Our review of the year

Covid-19 has inevitably cast a shadow over businesses during 2021 and while those firms who failed to survive are upper most in our minds, the end of the year is also a time to look back on business success and to mention some of the highs we’ve written about throughout the year.      

Quarter One (January, February, March)

We celebrated with Carly Twigg as her work during the pandemic was recognised with a “Point of Light” award from the Prime Minister.

The award recognised how Carly, of Newcastle-under-Lyme, founded the Help, I’m Now Home Schooling! Facebook group when Covid-19 first hit the country  in spring 2020 and quickly attracted over 5,000 followers due to its helpful and inspirational content.

“I’m in shock,” said Carly. “I didn’t know I had been nominated, so the email from Boris Johnson’s office was a fantastic surprise. I’m a PA to the Directors of BNI Staffordshire and AdGiftsOnline and I set up Help, I’m now Home Schooling! while on furlough last spring.

“I just wanted to help a few friends in my local area by posting activities and tips to support their children, but it took off in a way that I never expected.”

As a result of her success, Howle Communications were able to support Carly in a serious of radio and TV performances where she was asked to comment on staying positive and helping others during the pandemic.

There was good news from North Staffordshire company, Ridgways Hearing Care, with an announcement that they had teamed up with a community group to help provide a new service in Werrington.

The hearing care specialists, with centres in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Endon, responded to an approach by the Werrington Wellbeing Community Voluntary Group and established regular hearing clinics in the village.

Werrington  has around twice the national average of older people and some people had struggled to access hearing care.

Design and print company Graphix teamed up with Stoke-on-Trent’s Unitas, to provide striking branding for the housing repair service’s new fleet of electric vans.

The designs took inspiration from the city’s built environment and celebrated a green, go-ahead city.

It was just one of several collaborations between Graphix and Unitas, creating a go-ahead image for the service and emphasising pride in the city of Stoke-on-Trent.

February saw the announcement of a merger between two well-known Staffordshire accountancy practices. Mitten Clarke and DJH. The firms unveiled plans to join forces as a combined practice from March 31 under the name of DJH Mitten Clarke. Further expansion followed with the acquisition of Lloyd Piggott, Manchester, and a partnership with Morris & Co, of Ellesmere Port.

High class Staffordshire kennels and cattery, Quintessential Quarters, helped to lead an industry campaign to ensure its business sector wasn’t forgotten during the pandemic.

Owner Jacqueline Montegrino pointed to issues with the grant support system. While kennels and catteries were not told they must close, the closure of UK’s borders meant hardly anyone was taking holidays and booking their pet into kennels.

Jacqueline received an email from Stafford Borough Council stating:  “As pet boarding businesses are not mandated to close, your business is not entitled to any further Additional Restrictions Grant or Local Restrictions Support Grant, nor are you entitled to a Closed Businesses Lockdown Payment.”

She said: “The dog and cat boarding sector isn’t looking for special treatment but while we’ve been able to gain loans, which have to be paid back, the sector appears to have been frozen out of the government support schemes.”

Howle Communications helped to secure Jacqueline appearances on radio and TV and written coverage in newspapers.

March saw news of a Stoke-on-Trent tech company taking on the sector’s giants.

LinxApp is a real time messaging platform that offers users ad free, private conversations. Tech entrepreneur Zabi Zamir said LinxApp offered ae safe and secure way for people to communicate.

See https://linxapp.com/.

There was good news from Stafford  with a first anniversary celebration for Staffordshire Kitchens.

Born in a pandemic, the company run by interior designer Sandra Johnson, had enjoyed a positive first year. Smart use of technology, combined with an impressive range of bespoke German built kitchens and Sandra’s entrepreneurial talents to ensure Staffordshire Kitchens could look to the future with confidence.

More products were added later in 2021 as Staffordshire Kitchens continued to thrive.

Workplace water safety specialists, SAS Water Ltd, were another firm who continued to move forward during the pandemic. The Leek-based firm helped many companies to ensure their water was monitored for Legionella and other bacteria during the lockdowns as water left to stagnate in tanks and pipes can pose problems.

In early 2021, the firm also supported youth football charity Ladsandads to ensure water safety at Birchenwood, Kidsgrove.

They ensured the water system at the changing facilities was safely decommissioned when football stopped due to Covid-19 and later helped to recommission it when the Ladsandads were asked by by NHS Engkand if the football facility could be used as a  d a coronavirus vaccination centre.

Clive Dean, of Staffordshire Ladsandads,  said: “SAS Water were quick to respond to our request for legionella safety work. Their advice was helpful and they laid out what we needed to do in an easy to understand manner. They are friendly, approachable and knowledgeable and they do business with a smile.”

Quarter two (April May, June)

Howle Communications worked with Graphix and photographer Cathy Bower to provide a new website for Ridgways Hearing Care, transforming the company’s online presence.

Alison Ridgway said: “Much has changed since our initial website was developed in 2012. It was built on a model supplied from one hearing aid supplier, when we actually source the best available products across the whole of the market. The new website is attractively designed and easy to use and it reflects our clear, customer service values. We base our pricing on technology levels, rather than individual prices from the hearing aid companies and there are just four pricing bands.”

Prime time TV watchers in spring 2021 were glued to the finale of  the Ant and Dec Saturday Night Takeaway series. We were delighted to report that the special effects – which saw a host of stars combust on screen – were provided by Stoke-on-Trent VFX specialists Carse and Waterman.

Viewers watched as Ant, Jermaine Jenas, Alison Hammond  and Stephen Mulhern were ‘exploded’.

“No TV personalities were harmed in the making of the show,” joked Visual Effects Supervisor and joint company owner Daniel Waterman. “We were delighted to be asked to find a way to use visual effects to create the illusion.”

In May, Howle Communications collaborated with third sector funding specialists Heaward Solutions on a special project to help a popular festival to fund a Covid-safe event.

Shropshire’s Festival at the Edge is England’s oldest storytelling festival. Following a Covid-hit 2020, organisers were determined to run a 2021 event but needed extra money to ensure everything on site was safe and secure.

Heaward Solutions devised a highly effective Crowdfunder campaign, provoking a huge, heart-warming response from the public.

Also in May, Howle Communications were able to secure national newspaper coverage for a campaign to cut duty on draught beer sold in pubs.

A coalition representing Britain’s Brewers, pub companies, operators and beer drinkers came together to demand change in taxation rules. The coalition wrote to Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, arguing that pubs and bars deserved a beer tax concession as pubs had closed during lockdowns while supermarkets remained open.

Kate Nicholls from UK Hospitality said: “The last year has been horrific for the pub and hospitality sector. It is time Government fully recognises the economic and social importance of the out-of-home sector and creates a tax regime that recognises the many benefits that socialising brings. Reducing draught beer duty would be a critical signal, helping us to create jobs and generate sustainable economic growth.”

Ultimately, some concessions were won as the Chancellor announced a 5 per cent beer duty cut for some draught beer, however, more still needs to be done, as many small brewers missed out.

There was heart-warming news for Crewe-based Qualkem Brands. The chemical blending specialists raised well over £20,000 for Barnardo’s with a unique partnership that saw the company gift  30 pence from each sale of a 100ml bottle of Electrosan on the Go Skin and Surface Antiviral Spray and £1 from each Electrosan SafeT Kit go to the children’s charity.

Spring 2021 saw fifth anniversary celebrations for award winning augmented reality company, Enlighten. The Tamworth tech entrepreneurs have helped companies, educators and health professionals integrate Augmented Reality into their work and won several awards, with MD Suzanne Edwards recognised as a leading woman in technology.

June saw a couple of major firsts for businesses in Staffordshire. Howle Communications brought news that workplace mental health expert Nicky Bartley had launched a groundbreaking stress management audit system designed to transform how companies support their staff.

BESSIE, the  Bespoke Evaluation and Spotlight on Stress in Employment audit, is thought to be unique and is attracting enquiries from the UK and the USA within days of its launch.

Meanwhile, Newcastle-under-Lyme based My Simple Mortgage broke new ground in the mortgage industry by offering customers a unique, easy to use, website process to get the best real time answer to the big question “how much can I borrow?” from real banks and lenders.

The system, launched in early June was described as the easiest, most accurate and usable system for customers.

There was news of a brilliant collaboration from Trentham-based care providers Home Instead Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent. They teamed up with Port Vale FC’s foundation to launch the Golden Valiants project, tackling loneliness among older people in North Staffordshire.

June also saw Heaward Solutions move to offices at Parkhall Business Village and recruit Lara Spray through the Keele University Santander Universities scheme.

A jewellery designer struck ‘Gold’ in the UK’s most prestigious craft and design awards despite her career still being

in its infancy. Ellina Pollitt’s design thrilled the judges in the Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council Awards 2021.

A recent graduate of Staffordshire University, Ellina, 42, from Biddulph, won a Gold medal for her use of laser technology in creating a beautiful silver bracelet.

Quarter three (July, August and September)

At the start of July, we were delighted to report on a big move for the Alice Charity.

The charity, which helps families across North Staffordshire, moved to the former Methodist Church and Assembly Rooms in the centre of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Founded in 2011 by mum and daughter, Steph Talbot and Emily Petts, Alice Charity has been providing services from rented accommodation in the Ironmarket, Newcastle, but need to move as the premises is now bursting at the seams.

Unprecedented demand, partly fuelled by lockdown, has led the charity to employ additional staff in the past year and look for additional community space.

There were celebrations in Crewe as Repclif Chemical Services mark 50 years in business with an event attended by town Mayor, Cllr Tom Dunlop, and Dr Kieran Mullin, MP for Crewe and Nantwich.

Repclif Chemical Services Ltd was launched from a small unit in High Street, Sandbach, by chemical engineer Bob Frazer and industrial chemist Doug Holt on July 20, 1971, together with their wives, Sue and Helen.

Doug and Helen have now passed away, but Bob and Sue joined the celebrations at the Macon Way headquarters on Friday, 23 July, and were presented with gifts including a new rose plant, named the Repclif Rose.

Current MD, Ivan Anketell-Clifford, marked the anniversary by unveiling plans to invest in new eco-friendly  packaging and forecast new jobs for young people at is Macon Way base.

Meanwhile, the Building Futures Stoke-on-Trent programme announced another opportunity for young people to learn a trade. They were looking to recruit up to 15 young people, aged 16 to 19, to join the programme,  based at Rydale Roofing, Silverdale, in September.

Building Futures, launched by Rydale Roofing in partnership with Juniper Training Ltd, works to try to tackle a shortage of trades workers, particularly in the roofing sector.

Innovative gift supplier AdGiftsOnline won new customers with the launch of the Zoom box.

Despite lockdown beginning to lift last June, online meetings remained convenient and popular and some felt a gift was a great way to help the interaction go smoothly.

“We launched the Zoom box to help companies who are now meeting online but still want to add a personal touch for staff and customers,”  explained company director Stephenie Altham. “We can arrange delivery of Zoom boxes  to people’s homes and workplaces, typically containing goods such as tea bags, biscuits, sugar, milk and a branded postcard with a message on it,”

What a great idea!

Stoke-based safety experts BPA won a series of contracts due to growing demand in the modular build sector. Director Darren Bedson said module building offered a highly efficient, just in time manufacturing solution with buildings manufactured in a controlled factory environment prior to delivery to site.

There was a new face at Beta Commercial Finance in early summer. Experienced former banker Joanne Webster-Sisson joined the expanding, Alton-based, company.

A series of unique culinary experiences were offered by Eccleshall wince bar Sancerre during summer 2021. Owner  Lesa Le Monnier joined forces with renowned head chef Gavin Evans for a series of sell-out themed food nights.

“The pop up dining experiences have been a real success so far and we’ll be looking to continue them into the future,” said Lesa. “Gavin is a fabulous chef and has created sumptuous menus that provide a themed dining experience for around 30 covers each time. It’s a level of fine dining that we think isn’t normally found outside the large towns and cities. He feedback from diners has been fantastic.”

Quarter four (October, November and December)

October saw another superb Crowdfunder campaign masterminded by Heaward Solutions, of Blythe Bridge. They helped the 4 Community Trust, Sandwell, to raise more than £10,000 to create a sensory garden and club house for young people with learning difficulties.

The fundraising also honoured the life of Gary Simpson, a parent who had received support from 4CT for his autistic son.

Gary, a qualified landscaper, had plans to create the garden but tragically died in a road traffic accident while he was planning the project. His family continued their support for 4CT and chief executive Jo Hayden pledged to get the work completed in Gary’s name.

Over in Market Drayton, Washington and Riley were putting the finishing touches to their new headquarters with the launch of a trade counter. The fire door and architectural ironmonger specialists moved from Burslem to Market Drayton as they needed more space for their growing team.

In Leek, husband and wife team Tom and Aga Gronkiewicz welcomed son, Filip, to their family firm, GRN Financial Services.

With demand high, GRN Financial Services say the company is currently completing double the amount of mortgage applications they processed two years ago.

Geens Chartered Accountants reported major growth. The Stoke-based company welcomed seven new starters in 2021 as they continued a successful policy of investing in youth and growing their own team.

Newcastle-under-Lyme’s  The Interior Design Practice were shortlisted for a major award in October. The talented team won recognition in the 2021 SBID International Design Awards for their work on The Oak House, Moddershall Oaks.

Penny Weston, Director at Moddershall Oaks, said: “The project looks absolutely incredible, The Interior Design Practice deserve this so much.”

The Interior Design Practice were also crowned Best Restaurant Designer in the 2020 Northern Design Awards.

At the start of November, Howle Communications was delighted to highlight the work of Newcastle, Staffordshire, WI group, Let’s Make Jam!

Volunteers from the group crocheted, knitted and felted around 2,000 poppies for a spectacular display at St Margaret’s Church, Wolstanton, to honour all who had lost their lives in war.

The Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Boost awards celebrated the borough’s lockdown heroes with an award ceremony broadcast via YouTube..

Winners included Cyber Kiln, Hollies Haberdashery, the Anasma Greek Bakery and Castle Artisan Market.

Business Boost is run by volunteers from the local business community, supported by BID and the borough council.

Chair of Judges, Sarah Da Silva said: “The entries were truly inspiring and judging wasn’t easy. There was an incredible variety of entries and all had a pandemic story to tell. Covid-19 has led us to defer our normal Business Boost Awards but we wanted to recognise the companies who had gone the extra mile to strive and survive whilst support their staff and the wider Newcastle community during these very challenging times.”

As the pandemic eased, AdGiftsOnline reported renewed desire for companies to spend on corporate gifts.

The business sector had been hit hard by the fall out from Covid-19, with barely any events or conferences held in 2020 or 2021.

Sales slumped by around 70 per cent across the corporate gift sector due to the pandemic, but Ad Gifts Online director Tony Altham said confidence was on the up in the third quarter of 2021 as companies prepared for a return of events such as trade shows.

Meanwhile, in Longton, Kirklands Properties was reporting a towering success.

The completion of renovation work on a 90 ft tall chimney paved the way for the development of two new offices at the Phoenix Works, 500 King Street.

Work on the chimney, with the help of a major grant from Historic England, at a cost of  around £200,000.

December saw Washington and Riley making headlines again. The company had an extra special order. manufacturing 36 highly efficient acoustic fire doors for the British Antarctic Survey. The doors were waved off from Market Drayton on a journey to the Rothera Research Centre.

As people prepared for Christmas, Howle Communications work with mental health trainer Adam Parkes to raise awareness of the charity Taking Off The Mask.

Adam, of Biddulph, Staffordshire, founded Taking Off The Mask as a Facebook blog where he wrote his thoughts on mental health issues, ​using his own experiences as the catalyst, in an attempt to help others.

Soon, thousands of people from around the world signed up to read updates and the blog became a registered not for profit organisation, with the aim of raising awareness, ​fighting the stigma in the workplace and offering Mental Health First Aid training.

For the first time in 2021, Taking Off The Mask offered Christmas Day support. Adam said: “Christmas can be very challenging. For example, people can be severely challenged by the idea that we all have to have a perfect Christmas where everyone enjoys themselves and, this year, it comes on top of all the worries about Coronavirus, especially with the new Omicron virus strain constantly in the news headlines.”

All these stories have appeared in the media. You can also find them all, and more stories from companies and charities, at www.public-relations-consultants.co.uk/news.