Staffordshire company Acacia Training has joined forces with the creators of a revolutionary new programme to improve mental health in the UK workforce.

The Trentham-based firm has become the official training partner for Wellonomics, a new online assessment tool devised to monitor and support wellbeing in the workplace. Acacia Training was the first in the UK to pilot the programme with its own employees, and has now teamed up with the platform’s developers, management consultancy Grasp The Nettle, to become the sole training provider of the programme as it is rolled out nationwide.

Wellonomics enables employers to carry out individual wellbeing assessments online. While individual responses are completely confidential and can only be viewed by the participant, the organisation’s overall results are aggregated to give employers a valuable insight into how their teams are feeling.

Victoria Sylvester, director at Acacia Training, comments: “The wellbeing of our team is extremely important to us, especially as we provide workplace mental health training to a wide range of organisations to help them support their own staff. I think Wellonomics is great because it is anonymous, so employees can be open and honest about how they’re feeling and each month we look at the up-to-date data at board level to discuss current issues.

“We’ve had a 100 per cent employee engagement rate and we’re already seeing clear benefits. For example, staff told us that they were checking emails late at night, so we’ve now put measures in place where we have a cut-off point for sending emails. We learned that some teams were feeling out of the loop on communications, so we set up a chat group to keep people informed. They’re only small changes but they’re making a big difference.”

The impact on its own workforce has been so positive, the company is now rolling it out to its learners to understand and improve their experience. For example, if feedback is that they are short on time, it will ask tutors to prioritise this and provide helpful information on time management. It has also formed an alliance with Grasp the Nettle to roll Wellonomics out nationwide, with Acacia Training providing wellbeing modules and support linked to the software. This ensures the results are used to create positive change and helps line managers to develop the skills they need to improve the mental health of their teams.

Victoria added: “We’re really looking forward to working in partnership with Wellonomics to improve employee wellbeing. Mental health in the workplace is so important – a healthy, happy workforce helps employers to retain staff, reduce sickness and increase productivity.” 

Co-Founder of Grasp the Nettle, Peter Yates-Round, said: “Many staff surveys, which often have low engagement rates and data which rapidly becomes outdated, are no longer fit for purpose. Wellonomics offers an antidote by providing a responsive, intuitive way to help leaders identify trends within their business. It gives employees an easy, confidential way to have their say and employers the tools they need to easily identify and implement change.

He added: “We are incredibly excited about our alliance with Acacia Training and our future plans to work together to lower staff attrition, increase productivity and create a happy and engaged UK workforce. Wellonomics is unique in that it protects employee confidentiality and provides leaders with up-to-the-minute feedback on how their teams are feeling. We were delighted to see how well it has been received at Acacia Training and now we’re looking forward to introducing it to business leaders in all sectors so that they – and their employees – can benefit.”


Synectics Solutions and Assurant are celebrating after winning a prestigious national award for successfully implementing innovative fraud prevention technology.

The Fintech, predictive analytics and data services company has worked with leading insurer Assurant in the UK to deliver the predictive analytics solution, Precision, to improve the detection of high-risk gadget claims. As a result, Synectics Solutions and Assurant received the ‘Fraud Prevention Solution of the Year’ award at the Insurance Times Claims Excellence Awards 2019, which were announced in London on Thursday 23 May.

Synectics has helped Assurant’s UK business to implement machine learning algorithms to accurately predict future behaviour based on past experience. The analytical capabilities of the solution combined with data science expertise is essential for Assurant in making fast decisions and delivering a cost-effective, predictive insight which enables the organisation to become more competitive in the marketplace.

The introduction of Precision has enabled Assurant to build an even more robust fraud detection system to protect its honest customers. The solution has also led to a 17.8 percent reduction in investigations being worked, allowing much needed and valuable investigator resource to be freed up to tackle new investigations. Assurant is a leading global provider of housing and lifestyle solutions that support, protect and connect major consumer purchases, and is committed to using sophisticated technology to build solutions that its clients and their customers can depend on.

Gavin Wright, Senior Fraud Data Analyst at Assurant in the UK, said: “We are delighted to have won this award with Synectics Solutions.

“Since the introduction of Precision Analytics 18 months ago, we have seen immediate and sustainable results. This award is an excellent achievement for both companies, as well as recognition of the incredible results that have been achieved by working in partnership to develop an innovative solution that meets our need.”

The Claims Excellence Awards are designed to recognise and reward excellence across claims – from those on the frontline who have direct contact with customers in their hour of need, to the nimble and entrepreneurial who are changing the world around us.

Oz Khurshid, Predictive Analytics Product Manager at Synectics Solutions, said: “We have been on a really exciting journey with Assurant’s UK business which started by exploring the use of Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning, to not only speed up, but identify incremental high-risk loss and theft gadget claims.  The initial proof of concept delivered great value and was followed by fantastic results within the production environment.

“The Assurant UK team has been really forward-thinking with their adoption of Precision’s machine learning capability and has optimised their business processes and reduced fraud impairment.

“We are pleased that this has been recognised by the Insurance Times Claims Awards judges.

“We are really looking forward to continuing the journey with Assurant and enhancing their use of Precision even further. A huge congratulations to everyone who has contributed to this wonderful achievement.”

Thousands of people across Staffordshire and Cheshire are enjoying a happy, affluent retirement thanks to pensions expert Richard Jacobs.

2019 sees Richard reaching 40 years as a Chartered practitioner in the pensions business, but at the age of 69, Newcastle-under-Lyme based Richard has no intention of penning his own retirement letter.

“I don’t work full time hours anymore, having gradually handed over the business management reins to my fellow company directors, Emily Small and Kate Barnard, but I still gain real fulfilment from ensuring clients get the best available advice,” said Richard.

Richard has been a pensions specialist since 1973 and achieved the gold standard as a Chartered Insurance Practitioner in 1979. He has gained a reputation as a leading expert on pensions and has authored many articles advising on pensions for national newspapers and the BBC. He founded Richard Jacobs Pensions and Trustee Services in 1992 and has presided over continuous growth, from a sole practitioner firm to a team of nine, based in modern offices at Brindley Court, Lymedale Business Park.

“I am proud to say I have retained my Chartered status for 40 years, renewing and refreshing my professional qualifications regularly. I have recently retaken the examinations again and have been confirmed as a Chartered Institute member in 2019.

“Chartered status is an important badge of confidence for our industry and is backed by a Royal Charter. The pensions industry supports people with one of the most important decisions they are likely to make; that is, how do I ensure my future in retirement? Chartered status can give clients reassurance and peace of mind.”

“I see expertise and trusted advice is as important now than at any time in my career as there’s a lot for clients to consider due to recent pension reforms, new legislation and ever-more sophisticated scams.

“The good news is that more people are now saving for their pension than ever before, largely due to the success of auto-enrolment. This means that employers have to enrol staff in a workplace scheme and this has revolutionised the way we save in the UK.

“Workers have to make a contribution, but this is supplemented by the company they work for and the benefits are clear. As people live longer, retirement can last for decades and saving for retirement is becoming ever more important. But than 10 million people are now auto-enrolled and have more security for later life.”

The Richard Jacobs team work with many companies in Staffordshire and Cheshire on auto enrolment, with clients from micro-businesses to large companies.

Said Richard: “Typically, we will provide a service to a company and the directors and senior managers may then also ask us to support their personal pension plans.”




A Stoke-on-Trent retirement village has been awarded Gold in a national award for the quality of its accommodation.

West End Village, ran by Staffordshire Housing Association, scooped the award at the Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC) National Awards, which celebrates the best specialist housing providers for older people across the UK.

The older people’s housing scheme, which provides independent living from over 55’s, was up against 300 other providers from across the UK and won one of the 9 gold awards awarded on the night.

Both residents and staff attended the awards and were delighted when they won as resident Elaine explains: “Winning the award is brilliant, we know it’s a lovely place, we know it’s the best!”

West End Village’s Scheme Manager Gina Cooper said: “It means the world to win the National Gold Award and it’s so nice to see that the hard work we put in is paying off. We love to have fun here at West End Village and it’s that which makes people feel so welcome. We’re so happy we’re going to celebrate with a party!”

John Galvin, EAC’s Chief Executive, explains the importance of the awards: “Specialist housing for older people plays an enormously significant role in helping them stay independent for longer. The security, support and great communities have a positive impact on individuals and reduce the need for NHS services.”

Earlier this year, West End Village won gold in the EAC regional award, where residents and visitors also voted. As well as accommodation, the scheme also provides communal facilities such as a gym, hairdressers and restaurant and hosts social events for both residents and the local community.

Experts are lining up to showcase two significant business growth opportunities available to Staffordshire businesses at Let’s Do Business, held at Uttoxeter Racecourse on Thursday 27th June 2019.   According to the Chamber of Commerce, exporting and securing funding are two of the best ways to create exponential growth and experts from the Department of International Trade and Chamber of Commerce will be revealing how at the event.

The region’s largest business exhibition, jointly organised by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce and Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, offers the perfect opportunity for visitors to meet a number of experts for FREE to discuss funding and exporting opportunities that are available to offer fresh solutions for business growth.

Robert Lawley, Head of International Trade for Staffordshire, at the Department of International Trade said: “Even with Brexit negotiations still ongoing, we believe it is a very good time to be exporting goods and services while the playing field is still level for the UK and sterling is low. We are currently in the busiest period ever in the Chamber securing export deals, with North Staffordshire alone having processed £250million worth of export invoices in 2018. The UK has an enviable reputation around the world for high quality products and services; we can help businesses in Staffordshire and across the Midlands, steer a course through their plans with confidence!

“Let’s Do Business is a fantastic opportunity for businesses to access free advice from my team, who will be on hand to share their wealth of knowledge and experience on creating and implementing export strategies whether they create ceramics, manufacture auto parts or offer a professional service.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming people on to the Department of International Trade truck where we can share detailed information about exporting. And for businesses who want to look into exporting further, we can meet up after the event and help to create and implement a strategy.”

Chris Plant, Director at Greater Birmingham Chambers spoke about the opportunities: “Our Let’s Do Business expo has grown year on year attracting the best businesses in the region with top class speakers, business growth experts, networking sessions and exhibition halls.

“With over £25m new government funding now available and a range of exporting channels to explore, we want visitors to make new contacts and seek out opportunities to grow their businesses. While Brexit remains a daunting prospect, it could also provide lots of opportunities for many businesses to grow and expand and we want to encourage people to have a positive outlook. Attending Let’s Do Business is the perfect opportunity to gather new ideas and make new contacts to make good things happen!”

Beswicks Legal has announced the promotion of their head of family law to the position of associate. Sarah Jones has worked at the Festival Park-based firm for two years, cementing her reputation as an outstanding family lawyer and team manager.

Associate status at Beswicks Legal is recognition of the highest levels of professionalism and expertise in a particular area of law.

Beswicks Legal managing partner Nick Phillips said: “Sarah has done a tremendous job leading our family law team. She has a wealth of experience and works incredibly hard to deliver an outstanding service, winning high praise from clients and colleagues.


“At Beswicks we believe strongly in offering an exciting career path to those who demonstrate the right personal and professional qualities and it is always immensely satisfying to see talented people succeed and progress.”


Top 50 Law firm, Freeths LLP Stoke office announces another year of continued growth with the office exceeding budget by 10% for the financial year 2018/2019. This comes off the back of significant instructions from local, national and international clients of the office.

The Stoke office cover HR and employment law (which includes pensions and immigration law), corporate and commercial law services, dispute management, commercial property, insolvency and commercial debt recovery.

One of the most significant instructions saw James Boulton, Corporate Partner in the Stoke office lead a cross-office team advising US headquarters BrandSafway on its acquisition of Lyndon Scaffolding PLC. Not only was this deal significant for the office, but it was also one of the largest deals by value within the wider West Midlands region during 2018/2019.  James joined the firm in December 2017 having trained at a Magic Circle firm and having also spent 10 years in the London office of a US law firm.

Acting for a multi-national group the Stoke Dispute Management team recently settled a long running dispute concerning national infrastructure on the first day of a trial in London. The team also acted in cases involving a local listed landmark, recovering cars and cash from a fraud involving Supercars – Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches, obtaining a court order to restrain the use of confidential information and acting on behalf of a local charity in a boundary dispute as well as its usual mix of commercial, corporate and property disputes, professional negligence and contentious probate claims.

Peter Gavin, Managing Partner of Freeths’ Stoke office commented: “Our record year has been especially pleasing given the current challenging economic circumstances both locally and more widely. The office’s performance and the quality of work that we have been doing across the office shows that there is a high demand for good quality, practical legal advice at realistic rates from lawyers who know the challenges faced by our clients whether that be local businesses, a national client or a multi-national client”.


Staffordshire based full-service digital marketing agency, Kanuka Digital, are set to celebrate their one year anniversary in June after a successful 12 months helping businesses of all shapes and sizes evolve and grow their online presence.

Having blossomed from the digital marketing team of parent company and long established eCommerce experts, iWeb, Kanuka Digital have worked continuously to grow their client profile as well as their in-house team of skilled marketers.

Alongside gaining a host of new clients and helping them grow online through the wide range of digital marketing services they offer, Kanuka Digital have attained a number of other achievements.

From becoming Google and DotDigital partners, hosting networking events and growing their team to ten members of staff, Kanuka Digital have certainly achieved a lot in just 12 months.

The first event was held in the summer of 2018 to help get the Kanuka Digital name out there. Hiring an ice cream van and giving out hundreds of free Mr Whippy’s with SEO site audits thrown in paid definitely paid off. The event generated plenty of sign ups to their upcoming marketing conference and a number of business leads in the process.

The news that British Steel is entering into insolvency endangering 5,000 jobs directly at its Scunthorpe plant and up to 20,000 jobs within the supply chain is disappointing, despite efforts to save the UK’s second largest steel producer yesterday.

British Steel currently operates a distribution network centre in Stoke-on-Trent and will inevitably supply a number of manufacturers based in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

Commenting on the news that British Steel has entered into insolvency, Sara Williams, Chief Executive of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, said:

“It was only 19 years ago that Shelton Bar steelworks closed its doors after 159 years of successful iron and steel manufacturing. In its heyday the works stretched across Etruria Valley and employed around 10,000 people, cementing Stoke-on-Trent as a world leading producer for the steel industry.

Despite the Shelton Bar steelworks no longer being a dominant presence in the city, its successes fuelled generation after generation of manufacturers to choose to operate here. Creating numerous supply chains and on-going employment for steelworkers and the local community.

Steel production is embedded into the very foundations of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire and the loss of jobs at British Steel is terrible news bringing with it a period of great uncertainty for employees affected, primarily in Scunthorpe but also to those based nationwide.

We are currently speaking to members about this announcement as we gauge its immediate effect on Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. Any company of this size going into administration will have ramifications across numerous supply chains and we will be supporting our members through this difficult time.

We know that manufacturers are facing a range of issues at the moment, from continued uncertainty over Brexit, rising costs of doing business and persistent difficulties in recruitment. It goes without saying that Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce will be on hand to help firms and employees affected by this sad news. Anyone needing help, guidance or support should get in touch and we will do our utmost to assist them.”

PM Training has secured two contract extensions with Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s housing repairs and maintenance company Unitas, which will see it continue to provide services for another 12 months.

The contracts will see the Staffordshire-based training provider delivering void clearance and adaptations services across 19,000 city council properties. The services, which will be carried out by PM Training’s Homeworks division, will include home clearance, garden clearance and valeting to prepare rental properties for new tenants, as well as providing ramps and accessibility alterations to properties that require them.

Neil Holmes, Homeworks Contracts Manager at PM Training, said: “We’re excited to be working with Unitas. It provides a great opportunity to link with a local partner to create sustainable employment and social inclusion for young apprentices.”

PM Training will allocate four vans to the void clearances, which will create positions for four new supervisors and four horticulture apprentices. Homeworks will work with Browns Waste supply chain to carry out the works.

The adaptations will also create an opportunity for an apprentice to gain trade skills and experience. 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.

Steve Wilson, Unitas Operations Director, is delighted that PM Training has been successful in securing these works. He said: “Unitas has an excellent relationship with PM Training,  sharing their social responsibility ethos and fully supporting the excellent work they do in creating employment opportunities for local people.”

The new contracts extend the partnership that was due to end in June this year. Both contracts will now continue until April 2020.