Welcome from Warwickshire County Council chief executive Monica Fogarty

Hello and welcome to the April edition of Warwickshire Means Business.

It is encouraging to read in this edition that the most recent Quarterly Economic Survey revealed rising optimism amongst the business community in our region.

The roll-out of the vaccination programme, alongside the easing of lockdown restrictions, has led to an increase in business confidence, particularly within the service sector. Of course, we all know that challenges remain, and will remain for some time to come, but I do believe there is room for cautious optimism.

One of the biggest challenges ahead for our economy is that the business landscape post-COVID will be very different in many ways. Warwickshire businesses have adapted to the demands of the pandemic with outstanding creativity, enterprise and resilience and those attributes will continue to be very much needed in the months ahead.

Of one thing you can be certain - whatever the challenge your business faces, Warwickshire County Council and our partners across the Region will be here to help in every way we can.

Nowhere are the needs of businesses evolving more quickly than in the area of Skills and in this edition of Warwickshire Means Business we feature our Employability & Skills Team, led by Fay Winterburn.

I can't speak highly enough of the work that Fay and her six-strong team helping to equip businesses with the skills they need and young people with the careers they deserve. The Team is full of ideas and also has the talent and application to turn those ideas into reality.

There is so much going on...please have a read about the many projects they are current delivering and get in touch about any that could benefit your business.

Also in this edition of Warwickshire Means Business, please read about some other funding opportunities coming down the track. Our very successful Adapt & Diversify grants will soon open for a second round as we seek investment projects to submit to the Government's Community Renewal Fund.

Our Sustain, Support & Grow programme is still offering invaluable support of the sort which has enabled Leamington & Warwick Gymnastic Club to remain at the heart of its community.

Please read too about Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire Business Pledge, the rollout of full fibre broadband into six more towns in Warwickshire...and much more in another bumper edition of WMB.

Yes, there is room for optimism - and while rebuilding the economy in the months ahead will take a lot of long hours and hard yards from businesses, you can be sure that the Economy & Skills team at Warwickshire County Council will be right there beside you.


Featured News

County Council invites bids for Government’s Community Renewal Fund

“This is a national fund and is likely to be highly competitive...it is essential that we bring forward a set of high quality, well-developed project proposals that can deliver quickly."

Warwickshire County Council is looking for projects that will encourage investment in skills, local business, improving communities as a place to live, and supporting people into employment.

The County Council is the lead authority for the £220m Community Renewal Fund and will receive and assess bids to submit to Government for consideration.

The County Council will work with local partners, including the five district and borough councils, community and voluntary organisations and the education sector, including universities, to identify local projects and work up bids designed to stimulate growth.

The Community Renewal Fund is allocating funding until the end of March 2022. A hundred places across the UK have been identified as priority areas by Government, none of which are in Warwickshire. However, this does not exclude strong Warwickshire-based applications from consideration and success.

Speaking around the launch of the fund, Mark Ryder, Strategic Director for Communities at Warwickshire County Council, said: “This is a national fund and is likely to be highly competitive. It is essential that we bring forward a set of high quality, well-developed project proposals that can deliver quickly.

“I am confident that, alongside our partners, we will be ready to submit compelling proposals that, if successful, can make a real difference in Warwickshire.”

Further information about Warwickshire applications to the Community Renewal Fund can be found at www.warwickshire.gov.uk/crf.

Alongside the Government’s criteria for applications, the County Council is particularly seeking proposals around priorities identified as including, in Warwickshire: Skills needs around the county’s future growth sectors such as electric vehicles, battery technology, creative and digital; enterprise and start-up support, particularly for young people and under-represented groups; inclusive employment support for more vulnerable groups, and exploring innovative approaches to supporting the rural economy.

Other areas for consideration will include community projects round culture-led regeneration, improving green spaces and preserving local assets that can then stimulate the local economy and create local employment, particularly among young people.

The funding is revenue-based so applications will not be supported if they are intended for purchase of land, construction or large equipment.

Support with applications is available from Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership. Applicants can email projects@cwlep.com for advice and help in assessing whether their proposal is suitable and, if so, how best to shape their application.

Sarah Windrum, chair of the CWLEP said: “We fully support the council’s ambition and would look to work with applicants to give them the greatest chance of success to help deliver the priorities that will help our communities to bounce back.

“Our Strategic Reset Framework – which aligns with county’s Economic Growth Strategy and Recovery Plan – is the key long-term economic recovery strategy and vision to drive Coventry & Warwickshire’s economy as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, and success in the Community Renewal Fund would support that effort.”

Adapt & Diversify grants scheme opens for second round

"The first round of grants saw over 50 businesses benefiting and they are already adapting their offer so that they can be sustainable, grow and continue to offer employment."

A Warwickshire County Council grants scheme which helped more than 50 small businesses adapt to the challenges of the pandemic is about to reopen for a second time.

The Council is inviting small businesses in the retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors, and associated supply chains, to apply for a range of grants in the second round of its Adapt and Diversify grant scheme.

The scheme was launched to support businesses most affected by Covid-19 and complements the Government grants available through the District and Borough Councils by providing additional support for investment in external expertise, new equipment or the refurbishment of property.

Applications for the first round arrived at such a rate that the scheme had to be paused after only a day. More than 50 businesses received a combined £625,000 and a further £850,000 is now available in round two.

David Ayton-Hill, Warwickshire County Council’s Assistant Director for Communities, said: “We have relaunched the Adapt and Diversify grant scheme to continue our support to businesses who have been badly affected by the pandemic. The first round of grants saw over 50 businesses benefiting and they are already adapting their offer so that they can be sustainable, grow and continue to offer employment.

"That is terrific news and we are now in position to invite more businesses to do the same.

“The first round of this grant was very well received and had to be paused after just one day. Our County Council Officers worked tremendously hard to filter through the large number of applications and are poised ready for Round 2 of this grant programme to go live.

"I would ask that applicants familiarise themselves with what information is required for their application, so that they are best prepared when the online application process goes live. We are expecting this round to also to be very popular, so ask for businesses understanding, in that we will try to feedback to them as soon as we can.”

A webinar offering guidance on completing applications to give the best possible chance of a successful bid can be viewed here

Grants of between £2,500 and £5,000 are available towards the costs of specialist advice –(accountants, legal advice, digital specialist) and between £2,500 and £20,000 for accessing speciality expertise and/or the purchase of new equipment or the refurbishment of property.

Lee Osborne, Development Manager, Warwickshire & Coventry Federation of Small Businesses, said: “I’m delighted to see Warwickshire County Council relaunch Adapt and Diversify. This programme offers real opportunities particularly for those in the supply chains of the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors who have been hit hard by the pandemic to access some finance to allow them to not only survive the immediate future but look ahead positively with a stronger business offer.

“I would urge any small businesses to attend the webinar or view it after the event in order to have the best possible guidance available before making their applications.”

The Adapt and Diversify grant application window opens at 9.30am on Monday 17 May at on a first come, first served basis with businesses urged to use the interim period to prepare their applications. For more details, please visit here.

For information about the wide range of other support for businesses, contact Coventry and Warwickshire LEP Growth Hub on 0300 060 3747.

Indie Festival will bring small businesses and local creative talent together

"The festival will help reanimate the high-street and give shoppers something different to experience when they return. It has been wonderful to see the businesses working together in support of bring customers back to the town centre safely."

A new and exciting indie festival bringing small business and the creative community together will take place in Royal Leamington Spa town centre from May 1st to 31st.

Creative Leamington have partnered with local retailers and businesses to create an exhibition of some of the best local young talent from Leamington, Coventry and Warwickshire.

The public will be able to experience artwork showcased in shop windows and interact via QR codes linking to a new dedicated website and interactive map. The website, developed by emerging tech company Blunt and Brave, will also provide shoppers with an opportunity to redeem voucher codes and offers in collaboration with the shops and spaces involved, creating a map of businesses that provided both artistic engagement and opportunities to shop.

The festival, funded by Warwickshire County Council's Town Centres Tech Challenge, is designed to support businesses in their recovery from the pandemic by increasing footfall in the town centre. It will see the occupied and vacant retail window spaces turn into an open air art gallery for the public to experience whilst they shop and hopefully lead people to retailers they may not have come across before.

Stacy O'Connor, Warwickshire County Council's Digital Creative Lead, said: "We are really excited to see the Local Young Talent Festival come together. This innovative project will provide new, young talent with a platform and audience they didn't have before whilst supporting existing businesses to increase their footfall.

"The festival will help reanimate the high-street and give shoppers something different to experience when they return. It has been wonderful to see the businesses working together in support of bring customers back to the town centre safely."

The festival will also shine a light on sustainability and how we can make things beautiful in a way that “does not cost us the earth” by creating window displays in partnership with students from Leamington Spa College and Warwick University, mentored by industry experts from TonyG and CBGC Industries.

Local musicians will be showcased in the LYT Festival Sound Space at Nash White while visual artwork can also be found in shops such as Cenu Cacao, Rustic Food Co, Core, Basement Browns, Spa Town Coffee, Zero Store, Indigo, Freshly Ground Ink

Each shop will showcase a different artist across several artforms including Illustration, Fashion Design, poetry and painting with work from artists such as Gemma Grao, a contemporary artist based in Leamington Spa, TV Trev, a Black British photographer, film maker and community leader, and Jodie Fern, a jewellery designer inspired by the architecture and art of the places she visits whilst travelling.

The festival will also bring a taste of AR technology via a collaboration with local tech company RiVR, which will take over an empty retail unit in Royal Priors Shopping Centre.

LYT FESTIVAL, powered by Creative Leamington in collaboration with Blunt & Brave, is sponsored by Warwickshire County Council and supported by our local partners: BID Leamington, Wareing & Co, Royal Priors Shopping Centre, WCG Leamington Spa College, RiVR and the University of Warwick’s Creative Futures Incubator

More information and a full list of artists and local businesses involved can be found at www.lytevents.co.uk.

Groundbreaking new grant scheme helps distillery brew a bright future

"The Adapt & Diversify grant gave us the scope and confidence to do what was needed."

An independent artisan spirits producer based in Stratford-upon Avon is well-equipped to move forward again following the pandemic after benefiting from a new grant scheme from Warwickshire County Council.

Shakespeare Distillery applied for support from the council's Adapt & Diversify grants scheme which is designed to help businesses adapt to future challenges as COVID restrictions ease.

In the first round of the scheme, 52 successful applicants collectively secured over £600,000 of funding to help them face the future with renewed confidence. Details of a second round will be released soon.

In the case of Shakespeare Distillery, a £20,000 grant was deployed in three very different ways which will not only help the business deal with the current challenges but also have significant benefits in the medium and long terms.

"The Adapt & Diversify Grant has been a huge help to us in three ways," said Director Peter Monks.

"We get a lot of requests from customers for personalised labels for birthdays and other special occasions, so some of the funding went on a high-quality printer which will enable us to put personalised gift messages on our products in a really polished way.”

“The grant also enabled us to improve our website, which is vital because e-commerce will be so important in the months and years ahead. I think, like a lot of businesses, we had quietly forgotten about the website, assuming it was just doing its job, but actually it badly needed updating. It is essential for a small business to have an online presence that punches its weight, and ours will certainly do that after the update. It will be much more attractive and will give us more visibility on Google thanks to the specialist advice we accessed via the grant.

"The funding also went towards new equipment to help with the production of a series of new Warwickshire rums, named Jester which we have just launched. The grant has helped us retrofit a piece of equipment to our 500-litre still ‘Ophelia’ and then it became clear that we also needed greater storage capacity, so we have also acquired some new storage drums.”

"After a tough year these improvements would probably have had to wait without the council support, but the Adapt & Diversify grant gave us the
scope and confidence to do what was needed. Now we are in the best possible place to move forward again and are aiming to recruit additional staff in the coming months."

For more information about Warwickshire County Council's Adapt & Diversify grants please visit here.

For more information about Shakespeare Distillery please visit http://www.shakespearedistillery.com/

Gymnastics Club harnesses SSG support to stay at the heart of its community

Gymnastics Club"The support that LWGC has received from Warwickshire County Council (WCC) through the Survive, Sustain and Grow programme has been fundamental in securing the future of the club"

A gymnastics club at the heart of its community believes that input from a Warwickshire County Council business support programme was "fundamental" to its survival of the pandemic.

Leamington & Warwick Gymnastics Club (LWGC) is a thriving organisation, run by passionate local people, built on the philosophy that gymnastics should be accessible to everyone.

Their mission is to instil confidence in a fun and safe environment where gymnasts can try new skills, be proud of their achievements and together celebrate being the best they can be.

Since its foundation in 2010, the club has become a true focal point of the district community. By March 2020, it was serving hundreds of members and employing 30 members of staff - then COVID hit.

The pandemic had an enormous impact on the club, with the gym able to open for only three of 12 months. Within hours of the first national lockdown, they were receiving up to 50 cancellation requests per day and took the decision to temporarily reduce their fees to stem the flow of cancellations.

With the forced closure lasting considerably longer than anticipated, and rent, loans and other financial commitments to meet, by the time LWGC were able to reopen on 31st August, they had lost hundreds of thousands of pounds turnover.

Throughout the pandemic, the club went to great lengths to continue serving their community and ensure their business survives. They adapted in a number of ways to keep children active as their reduced team worked tirelessly to provide youngsters with the opportunity to continue participating in gymnastics.

Despite their best efforts, when LWGC reopened in August, they had lost almost 500 members. Due to new social distancing requirements, they had to reduce capacity for all classes by between 25% and 50%, limiting their ability to increase participation and revenue.  It was during this period that the club enrolled onto the Warwickshire County Council's, Sustain, Survive and Grow initiative - and that, reflects director Dave O'Neill, was the turning point.

"The support that LWGC has received from Warwickshire County Council (WCC) through the Survive, Sustain and Grow programme has been fundamental in securing the future of the club," he said.

"The focused mentoring support has enabled the business to adapt and diversify, to keep children engaged in the sport and ensure the clubs survival.

"The county council team also supported us with accessing and securing a grant through the SSG programme, which has allowed us to purchase a new covered landing area. This very hygienic product, with PVC matting on top, is cleanable after each use and therefore provides a COVID-secure option, enabling the club to reopen three key pieces of apparatus."

SSG programme specialist consultant Anita Dinnes, was delighted to advise the club.

 “Whilst the main challenge was putting in place a COVID survival strategy for the business," she said, "the SSG intervention also helped LWGC to explore all marketing avenues they could adopt to support the business. The implementation of this has been an enabler for the company to retain the staff that were at risk”.

Jagdish Soor, Lead SSG Consultant, added: “The grant award will have a huge impact on LWGC’s sustainability, their ability to attract new members to the club and will undoubtedly support their recovery from the pandemic."

More advice webinars will support the reopening of hospitality and leisure

WebinarWith the next milestone on the Government Roadmap out of Lockdown, Warwickshire County Council and its partners will host further webinars to provide information and advice for businesses operating in the hospitality and leisure sector.

From the week commencing May 17th, if all goes to plan with the roadmap, stage three will allow the reopening of indoor hospitality and other indoor leisure locations such as cinemas and children’s play areas; the rest of the accommodation sector, including hotels, hostels and B&Bs; and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes.

Taking place on May 4th and May 11th, the online sessions will provide a local focus for the national guidance, and the opportunity for business owners and managers to put questions to those on the panel, who are drawn from local authority regulatory and public health, as well as the police and fire service.

Businesses interested in taking part will not need to pre-register, but can just click on the links below at the relevant times to join the webinars. Earlier webinars have proved popular with businesses and voluntary groups, with 200 live attendees and over 400 views of the recordings on Youtube.

Other helpful links can be found on the County Council coronavirus business pages.

The roadmap, which is published on gov.uk, outlines four steps for easing restrictions. Before proceeding to the next step, the Government will examine the data to assess the impact of previous steps, but all going well the lockdown easing will follow these key dates.

The webinars are part of a range of business support provided to business by Warwickshire County Council during the pandemic crisis. This includes a £6million package of funding earmarked by Warwickshire County Council to support the immediate economic recovery in the county, and complements the recently announced joint initiative with Coventry and Solihull councils to promote the COVID Secure Business Pledge.

To join the webinars on May 4 and 11, please click on Tues 4th May 2pm and Tues 11th May 2pm at the appropriate times.

Useful Links

Roadmap from UK Government

Recordings of Previous Webinars

Sports Clubs and Amateur Sports Bodies

Places of Worship COVID Secure Webinar

Personal Care and Close Contact Services - Warwickshire Sout

Personal Care and Close Contact Services - Warwickshire North and Rugby

Safe Re-opening of Community Buildings

Retail Re-opening - Non-essential Retail

Hospitality with Outdoor Facilities

Latest survey reveals business confidence rising amid challenges

“The roll-out of the vaccination programme, alongside the announcement of the easing of lockdown restrictions, has created significant upsurges in business confidence, particularly within the service sector, and that is encouraging reading."

Businesses in Coventry and Warwickshire emerged from the first three months of the year feeling more confident than at any point over the past 12 months, according a new survey.

The optimism emerged from Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce’s first Quarterly Economic Survey of 2021, delivered in partnership with Prime Accountants Group with analysed by the Economy & Skills Group at Warwickshire County Council.

Alongside the rising confidence, however, many concern remain about the economic recovery following Covid-19.

The report's analysis uses a similar score to the national Markits Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) where 50 is the balance and anything above means the majority feel positive and anything below means the reverse.

Of firms surveyed in Coventry and Warwickshire, service sector confidence jumped to 80.1 compared to 67.9 at the end of 2020, while the manufacturing sector moved up to 71.1 from 71.0.

There were mixed responses regarding other factors such as employment, investment and orders. In both manufacturing and the service sector, the employment index dropped below 50, suggesting a potential rise in unemployment over the coming months.

When it comes to investment and cashflow, manufacturing rose to 50.7 from 41.3 while the service sector fell from 45.3 to 43.3. On domestic sales, the service sector recorded a score of 44.1 from 40.4 while the manufacturing sector fell from a strong 73.4 in the previous quarter to 56.3.

The situation was reversed for overseas orders, with services falling from 41.7 to 37.2 and in manufacturing it rose slightly from 48.3 to 48.9. All of the responses taken together created an overall economic outlook figure of 53.0 up from 51.5 in the final quarter of 2020.

Sunny Parekh, Senior Economist at Warwickshire County Council, said: “Coventry and Warwickshire’s overall economic outlook index in the first quarter of 2021 continues to gather momentum in terms of a bounce back from the lows experienced in 2020.

“This comes despite local businesses in both the manufacturing and services sector having to navigate their way through a third national lockdown and post-Brexit related issues. It further solidifies the resilient and robust nature of Coventry and Warwickshire’s economy.

“The roll-out of the vaccination programme, alongside the announcement of the easing of lockdown restrictions, has created significant upsurges in business confidence, particularly within the service sector, and that is encouraging reading.

"There is no doubt that there are still challenging times ahead, however, with the economy opening up, there does seem to be a brighter outlook on the horizon.”

Sean Rose, Policy Officer of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “When you consider that the first three months of 2021 saw our leisure, hospitality and events sector still closed, along with non-essential retail, as well as the fact that the new trading relationship with the EU was just kicking in, these results paint a reasonably positive mood among our businesses.

“There is no question that the past 12 months have bitten hard but through a combination of government help, excellent local and regional support and businesses’ own resilience, firms are looking forward to getting back to doing what they do best.

“It’s going to take several months to really understand how our economy is going to recover and some of the confidence will have been brought on by the rapid roll out of the vaccine and the fact businesses are looking forward to trading again.

“That’s why our QES surveys are going to be vitally important in the year ahead to make sure we have our finger on the economic pulse, but we can certainly draw confidence from our survey of 2021 without being complacent.”

CityFibre to extend its full fibre infrastructure into Warwickshire

Residents in the Warwickshire towns of Atherstone, Bedworth, Leamington Spa, Nuneaton, Rugby and Warwick will soon be able to enjoy the benefits of CityFibre’s full fibre network.

A multi-million pound investment will see the six towns join the network as it rolls out from Coventry, where the work started in 2018 and has already reached more than sixty thousand properties.

The towns have been selected as CityFibre extends into much smaller conurbations, bringing the benefits of full fibre to communities outside the UK’s major towns and cities.

Leigh Hunt, CityFibre’s Regional Partnership Director for the Midlands said: “The past year has highlighted the importance of good connectivity and the need for speed and reliability. Unfortunately, many people get neither as they are working off old networks that were designed to carry sound and not data.  Our network is designed specifically for data and it brings the technology oftomorrow into people homes today. 

The difference between full fibre and regular fibre is stark. With full fibre services you can expect:

  • Increased efficiency: significantly faster upload and download speeds.
  • No more competing priorities: near limitless bandwidth - everyone at home can work, stream or game online simultaneously.
  • Connectivity you can depend on: The clever design of our networks means if there’s a break in one connection, it can instantly be rerouted via another.
  • Futureproofed for growing demand - once fibre is in the ground, it’s there for good and maintenance work is drastically reduced.

CityFibre will bring in contractors to deliver the project on their behalf. They will work closely with CityFibre and the local authorities to manage any disruption and use modern build techniques to ensure a fast and efficient roll out.

Once construction work has been completed in each neighbourhood, internet service providers (ISPs) will ‘light up the network’ with some of the fastest and more competitive broadband packages available in terms of both data and price.

Across the UK, CityFibre is already working with launch partner Vodafone and also Talk Talk to deliver the next generation broadband services, with other providers expected to join the network soon. Residents are invited to register their interest in the service now and we will provide them with updates as the build moves into their area.

The new service is not the only good news for Warwickshire, as CityFibre has committed to the creation of thousands of jobs across its network of construction partners, targeted at both skilled and unskilled people.

Last year, it announced a three-year recruitment and training programme, delivered by Nuneaton-based PQMS, to provide up to 10,000 people with jobs upgrading the UK’s digital infrastructure.  This critical initiative will underpin the UKs long-term economic recovery from the Coronavirus crisis helping to level-up the economy by enabling access to ultra-fast digital connectivity for all. 

Casting company taken to next stage by Growth Hub grant

"I’m so grateful for the support and for the grant because I knew we were capable of growing."

A Rugby business which provides extras and actors for production companies has revolutionised the way it operates after receiving a grant from the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) Growth Hub.

The Envisage Agency was established by Nichola Clydesdale in 2010 to provide promotional staff and has evolved to create a new division called the Envisage Extra & Acting Casting Agency.

The business in Buckwell Lane, Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, provides promotional staff and actors throughout the UK as well as overseas in Dubai, America, France and Germany.

Previously, the CVs of each candidate were inputted manually into its database by staff. But after receiving a £3,000 grant from the Growth Hub, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Nichola bought and installed new software which has helped to simplify their processes.

Nichola said the new system has made a massive difference to the way the business works - and led to new work.

She said: “It has revolutionised everything we do. When the pandemic hit, even though we are an event staffing business we managed to keep going because despite lockdown, production companies still needed actors and extras.

“But we were competing against casting agencies who had great technology because it is not just about having great people on your books, it is how quickly you can send their profiles. I remember one day I spent eight hours inputting profiles manually whereas other companies could send over the details quickly by email to put their clients forward and within ten minutes, the production company would have 20 or 30 applicants.

“I thought this was the time to act and so decided to get in touch with the CWLEP Growth Hub.

“Jon Bass from the CWLEP Growth Hub  has been brilliant because he knew the grants that were available and which one I could apply for. I’m so grateful for the support and for the grant because I knew we were capable of growing.

“The software is now up and running and we are easily sending clients profiles of available staff on one simple link and have launched a new website www.envisagecastingagency.co.uk to promote this new way of working. ”

Jon Bass, account manager at the CWLEP Growth Hub, said: “Nichola has a great business with over 20,000 registered extras which means it is vital their software makes the process of contacting production companies and PR agencies as smooth as possible.

"After identifying the ERDF specialist grant, we helped Nichola with the application process to successfully receive the £3,000. It is great news that the business has already won new contracts and that the whole system is much quicker and simpler for everyone involved.”

Indian cuisine business flourishes with Start Up Support

“My mentor was there all the time offering advice and the online courses were incredibly useful, which was a huge help when applying for my start-up loan."

An Indian cuisine expert and chef has started a brand-new venture that gives people the chance to learn how to create their own authentic meals.

Rama Food and Cookery Club is a Stratford-Upon-Avon business that is offering classes to teach people how to make their very own Indian food.

The company has been created by Uttam Rawat – a former development chef for a range of supermarkets who took the plunge to start the venture last year.

It all came together thanks to help and support of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce Start Up Support Service which is funded via the CW Business: Start, Grow and Scale programme. This programme for start-up businesses is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Warwickshire County Council and all five District and Borough Councils.

Uttam came up with the idea for the business during the first national lockdown when he was
placed on furlough from his job.

“I was a development chef in London and you would have seen my meals in national supermarket chains,” said Uttam. “But, at the start of the pandemic I was placed on furlough and as a way to give back to the community and also keep myself busy, I started doing cookery classes online for free. It was appreciated a lot at a time when there was not much activity available to do due to lockdown.

“I had been doing the courses at a community centre in my spare time, but when I was made redundant, I thought I could turn it into an actual business.”

In a bid to get things started, Uttam sought the advice of Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce to take the next steps.
He was given a Chamber mentor and also signed onto a range of online courses on offer including marketing, forming a business plan and social media and now the business is already branching out.

Uttam added: “Working with the Chamber was a huge help, it provided me with so much information and confidence which was extremely beneficial along the way. My mentor was there all the time offering advice and the online courses were incredibly useful, which was a huge help when applying for my start-up loan.

“Now I have already expanded the business and as well as the cookery classes, which will be back to being in person as soon as we can, we are now doing food delivery.”

Working from home, Uttam has been creating chilled bespoke meals for two which include reheating instructions that are delivered to the door and they have been getting rave reviews since they were launched. Those deliveries have been to Stratford upon Avon and surrounding
villages but the company is continually expanding its delivery area.

Uttam is hoping once the country has come out of lockdown, he can start to look for his own premises for the businesses and also create jobs.

Hardeep Sandhu, from the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Uttam’s business has been a real success story and it is great to see that it has already expanded and there are major plans for the future as well.

“He has put a huge amount of work into the business and has taken a great from all the resources that the Chamber has to offer. He is the perfect example of what you can get out of them if you put the work in. We look forward to seeing Uttam’s business grow and flourish and see how it evolves in the future.”

The Chamber has a range of start-up workshops to support people to build sustainable businesses. For more information or to book on go to www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/coventry-andwarwickshire-chamber-of-commerce-start-up-support-11874476531

For more details about Rama Food and Cookery Club visit https://ramafoodsuk.com/ or www.facebook.com/RamaFoodsCookeryClub

Coventry Solihull and Warwickshire COVID Business Pledge goes live

“The Business Pledge is our way of encouraging businesses to do the right thing and demonstrate to their customers - our residents - that it is safe to shop and do business.”

Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire councils have gone live with an initiative to support businesses to show they’re doing the right things to be COVID safe for customers and staff.

The Business Pledge is aimed at all businesses across the sub-region, including shops, factories, offices and hospitality, as a way of reassuring staff and customers that businesses and venues are operating in a COVID-secure manner.

The Pledge has been developed to support businesses as England takes further steps on the roadmap out of lockdown. It is entirely voluntary, but by signing up to the Pledge, businesses are making a positive statement that they are following the relevant guidelines and are putting in place measures to ensure their premises are COVID-secure to safeguard the health and wellbeing of employees and visitors alike.

The pledge brings together the varied requirements that have emerged during the pandemic, covering social distancing, face coverings, ventilation, vaccination, testing and isolating, employee health and well-being and risk assessments. Warwickshire County Council has worked in partnership with BIDs and local councils of Warwickshire, as well as a range of local agencies to ensure a comprehensive support to local businesses.

Warwickshire businesses can sign-up to the Business Pledge here. They will be able to read and take the pledge, sign up for information on business support, get help with risk assessments, and access the Business Pledge posters, which can be displayed in staff areas
and customer facing spaces to raise awareness and encourage confidence that the premises are COVID secure.

In addition, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Warwickshire employing 50 or less (100 or less for hospitality businesses)  who sign up will get free access to the County Council’s Employee Assistance Programme, a web and telephone resource to help
staff deal with issues affecting mental health and wellbeing, such as debt and bereavement, which are impacting many at this time.

Monica Fogarty, Chief Executive of Warwickshire County Council, said: “We want to work with businesses and offer whatever support we can to ensure their reopening and ongoing operation is as successful as possible.

“The Business Pledge is our way of encouraging businesses to do the right thing and demonstrate to their customers - our residents - that it is safe to shop and do business.”

Lee Osborne, Federation of Small Businesses Development Manager Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull said: “Our high streets and local centres are the lifeblood of our local communities and it is positive that many of our small businesses will be able to reopen.

“Many small business owners have spent significant amounts in adapting their business and putting in measures to make their premises safe. The pledge is therefore a helpful initiative for businesses to demonstrate that they are doing the right thing and following best practice to help reassure both staff and customers. This has been an unbelievably tough year for small firms and now more than ever they need our support, in any way we can.”

Louise Bennett OBE, Chief Executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, added: “Our businesses have been working incredibly hard to ensure they are COVID-19 secure, and it is vital that we work together to restore business and consumer confidence. By applying for the Pledge, they can show that shopping, visiting businesses, or returning to work, really can be a safe and enjoyable experience.”

Karen upskills and finds whole new direction thanks to Accelerate

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the need for support amongst the unemployed of Coventry and Warwickshire has grown and changed. Coventry and Warwickshire CDA's Opportunity Connector Kate Henderson shares the uplifting story of how Karen Campbell engaged with the Accelerate programme to overcome technology issues and find a new role.

“I was so thankful when I found Accelerate – the programme helped boost my confidence when I was at my lowest."

Mother-of-two Karen Campbell has spent the majority of her career working in the hospitality sector, eventually progressing to management.

When the wedding and events venue at which Karen worked was forced to close, due to the pandemic, in March 2020, the company had to let her go. Suddenly, she faced unemployment and the prospect of not being able to pay her mortgage and losing her home.

After submitting several unsuccessful job applications and receiving financial support from family members, Karen was referred to Accelerate to help build her confidence, upskill and receive support finding employment.

Karen was supported by Accelerate Journey Guide Tim Bannister. He offered guidance on potentially changing her career path as well as helping to update her CV, create cover letters and fill in applications.

She was also referred to several Accelerate partner organisations and took part in a number of free online courses, achieving Level 2 qualifications in food hygiene, health and safety and IT with the help of a loaned laptop.

Karen has now gained a position in retail and her new skills and qualifications mean she is not only able to work as a sales assistant but also provide support in the store’s bakery and café.

She said: “I’ve never been out of work before, so when the lockdown came along and I lost my job it knocked me off my feet.

“I was so worried about not being able to pay my mortgage and losing my home. It’s just me and my daughter living there and she’s at university so I really didn’t want to worry her.

“I was so thankful when I found Accelerate – the programme helped boost my confidence when I was at my lowest.

“When you’ve been employed for so long you can find applying for new jobs out of your comfort zone, but my journey guide Tim provided me with a huge amount of support. It was so nice to have someone to talk to about my situation who could provide me with advice and guidance. I hadn’t really thought about retail until Tim showed me that I had a range of transferrable skills.

“He also supported me to find the right job for my circumstances. I live in a small village with a very limited bus service and I had to stop taking driving lessons when I lost my job, but he helped me find a retail position which I could get to.

“I’m so lucky that I had both my family and Tim providing me with so much support. Having a network of people really goes a long way.

“I’d urge anyone who is unemployed to contact Accelerate. A lot of people don’t look for help because of their pride, but everyone needs to put that aside because nobody is going to give you a job unless you work for it. I’m 54 and demonstrating that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”

Tim added: “Karen knew it would be difficult to go back into hospitality under the current circumstances, but was willing to branch out and take advantage of any upskilling opportunities.

“The courses really helped secure her new position as they provided added value to the employer, enabling Karen to fulfil the role of sales assistant but also support in other areas of the business.

“The Accelerate project was originally designed to support those furthest from employment, but Covid has completely changed this. We have been inundated with people in a similar position to Karen, especially people struggling with access to technology now they are unable to visit libraries and job centres.

“We are able to provide people with a service that is tailored to their specific needs and support them in working towards their goals.”

To help combat this technology gap, Coventry and Warwickshire CDA are running a recycled computer project, where the computers donated will be refurbished and given to those from communities encountering health issues, deprivation, loneliness or who are struggling to access the job market.

If you have a laptop or tablet that you could donate to be recycled for this project, please contact Mandy Bygrave on m.bygrave@cwcda.co.uk

* The Accelerate project, funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund, supported by Warwickshire County Council, is a partnership of local organisations run by Coventry and Warwickshire CDA who are a not-for-profit organisation providing a range of enterprise, employability and financial inclusion services. For more information, please visit www.accelerate.org.uk/

Digital support available to SMEs from Coventry University initiative

A new digital connectivity initiative part-funded by ERDF and led by Coventry University, is set to benefit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Coventry and Warwickshire by providing a range of physical and virtual services through a network of activities across the region.

The project will cover multiple market sectors, but will be of particular interest to SMEs operating in areas such as intelligent mobility, creative digital, advanced manufacturing, and health and wellbeing.

The aim is to provide a range of digital support activities for SMEs to pilot new products, services and business models by harnessing broadband, WiFi, 4G and 5G connectivity.

Coventry University will work with a range of business partners across Coventry and Warwickshire, including Warwickshire County Council, to help boost innovation and generate the economic benefits - productivity, growth and job creation - that this exciting opportunity brings.

The County Council is working alongside the University to provide space at its business centre in Nuneaton for the project to support local businesses.

One strand of the project is match-funded revenue grants which are available for SMEs to fund up to 50% of projects with a value of between £8,000 and £20,000. They are specifically to fund external proof of concept type activity which may include prototyping and market research.

To apply, SMEs must be trading in Coventry & Warwickshire and be able to fund the remaining project costs themselves. Projects need to have an innovative approach for the company or industry and use 5G.

To find out more information, please contact the project team at uxplore@cusltd.co.uk or visit: https://www.coventry.ac.uk/business/our-services/futuredigital-connectivity/

Special Feature

What is a Negative Interest Rate?

Record low interest rates in the light of the pandemic have raised the prospect of businesses and the UK economy having to deal with Negative Interest Rate at some point. The Bank of England has stressed that such a move is not imminent, but, so that WMB readers can be equipped for every eventuality, Emily Newport, Insight Analyst (Economy) at Warwickshire County Council, outlines the potential impact.  

 What is a Negative Interest Rate?

The nominal interest rate ordinarily decides the percentage charged for borrowing and the percentage rewarded for saving/lending which is determined by the bank rate set by the Bank of England. This has recently been set to a record low rate of 0.1% in an attempt to encourage spending and borrowing, rather than saving, during this period of incredibly low economic activity.

Historically in the UK, the interest and bank rate has always been positive, but more recently the Bank of England have suggested that whilst its use is not imminent, having a negative interest rate is something they have in their toolkit to encourage economic growth.

Negative interest rates are an unconventional form of monetary policy which has been used in a few countries, including of Japan (January 2016) and Switzerland (January 2015) , and involves putting the interest rate below zero.

If the Bank of England applies this, UK banks and other financial institutions will be under pressure to pass this rate on to their customers to ensure they remain cost-effective. This would put building societies in particular, due to the dependence on savings, in a compromising position.

Why are we concerned with Negative Interest Rates Now?

As mentioned above, whilst the Bank of England have said the implementation of negative interest rates are not imminent, if at all, they have asked if banks and building societies could be prepared to implement them by the end of the summer.

The latest from the Bank of England suggests that the UK economy will have recovered by the end of 2021, back to its end of 2019 position, meaning they may have to pull out all the stops to get there given the near 10% drop experienced over 2020.

In implementing negative interest rates, the intention would be to avoid businesses and individuals choosing to sit on capital and instead encourage them to spend, invest, and lend the economy towards recovery. That being said, this is only one potential tool that would be used in a larger package of economic recovery measures to stimulate growth.


If the bank rate drops below zero, this means the gap between the total money that financial institutions make on loans and the reward they pay to savers will reverse, close and ultimately be less profitable using their current interest rates. In order to remain sustainable, they will be forced to pass the new negative bank rate on to consumers.

Consequently, loans and borrowing will be made profitable, whilst savings will be discouraged and chargeable. At a micro level we could expect this to impact: Variable rate mortgages and rent, as the amount owed per month would be less; savings as these become chargeable, though it is likely to impact the wealthier more; borrowing and loans which will become cheaper and profitable.

Property will become more affordable, and spending and banking habits will change to adapt to the new rate.

It is important to note that many financial institutions will want to remain competitive and may be hesitant to pass negative rates on to their customers. Furthermore, there may be a variety of existing terms and conditions that prevents the passing on of a negative interest rate.

Further to this, the interest rate also has macro level effects on inflation, causing it to rise, thus increasing the cost of living. It also depreciates the currency value, reducing Foreign Direct and imports as the UK becomes less profitable and attractive, but making UK exports more competitive as they appear more affordable.

Emily Newport (emilynewport@warwickshire.gov.uk)

Guest column

Credit Unions offer benefits to employees and employers

At a time when the financial pressures on families are accentuated more than ever due to the pandemic, the value of payroll savings and loan schemes, to both employees and employers, has never been greater. Sean Lynch, Chief Executive of Citysave Credit Union explains...

The pandemic has shone a light on the financial fragility of some families and highlighted the need for all of us to have fast recourse to either savings or fair-priced finance from a reliable source.

Research from 2019 shows 11.5m million adults in the UK have less than £100 saved. Unexpected life events, without savings or access to a fair loan provider, can make such adults vulnerable to very high-cost payday lenders and even loan sharks. But employers can help employee wellbeing, and keep them away from the sharks, by adding a simple payroll deduction scheme to their employee benefits.

In 2019 the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) funded research on how workplace payroll savings and loan schemes can help people improve their financial wellbeing. The initial findings from the study suggest that those who save with a Credit Union through payroll are directly benefiting from such schemes:

•  More than three quarters (78%) of people who save with a credit union through payroll deductions are far more likely to save regularly compared to just over half (55%) of non-payroll savers who are with a credit union, and just under half of staff (47%) who are not members of a credit union at all

•  Almost all payroll savers (96%) would recommend this type of scheme to their co-workers, and said ease and simplicity of this type of saving (79%) is the biggest draw

•  Almost two thirds (62%) of people not already saving via payroll deductions were unaware that they could save in this way

The research also looked at the financial wellbeing of staff at two employers and revealed the financial struggles facing workforces:

•  Half of workers (50%) agreed that their financial situation makes them anxious

•  More than a third (37%) agreed that money worries had affected their health (physical and mental wellbeing) over the
past year

•  31% agreed that money worries affected their family relationships over the past year

•  18% agreed that money worries had affected their work over the past year

Michael Royce, Senior Policy and Propositions Manager at the Money and Pensions Service said: “An increasing number of
employers are recognising the need to address money worries amongst their workforces, with research showing 22% noted that
productivity was reduced due to money-related stress.

"We hope these trials bring to light the important role employers have to play in improving the financial wellbeing of their staff and
will move them to offer similar payroll saving schemes.”

In Warwickshire, Warwickshire County Council and two District Councils have taken the lead have introduced payroll schemes for
their staff with Citysave Credit Union.

Credit unions

Credit unions are an alternative to high street banks and building societies. A credit union is a financial co-operative run by its
members for the benefit of its members.All Warwickshire County Council staff are now eligible to join the Citysave credit union. Credit unions provide an easy, hassle free way to save or borrow, and members have the option to have and deductions taken direct from net pay. Member savings do not attract interest but as a co-operative any profit at the end of each year is given back to members in the form of a dividend on
savings. Citysave has paid a dividend of 0.25% on instant access savings for each of the last three years.

Who are Citysave?

Citysave Credit Union was initially registered in 1988 to provide easily accessible savings and borrowing facilities to Birmingham
municipal workers. Today, Citysave provides savings and loans to over 7,000 members from the wider Midlands community and
manages over £9m of local savings. Savings are fully protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

How can employers get involved to help their staff access this benefit?

Please visit https://www.citysave.org.uk/employee-benefits/ and view a short testimonial video and FAQs. Please get involved and
feel free to give me a call! Sean Lynch, 07787431350 / sean.lynch@citysave.org.uk


A round up of local business events coming up...

2021.05.04 Roadmap out of Lockdown - Hospitality and Leisure - Theatres, cinemas, Concert halls music venues; Hotel and accommodation sector – including how to manage books and cancellations, LFT testing and vaccination checks. Advice and support from Warwickshire County Council and partners. 2pm Online Weblink here
2021.05.05 Build Back Stronger Series Workshop 2  Workforce Build Back: Focus on anxiety and bereavement support; supporting young people; and adopting flexible working. 1pm-2pm Online Weblink here
2021.05.05 Ready for Space? A virtual mini series of events that will explore the current challenges of the space sector, and how manufacturing technologies are an enabler for growth. During May. Various Online Weblink here
2021.05.05 Coventry and Warwickshire Champions May Livestream - Live from the new Daimler Powerhouse Creative Hub 4.30pm-5.30pm Online Weblink here
2021.05.06 LinkedIn Masterclass with UWSP Business Ready 9.30am-11am Online Weblink here
2021.05.11 Roadmap out of Lockdown - Hospitality and Leisure - Theatres, cinemas, Concert halls music venues; Hotel and accommodation sector – including how to manage books and cancellations, LFT testing and vaccination checks. Advice and support from Warwickshire County Council and partners. 2pm Online Weblink here
2021.05.11 Roadmap out of Lockdown - Hospitality and Leisure - Theatres, cinemas, Concert halls music venues; Hotel and accommodation sector – including how to manage books and cancellations, LFT testing and vaccination checks. Advice and support from Warwickshire County Council and partners. 2pm Online Weblink here
2021.05.13 Increasing Sales: Sales Fundamentals Webinar (Part 1 of 3) with Business Ready - in this workshop, we'll consider ways of increasing sales and income from existing customers. 9am-11.30am Online Weblink here
2021.05.13 Rugby Business Buzz - Networking 10am-12pm Online Weblink here
2021.05.18 Digital Training for Warwickshire Hospitality and Tourism - Warwickshire Business Meetup and Digital Marketing Support 9am-11am Online Weblink here
2021.05.18 Explore Export: Free Trade Agreement Opportunities with Department for International Trade Various Online Weblink here
2021.05.19 Trading with the EU: E-Commerce & the One Stop Shop Scheme 10am-11am Online Weblink here
2021.05.20 Warwick Business Buzz - Networking 10am-12pm Online Weblink here
2021.05.25 Leadership Awards - West Midlands 12:00 - 3:00pm Botanical Gardens Weblink here
2021.05.26 Invest Midlands - A major conference focused on the economic development and real estate future of the UK Midlands regions.  9am-5pm Online Weblink here
2021.05.28 Trading with the EU: Monthly update- What’s new? 10am-11.30am Online Weblink here
2021.06.03 STARTUP WEBINAR - Investibility Programme for startups 8pm-10pm Online Weblink here
2021.06.03 Build Back Stronger Series Workshop 3 Workforce Re-shaping - Focus on upskilling and training opportunities for existing employees 11am Online Weblink here
2021.06.16 Rail Live 2021 - 16th-17th June All Day QRTC, Stratford-upon-Avon Weblink here
2021.07.07 Vehicle Electrification Expo 2021 - 7th - 8th July - LIVE EVENT All Day NEC Weblink here
2021.07.17 Motofest 2021 17th July - 18th August All Day Coventry Weblink here
2021.10.10 TAAS Technology Conference (date tbc) 2 days Warwick Conferences Weblink here
2021.10.26 Battery Technology Show - Oct 26th-27th 2021 All Day Ricoh Arena Weblink here
2021.11.01 COP26 12 days Various Weblink here
2022.01.13 Autosport 3 Days NEC Weblink here
2022.03.02 FPC2021 - Future Powertrain Conference 2022 - 2nd-3rd March 8.30am-6pm National Motorcycle Museum Weblink here

News in Brief

Latest business news-in-brief from around the region...

High-profile auto company opens UK R&D base in Warwickshire
Croatian tech company and electric supercar firm Rimac (pronounced ‘Rimat’) announced has set up a UK Technical centre at University of Warwick Wellesbourne Innovation Campus. Last year Lotus Engineering created a base there. ‘We are of the strong opinion that British engineers are worldclass in the field of electrification and future of mobility’  - Mate Rimac, CEO and Founder. https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/industry-news-environment/rimac-opens-rd-centre-uk

Encouraging sales growth at Jaguar Land Rover
JLR has reported retail sales of 123,483 vehicles in the last quarter of 2020/21, 12.4 per cent higher than the same quarter a year earlier. Sales growth in China (up 127%) and North America (up 10.4%) were particularly strong, with the award-winning new Land Rover Defender contributing significantly to the overall year-over-year growth, with 16,963 units sold in the quarter. Jaguar Land Rover continued to roll out electrification technology across its model range. Twelve ofthe company’s 13 nameplates are now available with an electrified option, with plug-in hybrids (PHEV) available in 8 models and mild hybrids (MHEV) in 11 models.

Drive Systems Design new facilities to drive green revolution
Leamington Spa-based electrified powertrain engineering consultancy, Drive System Design (DSD) has expanded its test facilities, adding two further test cells for high-performance hybrid axles and e-machines, reflecting a growing demand the company is experiencing for outsourced test capacity suitable for electrified commercial vehicle powertrains.

Contechs Medical widens PPE offer
Warwick-based Contechs Medical, a division of the leading automotive design, engineering, and recruitment specialists Contechs, has developed a range of culturally appropriate PPE headwear known as HairTech to help the UK’s medical and care professionals combat against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further evidence of growth in Games Development
Video games developer Sumo Group, who has a base in Leamington Spa, has achieved substantial growth in revenue and adjusted EBITDA in its final results for the year ended 31 December 2020, published today.

Work completes on biomedical research building
Construction of the new £33m Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building at the University of Warwick has been completed this month. The building will bring together up to 300 researchers will also house world-class research in neuroscience, microbiology and infection, cell biology, and disease models.

Spec development at Prospero Ansty
Leading UK manufacturing and technology site Prospero Ansty will be bringing forward the first speculative development on site, with Apollo 69/6, a 241,461 sq.ft speculative development, comprising of three industrial units as well as a further 300,000 sq ft facility. This demonstrates clear confidence in Warwickshire as a location for manufacturing and R&D, as the developer is confident that the space will find an occupier.

Redditch Eastern Gateway site continues development

Funding has been secured for further development at the £200m Redditch Gateway scheme, which is located between Studley and Redditch.

Logistics growth at Symmetry Park, Rugby
Rugby Borough Council has given the green light for the first phase of Symmetry Park, Rugby, comprising 320,000 sq ft logistics accommodation. Permission has been granted for two new logistics/distribution facilities measuring 186,000 sq ft and 134,000 sq ft, and in time 2m sqft will be built over 111 acres.

Historic Daimler plant re-imagined for City of Culture
The transformation of the remaining part of the UK’s first volume car making plant into a £2.4m creative hub in time for UK City of Culture 2021 has been completed. Development and construction company The Wigley Group, which has its headquarters in Stockton, owns Sandy Lane Business Park, which includes the iconic building which once formed part of the Daimler car plant.

£100m invested by the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF)

The £100m milestone was reached by the fund after making 481 investments in 350 businesses located in the West Midlands and East and South East Midlands. An additional £90m of private sector leverage has also been secured as a result of the MEIF’s investments to date.

Recovery Fund arrives at BMM
The British Motor Museum, Gaydon, has been awarded an additional £261,500 from the second round of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. The Museum is among more than 2,700 recipients to benefit from the latest round of awards.

Unemployment bips but furlough numbers remain high
Business leaders in Coventry and Warwickshire say firms will need further support to keep the unemployment rate down in the next few months, after another small drop in the rate was recorded. The latest figures show that the unemployment rate dropped from five per cent to 4.9 per cent in the three months to February but that five million people remain in employment but on furlough.

Apprentice of the Year
An apprentice at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) at Ansty has won the Best of British Engineering Award, the top accolade at the 2021 Enginuity Skills Awards, and has also been named as SME Apprentice of the Year.

Business leader appointed to ceremonial role
Louise Bennett OBE DL, chief executive of the Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, has been appointed as High Sheriff of the County of West Midlands.

Former Calthorpe Estates CEO joins CWLEP board
Property expert Mark Lee has joined the board of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) to boost delivery of multi-million-pound regeneration schemes in the area.

Focus on the Skills Team

The team that sees its work not as a job but as a vocation...

"Any leader of a service draws up a mental image of what your 'dream team' might look like...I am truly delighted that, with my team, such a vision has come to life."

As Warwickshire's economy restarts in the coming months, the business community faces the challenge of rebuilding - and a big part of that will be identifying and sourcing the skills required.

Warwickshire County Council's Economy and Skills team is with businesses every step of the way to help them tackle the challenges ahead.

The Skills team has recently invested in a number of new supportive roles, services and funded projects. This pledge of additional resources stems from the council's Economic Recovery Plan to support businesses in the wake of the pandemic.

The county council’s Employability and Skills team (also known as The Warwickshire Skills Hub) has grown significantly in recent months.

The six-strong team, headed by Fay Winterburn (Lead Commissioner, Employability and Skills), has a unique blend of highly experienced business, careers and project officers well qualified and equipped to support businesses build back their workforces. They offer support in re-shaping, upskilling and supporting businesses to be well prepared for a post-pandemic world.

Fay’s team works to an ethos of Innovate, shape and create. Creativity is their watchword. The team meets with multiple businesses on a daily basis to discuss their current work and explore supportive funding, but is also constantly looking out for new ways to offer support and help  businesses to be as economically stable as possible.

Fay is very proud of the team she leads.

"Any leader of a service draws up a mental image of what your 'dream team' might look like and what kind of background and values you hope they will bring," she said. "I am truly delighted that, with my team, such a vision really has come to life.

"We have been incredibly lucky to attract some great people to our roles. Our team doesn’t just see our work as a job but as a vocation. Who could wish for more?

"It has been such a tough year for the business community and there are still challenges ahead but we have a team with the experience, expertise and passion to help businesses through those challenges.

"We know that many jobs will be different post-COVID and new skills will be needed. The needs of employers are constantly evolving and we are ready to ensure our support and service evolves too to meet their needs.”

The Business Skills review service is the Warwickshire Skills Hub's core service. It offers free, impartial and unlimited support to businesses planning changes to their workforce whether through upskilling, recruitment or introducing new talent to the organisation.

The service is immensely popular with hundreds of businesses already exploring what it has to offer. Funded training, work placements and apprenticeships are currently the most discussed and the team is in overdrive to support those conversations whilst bringing in additional delivery partners and supportive funding.

Vicki Haslam, the newly appointed Senior Business Skills Advisor, said: “In the short time I have been in post we have already seen a large number of businesses book virtual meetings with our team.

"The economy is at such a sensitive stage and businesses know how crucial it is to plan well. Ensuring the workforce is reaching its highest level of productivity will protect jobs, so it’s important that we walk alongside businesses and ensure they have the tools to train and bring in additional skills too.

"As a team we’re not afraid to also have difficult conversations too. Whilst we do everything we can to protect jobs, if job cuts are inevitable we can call upon our colleagues at the Coventry and Warwickshire Redundancy Service to offer specialist support. Thankfully, compared to the national picture, redundancies remain relatively low in our region which is believed to be due to our pre-pandemic strong economy.”

The Business Skills Review service is just one of many different strands of support the team have to offer. Other examples of their Covid Recovery work so far include:

Warwickshire Small Business Apprenticeship Programme: A funding pledge to cover the cost of the apprenticeship training.

Warwickshire Apprenticeship Progression Programme: A £1,000 incentive to progress apprentices to meet new needs of the business.

Inclusive Apprenticeships: A re-shaped Apprenticeship programe to support people with Special Educational Needs and disabilities into employment and training.

Digital Market Place Filming: A fully funded filming opportunity for all recruiting businesses to showcase their Careers

Coventry and Warwickshire Redundancy Support Service: A service to support businesses who are considering or triggering redundancies.

Build Back Stronger Workshops: A series of virtual workshops to support businesses in welcoming back their employees and re-shaping their skills to meet the new needs of the business.

Business wanting to benefit from any of the services or support the Warwickshire Skills Hubs has to offer can contact the team on skillshub@warwickshire.gov.uk

Meet the team...

Fay Winterburn 


Lead Commissioner, Employability and Skills

I manage the Warwickshire Skills Hub team and lead on the shaping and delivery of our services.

As Warwickshire's economy continues to evolve, especially in light of the pandemic, I work with others to assess the skills needed to develop a workforce well-equipped to meet the needs of our businesses.

To ensure our skills offer remains relevant and locally responsive, I engage closely with business groups, strategic partners and education providers. We work collaboratively to shape business skills support packages and careers and employment activities, along with a variety of projects and campaigns delivered by our Warwickshire Skills Hub team and externally commissioned partners.

My role allows me to bring together my previous skills experience and my inbuilt passion to create barrier-breaking and economically effective support for Warwickshire - the place I love to call home!

Vicki Haslam

Senior Business Skills Advisor

I provide specialist skills advice and support to businesses to help them grow and prosper. I coordinate the team of Business Skills Advisors who engage with businesses to gain an understanding of their requirements and effectively support them in accessing skills-centred initiatives and resources.

I have a background in employability, training and skills and am passionate about helping businesses develop skills to futureproof their business and support growth and development. I take great pride in the role our team plays in supporting local businesses to grow their workforce!

I am currently involved in the rollout of the Warwickshire Small Business Apprenticeship and Apprenticeship Progression programmes. I also lead on the Build Back Stronger campaign, a series of workshops designed to provide information and support to employers as we emerge from lockdown.

Since I joined the Warwickshire Skills Hub Team I have been working from home, so am very much looking forward to getting into the Skills Hub Office and physically meeting the team (although technology has been great at enabling me to get to know everyone, it is not the same!). I'm also so looking forward to being able to go out and meet Warwickshire businesses on their premises to gain an understanding of  how they operate.

Heather Docksey

Business Skills Support Officer

With a background of over 20 years in further education, commercial training and apprenticeships, I am now really enjoying bringing all that experience together as a Business Skills Support Officer with the Skills Hub in beautiful Warwickshire.

Joining this team has given me an exciting opportunity to bring all my skills and knowledge together and broaden my reach to support local businesses. I work mainly on apprenticeship projects, so support businesses with all kinds of incentives as they explore taking on new
apprentices or progressing existing apprentices...there is so much on offer right now!

I also help businesses with a lot of the legwork when looking for a new training provider. I'll gather the business needs and then reach out to the provider network on the business' behalf to explore who will be the best fit. It is always rewarding to see how much difference our support can make to a small business - it's why I love what I do.

Our team is so creative, shaping a continuous stream of ideas that quickly get converted into projects that we know will benefit businesses and their employees.

Throughout my career I've met some incredible people from businesses of all sizes across the sectors and sometimes I don't think we appreciate just how many skilled and talented people are living and working in the UK. It's a privilege to have a role which supports such people in Warwickshire.

Emma Neale

Schools and Careers Co-ordinator

My role is to support schools to access the council's Skills For Employment Programme.

The programme is annually shaped to meet the needs and development of schools career programmes. It helps to connect businesses and enable them to access additional supportive links to strengthen the transition of young people from school into the world of work.

During the pandemic I have worked closely with the schools on the Future Careers project. This has enabled schools to gain up to £2,000 funding to re-create careers programmes to be COVID secure through digital delivery, or to supply technology to support students gaining much-needed careers interaction.

I have a youth worker background and a passion for helping young people find their best way forward, so find it very rewarding to have a job which supports careers leaders in Warwickshire. I love playing an active role in shaping the council's work and building relationships with schools across the county.

Niki Takhar

Employability & Skills Project Officer

My role is extremely varied...no two days are ever the same!

It is a versatile role which involves designing, planning and implementing projects across the area of employability and skills, focusing in particular on careers and school-based projects.

Recent projects I have worked on have included the Future Careers support, in particular the Future Careers Filming: Digital Marketplace project. This has been a great project as I get to go along to see different business and meet with some really inspiring people. I know if I saw these great film pieces at school, I’d want to chose those featured careers!

I have a varied background in Higher Education, working at universities across Recruitment, HR, Academic Research, IT Systems Projects and Careers and Corporate Relations. The role of Project Officer encompasses all my personal skills and things I enjoy – planning, meeting different people, and working with schools and other careers groups to help the young people of Warwickshire.

I love working on different projects with different aims but my favourite part of the job is seeing how our work can really help young people in the community and in schools.

Alice Edwards

Employability & Skills Project Officer

As a project officer, I support the team on various programmes and schemes to support businesses and employment across the county.

The Apprenticeship Progression Programme and Coventry and Warwickshire Redundancy Support Service have been key projects for me. It has been really interesting to support in the development of very responsive projects to local need...it certainly keeps me on my toes!

It is absolutely key that we engage with all areas of communities across Warwickshire to shape a skilled population with lots of opportunities available, so I am really enjoying working on projects to support businesses to attract the best people through their doors (or via Teams!) and upskill their current workforce at the same time.

I come from a background in employee and personal wellbeing and mental health, so I am excited to embed this passion into the work that we do to encourage the Warwickshire workforce to be a happy and skilled one with endless opportunities.

Strong Skills Team set to be strengthened further

Warwickshire County Council's strategy and commissioning manager (economy and skills) Alison Robinson is "very proud" of the work her Skills Team does to support businesses.

It is a "very strong" group, she says, which is going to be strengthened still further in the coming weeks.

Fay Winterburn's six strong team is facing rapidly increasing demand as businesses start to return to normal and look to recruit. So the County Council is investing further in the Skills Team and their vital work to support the business community.

"Already this year we made three really strong, creative additions to the team which means we are very well placed to deliver more projects to benefit more businesses," said Alison.

"We have got the team in place at just the right time as we are seeing an increase in enquiries as business confidence is starting to return. A very strong team is being assembled and there are a few more roles still to be added before we’re fully up to strength.

"The skills agenda is becoming more and more important as the economy rebuilds from such a difficult year. Skills will be a key element of the post-pandemic recovery and ongoing economic development and I am so proud that we have a team in place which is capable of, and so committed to, giving businesses the support they need.

 "I am very proud of the business support work the team is already delivering under the brilliant leadership of Fay, whose recent recognition of receiving a High Sheriff Award was so deserved."

Build Back Stronger workshops hit the ground running

Following the success of the first Build Back Stronger workshop from Warwickshire County Council's Skills Team (please click here for a recording if you were unable to attend), dates have been announced for the remaining workshops.

These workshops ​are aimed at supporting employers to Build Back Stronger as they emerge from lockdown. Each has a different focus to enable employers to welcome back their workforce after home working and furlough. They offer guidance on workforce reshaping, redundancy support and skills succession planning to ensure there is a strong pipeline of talent in their business as the economy recovers. 

These workshops are a free tool that can be accessed by any Warwickshire business, so please feel free to promote to your employers and business contacts who may welcome the support available.

The ​second workshop will take place on Wednesday May 5th at 1pm and booking is available via the Eventbrite link below. The remaining four workshops dates and booking information are also detailed below.  

Please register for you free place on the workshops here:

Workshop 2 registration This workshop is designed to explore available mental health & bereavement support​; implementing agile and flexible working​ and how it can benefit your workforce; and support in building a wider pool of talent.

Workshop 3 registration Workshop 3 has a focus on ways in which you can develop skills within the workplace looking at training opportunities and available funding support.

Workshop 4 registration Workshop 4 explores ways in which you can bring future talent into the business looking at Industry Placements, University Internships, Graduate Opportunities​, and Supported Internships and Apprenticeships. This workshop also explores the various talent pools of people looking for training opportunities in the county and how to access them.

Workshop 5 registration The final workshop in the series invites the Warwickshire Redundancy Support Service to speak to employers about the support that is available in Warwickshire to support them, their business and employees if they are going through the redundancy process.

These workshops run alongside the Roadmap out of lockdown webinar series that can be accessed via the link below.

Roadmap out of Lockdown


Please also follow the Warwickshire Skills Hub LinkedIn page for all the latest updates and new projects.

High Sheriff's Award for Fay

The excellent work of Fay Winterburn, Warwickshire County Council's Lead Commissioner, Employability and Skills, has been recognised by a High Sheriff's Award.

The annual High Sheriff Awards recognise and celebrate individuals and voluntary organisations who help to make the county of Warwickshire a better place.

Joe Greenwell CBE DL, High Sheriff of Warwickshire in 2020/21, selected as his theme for the year ‘employability’ with a particular emphasis on apprenticeships and traineeships for those with special needs.

It is an area to which Fay and her Skills Team attach the highest priority.

"The challenges facing the 16-24 age group in terms of education, training and employment have been made much more acute by COVID19 and even more so for those with special needs," said Mr Greenwell.

"I was very pleased during my year to work with Fay to try to increase training and job opportunities for this vulnerable group. The award is due recognition of her fantastic efforts and commitment in this area."

During the year the county council's skills team, under Fay's jurisdiction, did much to support jobseekers with special needs through a range of projects. These including Supportive Employers Inc and Inclusive Apprenticeships, where Fay and the team called upon employers to drive forward their inclusivity pledges and shape their future job opportunities to include young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).

Fay was pleased to receive the award for its recognition of the work done by her team and the council's partner organisations.

"This is an area which myself and my team at WCC are very passionate about," she said. "I would like to thank Joe for all his interest and support during his year as High Sheriff and also for the award, but the award is very much for all the people at WCC both in the Skills Hub and Education, who have done so much work to support young people with special needs.

"At Warwickshire County Council I work for an organisation who have led on some pretty amazing support during this pandemic. Behind the many campaigns and projects are hundreds of officers working above and beyond to ensure our economy and communities emerge from the pandemic as strong as possible. To receive such an award amongst some really great colleagues means so much."

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