customers of not-for-profit Brighter Futures, based in Hanley, discuss their first-hand experiences of mental health conditions and offer inspiring advice.

In Staffordshire, more than 82,000 people aged 18-64 are predicted to have a mental health problem this year – including over 24,000 in Stoke-on-Trent alone.*

The digital book was created to help raise awareness as part of Brighter Futures’ #ShareStoriesNotStigma campaign.

Brighter Futures customer Howard Dexter, from Hanley, shared his story in the e-book. He described how he was initially diagnosed with depression and sectioned under the Mental Health Act before being correctly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

The 62-year-old said: “It was a relief to finally have a diagnosis of Bipolar; it meant I could start to get the right treatment I needed and the medication helped me be stable.

“It was a little daunting sharing my story, as it’s so personal, but if it helps one person on the street relate to their life and reach out for help it’s worth it. I really feel like we’ve helped to create something which could genuinely be life-saving and I’d encourage as many people as possible to read it.”

Sharon Godwin, Brighter Futures Clubhouse Network Manager, said: “There’s still so much that needs to be done to help people who are experiencing poor mental health. We know that according to local GP registers, one in nine adults in Stoke-on-Trent suffers from depression**. Our helpline service, Staffordshire Mental Health Helpline received over 950 calls related to suicide over 12 months – that’s in Staffordshire alone.

“We hope this e-book will not only help to further the conversation about mental health, but actually save lives. We are encouraging people to show support by sharing our social media posts about the e-book using #ShareStoriesNotStigma.”

Brighter Futures’ support workers help thousands of people every year through personalised mental health support, accommodation, employment and training. This work is backed up by specialist staff, support groups, a clubhouse network, as well as homelessness and outreach services, and employment and volunteering opportunities.

To download the e-book visit www.brighter-futures.org.uk or follow brighterfuturesNW on Facebook or @BFNW on Twitter.