Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Connect Group PLC and Smiths News bring Christmas joy to Swindon children

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Connect Group's Secret Santa donationsEmployees from Swindon-based Connect Group PLC and Smiths News took Secret Santa to a new level on Friday by donating presents to Hop Skip & Jump, a children’s charity which provides immediate and flexible respite care and support to disadvantaged children in the town.

The centre provides day and evening respite care, seven days a week, for children with life limiting illnesses, learning disabilities and special educational needs.

In total, over 60 presents were bought by staff as an alternative to the well-known Secret Santa – instead of buying gifts for each other they bought presents for the children who use the respite centre, aged between seven and 13 years. And Smiths News also donated three boxes of children’s books from their Pass My Parcel business.

Lisa Lynn and Laura Smith delivered the presents on Friday – just in time for Hop Skip & Jump’s Christmas party, where Santa made a special visit to give out all the gifts.

Centre manager Sonia Osbourne said: “We are a respite day care centre for children with a wide range of disabilities and additional needs. Our centre also gives parents respite so that they can do the things they need to whilst providing a safe environment for their children. We are so grateful for the donation and would like to thank Smiths News for their generosity – the children and staff were overwhelmed.”

Hop Skip & Jump also have a new ‘drop off’ facility in the town centre that provides a two hour stay for children, so parents can have some time to themselves.

The donation of gifts ties in well with Connect Group’s company-wide community programme Community Link-Up, where staff are supported in any charity or volunteering activity they wish to take part in. So far the programme has raised over £400,000 for national and local charities since it began in 2011.

Senior technician celebrates 10 years at Systemagic

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Chris Sweet of SystemagicChris Sweet, procurement manager and senior IT technician, celebrates his tenth anniversary as part of the Systemagic team this month.

The 31-year-old joined the IT company in 2004 as a junior technician after completing four years of study and securing an HND in computing.

Systemagic has an office in Bath and another in Trowbridge on the Bryers-Ash Business Park.

Today Chris is a senior employee at the company providing IT support including a helpdesk for businesses across the south west. He also is central to the company’s other services including broadband and internet connectivity, cloud services; online back-up and hosted exchange.

Chris said: “I know it’s unusual in IT for someone to stay with one company for so long but the truth is it’s all about the people I work with. We’re like a big family rather than just work colleagues. We look out for each other and my boss James is a friend – most of the time.”

Thieves beware - Dasher is coming to town

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Swindon at ChristmasShoplifters and pickpockets had better watch out… Dasher is coming to town.

The seasonally-titled police operation was launched in Swindon on Saturday, with the aim of increasing the police presence in the town centre during the day time, including late night shopping.

The operation - a partnership effort between the Swindon Town Centre Neighbourhood Police Team, Swindon Community Safety Partnership, inSwindon, the town’s retailers, store security staff and licensed premises – saw a 15 percent decrease in reported crime last year compared to the year before.

Police inspector Paul Saunders said: “"Crime and anti social behaviour during the day time economy continue to remain relatively low. This is thanks to the shared responsibility and collective commitment of inSwindon, the retailers, town centre management, store security and the police.

“We continue to build upon these working relationships during the busy festive period when an increase in opportunistic crime can occur. Our aim is to ensure Swindon town centre remains a safe and pleasant place to visit.”

Swindon HR consultant opens a new office… in the City of London

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Peter Jones of The HR DeptSwindon HR consultant Peter Jones has opened a new office… in the City of London.

The HR Dept City of London will target SMEs in the professional services and finance sectors, and will be owned and run by Peter, an Essex-born former City worker.

Mr Jones already has two City-based clients – clean energy investment fund Glennmont Partners, based in Old Broad Street, and Aldgate-based pharmaceutical data analysts Evaluate Ltd – which he has been serving from his Swindon office.

But he said he has been keen to move to London for many years and believes the time is now right to develop new business in the Square Mile.

“There’s a definite and strong market,” he said, “for companies which want frequent human resources advice but which are of the size – around 50 employees – where they don’t necessarily want to employ a department in-house.

“With the economy doing well, company structures changing and businesses looking to develop and grow, there’s a real need for what we offer.

“Picking up clients in the City has given me this appetite to work there again. I’ve always enjoyed working with interesting business and in particular professional services organisations.

“So far we have been supporting our London-based clients from Swindon but we recognise a market in the City and it makes sense to have an office there as well.”

Mr Jones said that the challenges of working with City-based businesses were unique: “Companies in the City have a different HR requirement to businesses elsewhere in the country, with complex governance structures, director agreements in high value businesses, TUPE transfers with investment banks looking to offload their funds to the people running them, and so on.

“Off the back of our relationship with Glennmont Partners we are working with a lot more FCA regulated business based in Swindon, which are Wiltshire-based but do trade in London and across Europe, in particular multi-national businesses.

“So we have plenty of expertise in the financial services sector and the prospect of developing more business among the City’s financial services SMEs is an extremely exciting one.”

The HR Dept offers access to qualified HR practitioners when companies need it, with regular on-site support but without the continuous overheads of employing an HR department in-house.

The company already covers six areas in London but Mr Jones said the venture into the Square Mile would eventually develop into a team of a similar size to the one based in Swindon.

The North Wiltshire branch of The HR Dept currently retains more than 50 monthly clients, employing four staff full time.

Mr Jones said: “It’s been a great time for us despite the economic troubles and business is sufficiently established in Wiltshire that I can look forward to taking on my next challenge.

“It’s been great to pick up clients in London from being based in Wiltshire –many of the directors live here and commute in. So this move makes a lot of sense and I’m confident it will work.”

Sue Tumelty, Founder and Executive Director of The HR Dept, said: “It’s great to have someone of Peter’s calibre heading up our new office in the City of London and I’m sure he will run his business there with great success.”

More than 100 Wiltshire businesses get specialist help for growth

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Susanne Cooke of Paw PalsMore than 100 small businesses across Wiltshire have benefited from grants for specialist advice to help their enterprises grow.

The Specialist Business Advice grant from The Enterprise Network (TEN) Swindon and Wiltshire was funded through the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Rural Growth Network.

The total grant pot of £150,000 has now been spent, with 112 grants of between £500 and £1,500 awarded to a wide range of small businesses across Wiltshire and Swindon.

The most popular requests were for specialist support in web development, brand enhancement and business development/sales support.

Chris Simpson from Wiltshire Business Support Service which managed the SBA grant on behalf of The Enterprise Network, said: "The TEN Specialist Business Advice grant proved the perfect way to help small businesses bring forward that small, but vital, project that they might have been putting off."

One of the grant recipients, Susanne Cooke, is looking forward to expanding her Salisbury-based national dog walking, pet sitting and pet boarding business after a £1,500 SBA grant helped pay for drawing up a vital new franchise agreement.

Susanne was the Salisbury franchisee for Paw Pals (UK) Ltd before buying out the company in 2012, and has since focused on finding the right people to grow the business across the UK. She now has 18 Paw Pals franchisees from Newcastle to Eastbourne, and is looking to recruit more.

Earlier this year, Susanne needed a new franchise agreement – the bedrock of her business – but found the cost of paying for specialist help a real challenge.

Then, through Wessex Chambers, her husband heard about The Enterprise Network Specialist Business Advice grant for businesses in Wiltshire and Swindon.

“The £1,500 grant was fantastic – it went towards the costs of the solicitor’s fees to draw up the new agreement. It was a weight off my mind,” said Susanne. “As a franchise business grows, there are more challenges so I needed a watertight agreement to ensure there was consistent quality across the brand.

“With the confidence of having a good franchise agreement in place, I’m now planning to take on some part-time help to build the business. We offer tailor-made care for people’s pets, following their, and their pets’, usual routine in their own home, minimising stress and anxiety that can sometimes occur when they are apart.”

SMARTEch energy managing director Stuart PearceAnother of the grant recipients, former Royal Engineer Stuart Pearce from Corsham, launched SMARTech Energy Ltd in June this year.

He and his team help businesses understand how much energy they are wasting and then develop cost-effective ways to help them cut their energy consumption, carbon footprint and to become more sustainable.

By using SMARTech energy’s services, businesses can achieve between 30 to 50 percent reductions in their total energy consumption. But Stuart knew how important it was to ensure his business had the right impact on potential customers – so he needed to invest in quality logo, branding and on-line marketing support.

Thanks to a £1,500 SBA grant and the support of Wiltshire Business Support Service business adviser Debbie Neale, Stuart was able to afford the best professional advice.

“It is quite a crowded market, so it was essential that SMARTech energy stood out,” said Stuart. “The grant was brilliant as we were able to do so much more and to a much higher standard than we would have been able to afford at that stage of the business.”

Now business is booming with Stuart taking on a full-time project manager, electrician, plus two additional full time jobs and some part time roles to aid in the installation of energy efficient solutions.

Added Stuart: “It was important to find suppliers who we felt comfortable with and could work with over time. It was refreshing to receive a recommendation from Debbie rather than having to take pot luck finding a good support partner. We have really benefited from working with Mark Crone of Clearwater Traditional Marketing to develop our brand and ongoing marketing needs.”

SMARTech energy has developed a nine-step methodology, which enables a holistic approach to energy management and reduction by developing an energy plan and quantifying each energy-saving technology implemented in the client’s premises.

Hills recognised for Health and Safety commitment

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A school pupil gets to see things from an HGV driver's perspectiveAn extensive driver training programme, raising awareness on cycle safety around heavy goods vehicles, improvements to sites and the implementation of a Near Miss reporting scheme have all gained industry recognition for Hills Quarry Products.

The accolades came at the national industry body Mineral Products Association’s (MPA) annual Health and Safety awards held recently.

Hills was awarded joint runner-up in ‘Reducing Occupational Road Risk’ category for its involvement in promoting cycle safety around vehicles and training of drivers.

Two Certificates of Merit were also awarded, one in the Contractor Safety and Behavioural Safety category for implementing improvements to the site induction, site signage and documentation for hauliers on site; the other in the Safety Culture and Leadership category for the roll out of the Near Miss initiative.

Peter Andrew, group director Hills Quarry Products, said: “We focussed on identifying risks and implementing systems that encourage behavioural change and I am proud that all our efforts have been recognised.

“We were extremely fortunate to be able to engage with the public on the MPA cycle Safe campaign when the tour of Britain cycle event passed through Wiltshire. Visitors to our vehicle display were able to see the improvements we have made to our vehicles to make cycling near them safer as well as talk to our drivers and share experiences.

"Our drivers were able to talk about the training that they had received to make them more aware of cyclists on the roads.”

A video which highlights the cycle safe awareness event can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/user/TheHillsGroup

Peter continued: “The near miss initiative focussed on highlighting work place risks and has resulted in a direct reduction in both Reportable accidents (RIDDORS) and accidents resulting in employee time off (lost time accidents or LTAs).

"Improving health and safety across our operations remains a high priority in our business and we will continue to look for ways to improve.”

Duke of York officially opens UTC Swindon

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The Duke of York meets UTC Swindon studentsThe Duke of York kept a year-long promise and officially opened Swindon’s University Technical College on Thursday.

Prince Andrew met students, teachers, directors, and supporters from the business world before being shown around the college by its principal, Angela Barker-Dench.

She said: “ “The official opening of the college is an historic moment for UTC Swindon – and another milestone in the town’s heritage. His Royal Highness has a passion for engineering, manufacturing and apprenticeships. He shares our beliefs about skills and preparing students for the workplace or University.”

UTC Swindon opened this September in Grade II listed buildings formerly part of Swindon’s railway works.

The Duke was last at the facility back in February, when building work on the college commenced.

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