Our Review of the Year – companies and charities provide glimmers of light in a dark Covid fog

2020 has been an extremely unusual year. Business has been hard hit by lockdowns in response to the health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been hit by the virus, both in health terms and those who have suffered business interruption.

Many jobs have been lost, but there’s still been beacons of light in the gloom and here we recognise the success of our PR clients.


As a new year dawned, Coronavirus was just a speck on the horizon in the UK and we began the year by celebrating the life of a well-known Stoke-on-Trent businessman. Steve Poole passed-away in spring 2019, but his sister, Kathy, organised a commemorative event at the bet365 Stadium, to pay tribute to her brother and recognise his work as Managing Director of George Poole & Sons. Steve’s death signalled the end of trading for the company after 120 years. George Poole and Sons were closely associated with Stoke City, sponsoring games and purchasing pitch side advertising at both the Victoria Ground and then the Britannia Stadium (now bet365 Stadium) following the club’s relocation to Trentham Lakes.

Founded by Steve’s great grandfather, James, in 1896, the company was well known throughout Staffordshire and beyond, working repeatedly with major names such as Michelin Tyre, British Rail and British Steel. Its main operations included metal recycling, industrial skip hire, and haulage via Steve Poole Bulk Tippers, and it had one of only a few public weighbridges in North Staffordshire.

Stoke-on-Trent’s Central Glass and Windows began the year by announcing how recent investment had bolstered business. Significant investment in CNC fabrication machinery resulted in new work across the UK.

“Our team has grown by around a quarter, to 20, over the past three years and we’ve gained a significant new business advantage by starting to fabricate our own aluminium windows,” said Director, Gareth Dunn.


Staffordshire’s most successful networking group held its awards and annual dinner in February. BNI Staffordshire celebrated a record-breaking 12 months during which almost £10 million of revenue was generated for the local economy with a dinner and ball at Uttoxeter Racecourse attended by around 180 guests and sponsored by Phoenix Occupational Health.

Lyndsey Marchant and Katy Goldstraw at the Staffordshire BNI Awards

Awards across a host of categories, from Best Newcomer to Chapter of the Year, were hotly contested at the  event. Katy Goldstraw, of Next Generation Plastering and Resin Driveways, took the prestigious Member of the Year Award.  Operations Director Katy, a member of Leek’s James Brindley BNI has been thanked for generating over £200,000 of business for other BNI members.

BNI at 10, which meets weekly at the Moat House, Festival Park, took home the prestigious Chapter of the Year Award. Fittingly, Lyndsey Marchant, Managing Director, of the evening’s main sponsors, Phoenix Occupational Health, is a member of BNI at 10.

Further winners included: Best Newcomers, Lizzie Ward and Sean Farrell; Most Visitors, John Capper, Steph Altham and Selina Rudzik; Highest Average Referral Value, Kim Mountford; Most New Members generated, Selina Rudzik; Most High Value Referrals, Ian Walker, Most ‘Thank You for the Business’; Kim Mountford; Training and Development, joint winners Matthew Dashper-Hughes and Stephenie Altham; The Host With The Most, Roger Bennett; Most Improved Member, Andy Vaines; Most High Value Referrals, David Meigh, Unsung Hero, Catharine Aberley; Outstanding Chapter Turnaround, James Brindley; Regional Leadership Team Member of the Year, Matthew Dashper-Hughes; Charity Champion, John Lehnert; Commitment to Training and Development, Andrew Hollins and Katy Goldstraw; Emerald Standard Award, Matthew Dashper-Hughes; Biggest Contribution to Growth and Change, Katy Goldstraw; Outstanding Leadership Team, jointly to Sir Stanley Matthews, BNI at 10 and Britannia chapters.

Excellence across disciplines from pension advice, through staff training, to charity giving, resulted in full Chartered Financial Planner status for Richard Jacobs Pensions and Trustee Services Ltd. While Directors Richard Jacobs and Emily Small had already received Chartered status.it was said to be much rarer for a whole company to achieve it.

Meanwhile. marketing solutions innovators Graphix showcased how they had helped revamp and enhance Cadbury World. a visitor attraction which entertains in excess of 600,000 visitors a year. Norton, Stoke-on-Trent, based Graphix, transformed the entrance areas and corridors at the Bournville site by replacing the bland, white walls, with tough, durable wall coverings in the chocolate companies distinctive colour, now known simply as Cadbury Purple.

The Cadbury World work was one of a number of contracts keeping Graphix busy at the beginning of 2020. The year began with the design, construction and installation of an exhibition stand for Motul Oil at the Autosport International show, held at the NEC, Birmingham. Graphix also worked with Parkwood Leisure to design and construct new signage for Biddulph Valley Leisure Centre, South Moorlands Leisure Centre, Cheadle, and Brough Park Leisure Centre, Leek – the beginning of work with around 30 Parkwood leisure sites across the UK.

Award winning life coach Nicky Bartley embarked on a ground-breaking research project. Nicky launched Thrive and Shine and unveiled a partnership with Keele University, through the KRISP programme and Keele’s Smart Innovation Hub, to deliver an audit of stress in the workplace.

“It’s estimated that over 15 million days are lost every year due to employees suffering from work-related stress. This may be because of worries about performance, colleagues, how you relate to managers, finances, or technology in the workplace, to name just a few reasons,” said Nicky. “Our work will shine a light on mental health in the workplace and how it affects all aspects of our businesses, our communities, our relationships and the economy.”


Exciting plans for phase 2 of development at a historic former pottery works were announced in early March. With all available office space at the Phoenix Works, Longton, let, Mark Milner, of Kirklands Properties Ltd, unveiled plans to market the derelict neighbouring courtyard of the old Thomas Forester pottery works as a potential housing development.

Known as 500 King Street, the three storey 15.000 sq. ft. space with a courtyard and additional three storey building, at the rear, was put on the market with Mounsey Chartered Surveyors at a guide price of £375,000.

Stafford businesswoman and interior designer Sandra Johnson opened her new Staffordshire Kitchens showroom on Saturday, 14 March. The showroom, at North Walls, Stafford, features the latest in superior quality German kitchens. Unfortunately, the Government were forced to announce lockdown just a few days later. However, Sandra has continued to develop the business and has enjoyed a successful year.

International agency UP There Everywhere and their North Staffordshire based partners, Exesios, have been appointed to support the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership as they seek to brand the area as the premier destination for inward investment. Cheshire and Warrington is already the best performing economy in the North of England and one of the most successful and fastest growing economies in the country. Now UP There Everywhere will work with the LEP as they set ambitious targets to grow the Cheshire and Warrington area to a £50 billion a year economy by 2040.

Experienced nursery manager Diana Hemmings announced plans to introduce more flexible hours after buying Twinkle Tots Day Nursery, Endon. “Twinkle Tots is a fantastic nursery and has been valued by parents with young children over the years and I am excited to take it on and build on its successful foundations,” said Diana.

Lockdown led to warnings from legionella control experts, SAS Water, about the dangers of stagnation in water systems. Managing Director Lizzie Ward was kept busy answering enquiries about how to control water safety when buildings are mothballed. Regular flushing of water systems is a necessity and any building shut down during lockdown requires a risk assessment to be carried-out before the building reopens.

The lockdown also resulted in the indefinite postponement of several events announced by Howle Communications in the first three months of 2020. These included a charity fundraising trek to North Africa’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal, by Stoke-on-Trent travel agent, John Lehnert, the “longest and highest” challenge by Geens Chartered Accountants and a special Childhood Memories Weekend planned by the Kibblestone International Scout Camp.

Up and coming England cricketer Ilenia Sims is receiving support from Newcastle-under-Lyme’s Richard Jacobs Pensions and Trustee Services as she pursues a career in a sport which catapulted her great, great uncle, Harold Larwood, to international stardom. Ilenia, known as Lenny, is a rising star in the cricket world and has her sights firmly set on the next Under-19s World Cup 2021 in Bangladesh. Larwood will be familiar to all cricket  lovers, having been central to the drama in the infamous ‘Bodyline’ series.





Cheshire company Repclif Chemical Services reported brisk business with its Electrosan antiseptic spray, a safe, non-alcoholic sanitiser that beats Covid-19 bacteria.

Electrosan was launched in late 2019, but sales soared as the pandemic took hold, with Crewe-based Repclif doubling its production lines from two to four. Electrosan is sold under the Qualkem Brands name. It is stabilised hypochlorous, electrically modified water, replicating a human body’s own natural antiseptic to fight infection.


Phoenix Occupational Health split its staff to support the NHS as the pandemic took a grip in the UK. Owner Lyndsey Marchant, an occupational nurse, said allowing staff to volunteer to support the NHS was vital. “I’m a nurse and as such my first priority is to serve and the NHS needs all the help it can get right now,” said Lyndsey.

Many firms showed generosity during the pandemic. We reported on Radwell International buying consignments of face masks and distributing them to local charities and hospices. Repclif Chemical Services delivered free Electrosan to care homes and the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice. A special delivery was made to Parkhouse Care Home and Mews, Sandbach, where Rachael Anketell-Clifford, a Director of the company, was able to see her grandfather George Frazer, aged 99, while delivering Electrosan. Rachael was accompanied by her dad, Robert, who founded the company in 1971.

Meanwhile, young mum Carly Twigg. used her time on furlough to make facemasks for key workers and launched a helpful Facebook group, called Help! I’m now home schooling. The group attracted over 5,500 followers. Carly, of Newcastle-under-Lyme, works as PA to the Directors of local company Adgiftsonline.


Lymedale Business Park based Stepping Stones Education & Training celebrated its 10th anniversary in April. The company provides training services to companies including local firms Woolcool, Best of British Beer, the Paragon Pub Group and John Belfield International. It is run by Annetta Talbot and her grown up children, Andy Talbot and Rebecca Miller.

Alison Ridgway

Audiologist Alison Ridgway reacted to pandemic restrictions by announcing investment in a second hearing centre. Ridgways Hearing Care, of Newcastle-under-Lyme, added a second base at Station Buildings, Station Road, Endon. Alison said it meant treatment could continue for patients, with safe social distancing in space and that staff could be brought back from furlough.

Commercial and industrial electricians One Way Electrical also brought staff back from furlough. Managing Director Wayne Bennett stressed that electricians were key workers and said that contracts with clients such as Viridor waste management and the Capital Care Group meant that the company was in a healthy position. Wayne said: “While coronavirus has sadly taken its toll on the UK economy, there’s a need and an appetite to get moving again. We won a contract with Viridor for the electrical fit out of their Chichester recycling centre and our team will be on site in the final week in May. We will also be back on site at a waste plant in Ipswich installing power supplies for its fire-fighting system.”


UK Business IT celebrated a decade in business. Experienced IT experts Mark Swann, Ian Gloyne and David Sleight took a leap of faith when they founded UK Business IT in summer 2010. The company now turns over £750,000 a year and, three years ago, moved from its original base in Pennant House, Etruria, to the Cauldon Locks Business Centre, investing more than £50,000 in spacious offices, with high-speed internet and a high-quality work environment for its growing team.

Congratulations were due in June to Sean Hurst, of Richard Jacobs Pensions and Trustee Services Ltd. He was crowned New Paraplanner of the Year in the 2020 Professional Paraplanner of the Year Awards.

Legionella specialists SAS Water Ltd reported new jobs and contract wins. The company worked through Coronavirus lockdown as legionella monitoring and compliance is regarded as an essential service, with legionella consultants and plumbers having key worker status. Managing Director Lizzie Ward said: “We’re looking to expand further in 2020 and that allows us to add to our plumbing team. Our business plan also includes plans for plumbing apprenticeships in the future, giving at least two young people the chance to learn a trade.

Lizzie Ward, MD, SAS Water.

SAS Water works across all industries, having contracts with manufacturers, social housing providers and in the leisure sector. Recent work included ensuring 100 hot tubs were tested at a luxury holiday lodge park in East Anglia, work on wet facilities at Port Vale FC, and the fitting of new RPZ Valves for Balfour Beatty at a series of care homes.

Commercial Finance Specialists Beta CF were shortlisted for a prestigious national award. Recognition for the Staffordshire Moorlands based firm is an acknowledgment of Beta Commercial Finance’s commitment to solving complex financial cases and getting the right solutions to support companies. Director Tom Wilkinson said he was encouraged to apply for the Commercial Broker Awards at the suggestion of a bank manager who had witnessed how the company was willing to go the extra mile to find finance for clients, even in the most complex of cases.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to additional design and print work for Graphix. The Norton, Stoke-on-Trent based business pulled out all the stops to produce coronavirus and social-distancing signage has supported around 100 companies and organisations. Manging Director Steve Ward said: “There’s been a huge demand from companies needing to get back to work after lockdown and we were ideally placed to meet it as we have graphic designers, signage specialists and a hi-tech printing plant, all on the same site.”

BPA Safety were also busy helping companies to stay safe during the pandemic. Director Darren Bedson said: “Our workload has increased due to the demand for Covid-19 safety policies and site surveys. New clients have approached us from a range of sectors and from various locations across England. A greater attention to safety and hygiene is going to be part of what people are calling the new normal.”


As the second wave of the pandemic ravages the UK this December, it may seem strange that hopes were high in July as businesses worked to get back into the offices and the hospitality sector reopened. We reported on such optimism as the White Hart, Alton, welcomed back visitors following lockdown. The White Hart is a community run pub and is important to the Staffordshire Moorlands village. It reopened on 4 July with table service, hand sanitiser stations, card payment machines and screens separating bar staff from customers.

Meanwhile, Stoke-based Security Services Group were advising customers to install Temperature Monitoring Access Control (TMAC) solutions brought to the market for the first time in June. “This is brand new technology and its ideal for organisations looking to monitor health as people emerge from lockdown following the coronavirus lockdown,” said Dave Critchley, Sales Manager.

Young footballers in North Staffordshire were benefiting from better pitches, toilets and changing rooms, thanks to the support of locally based grants and funding expert Andrew Heaward. Andrew, of Heaward Solutions, worked with Staffordshire Ladsandads to support improvements at their Trubshaw Cross football centre and at pitches across North Staffordshire.

Blythe Bridge based funding expert Andrew set up consultancy Heaward Solutions almost three years ago and has won £1m in grants and other funding for charities and sports clubs. Along with helping Ladsandads, Heaward Solutions has won funding for a diverse range of community groups across the UK, including giving strategic support to the successful Milton Keynes bid to be crowned European City of Sport 2020.

It is said that “you’re on mute” is one of the most familiar phrases of 2020. Many businesses and organisations are using online meeting solutions to work smartly during the pandemic. Tony Altham, Executive Director at Staffordshire BNI, told how the referral marketing organisation had successfully used Zoom to provide weekly networking meetings for around 250 businesses. While there was no way that face-t- face meetings could be allowed, Tony said that many members had used Zoom to make new contacts and join meetings across the world.

Cheshire hygiene specialists Qualkem Brands struck a unique deal with children’s charity Barnardo’s. The socially-minded company pledged donations to the UK wide charity from sales of its groundbreaking Electrosan antiseptic spray and face masks.

A renowned chef who has catered for international sports teams and the RHS at Hampton Court embarked on a new venture, bringing his sumptuous service to homes across Staffordshire. Gavin Evans launched his new company Gavin the Chef to bring fine dining into customers’ homes.

The Gavin the Chef brand was born out of lockdown. Gavin, of Cheadle, has 25-years of experience, taking on prestigious roles, including Head Chef for the Formula One British Grand Prix and RHS at Hampton Court, and relief head chef at the Rugby World Cup and with the England cricket team.


In early August, we reported that Beta Commercial Finance had appointed two new staff members and were planning further growth. New starters in 2020 were Commercial Manager Becky Kilday and Account Manager Sue Matthews and the Alton-based business has further plans to add two more staff.

All charities saw income fall in 2020 as face-to-face fundraising events had to be cancelled, but we were delighted to be able to help Alice Charity to raise awareness as they innovated to hold their first online challenge event. The North Staffordshire charity teamed up with fitness platform Strava to challenge supporters to ride a virtual Tour de France. Participants could choose to follow the whole gruelling 2,156 mile tour or ride just a single mile.

The event was a great success, raising awareness of the charity’s work to more people and bringing in thousands of pounds of vital funds through sponsorship. Howle Communications were able to secure a television feature on BBC Midlands Today, featuring charity personnel and up and coming GB cyclist, Josh Marsden.

There was good news for Stoke-on-Trent in August as we revealed that Historic England funding had been secured to preserve and repair the 90ft chimney towering above the former Phoenix Works, in Longton. Building owners Kirklands Properties made a successful bid for 90 per cent of the £100,000 costs of repair and renovation of the 90ft high chimney at the former Thomas Forester & Sons majolica factory. Kirklands Properties have redeveloped the site as a thriving business centre and retail site.

Meanwhile, photographer Cathy Bower was able to donate large amounts of food to the City Dogs Home, Stoke-on-Trent, as a result of a campaign to highlight the need for people to source pet dogs from rescue centres, rather than breeders. An award- winning Leek-based commercial photographer, Cathy asked rescue dog owners to tell her what made their pet special. She then pledged to donate food whenever people commission her to photograph their dogs.

Summer 2020 saw Howle Communications work with Home Instead Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent to produce a magazine for their clients, business associates and friends. Born from a desire by Home Instead to provide useful information and provide entertainment during the pandemic, the magazine featured Home Instead news, useful phone numbers, spotlights on charities and local business, plus puzzles and a colouring page. Design and print services were provided by Graphix and we distributed 1,500 copies across North Staffordshire.


Rydale Roofing unveiled plans for a roofing school in North Staffordshire. The Silverdale company signed an agreement with Juniper Training to launch the Building Futures, Stoke-on-Trent Roofing Hub. With an ageing workforce, roofing is facing a skills shortage while, at the same time, there’s no formal pathway for school leavers to start a career in the industry. With the first course due to start in February 2020, and plans for construction companies across the area to pledge support, the new roofing hub will create job opportunities for youngsters across North Staffordshire and beyond.

Award winning tech-innovators Enlighten, of Tamworth, added 3D modelling to their business offering. The company is well-known for its expertise in Augmented Reality for business and education.

Longton-based commercial and industrial contractors, One Way Electrical, unveiled a new business brand – EV Smart Charging Solutions. Managing Director, Wayne Bennett said: “EV Smart Charging Solutions will work in the domestic and commercial markets. More car manufacturers are now producing electric cars and vans and the public demand is there. A recent survey by the AA showed that the main barrier to purchasing an electric vehicle is the fear of not being able to charge it and we believe that’s where our new business can help.”

A new website for the company was built in collaboration with locally-based Graphix, see www.evsmartcharging.co.uk


Parcel company DPD brightened up October with a fantastic delivery to North Staffordshire-based Alice Charity. The company donated a van to the charity which will be used to deliver much needed furniture and white goods to vulnerable families across Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The vehicle is a vital part of the Pass It On service provided by Alice Charity in response to an ever-increasing need for basic household items for struggling families.

Howle Communications addressed the emerging issue of long-Covid in October. We worked with Carys Roberts, of Swan Physio, and Lyndsey Marchant, of Phoenix Occupational Health to tell how longer-term issues were impacting survivors of Coronavirus. Cases included an ultra-marathon runner who caught Covid, recovered from the main illness, but was left breathless and unable to manage a flight of stairs without getting out of breath.

Journalist Mark Edwardson gave a personal insight, stating: “I can only describe the feeling as like being trampled to death. I was confined to the house from March to June and, even up until late July, getting through a day without feeling exhausted was unthinkable.”

Leading Staffordshire creative company Graphix announced a further deal with local Championship football club, Stoke City. The partnership means Graphix will supply all print & signage at the bet365 stadium, the club’s Clayton Woods training complex and Stoke City FC retail outlets. While the Graphix name would again be amongst advertisers featured on the wrap-around pitch side LED advertising boards. Steve Forrest, Business Development Manager at Stoke City FC, said: “We enjoy a great working relationship with Graphix and they are now moving into their third season as Stoke City’s Official Commercial Print and Signage Supplier. Knowing that we can count on them to consistently produce, deliver and install quality print and signage in a fast and efficient manner fills us with great confidence. Stoke City enjoys a great relationship with the team at Graphix.”

North Staffordshire travel consultant John Lehnert reacted decisively to a dreadful pandemic-hit year for his industry by using his time to rebrand his business and to plan for a brighter future. Determined to fight back, seasoned sales professional John, set a new course for 2021 and beyond, rebranding his company as Get Set Go travel and future proofing the business with the introduction of his son, Matthew, into the travel sector. John said: “Coronavirus has caused the biggest crisis in this industry that anyone has ever known, but the fundamentals remain… people love to travel. The only reaction to a crisis is to work hard to bounce back strongly and to prepare for the future, I have taken time to look at my business, identify the strengths and weaknesses and make changes.” Get Set Go is part of Not Just Travel.


There was more good news from One Way Electrical in early November with the appointment of a new national business development manager. Chris Buckley joined the business, taking the head count at One Way Electrical to 13, with plans for further sales development staff in the pipeline.

Staffordshire hamper

With more people determined to “shop local” for Christmas, Adgiftsonline unveiled their new Staffordshire themed hamper. Choices include Moorland Pottery, Just Crisps, Guernsleigh Cheese, Brampton Candles, Hasbean Coffee, with an offer for any Staffordshire company with suitable goods to discuss how to get them on to the product list for the hamper. Based at Lymedale Business Park, Newcastle, Adgiftsonline is one of the UK’s leading corporate gift suppliers and the new Staffordshire hamper gave companies an opportunity to showcase their products to a nationwide audience.

Up to eight start-up businesses in Staffordshire were given the chance to benefit from a free membership offer from the county’s largest business networking organisation. In response to the pandemic, BNI Staffordshire unveiled plans to give free membership to one 2020 start-up at each of its established networking groups in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire Moorlands and Stafford Borough as part of a UK and Ireland programme known as the BNI Givers Gain Grant.

November saw animation company Carse and Waterman unveil plans to help the development of the digital economy in Stoke-on-Trent. The company acquired a former NatWest Bank, in Stoke, with plans to develop it not only as their company headquarters, but as a digital and creative hub to be known as Framescape. Run as a not for profit community asset, Framescape will offer a space for young people to learn about digital skills.


As new vaccines against Covid-19 were announced, companies were looking forward to and planning for a brighter 2021.

The Building Futures Stoke-on-Trent Roofing Hub announced that it was now seeking applicants from young people who were looking to start training in February. Julie Mirowski, of Rydale Roofing, said 15 companies had pledged their support for the venture.

Signature Financial Services, of Newcastle-under-Lyme, were celebrating in December after being named Property Finance Experts of the Year in the Midlands Enterprise Awards. The prestigious award celebrates the hard work and ambition of the growing team and their desire to innovate and position themselves as market leaders in their field. Signature FS continued to grow through lockdown, adding four new employees to their Lymedale-based team.

A new recruitment company, which began trading in summer 2020, reported that they were set to grow in 2021 after helping 100 people find jobs in less than six months. Blink Recruitment, based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, has created four jobs within its own business and expects to bring in further new recruits in 2021.The company was launched by successful digital services entrepreneur Tracy Hollins and experience recruiter, Dan Rodziewicz.

Finally, we featured a successful year for Inspired Film and Video. The Stoke-based national film makers saw all their summer live film opportunities disappear due to lockdown, but they came back stronger than ever by developing an online, cyber secure solution, which has been used to host conferences and exhibitions across the world – yet another story of companies adapting brilliantly to defy the pandemic.

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.