Welcome from Monica Fogarty

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

In the midst of Brexit and a General Election, and with the little matter of Christmas around the corner, there is plenty going on, but Warwickshire County Council's work to support our brilliant business community continues apace - and there is plenty of fantastic news to report this month.

Hot off the presses, I am delighted that the Transforming Nuneaton programme has today taken a huge step forward. This morning, Warwickshire County Council agreed to divert £19.5 million from our Capital Investment Fund into the Transforming Nuneaton project. The money will go towards building a new library, café and business centre in the Town. Wonderful news and exciting times for Nuneaton.

There is also great news for Leamington with the return of the Interactive Futures Festival to the town early in 2020. Last year’s inaugural event was a huge success which showcased our region's world-class talent in the games industry. We are very proud of ‘Silicon Spa’, which plays a key role in our county’s thriving economy and it is the natural home for the Interactive Futures Festival.

Our thriving economy is also heavily driven by our vibrant and varied town centres. There is a lot going on in our towns right now, and lots more coming down the track, so please do have a look at our In The Towns section to keep right up to speed.

In this edition of Warwickshire Means Business we also focus on Lighthorne-based ‘Farm Services’ who exemplify the knack, which small Warwickshire firms seem to have, of finding a niche and building it into a business of national repute. You might not be aware of it, but it is highly likely that at some point you will have benefited from the expertise of Farm Services!

Meanwhile, we bid a fond farewell and also offer a warm welcome. After five years and one day in post, next month Glenn Robinson will leave his role as Skills for Employment Manager in our Economy & Skills team. Glenn's experience and knowledge from many years in education has played a significant role in the success of numerous skills initiatives and we wish him all the best for the future. May he have many a happy Saturday afternoon at his beloved St Andrew's!

Meanwhile, Vicki Barnard has arrived as Strategy and Commissioning Manager, Infrastructure and Sustainable Communities. We warmly welcome Vicki, her deep knowledge and her unusual back story. Warwickshire County Council is full of people with varied and interesting backgrounds but Vicki is, I'm pretty sure, the only person ever to have joined the council from the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hawaii!

I wish you all a very peaceful and Happy Christmas and a successful and prosperous 2020.

Featured News

£19.5 million investment will truly transform Nuneaton

"This is fantastic news for Nuneaton and the biggest landmark to date for the Transforming Nuneaton project."

Warwickshire County Council today ratified the Cabinet decision to invest nearly £19.5m of its Capital Investment Fund to continue the Transforming Nuneaton project and build a new library, café and business centre in the town.

As well as providing a state-of-the-art library which is fit for purpose in the 21st century, the investment is being heralded as being a key landmark in creating a vibrant economy in the town centre. It will attract businesses and unlock other land in the area for private sector development.

The development is earmarked for the Church Street area currently occupied by Wilkos, Powell House and the Royal Mail. The buildings and land are owned by Warwickshire County Council and Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, having been acquired with funding from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP).

Ongoing development is already taking place in Vicarage Street with the creation of a 50 retirement apartment scheme.

The new building to be funded by the allocation approved by Cabinet will comprise a state-of-the-art library, café and business centre. This will be an L-shaped structure, with the library and cafe occupying the ground floor, and accommodating pods for registration services, 'make a space', the town’s first fully accessible changing and toilet facility and an informal event space.

The first floor will consist of office space for county council staff and a reception area for the business centre which will become part of the county council’s suite of business centres and generate revenue for the county council once occupancy reaches the target level. It will offer approximately 70 highly flexible offices, aimed at small start-ups.

Transforming Nuneaton coverThe scheme will also fulfil the county council’s commitment to a low carbon footprint. The design incorporates photovaltic panels, electric vehicle charging points and showers and cycle-stores to encourage zero carbon travel.

Transforming Nuneaton is a partnership between Warwickshire County Council, Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership. It's objective is to create a vibrant town centre with a mix of accommodation, office space and a community hub in the form of a public building (library).

It will improve and expand the town's leisure offer, enhance the retail offer, create housing development opportunities and improve the public transport and cycling infrastructure in and around the town centre.

Transforming Nuneaton is about more than simply creating a vibrant town centre. It also looks at how Nuneaton can market itself as an attractive proposition to visitors or prospective businesses and has addressed some traffic issues that reflected negatively on perceptions of the town. Infrastructure projects completed as part of the programme include the award-winning traffic project at Coton Arches which used an innovative hamburger design to alleviate the congestion at the entrance to the town when approaching from the A444.

Councillor Izzi Seccombe, Leader and portfolio holder for economic development at Warwickshire County Council, said: “This is fantastic news for Nuneaton and the biggest landmark to date for the Transforming Nuneaton project.

“It will create a superb community facility in the shape of the library and café which will bring people into the town and provide a real focal point for the community. The top class facilities will make it a real asset to the community and fit for purpose in the 21st century.

“The business centre will also be a major boon for the town centre, bringing in a sense of entrepreneurship and inspiration, creating jobs in the area and providing a base of people who will be coming to the town centre and spending time there. It is a major step in us creating the town centre that Nuneaton deserves and reinvigorating the local area.”

Cllr Julie Jackson, Leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council said: “I am delighted to see the Transforming Nuneaton project making headway. There was an identified need to provide a broader choice of premises for small to medium enterprises, and the diverse range that the centre will allow makes an attractive offer for fledgling businesses and entrepreneurs.

“The next steps will be to look to private developers to continue the evolution of the town centre once the gateway has been completed. All of these assets combined will help to build a town fit for future generations and one that exceeds expectations.”

Nick Abell, vice chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “It is great to see the project progressing. This is a major landmark in transforming the area into the town which will encourage more leisure and business visitors to a key part of Warwickshire.

“The business centre which will be created will encourage more SMEs to base their enterprises in Nuneaton which will be a boost to the economy and the business sector.”

The logistics of the new library and business centre...

The library: In a more prominent location than the existing library, it is expected to generate more visitors with subsequent increased footfall into the town centre. The new library will occupy the same floor space as the existing library and form the ground floor of the L-shape complex to be constructed on Church Street along with the café and the entrance to the business centre.

It will provide a new facility with all modern technologies including the 'Make a Space' facility alongside accommodating pods for registration services, meeting rooms and informal event space. The building will also feature the first fully accessible changing/toilet facility in the town centre.

The business centre: The creation of the business centre responds to the needs identified by small and medium enterprises who said there was a need for suitably-sized office premises. The proposed business centre will offer options ranging from two desk offices to seven-nine desk offices, with a collaboration space to bring the fledgling businesses together. It will occupy the three floors above the library and café and offer modern well-serviced flexible business accommodation with car parking.

The first floor will house the Reception area and offices, the second floor will feature a roof terrace to host events and act as a meeting space while the third floor will accommodate offices and a plant area These floors will comprise around 68 highly flexible offices aimed at small start up companies.

Jobs: An expected 200 jobs will be created, above library staff, in the business centre and café with 120 businesses supported through the provision of affordable and suitable office accommodation and other business support.

Financial sustainability: Revenue will be generated from rent at the business centre and the café ca £490,000 per annum once target occupancy is achieved.

Impact on local economy: The greater number of visitors through new business owners and their staff, along with library and café customers, will go a long way towards creating a more vibrant economy in the town centre beyond normal office hours, stimulating both the daytime retail market and the night-time economy for the leisure outlets. This will then create a more attractive offer for developers. The site of the existing library will be made available for private sector development while increasing investment in the area will raise the land value which is currently low.

Two-day conference will showcase why Warwickshire is a Games Industry leader

"We look forward to welcoming back the Interactive Futures games festival in 2020 - last year's event provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the world-class talent we have in the region."

Interactive Futures will return to the Royal Spa Centre in Leamington in the New Year following its successful inaugural event in 2019.

The two-day conference and expo will once again showcase to the industry and to the general public the rich seam of talent within the Leamington Games Hub.

The event will highlight the region’s heritage within the UK video games industry, as well as its talent and creativity, the unrivalled community of indie and major studios, and career opportunities both for students and those already working in games and beyond.

Interactive Futures is being funded by the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP), Warwickshire County Council and Warwick District Council alongside support from local industry.

On Friday, January 31 the festival will play host to an Indie Investment Forum, a special ‘speed dating’ event where the area’s independent studios will have the opportunity to meet investors, publishers and advisors.

A conference programme will also highlight key issues relevant to the region and the wider games industry, with topics including Ukie’s Regional Economic Impact Report – and why Leamington is punching above its weight, 'How to finance your game and studio' and 'How Leamington became one of the biggest games hubs in the UK.'

Saturday, February 1 will see Interactive Futures open its doors to consumers and students to inspire the next generation of talent with career opportunities the key focus for the day.

Conference topics will include Levelling Up: What skills and qualifications are required for a career in games, How we made it: Young indie developers discuss their careers, Beyond coding: Why there’s a career in games for everyone - and much more.

The day will also feature practical activities for all, the chance to try out the best of the games created in Leamington, competitions and esports challenges plus a CV clinic and portfolio reviews for students.

An expo showcasing the best of the Leamington Games Hub will run throughout the two days.

Stacy O’Connor, Digital Creative Lead at the CWLEP, said: “The first Interactive Futures was a major success with over 1,700 games enthusiasts, students and industry professionals attending.

“This is one of the key sectors that the CWLEP supports and there will once again be a vast range of content to appeal to a cross-section of the community to become involved.”

Monica Fogarty, Chief Executive of Warwickshire County Council, said: “We look forward to welcoming back the Interactive Futures games festival in 2020. Last years' event provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the world-class talent we have in the region, and really put Warwickshire on the map as a career destination for the fast-moving games industry.

“We are proud to be the home of Silicon Spa which plays such a key role in our thriving economy. The range of activities planned will appeal to a wide audience, from games developers to young gaming enthusiasts, and we are confident it will go from strength-to-strength as a flagship event in the UK gaming calendar!”

Joanne Randall, Strategic Economic Development Officer at Warwick District Council, added: “We are so proud to once again be holding this event in Royal Leamington Spa. This is an opportunity to build on the momentum we achieved in 2019 and continue to help this important business sector to thrive and grow in the area. In particular, we are excited to be hosting the Indie Investment Forum to help individuals and organisations taking the next steps to develop their ideas and plans.

“We’d urge people to come along to find out how significant our growing Leamington Games Hub is to our local economy and how they can be a part of it.”

If you are interested in getting involved with the Interactive Futures conference programme, please contact Lisa Carter on 07970 164201 or at lisa.carter@mimrammedia.com.

If you would like to exhibit at Interactive Futures or become a commercial partner, please contact Darrell Carter on 07967 947076 or at darrell.carter@mimrammedia.com.

Business supports opens way for Farm Services growth

"Investing in new machinery was something we wanted to do, but it was a big investment for us - the grant gave us the confidence to go ahead and make it work."

To do something that hardly anybody else does is a strong basis for a business - Farm Services are in that enviable position and targeting a period of further growth and recruitment after harnessing business support through Warwickshire County Council and Coventry City Council.

Based in Lighthorne, Farm Services tackles highly specialist work which involves heavy machinery and large-scale projects executed to millimetre-accurate precision. They are drainage specialists, laying the pipes which bring land which would otherwise be prone to waterlogging into safe and productive use.

Most of their customers are in agriculture but their expertise is versatile. Their systems have been applied in construction, at professional football clubs and elite golf courses, and in the elephant house at a zoo!

Farm Services are just another example of the amazing skills which exist, quietly and often unheralded, within small Warwickshire businesses - and now this left longstanding family-run firm, founded in 1942, is looking to the future with confidence accessing two pools of grant funding.

A £157,420 Rural Development Programme for England grant enabled the purchase of a specialist drainage machine for pipelaying. This mechanical powerhouse, equipped with GPS technology, is at the very forefront of technology so needs to be looked after diligently. That's where a £10,000 European Regional Development Investment Fund grant came in, enabling the construction of a brand new maintenance facility in which to house the new machine and provide space for cleaning and repairs.

Together the grants have left Farm Services well-placed to add the next chapter to their proud history.

"Investing in new machinery was something we wanted to do, but it was a big investment for us," said Farm Services director Robert Burtonshaw. "Receiving the grant gave us the confidence to go ahead and make it work.

"The new machine has the very latest technology, bouncing data off satellites 30,000 miles away to ensure the pipes we lay in the earth are accurate to the millimetre. It means we can now keep pace with change or, ideally, be ahead of it.

"They also secured the jobs we already provide and led us to recruit. We have employed four people this year and are looking to recruit further, offering well-paid, long-term jobs.

"The smaller grant for the new barn was also very important. Depending on the weather, the new machine can be resting for weeks so it is vital to have a safe place

to store it so that is kept clean and well-maintained. The new barn is the start of our development of the whole yard which will really help us to grow so we are really grateful for the business support,"

Steph Williams, of Warwickshire County Council's Business Support Programme, said: "Farm Services are another example of the high skills and innovation which Warwickshire businesses bring to so many sectors.

"I am delighted that ourselves at the county council, along with our colleagues at Coventry City Council, have been able to support them and be part of their growth journey."

* The advice for the company was delivered as part of the Coventry and Warwickshire Business Support Programme, which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Warwickshire County Council.

To find out more about the range of support available to grow your business, please contact the Growth Hub on 0300 060 3747.



Glenn departs very proud of the successes delivered by Skills for Employment

In the New Year, Glenn Robinson will leave his job as Skills for Employment Manager at Warwickshire County Council after five years in the role. Here he reflects upon those years and the progress that the council, working closely with employers, education-providers and partner organisations, has made on skills issues facing businesses in the 21st century.


Glenn, you have been Skills for Employment manager for WCC for five years. Have you enjoyed your time in the role?

I’ll have been in the role for five years and one day when I leave on January 6. I’ve really enjoyed it as I’ve been able to see first-hand the impact the Skills for Employment programme has had on our secondary schools and colleges. In my previous education roles in the civil service and at a national executive agency I was two or three layers away from the ‘chalk-face’ where the really important stuff happens.

For example, just last month, we funded an NHS careers workshop in Nuneaton when 100 Year Nine and Ten pupils from six schools got to use a range of medical equipment including an ECG machine and Ultrasound scanner.

My career started as a secondary school teacher and has ended working with secondary schools so it’s come full circle. Oh - and when I taught it really was a chalk-face as we still used blackboards and dusters!

What are the schemes/developments that have given you most satisfaction?

In the past five years we have awarded £3,000 annual grants worth more than £500,000 to schools and colleges. And we’ve awarded more than £1 million to large, innovative projects where business and education have collaborated to achieve a major change. Both types of grant have had a big impact.

The smaller grants have achieved great things like providing one-to-one careers advice sessions for pupils at most risk of not being in employment, education or training (NEET) when they leave school at 16. During the past five years the number of 16 and 17-year-olds who are NEET has reduced by more than two thirds.

At the other end of the spectrum the £40,000 grant we awarded to Aston Martin and the Young Engineers Academy enabled the establishment of a new talent pipeline, the introduction of Degree Apprenticeships and a switch from recruiting nationally to locally.

Warwickshire County Council's Skills Conference has become an important annual event - have you found businesses, employers and education-providers receptive?

At each of the five conferences we have run there have been more than 100 managers from businesses, schools and colleges. It’s been incredibly helpful to get them together to forge new relationships and discuss how to improve the employability skills of young people. The businesses who have attended are the ones with the vision to see how working with the education sector can help them recruit in the medium to long-term.

Skills and recruiting issues are not going to go away are they - but you leave with plenty of work ongoing at the council to help confront those issues?

The Economy & Skills team that I am leaving works on a much broader range of skills-related activity than when I joined five years ago. For example, our promotion and support for apprenticeships at all levels up to degree is really strong and it’s no coincidence that the number of school-leavers going into apprenticeships has grown significantly year on year, as has the volume of young people taking up degree apprenticeships.

Early next year the Skills for Employment programme is investing £40,000 in a programme called My World of Work which will provide hundreds of Year 10 pupils from schools across the county with opportunities to work with businesses from several sectors to discover what it’s like to work in a wide range of roles. In January 2020 the council will launch a new all-age careers strategy for residents and businesses which will enable people to find new jobs or progress in their current role, as well as helping businesses to recruit.

What is the message you would send out to employers and education-providers as they think about the future?

Come and get involved! We need ten times as many businesses around the county to come forward to work with local schools and colleges if young people are going to get experience of the workplace and develop the understanding of the world of work that employers wish to see.

To make this happen, schools and colleges need to dedicate resource to engaging businesses and nurturing those relationships over many years. All of this takes a lot of effort but the rewards are high.

What next for you?

I’m semi-retiring but will take a month or two off before deciding on my next step. I’m sure it’ll be in the education sector where I’ve spent my whole career. I don’t want to be tied down to a rigid routine so private English tuition to GCSE and ‘A’ level is an option. In the meantime I will miss dealing with all the great people I have met during my time here - and particularly my colleagues in Economy & Skills who really know their stuff and work so hard to support the county's business community in so many ways.

Leading names gather at Coventry & Warwickshre Automotive Dinner

Leading names in from inside and outside the Coventry & Warwickshire auto sector, were brought together earlier this month at the Coventry & Warwickshire Auto Dinner, which took place at MIRA Technology Institute, the new skills facility opened last year on the outskirts of Nuneaton.

The event included over 70 guests from 50 major local auto names such as BMW, Geely London Electric Vehicle Company, Ricardo and GKN, as well as the universities, the trade body SMMT and the Advanced Propulsion Centre.

Jeff Pratt, the managing director of the new UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC), was the keynote speaker at the event, and laid out the UK’s ambitions for supporting a strong and sustainable battery industry, and UKBIC’s role in this, when the centre opens next year at a site on the Warwick District/ Coventry border near Coventry Airport.

He said: “I believe it is the Faraday investment in the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre which has firmly announced the UK’s ambitions for supporting a strong and sustainable battery industry. One that can support the growing and evolving battery demands of our automotive and other industries."

The £129m UKBIC is a new 20,000 sqm facility to develop the latest battery technology and will provide a boost to the UK’s ambition to lead the world in the development of zero emission vehicles as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy and the Faraday Battery Challenge.

A study recently published by the Faraday Institution has shown that UK and European demand for UK-produced batteries could reach between 60 and 200 GWh per year by 2040. This would result in the equivalent need for between four and 13 ‘gigafactories’ (large, high volume battery manufacturing plants).

With the existing auto supply chain here, including major OEMs BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Geely brands LEVC, Lotus and Polestar, and a unique R&D cluster of universities, catapult centres and now UKBIC, the region is in an excellent position to attract one or more of these new gigafactories.

The annual dinner is an opportunity for the local industry to come together to discuss these opportunities, collaborate and raise the profile of the local cluster to a wider national and international audience. It is organised by Coventry City Council, Warwickshire County Council and the Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP), and the headline sponsorship this year came from law firm Shakespeare Martineau.

Other speakers included Tony Harper, Challenge Director of the Faraday Battery Challenge at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI); Derek Benfield, Technical Director at Envision AESC UK, a major battery manufacturer that owns the plant in Sunderland producing batteries for the Nissan Leaf; Adam McGiveron, Partner and Head of Manufacturing at Shakespeare Martineau; and Marion Plant OBE, board director at the CWLEP and chair of the CWLEP’s productivity and skills business group, who is also principal and CEO of the North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, which leads MIRA Technology Institute.

Marion spoke about the importance of developing skills for the next generation which is one of the CWLEP’s major priorities.

“Advanced manufacturing and engineering is one of our key sectors in engaging with employers who can work with schools and colleges to help with their careers strategies and provide work experience,” Marion said.


Travel-loving Sarah starts a brand new journey - into businesses...

"It’s great to see the programme deliver and give residents the confidence and skills to start a new business"

A Stratford-upon-Avon woman has launched a new business inspired by her international travels and her home town.

Donna Nixon founded 52 Degrees North Travel after receiving advice and support from the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce who run the CW Business: Start, Grow and Scale Programme, funded by Warwickshire County Council and the district and borough councils.

After several years wanting to establish her own company but not knowing in what sector, Donna decided she would turn her love of travel into a business. The company name refers to the line of latitude of Stratford-upon-Avon as Donna was keen to reference the town in the business after receiving strong local support from Stratford-on-Avon District Council’s Venture House Business Centre.

She said: “I am very proud that I am Stratford born and bred. I grew up in the town, we live here now and lots of people have been very supportive of the business.

“I was introduced to the Chamber by a friend and went on some of its courses held at Venture House around elements such as business strategy and marketing. It was there that I met Tanya King, who became my business mentor and she has worked with me on a one-to-one basis to help me in the very early stages of the business.

“Having someone like Tanya to bounce ideas off and tap into her knowledge has been great – she has even become a customer of mine which is about as supportive as you can get!

“I’ve also been attending the fabulous Donut Time networking events at Venture House. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off other businesses, pick up tips and also make use of the fantastic facilities on offer there to small companies.

“I offer a very personal service to customers – be that over the phone, email or even Facebook Messenger. I ask a lot of questions up front, from what temperature they prefer through to any activities they want to take part in, and go from there.

“It can range from a weekend break in London right through to a holiday of a lifetime. I know people can book everything through the internet but, actually, what we are finding is that many don’t want to waste their time trawling through the web.

“We can also benefit from exclusive offers to the trade, which we can make available to our customers."

The support of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce’s start-up team came via the CW Business: Start, Grow and Scale Programme, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Tanya King, business adviser at the Chamber, said: “It has been great working with Donna. Some people want to launch a business and they know exactly the field they want to go into. Others simply want to be their own boss and need to find their niche to ensure there is a market for their new business.

“Whichever way you come at it, there is support available via the Chamber which can really help a new company to find its feet and grow very quickly, which Donna’s example proves."

Anne Solomon, who manages Venture House, said: “It’s great to see the programme deliver and give residents the confidence and skills to start a new business. As with all our clients, we wish Donna every success and hope that she can inspire others, even if it’s just to come down to Venture House and talk about a new business idea.”

For more information on the support available, go to www.cw-chamber.co.uk or call 024 7665 4321.

Find out more about Venture House at www.venturehousestratford.co.uk or call 01789 207500.

ESF Community Grants funding is there waiting to be accessed

Groups and organisations working to help people back towards employment can access funding early in 2020 if they move quickly and apply for the next round of ESF Community Grants

ESF Community Grants, funded by the European Social Fund and co-financed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, offer between £5,000 to £20,000 to small and voluntary organisations to help unemployed people advance towards employment, education and training.

The cut-off for the next round of applications is December 23rd after which the panel will meet in January so that funding could be awarded to successful projects by mid-February.

The Community Grants, managed in Coventry & Warwickshire by Groundwork, are delivered in partnership with the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Among groups to have already benefited from a Community Grant is Overslade Community Association which offers exciting opportunities for the residents of Rugby looking to get back into work or training. Overslade Open Doors (OOD) is a completely free service, providing support, guidance and training for anyone currently out of work.

Project leader Gina Dallison, a life coach and mindfulness practitioner, is supported by a team with a wide range of expertise including a business expert, ESOL teacher, literacy teacher and benefits adviser.

Gina said: "If people are feeling a bit stuck in life, Overslade Open Doors can help them gain some clarity and direction. Each session ends with a short group mindfulness experience to ensure you leave feeling uplifted and positive.

"There are two drop-in sessions each week and a monthly ‘Be Your Own Boss’ workshop, where participants can gain advice and motivation to move an idea to a sustainable profitable business.

"So far, we have run two successful ‘Be Your Own Boss’ workshops, one on Business Ideas and the second around Mastering your Mindset. "

Overslade Open Doors are now seeing their participants progress. One has now begun a career as a carer in a local care home after receiving help developing her CV, gaining confidence in speaking English. If you would like to get involved, make a referral, or find out more about the project Gina can be contacted at ginaloudall@outlook.com or on 07887 570600

Overslade Open Doors is just one group to have benefited from an ESF Community Grant and more funding is available to be accessed.

Support in applying for the grants is available from James Hoare, Grant Enabler at Groundwork West Midlands. Additional support has been provided by Warwickshire Community & Voluntary Action who have run two briefing sessions. These sessions included surgery slots for groups to explore grant ideas. Seven organisations attended with three taking surgery slot sessions and it is hoped that applications from these groups will be made to future rounds.

If you think a grant could be appropriate for your organisation and would like some help thinking through:

• whether it is the right fund for you

• your project proposal

• creating your budget

please contact ESF.Grants@groundwork.org.uk or call 0121 236 8565.

New businesses heading to Leamington highlight the town's economic resilience

“Leamington has a heritage of independent and niche retailers alongside the more usual High Street multiples, and that is continuing."

A leading retail property expert believes that recent movement in Leamington’s shopping market has underlined the town’s resilience in the face of the national downturn.

Leading women’s fashion brand Hobbs has announced that it will be coming to the town, outdoor specialist Mountain Warehouse is moving to Warwick Street while Kung Fu – a new Chinese restaurant – has agreed a lease on a prime unit in Regent Court.

Bill Wareing, of Wareing & Company which has been involved in all three transactions and also acts on behalf of LaSalle Investment Management which manages the Royal Priors, believes the activity is proof the town is weathering the retail storm better than most mid-sized towns.

He said: “Obviously the retail downturn has affected every town in the UK, but we are still seeing encouraging level of interest in Leamington and there has been a flurry of deals in recent weeks which is a very good sign.

“Leamington has a heritage of independent and niche retailers alongside the more usual High Street multiples, and that is continuing.

“Hobbs is a great brand and to have them move into a prime site in the Royal Priors is very good news, and the fact that Mountain Warehouse has decided to move to a bigger and better located unit underlines how well they trade in the town.

“The conversion of Regent Court into a food quarter has gone really well and Kung Fu is taking the former Two Seasons unit, which is 5,500 sq ft and is instantly making it one of the largest restaurants in the town and again requires a large investment from the operators.

“The arrival of other brands including Seasalt and the Cotswold Trading Company, and the new gallery Nova Fine Art in Warwick Street, again show that Leamington maintains a good profile with destination brands.

“That, combined with a really good leisure offer and the activities organised by the Leamington BID and others, means there is the level of vibrancy which is often missing in towns of a similar size and that mix is vital and does bring a resilience.”

King Fu has 15 outlets around the UK – including Stratford-Upon-Avon – and had earmarked Leamington after being impressed by the development of Regent Court.

Mark Hillier, of commercial agents DMR who act for Kung Fu, said: “Leamington is a really vibrant town centre which attracts people of all ages and draws visitors from a wide area.

“The creation of Regent Court has developed a clear and coherent food and leisure quarter which in itself if a big draw. The company has invested six figures and is looking forward to being a major player in the town’s leisure economy.”

Special Feature

Warwickshire's economy and 750,000,000 sprouts

The Golden Quarter,  a 90% increase in footfall, 250,000 seasonal jobs and 750,000,000 sprouts...Warwickshire County Council senior economist Sunny Parekh gives the lowdown on Chrimbo-nomics...

Ask someone what Christmas means to them and many people would describe a time for family, food and general yuletide joy... but, in the business world, many would also factor the economy in amongst the festive spirit.

Christmas means big business for most sectors across the UK and with the big day fast approaching and preparations in full swing, let's take a look at how Christmas impacts business and the economy.

Christmas shopping

For most, Christmas preparations start with shopping. A recent survey conducted by Deloitte found that shoppers in the UK are estimated to spend on average £567 this coming Christmas, up by 1.6% on 2018 – an admirable increase given the ongoing economic and political unrest.

Nothing screams Christmas quite like presents and it comes as no surprises that our love for gift-giving during the holidays will account for just over half the average estimated spend at £299 – comparatively higher than our European friends who are estimated to spend £171 of their total average spend of £407.

The festive period is certainly a gift for the UK retail sector who see it as the most lucrative time of the year for profits, with Q4 dubbed the “golden quarter” for retail. According to the Office for National Statistics, UK retail sales accounted for £110 billion in the last quarter of 2018 – 29% of the total retail sales value of the whole year (£381bn).

The peak Christmas shopping season starts for most with “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” with retailers offering eye-catching discounts in a bid to drum up sales. This year’s iteration of the American tradition has already given UK retailers a boost in sales according to Barclaycard, who find that sales volumes were up 7.1% compared with 2018, while sales value rose by 16.5%.

Christmas and the “temp job”

The festive period is especially good for those in need of a bit of extra cash as the upsurge in shopping and Christmassy activities puts immense pressure on not only the retail sector but also other linked sectors like tourism and logistics.

These sectors find themselves in need of seasonal staff to keep up with all the festive demand. There are approximately 250,000 seasonal job vacancies across the UK this Christmas, with big companies such as Amazon, Tesco and Debenhams all in need of extra pairs of hands. Warwickshire, specifically, has seen the likes of chefs and sales assistants in high demand in the past two months.

Christmas markets

The Christmas markets are a sure-fire way to get people into the festive mood with town and city centres across the UK being transformed with wooden stalls filled with festive food and drink both produced locally and from the continent.

A visit to the markets has not only become an important fixture for people in the run-up to Christmas, but also for the local economies as they boost activity, bring jobs and attract visitors to the area at a time when the visitor economy can be quiet.

According to the Local Government Association, Christmas markets across the UK generated £500m in 2017. Our very own Victorian-themed Christmas market in Stratford-upon-Avon (currently in its third successful year) saw an estimated 330 jobs created in 2017 bringing with it a 90% increase in footfall in the town on the previous year.

However, despite all the positive contributions of the markets to the economy, the BBC recently reported that Brexit has caused increased costs for the markets and the UK economy could find it harder to attract European stallholders in the future.

Christmas Day

The big day itself, unsurprisingly, is not that important in terms of the economy and is possibly the least productive day of the year in all senses of the word. The majority of large businesses are closed by law and most of us are well into the festivities to even worry about anything beyond the Christmas meal – which, according to recent reports by the BBC, could be costing us more this year.

Supply side issues such as the recent floods and wet weather have impacted crop yields for seasonal veggies. This means that the 750 million sprouts sold by supermarkets last year (according to the ONS) may be quite difficult to match this year...

Happy Christmas!


In the Towns

Welcome to WMB In The Towns...

Welcome from Rachel Baconnet, Warwickshire County Council town centres and tourism leader.

Hello and welcome to the December edition of Warwickshire Means Business: In the Towns.

As always, there is loads going on In The Towns - with a lot more more coming down the track. This month we feature a new support programme, starting in the New Year, which will give Independent retailers across Warwickshire a chance to get some top tips on how to attract more customers.

Also please read about the exciting plans of Shakespeare's England and the George Eliot Fellowship in the year ahead as they continue their great work to promote the region in the context of our two great writers. The Roman Mancetter project, meanwhile, is a great collective effort by organisations worting together to give prominence to an often unheralded corner of Warwickshire's amazing history.

I hope you enjoy reading about these initiatives - and much more - in Warwickshire Means Business: In the Towns.

Happy Christmas!

Rachel Baconnet

What is the Warwickshire Towns Network?  

The Warwickshire Towns Network (WTN) is a collaboration between practitioners and businesses who have a vested interest in the health of  Warwickshire Town Centres.   

Who do we work with?  

  • Practitioners – these people and organisations are mainly focused on the town as a whole, helping to develop, enhance and attract people to the town.

  • Businesses – a mix of retail, professional service and leisure within town centres. 

  • Community – are playing an increasingly important role in how their places are shaped. 

Contact Details

Tel: 01926 412818 

Email: towns@warwickshire.gov.uk 

Web: www.warwickshire.gov.uk/towncentres 

Twitter:  @WarksTN 

Facebook: @WarksTN 

Instagram: @WarksTN 


Tel: 01926 412818 

Email: Tourism@warwickshire.gov.uk 

Web: www.warwickshire.gov.uk/tourism 

Twitter: @WarksFandD 

Facebook: @warwickshireFoodDrink 

Digital tips for small businesses from New Year workshops

Independent retailers across Warwickshire will be given top tips on how to attract more customers when a new support programme starts in the New Year.

The Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce will deliver the support on behalf of Warwickshire County Council to help drive footfall to independents across the county through the Warwickshire Towns Network Programme.

Business owners will be given advice on how to use social media to tell their stories, how to create more of a shopping experience to counter the functionality of online retail and how to build better networks in their local area.

Local company, Stories Marketing – which has a background in retail and expertise in social media – will deliver a series of workshops across the county, starting in January.

Emma Woodward and Sam Yair established Stories Marketing after 15 years in retail, running successful women’s fashion chain – Aspire Style – in Warwick, Solihull, Stratford, Oxford and Coventry.

And their experience and expertise will now be passed on to independent retailers across the region.

Emma said: “There is no doubting that the high street is going through a very tough period but for independent retailers it is all about how to adapt, being creative, and thinking differently in order to drive footfall and increase sales’

“Our workshops will go beyond the technology of social media and will help businesses to develop an online personality and brand – even in this modern age people still want to buy from people.

“By showing off personality, you can build a following in a much better way than trying to sell, sell, sell when you are online.

“Independent retailers can inject more personality into their online presence and can offer a shopping experience for their customers and the two can feed off one another.

“That will be part of what we will be working on during the workshops. But also in how we bring independents together both online and offline in order to be able to offer an even greater experience to customers. By working together it really can make a difference to

your bottom line, but also more widely drive footfall into a town, creating a destination and a fantastic shopping experience.

Aaron Corsi, from Warwickshire County Council, said: “We are excited to be commissioning the Digital Skills for retailers and high street businesses for the fourth year running.

“We have seen some real success stories since we started the programme in 2016. It is wonderful to see small retailers and high street businesses embracing social media, gaining new customers and changing the way they interact with customers and supporting the local economy.”

Keely Hancox, Operations Manager of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are very pleased to be working with the Warwickshire Towns Network to deliver this much needed support to independent retailers across the county.

“Everyone wants to see a thriving high street, with a range of independent retailers who make their towns unique. The workshops and support offered through this project will form a key part of Warwickshire’s success.

“It’s great that we are able to work with Stories Marketing to deliver this support, having run a successful chain of independents they have trialled and tested lots of ideas, and have seen first hand what has made the biggest impact in terms of footfall and sales’.

Stories Marketing will be delivering a series of workshops across Warwickshire commencing in January 2020. For more information go to http://towncentres.eventbrite.com or contact Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce on 02476 654321 (Option 3).

Supporting Warwickshire’s Destination Partnerships

Warwickshire County Council is investing £25,000 this year to enhance the work of Shakespeare’s England, which is the organisation responsible for marketing and developing tourism in the south of the county.

With over 100 businesses in membership, and backed by Stratford and Warwick District Councils, Shakespeare’s England is in a perfect position to coordinate and spearhead marketing the region to the rest of the world. To read about their exciting plans for the coming year please read here.

In the north of the county it is the role of Northern Warwickshire Tourism (NWT) to celebrate all that is wonderful about Northern Warwickshire and beyond, to boost visitor numbers and improve the local economy.

NWT is a voluntary organisation, but thanks to a £10,000 grant from the county council, will now be able to offer its more than 60 members the services of a dedicated Marketing and Membership Officer, Carol Evans. Working closely with NWT’s Executive Committee, Carol’s main responsibilities will be to advocate for, and raise the profile of, Northern Warwickshire as a visitor destination.

Carol commented: “I’m delighted to be able to join NWT at this exciting time. It’s a fantastic opportunity to put Northern Warwickshire on the map and capitalise on the influx of tourists coming to the region for City of Culture and Commonwealth Games events.

"Our aim is to relaunch the organisation, reaching out to new members, so that we achieve real business growth for everyone here. If you’re not already a member please contact me and find out how to get involved.”

For further information about joining Northern Warwickshire Tourism please contact carolevans64@yahoo.co.uk or by phone on 07525 183056.

George Eliot Visitor Centre set to open in 2020

Warickshire County Council, in partnership with the George Eliot Fellowship (GEF), is financing a consultancy study to develop the George Eliot visitor offer in Warwickshire.

The study has two main aspects: a) support with business planning for the GEF to create a visitor centre at Griff House just outside Nuneaton and b) a longer-term development plan to improve and link the wider George Eliot offer at multiple sites around Warwickshire.

John Burton, GEF Chair, commented: “For seven years the Fellowship has been trying to get a George Eliot Visitor Centre at Griff, where the author lived for her first 21 years. It has been a long process but in October, thanks to a very generous donation, it finally raised the amount needed to start work.

"It is expected that the Centre will open in 2020 when the Fellowship will embark on its next great stride forward towards placing Eliot more prominently in north Warwickshire to complement the other Warwickshire writer from the south of the county!”

2019, the bicentenary of the author’s birth, has been a great success and has raised awareness locally of the great Victorian novelist after an ambitious series of events arranged by the Fellowship.

These included enhanced regular events like George Eliot readings by Gabriel Woolf and in local churches by the Fellowship, working with choirs; lectures, talks and slide shows to community groups, work with schools and with George Eliot Hospital and cooperation with the local authority in putting on events to honour her memory.

Exciting events have also taken place as a result of Fellowship sponsorship or encouragement. They worked with Sudden Impulse Theatre Company to produce outdoor performances of a dramatised version by Vivienne Wood of a short story set in Arbury called Mr Gilfil’s Love Story. This was performed in two other venues. The Fellowship commissioned Lesley Smith to create a one-hour presentation of Eliot’s life which was performed to big audiences in three venues and is now part of Smith’s repertoire for future years. With a grant from the Nicholas Chamberlaine Trust the Fellowship has produced a children’s version of Silas Marner which will be distributed to all local primary schools.

Sudden Impulse also produced six performances of their own version of Silas Marner The Musical to great acclaim. Nuneaton Rotary and the Fellowship paid for a bespoke steel bench designed by local artist Alisha Miller which is now proudly outside the Town Hall.

These events were spread out over the year but nationally celebrations tended to be in the birthday week in November. There were very well attended events at the Senate House in London and at the British Library; the National Portrait Gallery displayed all their Eliot portraits in one place; in Coventry and Nuneaton the museums made special efforts to mount exhibitions and local photographers repeated work done in 1919 by their forbears. On the birthday itself wreaths were laid in Nuneaton, at Griff, at Highgate and in Westminster Abbey.

Towns Conference on March 24th 2020

Date for the diary: March 24th 2020, annual Warwickshire Towns Conference  

The next Annual Warwickshire Towns Conference will take place on Tuesday 24th March, 2020 at Warwick Racecourse. 

The highlight of the Warwickshire Towns Network calendar, the conference brings together businesses and place practitioners to learn, debate and showcase town centres' initiatives and issues.

As a 'must-attend' event for place-makers, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), councils and town centre businesses throughout the county this event always has great feedback - and the 2020 conference is set to be no exception as it will include the launch the new Warwickshire Towns Awards. 

Last call for Placemaking Fund Projects...

The Warwickshire Placemaking Fund Last call for Placemaking Fund Projects:

Is the space around your business crying out for a pop-up play area, planter or seating?  

Do you look at the shop frontages in your street and see that a spruce-up is in order?   

Have you got an amazing idea that you think will have people piling into your town?  

If any of these is true, then why not get together with some of your fellow businesses and create a Spacehive Crowdfunding Campaign?   

We are looking to back ideas that will give a little boost to your area and help attract customers. If you are willing to get together with fellow businesses and the community to turn the idea into a crowdfunding campaign then you could be eligible for the Placemaking Fund* which has pots up to £20k to pledge towards ideas which meet the criteria.    

The Placemaking Fund is delivered via the Spacehive Crowdfunding Platform which is designed especially for Spaces and Places. The Fund comes to an end this year, so projects looking to attract pledges from this pot of money will need to be up and running in the next couple of months. There are other funds which sit on this platform, however, so don’t let that timescale put you off starting a campaign to get your project funded. For more information go to Spacehive here 

Any size of project goes when it comes to Spacehive and we have already seen some fantastic ideas become reality in Warwickshire's towns. Smith Street Traders in Warwick crowdfunded over £9k for the ‘Smith Street Cycle Hub’ and the businesses and community in Bidford raised £900 for their ‘Bidford Banners’ project whilst  the ‘St Andrews Gardens a Space for Everyone’ project in the heart of Rugby attracted over £46k.  

Desination Whitnash and The Historic Spine in Stratford are currently live with their fundraising so please take a look and pledge your support if you can. Pledges can start from £2.  

Shakespeare's England going global

"The team will be heading to India for a VisitBritain organised Sales Mission to bring British destinations to Mumbai and New Delhi and raise awareness of Warwickshire in this market. A similar visit is proposed for Japan..."

Shakespeare’s England is gearing up for a busy start to 2020, representing the region at key travel trade events around the world.

The Destination Management Organisation for South Warwickshire, Shakespeare’s England works to promote the area both domestically and internationally to tourism markets and will be travelling across the globe throughout 2020.

The team will be heading to India for a VisitBritain organised Sales Mission to bring British destinations to Mumbai and New Delhi and raise awareness of Warwickshire in this market. A similar visit is proposed for Japan, in late spring, as well as a virtual conference with the North American Market

Alongside a packed itinerary of domestic trade events, which include excursions, UKinbound Convention, ExploreGB and MeetGB, in November 2020, the team will be attending WTM London, one of the largest travel exhibitions in the country, where great focus will be given to Coventry being UK City of Culture 2021 and Birmingham being the host City for the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Following the success of WTM 2019, Shakespeare’s England hope that The Coventry City of Culture Trust will once more join them on their stand to helping to highlight the region’s plans for 2021 and the significant boost to the tourism industry that this will bring.

Helen Peters, Chief Executive of Shakespeare’s England, said: “We are thrilled to have the support of the City of Culture Trust in helping us to raise awareness of all the incredible events taking place ahead of 2021.

“The investment to the entire region following the announcement of City of Culture has been rapid which will result in a boost in tourism figures to the area.

“It’s really important for us to bring Warwickshire to the world at these events, spreading the message that there’s so much rich history and such a variety of attractions to enjoy. Our trade mission to India will be a particularly important part of this, especially as India is such an important Member of the Commonwealth.

“This year, Stratford-upon-Avon was recognised as an internationally renowned tourist attraction in the top 20 of Lonely Planet’s destinations to visit out of 500 locations.

“This recognition shows how hard the attractions, hotels and restaurants in the town work to continue bringing tourists to the area and following a busy 2019, it’s clear that the whole region continues to be an attractive destination for visitors.

“Nearly 11 million trips were made to Shakespeare’s England last year with £227 million spent in total. The tourism industry in the region is worth over £700 million and employs over 13,000 people and making up over 10% of the employment figures in the region so these figures really do highlight the importance of the sector for Warwickshire.

“The support of the Councils is invaluable in bringing this message of our area to the world and so we are grateful for the support.”

For more information on Shakespeare’s England, please visit: http://shakespeares-england.co.uk/

Wonderful collective effort brings Mancetter's rich history into focus

Tourism stakeholders were given a sneak preview of a new visitor attraction which will open at St Peter’s Church, Mancetter, in February 2020.

The exhibition has been part funded by Warwickshire County Council as part of its work to develop new rural tourism infrastructure. It will enable archaeological artefacts to be displayed for the first time and showcase the site of Boudica’s last battle site.

Hitherto there was no museum in North Warwickshire, despite the area’s crucial role in historical events of national significance. In Roman times Mancetter was the site of an important fort (where St Peter’s Church now stands) and settlement which made Mortaria pottery, transported all over the Roman empire. Mancetter’s USP is that it has the strongest claim to being the site of Boudica’s last battle.

The visitor centre is a wonderful example of collective effort. Thanks to support from St Peter’s, Atherstone Civic Society, the Friends of Atherstone Heritage and North Warwickshire Borough Council, the project won financial backing from the Rural Development Programme for England’s LEADER grant scheme.


Upcoming events...

December 13th: Creative Mornings, Leamington Spa Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa https://creativemornings.com/cities/lms

December 16th: INVESTIBILITY - Make your business investment ready! Ramada Hotel, Coventry https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/startup-essentials-investibility-make-your-business-investment-ready-registration-83768565033

December 16th: Startup Essentials: INVESTIBILITY - Make your business investment ready! Study Inn Conference, Coventry https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/startup-essentials-investibility-make-your-business-investment-ready-registration-83768565033

December 19th: One to One Business Support Session in Stratford-upon-Avon, Venture House, Stratford-upon-Avon https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/one-to-one-business-support-session-in-stratford-upon-avon-tickets-65402792513

December 19th: One to One Business Support Session in Rugby, Oxygen Graphics, Rugby https://www.cwgrowthhub.co.uk/event/one-one-business-support-session-rugby-5

December 19th: Venture House: Co-working Club, Venture House, Stratford-upon-Avon https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/venture-co-working-club-tickets-66309943827

December 19th: Business Buzz Warwick, Old Coffee Tavern, Warwick https://www.business-buzz.org/local-business-networking-locations/warwick/

December 20th: One to One Business Support Session (Warwick), The Old Clink, Warwick https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/one-to-one-business-support-session-warwick-tickets-69418770411

January 9th: Rugby Business Buzz, Prince of Wales, Rugby https://www.business-buzz.org/local-business-networking-locations/rugby/

January 13th: FAB Networking, Coton Sports and Social Club, Nuneaton https://www.fab-networking.com/nuneaton-business-networking-events

January15th: Coventry & Warwickshire Champions, Rugby School, Rugby https://www.cwgrowthhub.co.uk/event/coventry-warwickshire-champions-2020

January 16th: Apprenticeship Open Events, MTC Ansty https://the-amtc.co.uk/apprenticeships/for-apprentices/open-events/

January 16th: Business Buzz, Warwick, Old Coffee Tavern, Warwick https://www.business-buzz.org/local-business-networking-locations/warwick/

January 23rd: 5G ACIA Conference, Ricoh Arena, Coventry https://www.cwlep.com/event/5g-acia-conference

January 23rd: Corporate Networking Quiz Night, Coombe Abbey, Ansty https://www.cw-chamber.co.uk/events/corporate-networking-quiz-night/

January 30th: Interactive Futures, Spa Centre, Leamington Spa https://interactive-futures.com/news/

January 30th: Put your Social Media House In Order, Centenary Business Centre, Nuneaton https://www.cw-chamber.co.uk/events/put-your-social-media-house-in-order-30th-january-2020/

February 4th: Crime Prevention Workshop for Warwickshire SMEs, IBM Warwick https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/it-wont-happen-to-me-crime-prevention-workshop-for-warwickshire-smes-tickets-69403262025

February 4th: Creative Springboard Village Hotel, Coventry https://www.cwgrowthhub.co.uk/event/creative-springboard

February12th: Artificial Intelligence for Manufactiring 2020, The MTC Ansty http://www.the-mtc.org/event-items/artificial-intelligence-for-manufacturing-2020

February 21st: Race Retro, NAEC Kenilworth, https://www.raceretro.com/

News in Brief

All the latest News-in-Brief...

Aston Martin Lagonda launches crucial new model

The new Aston Martin Lagonda DBX SUV has been launched to critical acclaim. The vehicle, designed and engineered in Warwickshire, will be manufactured from this month in St Athan, South Wales, and will its hoped significantly increase Aston Martin volumes above 10,000 units per annum.

Silicon Valley comes to Nuneaton

Plug and Play, the early stage investor, accelerator and corporate innovation platform with global headquarters Silicon Valley, has launched its first UK centre in partnership with MIRA Technology Park. The partnership will foster a mobility tech centre in the heart of the UK automotive industry.

The partnership was launched on November 20th, with the ‘Accelerate Mobility’ event attracting start-ups from around the world keen to attract funding through the platform.

Coventry & Warwickshire Automotive Dinner celebrates its 10th year in Nuneaton

The 10th Annual Coventry & Warwickshire Automotive Dinner took place this year at MIRA Technology Institute, attracting over 70 guests from 45 auto businesses and support organisations both local and national.

Keynote speaker was Jeff Pratt, managing director of UKBIC, the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre opening next year in Coventry. Other speakers included Derek Benfield from battery maker Envision-AESC and Tony Harper from the Faraday Challenge. Marion Plant OBE of North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College gave a welcome on behalf of CWLEP and Adam McGiveron spoke on behalf of headline sponsors Shakespeare Martineau.

Cubbington-based Thwaites Dumpers makes key promotions

Thwaites Dumpers, the construction equipment-maker, has announced a series of changes to its senior team, making a number of internal promotions. Deputy chairman Ian Brown said: "These changes will further develop the business as we maintain our investment in the factory and product development with the focus on enhancing our customer base in UK and export markets."

New Games Development Studio opens in Leamington Spa

Electric Square is the latest games developer to open a Leamington Spa studio, creating 50 jobs. The Brighton-based company behind Forza Street and Hot Wheels id has hired Nick Harper (previously of Exient) to lead the new office. This new inward investment follows on from a number of other new names and expansions from the sector in the town over the last 18 months.

Digital experiments takes Shakespeare to a New Place

A pilot Extended Reality (XR) project will give visitors their first chance to see virtually inside Shakespeare’s New Place - 260 years after his grand family home in Stratford-upon-Avon was demolished.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is working with artificial intelligence and immersive technology specialists AiSolve and Coventry University’s Centre for Postdigital Cultures on the first of a series of digital experiments exploring the application of emerging technologies at the charity’s Shakespeare heritage sites in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Businesses across mid-Warwickshire have a new voice to represent their views

Sarah Windrum is the new chair of the mid-Warwickshire branch of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, replacing David Myskow in leading the branch which represents firms in Leamington, Warwick, Kenilworth and the surrounding area.

Sarah is the co-founder of regional technology company The Emerald Group and also a board director of the Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP), leading on economic growth of the digital creative sector.

Jon gets juggling

Jon Wilby, Head of Litigation at Coventry-based solicitors Band Hatton Button, will be juggling his day job alongside being the face of Coventry & Warwickshre First until October 2020.

C&W First is a forum exclusively run by and for professional and financial services firms in Coventry and Warwickshire. It has more than 40 members which range from entrepreneurial start-ups to family firms and global organisations. Jon's new role will see him representing the forum at events and developing a strategy to build the forum’s membership and profile.

Rugby construction company builds turnover and profit

Rugby construction company Stepnell has reported strong results for 2018/19.The 151-year-old family-owned firm, which operates across central and southern England, has attributed its robust performance to a range of successful projects during the year and a clear strategy of competing in diverse markets including healthcare, retirement and education and extending to commercial business, retail and leisure premises, and also civil engineering works.

National £35m fund launched to support rural businesses

Rural businesses across Coventry and Warwickshire have the opportunity to apply for a share of £35 million of nationwide funding. The RDPE Growth Programme provides grants for rural start-ups and businesses to purchase equipment and machinery to create jobs, boost tourism and unlock growth in rural areas.

The scheme has already given £99 million to 546 local businesses across England, creating 3,771 new jobs in rural areas. Rural business in Warwickshire have so far been allocated £2.6 million from the two previous rounds of the scheme.

Wellesbourne Innovation Campus new appointment

Martin Yardley will take on a new role in the new year after he leaves Coventry City Council, spearheading the development of the University of Warwick’s Wellesbourne Campus, one of the region’s most important research and development focused investment sites.

The 472-acre (191 hectares) campus, between the villages of Wellesbourne and Charlecote, became part of the university in 2004. It already houses a range of research organisations and businesses including the Warwick Crop Centre, which is internationally recognised for its research into sustainable agriculture, horticulture and food security.

Leamington Business Awards raises £4,500 for local charities

The 2019 Leamington Business Awards, organised for the first time by Leamington Business Forum, shone a spotlight on some of the district’s entrepreneurial success stories. Established in 2014, the Awards champion and celebrate the work of local businesses, individuals and organisations while also raising vital funds for local charities.

Among the winners were commercial property company AC Lloyd scooped Business of the Year as well as Property Business of the Year; the People’s Choice Award winner, sponsored by The Leamington Courier, was revealed as Temperance, a vintage shop, art gallery, cafe, live music venue, art cinema and performance space, and the Leamington Legend Award went to local couple Marianne and Archie Pitts.

People Profile

From astronomy centre to accounts department - an unusual career switch...

"I like to follow things through and see results and that's what I love about the job I have now. My day-to-day work at the council involves projects that, both in the short and long terms, will materially deliver results."

The number of gifted scientists employed at the Joint Astronomy Centre, Hawaii, during its 35-year existence runs into hundreds - but only one of them ever quit to join the finance department at Warwickshire County Council.

That was Vicki Barnard. In 2005, she chose to swap star-gazing for number-crunching - not a career-switch you see every day.

Fourteen years later, Vicki has just been appointed as the council's Strategy and Commissioning Manager, Infrastructure and Sustainable Communities. Her role is a broad-ranging one with areas of responsibility which include regeneration, town centres, country parks, HS2, planning policy and infrastructure delivery.

That's a full agenda and the job is a challenging one - a far cry from astronomy, just as Barrack Street, Warwick, is a far cry from the Pacific Islands of Hawaii.

But has Vicki ever regretted the switch? Not for a moment.

"After getting two degrees in astronomy, a job opportunity came up in Hawaii and that was hard to turn down," she said. "I did enjoy my work and life there but soon realised that, for several reasons, it wasn't for me long-term.

"I saw the amount of money that was being spent on astronomy and that made me start to think about getting maximum value out of public funds. I wanted to do something where there was an end-product that you could see and use; rather than just to do the scientific research, to actually help make things happen.

" Hawaii is lovely in many ways but very isolated in the middle of the world's biggest ocean so I felt it was time to come back to the UK. Public sector finance appealed to me and Warwickshire County Council were advertising for a trainee accountant.

"With my background, I knew that I was a bit left-field but acknowledged that in my application and was really impressed by the council's willingness to think outside the box. I think that

people with backgrounds that are a little bit unorthodox often have a lot to offer."

That was 2005 but Vicki’s time at the council has not been unbroken. Between 2012 and 2017 she was a consultant at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. She learned a lot from the variety of organisations she worked with, but was left eager for a role where she could see projects through to fruition - to affect things directly.

"The role of a consultant is to advise and many are content to do that and then that's it, their involvement ends," she said. "That's fine, but I was always keen to know what happened next - what outcomes my input led to.

"I like to follow things through and see results and that's what I love about the job I have now. My day-to-day work at the council involves projects that, both in the short and long terms, will materially deliver results.

"Our country parks are the ultimate example. We need to look after them day-by-day and plan for the immediate term as well as taking the longer-term view. They are a very special part of what I do because they are such amazing places. The county council is proud to be custodian of our country parks and we take that role very seriously, but we’re always looking to do more with them as well.

"Then there are the bigger, longer-term projects like Transforming Nuneaton and HS2 that will hopefully bring new benefits far into the future. We are very proud to be part of the Transforming Nuneaton programme which will galvanise the town centre for years to come. HS2 is not everybody's cup of tea, of course, but we are doing everything in our powers to minimise disruption to communities during the construction and maximise benefits to the region in the years that follow.

"I certainly have plenty to do and I am still very new to the role, but I have the huge advantage of having some really excellent people working around me. It is fantastic to see such high levels of expertise and commitment being poured into ensuring that Warwickshire remains such a great place to live and I am proud to have joined the team."

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