Brilliant Businesses

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“I’m trained as a Barrister, I did my Bar course at the university of law in London, completing it in 2020 and called to the Bar in 2021. In the olden days the Barristers would stand at a wooden bar and their clients would come to them and put their money in their robes, that’s why it’s called being called to the Bar; there’s a lot of old tradition in being a Barrister.

The last part of training for a Barrister is when you train under a more senior Barrister for a year or eighteen months – places for that are very competitive and few and far between, especially during Covid where people had to diversify what they were doing. That’s how I ended up will writing, it was with a firm down in Hastings, which was local for me and that really helped, it was a completely new area of law, and I hadn’t done any will writing before, but I have always loved drafting, so I knew I was going to like the writing side of it. Learning the new laws was completely new, but I had a fantastic team that I worked with and if any are reading this, I’d just like to say thank you for training me so well and I probably wouldn’t be here without you.”

“I started off working in hotels, mainly front of house, working for De Vere Hotels down at the Grand in Eastbourne, and after meeting my husband and business partner Derek we decided to move to the Tunbridge Wells area. I briefly had a period of working for building societies which I didn’t enjoy and then worked for Cadbury’s as a sales representative and then moved to a senior position with a company called Phostrogen who were an equivalent to Miracle Gro, the plant food people, dealing with horticultural chemicals; I was the southeast sales manager. We then had children and I moved away from working for a few years, Derek was working in his own company Invicta Lamb when the foot and mouth crisis hit. So, we decided to do something together!

We combined his knowledge of food safety and technology with my front of house and catering experience, and we opened here in 2004. It took a couple of years to get this site and initially we were a franchisee with O’Briens so opened as an Irish sandwich bar. We did our training and were looking for the right place, we looked at Brighton, but it was too expensive, so we decided to look a bit closer to home. We were standing where we are now, and there was a mock-up coffee shop, and they were filming an episode of 2 point 4 children – it was a sign! So, we approached the owners of the site and they agreed to let us have the space. It was meant to be.

We operated as an O’Briens for about six years, but they got into difficulties in the UK, they wanted to concentrate on their Irish franchisees, so the UK side got neglected and we had to start trading under a different name. We fortunately owned the lease, so we rebranded to Taste Wells, it’s a good name for Google and SEO due to the TW for Tunbridge Wells and we are pleased to say we are now in our 19th year!

We’ve developed the business into something more than it was, we’ve extended our seating around the stairs here in Royal Victoria Place as well as expanding our range. It’s what the town needs, when people are shopping, they just want a coffee and a sandwich or a coffee and a panini – it’s a simple offering and what people want, and I’m pleased to say that we are very busy! We have some great people on our team, Chris Peers has been with us for 10 years and with our daughter Hattie they run shop on a day-to-day basis, and we really rely on their knowledge and experience.

We have a fabulous customer base, some days we know what day of the week it is by who’s sat where, for example we know it’s Monday as all the gym girls are in, it’s really lovely. It’s all about the people.

When we opened, I had in my head the line from the song from the TV show Cheers ‘I want to go to a place where everybody knows my name’ I wanted it to be a sociable place, a bit like your local but without the alcohol, when we see people walking up the mall we know what they are going to order and we start making it so it’s ready for when they arrive, people love that!”

How long have you had your business?

I have been working as an aesthetic doctor for over 10 years and founded Dr.Christine Medical Aesthetics 6 years ago.

Have you added any other services to what you do since we last spoke? You were looking into Radiofrequency Micro-needling?

Following lots of research, I am excited to have introduced a new treatment to the clinic called Radiofrequency Micro-needling. This treatment is great for stimulating collagen production in the skin, to rejuvenate the skin, and can help treat the dullness, sunspots, pigmentation and fine lines caused by sun damage. It works by creating lots of tiny microchannels in the skin and then zapping radiofrequency heat into the skin to stimulate fresh collagen to be produced via the body’s natural healing process. It is an extremely popular treatment and we have had some really beautiful results with brighter fresher tighter skin and softening of lines and pigmentation.

Do you have advice for people thinking about using your services?

When considering any non-surgical aesthetic treatment it is most important to do your research. Presently, aesthetic treatments such as anti-wrinkle injections and dermal filler treatments are unregulated in the UK, meaning anyone is allowed to pick up a needle and offer treatment, and new clinics are sprouting up all the time. Check that the practitioner who is going to treat you is fully qualified and is a member of a regulatory body. I am a fully qualified doctor registered with the General Medical Council and a member of the British College of Aesthetic Medicine and Saveface. I am also a member of the Aesthetic Complications Expert group with training on how to deal with any possible complications that may arise following treatments. All new patients will need to book an initial consultation where we will go through their medical history and discuss their aesthetic concerns and the best treatment options for them in order to formulate a treatment plan. You will then be provided with written information on the recommended treatments and advised to take your time to research these options further before booking an appointment for treatment.

What are the advantages of using a private clinic like yours?

Unlike some larger clinics, I provide a uniquely personal service in a luxury boutique setting. Patients often comment that the clinic has a calm relaxing feel. My patients often do not tell their partners or friends that they have any aesthetic treatments at all, so they like the fact that the clinic is in a discreet location, and I only see one patient at a time in clinic with appointments spaced out, so they will not bump into anyone else and their secret remains safe with me!

What do you enjoy most about your business?

I enjoy having regular contact with my patients and building long term relationships, supporting them with my aesthetic treatments. Being able to create a positive change and improve my patient’s self-esteem and general well-being is hugely rewarding. Using my artistic eye daily to make minor treatments to create a more harmonious and fresher looking face is very satisfying.

What has been your greatest achievement this year?

I am proud to announce that I have recently won the award for “Aesthetic Doctor of the Year 2022” at the Global Excellence Awards. I am honoured to have my work recognised on an international basis, as I always strive to achieve the best results I can with my eye for detail and am so grateful for all the support from my patients.

What further plans do you have for the future?

I am always researching new treatments and updating my skills and I plan to continue to provide the best non-surgical aesthetic treatments to my patients going forwards – watch this space!

Dr Christine – December 2022

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“I was a GP for many years but decided to take a break to have my family – I have four children and after the last one started going to school, I looked in the mirror and decided I wanted some help to look less tired. Being a sleep-deprived Mum for a few years and going into my 40’s, I was noticing my skin looked dull with fine lines.

I started looking into treatments for myself and liked what I saw, so I trained in medical aesthetics. It was a career with which I could combine my skills as a GP to provide a holistic approach and care for my patients. It’s not just about the treatment, it’s about how it makes you feel, improving your self-confidence and self-esteem. I trained in Harley Street, which was about nine years ago now, and have ongoing training with the Allergan Medical Institute. I’m trained by Mauricio de Maio who’s a plastic surgeon from Brazil who invented the 8-point lift, which is a non-surgical facelift using dermal fillers.

I enjoy meeting a whole range of people and helping them holistically. Working in aesthetics gives me more freedom than my GP life did, it means I can really do the best I can for my patients. It’s all about helping somebody in the way they feel, improving their self- confidence and self-esteem and providing that support for them.

I offer anti-wrinkle injections, dermal filler treatments, I specialise in the 8-point lift, which is a non-surgical facelift using advanced dermal filler techniques, chemical peels, medical grade skincare and medical micro-needling with Skinpen. Unlike most clinics, there is only one patient in the clinic at a time and I aim to provide a uniquely personal, private and confidential service to my patients. I specialise in creating natural “tweakments” to make my patients look less tired and more refreshed. My philosophy is “less is more” when it comes to aesthetic treatments, and for most of my patients their treatment is a secret.

I was previously based in Tunbridge Wells High Street, but because of the pandemic, I realised that I needed to have my own space that I was able to keep as clinically clean and immaculate as possible, so we built this boutique clinic on the side of our home.

I love what I do and I’m really lucky to have such wonderful patients, most of which come to me by word of mouth, friends recommending friends. I do have a lot of local patients but also have patients that travel a long way; I have patients from Holland, France and Spain that come to see me.

I’m hoping to offer more treatments and am looking into Radiofrequency Micro-needling – sagging of the jaw line is an area that patients have noticed more over zoom meetings so we can do tightening in this area. Through the pandemic there’s been this phenomenon called Zoom Face; people have been on zoom so much that they’re looking at themselves from unusual angles and they’ve noticed that their jaw line is saggier than they thought, or their frown lines are more noticeable, so they need a bit of help in that area, which in turn helps to improve their self-confidence.”

“When we were kids my dad was always walking around with a Pentax ME Super camera in his hand, taking photographs, those were the days when you used a film, and it was a gamble when you took the film into boots, if you had a decent photograph or not. My dad, Ken, inspired me, and he was the one that led me into photography.

When I was in my early teens, I had that camera and loved doing black and white photography, but never in my wildest dreams, thought that it may ever go any further from that. I became a touring/working musician, and I would take my camera with me and started to take photographs of bands and other musicians.

I was working on a tour with NME and started photographing a band called Big Pink, a fantastic band from Brighton back in the early 2000s – when they asked me if they could use the photo’s – that sparked it! I could obviously take a photograph and people were interested in my ‘take’ on photography and that’s generally where it all started. It was the spark and ignition point which inspired me to go out and invest in the equipment, I taught myself, never had a lesson and never had anyone show me what to do, the same as my music, purely self-taught. I’ve always had a feel for it, I can see an image in my head before I take a photograph, I’ve always managed to get the shot and that skill set has enabled me to work with some incredible clients and move it up to the level where I am at today.

My family are based in Bristol, it’s a creative hub with so much opportunity and if you really commit yourself, it’s an incredible place to be, I miss Bristol tremendously. I met my lovely wife at this time, she was a West End actress working in London and she introduced me to some people in her industry. I moved to London and started working as a head shot photographer for actors and people in the entertainment industry, it just snowballed, and I got busier and busier, and I’m delighted to say that it turned into my career!

I started taking photography at events to fill in the gaps when I wasn’t doing my portraiture and through that I got involved with companies such as Barclays, ITV, and Capita as well as lots of magazines like food magazine and travel magazines, then it moved into corporate photography, events, and product photography.

I’ve lived here in Tonbridge for four years now and I’ve fallen head over heels in love with it, it’s such a great community and I’ve made so many amazing friends. There’s a lot of interesting business opportunities here and If I can bring what I already do in London, to this area, introducing myself to the local businesses; it makes me feel very excited to be able to show them what I can do.

I have this funny thing when I’m on the train coming back from London, you go through a tunnel just after leaving Orpington, or when you come off the M25 and get on the A21, there’s this effect where your shoulders relax, and it has a classifying relaxation effect on me. I can relax here, and I love it.”

 

“I’ve spent fifteen years in marketing, starting off my career working with big brands like Nespresso (part of Nestlé). I then moved to Switzerland after meeting my Swiss husband whilst working with Nespresso. In Switzerland, I spent around four years with Procter and Gamble in their Prestige business, working on fine fragrances and make-up; both Nestlé and Procter and Gamble were an amazing training ground for my marketing skills. I was thrown into the deep end and made responsible for a lot very early on, it gave me a thick skin, it was great training and I loved it.

We then decided to move back to the UK, and I wanted to use my expertise with what I had learned from the big brands to help smaller businesses to grow. I joined Monica Vinader, who are an affordable luxury jewellery brand, now present globally. In London, I joined them as Marketing Manager and when I joined, they had a turnover of around four seven million, when I left, they were turning over thirty-five million, so a massive growth in five years.

During that time, I had my two daughters and went part-time but soon realised I wanted to spend more time with them so stopped, I realised I had ten or eleven years’ experience by then and I was always interested in starting up on my own – so I went for it.

I started off freelancing, helping similar businesses in the luxury and premium sector with their marketing but realised I was missing an element, social media. Social media was becoming more and more important for small businesses, so I retrained in social media and started to add it to my services, then Covid hit and the demand for social media services went through the roof! So, my business has shifted, seventy percent is social media training for small businesses and thirty percent is me as a marketing lecturer, working with training providers who offer apprenticeships and other marketing and digital professional qualifications, working as a course tutor or lecturer.

I train small businesses on Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Advertising and LinkedIn as well as social media strategy, I do it on a one-to-one basis, in small groups of up to four, and large of up to ten, online or face to face. What I do really is all about training, I don’t manage client’s social media accounts, I’m focused on up-skilling clients that want to use the social media platforms for themselves. Often, it’s small companies that can’t afford to outsource their social media and need, or want to learn to do it themselves, or small businesses that have the desire to keep it in-house. and do it themselves. I work across all industries; I don’t have a specific niche – the training I offer can be used in any industry but I will always tailor my advice and content recommendations to the client’s specific sector.

I’m married to a Swiss guy with three children, two girls and a boy aged eight, six and two, born in India but live in Sevenoaks and went to school in Tunbridge Wells, so I’m passionate about helping businesses in the local area.

Another important part is after the training I don’t just ignore my clients, I will then look at what they are doing, follow them and engage with their posts and let them know they can get in touch anytime if they need any further help or support. It’s important that I’m there for them after the training.

The satisfaction I get from my work is when someone comes to me and is just desperate with social media, they can’t get their heads around it, they hate it, and it takes up way too much of their time. After my training, they understand it, and realise it doesn’t have to be that way – they walk away feeling inspired and have more confidence to do it themselves; that is SO rewarding.

I have a social media strategy workshop on Tuesday 8th November in Maidstone from 10am to 2.30pm. This four-hour training session with a thirty-minute buffet lunch, included in the price, is aimed at small business owners, including start-ups, freelancers and sole traders who are just starting out on social media for their business or have been posting without any real plan. During the session, will create with me and walk away with an actionable social media strategy for your business which you can use straight away. Early bird tickets are £120 and are on sale until 18th October, thereafter the general admission is £150.”

The venue is:

Edenwood Place
15 Old Chatham Place
Blue Bell Hill
Aylesford
ME20 7EZ

Topics covered are:

Creating a full social media strategy for your business
Objectives – why are you using social media and what do you want to achieve
Audience – who are you trying to target
The platforms – an overview of all the different social media platforms
Content and content strategy – building a strategy and plan including topics of conversation and building a strategy
Metrics – linking back to the objectives that we set at the beginning

For more information, and to book your place, visit >> https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/social-media-strategy-for-business-workshop-aylesford-tickets-419155805297

 

“I’ve always been interested in ceramics and art going back to my school days, I was really interested in what my art teacher was teaching me, so much so that I would help him after school or in my tea break. We only had one wheel, but I created a fascination for it and created a few pieces – I knew there and then that I would fall in love with it.

I wanted to go to art school when I left school, but my father had other ideas, being from an Asian background he wanted me to be a lawyer or a banker etc, he certainly didn’t want me to go to art school, he said; “we don’t do that” I didn’t want to upset them so I went to college to do a secretarial course – I hated it! It wasn’t for me, so one day I left, just walked out, but of course I had to then go home and tell my parents.

On my way home, I went through a shopping centre and saw an advert in a shop window for a shop assistant, I went in and got the job, mainly so I could go home and tell my parents I had left college, but it was ok as I had a job in a shoe shop. Of course, my father went berserk! I was only eighteen, but as time went by, I progressed, I wasn’t really sure if it was right for me, I wasn’t completely happy, and my employers could see it wasn’t quite right. They were very supportive and suggested that they could arrange for me to move from Kent up to London, it was a good fit as I was staying with an older lady who worked for them, which kept my parents happy and I just progressed with them for years and years, stepping up the ladder in retail, shoe shops and clothes shops.

I was an assistant manager when I met my now husband, he was also working as an assistant manager in a shoe shop, we would meet up and go out in Covent Garden, it was a lovely time, we were young and having lots of fun. When we got married and decided to have children, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mum, my son Miles is now twenty-three and I also have twin boys who are twenty, I always wanted to be there for them but once they started school, I started a city and guilds course in ceramics. That’s when I realised that it was what I wanted to do.

We always purchased art, loved going to galleries and all my boys are creative, as is my husband who works in textiles and is also very creative. When I started my course at the adult education place in Tonbridge there weren’t many wheels there and I wanted to throw on the wheel, a lot of their equipment was broken, and they were lacking in funding etc. It made me feel like I wasn’t completely pursuing what I wanted to do, there was not enough wheels, glazes, and slips, all the things that you need when starting out, I couldn’t get my take on it, experimenting and trying different things.

I spoke to my tutor who was really amazing, she suggested I looked up some residential courses, one day a week wasn’t enough for me to really pursue my passion and if I was really serious I would get so much more from it if I spent more time, so I signed up for a residential course in Italy, La Meridiana – it all then spiralled out of control, I loved it and could really let myself go with my creativity, I still re-visit to this day if I want to get away.

I met a lovey tutor there called Richard Phethean, who was one of the guest potters and we’ve remained friends ever since, he now comes and works for me here at this studio, and Le Meridiana is also a great place for me to visit and practice my skills as I’m busy running the Ceramic Studio here as a business, so every now and then I like to take myself off. I have just returned from a three-month trip to Italy, completing an intense three-month course which has given me the equivalent of a degree and I’ll be going back out there next year for another three months – I just got the bug!

I mentioned to a few friends that I was thinking of setting something up on my own, there was a lot of money involved and my husband wasn’t keen because of the financial risks, it took me four years to persuade him. In the meantime I had opened a studio in my garden, doing bits and bobs for the children’s schools and for friends and was really enjoying it.

I rented a small unit on a farm but within a year I knew we needed to expand, we just outgrew it, the landlord said he had another building on another farm of his, it was derelict, but we were allowed to do what we could with it. I fell in love with it and saw the potential – it was double the size of the existing building we were using. There’s a lot of equipment involved, with kilns and the electrics for them so we did look at other properties, but our landlord was so committed so when I asked if he had another building, he said OK. So, we then took on another building, the Grain Store, it was also an old building that previously stored tractors, it’s been such a transformation, it was completed in May of this year, so we now have the Old Workshop and the Grain Store.

We have people from all walks of life that come here, in the evenings it tends to be a lot of young people who are coming off the train and looking to relax, during the day we have older clientele, and mums that have just dropped the kids off at school etc, and older ladies that come for more social interaction – people come for all sorts of different reasons.

We’ve had a lot of people that have gone off to be professionals as well as people that have gone off to Clay College, it’s where the now King went in Stoke and it’s the first college that’s been set up recently for people that want to throw on the wheel, it’s such a skill that people don’t realise. We need to teach people to do this as there are a lot of people with those skills that are no longer with us, we need to keep these skills going to the new generations, otherwise that skill is going to die.

It’s hard to find skilled potters, and it’s something I’m passionate about, finding people to train and give the skills to, so we can keep the potter generations going.”

 

 

“I’ve been in the business for thirty-three years now; seven years ago, I was working up in Surrey in a prestigious area, selling quite substantial houses, but I just felt the industry was going the wrong way, peoples care, and the emotional side of the business was totally lost, you just became a process.

The bosses that I worked for were all about the money, there were a lot of stresses going around at the time, everyone seemed to be shouting at each other and business was quite poor. I just sat there and realised I didn’t like it anymore, it wasn’t what I envisaged doing, although my clients liked me, and trusted me I wasn’t enjoying it.

One day I got a phone call about an agency down in Polegate, a good friend of mine said “Tracey, this has got your name written all over it” and for the previous three years I had been going into other estate agents, that were in difficulty and helped them with support etc. I had been rebuilding estate agents for other people, so it was about time I did it for myself, so I arranged to visit the estate agent, the call came in on the Monday, I visited on the Thursday, sold my house on the Friday, then three months later I moved to Sussex. It was as simple as that, but for me I had to do it, I was fifty at the time and if I didn’t do it then, it would not have happened. The right time, the right circumstance and the rest is history.”

“I started off my career as a legal executive – I trained for three years and then swapped into doing accountancy, my Dad was a chartered accountant and it was all I wanted to do, I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was what I wanted to do.

It was in the early nineties and they were getting a lot of companies that needed help with liquidations. It was time driven and I was quite good with spread sheets so when they asked me to set up some spread sheets, I did them quickly and as I asked a lot of questions, I learnt a lot about insolvency. I was due to go off and do my chartered accountant exams but decided to do my insolvency exams instead, it was a cross between the legal and accounting side of things, which I really enjoyed.”

“I’ve got a background in operations, I worked for Mitchells and Butlers for nearly fifteen years running pubs, restaurants and hotels. The last fifteen years I’ve worked in the motorway service industry, running motorway service areas; I’ve always been involved in leadership and management training – developing people has always been a passion of mine.

Training people was a huge part of my previous roles, the biggest part was making sure that you were developing people and that you had the bench strength to have that progression in place for the business, as well as following up and making sure that the training delivered landed. It’s very important in what I do now – whenever I run any leadership courses, I always follow up to make sure the training is being used effectively and to the way it was delivered.

The football club was in dire straits when I came on board as Chairman, we actually went to the national newspapers to state how bad it had become and it’s been interesting how I’ve been able to use my business background with change management philosophies, to help things move along effectively. Thankfully we’re now in a very strong position and doing fantastically in the league as well as off the pitch!”

“When I left school, I wanted to be a fireman, my mum said that I should get a trade first and that would set me up for life – I can then be a fireman later if I still wanted to. I sent my CV out to at least fifty different companies around East Sussex, I only heard back from three or four of them and none of them were looking for anyone at that time. My dad was good friends with a builder, so he asked him if he needed a helping hand, he then put me in touch with a local based company in Seaford, I sent them my CV and they accepted me, I did an interview, passed it, and stayed with them for fourteen years!

I still wanted to be a fireman, half fireman and half electrician but after three or four years the idea faded away as I just loved what I was doing as an electrician.

It was a family-based company called J.K Pope and Sons in Seaford and I was lucky to be part of their team, it was a close network of people, so I stayed with them for a long time. As most tradesman do, there were options for private work in the evenings and weekends which built up my private clientele, so I wanted to make the jump from being employed to being self-employed and start up on my own. My partner and I at this time wanted to go travelling, so we didn’t think there was much point in starting up for a year and then head off travelling for a year; so, we went travelling. We had planned on travelling for a year, but my partner missed home so we came back after nine months, we went to Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, all around India, back to Dubai and then came home. It was awesome and I loved it so much.

When we got back, I started from scratch, I bought a van off auto trader, started doing a few small jobs for my old private clients and it all grew from there. At the same time, I was introduced to a networking group called BNI – I had never heard of it before. I was told it was a network group, I had never done anything like that before, but they informed me there was a slot in the Eastbourne chapter for an Electrician, I gave it a go and loved it. I was competing against another electrician that wanted the seat but after attending a couple of meetings the committee gave me the vote, thank goodness! I’ve been a member of BNI 1st Eastbourne now for two years and in the electrical trade for eighteen years!

Before I started my apprenticeship as an electrician, I attended a college course which was a mixture of electrical, electronics and metalwork and out of those three things, electrical was the one I enjoyed the most, so I knew being an electrician was the right thing for me. I had no ambitions of being a plumber or a plasterer it was always electrics which was my first trade. Your never fully qualified, even after eighteen years I’m still learning and love expanding my knowledge. As regulations are changing frequently, new legislations come in to force and the technically keeps growing with the fast demand of E.V chargers and smart home devices.

70% of my work is domestic and 30% is commercial and it’s the positive feedback I get from my customers that I enjoy the most, that satisfaction is what makes me love what I do.”

 

“I was a lazy so and so at school, I never really applied myself and as a child I grew up spending every weekend in a field somewhere because my dad was taking part in grass track racing or rallycross. Having done the motorsport thing for years, my mother always used to say, why don’t you give this up and do something sensible, like flying or something similar.

One day, a friend of my dad’s mentioned that a mate of his had just got his private pilot’s licence and asked if he wanted to come along for a flight, so he did and within a matter of months, he’d sold both the racing cars and decided to learn to fly. We were then spending every weekend at Biggin Hill, he got involved in the flying club and bought a couple of aeroplanes which he then leased back to the flying club – I was fifteen and I liked the look of this flying lark and wanted to learn how to fly.

I got myself a job with the flying club and spent every Saturday and Sunday refuelling the planes for them, this was back in 1979, it cost 21 pounds 60 an hour to learn how to fly the little two-seater plane, they used to pay me 10 pounds a day for refuelling the planes, so I nearly got an hour’s flying each weekend. Back then you weren’t allowed to fly solo until you were 17 and you needed a certain amount of solo flying to get your licence. On my seventeenth birthday I did my first solo flight as well as various cross-country things you needed to do to get your pilots licence – I got my pilot’s licence before my driving licence, I could fly an aeroplane but couldn’t drive a car to the airport!

Whilst I was at school, I got a job cleaning the classrooms in the evenings to help fund the flying, none of it was given to me, I had to work for every penny of it and pay for it all myself, after a while I fancied being a commercial pilot, but it was a bit late by then, I didn’t go the right route with exams and qualifications etc.

Dad ran a little family garage business in Groombridge, hence the motorsport thing so I went to work with him for a while, then when I came home one day, he announced that I was starting college the next day; he had signed me up to an apprenticeship. I did all my qualifications and then when dad finally retired, I ran the family business. We would build and run Ford Escort mark ones and twos for ourselves and other people and do rallying with them, I was very interested in motorsport, this was in the mid to late 80’s – my brother and I ran the garage but we were also spending a lot of time dong motorsport events and rallying, we didn’t really want to be in the motor trade, it wasn’t really my choice; I still had the hankering for flying.

One day on the way back from a summer holiday my now wife Lisa read about the world pilot shortage in the in-flight magazine, I still had the pilot’s licence so Lisa and I decided to get married, sell the rally car, sell the garage business, and raise all the money we could to pay for a career pilots’ course over in Florida. We moved to Florida as they guaranteed a job as a flying instructor once you completed the course. After spending eighteen months out there, getting all the hours I needed I returned to the UK to attend the London polytechnic to do a crash course in all the written exams that I needed. I put a huge amount of effort into the exams, and I passed everything first time! Unfortunately, this was at the time when Dan Air had gone out of business so getting a job in the commercial sector was just impossible.

Lisa’s father ran a little construction company from here in Bells Yew Green, so I worked for him for a while – I spent about six weeks fitting kerbstones and tarmacking in Tunbridge Wells to earn some money in the interim. This venue back then was known as Challenge Outdoor Pursuits and Lisa’s father Barry, along with the guy that owned the land and an ex-military physical trainer ran a part-time outdoor activity centre. Back in 1992 a gentleman called Colin Wallace who worked at the British airport’s authorities would bring groups of people over here and use the outdoor facilities to run his own team building courses. Colin is now one of the three partners in Team Dynamics, Colin left BAA and Barry, Colin and I decided to make a proper business out of it as a serious training company, rather than just a fun outdoor activity facility. That’s how Team Dynamics was formed back in 1993 and is still going strong today.

Colin has a military background, he was involved in psychological warfare and spent time in Northern Ireland in the 70’s in the peak of the troubles there, he’s now actually Dr Wallace with a PhD in Neuroscience. So, the three of us started it, Colin had the training background, I ran the business side of things and Barry looked after the site and the facilities. Both Barry and Colin are now retired so the company has diversified, and we now let part of our site out to UK Power who use it for their training. We also have training companies that come in and use the site as a venue to run their own courses, we’ve the facilities with the outdoor exercise equipment, the land, and the training rooms.

Over the years, when companies would come to us for a team development course, we always would ask them what they wanted to get from it, it was always fun, but they also wanted to learn better communication between their people. Whether it was a big corporate or a small company, it was the same issue, and we were regularly asked if we could use a psychometric test as part of the course, there’s many of them on the market. We tried using all of them, but none of them really did what we wanted them to do, it was clear what the problem was – everybody is different, and different people do things differently.

Colin Wallace was doing his PhD in neuroscience and was always interested in the psychology side, there’s many neuroscientists that have done a lot of fantastic research through MRI brain scans to see what happens in the brain, especially the outer part of the cortex and where different functions of behaviour sit. So, we developed the PRISM Brain Mapping model of behaviour as it is now. We started using it on our team building courses and everybody thought it was very good, so we decided to build an online model to profile people, so it’s all managed online. PRISM Brain Mapping was born.

It started of exclusively in the UK and we had it verified by a professor of psychology who worked at Canterbury and worked at Stanford University in the states – as it became more of a global product, we had to revisit the questionnaire for people in different ethnic and cultural groups to make it acceptable in all cultures. That was in 2012 and now PRISM is available in 26 different languages.

Both businesses are based on a 150-acre wilderness site here in Bells Yew Green, on the edge of Tunbridge Wells where the global operation is run and I like the fact that there’s a variety of things I need to do here every day, running both of the businesses, and – I’m just ten minutes from home.”

 

“We knew each other previously through our kids. They’re the same age and went to the same school and we got to know what each other did. We sat in the pub in Lamberhurst and agreed to work together after realising – hang on, you’re a strategist and I’m a creative, we’ve got the beginnings of a great agency. We had a pint of Harvey’s and said, “let’s go for it” that was the summer of 2018, it was fortuitous timing.

We were both in a similar place at a similar time in our working lives, I had been working in creative agencies in Edinburgh and London for around twenty years, working with clients in food and drink, cars, travel, fashion and many other industries. I decided to get out of London and move to Tunbridge Wells, working as creative director at an agency called Southpaw. After spending several years there, I’d always had my eye on setting something up myself so started to get some ideas on what it could be called, what sort of clients it would deal with etc. The fundamental idea was working with ethical clients and clients that aim to do things in the right way for the environment. I didn’t really like some of the clients I previously worked on over the years – advertising cigarettes and all kinds of nasty things that I would never advertise anymore, I wanted to get out of all of that and just work on the industries and stuff that I liked and agreed with; so, Catch A Fire was born.

The name Catch A Fire seemed to have an elemental feel but also links to the notion of great ideas igniting, spreading and having impact.

My story is similar to Craig’s – I was at a point in my career when I felt it was time to try something different. I had always worked in marketing but client side, for around twenty years – all in the food and drink industry and working for the last fifteen years with Unilever. I’d done some really exciting country based and global roles within their business and in 2018 I had the option to relocate with my family to Rotterdam, but decided to take a change of course. I also wanted to continue my journey with a sustainable, ethical approach and was fortunate to have that experience from Unilever which is a very purpose led business, so when I came into this with Craig, I came from a very strong ethical strategic stance with the shared intention to run a ‘good’ purpose led strategic and creative agency. We brought both of our strengths together, strategic and creative thinking, when we set the business up. I have a good understanding as to how our clients think, operate and what their challenges are, and Craig brings all the creative side to the business – it’s the best of both worlds.

We’ve been lucky to work with some fantastic clients so far built up from a combination of our personal networks and good word of mouth. It got very exciting, very quickly. We class ourselves as a strategic/creative agency and offer brand innovation and brand strategy through to bigger ideas and creative executions. Offering advertising, design, film, social media, web design and everything else in-between – we think about the challenge in the right way first so we can define what’s right for the customer and the consumer, then we find the best way to deliver and execute it.

We’ve got a strong team of about twenty-six with a pool of top freelancers around the edges and plan on growing more with the right sort of clients.

We work with brands like Farshare, they re-distribute food that supermarkets don’t want anymore – they take the food and make sure it gets to the people that need it most. Some of our other clients are Flora (Plant butter), Hellmann’s, Pukka Tea, Squerryes and other UK and global based brands. We have one of our directors in Rotterdam as well as strategists in Sydney, so we have a good footprint to enable us to expand into different markets.

We’ve been working on getting ‘B Corp’ certified. The process is quite rigorous and has taken a year and a half but we are just on the brink of being accredited. B Corp is a global accreditation for businesses that balance profit with purpose and looks at different benchmarks like community, people, and workforce. We’re now in the verification stage and it puts us in a network of similar minded businesses that have the right intentions behind them.

Another bit of great news recently is Campaign Magazine (the advertising industry weekly rag) have just voted us as the twelfth best agency in the whole of the UK to work for! An accolade we are really stoked about – we’ve both been reading Campaign since we started 20 years ago. It makes us very proud.

We’re all about big ideas, it’s what gets us out of bed each morning, and if we can create ideas that affect and make a difference to something in an ethical, positive, kind and meaningful way then we’re more than happy with that.”

“The idea for Space Plug started when I was twenty-one, I was fitting a kitchen in Larkspur drive in Eastbourne, and was absolutely driven insane by these L brackets, we were trying to come up with a different way to install them. Whilst we didn’t find a way when we were fitting that kitchen, over the next couple of months, I realised that all we needed was a little adjustable spacer. So, I looked around for one but couldn’t find one, as I was quite young, I just figured that someone would make one soon.

I didn’t take much notice of it after then – I was on track with a business career, I did my business degree and worked in the pharmaceutical industry but was getting a bit fed up with the corporate world and where it was going; I wanted to do something a bit more real. So, I jacked all that in to travel around the world, then in 2008 I decided to start my own little handyman business so I could keep my hand in with carpentry; I met a lot of nice people and enjoyed doing it, even though it didn’t make much money.

I helped a friend on a kitchen fit that he was doing, low and behold, I turned up on site and he was fiddling with these annoying L brackets, I said to him; “we’re not still having to do it like this are we Tim!” assuming that one of the big manufacturers would have already worked it out. It was pretty obvious to me, it just needed something telescopic that would fit into that little gap, it would work a treat!

I took the risk and borrowed three thousand pounds from my dad, he was just a window cleaner, not very wealthy so three thousand was a lot of money to us. We got the patent granted and actually kept it all quite secret, as we weren’t very knowledgeable about the legal world. A couple of years later I thought it would be important for it to be pushed out internationally, so I took on a small investor who lent us a few more thousand pounds and we got the international patent sorted.

By that time, we also got some tooling organised with a company in Tunbridge Wells, so we were up and running, and selling them, that would have been around 2014. One of the interesting parts to the story was the fact we had the concept patented on a word document, with nothing tangible, and I still have the original mock-up that I made from a couple of poker chips and some damp-proof membrane. That’s all I had to show to the patent guy and then had to find a way to turn it into something real.

Funny enough, I was out one day and took a wrong turn in the car, reversing into somebody’s drive to turn around, looked in the rear-view mirror and noticed a sign saying plastics development company (PDC) that’s what I was looking for! It was in my hometown; it was meant to be. I walked in there, met a guy called Fergus Christie, who was a great help to me, we created some technical drawings, did the plastic development, he hooked me up with Roy in Tunbridge Wells for the tooling, we had the tooling made in China, shipped back to the UK and we’ve now produced over six million units!

Wren kitchens were one of our first early buyers so a lot of that six million has gone to them, but the ambition is to prove it as a concept in retail. Initially, I wasn’t going to get the big players involved without being able to see that it actually worked. Therefore, one of our first steps was to hook up with a company called Great Star Europe in Romsey who had relationships with people like Kingfisher who all saw the potential. We put together a retail package and one of the first businesses to stock us was ScrewFix.

The big thing for me is to just let it grow organically, I’ve never chucked a load of money at marketing for it, it’s always been small, it’s just me and my brother as well as the one small investor. We’re a small firm that likes local, we love Eastbourne and everything the local area brings.

The best thing for me is when I meet someone who has already used the product and enjoy how simple it is, nobody has ever had a bad word to say about it, which is really nice. Just occasionally I may walk up to somebody at a trade show and say, “can I introduce you to Space Plug” and they say, “I already use it, it’s brilliant” and then when I tell them I’m the guy who invented it they say “you must be a genius” of course I’m not – I just had as light bulb moment! It’s really satisfying.”

Gianni grew up in the Lazio region of Italy and was 14 years of age when he went to catering school in Fiuggi. Over the 3-year course all aspects of hospitality were covered, from front of the house, waiting to the full kitchen and bar training as well as administrative aspects of the business. That was followed by work experience at various establishments in the area at hotels and restaurants.

He then came to the UK in 2005, pursued his passion, worked hard to learn how the trade operates here and opened his first business with his wife Aleksandra back in 2011, a small restaurant in the town centre of Eastbourne. Gianni and Aleksandra ran that until 2017, and then went on to concentrate on Gianni’s which they have done ever since.

“Given the location we felt that this place was crying out for someone to start selling gelato, we’re on Terminus Road (now called Victoria Place) which takes the tourists all the way from the station to our beautiful seafront. We knew we had the space and capacity to expand our offering a little beyond a standard dine in restaurant.

When we originally started our journey, we had very little idea about gelato, we knew we liked it, very much! But we also knew we could make a business of it, so we started to look where we could possibly buy the ice cream from. We tried and tested a lot, but we were never satisfied with the quality.

It was almost like it all happened for a reason, when by chance, a friend came across machinery and asked if we were possibly looking for some, it was a good deal, so we gave it a go and that’s how it all started. We were testing with different flavours, following recipes but it still wasn’t what we wanted. Gianni went on to take the professional course on Gelato, and we developed it from there, always wanting to improve the business to make something better and eventually becoming an organic handcrafted gelateria, and a part of Ice Cream Alliance and a Guild of fine Food members. We make sure the milk and cream are organic and are sourced locally from Hook & Son. The quality of our ingredients is the key that comes at a hefty price to us, but we want to make sure we bring the best product to our customers, so it’s worth it.

So, we had Gelato. But finding ourselves among countless Italian establishments in Eastbourne we knew we had to bring something more, something that was new and unique and that’s when Pinsa Romana came to mind. We had plenty of time on our hands to learn about it whilst being in lockdown- it sort of made us start all over again, the courses, the training, hours and hours mastering the preparation process and finally a successful board judging of the ready Product!!

We became the UK’s FIRST and for now ONLY CERTIFIED PINSERIA #154 – It wasn’t straightforward to offer it, the main ingredients are only available from Italy, so we had to start importing goods directly from Rome. We are constantly looking at doing something different to others and have ambitious goals, we like having an offering that nobody else has!

I love the buzz, I’m a people’s person and I really like to engage with our customers and listen to them, we always hear and reflect on their feedback as that’s very important in a healthy and successful business. The venue gives us an opportunity to grow within the community and we’re supportive of what’s going on around us. We support local charities and schools as much as possible.”

Gianni is very much behind the scenes, so people don’t get to see him much, he hides in the kitchen, constantly searching for more to bring to the table, whilst Aleksandra is the more visible part of the team overseeing the day-to-day operations.

 

 

“I have always lived in Sevenoaks, initially in Chipstead and now just outside the town centre. I did well at school but never really knew what I wanted to do, I never had a ‘dream career’ to aim for, so when I left school, I didn’t go to university as I didn’t want to commit to a 3 or 4 year degree without a long-term plan.

I chose to work for a year and took some jobs all locally in and around Sevenoaks, then almost by chance I got my first job in I.T working for Aqualisa in Westerham. The IT Manager (who is still there) picked up my CV from a pile of customer service applications and noticed my interest in I.T and offered me my first role in IT Support, that’s where I found my calling. That was in 1999.

I worked there for eight years and met my now wife Emma, as well as many friends who I still keep in touch with today. The work was enjoyable, partly due to the fantastic people, but it was a broad-ranging position working with PCs, laptops, networks and servers. I loved the day-to-day variety of the work, moving around working with different people and departments, from manufacturing staff to directors.

After several years I’d gone as far as I could so, having enjoyed training staff and spending weekends playing and running a football team, I found that the management route a natural progression. I took a job as IT Support team lead with Balfour Beatty and then around eight years ago, they decided to outsource their I.T function, so I ended up employed by Fujitsu, one of the largest I.T providers in the world.

I progressed within Fujitsu working in the city for short spells and eventually managing a remote technical team, while I was predominantly based at home. Around five years ago I joined Proxar, a perfect job on my doorstep so I jumped at the opportunity, and am now the Manager here at Proxar IT Sevenoaks.

At Aqualisa I learnt that customer service is an important aspect of any business (theirs was outstanding at the time) and I love the fact that our clients are very happy with the services Proxar provide. Clients range from small start-ups to hotels, to large financials. We have a very low turnover of clients and we use our good reputation to attract new business, making sure they stay with us long term by giving them the services we promise, yet not tying them into long term contracts.

Our technical members of staff, most based here in Sevenoaks, are a talented and loyal group. You need to have a happy, engaged workforce and if you treat people well & with respect – that’s the key to success. We have a relaxed dress code, a flexible, hybrid working approach and rewarding culture to ensure we hire and retain the best people.

One of our company goals is to help our clients become more efficient, remain secure and using scalable solutions, so that we can grow and advance together – we very much believe in creating long term partnerships. As a small business with Sevenoaks at heart, we are happy to offer discounts to companies with a presence in the local area.”

 

“I’m a born and bred Dubliner, I’m very proud of that, had a great childhood without any intentions of becoming an insurance broker!

I started off my working life in a cash office, but my eldest brother was working in Insurance at the time, so I got into insurance too, twenty-five years later I’m still in the insurance industry.

One of the most important aspects of my life is my wife, we met in 2004 after I spent the money I had been saving for an apartment in Dublin to go travelling; I jacked in my job, sold my car and went backpacking. I was in a hostel in Sydney when I saw this tall blonde girl, said hello and the rest is history. We kept the relationship going when we finished travelling, she went back to Yorkshire and then Manchester and we spent the next 18 months seeing each other back & forth with RyanAir. I eventually left my job with Marsh insurance in Dublin to go to Manchester to be with her, and started a new job with HSBC Insurance. We bought our first apartment there, got engaged, got married in Mallorca and then went travelling again for our honeymoon. Whilst on the other side of the world travelling my wife surprised me by saying “let’s move to Dublin when we get back” so we did. We came back and moved to Malahide in Dublin in 2011, bought a house in 2012, nine months later we had our first child and in 2013 my brother and I set up our own business.

In 2012 my brother said he wanted to set up his own brokerage and asked if I wanted to join him, as I always wanted my own business too, together we got to work to set one up. It’s hard in Ireland to set up from scratch so we bought a small insurance brokerage in 2013, it was me, my brother and a father and son from the business we bought. We grafted! I didn’t see much of my new son at that time, but we put the work in which eventually paid off. When I left Dublin in 2020 we had eleven members of staff, I put in the hours to get the rewards. Then … my wife tells me she wants to move back to the UK!

My wife is from Yorkshire, and she wanted to move back to England, so we did – happy wife, happy life as they say. Tunbridge Wells was initially recommended to us, and we had to find it on google maps, it fit the bill as we wanted to be close to London, and an airport. From what we read and researched the schools looked good, lots of parks for family life, football, rugby, golf clubs etc, it ticked all the boxes.

Flying over from Dublin to see Tunbridge Wells was proving difficult as it was 2020 and in the middle of a lock-down, so I never set foot in Tunbridge Wells until I moved here. We saw this guy on YouTube who did this forty-minute video of himself walking around Tunbridge Wells in 2019, it sold it for us! We had to rely on this video. We paused it, looking in the background, looking at the Village & Town and the way of life and we knew we could fit in quite nicely, so whoever you are, thank you!

We rented for six months when we arrived here until we saw a house that we fell in love with, we bought the house near the village area, and the more time we spend living here the more we love it. Our decision to move here proved to be the correct one.

Our children love the school that they go to, which was the most important thing, getting them settled. They love the area and the parks, their football, rugby and tennis and have made some great friends, we all have. My primary concern was to make sure the kids transitioned well from Ireland, once I knew that job was done I then had the freedom to set up my own business.

So I set up Pringle Insurance in November 2021 and I wanted to repeat what I did before in Ireland. My whole ethos is relationships; being clear and transparent with clients. Business’s may have an insurance policy for years but not know exactly what they are paying for, I break it down in layman’s terms for them, so they understand where their money is going and I like to think they buy from me, not the headed paper because it is all down to relationships.

I love hearing business owners stories and how they started out, that’s always been the enjoyable part of work for me.

I’ve been listening to stories and building client relationships for years – I must be doing a good job because my customers stay with me.”

“I was a UK Sales Manager for quite an aggressive, dynamic insurance company, I decided to switch to the operational side where we had a big office up in the Northwest of England – they wanted it to have a small team culture and my boss at the time had attended a course to support that, when he returned, he seemed a completely different person.

 

A few weeks later he wanted me to go on the course, which I wasn’t sure about, it was something called Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) I sat very much on the edge – but did it anyway and actually found it very interesting; I’ve always been interested in body language etc from a sales perspective. When I returned from the course I probably didn’t use or take on as much as I could have done as I didn’t want to change me as a person. A couple of years later I asked my boss why he had changed so much when he came back from the course? He said he didn’t change, he just decided to be himself at work as he was at home. Perhaps if I had assumed things differently, I probably could have learned more and benefited more from the course.

Six years later I did a Master NLP course which was really interesting and from there I discovered coaching. I didn’t know much about coaching at that time, I was working as a Managing Director for an insurance broker which were a PLC that were bought out by another PLC and as part of my contingency plan, I decided to get them to pay for me to go on a coaching course whilst they still needed me. The coaching course was excellent, on the last session of the coaching programme someone asked me what I would do if I went back to work, and they no longer wanted me? The following week, after I returned to work, that was literally what happened! So, my contingency started to build, that was in 2005.

Do we want to live for work or work to live?

I wanted to be here in Tunbridge Wells, I had been commuting to Bournemouth and my daughter Georgia was just four years old, but she didn’t really know who I was as I was only here at the weekends. So, I put together a combination of working for three days as a development director for a compliance and HR company and then two days coaching and that was the starting point to where I am now.

What sort of Coaching do I do?

Six years ago, I decided to just purely focus on coaching – it’s not just business coaching, it’s leadership or executive coaching, career coaching and retirement coaching, which I started four years ago when my wife retired. I didn’t try and coach her, but I learnt a lot about it. I’ve been surprised at the lack of demand for retirement coaching, it’s probably the biggest decision anybody will ever make. I’m also a supervisor of coaches, accredited as a coach and a supervisor, which is not just about going on a coaching course for the weekend, there’s a lot of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) involved, it’s complex and I enjoy doing because it’s all about people.

Why do you Coach?

I get a real buzz in seeing other people get to where they want to get to, whether it’s dealing with problems or opportunities. I do a lot of walking coaching, which worked well during COVID because people went through all sorts of issues. I’m a Samaritan as well so I know how to listen and quite often people will want to get things off their chest, which helps them work out what they want to do going forward.

Coaching offers a confidential space for people to reflect and work out their own way forward supported by an independent professional.”

 

“I started my career in sales, sales admin and then account management in the I.T industry, after a short while I realised, I didn’t have much of an interest in I.T and a friend suggested I should try recruitment, it was still dealing with people and had a sales element attached to it, so I looked at getting a recruitment role.

I joined Michael Page Recruitment about twelve years ago, they’re a very large international recruitment company and I was based in Maidstone working in their finance team – I was there for ten years, helping with finance and HR recruitment until I decided to have a family and didn’t want to commute to Maidstone from Tunbridge Wells; I was working part-time but wanted to be closer to home.

I knew Neil from a previous role that he had placed me in quite a long time ago, so I decided to get back in touch to see if he had any local opportunities, he invited me in for interview and asked if I wanted to come and work for him here, at TN recruits. We had a few discussions, and I liked the flexibility with the working hours that he offered me, so I joined here in January 2020.

Neil had already been looking at creating different specialised areas, Emma Moss heads up TN Recruits Law and he wanted to specialise in another area, we agreed that accounts and specifically accounting practices would be a good industry and with my finance recruitment background it was a good fit for me to come on board. So, in January 2020 we set up TN Recruits Accounts.

I had two to three months of working in the office when COVID hit, I was furloughed and everything stopped, the market went completely quiet, but I came back in the Summer when things slowly started to pick back up.

Last year was incredibly successful, it was great that the market came back but I had put a lot of work in, building the relationships prior to that and we gained a lot of repeat business as well as earning new customers and the momentum had gathered nicely. People were beginning to recognise us as the local recruiter who specialised in accountancy, working with clients on their doorstep and because of that, I placed a few candidates that had been working in London and didn’t want to go back into that working environment.

It may sound obvious but the most enjoyable part of what I do is when you find someone a job that they love – when they are genuinely happy and pleased and it’s a great step for them. Also, from the client side too, sometimes they really struggle to recruit which makes their lives quite difficult, so they become extremely grateful when you send them a good candidate.

We work with several local accountancy firms now and have good relationships with them but there’s always more that we can work with and grow with, I cover a big area and have been working with people over towards Maidstone and the Medway towns as well as the south coast with Eastbourne and Brighton, so there’s plenty of other geographical areas that we can work with.

I’m very proud to have been promoted into the Senior Consultant role.”

“I left school after A levels and went directly into banking in The City of London. I did well in the city, I gained a lot of varied financial understanding and commercial acumen; I was always very numeric anyway, that’s always something that I have enjoyed.

My Dad had a freight forwarding logistics business, looking after international air freight and deep-sea freight but at the end of 2003 the business was effectively bankrupt! It was on its knees, and heavily in debt with HMRC knocking on the door, it owed around half a million pounds, and it didn’t have the cash to pay it back. The directors and my dad had been keen in getting me to work for the company for the previous couple of years, but I had always refused – I wasn’t particularly interested in working for the family business, I wanted to make a success out of something by myself.

They really needed my help and dad asked if I would come on board for a while to help which I agreed, so I went into the business as the financial controller. I’m not a qualified accountant but I knew how to read a balance sheet, drive P&L and am very good with numbers.

They had good customers, good turnover, and good suppliers but had no control over the finances and that’s where the hole had been created. We got rid of a lot of people and spent the next few years resetting the business, getting it back to a level balance sheet and start building the business back from there. About eighteen months later I was made Managing Director, voted on by the management team, and within around three years we had turned it from a negative balance sheet to a positive one and the business was making good money.

I always felt that I had that kind of entrepreneurial mindset, I could always understand what makes a business tick, what’s good and what’s bad and what we should focus on and what we shouldn’t. The experience I had with my dad’s business gave me the ability to actually do it in practice, I could always be good at looking into a business and deciding on the best approach. But in this case, we had to do it, there were personal guarantees involved and Mum and Dad’s house was on the line, it was very pressured, but that’s what drives me; I buy into those pressured situations and the challenges that businesses face.

At the start of 2008 we were approached with an offer to sell the business, which wasn’t always our plan, but it really ties into what I do now. We didn’t plan to sell the business, the plan was to build a saleable business – it’s an approach I take with my clients; I say it’s not about selling your business but it’s about being able to give you a choice and to sell if you want to, which gives you freedom. If you build your business in such a way, so it’s built on a good foundation, you’ve got all those robust structures and processes in place, then you can sell your business if someone comes knocking and that’s what we did.

My Dad was 63 at the time, he was keen on passing the business down to me, but I wanted Mum and Dad to reap the rewards from all the hard work over the years, so we decided to sell the business. The company that bought us were a global business that turned over around 3 billion dollars, so we went from a small family business to this massive machine, I stayed working with them for six years, I was the middleman that both parties wanted to stay involved and I did very well in with my own career path. I was managing eighty people and looking after a P&L of around £40 million, and was placed on the European board, it was a massive learning process and very different from running a family business that turned over £10 million.

I stayed with them until 2014 when I was approached by our biggest competitor in the UK. We were number three or four in the U.K and these guys were number one, they were dealing with some clients that I had only scratched the surface with, and I was keen to work with them; equally I was keen to push myself a little bit higher. I worked with them for a couple years, but from my point of view, very honestly, I just got bored and was unfulfilled. They pigeonholed me and didn’t use my experience as they should have, as my background was so much broader.

My coach is still my dad and he’s my mentor, all through the years when I was working in the family business, he was always driving me to use all my skills set, which was broad across the whole business and was always encouraging me to use it and not to lose focus. Yes, you need to focus on certain elements, but you also need to understand all of it. He told me I should set up on my own, reminding me that I know business, I understand it, all aspects of it, from sales, marketing, and finance – you name it. You’re good, you’ll be a success!

So that’s what I did, in the summer of 2017 I set up Smart Chimp Business Consulting and the whole premise of that was not to work with businesses in my old arena but to work with any business owner or any business, in any industry. Dad would tell me that I was the musical conductor, the business was the orchestra and as a conductor I would know when to make things start to play and stop – working together, when it’s right to bring things in and when it’s not and that’s what I do.

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve worked with clients that turnover between £100,000 and £30 million which is quite wide, and I will work with any business, but it’s got to be a good fit. Ultimately, it’s about two people, my client and me and we need to be able to get on and understand what’s driving each other, what the ultimate goal is and using my expertise and my knowledge, in trying to drive it forward.

I want to see my client’s business evolve and succeed in the way they want it to succeed, I ask them what their exit looks like or what it should look like, people can get spooked by that but it’s important for me to understand what’s driving those individuals; is it money, is it lifestyle, or is it something else, then it’s about making sure the business can deliver that for them.

If I asked my Dad what the future holds for me and my business, he would tell me to keep doing what I’m doing, having a purpose is essential for all of us in modern day life and in business you definitely need a purpose – that’s where I get my real fulfilment from.”

 

“I’m originally from Poole in Dorset – my background started in engineering when I was around twenty-five, I worked for Toyota before moving to Australia for a year. I did a bit of touring around and then worked for an architectural practice in Melbourne, helping them set up a design studio.

When I came back to the UK, I moved to London and worked for various architects, also working as a project and site manager for Mace, I spent a lot of time working on retail and residential projects as well as railway stations around London and the Southeast.

I moved to Sevenoaks about thirteen years ago, where I realised the architecture industry was lacking a company that integrated the architect with the engineer, as well as the builder and the project manager. I’ve always felt that was a bit stagnated; people take them on one by one and it felt a little bit old school and lacked communication between the industries. As Sevenoaks is a very community-based town, I wanted to amalgamate this and create an architectural practice.

So that’s what I did! I set up Sevenoaks Plans about eight years ago from my home, as it grew I then moved to an office that I was hot-desking at, I then took on our first architect Helga. We then moved to the offices that we are in today.

We’re a team of four architects including myself, an office manager and a small marketing team. We’ve also set up a sister company – Sevenoaks Plans and Development – where people come to us with plots of land, we set up option agreements with them, flip the land and then build small developments on it.

Currently, we have around fifteen building projects on the go around Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, Gravesend and Bromley and from inception to completion have around thirty-six projects that we are working on in total. We’ve just taken on a new project manager to join the team and we’re expanding rapidly.

As I hope you can tell, I’m an entrepreneur at heart and our latest innovation is one of the most exciting yet! We have created a VR Suite with an Oculus headset, offering clients the opportunity to walk around their project in virtual reality before it’s been built – we’re the only architect in the Southeast offering virtual architecture. It can all be seen in 3D where they can choose the flooring, the walls, they can look at it from the garden and decide what render they want from the front or the back etc. It can even be set up so they can see it from a certain time of day, when the sun might be out, what kind of paving! It’s so exciting; we recently had a client in Dubai who could see the changes we were making from where they were, and it just blew them away.

I never want to become an architect that treats their clients like they’re on a treadmill; I want to have a personnel connection with them, working with them, chatting about their family dynamics, how they want the house to work, not just for now but for the future.

The thing that I love the most about my work at Sevenoaks Plans is the interaction with our customers, it’s what I love about meeting people. They may have a tiny house which has not been very well designed and then 12 months later, we’ve created this lovely home for them, and their growing family and I love seeing their eyes light up when they see their lovely home has been created from a house. We make everything a seamless process.”

“We were working for a group of similar restaurants in the East Midlands, but we had our own ideas with different recipes and approaches, it had always been a dream to open our own restaurant, so when we researched the market and found that there were no Indian restaurants offering authentic Kerala cuisine in East Sussex, we decided to open – here in Eastbourne.

We moved here in 2019 but set the business up just after the first lockdown in June 2020, we were offering deliveries and take-aways through the various lockdowns, which really helped us because it allowed our customers to get to know our food, in turn they gave us good reviews, and we are now delighted to be number one among Indian restaurants in the whole of East Sussex and No 1 restaurant in Eastbourne according to Tripadvisor. We are very grateful, and we still have the same people coming to us who are now regulars – their word of mouth really mattered, and it helped us survive through the lockdowns.

As of April 2021, we have been fully open as a restaurant offering the finest Kerala cuisine, we still have a 2 meters social distancing rule but are very much back to normal and with local hotels being busy again we are attracting people from all over the country. We are very grateful for the good reviews we receive on TripAdvisor; it’s helped people decide to come to the restaurant, taste the food and be completely impressed.

There are 28 states in India. We come from the south part of India and our state is called Kerala where at the South side of Kerala you witness the Triveni (three) Sangamam (meeting) of three seas – Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea. The waves of three seas strike with each other, and fall apart, and one can distinguish the waves by their different colours, through the naked eye. Our cuisine, culture, traditions, and languages are very different from the other states in India.

Both Sajith and I are engineers, I’m an electronics engineer and Sajith is a computer science engineer, we came to the UK as students, studying business management In information systems and computer security. I wanted to do something different, the normal 9 to 5 didn’t suit me, I’m more of an entrepreneur and I was sure that if I could showcase the food from Kerala to the English people, it would be a hit as it’s so different.

I learned many things as a waitress from the restaurants I’ve worked and when we created our menus, we took inspiration from our Mums who have great recipe books, so we shared their recipes and added to them, making them our own. It’s been a challenge employing chefs from Kerala, even though there are local chef’s that are familiar with Indian food, they are not familiar with Kerala – it’s very different and unique. You need a special licence to recruit people from Kerala, we now have that licence so we can recruit people from Kerala and that makes things easier for us, as they know the area and have the exact taste we need, and they know how to improvise it into our way.

I come from a district called Kottayam and Sajith comes from Pathanamthitta – we all have our own special dishes in each district as well. My district (Kottayam) specialises in appam breads and chicken curries and in Pathanamthitta they specialise in duck curries and parotta bread. We also know and serve what specialities are in our 14 districts of Kerala.

I recommend the fish dishes and would say that our best dish is Ammachiyude Meen Pollichathu which is fish wrapped in banana leaf – people love this dish and it’s been very popular ever since we opened the restaurant.

I love our customers reactions and I really enjoy meeting people that come to the restaurant, we have a lot of customers that have visited Kerala so they know what to expect, they know that parotta and appam bread is only available in Kerala restaurants, they know our dishes and are so very fond of them – they can taste the difference and appreciate that we offer vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.

The name of our restaurant MALAYALAM is not related to Malaysia or Malaya, it’s a language that we speak in Kerala, it’s also a palindrome which means it reads the same backward or forward.

I’m enjoying every day and learning every day, I love talking to our customers, explaining the dishes, and educating them on the beautiful food and tastes that come from Kerala.”

“I was a carer for my ex and at that time we needed a computer for her kids but couldn’t afford one, luckily, I managed to scrounge one, but it made me realise there must be other people in the same situation as us.

I taught myself how to refurbish computers, I started off with Microsoft XP, taking them apart and putting them back together again, making them work etc. I did it for friends and friends of friends, this was about ten to 12 years ago.

We were constituted in July of 2020, and it’s just spiralled from there, we send computers out to Somerset, Nottingham, and Kent. When someone wants to donate a computer that they don’t need anymore, it comes here, we wipe it using a piece of software called KillDisk or Scrub, we then install Linux on the free machines and Windows on the ones we sell. We sell because we must have some money coming in, we don’t like selling but until we start getting bigger donations in, we must.

People have been stuck at home self-isolating, they can’t do homework, they can’t work, and we want to bridge that digital divide. People that are vulnerable can’t get online if they don’t have a computer, therefore they can’t do their work and they can’t look for work or access training. If they’re off sick they can’t make doctor’s appointments – they can’t live.

We’re on the ASDA green token scheme, which we won by a majority percentage, that brings in a little bit of money, but it’s more about raising awareness. We get referrals from the Department of Work and Pensions who are the sort of people we are aiming at because of their low income, we’ve also allowed people to come to our premises to use our computers for online training courses to access their exams. We support anyone who is on a low income or disabled as well as Children’s Services. We’ve currently got 90 people waiting for laptops but we’re hoping that the Morrison’s Eastbourne laptop drive promotion, which starts Tuesday 1st February to Sunday 6th February will help us.

** Collecting, Laptops, Phones, and Computers to help break the digital divide **

Helping to break the digital divide, by working alongside Tubbs computers, Morrison’s will take old, unwanted laptops etc and clean them and then redistribute to people that need them.

Please bring them to the kiosk in Morrisons in either Eastbourne, Seaford, Crowborough, and Hastings between February 1st and 6th

If everyone in Eastbourne gave us a pound, we’d be sorted!
They can donate via our website >> https://tubbscomputersupplies.org/1_2_donate.html we want to support the community and help put Eastbourne on the map, also aiming to help kids that are not in education or training (NEET) Kids that have had a hard start in life who we can take on board and show them that we do care and we do want them to be to be part of our society.

On the back of the Morrison’s promotion, I want to get a shop/unit in Hastings, Crowborough, and Seaford for drop off or collection, making it easier and more accessible for people to drop off their unwanted computers, we can then collect them and process the orders.

When you want to donate your un-needed computer to the tip or even your household waste it’s not secure, you no longer have a say in what happens to the data, they may wipe the hard drives, but they may not. We do and can offer a certificate to back that up. We’ve worked with politicians and solicitors who have very sensitive data, and they trust us to get rid of it, ready for the next person to use it.

We are currently working with Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell, CityFibre https://cityfibre.com/ and Lanes Group Plc https://www.lanesgroup.com/

There are 1000s of people all over the country that need our help so we want to take our approach to more areas so we can help people nationwide.”

 

“I started university with a view of becoming a competitive runner, my distance was 1500 and 800 metres and as a by-product of that I became a graduate of the University of London. I’m in the centre pages of Sebastian Coe’s book, running against him at Borough Road where I studied – I was southwest champion for seven consecutive years. I didn’t quite make it because I couldn’t transition from junior to senior but had a keen interest in sport playing football and rugby for the county, as well as being a good cross-country runner, it was all about sport.

I was president of the student union and following on from that I did a graduate training course with a company called Newey & Air who were electrical wholesalers, I was one of the first graduate trainees, I then went into management, realising that I could sell, so I was involved in the set-up of several different businesses, which involved me working for American distributors selling to the national brands like B&Q, and Marks and Spencer’s. It involved me taking them to the Far East, buying the goods, then bringing them back and doing the process of containerizing and the logistics of deliveries, which was the key to the whole process.

After twenty years in that business, I approached my accountant and said, “I’m dealing with figures all day every day, there’s a gap in the market but am I too old to switch over to financial advice?” I was 40.

It was a brutal regime to go into financial services, I joined a company called Edward Jones which was an American firm who took on 74 people, we had a one-year training plan and at the end of that one-year training plan, out of the 74, only four of us graduated.

I had to do something which I’d never done before and it was to knock on somebody’s door and talk to them about financial services, which was daunting and frightening. My wife used to drive out with me, have a coffee with me at lunchtime, and give me support. In a three-month period, I got 870 new client contacts and I could not believe that people would discuss with me, the amount of shares they had and what their pension was. It was all about building trust with the number of contacts that you had; it would work in America but it’s not a model that works in the U.K.

I worked with them for just over two years and then moved to a local company called TNL financial services in Hailsham and started my independent financial advice service. At that point, my daughter, Rhiannon who was still in her teens joined us from the age of 15, working in her holidays, accessing our clients, and doing the reports for all the financial advisors. Every holiday Rhiannon worked for us, right the way through her GCSE’s, her A levels and university when she was taking her Business Studies degree.

When Rhiannon left university, I advised her to join me, it was the intention that she would join for one year as an administrator and during that period, she took her mortgage exams and very quickly went off to work for Fox and Sons and learned all about estate agency which was a deliberate move.

I continued building my IFA business and had around 100 clients that were working with me. But there was a major reform in 2014 which was the retail development review for financial services – it changed the way in which we could charge people and how we could work together with them. I was working every weekend for approximately 20 hours doing fund reviews, there were no opportunities to charge for that and I was working around 60 hours a week doing this extra fund management review, which you must do as a financial advisor.

I had been approached several times by St. James’s place, but I always turned down the opportunity of working with a footsie 100 company, mainly because the bulk of my near retirement and retirement clients were looking at cautious portfolios and at that point, St. James’s place did not have a cautious portfolio, so I rejected them because it wasn’t the best move for my clients.

Finally with the retail distribution review, St. James’s place put together a complete portfolio of products, right the way from defensive, cautious, and medium to high risk so that then satisfied me that I would be able to use what’s called the investment management approach from St. James’s place. So, I joined St. James’s place in 2015 and I was able to remove 20 hours from my working week, and at the same time, spend more productive time with my clients.

After 18 months, I could see things were heading in the right direction, so I asked Rhiannon to join me at the academy at St James’s place so that she could qualify as a financial advisor.
That really brought us back to where we started, making choices as a family, and moving into financial advice, being more locally based, and recognising that there is a whole swathe of people who are numerically blind. My mission has always been to look after people’s best interest, but also to open up the possibilities for them, for their future, to secure their retirement and their pension.

One of the things with people and money is that they are very reserved, it is very difficult for people to open up to a so-called stranger, which as a financial advisor, you start off being and you must quickly build the trust. I’m very much old school, I wear a suit and a tie and am very much in the traditional mode. My daughter has a much more relaxed approach with clients, that really does serve us as a family very well.

We are looking to use Rhiannon’s expertise and skills that she has gained working with City barristers, solicitors and High Court judges We can show them how our specialist knowledge through St. James’s place will be able to help them in their retirement approach, but also looking at whether there are alternative ways of us ensuring that they have solid tax advice.

One of the most beneficial benefits that I see with having a family business is occasionally I get asked, what happens when I retire? By having Rhiannon in place, it means there is a generational aspect to our business that when somebody gets to their most crucial decision making, they know that either Rhiannon or I will be there to move things forward through to their retirement and make the major decisions as a family for them. The satisfaction of clearing the fog from people’s minds is a great win for me, so often people will say, oh gosh, this is too complicated, I don’t understand all of this – thank goodness I can trust you. We pride ourselves on just making it simple, so that our clients can make decisions and take ownership of their own future.”

“When I left school, I went to university to study business because I wanted to work in a bank, it was either going to be a career as an air hostess or work in a bank and I decided to go for the bank and ended up working in London at one of the big multinational banks.

I realised that I missed the human contact in the work I did, I wasn’t speaking with the customers, it was all in front of a screen, so I took myself back to college and trained in care – I did a degree in forensic mental health and care management.

I think my interest in care came from my childhood, my dad is a vicar, and my Mum was a nurse, so I grew up in a family that had a very caring nature; so, I threw caution to the wind, left my career in banking, and went to be a domestic in a care home! I wanted to start completely at the bottom.

I did two days a week at college doing my NVQ’s in care management, following on from that I started to work as a chef, then as a carer, then a senior carer, then when I was working with the learning disabilities, I had the wonderful opportunity to become a deputy manager, this gave me a lot of confidence and made me realise I could do things myself.

So, at a young age of 24, I started running my own home as a registered manager and I absolutely loved it! For me, I feel that so much emphasis goes on when we come into the world with much celebration and so much love, yet when we leave the world, it’s very much not talked about, very hush, hush. I wanted to make a difference as to how we leave the world, still with as much love and celebration.

I worked as a registered manager, regional manager, compliance director, all different kinds of roles within the care sector for the next fifteen years. I was contacted by The Chaseley Trust in 2020 to see if when the current CEO retired if I would be interested in taking over. I was and still am incredibly flattered to be in this role, so in February 2021 I joined The Chaseley Trust as CEO.

It’s a trust, and a charity that really empowers you, it really gets under your skin. The client group that we work with predominantly are adults with progressive neurological conditions, such as Huntington’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Stroke, but we also care for members of the community that have had accidents, through no fault of their own that have left them with a permanent brain injury. So, we work a lot with rehabilitation to enable people to get back out into the community to live their lives as best as they can considering their injuries.

It can be misunderstood that just one tiny thing that you do, that you can take for granted might have such a huge impact on their lives, there’s a lot of restrictions they have on things that we do automatically in our day-to-day, that they have to work hard to achieve. If I can get a smile or a laugh from someone in one day, then I’ll go home happy. We have the most vivacious characters with the biggest dreams and my role is to make sure those dreams still happen, I find it an honour to be here!

We’ve just celebrated our 75th year and are looking at how we’re going to be here for the next 75 years, it’s been tough for the care sector through the pandemic and a lot of companies have struggled immensely throughout this period. Our plan is to completely refurbish this beautiful building over the next fifteen years to make sure that the building is here for another 75 years, enabling us to grow. That’s part of the plan, but also, we plan to develop our therapy service team and expand more into the community, in respective areas of care that are currently not covered in this area of Eastbourne and East Sussex. So that’s still in development, but for me, it’s looking at whether we can assist more with paediatric care. Personally speaking, I know friends and family that have had to travel to Kent or out of the area to get that level of care that their youngsters need.

It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever worked before and I absolutely love it, and I feel so privileged to have this role and be here, I’m also lucky to have the most incredible team of staff, that have as much drive and passion as I do.”

Emma Rich-Spice, CEO The Chaseley Trust

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“I’ve been a resident here at Chaseley for nearly eleven years, I was a heating and ventilation fitter when I fell through a floor after slipping, I knocked myself out and was unconscious and am now paralysed on my right hand-side.

The people here are alright; especially Trina, it’s like being back at school really. On Mondays I like to do art, I like to paint and draw the scenery outside, we do a whole variety of stuff – sometimes we have lunch out, we go to the beach, have coffee out, look around Meads village, go to garden centres and I love going to the theatre! We have two different exercises every day, I take part in most of them, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, we’ve got woodwork today and I enjoy that, I’ve made some chairs and a shelve that I store my CDs on.

Everyone here are like an extended family for me.”

Malcolm Jeffries – September 2022

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“I’ve got Multiple Sclerosis and It’s gotten worse; I feel like I’ve been here too long … I enjoy my massages and I have physio once a week as well as enjoying Bingo, I don’t do all of these in one go – the things I can do now are becoming a bit more restrictive. I was very good at art and sold many paintings. I enjoy winning at bingo, as well as taking part in the quiz, and winning; I won this week!

I’ve got some very good friends here, Hilary, Corrine, Kath, Brenda, and I’ve known Sue a long time too and I get on well with Graham as we like to talk about football, my neighbour Nick gives me fudge, he’s a really generous guy, like a Father Christmas that goes around in his chair giving people treats.

The best thing about the Chaseley Trust is the people, as well as the view! I get on really well with Val, she’s part of the wellbeing team and I have a lot of time for her, we go shopping and I love the cinema. I love my own room here, I have my own furniture and it’s one of the nicest rooms in the building, lots of pictures on my walls and my collection of Dolls Houses.”

Paula Schiraldi – September 2022

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“I had a stroke in 2005 after an operation, I had three aneurysms operated on in my head and when I came round from the operation, I nearly lost my life – thank god I didn’t.

I’ve been here for eleven years, and I’ve got the best room in the house, it has the best view out to sea, and I share it with my beautiful budgie Molly.

My husband Barry had been coming down from London every weekend to stay with me before COVID, he still comes down regularly with my sister and they will be down here next week because it’s my 64th birthday! We will be going out for lunch; we like to go to Yummy Noodles so that will be a treat and then off for a coffee in Meads village.

Most days I go down to the Kasbah to take part in the activities, it’s got a Costa feel to it with alcohol involved and it’s the main place where most people come to socialise, it’s a very sociable area, a bit like coming down to your lounge – we call it wine o’clock.”

Lian McClusky – September 2022

 

The invasion of Ukraine has sent UK energy market into turmoil over the last week. Pricing has increased over the last week by c.80% and is already up on average by c.250% since mid 2021. UK wholesale gas prices are now trading at £4.50 a therm, to give this some meaning, 2 years ago prices were trading at 50p a therm.

90% of the UK’s gas comes from the North Sea and Norway, but while Britain only buys around 5% directly from Russia you could be excused to think this wouldn’t effect the UK to badly, however Europe buys the majority of its gas from Russia and when there is supply disruption in Europe, it pushes prices up across the whole of the market whilst other European nations scramble to purchase their gas requirements from other sources to meet demand.

How Reliant Is Europe/UK ON Russian Gas?

Europe depends on Russia for around 70% of its natural gas with most transported by pipelines from Russia into central Europe. Some pipelines transit via Ukraine, while others take alternative routes such as via Belarus and Poland on the Yamas Europe pipeline to Germany, and via the Nord Stream 1 which runs under the Baltic to Germany. For decades the European Union has heavily relied on Russia’s oil and gas, generating money and cash for Russia. But Russia is also reliant on revenues from fossil fuel sales, which make up around two fifths of government revenue. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, British Petroleum (BP) ditched its 19.75% shareholding in Russian oil giant Rosneft. Several other fossil fuel companies including Total Energies, Shell, Equinor, ExxonMobil are also ceasing ventures with Russian majors.

UK gas prices have risen to record highs of 450p / therm as sanctions on Russia have been tightened over its invasion of Ukraine and amid fears of supply disruptions. Gazprom, which has a monopoly on Russian gas exports via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline into Europe, said on Monday it was still shipping gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with customers’ requests. Nord Stream 2 has filed for bankruptcy so this will add to the European supply disruption for the mid term.

Where Else Can Europe Get Supplies From?

Some European countries have alternative supply options and Europe’s gas network is linked up so supplies can be shared, although the global gas market was tight even before the Ukraine crisis. Germany, Europe’s biggest consumer of Russian gas which has halted certification of the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia because of the Ukraine crisis, will now have to consider importing gas from Britain, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands via pipelines and this tin turn will push up wholesale gas prices in the UK, which is already starting to happen as traders shift their trading positions away from Russia.

Although the UK only receives around 5% of its gas directly from Russia, the rest of the UK’s demand is made up from North Sea generation (55%) and Norwegian pipeline (25%) and LNG imports from USA (15%) and if this demand is taken up from other European counties due to supply disruption from Russia into Europe, this then pushes up the gas spot prices as we have seen over the last week from 200p / therm to now 450p a therm. The United States, which exports shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG), has also sought to help Europe by asking LNG producers at home and abroad to ramp up supplies. LNG imports to northwest Europe, including from the United States, have hit record highs this year. However Qatar, one of the world’s top LNG producers, has said no single country can replace Russian supplies to Europe, with most volumes tied to long-term supply contracts.

Europe’s LNG terminals also have limited capacity for extra imports, although some European countries say they are looking at ways to expand imports and storage. European Union energy were holding talks on Monday to prepare for any supply shock and work on steps to boost stocks.

Has Supply To Europe Been Disputed Before?

The last 15 years have seen several disputes between Russia and Ukraine over gas, mostly to do with prices paid. In 2006, Gazprom cut supplies to Ukraine for one day. In the winter of 2008/2009, Russian supply disruptions rippled across Europe. Russia cut off supplies to Kyiv in 2014 after Moscow annexed Crimea. Ukraine stopped buying Russian gas in November 2015 and has instead imported gas from EU countries, by reversing the flow in some of its pipelines. Retaliation for sanctions or the conflict in Ukraine will damage supply routes and supply generation across Europe and into the UK for some time to come till supplies can rebalance themselves, which could take many months (if not years) due to weaning ourselves off Russian dependence.

Are There Any Options To Cope With An Energy Supply Crunch For Europe?

Several nations could seek to fill any gap in energy supplies by turning to electricity imports via inter-connectors from neighbouring states or by boosting power generation from nuclear, renewables, hydropower or coal. Extra supplies would come from coal, bioenergy plants and renewables, such as wind and solar. But nuclear and hydropower output is expected to drop in 2022 from 2021. Nuclear availability is falling in Belgium, Britain, France and Germany as plants are facing outages as they age or are decommissioned or phased out. Europe has been targeted to shift away from coal to meet climate targets but some coal plants have been switched back on since mid-2021 because of surging gas prices. Germany has said it could extend the life of coal or nuclear plants to cut reliance on Russian gas however this does come at an impact to the environment.

Paul Havell – March 2022

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“I turned professional as a cricketer for Sussex in 1999 when I was 19 years old, and then in 2003 moved to Derbyshire for 3 years, so I had 7 wonderful years playing professional cricket for Sussex and Derbyshire, travelling all around the world, which gave me a good grounding of how to work in a team environment and be a team player. My playing career came to an end in 2005 (I was a fast bowler) so my knee and back gave up on me at the young age of 26 so I was thrusted into the big world of ‘real’ work.

In 2005 straight after I stopped playing cricket, I was fortunate enough to get a job working for a large energy consultancy in East Grinstead and that’s when I moved to Tunbridge Wells from Sussex. I had 9 wonderful years learning the trade of energy procurement and in 2014 I set up my own business called Fidelity Energy, which has 40 staff and services over 3,000 clients – it continues to do very well to this day.

I met my now wife Lauren in Tunbridge Wells in 2008 and we have 3 beautiful girls called Minnie (7), Dottie (5) and Mitzi (1) All girls. I better get saving now!!

I’ve been in the energy industry for 15 plus years now, but lockdown allowed me to shift my focus from running a big sales team and the stresses that comes with that to refocus on family life and that’s when Energy Pal, located in Tunbridge Wells was born.

We all know how difficult it has been for many local businesses during the last 12 to 18 months during various lockdowns, so I decided that servicing the local community was what I really wanted to do making sure they were getting the right energy advice and guidance.

Energy Pal helps UK business customers get the best value from their energy contracts. Business energy is a minefield of different suppliers, products, and tariffs so we ensure that we due diligently selects the best suppliers, products, and tariffs for businesses. We remove the stress of dealing with the energy contracts by contacting the existing and new supplier, as well as managing the full switching process throughout, from start to finish. Buying at the right time by constantly monitoring the market is key to achieving price stability.

My focus for Energy Pal is to service locally within a 10-15 miles radius of Tunbridge Wells (although we service nationally, therefore I set up Energy Pal to service locally) We look after many well-established local businesses in and around Tunbridge Wells and it’s given me a great deal of pleasure to give energy procurement advise to all the local businesses over the last 12-18 months.

We want to keep building trust within the local community by helping as many local businesses as we can to get them on to the right energy tariff structure.”

“I was in the army for twenty-five years, from a private to regimental Sergeant Major and finishing up as a Captain, it was a great time of my life, but things move on, and I decided to come out and leave the army.
I had to do some hard thinking as to what I was going to do when I came out and I started off with buying a franchise, it was called pestforce Dartford and unfortunately at the time it didn’t really work for me but looking back now, it perhaps was fortunate that it didn’t. The franchise was all about making money out of me, not investing in me, and developing the business, I did it for six months and in that time, I learned a lot about the trade and the pest control industry.

There’s a lot of crossovers from the military in pest control, you’re carrying out concealment and when you’re setting traps and natural signs of movement as you do in the woods etc as a soldier with soldier skills, it’s transferable to what I do now. Obviously, I need to know the regulations and the legal side, fortunately the franchise taught me how to do that, that part of the franchise was brilliant, it was just like having a mentor.

After spending six months with the franchise, I quickly realised I could do it better, and that was the point when I set up my business, seven years ago. The biggest difference I noticed was that I was all about the customer, making sure that we went in, we dealt with the problem and the customer was always happy. The franchise taught me a lot about being in business, after being in the army for twenty-five years I didn’t even know how to raise an invoice.

When I set the business up it was just me, I wasn’t allowed to operate in the Dartford post code, but I could operate in Maidstone and as I’m from Maidstone and have a lot of people that know me and knew what I did, I was up and running quite quickly almost with no problems at all. In my first year I got so busy, trying to do everything, working all the hours god sent, very quickly realising that I needed some help. A friend of mine, Mark, had a gardening business and wanted a change so he asked if he could come on board, I accepted and taught him from scratch and he’s still with me today, it was great as it took a lot of pressure off me.

That set the pattern from there on, I would work to the point of near full capacity, almost to where there’s not enough hours in the day, working at night and the weekends then take someone else on, it would ease off, we would catch up again and then repeat the process. That’s how it’s been all the way. The second employee was my wife, who had previously worked in banks, she took on the bookings, invoicing and the admin side of things, which was great as suddenly, I was getting my evenings back. We then very quickly needed another technician and now there are six of us including myself, as well as another administrator, Liz, to support my wife as her workload was increasing.

I got to the point last year where my role was changing and I needed someone to support me, I wanted to work more on the business rather that in it with more networking, meetings, and marketing etc; I needed a bit more flexibility. A qualified pest controller contacted me saying he liked what we do and was interested in coming to work with me, we had a three-hour chat over a coffee, and I knew that he was a good fit, so I offered him a job and has given me the flexibility I needed within the business. He’s been with us for six months now and I’ve been mentoring him in the way we do business.

We’ve grown in a very healthy organic way, we’re always taking on new contracts and I love what I do because it’s so varied, some days you can do five or six jobs, sometimes more, but you can be doing a mole job in the morning in a field in the middle of know where, then you could be dealing with mice in a loft, then dealing with a pigeon problem; you are out and about all the time, always meeting new people. I love that, I’m a people person, I love talking to people and meeting interesting people and I always show an interest in what they have to say or an interest they want to share. I like to teach that skill to my guys, you’ve got to find that common ground, have conversations and build trust.

The exciting thing for me is seeing how my business is growing and how it’s developing, when I look back to where I was seven years ago it’s quite incredible what we’ve achieved.”

“There’s a lot of new challenges out there now – perhaps tougher than COVID with the scare mongering, we can’t control the media, it’s too strong, the way they put fear into the masses, people buy into it, and they stop spending; that’s when it applies to myself and lots of other businesses in the town.

There are people out there that DO want to spend, the positivity we have should be shared as there’s lots of companies out there that are thriving, entrepreneurs that are taking opportunities, starting new ventures and new business start-up’s, why aren’t we see any of that in the media? It’s so one sided!

I spoke in my last interview with you about the waves we must face, we’re in another one right now! We need to hear more about success so that the young generation can look towards that and see the great things that are being achieved, we need to embrace it and we don’t, I don’t like that as a culture. Things are tough, but we’ll get through it.

I’ve got my fingers in a few pies right now, I can’t disclose just yet as I’m still negotiating, we’ve outgrown these premises and there’s a break coming up in my lease next year. I’ve been here since 2009 and now have a fantastic rock-solid business, it’s not always been easy, but we’ve been trading for thirteen years, and I now feel it’s time to pick the business up and relocate. We will be staying in Calverley Road, that’s important and I’ve been looking at various vacant shops along the road, but nothing has really appealed to me yet. But I’ve been playing with some maverick ideas and if I can pull it off, I’ll have some announcements to make early next year! It will be good for the town, good for me, good for our team and of course good for the clientele. Watch this space.

I feel very proud of the team and what they’ve achieved, I’ve got a rock-solid salon manager called Si – his professional background is working on international cruise ship liners and London based salons with excess of 35 years experience and has been with me for eight years now. There are a few others that have been with me long term and younger team members that join and then move on – that’s quite normal in this industry.

Moving forward next year we want create some fun, add some exciting new services, new packages, I’ve already started negotiations with my suppliers and if I pull it off, which I think I will, we’re going to have something to shout about which is unique to the town and unique in our industry, there’s not many sellers offering what we’re going to be offering! Hair still grows, computers can’t replace that, and I’ll just be taking my business to the next level.

Since I saw you last, I’ve also become one of the directors for BID (Business Investment District) in Orpington, I’m the only female on the board, representing the personal care industry. There are other people on the board from other industries, representing multiple companies, banks, and finance etc so it’s diverse, and when we have meetings it’s interesting to hear how other businesses are doing.

We’re all passionate, we care about business, we care about the local community, and we embrace success, we want people to do well.

From my point of view, in times of hardship, a positive spirit comes through, and I believe the stronger businesses will survive and thrive. I’m keen on the independents that are quite entrepreneurial and think outside the box and understand that marketing their business in different ways is important. Even increasing their marketing, cash flow might be tight, but they see something longer term rather than what’s in front of them right now.

I want the reverse of the psychology we’re getting fed with now. I think it’s so important that we have an uplifting, positive approach, that you can achieve things rather than just being kicked down every five minutes. Self-belief, dignity, and integrity is what we need.

I see myself as a little warrior and I’m just going to fight whatever comes my way right now. I’m just going to go out there and do my best and I’d rather do that than never put my toe in the water.”

Fiona Russell, McQueen Hair and Beauty
October 2022
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“Having left school in Chelsea with no qualifications, I was a very creative, visual person that learned hands on and fell into an apprenticeship by accident, it was at a salon in Iconic department store in South London. I had the pleasure of working with a very demanding manager, so I learned quickly about people and behaviour from my manager and senior stylists, as well as the discipline of dealing with the public. I had no life skills at sixteen but watched and observed how the team spoke to clients and customer service was something that I learnt on and throughout the job. We dealt with some interesting characters, and I was in awe of all these amazing people, I’d never seen this before and as a young sixteen-year-old it was all very new to me.

I grew very quickly into the job and by the time I was eighteen, I finished my apprenticeship and qualified as a hairdresser, but it wasn’t enough to stimulate my mind, physically, it was very good as I was on my feet running around all day, but mentally I wasn’t challenged enough. My manager was great and when I asked him to show me what he did daily, I found it really interesting, having this insight gave me confidence, so by the time I was twenty I became a salon manager. I was still very young, but I learnt about budgets, KPI’s, profit & loss reports and managing people all on the job, we were located in department stores at the time, so we paid a percentage to the stores, so I learnt about concession arrangements too. It gave me a light bulb moment! I loved it, I liked learning about numbers and how hairdressing is not just about haircuts anymore, it’s also about time and value equations.

I became very successful and managed six salons in London, I was good! I got promoted, took on bigger fish, moved around London and was working in central London when I got promoted to an area manager. It taught me everything you need to know to run a business – but with someone else’s money. I understood profit, I wasn’t taught that at School.

I was responsible for fifteen salons in the greater London area, working with store and salon managers, turning them into profitable businesses. Number crunching became a big part of my job, but I was still meeting and managing people. I was then made a regional manager which increased my workload to twenty-five salons, as far as Brighton and up to Birmingham, so the M25 became quite familiar. It gave me confidence and instilled a lot of discipline into me which made me learn very quickly that business is separate, it’s like an animal and you must treat it in a respectful way.

I then got married, but continued working, I had my son when I was in my 30s and then I had my daughter four years later, I realised at that point, in my life, working for large corporate companies wasn’t for me anymore, I wanted to come off that wheel, jump off the cliff and see where I would land.

As area manager I was based at Fenwick, here in Tunbridge Wells, I was there every Monday as it was my base in my group and I always thought to myself; I really like Tunbridge Wells, If I ever had a salon, I would want it here – it was always a conversation in my head and visually in my mind. I was familiar with the area, and we had a really fantastic business in Fenwick so when I left my corporate job, I came to Tunbridge Wells!

The business was already an existing salon called Scott & Co and I had a look round and could see the potential, I knew I could turn this around, it was up for sale so I planned a meeting with the agent and business owners, I could see from their business plans that it was a sinking ship and losing money. The negotiations started and, in the end, I got a fair price, so I took on the business in July 2009. We then very quickly went into a recession – didn’t see that coming! However, even though the country was having financial difficulties, I found Tunbridge Wells quite stable, and we stayed in business, it wasn’t easy and that was the first biggest hurdle on my own.

I took on the existing staff and slowly started to re-market the business with new branding and investing in new services, some of the staff decided to move on so I brought new staff in and really started to put my footprint here, creating a business that I knew would be right for the clients I wanted to attract.

I’ve worked hard on this business, day and night as most business owners do, I’ve got a vision that I execute and deliver, it’s taught me that business is like a tidal wave, we get the real troughs and then it calms and then it picks up etc – I just ride those waves. We’ve survived a recession and a pandemic, and they were both tidal waves.

Life has its way of teaching us lessons, but I’m very level-headed and as a business owner sometimes you just must deal with it, don’t stick your head in the sand, however tough it is. I’m lucky that I have a great team, I believe the people you work with are your second family and I always treat people the way I’d like to be treated. Okay, I’m a business owner, so I must think about costs and bills, but equally, my staff are my investment and without them I don’t have a business.

I love being spontaneous, I love change, I embrace it, we are in a fast-paced environment right now and going through some challenging times. The world is changing every day, nature changes, we can’t stand still, and we can’t change what’s behind us, we can only look at what’s ahead. So, let’s go out there and make the best of what we have.

Long term, where do I see myself? My fingers are in a lot of pies. I love interior design & fashion. I intend to take time out to travel. So, I think I possibly may not be in this industry, but I can see myself moving into other industries. I won’t be standing still, that’s boring and intend certainly to “seize the day”.

“I became a mortgage broker back in 2016, my wife was expecting our first child and I wanted to make a career change so I could spend more time with my new-born son and my family. I worked for a company as a mortgage broker for a few years until I decided to start my own company, Momentum Mortgages, that was in March 2020, an interesting time to start a new business.

We were straight into working from home with lockdown so it was a very strange time to start, however, because my own experience in trying to get a mortgage was a painful one, I was determined to succeed with it. The first time my wife and I looked at purchasing a home we found it very difficult, we had to get a lot of help from parents, I couldn’t even go on the mortgage to start with, it was that difficult. So, I didn’t want first time buyers, or self-employed people like myself to go through the same difficulties that I did. I wanted to specialise in helping self-employed people, sole traders, business owners and entrepreneurs to be able to obtain property finance. We can help anyone get a mortgage; however we specialise in helping the self-employed etc.

I’m very much about the work/life balance, it’s something I like to encourage within my business, and that flows through to my employees as well – both of our other brokers are Mums, so we all fit in working with picking up the kids from school, it’s very important to me.

We have offices in Sevenoaks and Maidstone but have clients all over the UK, I set the business up whilst in lockdown so working remotely and over Zoom etc has been an advantage for us as we didn’t have to adapt into it, it allows us to help anyone in the UK as well as our local areas.

We’ve just taken on two new advisors, Karen and Gemma who is an apprentice, doing her qualifications, and our objective is to help more people. My vision is to help 10,000 people get their new homes or invest in property, the only way we’ll be able to do that is by growing as a business. My ethos with people coming into the company is that they don’t need to be experienced mortgage brokers, we will train them up and coach them into the right way to advise people and gain their qualifications. I’m looking to grow the team so we can help more and more people with their mortgages and property finance.”

“I was always hyperactive as a kid and when I was at Langton Green Primary School, they recommended I should look at pursuing sports/running. One of my early memories was a charity run around the playing field and completing as many laps as possible. There was this other lad at school who was boasting he was going to do more than anyone else, so even at that young age my competitive streak came out and I ended up doing more laps than anyone else and passing him. So that’s how it all started, my passion for sport, running and fitness.

At Secondary School I recall this one PE teacher who saw my passion and talent for running and it wasn’t long before he selected me for the school cross country running team. Looking back, I realise what a positive step that was I really appreciate what he did for me. From there I joined Tonbridge Athletics Club and started competing at various events. One of those inspirational coaches was a teacher and part time athletics coach, Mike Rowbottom. It is a little known fact that he actually recorded, unofficially, the four minute mile before Roger Bannister official record was set. Those twice weekly sessions, often in cold, damp, wet conditions during winter training, as part of Mike’s athletics team really gave me early insight into the coaching experience and how he motivated his athletes. Its an experience even now I really value and it gave me that hunger to pursue a career in sports. I decided then, that I would take a year out after my A-Levels. Whilst on my gap year, I had the opportunity to obtain qualifications in the fitness industry on an apprenticeship with LA fitness, in Tunbridge Wells. That learning experience made me decide to invest in myself and so I went on to get a Diploma in Personal Training at David Lloyd with Premier Training International.

I’ve always wanted to be the best that I could be at both my running and fitness career and I was keen to be able to pursue my own passion for competing alongside my career development. My time at LA fitness gave me that flexibility which was so valuable. Often fate does play a part in where we end up and so when i was offered a freelance Personal Training role at LA Fitness, I decided to take the plunge and set up Scott Richardson Personal Training. That was in 2005 and I have never looked back.

I actually realise now how lucky I was when I first set my business up to have such supportive parents. I was living at home at the time and they supported me in putting my efforts into my business and building my client base. I often tell my PT clients that stress is all about what we perceive. Looking back I was extremely stressed, not having a guaranteed income and building my business. Now I really appreciate what Mum and Dad did for me in giving me that support system. At the time my mindset was to just knuckle down and crack on with it. I was still juggling this with my own running ambitions but in the end I had to prioritise the business set up and establishing a client base over my running goals.

Over the years I have trained some really interesting clients and some extremely driven people. One of those was a very driven chap who worked in the medical profession and he wanted me to use my PT skills and running background to train him for his first marathon. Until then I had never thought I could combine both to better my business offering. I hadn’t completed a marathon at that time, but he trusted my expertise and assured me that I had the tools to train him. A few months later he announced that he had decided he wanted to do the New York Marathon and I was to go and compete with him! I wasn’t going to say no to that, so we spent time together doing long runs on Sundays and other sessions to get in shape for the race. I was all prepared on the day to run with him but he just looked at me and said, run your own race. I was a young man running one of the best marathons on the circuit, what an experience.

I was so thankful to the guy and that inspired me further to try and help others achieve similar feats. We ended up doing other events together including Amsterdam marathon where he managed to strip off over 15 minutes off his marathon PB and I was the sixth Brit over the finish line that day in 2 hours 41mins. That was really the start of how I expanded my business to help people achieve their running goals and I have helped many clients train for marathons and other events including 5kms, 10kms and half marathons.

Goals are a really important part of maintaining motivation when it comes to keeping fit, whatever your ability and however large or small they are. In 2014 I myself was looking for a new goal and by pure accident found myself competing in a half ironman event in Marlow. That is a 1.2mile swim, 56mile cycle and 13.1mile run. That first 70.3 qualified me for the European Championships and have since competed globally in Ironman events and I am regularly part of the Team GB triathlon age group team.

Its not just about the big stuff though, I train clients through injury rehab, becoming more mobile and overcoming other health and fitness barriers. Extra knowledge is never wasted if its applied effectively and in my downtime i am regularly up-skilling myself, keeping my qualifications and industry knowledge up to date.

One of my key business lessons since I started out has to be adaptability. Three times in my career I have faced having to relocate. LA fitness worked well for me as a freelance PT but when they unexpectedly closed I had to make a decision quickly to move my business. I was fortunate at the time to be able to rent a studio in the heart of Tunbridge Wells where I stayed for 3 years. I then decided to move back to a gym environment and went to Tunbridge Wells Sports Centre. Of-course no-one really could predict the impact of COVID and in March 2020 I then was forced to work from home due to the restrictions we all have faced. It’s been an interesting past 18 months and I had to adapt massively, as well all have, to do something positive to get my business through Covid. I felt that I owed it to my customers. I now offer a variety of training environments and online in particular really took off and is now a core part of my business. I also converted my garage at home to be a full gym set up so I can offer face to face sessions with my clients in a private environment if they prefer.

As far as the future goes, there’s a word that gets thrown around a lot now and that’s resilience. When I was younger, despite studying sports psychology at A-Level, I never thought so much back then about that side of things. Now looking at my journey, maybe the study and running created my tenacity and the resilience. I am fortunate that my business provides me with a good standard of living but really I have always looked at my business as something that is there to help people, for me helping people achieve their fitness goals comes first.”

“If you’ve got a bad back and you need a specialist chair, for when you’re in the office, you also need a specialist chair for your home. Setting up a decent workstation for the office and for home, is imperative if you’re doing a hybrid, two days at home three days in the office or the other way around etc. It’s not possible to take a chair on the train to work and back!

Companies are beginning to take the idea of people working in two destinations seriously and setting them up with the appropriate furniture etc.

We want to support the local Tunbridge Wells and surrounding businesses more, we’re aware that local businesses may not know we are here and even though we’ve already supported some local businesses – Synergee Limited, Capital Currencies, Sevenoaks Borough Council and Warner’s Solicitors have all bought chairs from us. So, supporting the local businesses is something we’ll be concentrating more on in the coming year.

Quite a lot of our business comes via osteopaths, physios, and chiropractors – someone with a bad back will go and see a local physio so we’ve done well over the years with those type of referrals; they’re almost like our unpaid sales force. Unfortunately, so many people are just sitting on substandard, inadequate chairs.

So, the plan for the year ahead is to explore more options with the home workers because there are more and more of them and that’s the way it’s heading.”

Matt Hutchinson, SitSmart – November 2022

 

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“SitSmart started life just outside Guildford in Surrey about 35 years ago. The owner wanted to retire and Paul Fleming, TEK Group CEO, was looking to develop his business and an office seating division sat perfectly alongside his existing vehicle seat company, TEK Seating. That was about 17 years ago and since then he’s gone from strength to strength, later developing TEK Military Seating, manufacturing seats and products for military vehicles, including anti-blast seats.

I’ve known Paul for many years so when he contacted me to ask if I would be interested in working in his new office seating division, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to work for Paul and SitSmart because I had faith that it was a good set up and I believed in him – and I’ve now been here for about 16 years! The role was something new and challenging, as well as something totally different for me, and I looked forward to working on such a great opportunity.

I originally worked with the old owner for maybe six months just to learn a bit about the business, but more importantly about the chairs – the office chair world is a minefield so we had to work out what we wanted to do, how we would approach selling chairs and how we could develop the brand. We then moved the business from Guildford to Tunbridge Wells to run alongside TEK Seating. It was all very straightforward and moving into a big new facility a year later enabled us to expand our stock and create a showroom.

SitSmart offers top quality office seating for both home and business use. Nearly five million working days a year are lost through back pain so it can be a huge problem for employers as well as employees. We pride ourselves on our personal service, offer a free two-week trial before purchase – allowing our customers to find the right chair for them, plus offer a free consultation and fitting service. We can provide office chairs for people with bad backs or for any general business space, we’ve done school fit outs and a big area for us is 24-hour seating – which is basically a chair with a backside on it morning, noon, and night, with different shifts and different people using it. That led us into a variety of CCTV control room environments, such as Network Rail nationally (who have been clients for over a decade now) and other similar setups.

From a sales point of view when selling chairs you can often be immediately rewarded – someone with a bad back, for example, who has struggled with sitting in discomfort for maybe years, can genuinely feel a positive result very quickly when fitted to the correct chair. Companies, particularly across the UK, are now waking up to the idea that a comfortable, ergonomic chair is a very important part of the workstation and once we’ve helped to break down that barrier, it really can make a big difference to the user.

One of the challenges that we are currently concentrating on is raising awareness amongst local businesses – not just in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, but across the South East in general. We have been targeting these areas for a few years now but were thrown slightly off kilter when the pandemic hit. During the last 18 months our focus was redirected to home workers who realised that a comfortable, ergonomic chair was a crucial part of working from home, so it was great that we could adapt quickly to our clients’ needs.

I’m always amazed that there are local businesses who are not aware of us so that’s a definite action plan – amongst other things – for the immediate future. People need to know we can be competitive and offer solutions for all budgets. We are here to help and advise – and that personal service is definitely where our strengths lay”

“Emily and I were out one valentine’s evening with a group of single friends, and we were all discussing the online dating scenario, and what a shame it is when you meet a nice person but there’s not a romantic spark. It would be nice to be able to say to that person – let’s go for a walk or meet for lunch, but because there’s a romantic implication with it being on a dating site, it’s likely that the other person won’t be interested in that, and then it’s not going to go any further.

We felt like there was a real space available to create a platform that would take away the pressure to date, and just have companionship, very much on a one-off basis with no real pressure to take it any further than that. There’s no need to even follow up because the messaging service we have on the website, comes to an end a while after the start time of the outing. Therefore, there’s not going to be any comeback unless you want to reconnect with that person and exchange numbers.

There really is a gap in the market for this. There are online meet-up groups, but even dating sites have started to realise there is a need for more friendship-based situations. However, the way they are doing it is in the same dating format; you’re still scrolling through faces and getting very little information on the person, and possibly no interests in common. We felt we had a real opportunity here to turn that approach on its head.

We start the process with what somebody is interested in, then people can post their outing, event, or activity on our online outings board and then people can apply. They don’t even have to reveal their profiles until they are really interested in something on the board, or, if they want post something themselves.

It’s not gender specific so you could be a guy wanting to meet another guy, down the pub for a drink after a day’s work – and that could be a day’s work at home. Obviously working from home has increased so the office social life has been dramatically reduced. It could be going for a bike ride with someone or having someone to motivate you for exercise.

There is also the opportunity to meet up first, for a coffee and a chat and to get to know them if needed. Some people are nervous, and the pandemic has potentially made that worse. But it is important to point out that what we do is not just for lonely people, it’s for anyone that would like a companion for a shared interest.

The age range of the people that have signed up on our website is 18 to 81 which just shows how wide our demographic is. We have lots of lovely women signed up, but we need more men to sign up! There’s a potential stigma attached for men admitting that they’re lonely, sometimes they just want to enjoy the camaraderie of meeting someone down the pub with no pressure, or intensity, or doing an activity alongside someone, and that is something we are offering with the use of our website.

Now it’s free to sign up, that’s simply because we are trying to grow our database, and we’re aware that people are in difficult financial situations because of the pandemic, as well as there being a lot of lonely people out there. We want to encourage a lot of people to jump on board now to use the site, and then, we will, at a certain point introduce a four-tiered subscription, offering student and OAP discounts. That will be when the time is right, and we have enough people to give a good user-experience.”

 

“It all started eleven or twelve years ago over in Surrey where I was working as Head of Music at a school at the time; one of the parents asked me to put on a musical theatre summer school for primary and secondary school ages. As they say the rest is history! That first summer school developed into Talentz Musical Theatre School- first it was classes, then we made the move to Tunbridge Wells and now have branches in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks, alongside productions (both locally and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), pantomimes, workshops, we are linked to an agency, we do LAMDA… it just keeps growing!

Talentz is now my full-time job. It’s really lovely and was always my aim – it’s about self-expression, getting kids more confident, nurturing their talent and using their confidence to stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

You have to be confident and speak in every job you do in life, you have to meet people and you have to talk to people in every walk of life, so it’s all about building those skills and having lots of fun! We now put on full-scale productions, including panto and full-youth panto, which is quite an undertaking. We also do the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year, which is the most amazing experience! If you want to get into performing it’s the best thing for your CV, it’s just a completely different experience to performing a run in a regular theatre and is the most fun!

One of the incredible things about founding the Fringe Festival here in Tunbridge Wells was seeing a group of recent drama graduates come up from Chichester University (A Company Of Six) to do the whole experience of living here all together for the week, like we do in Edinburgh- one of whom first started doing theatre at Talentz many many years ago! It is amazing seeing students go from their first Talentz class through our productions, off to study and then come full circle when they come back to Tunbridge Wells Fringe Festival with their own theatre companies!

When working as a team on a show you become so close, which is why we all get the ‘show blues’ afterwards but knowing that people are developing is really rewarding. We’ve got a few going off to drama schools and universities again this year and watching them further their careers and then watching them perform is just amazing, knowing that we played a part in that journey is phenomenal. Watching the kids that come to us that are just scared of speaking, the ones that haven’t got the confidence and seeing them develop into confident people is so rewarding. We just did summer school (Moana and A Week in the West End) in the EM Forster Theatre and to be back in that environment was just amazing, it was just like home and was brilliant, the creativity of performing and theatre is what I love.

We now have three branches (Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks) which I oversee and I’m hoping to get bigger and bigger and develop more. We rehearse in schools in each area but eventually I would love to have our own studio- that’s my end goal and hopefully it will be happening soon. Having our own studio here in Tunbridge Wells will be amazing, we rehearse here every weekend but if we had our own studio, we could rehearse in the week too. The future is our own studio and more branches.”

“My first love of sport was football, my dad was a very good goalkeeper, he played in the first division and he finished his career when he was 49 years old and I wanted to be like him.

I had been playing football since I was about five or six years old. When I got to the age of fourteen or fifteen, I realised I was too small to be a goalkeeper, at the same time during a winter break, a friend of mine invited me to do some boxing, I wasn’t sure about it but it was amazing, it was like love at first sight. I knew it was for me – it didn’t matter if you were small or skinny.

All the boxers and trainers were amazing. They showed us the way to box, how to punch, how to stand and they were so helpful, nice people, they taught us so much and none of them were intimidating in any way, so I just stayed there, I figured if I just stayed there and worked hard, I could prove myself in the ring. In the Czech Republic we had something like the premier league but for boxing, all the trainers were premier league boxers and they boxed for the national team.

I started a little late as a boxer, I was between fifteen and sixteen, but I pushed myself hard, I loved it and luckily was quite good. I had 45 fights as a junior and then when I was nearly seventeen, I was chosen to box in the seniors. A boxer from the seniors was injured so I took his place – fighting with the seniors premier league when I was seventeen! It was a dream come true. I was fifty-four kilos so a bantamweight, I was skinny and tall but did very well. It was tough bit I loved it and made my dad proud. When I was twenty, I was proud to become captain of the team and I stayed doing that for eleven years. Then at twenty-two, they picked me up for the national team. I was in the squad team for the Olympics in Altlanta in 1996 but unfortunately I got injured so couldn’t compete.

I continued to box in the Premier league, had a lot of fights, I was a three-time silver medallist and a three times bronze medallist in the national Czech championship. I had 282 fights as an amateur. I also boxed in Germany and Austria leagues as well and boxed the Polish boxing league. I boxed in many different tournaments, travelling over the many countries in Europe. It was hard but good fun too, I made friends for life. But sadly in1999 the boxing team had to break up because we didn’t have enough sponsors and finance to carry on in the premier league.

So I decided to box as a professional and quickly signed the contract. It was tough because my manager wasn’t in a strong position and sometimes gave me just one or two weeks’ notice for a fight. When I look back it was much easier fighting as an amateur. Boxing was our full time job, we trained twice a day, got paid a salary plus money for fights, all the equipment was funded. They were good times! After 17 years of an active career in boxing I decided to stop fighting when I was nearly thirty-five, I decided enough was enough.

I had always wanted to learn the English language. One day I saw an advert from Jamie Johnson looking for a part time boxing trainer. It was like it was meant to be. I replied and came here to introduce myself. Jamie Johnson is a former women’s English boxing champion, she’s very famous here in Tunbridge Wells. She was looking for someone to help her with boxing part-time, she offered me the position and we started training the kids at Showfields Estate in Tunbridge Wells. I also started working full time at the sausage factory in Tunbridge Wells where I started improving my English. A couple of evenings a week I worked as a volunteer at Sevenoaks amateur boxing club, I stayed there for nearly four years, sharing my knowledge with young boxers, I still enjoyed sparring with the boxers. I got my qualification as an amateur boxing coach level one and then level two whilst there.

In 2014, Jake from Halo Gym contacted me to ask If I would like to help him train some white-collar boxers, I accepted, and we started to collaborate, people started to like what we were doing. Jake then asked me if I wanted to help him set up boxing classes at Halo, working there full time as a self employed trainer, I wasn’t sure as it was a big step for me but after chatting through with my girlfriend Clare, she said just do it! So, I did! I’ve been here for six years now and it’s going very well.

I just love the boxing and teaching people, that’s my passion, I love meeting new people, seeing their different styles, how they improve and grow in confidence, everybody is different, and I love teaching them. I’ve discovered I’m a good teacher.

Recently i passed as a Second/Trainer for the British Boxing Board of Control proving you can always grow and learn more. I’m 47 now, fit, healthy and will continue to learn & grow.”

 

“I started selling when I was around sixteen years old, the school of hard knocks, selling double glazing and I just realised I had a knack for it, I found it easy to get on with people. I was a shy kid at school but when I turned sixteen, I found I had this knack for gelling with people, as far as I could see I was only doing what everybody else was doing, maybe I put more enthusiasm into it, but, whatever happened, I found I could do well at it, and I got loads of appointments, even the managers couldn’t put their finger on how I did it, so it all started there.

 

I then moved into selling on newspapers, I ended up in the East End of London on the Bethnal Green Road, it was a bit of a commute as I was living in Orpington at that time, it was good though, my training was worthwhile, but I had to get more local. I ended up getting a job in Westerham with the local paper which was a much better location and carried on selling advertising there. I started off on the classified section, selling to the tradesmen, but as we were a small team, we all would just try to sell what we could, getting involved with the retailers too. I had a great bond with the classified lads, I’m half east ender myself, so I had a real connection with the tradesmen, I can sell at all different levels, but the roofers, plumbers and builders loved the banter and the chance of a deal when it was put to them. It’s like chatting with a few mates down the pub but taking some money off them at the end of the night, I really like it – obviously always in a professional manner.

I left the paper and came back a few times but also worked in the music industry, selling rare vinyl and memorabilia, I really loved it, I was selling fully autographed Beatles records that had a high-ticket price, but unfortunately that was at the time the recession came along and a lot of my customers didn’t have as much disposable income. So unfortunately, I had to leave there.

I went back to my previous employer, the local paper in Westerham, the print industry was also and still is going through a rough time and I realised the paper was a bit of a sinking ship – this was before COVID, people were being made redundant around me and although I survived, due to the business I was bringing in, I decided to strike out on my own. I had nothing to lose and just continued doing the same thing, but for my own paper/magazine, I didn’t have the overheads that they have so I knew it was all do-able on my own.

Your Local Mag has been going for over two years now, it’s good fun and I don’t think I could ever go back to working for someone else now, I really enjoy just doing my own thing.”

“It all started when somebody kept asking me to go to a networking event – I’d never been to one before, initially I was put off because I was getting regular phone calls asking if I was going to attend. I ignored it and put it off until a friend of mine said he had this great networking group he attended called BNI and I should come along. I found it all really interesting, everyone in the room stood up, one by one and told me a little bit about their business, it all seemed pretty cool, and they all seemed like nice people. Then of course it came to the part where they asked me to stand up and talk about my business, I had no idea it was going to happen, so, I completely bricked it, made a complete hash of my minute and that was my first foray into networking.

The second time I went along I was ready, I quickly understood the ethos of BNI which is givers gain, but I also learned that a lot of the key elements are pertinent to networking generically. If I help you, you will probably try and help me back – I got that, and to cut a long story short, I was a member of BNI for 16 years.

I helped to grow the chapter I was in and realised that I was able to communicate well with people, as well as being able to exert some kind of trusted representation with a good reputation within BNI. I was also going to lots of other networking events and building the same kind of reputation.

Throughout this time, I was generating leads for my own businesses, understanding a bit about giving stuff away in the hope of getting something back. I sold one business and set up a whole new property investment brokerage, which to be fair, probably wouldn’t have even got off the ground if it hadn’t been for the networking, and the trust that I had built up. After a few years, Brexit hit that business quite majorly and I found that I was struggling, so whilst chatting to someone at a networking event about the troubles I was having – he said, why don’t you just set up a new business and just be you, be Chris Mansfield. He pointed out that there were probably loads of companies out there that would like me to do their networking for them, companies that don’t like to network, ones that have better things to do with their time, so I seriously started to think about it. That was at the beginning of 2018, so I started running it past one or two firms, just as an idea and they both said, sounds like a great idea, we’d be interested!

Initially I set something up with a lady who had a lot of telemarketing experience, we packaged our services together offering a combination of networking and telemarketing packages and things were just starting to gather momentum when COVID struck. All the networking just stopped and then on top of that, when it got to March, I found out that I had to shield, which completely shut me down until the July. I soon realised that I had a big problem, I’d had no income for months, my savings were running out and there was no sign of it getting any better anytime soon.

After the realisation that I was in big trouble, I decided to put a post out on LinkedIn, I’d seen others reaching out for help on there as they had lost jobs and needed help etc. I really struggled with this, as my pride and the unwanted feeling of humiliation was hitting me, but I decided to put it out anyway. Whilst I was drafting the post, I suddenly realised I had exceeded the character count, I didn’t even know that was possible, I’d basically just been venting, so I started editing it, cutting bits out until I had actually moulded a post that was incredibly relevant.

The post basically said that it was very uncomfortable for me to be posting it, as I’m not the one usually asking for help, I’m usually the one helping others, it was about the situation I had found myself in, how I had arrived at this point, and that I now needed some help. I eventually hit send and instantly felt a sense of relief. I had done something constructive, and all that fear subsided. I forgot about it for a few days and carried on with shielding, listening to music and reading books. Two or three days later I went back to it to see if anyone had responded, and I was totally overcome! The 18 years of networking that I had done up to that point had really come home. I’d had 183 personal messages, I replied to them all, but the thing that really got me was the fact that the post had been seen by 16500 people and every time it had been shared, sometimes by people that I had never met, it always came with a testimonial. One guy wrote “I’ve never met Chris, but this has been shared by a friend of mine, so he must be a good guy” wow! It was very humbling and very emotional.

Off the back of that, amongst other people, I got a phone call from Matt Turner – owner of Creative Pod, who wanted to talk about offering me some work, so we sat down and negotiated a fee arrangement and within that fee he would build my new website and produce logos and business cards etc and that’s how it all started, out of nowhere.

I then spoke to another guy who I had met through networking, a branding expert by the name of Chris Hughes. He took great interest in what I was trying to do so, we sat down and had a conversation over a coffee. His creative, branding brain started working and he pointed out that what I do is so much more than just lead generation, I’m this catalyst thing in the middle that makes things happen. I join people together, I’m the glue that fuses them together – the fusion. That’s where the name Fusion came from with the subline of ‘the business catalyst’ and the strapline of ‘putting the right business-people together’ it says exactly who I am, what I do and how I do it! In true networking style.

During the property investment days, I had met a lady on a trip to the Caribbean and we just clicked, it was quite amazing, unfortunately, two years after we met, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was initially given 18 months to live, so, we set about doing all the nice trips we wanted to do in the short time we had left. I made sure we always had something for her to look forward to. We always kept moving forward and striving to keep getting there and by keeping her positive we managed to stretch her life out another three and a half years. We lived a lifetime in that all too brief period, visiting different places and not caring about the expense but it was really important – life’s too short. She died in February 2015, which still came as a shock because no matter how prepared you think you are, when it actually happens, you’re never prepared.

Suddenly, in March 2016, a year later, I became very ill. It all started with a spider bite. It was my first motorbike ride of the year, so I got my leathers out of the cupboard, put them on, knelt down to do the tyre pressures and got this sheer pain in my knee. I thought I’d knelt on something sharp, but it turned out I had been bitten by this false widow spider that had nested in my leathers during the winter. My GP thought I’d just been stung by something and gave me antihistamine. After a week, I took myself to hospital as my leg was swollen and inflamed. They gave me some strong antibiotics, and my leg was just starting to get better when I had to go to Spain for three days and unknown to me when I came back, I had picked up swine flu!

In the meantime, the infection in my knee would spread through my leg and into my system, which then led to a heart condition called Endocarditis, which was continuously spreading infections around my body which I was initially unaware of. The first place the infection spread to was my lungs and that had been developing, unknown to me, whilst I was in Spain.
I got home on the Wednesday and on the Friday (good Friday) I found myself in Hospital with double pneumonia and swine flu. I was on the emergency floor in isolation for a few days and weirdly on one particular day, one of my best mates turned up to see me, all three of my kids and three of my former partner’s kids had also come to visit, they all sort of turned up at the same time. I was actually oblivious to what was going on, texting people saying that I would be out in a few days, lying in this bed feeling not too bad – suddenly this nurse comes into the room and tells me that I was going into intensive care! They wheeled me away and I remember saying things like “see you later’ etc, but what I didn’t know was that they had all been called and been told that I probably wasn’t going to get through the night. They had been told to come in and say goodbye.

I was in intensive care for six nights my lungs had collapsed due to the swine flu and pneumonia, and I was being pumped with oxygen. I came out of there into the high dependency unit for a few days and then back into an isolation room, and with lots more antibiotics I eventually got to a point where they felt I could go home.

I was back home for about a week before I had another fever with flu symptoms, I called 111 and they sent out a paramedic, she looked at the previous history and decided I needed to be back in hospital, so she called an ambulance. It turned out that from being on my back for six nights and six days, I had blood clots on my lungs, which were stopping me from breathing. After being treated they sent me home, but I once again I had fever and racing heart rate so back I went to be admitted to Hospital.

Eventually a doctor asked me more about the history and the spider bite, he said he had an idea and called another consultant. She asked to look at my fingernails and saw these tiny little black flecks in my nails and said that was exactly what they were looking for! She told me that the black flecks in my fingernails were a sign of Endocarditis and that’s why they weren’t getting to the cause of the problem, my heart was continually recirculating the infections.

I had to have six weeks of antibiotics, four hours a time, twice a day! Three or four weeks into that, they then tell me I’ve got a problem with my kidneys, due to the massive amount of anti-biotics. I wasn’t allowed to go home because they had to get my kidneys sorted out whilst still continuing with the antibiotics for my heart condition. I was told that Worthing Hospital had never encountered a case like mine where a person had suffered 5 life threatening conditions, including 6 nights in intensive care, and survived!

They took a gamble to keep treating the heart and hoping that the kidneys would recover, they flushed me through with 3 litres of water and a litre of saline and nine days later I was discharged and completely clear.

That was in the June, then in the August I got called back into hospital for a bone marrow biopsy, which is not nice, to try to find out why my white cell count was so low and why my immune system hadn’t protected me better than it had, and when they got the details back they discovered I have a rare form of leukaemia. Excellent! They monitored me for a year but had to treat it in November 2017. I’m now left with an incurable cancer, that can’t be cured but can be treated and so far I’m in my fourth year of remission, which is good.

The upshot of all of that, following the loss of my partner in 2015 when I thought I’d realised that life’s too short, was that when you have the hearse backed up to your own front door, that’s a whole different ballgame. Life really is too short, and it’s made me live life a little differently. It’s a case of just recognising that today is a good day, you’ve woken up and that’s a good start and you’ve got a choice as to what you do with that day. You can decide whether you’re going to have a good view on the day, or not and I’ve found that if you get up with the right attitude life’s actually pretty good.

My new business was formally launched in September 2020, coincidentally I met my new partner in the same month, both off the back of a Covid pandemic so the World can’t be all bad! I’m going to enjoy what I’m doing; I’m going to network, meet some new people, have some good conversations and make the whole world seem a better place.

My attitude to networking, which goes right the way back to my early BNI days with givers gain, has made me realise more than ever, how important it is to try to enjoy each day and just see how many people you can help.”

“I’ve been a fitness instructor forever, I’m a Mum with four kids and I’ve always been interested in fitness, working in lots of different places like LA Fitness, David Lloyd, and Maidstone leisure centre, I would do classes in all of them. I’ve also managed a studio in Ashford – I would do four hours admin there, rush back home, do the kids tea, then rush back out to work, life was manic. I could teach pretty much anything like Yoga, Pilates, conditioning, everyday would be something different, at the time it was a lot of Yoga and I have to say, I needed a change.

One day I was online, looking for inspiration, when I came across aerial yoga and it looked like so much fun, I really liked the look of it, so, after some more googling I came across the first ever teacher training course in the UK, which was in Godalming, it was a four-day course and I absolutely loved it! But had nowhere to teach it. You need specialised ceilings to hang the brackets on and a big space to make it work. I carried on working but had this thing that I really wanted to do, it was a big risk and a big move, I haven’t really got any savings, I’ve always been working and spending, so for me to open a business was a major risk.

Things just all happened at the right time, Maidstone leisure centre had made me redundant, so I started to look for some premises – most of which were a lot of money. The lovely estate agent that was helping me, brought me to this place and although it was in a mess and not really where I wanted it to be, I knew that I could probably make it work. We maxed out all the credit cards, so it was a big risk. But it was worth it.

Once we started going, I had to start from scratch, my previous customers stayed in their existing centres except for the pole classes I had, that was quite established, so we brought those clients across. We then just built on it, and It’s been going now since 2012. We had three months of intensive building work to get it up and running, two weeks before we opened, it rained after a period of completely no rain and the roof was like a sieve!

I love what I do because it’s a little bit different and after teaching things like tums and bums, yoga and pilates for years it’s very nice to do something a bit different. We get normal people come in, your sister or your aunt for example, your Mum, people of all ages, they all say; “I could never do that” and within ten to fifteen minutes, they are doing it and loving it! I just love that fact that I can help the girl next door, aerial yoga is so usual friendly, we can get them doing amazing stuff! It’s very beneficial for the body, making your spine feel good, hanging from the hammock, from your hips, it just lets your back really lengthen. People can’t wait to come back and hang.”

“In the first lockdown we were all stuck at home, I felt so bad for the arts and our industry and after chatting with a few people we started to discuss the possibility of how incredible it would be if Tunbridge Wells had its own fringe festival. We spoke about the success of the Edinburgh Fringe and how frustrating it was that I had to cancel the trip I had with The Talentz to do a show in 2020. I normally take about twenty teenagers up there for a week during the month-long fringe and it’s just the best week ever! It leaves memories forever and starts some people off on their performing journey, and it’s important as it’s completely different to regular performing, they learn so much about the whole process of putting a show on and making it a success in a professional environment.

We continued to chat about it until the second lockdown happened and I had managed to perform Joseph, outside, between the two lockdowns and then the third lockdown happened! After the easing was announced I started to think, do you know what, no one has performed for 16 months now – let’s see what other people think of this crazy idea!

The first person I approached was Cindy Hedmann. She’s an Events Coordinator and brilliant at it, she’s also the reason I started my business, The Talentz Musical Theatre Company- for her daughter. So, I asked her if she thought it was an insane idea or if she thought it would be a good idea, she thought it would be a really good idea and I should pursue it. I then approached Larry Hardcastle because he would confirm the business side, I think with my heart and never with my head and I’m not business minded, but Larry said it would work! So, we formed a committee (including Michael Bascom- who moved away so had to drop out).

We put some feelers out to see if it would work, we approached TW Together and asked if we could apply for funding, and they said yes, definitely. The Times of TW agreed to be our media partners, that was brilliant! The Council agreed to it and have supported us all the way. All these things, including getting a few local businesses involved with sponsorship re-assured us that it could all be done.

It was going to be small to start off with, a few venues were going to offer their places for free for the performers, all the ticket money will go to the performers. The performers have had no work, and the venues want people walking through the door so it was a win-win.

As we got the ball rolling, Eventotron came onboard as our online all in one Arts Event Management System. They already had been working with the whole of the Brighton Fringe as well as some of Camden Fringe – so when we started working with them it just got bigger and bigger. Everyone wanted to be involved and it’s been absolutely phenomenal, with over 200 performances at around 40 venues and goodness knows how many participants! It has become a full-time job for all of us!

We’ve also got sub-committees involved in different areas- one for the Camden Road area, Nell from Arty Farty Retreat does all the workshops, Storm Walker from Denny’s Place manages the Pantiles end, we’ve also got Grace from Goupie who deals with Central Market and an amazing Artisan Market, tasting menu and treasure hunt, and Aimee Cooper- a comedian who has been helping all round – they have all been amazing!

Every single person involved in the running of the Tunbridge Wells Fringe is a volunteer, and our team have been phenomenal, we absolutely couldn’t have done it without their support. I was researching this morning the amount of people that have seen something about the Tunbridge Wells Fringe this year and it’s nearly 2500 people and that’s with COVID restrictions- imagine what it’s going to be like next year, I can’t wait!

The TW Fringe runs from the 5th to the 18th July and we knew it would be restrictive due to COVID. We had BBC Radio ‘Access All Areas’ with Stephen Brown booked at The Forum, Hotel Du Vin red carpet fashion evening for charity as well as One Warwick Park hosting our charity evening, but all of these had to be cancelled.

The attitude we’ve had to take is that this is all building for next year’s event, to make it a bigger and better experience for everyone involved and engage even more of the local community. The whole festival supports our two charities, Taylor Made Dreams and Fegans, and we want to make it as successful as possible to support them as much as we can.

We are overwhelmed at the positive response to the whole festival, and are so glad that we have managed to engage so many local businesses, performers, creatives and residents after such a long period of being stuck at home.”

“I was born in Dundee, right up on the East Coast of Scotland, and I left university with an accountancy degree but knew I didn’t want to become an accountant, so I became a management trainee with Aegon. I benefited from being part of an in-house legal team and realised in the early part of the 1990s that if I wasn’t a qualified Solicitor, I wasn’t really going to be able to progress. I’m very ambitious and quite driven so I decided the best thing to do was to go back to university and get a law degree. In Scotland, you have to do a full law degree, but you can accelerate it into two years instead of three, and that’s what I did. It was a lot of juggling because my son was just two and a half years old at that time!

I qualified with an employment law firm, which at that time was the only niche employment law practice in the UK. I had some fantastic experience there which set me up to decide that that was what I wanted to do – I wanted to specialise in employment law.

I then moved to England, and of course I had to re-qualify as it’s a different legal different jurisdiction to Scotland. I re-qualified as an English qualified solicitor and worked in Newcastle for a while, then moved to London where I was initially a Partner and then European Head of Employment and Pensions of a US global law firm. I eventually continued my travels to set up the business and live in Tunbridge Wells, which is where I’ve been since 2007 with my family and dog Ellie who’s an integral part of the office.

I set up Loch Employment Law here and alongside it, I have set up an HR consultancy business HR Advise Me, offering wellbeing services through Loch Wellbeing too. The reason I did that was because on a day-to-day basis, businesses were getting caught out by making the right decision to exit someone from their business, but they weren’t doing it the right way and losing at Employment Tribunals. So, I realised that actually what they needed was HR support on a day-to-day basis to enable business owners and managers to focus on what they do best – running the business and to help make the right decisions and do it in the right way. The Employment Solicitors help protect their business with the right documentation, solutions and advice on strategic decisions. They can also effectively defend or pursue claims in the Courts or Employment Tribunal. We added on the wellbeing side, as well as having mediators who are there to try and resolve disputes before you have to get solicitors involved. So, the whole business is designed to look after people and ‘People are our business’ is our strap line.

When I set up the business in 2007, we were heading straight into the credit crunch and the start of a recession and at that time some employers did not see the benefit from paying for great HR support. If you get great quality HR support, you don’t need the solicitors to get involved to minimise the damage to your business and a lot of issues can be prevented. The Employment Solicitors are still essential and can provide practical, commercial advice on disputes or issues. Every business is different, and we are able to tailor our services to fit clients needs, so we can provide commercial advice and create documents that fit your business. The HR Advise Me team are brilliant at working in partnership with clients, whether that’s in recruitment, handling grievances and disciplinaries or absence management. We look at HR advice as helping to prevent the damage and the solicitors cure what’s happened or limited the damage that’s been caused. Once clients understand that and see how effective what we do is, they’re with us for the long-term – we have clients that have been working with us since way back in 2007.

We added on the wellbeing side in 2014, which was really in recognition of the impact that mental health was having on employees and staff. We’ve got mental health first aid trainers, who provide the mental health training, we also offer stress resilience courses for employees and wellbeing sessions which have been very popular recently. It’s all about helping to look after the solicitors mental health and we do also look after the physical health in terms of offering wellness checks and first aid training too.

We are a one stop shop and our HR consultants are literally sitting alongside us in the office, so they’re benefitting from our knowledge as well as the solicitors from seeing what the HR consultants experience too. Unusually, the HR consultants have exposure to employment solicitors and other HR consultants do not have that exposure which is what makes us different – we work as a team with clients but also independently.

I love finding strategic solutions for our clients. Sometimes, they are not even sure what the issue is or what the outcome is that they might want, and it means talking to clients about their concerns, what they want to achieve and then finding the solution that fits with their business to get there and, for me, that’s really rewarding.

We want to continue to expand, we have an office in Brighton as well as Tunbridge Wells, and we were about to open an office in London, then COVID hit. As soon as we are back to normal, we’ll be setting up a physical presence in London as well. I’ve got a cracking team of twenty-five and I want to continue in helping them grow. We want to grow our staff as we grow our business and employ great people who have the potential to become really fantastic solicitors, great HR consultants and HR Medical Specialists. That’s what we’ve done, and we will continue to do.

If I had to give advice to people setting up a business, I would say, think carefully before you do it. It’s going to be very hard work and potentially quite challenging from a financial point of view. You may not be making any money and you might have to use up your savings to make it work. Think very carefully and get great advice. Don’t dive in – it sounds like a great idea to be self-employed and your own boss but actually, there are some negative sides to it that you need to think about. I’m happy to talk to people about it because I’ve experienced the negatives and the challenges that come with starting up on your own. Take advice and talk to people that have done it, learn from their experiences, so you don’t potentially make mistakes, keep your eyes open and realise what you’re going into. Having said that, I definitely wouldn’t change where I am today”.

“I’m from a really small town in Canada, with around two and a half thousand people where everyone knows everyone. It was an amazing time to grow up in that kind of environment, however, I felt the world was a bit of a bigger place than it was in my hometown.
So, I went to university, two and a half hours south of Montreal and did four years there, studying business, business administration and economics, some of my best friends were from all over the world, one was from Costa Rica, another from Europe and they had families that were all well-travelled so it fed my desire to travel the world.

Whilst I was at university during the summers, I was working with a company called the S&MG (Sales and Merchandising Group) and they did all of the infield promotions for Pepsi – I worked with them for four summers while I was at university, so I graduated with a really great CV and great work experience. However, I could see myself, for the next 30 years living in Toronto with 2.4 kids, becoming an account director – and it scared the life out of me. I needed to see more. So, I jumped on a plane – I was meant to be away for a month. That was in September 1997 and I haven’t lived back in Canada since.

I lived and worked in London, working in the city during the week bartending at the weekends, I’d do that for nine months, make some money, then go travelling again. I went to India, hitchhiked through Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt came back and then ended up jumping on a plane to Sydney where I set up my first business.

I set the business up with a friend from university – it was an out of home media business, working with universities, colleges, gyms and fitness centres, as well as bars, pubs, nightclubs etc. We spent four years growing that business and made the mistake of bringing in some VC partners that really let us down at the end. It was a huge learning curve that I will never repeat.

I then worked with a couple of guys expanding an Executive Coaching and Sales training business across the APAC region. We were working with the CEOs and country heads for Vodafone, PWC, American Express and HSBC. At that time I met my girlfriend, who’s now my wife – she’s a singer by trade, so we set up a record label and put an album out in Australia. Unfortunately her father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and we only had five months left with him. After he passed away and we then moved to Singapore, partially for my wife Daisy’s music. She was doing loads of amazing corporate events, one of which was on the on a helipad 77 floors up on the Swiss Hotel in downtown Singapore. That was pretty sensational!

We moved back to the UK in 2010 where we had an opportunity to work with a retail gold buying business. We’d set up a kiosk in a shopping mall, people would bring their old jewellery in and we’d value it on the spot and then pay them cash and I helped to expand that business from two shops in Barcelona to 15 Countries and 300 locations within two years. That was a bit of a ride! We then had the opportunity to buy the rights to do that in the UK. We found some investors to help fund it and we opened up Gold buyers International, that was in 2011. We opened up 50 locations within eighteen months with around 200 staff and during that journey I saw someone selling e-cigarettes in a kiosk, at Westfield in Derby.

I saw it as a really interesting concept and after trying to buy the rights to that brand which didn’t come to fruition, we decided to build our own brand, So we jumped on a plane to China, visited fifteen of the biggest e-cigarette manufacturers out there and then within twelve months we had SMOKO.

Daisy had spent half of her life growing up on the northern beaches in Sydney and I had spent ten years in Australia and SMOKO is an Aussie slang word that means ‘cigarette break’ so it was a perfect name! A great branded name for an e-cigarette.

We opened 25 kiosks in shopping centres around the country for SMOKO, including one in Tunbridge Wells. At that time we were living in Muswell Hill in London. Daisy has always worked with me on both businesses and we were commuting 5 hours a day working on both of them. It was all going at breakneck speed.

We had always loved Tunbridge Wells and had both businesses in Royal Victoria Place, so, every time we would come down, we would stay at Hotel Du Vin and got to know the town quite well and really, really enjoyed it.

The lease on our house in London came up in August 2013, so we needed a new home for us and for SMOKO and we decided to move to Tunbridge Wells. Then in 2017 we took over the place that we are in now at 18 Camden Road as the shop front and we run the business from the offices above.

When I was very young, my Mum went back to work very soon after I was born and I was raised most days by my grandmother who was a very heavy smoker – three packs a day, the real strong ones! Moving on to when I was sixteen and working, my grandmother was diagnosed with emphysema, ending up in hospital and I would visit her every day, but, for the last six months of her life, she was on oxygen and stuck in the hospital. Daisy’s father died from terminal lung cancer, he was a smoker for most of his life as well, we spent five months taking him to radiation, chemotherapy, and the 30 people who were all there, were there because of smoking cigarettes.

There had to be a better way than cigarettes, so when we saw e-cigarettes for the first time, the penny dropped and the connections came together, plus, I had the experience to build the business from an idea/concept to where it is today.

Since we started SMOKO, we have prevented over 275 million cigarettes from being consumed and our customers have saved over £100m of their hard-earned money from going up in smoke.

If we can help one person every day to quit smoking cigarettes, so they can have an extra week, or month or year with their families, then that’s a day well spent for us.”

“Stuart, my business partner and I were at school together, so we’ve known each other for a long time. We never intended to work together, it just wasn’t something we talked about at school. I stayed on at Sixth form and Stuart left to start an apprenticeship. I had every intention of being a fashion photographer, that’s what I wanted to do. I’m dyslexic but I didn’t know that at school and found out later on in life. I’ve always been picture led, so found art and photography attractive and it seemed like a good fit for me.

I was studying A’ level photography but there were just four of us on the course and halfway through, the school announced that they we’re not able to continue because the school just couldn’t fund four people. I was so disappointed and thought well that’s it, I need to go and get a job. So, I left with the intention of finding a trainee job or apprenticeship. I was already working part time at the local supermarket but was ready to start something fulltime. That’s when I bumped into Stuart again. His apprenticeship was in the print industry. I told him that I had left school and was looking for something and that we should keep in touch. About two or three days later, he phoned me up and said his Dad was looking for a van driver. I’d passed my test and I liked the sound of it so I came to Windsor and started in the van fulfilling their deliveries.

I enjoy it and have always enjoyed doing a good job – I get my buzz from doing something well, so I gave it my best effort. I wanted to be the best van driver Windsor had ever had, not in an arrogant way, I just wanted to excel in whatever I did.

Stuart’s father David started the business. In the beginning he would have been known as print management – way before it was really a thing. He would source the best printers for his clients and manage the whole process for them. He then went on to buy his own machinery and landed here in Tonbridge with 2 business partners. The original office was in Windsor above a shop that looked out over Windsor Castle, hence the name Windsor Print Productions Limited, but we now trade as Windsor for short.

Stuart’s apprenticeship started at another print company, David wanted him to earn his stripes so to speak – but he soon came to Windsor to work in the reprographics department, which is the bit between the design and getting the thing to print, it’s what makes it a printable piece. It really resonated with me and my love of graphics/photography, so I was immediately interested in what he was doing, and the directors picked up on this.

Eventually they said they needed someone else as the company was expanding and asked If I wanted to come into the repro, I said that I would love to and so my apprenticeship began. I attended The Elephant and Castle school of print for three and a half years, and I just got stuck in and gave it my all. I eventually passed with flying colours and was awarded Student of the year at the end of my course. A proud moment in my very early career.

David was thinking about the future and what to do with the company. At this time, we were very much a Lithographic commercial printer, with long print runs on big Heidelberg presses. But there were new things being launched like “computer-to-plate” systems that replaced the need for films with new technology and I was really inspired by this.

So, I started asking questions and research the technology. At college there was talk about desktop publishing, but this was rarely spoken about in Windsor as we outsourced this part of the process. I was excited about the possibilities to get more involved with computers, the graphics side and wanted to learn a new side of the print, so David pulled me in and asked if I was serious about doing more, I really was – he asked me to go and do the research and said he would back me if he felt it was the right thing, it was a big deal, but I had to be certain as it was serious money.

So I did, I spoke with a lot of companies, who saw this young twenty-three-year-old come in and I don’t think at first they took me that seriously, but they saw my passion and I ended up placing an order for around £120,000. I was nervous but excited, I had to make this work and I’m pleased to say it did! It really made a difference to Windsor and how we worked. We had more control and exciting possibilities ahead.

About a year and a half later our then manager announced that he and his family were moving to Ireland. We weren’t sure what that meant for us or for Windsor. David took me to one side again and although it was early in my career he asked If I wanted to take that role. I said absolutely! I knew my job and wanted the responsibility. Our team was growing, and I would be ultimately responsible but that is what I wanted. I always knew I wanted to run my own business one day – I just didn’t know what that was so I relished this opportunity even though knew it would be a huge learning curve for me but a step in the right direction. Things continued to go grow as we gradually added more technology which included a digital printing press, wide format press, and suite of Apple Macintosh computers. Windsor was doing well and both Stuart and I were finding our feet. Stuart had moved from reprographics department into sales and production, and we were both enjoying the journey.

With in a short period of time I went from the Reprographics manage to Associate Director, I wasn’t really sure what that meant at the time but saw it as another opportunity to get more involved with the company and contribute my ideas and suggestions. I had great mentors in David and his business partner Roger Fuller, who really took me under his wing. He knew I was committed to Windsor and wanted to achieve. He invested many hours in my career, and I’ll be forever grateful to both David and Roger for their support.

I got offered positions at other companies, which was exciting, but I just couldn’t imagine not being here, there was always a strong pull for me to Windsor, it just felt right being here. In around 2004 the Directors approached both Stuart and I and asked if we had ever thought about taking Windsor over – At the timeit came as a shock, David and Roger were Windsor and this was a big deal. Stu and I discussed it together and were equally excited about the opportunity we were being given. Why wouldn’t we, it was all we knew so we said YES. They assured us that they were not going anywhere, they weren’t going to just hand us the keys and walk away and that it would be a slow burn thing. So, we finally took over the business in 2007.

It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. We now owned our own business and with it came many challenges and huge responsibility. David and Roger worked with us for many years. We worked as a team but now we made the final decisions. If Stu and I said we wanted to do something or wanted to change direction we could, it was a strange feeling and took many, many years to get used to. But we couldn’t have done it without the amazing people and team we had around us. Windsor has long standing loyal staff, many of who we started working under, then worked beside them and now we had become their bosses. But it worked and we are a good team, we worked hard to ensure roles were defined and each staff member took ownership of their role and understood how they fitted within the company. We didn’t want a “Us and them” culture and I’m proud to say that is still the case today.

Shortly after we took over, the UK went straight into a recession. I went from wondering where the Managing Directors handbook was to ensure I was fulfilling my role, to going into survival mode and wondering how we were going to save the business! It was a real baptism of fire and the worst of times. We had to make big decisions that young, excited business owners do not want to make. But it was essential for the survival of the firm. We learnt a lot in that period and many of these lessons have helped us to steer through the last 18months of Covid-19.

What Do I love about my role? I love the freedom it brings, not in the financial sense and certainly not in the hours we have put in, but in the sense that we can sit down in a room and say, “what do we want to do next” We can choose our own path and change Windsor to fit the current market needs. And that’s were Wisque comes in, our online Artists platform producing Greeting cards and prints, which is generating a lot of interest.

I really do enjoy being innovative, I love looking at a problem and working out a creative way to fix it or coming up with new ideas for the business. I think it’s all part of being dyslexic, you don’t look at things in a linear fashion, it’s a big jumble and you find the most creative route through it. I think that what’s needed in my role as I still haven’t found that Managing Directors Handbook!”

“When I finished sixth form, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go to University or straight into work so whilst I was deciding I took on some bar work. I really enjoyed working in a bar but kept finding myself interested in what was going on in the kitchen. At the time I didn’t have any particular ambitions or plans so I started to look into what it would be like working in a kitchen. I watched Gordon Ramsay shows and researched the classic route of cooking with Marco Pierre White. I decided I would go for it and found a full-time apprenticeship to be a Trainee Chef in Sevenoaks.

Towards the end of my apprenticeship, I started to think about what I would do next and began talking to people in Michelin Star restaurants in London. I was lucky enough to get a trial shift at Chez Bruce, previously owned by Marco Pierre White, this involved a 4am start and the potential of a 60+ hour week if I was successful. At the time I was living in Hildenborough and the commute into London was tricky so, when I was fortunate enough to be offered the position, I decided I would move to London for the job. I wanted to finance this on my own and not turn to my parents for help, but London prices were just too much. It was getting closer and closer to the start date, and I started thinking to myself whether the move to London was right for me but also whether I wanted to commit to working anti-social and extremely long hours for the rest of my career. I worried I would miss out on a normal social life and I decided it was not the right opportunity for me. I was 20 years old and needed to work out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I knew I wanted to work hard and do the best for myself but had no idea what that looked like.

Around this time, a friend of mine got a new job through Helen who works for the TN Recruits Group, he suggested I give her a call to help me get some direction on my next step. I was booked in for an interview with Helen to discuss roles she was working on, but on the morning of she was unable to attend so said I should still come in and would be meeting a colleague of hers. I went in for my interview and met with Neil Simmons, the MD. He was smiley and welcoming, we had a long interview in which we discussed my skills, my experience and what mattered to me moving forward in my career. Neil always buys into the person behind the CV and the transferrable skills, so we were able to discuss the customer service and other transferrable skills from my kitchen and front of house experience. Neil asked me if I knew anything about working in an office or recruitment, which I didn’t, so he explained what a career in recruitment could be like. I was excited about the opportunity to be paid a basic salary plus commission based on working hard and being successful in the role – it sounded too good to be true after being so used to working extremely hard for no extra reward. Neil took me on as a temporary member of staff for two weeks, I loved it and was offered the chance to join the TN Recruits Group as a permanent member of staff, supporting the team as a Recruitment Resourcer.

So, January 2020 it all started, and it got moving very quickly, I was resourcing various roles for different members of the team and learning the recruitment process from the ground up and I was hungry to learn more and take on more responsibility.

TN Recruits had historically only really worked on office-based roles so when Neil took on a vacancy for a Car Technician, he thought we would give it a go and he asked me to resource candidates for this position. I was able to fill this role successfully and very quickly despite the client trying to find staff off their own back for several months prior to engaging with TN Recruits. I enjoyed the process, so we thought we would try working on similar positions to see how we got on. Throughout the pandemic it was the hardest time in the role as I was doing a hybrid of resourcing for the team and starting to build up contacts and knowledge of the Automotive sector. I was set up working from an office shed in my parents’ garden and was on the phone all day calling potential clients and ensuring I was becoming an expert in the field. This hard work has since paid off.

I was working on a number of Automotive vacancies which were all Vehicle Technicians and Neil pitched to me the idea of TN Recruits Automotive, I was so excited and thought it was a brilliant opportunity. From there we have developed some exceptional relationships with Automotive clients across the UK and have worked on vacancies such as Service Managers, Service Directors, Dealer Principals, Service Advisors, MOT Testers and of course Vehicle Technicians. It is exciting to work on such a variety of vacancies as I get to speak to a diverse range of clients and no two days are the same. We are now in a strong position to be able to provide a consultative service to candidates within the automotive sector and can tailor their job search to suit their career aspirations. We have also built a strong database of Automotive candidates which enables us to find the right people for our clients.

I am currently working on around twenty-five live vacancies which is a lot of work but is extremely rewarding to be getting these roles on as a direct result of the hours and hours of calling out to clients when I was working in the garden shed.

I am proud to say I feel well established as part of the TN Recruits Group now and I find the job extremely rewarding when you really know your clients, understand what they want and can work hard to find suitable candidates to help them grow their businesses.

In my previous jobs I was physically drained which I was used to, but this role obviously involves a lot more work on the mental side of things rather than the physical which was a big change, but I work in a relaxed and organised manner which works very well for me. I am proud to have been a huge part of building TN Recruits Automotive and am excited to see where we can take it in the future”

“I graduated from the school of jewellery in Birmingham in 1996 and have been running my own business since then apart from the 2 years I spent working in gemstone dealers in Hatton Garden whilst studying gemmology at the Gemmological Association and Gem Testing Laboratory of Great Britain. I have supplied shops, attended fairs and exhibited in galleries all over the UK but during the last 15 years I decided to sell from my studio in Crowborough and online through my website. The last 5 years I have been running jewellery making workshops in my studio for people to come and make their own jewellery. The workshops have been successful as I feel people are very interested in having experiences now especially as a way to celebrate special occasions.

Coronavirus came and I never would have predicted what would come next.

As lockdown began in March 2020 all my workshops came to an end. I was not able to get any financial support and it was basically a time to refocus and keep busy on some kind of creativity.

I decided to start a project for my daughter and her friends making daily art tasks as my daughter Rosie has a sickness phobia. I believe art to be a great form of therapy so I thought a daily art task would keep her mind away from the worries of catching covid as well as giving her something to talk about with her friends on her phone group (a positive chat rather than perpetuating the fear of catching the virus). The series of daily tasks involved drawing, watercolour paintings and sketching things inspired from nature and capturing spring at the time. As Rosie’s school work increased the daily art tasks naturally came to an end but I decided to carry on as I found that it was an enormous benefit to my own mental health too. I decided to capture the events happening at this huge point in time in a very gentle way.

I have suffered from depression for many years and was diagnosed with a rare form of brain tumour in 2017 (not fatal but still with quality of life limiting aspects). My depression still lurks in the shadows but I am much more able to recognise it when it comes and I know what practices I need to do to keep it at bay. The hours and hours of painting during lockdown was very therapeutic and it naturally evolved into a book. I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in years and I am not a trained illustrator or author but it just felt like something I had to do and I really enjoyed doing it. The words just evolved as the paintings evolved each day.

It was very important to me that my book not only captured this momentous time in history but that it also contained an underlying wisdom for mental health and wellbeing so that it could also have some beneficial aspect to it as well. I decided to not only write the story in a very child friendly way so that our children can read it to their children and say that they went though this time but I also wanted it to be a book that parents could read to their children and hopefully parents could draw upon some of the wisdom too. I have had some wonderful comments and I have truly been blessed to have received such lovely feedback from grandparents and the older generation who have said that it helped them during the time of the pandemic. I really did not expect that.

I designed a series of Blackbirds wellbeing worksheets for primary school age children to download for free which are also available on my website. These also are based on elements from the book such as mindfulness, kindness, gratitude etc. I am also very blessed to have had friends of friends who translated the book into other languages in exchange for my jewellery. I wanted the book to be available to everyone all over the world as this pandemic has affected every single person on the planet in some way or other.
I decided right from the start that I would self publish my book using kindle direct publishing. This was mainly for financial reasons as there are no up front costs and print on demand seemed the most sensible thing to do as I may only sell a few books. I also would not have enjoyed the stressful search for publishers and the many rejections. I have always liked to be in control of all aspects of my work and writing and illustrating a book was no different. It turns out that print on demand was completely the right thing to do as it was so easy to update a couple of times when a couple of typos needed to be changed. It would not have been good to have boxes of published books where ‘scientits’ not ‘scientists’ worked hard finding the vaccine!

Since the book was published I used the illustrations and wisdom within the book as inspiration for jewellery collections. It is very important to me for my work to have meaning. I also designed and had made hand carved wood blocks from India. I have developed both these into gift sets also under the headings of the collections such as ‘Patience’ ‘Acceptance’ ‘Precious’, ‘Perseverance’ ‘Strength and Courage’ etc.

I use the blocks also for a charity project I use the blocks to print designs onto bags and pencil cases and then make them into embroidery kits (people hand embroider over the lines of the designs). The kits which can be used as a form of mindfulness I give to anyone who I come across who is suffering mentally, or give some to support groups, hospice patients and families who are part of Taylor Made Dreams. Taylor Made Dreams is a local charity in my town that supports families with children who have life limiting illnesses.

The concept of mindfulness through embroidery originally came from my own experience of using embroidery as a form of mindfulness and distraction from my own worries after my neuro surgery in 2017 and the 6 weeks of radio therapy I had every day. This was a challenging time but my embroidery helped me so much so I’m hoping it can help other people in the same way.
Everybody has their own version and perspective on 2020/21 and I have learned a lot from it but I think the biggest thing I have learned is to not have so many rigid plans to my life and to sometimes let go and just go with the flow and see where it takes you.

I wish you peace in your mind and love in your heart.”

When The Birds Sang Louder – available at Amazon now – https://amzn.to/3vHuDNr

“I’ve always been in sales and involved in sales, my career experience started when I was 14 years old at Billingsgate Fish Market, I even tried to sell my younger brother quite often there, but they unfortunately never took him home! I’ve had some interesting jobs over the years, prior to working in telecoms, I’ve been a holiday rep and a ski-instructor, so I’ve always been selling or in the sales industry. When I left school, I was told by my careers advisor that I should be a milkman, or a dustman! I suffer from dyslexia so I am sure there will be people that can relate, I read a lot and have four books currently on the go, but, before finding that out, I never would have picked up a book – I love my audio books and am always on the outlook for some more.

I grew up in Hempstead and our office is at the top of Bluebell Hill, next to Rochester airport and although we are local, we cover the whole of the country.

Connect it was set up by myself in 2009 and previous to that I worked with various different telecoms for a couple of years. I was working for an independent guy that sold mobile phones and during that time I came across the idea of hosted phone systems – VOIP systems and I was really interested in them, so, I went on seminars and training courses. I came back and said to the owner of the business that we really needed to look at offering them within the business, he didn’t listen to me. I tried to make him see that the world was changing, and it just wasn’t always going to be about mobile phones. We ended up having a falling out as I was hitting my targets but concentrating and researching about the future – hosted telecoms. He said he wasn’t going to pay my commission, so I told him to keep it as he’ll be needing it more than me! I left, went home and told my wife I was going to set up on my own, I had never run a business before, but I knew it couldn’t be that difficult, because if he could do it, I definitely can. We never looked back and now, our phone system is working in 72 countries around the world.

The thing I enjoy the most is making things work when people say that they can’t, we often get told from clients that they would really like to do something but are told that it can’t be done, we won’t accept that. We ask them what they want and we then tell them how we can make that happen – one of my own quotes is “anything is possible, miracles take a fraction longer” artificial intelligence in telecoms is so advanced now and it’s amazing what you can get it to do, so I get a kick out of that, making phones do what other people say they can’t.

We’ve got a new product that we’re about to launch into the marketplace which can be tried for 2 to 3 weeks FREE of charge, it’s a hosted software only app, it will be on our website very soon where you can click on it with a free trial and away you go. It’s a pay-as-you-go option for the hosted phone world. We’re also currently recruiting for more sales people, which will mean needing more provisions for staff, so there’s lots of growth on the horizon.

Anything is possible, miracles just take a fraction longer”

“We are proud to announce that we have won the British Property awards for 2022 in Tunbridge Wells. A professional panel mystery shopped all the estate agents in Tunbridge Wells – there’s a lot of agents here, and we came top! We’ve also been shortlisted for an ESTAS award, which is a customer review and awards platform for agents, we’ve got through the first stage and will find out in October if we’ve got further.

Last year we expanded into Crowborough with the opening of another branch and are now in the process of opening a further branch in Forest Row! We received an email on the Monday afternoon saying the site had become available, we viewed it on the Wednesday, signed the lease and picked up the keys on the Sunday! We hope to be opening very soon.

Our daughter, Katrina and our son, Marc, both joined the family business in 2021, along with our other staff, both full and part-time, we have a fantastic team.

We keep our fees very reasonable and our service levels high, we sell homes we don’t just list them!”

David Johnson – August 2022

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“During 2021 our business has grown no end with Marc joining the business full-time in June shortly followed by Katrina, so thats the “K & M” from KMJ. The move to Crowborough seemed an obvious one because many of our clients over the years have moved from Tunbridge Wells to Crowborough and now we can help them even further on their journey.

Our family business is about providing a very personal and professional service with us being available whenever needed. We regularly put deals together outside normal office hours and all over the weekend.
At KMJ Property we can provide whatever is required, professional photography, videos, staging etc. However we are not a fan of gimmicks or anyone paying for unnecessary add ons!! We keep our fees very reasonable and our service levels high, we sell homes we don’t just list them!”

David Johnson – October 2021

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“Suzanne and I have been married and self-employed since we were 21, we started working in property
over 20 years ago and we came to Rusthall in 2009. We decided to name the Estate Agency after our three children, Katrina, Marc and Jack – so the children have grown up with business talk around them. We’ve lived in Tunbridge Wells all of our lives, so we know the area like the back of our hands.

Marc has now joined us in the business, but when we started many years ago, we didn’t imagine the children would necessarily be involved although all three of them have shown varying levels of interest in the business, Marc’s interest has grown into a passion, and he’s now really fired up about it (high fives all around the office as Marc agrees another sale!)

Winning an instruction is the first part of the buzz for me, beating the competition and getting the instruction, then you get the buzz again when you put the deal together, then the last fulfilling feeling is when it completes. For Suzanne, it’s seeing the excitement and hearing it in the voices of vendors and buyers, being office based she doesn’t generally meet the buyers until they collect the keys, so it’s that feeling that is so rewarding. Especially for first-time buyers, when you need to guide them through the process, remembering how nervous and unsure we were when we first bought. In fact, being just 18 when we bought our first property, our experience of an estate agent wasn’t a great, (they looked us up and down and told us not to waste their time) so we wanted to make sure both our vendors and buyers felt valued and comfortable enough to ask any questions throughout the process, giving them a good service so they come back to us, if they ever decide to buy or sell again.

One of the things that’s lovely here in the village is that everyone loves living here, we’ve seen people come in at the starter level, then gradually move on and get bigger homes, and then we also get the other end where they start downsizing, but still stay in the village.

In the short to medium term, expansion has certainly been talked about and considered, and we will expand if the timing is right and the opportunity is right, to another office in another location.

In the long term, Suzanne and I both want to travel and by having someone super trustworthy in the office we know it’s all taken care of. We’ve already travelled a bit and have left the office in Marc’s capable hands and we also get a great amount of support from Sarah Cameron who also works with us in the office.

It has been quite surprising how effective social media can be, we have genuinely sold houses and won instructions on the back of social media.

We consider ourselves to be different from the stereotypical estate agent, some of the nicest reviews that we’ve received have been along the lines of – ‘ you are most unlike normal estate agents’ and we take that as a really big compliment, we’re professional on another level.”

“I grew up near Rye in East Sussex and a few years ago, when an old friend was still living there, she took us to this amazing little wine bar called Old World Wines on Cinque Ports Street and we immediately fell in love with it. It was sort of part bottle shop, part wine bar that was full of regulars and locals with a really nice warm vibe. It was really small but had such a good feel about it and after a few glasses of wine, we said; “we could do this”

We had been living in Tunbridge Wells for a while by then and Tunbridge Wells just didn’t have anything like this, lots of really cool bars and lovely pubs but nothing really offering that intimate wine informality that we loved about Old World Wines, so we set about looking for premises. This was about six years ago, we were living just off Camden Road and started looking around there but just couldn’t find anything suitable. We’re good friends with Gerry and Alex from Vittle and Swig and when Gerry told us that this place had just come on the market for lease, we came and looked at this and instantly found no excuse not to do it. It’s astonishing how it all came about as originally it was just one of those dinner party conversations, a pipedream that we’d like to have our own bar one day, and there it was coming to life! It was practically perfect.

We came to look at this in March 2019 and went home to register the company literally that day. We’d had no formal wine training at this point as it’d always just been a ‘wouldn’t it be great if….’ kind of conversation but that’s something we quickly fixed and we’re really lucky that most of our team are so knowledgeable too.

It had previously been a cheese shop, a hairdressers, a clothes shop and a beauty salon and there was so much to do, but we could see how it could become a bar, Aubrey has incredible vision. It took a long time to get planning for change of use from a deli to a bar, and we then had to go through the lease negotiations but finally got the keys in the first week of September 2019. We had to completely refurbish the place in 6 weeks as we wanted to open in late October but we managed it, just! We’d had only a few months of trading, but it was just getting better and better and then COVID struck, but we have survived thank goodness!

Aubrey’s career has been in engineering and I am still a co-director of a travel marketing company and we love what we do. But we also wanted something that we could call ‘ours’ so that one day, when we felt like moving away from the day jobs, we’d have something that we’d built and that will hopefully flourish. In fact, pre-COVID Aubrey had given up engineering and was running the bar full time but we were lucky that he managed to get his old role back the minute we knew we’d be closing when COVID struck in March 2020. We have a great team so we are very lucky and they have helped us massively keeping going while we now juggle day jobs and the bar. Hopefully, as soon as social distancing eases Aubs can throw himself back into Geography full time again.

If we were to sum up what we do with one word it would be ‘local’. We wanted to bring to life a bar where we would like to come, to bring friends and family and chill out, that’s the framework of it. I’m a big fan of shopping local and sourcing local, so we really wanted to showcase as much Kent and Sussex produce as we could, not just wine, all of our cheeses are local as is our bread and most of our charcuterie. We have a great selection of English wine and local gins, beers and ciders too. Our location is also a bonus, positioned between some popular restaurants like Sopranos, The Warren and The Ivy, and we get a nice mix of people coming in for pre and post drinks from those restaurants as well as people coming in for the whole evening to have some sharing boards and drinks and nibbles.

We’ve got over 100 wines on our list with more than 50 available by the glass, that’s a USP and a lot of those are from regions that you wouldn’t necessarily expect wine to come from and it’s all absolutely delicious of course! We love hosting events and have a partnership with The Wine Garden of England happening this month, based around English wine week, celebrating Kent wines, that will culminate in a tasting event on 27th – one sitting has already sold out – and that will then lead on to a twelve-month partnership where each of the wineries will have a two-month residency here for us to showcase their wines. These include vineyards such as Biddenden, Squerryes, Gusbourne and Hush Heath. This is such an exciting time for English wine so we are delighted to have forged this partnership and be able to champion some of our local stars.

The best thing is the people we meet, not just our customers but the producers as well who are so passionate about what they do, and we try and build strong relationships with all of our local suppliers directly.”

“I have been working as a specialist in the beauty industry for almost a decade, and Its always been a passion of mine to work with the body and especially skincare. I did all my studying at college, but soon realised that I needed to learn other elements of beauty and care alongside the skin treatment elements that I was studying, by adding in beauty treatments like massage therapy. Now that I had started to diversify I began to enjoy it a lot more. The most satisfying thing for me was to see how people would feel and react after I had treated them.

There are a number of different issues that I would see on a regular basis that needed treating such as, back problems, insomnia or a lack of movement or flexibility, but once I had finished massaging them, they were astonished how much better they felt. This was really very encouraging and confirmed to me that I was working in the right field to be able to utilise all my training and expertise to the benefit of others.

For me personally it’s not just a business, it’s the personal touch that makes it a worthwhile vocation in being able to help people from all walks of life, and it’s what motivates and inspires me on a daily basis.

As a child I struggled a lot with acne and so I knew that one day I would want to look at trying to solve some of the issues and problems that I had had when I was young and pass on the benefit to others. I tried many various products and really wanted to learn more about the skin and how it works and it’s still my passion and ultimate goal which has led me to organic skin formulation as well.

Stress and anxiety are the day to day happenings that really affect the skin, so outside of skincare then massages really work hand in hand as they help the body relax by reducing those stress hormones that cause havoc on your skin.

I have previously worked in various Spas over the last decade but decided to set up my own business in 2018 and open my own spa, but unfortunately the pandemic arrived and like so many others I had to close. I realised that most people would have to start working from home and not knowing how long this pandemic would last, I decided to bring the spa into people homes, focusing on the key elements of wellbeing in beauty: massages, facial treatments and other spa body treatments. That is ultimately how Giana was born in Kent and it is now going from strength to strength.

The name Giana means God is gracious, so I wanted to extend that gracious touch to everyone in need. When we go into someone’s home we have to do it with a humble, respectful and gracious attitude, so it’s has been a real fitting title for the business. The most enjoyable thing for me is the healing that we carry in the use of our hands and being able to impart it to others gives me my reason to wake up every day”

We are very proud to be recognised for the 6th consecutive year in the AA notable wine list award.

At Thackeray’s we have always strived to provide our guests with a unique experience and the wine list is no exception! Too often restaurant lists can be a totally self indulgent labour of love, representing one individuals taste but often at the expense of the diner’s pleasure (and pocket!). I know… I have done it myself!

For this reason our list is a true collective effort, I encourage all of the staff to be involved in the tasting and selection process, taking on board all feedback. Whether it be one of the Chefs suggestions on food matching or one of my junior waiter’s recollections of a somewhat overzealous night out… wine is for everyone and everyone’s opinion is important. So whether it be an iconic Bordeaux from one of the outstanding vintages, a glass of something familiar or something a little more idiosyncratic, I am confident that myself or one of my team can recommend just the right wine.

Gary Beach Director/General Manager
Thackeray’s November 2021

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“It was never my intention to work in hospitality, my goal was to study art and graphic design, but through my higher education, I inevitably ended up working in bars and pubs and found I had a genuine interest in food and produce. Whilst studying I found myself working in night clubs and then managing night clubs up in Nottingham, where I lived for a few years. I moved down to East Sussex and met up with an old friend who had opened up an Italian restaurant in my local town which I co-managed with him, it was very successful and we were lucky as we opened it just at the end of the nineties when Italian Pizzerias were very popular. So, more by accident than by design, I found I had an aptitude for what I was doing with front of house and realised from a very young age that serving people alcohol made you a lot of friends.

After working with him for a couple of years I found that I gravitated towards the industry as a career, so in order to progress that, I wanted to get out of the local small independent restaurant industry and progress through the hotel industry, beyond casual dining, into formal dining and on to accoladed restaurants. It was at the height of the television chef, restaurant, programmes where I actually had the pleasure of seeing Richard every-time I turned on the TV!

So, I managed a restaurant in a country house hotel for two years, which gave me the experience to approach Richard here, when he was advertising for a Restaurant Manager, it gave me that step up, working with a recognised chef, and I hit it off with Richard very quickly. That was in 2005 – Thackeray’s had been here for four years and already held a Michelin star at that time. It was the path I wanted to take and the place I was heading, so, in August 2006 I started as Restaurant Manager.

The industry was a very different climate and the restaurant was a very different restaurant to what it is now, it was what was demanded back then and what was popular, a very strict working environment that was very regimented. A very formal dining experience, and although I had worked towards that sort of situation, I did feel that the climate was changing, and people were looking for a less formal experience. Richard and I discussed it and we were of the same mind that, though you could deliver something with quality and with expertise, that didn’t necessarily mean you had to be too formal, as long as you observed courtesy, and formalities, you don’t have to be too stuffy. So, we intentionally took the direction of de formalising. Our mantra was to be able to be accessible to people to dine on their the 50th wedding anniversary, or their first date as 16 years olds.

I was so driven and ambitious to make the restaurant successful and to prove that I was worthy of the position and to satisfy the customers. I pushed myself to achieve that and pushed the restaurant, obviously with Richard as well and in 2013 I became a partner, which gave me a further invested interest in the business.

It’s a very difficult situation, trying to satisfy and please an older cliental, not in the terms of age but of their dining experience, but also trying to attract a younger audience, that’s always a challenge. But I think we do it really well, we’re constantly re-inventing very small things, just to try and ensure that we’re not only up to date with current trends, but actually trying to set the trends, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but what we are trying to do is just stay ahead of the curve.

I’ve always likened professional hospitality to working in the forces, my parents are ex-military and my brothers are in the forces too and there’s very few industries where you have that real strong bond with people, everyone works very hard towards the same goal. It’s a band of brothers’ effect, and that is genuinely what I think keeps me and a lot of other people invested in it, because you feel like you have a shared experience with people.

I think people who work in customer facing roles have an inherent insecurity because they need to have gratification. The best feeling is when somebody walks out the door and says thank you or walks in and remembers your name and they want you to serve them, because they have and feel that affinity to you. There’s an underlying need for gratification that we crave, so we want to keep doing it.”

“CSM Valeting was incorporated back in 2017 – I’ve always had an interest in cleaning cars and have helped friends and families with their cars over the years, as well as doing it as a job for various car dealerships in the area.

I’ve always wanted to own my own business and realised the best thing would be to start with something I know, so it all fell together very nicely. The work varies from going to businesses to people’s houses, we do a lot of work for SAGA holidays and Holiday extras, they employ between 800 and 1000 people so that keeps us very busy. Our record is 24 cars in one day, but we could do more now with the team I’ve got. We’re looking to get more commercial work, rather than residential. We are actively looking for companies to work with – either cleaning the staff cars or their vehicle fleets, so more workplaces, fleets, HGV’s and council fleets are what I want to do more of.

We cover most of the surrounding areas including Ashford, Maidstone, Cranbrook, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks and as a mobile valeting service we enjoy visiting different businesses and looking after their fleets.

Does your car need a clean?”

“I come from a family of restaurateurs so started when I was very young, my father was a chef and pizza maker, and my brother is a pastry chef. I’m from Naples and I grew up in and around restaurants. I’ve worked as a chef all over Europe, Greece, England, Scotland, France and Spain – it’s been my life.

I had my first restaurant on the high street in Tunbridge Wells up to 2004 – after that we went back to Italy for eleven years to set up a restaurant in Lake Maggiore, we then set up a Trattoria in Rome. My wife is from Tonbridge, so after our second child was born, we decided to come back to the UK. We came back and took over Pano e Vino on Grosvenor Road in Tunbridge Wells, that was in 2017, and we had that restaurant up until February 2020. We started to look for something else as we wanted a change and then lockdown came along, I wanted something down on the Pantiles but there was no point with lockdown. When things started to open up again, I started looking again and I found this place, it’s a great position. We sell mainly pizzas but also some pasta and tapas with the boards of cheese and ham – it’s more like Neapolitan street food.

I love pizza, it’s the thing I love about what I do the most, I eat it every day! I should stop, but I really enjoy it.

What we do sets us apart because it’s the traditional Neapolitan pizza, with the correct flour and the original way, I grew up in Naples, my father made pizzas, we are not the imitation we make the real pizzas!”

“Temple Knight started back in 1985 when my father, at the age of 40, decided he wanted a change in career direction after working for a large manufacturer of fax machines, so, he set up the business knowing that he could make a real difference. It was an instant success and we sold into every embassy and major company, gaining thousands of customers, but, we soon realised there were a lot of service providers within our industry, so we morphed into a maintenance company, looking after lots of different businesses machines for them – so we really cut our teeth in the service industry.

That all went very well until around 1996 when fax machines literally fell off the cliff, the NHS actually banned fax machines this year so there really is no fax machine industry anymore. Luckily, we were ahead of the game and realised this was on the horizon, so we changed to a maintenance company that looks after printers, scanners, faxes and various office technologies. We have a very committed workforce that understand the products really well and that took is quite nicely into 2011 where I took over the business.

We needed a change of direction for the business and what I’ve now done is moved the company into a managed print solutions provider, but still stand true to what the business stands for and that is – service first and sales second. We can go from anything from repairing the machine you have in your office, providing consumables, your next upgrade and even into setting up big businesses like DLR (Docklands Light Railway) with complete systems. We have customers from the very small to the very large and every one of them is significant to us.

We’ve always changed our colours as a company to fit the market and on top of all the great services we already offer, we now also offer office telecoms. During the pandemic, lots of businesses have had to make decisions on how they run their businesses, not over three, six or 12 months like they normally would, they literally had to make that decision on the spot, especially with people working from home, they’ve had to work out how their office telephony is going to work and Temple Knight, along with our partner Gamma, are now in a great position to offer the best telecom solutions.

As a businessman I like to do business with people I can trust, and we’ve built up a large amount of trust over the three decades we’ve been in business and we’re really good at understanding market trends.”

“The company was started by my Dad, back in 2010, previous to that, he was a kitchen fitter for thirty years, also running gas, electric and plumbing teams. His goal was to have a business that would cover the whole process, with all the above done in house and the eventual goal of opening a showroom – starting the business in the middle of a recession and reaching that goal speaks volumes and we’re really proud of that.

In 2015, I came on board to bring some fresh ideas to the company and to take it to the next level, social media was on the increase and a massive opportunity not to be missed. The business was hitting a plateau, so we needed to utilise the marketing opportunities that came with social media. We have a good balance between us with his attention to detail on site, which has allowed me to grab the business with all the responsibilities and from there its grown from strength to strength.

We know we want to grow, but we also want to be small enough to care and all of our employees share that ethos – our kitchen fitters have Kensington Scott kitchens, as do other members of staff and when they come to work we want them to enjoy their working environment.

We are a one stop shop but each kitchen is individual to each family, everyone has different wants and needs, and time is that modern day luxury so if we can make that more enjoyable for people in their own homes it has a very strong positive effect. It’s not a massively technical thing, it’s just caring and listening to the client and that starts from Claire in our showroom with the very first phone call, all the way through to our fitters. The attention and care that we give to individual families, I think, sets us apart.”

“I started work at Haynes of Maidstone at 16 years old as a spray painter, which is where I did my apprenticeship. One day, a sign writer came into the dealership to do some car graphics, and I really liked it and told him I wouldn’t mind having a go at doing it myself. So, he took me on, I worked with him for a year, I then quickly realised that I should be doing it for myself.

At twenty years old I started RTS and set up on my own, visiting dealerships, doing go faster stripes on the cars, which then went into doing signwriting with vinyl cut lettering. I bought a 300 mm wide plotter, which was the slowest machine in the world, but in those days it was the modern thing to do, and have. Then with the signwriting we went on to use illustrator and photoshop, then with digital print coming along we’ve had wide format and HP latex printers and the machines got bigger and faster and faster. I took on staff, my son and my stepson worked with me and I trained them up, showing them how to use the printers and cut the vinyl etc.

We moved to this site in the year 2000, primarily as a vehicle graphics company, taking care of anything from self-adhesive vinyl lettering to sign writing. Signwriting is just sticky letters, but then it went to digital print and then to full wraps, which now on commercial vehicles is a great way to advertise a company. Added on to that we do car graphics as well, different designs and all car wraps, we can change the colour of a car from black to white, or white to green, whatever is needed, this also protects the paint. We can just do roof wraps, the viper stripes over the front on the roof and down the back. We also do signage, builders boards and shop signs with illuminated 3D stand-off letters, panels and window frosted manifestation as well as one-way vision on glass. In our workshop we can get up to a seven-ton vehicle to work on, a lot of the bigger stuff is done out on the client’s site premises.

We do three to four jobs a day, anything from single vans to fleets of vans, on Saturday we will be doing a massive job with twelve trucks to do!

Taking a plain vehicle, signwriting it and wrapping it with someone else’s name on, is the best part of it for me, especially when you see the customers face when they see it. We can show them a paper visual or a visual on an email and they can see it flat on a screen or a piece of paper, but, when they see it on their van or car, that is real job satisfaction for me. Having something visual to show, as an end result, works really well on our social media channels and we work really hard on that.

Julia, our in-house designer can take someone’s thoughts and design them something just from what they think they want, visually. They might think that they want a picture of a field or a road or flowers, for example, on their van, we can take what they think and create the vision and design something for their approval. We’re very good at presenting designs to clients which have been conceived by them but designed by us.

We still do work for customers that I first looked after when I was twenty years old, we have a job coming in on Friday for a customer that I’ve continued to do work for. We like job satisfaction, we like customers to be happy, we like referrals and we like customers to keep coming back to us.”

 

“My parents founded a marquee company called ‘The Main Event Marquee Company’ in 1994. The Main Event supplied huge extravagant framed marquees with linings for large weddings, private parties and corporate events.

Very shortly after its launch, they discovered the Eureka Capri Marquee at a trade fair. Capris are a more lightweight structure that can be installed by one person and my parents saw the Capri marquee as an opportunity to offer a smaller pop up alternative for smaller events. The Capri Marquee is manufactured by Johnson and Johnson under the brand name ‘Eureka’ and is produced in the US. Eureka are very well known for their camping products, but also produce the US military tents amongst a huge catalogue of other products. Eureka (US) were actually going to give up on the Capri, until my parents persuaded them to give us the sole European Distribution rights in around 1996, which we still own today.

I started working for the family business in 1997, it was the perfect Summer job for a fourteen year old, I’d clean white bistro chairs after the weekend events and get paid 10p per chair. There were around 600 in total.

Mum would fill the diary with bookings, and I’d progressed to being out on installs with Dad. Install Thursday and Friday, take down Monday and Tuesday. After a few years I was running the Capri installation side of the business and at peak we’d be installing around 20 Capris each weekend all over the South East. When not installing or taking down, I’d be making various marquee components using an industrial sewing machine. This went on for a number of years into my early 20’s before I flew the nest to try and find my own path.

My parents sold the framed marquee side of the business in 2009, but retained ‘Eureka’ which is the Capri Marquee hire and EU distribution side of things. After some play time I returned to the family business in 2015.

Being from a different generation myself, I wanted to give the whole brand and image an overhaul and utilise technology and social media to improve our marketing. It was an opportunity for me to come in with a fresh set of eyes and help promote the family business further.

I decided to separate the two businesses and the event hire business now runs independently under the name ‘Eureka Hire Limited’. We specialise in private parties, birthdays, weddings and can cater for anything from 20 to 500+ guests.
I drive the business and guide a small team of marquee installers, with Mum looking after the books and dad offering morale support.

Our short-term goal is to dramatically increase the number of clients we look after on our doorstep. Up until the pandemic our hire bookings were doubling year on year. Post pandemic we’re back up to and ahead of our 2019 figures, so it’s all very exciting!
Longer term we’ll continue to increase our reach into Surrey, Sussex and Essex, with the aim of adding a small fleet of refrigerated trailers in 2022.

What I love about Eureka is – events are such an incredibly positive industry to be in, outside of a pandemic anyway! We’re incredibly fortunate that we visit beautiful locations on a weekly basis and our clients are just about to celebrate a special occasion, so they’re always buzzing with excitement! “

“We started Phoenix Hot Tub Hire in June last year and over lockdown it really has taken off massively. It all began when we hired one during the first lockdown last Spring. It was great fun and the children loved it! We thought it was such a good idea so we invested in some! We are gradually increasing the number of hot tubs that we hire out on a regular basis and this year is really starting to pick up again.

The whole situation with Covid and lockdown made us realise that people are unable to jet off and take those well deserved breaks, so hiring a hot tub is something fun to do together as a family and have a bit of downtime – almost like a staycation in your own garden.

You can hire them for all different kinds of occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, valentines or really any excuse for people to have a bit of fun! We had a lot of bookings last year as it was everybody’s first summer at home. It did quieten down a little in the winter, but we still had enquiries from people would normally be going away somewhere hot and sunny, so decided to bring a bit of warmth to their garden during the cold months! We offer them for weekends, mid-week, week long or simply one night hire for occasions such as News Year Eve!

Running a business is a new thing for us. We both work in an office during the week, but also love this new venture, ultimately because we get to meet people and love to see the excitement on there faces! It’s rewarding to hear the positive feed back from customers telling us how nice it is to be able to actually do something fun in the current situation.

It’s tough to come up with ideas and new things that get you out of the current mundane boring life that we’re all leading at the moment. We look forward to the months ahead, and meeting lots of new customers.

We cover all areas of Tonbridge & Malling, but are happy to travel a little further for a minimal charge.”

“Having been a Primary school teacher for over 20 years I had begun to feel disheartened with various aspects of the job for a while and felt the urge to do something more creative. I considered several different ideas initially – the craziest of which was to buy an old van and convert it into a mobile Prosecco bar, although my friends rightly suggested that I would probably drink all of the profits!

Whilst considering my options, I came across an advert by Reed for an online diploma in setting up a candle making business and decided to use my long holidays to further investigate this idea. During this time I also booked onto a candle making workshop which was being run locally to me. During the 2 hour workshop we learned about the history of candle making and about the different types of waxes and fragrances that can be used in candle making and left with our own hand poured candle. However, I felt there was so much more that could have been done to make it more of an engaging experience.

Then last year during the summer holidays, I visited Parterre Fragrances, England’s biggest producer of essential oils. They grow their own botanicals, and, like a distillery, they extract the oils and from different types of plants and flowers, from which they then make their own perfume. During the tour we took part in a ‘sniff test’ where we had to guess the different fragrances – it really challenged the senses but was great fun. The whole experience really inspired me, and I realised I could do something similar – but for candle making.

My big plan is to run similar workshops, making it a real event, as I think there is big demand for it. It would be a fun experience for groups of friends to do together, brides-to-be could make candles as wedding favours or for the tables and it could also appeal to teenagers who love candles and would enjoy creating their own scented candle. Obviously, the Health & Safety aspect of this business is going to be a big factor with lots of areas to consider as there are a lot of things that can go wrong, especially when dealing with hot wax and volatile fragrance oils.

It was also important for me to find a USP to make me stand out as the market is saturated with people making candles – apparently handmade candles are one of most widely sold products on Etsy, so I needed to be different. That’s when I came up with the idea of outdoor candles, as it’s actually really hard to find decent ones. Most garden centres only sell those that are in terracotta bowls, heavily fragranced with citronella. These can be overpowering so I started by buying some nice plant pots and made them into candles using other naturally insect repelling, but more subtle scents. All my friends loved them, and I quickly sold out. It soon became apparent that to make this into a business I needed to start looking into finding a wholesaler to buy more stock at trade price, but this in itself has proved to be a challenge as stock is very low due to COVID and setting up trade accounts is always hard when you first start out.

Excitingly, I have now applied to add an extension on to my house to set up a proper workshop – the plans have been approved so now it’s just a case of getting on and building it! It will be great to have a designated space for people to attend the workshops. Getting my brand out there has been the hardest thing as I didn’t have huge amounts of savings to invest from the outset. I considered several names, but I eventually decided on The Outdoor Candle Company to keep it simple, as although I offer a home collection, I really want to focus on outdoor candles. Eventually I would love to see my products on tables in local pubs and restaurants, as well as in garden centres and gift shops. Launching my website and promoting on Instagram and Facebook has really helped to get my brand out there.

I am hoping that the onset of good weather and people being able to gather together outside will lead to a surge in demand for outdoor candles. With all the containers being refillable at a 30% discount too I’m hoping customers will see added benefits. What I’ve enjoyed the most about this new venture has been meeting my customers at the market fairs and getting their feedback and return custom. It’s been great making connections with similar local crafts people too – we all chat and compare ideas on social media, supporting each other and sharing tips on promoting our businesses.

Once lockdown lifts, I’m really keen to start preparing for the workshops because when you’ve been in a job like teaching all your life, you’re with people all day and to suddenly be working from home on your own is hard. I am now raring to go and ready to take my business to the next level. I would like to offer Brilliant Business members a 10% discount on products on my website https://www.theoutdoorcandlecompany.co.uk using the code Brilliant Businesses”

“We’ve got two new additions to the team, Joe and George, Joe predominately looks after the towbars which has been a god send because in the Summer, from June to September we were fitting eight to ten towbars every week, now we are doing around four a week which is still very good.

I was a mobile towbar fitter for seventeen years and I always scrabbled around under the vehicles, lying on my back, installing them, now we have the ramp, along with the latest Coding equipment required for most vehicles. and Joe, it’s made things a lot quicker; a towbar now takes around four hours, but sometimes Joe can get them done a lot quicker than that.

George makes a very good cup of tea but joking aside he’s been brought in to help look after the garden machinery, he’s got a good engineering acumen which helps because it’s a very specialised area.

Millenia garden machinery who are also in Crowborough have recently announced the closure of their business, we have a great relationship with Paul there and it’s been a great shame that he’s had to stop due to ill-health, however it’s been good for us as he’s kindly re-directed his customers our way. He closed in November of last year, so we’re pleased that we’ve been able to help his customers. There’s been around 500 of them.

The workshop is growing rapidly with new equipment, trailers etc so we’ll be installing a mezzanine floor for storage. To compliment all of this we’ll be changing our website so customers can purchase our equipment and machinery directly from it, it will then be shipped directly to their house, with the option of bringing it back to our workshop to be set-up if they want to, it means the set-up by us isn’t forced upon them and they can choose. It’s going to make a massive difference to our business and will be happening very soon.

The trailer we now have makes a big difference, the ride-on lawn mowers can be too big and heavy to get in the back of the van – we recently had one that was broken down at the bottom of a garden, it was about 200 yards away from the customers driveway, so the trailer came in very handy for that. We also have a new driver who’s working really hard driving all around collecting and delivering etc, his name is Steve, and his contribution has been priceless.

Marzena helps us with our social media and digital marketing, she works remotely but will start coming in on Fridays with a view of being with us for three days a week.

We service five to six ride on tractors per week as well as install the towbars along with the general garden machinery maintenance; we continue to get a lot of custom from Tunbridge Wells, Crowborough and the surrounding areas and we even have a customer that comes to see us from Norfolk!”

Martin Hoggan – March 2022

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“My business life started off after my apprenticeship – I was fed up with the company I was working for which was a big Jaguar dealer in Bromley, my Dad told me that if I was fed up with where I was working, I should do something about it. So, I did, so much so that one day when he came home, I had a couple of customer’s car in the garage and my Mums car in the driveway and I was working on them.

I then rented some premises, and subsequently moved to Forest Hill where I had a business there for a few years repairing cars, unfortunately I lost the premises to that business. Soon after that, I went to a lawnmower shop for my Dad to collect some parts to fix his lawnmower, got talking to the chap in there who has now been my best friend for 45 years and ended up working there. That’s how I got into the lawnmower side of things. One thing led to another and as he was getting old, he wanted to retire and sell the business, which was fine.

I then decided to buy a tow-bar fitting centre in Croydon, it was only a small business and I was there for around seven years and really enjoyed it, it was around the time when all the mobile tow-bar fitting people were beginning to get quite popular and I realised I was in competition with myself so when the lease came up, I didn’t renew it, moved out and started doing it mobile.

We realised that we didn’t need to live up in Croydon anymore, so we looked around and found a lovely house in Buxted near Uckfield, it was then that my wife persuaded me to get involved in property, that went a bit flat and I then sold the business. I had an agreement with them that I would continue but just work with one garage, Goldsmith & Allcorn, I did that for three to four years until due to their work load diminishing, I decided to up sticks and moved to Wales where my best friend was living.
I then had an opportunity to work for Hyundai and live in Wales, my wife and I had already separated at this point so I rented out my house in Buxted and moved up there, it’s the main reason why I have such an affiliation to Hyundai products. I started off as a technical sales manager there, I hated tele-sales, I wasn’t too bad at it but didn’t like it. I then got involved in producing and doing various enhancements and product design – their very first roller machine was one that I built in the workshop with somebody else. Nine years later the owner is still using the prototype. I also had a lot to do with generators and designed and developed a package that clipped into a port that was already in the generators, allowing them to be remotely monitored on an app on phone or computer, you could start and stop them and track them, check the fuel consumption, fuel levels, water levels and power output and that goes free with every generator that they still sell today. That was good fun and I really enjoyed putting that together.

When I was in Wales, I had the opportunity to live on Caldey Island, the worst mistake of my life, there was only 10 people that lived on the island, I worked for a few different people at that time and then last Christmas I decided that I had had enough and decided to go back in to the lawnmower trade, which I had done for many years previously.

We got the keys to this place in Crowborough on the 1st June 2020, I wanted to use all the experience I’ve got and have gained over the years to set up MH Garden Machinery Services and be specialists in garden machinery sale, repairs and servicing. I mentioned to a couple of contractors that I do trailers and then I was asked to do a couple of tow-bars so I thought it would be a good idea to see if we can get some tow bar work in. We haven’t really pushed it yet, but, ‘Affordable Tow Bars’ is really taking off! I’ve got twelve tow bars to do in the next two weeks!

I love getting positive feedback from our customers, we have some fantastic Google reviews, they are all five stars! That really makes me feel good and when I get up in the morning, even on a Monday morning, I never ever dread going to work and when you feel like that – you know you are doing it right! By the end of this year ‘Affordable Mowers’ will well and truly be on the map.”

‘’After I finished my A Levels, I decided that I wanted to go straight into the world of work rather than going to university, and I got my first proper job working for Nat West in London in 1986. I worked there until 1996 in many roles, but the most enjoyable by far was working on the West End mortgage desk where my skills in talking to people were put to good use.

Eventually I had enough of the commute so moved to a job at the Woolwich in Sevenoaks, before being offered a role with a large national mortgage brokerage based locally in Seal. This was a great opportunity for me and I knew I could do the job well. The skills required came easily and I really enjoyed it. I worked for them until 2005, by which time I was in my late 30’s and really wanted to start my own business. It felt like the right time, so I took the plunge. I had a good boss and we parted on great terms, and I still really appreciate every opportunity that they gave me.

We launched our mortgage broking business in 2005 and re-named to Mother Goose Mortgages in early 2007. The credit crunch of 2008/09 forced us to make some radical changes to our lives and business. You learn a lot about yourselves and your business when the environment is tough, and it made us look hard at what worked and what didn’t. We decided to re-focus on building relationships, on really getting to know people and their needs, and that has served us well ever since.

We’re in a good place now, the mortgage technical bit is numbers and core knowledge, but the soft bit is talking to people and finding out exactly what they want from the transaction. The soft questions help us to understand the true nature of what our clients want to achieve.

The most rewarding thing for me is my family. I’ve got two great teenagers that I really enjoy spending time with, and we live in a lovely community in Speldhurst. I’m Chairman at the village cricket club (I am a very average cricketer!), where we have a big junior section and I have helped coach them over the years. I help run the village bar at our annual fete and have also helped out as a junior leader with the local Scouts. Back in 2008/09 nobody wanted a mortgage, so we spent a lot of time with our kids and getting involved in our village community, and we’re reaping the rewards of that now.

At the moment, we just want to continue to grow our business organically. We have built our reputation and business by ‘word of mouth’ and if happy clients continue referring us at the current rate, our business will have more than doubled in ten years. That works for us.’’

“Before I worked for TN Recruits, I was in the print industry, not only looking after the designing of the plates and the production side, but also working for a print firm in London on the sales side. I then stopped to become a full time Mum, at that time we moved to Chicago for three years, which was amazing, but when we came back the kids were a little bit older and I wanted to get back into work again. I decided that the print industry was no longer for me and decided to start looking elsewhere, my husband used TN Recruits for recruiting staff at the company he worked for, so he said why don’t you go and talk to Neil.

When I met Neil and discussed what I wanted to do, he said that I would be really good working for them and it all stemmed from there, we had lots of meetings and discussions as well as sales role plays and I started with them just over three years ago now.

My career began at TN with no recruitment experience, both my husband and brother-in-law had worked in recruitment and they both said I would be really good at it and I should give it a go. I absolutely love it!

I started off on a new desk, just doing 360 recruitment and my first placement was with a brand new client who had never used TN previously, they maintained farm equipment, so my first ever placement was a Tractor Technician! I obviously had the knack at winning new clients and filling vacancies. As time went on, I did a lot of the new business, getting new companies on board. Neil was keen to launch a temporary desk and with everything that happened last year and the downturn in the recruitment market, he said he had an opportunity for me to head up the new division, I said yes, why not! I love building relationships, winning new business, being on the phone so we went for it.

TN Recruits Temps has been really successful in providing office and warehouse based staff, despite a lot of organisations’ staff working from home. I’ve become quite well known for filling temp bookings quickly with quality candidates. During the recent snowy spell, a client called me in an absolute panic, lots of her warehouse staff were unable to get to the office and I managed to find six people for her within two hours of the phone call. When it comes to temps, any role that requires immediate cover or an extra pair of hands, we are on it!

Educating companies about temps is something we are really trying to do – temps are very beneficial for business continuity. There are a variety of issues where a temporary member of staff is a fantastic solution maybe to fill a gap, maternity leave, a big project, long term sickness or holiday, we can find a quality member of staff efficiently whilst ensuring the numerous compliance checks have been done. We make our clients lives easier by taking the temp onto our payroll and taking responsibility for all the ‘right to work’ information which gives them complete peace of mind, all the client needs to do is sign off a time sheet and we send them one invoice to cover everything, the temp is like one of our members of staff and we have a whole pool of them to select from. It’s an easy solution to a staffing problem.”

“We live in East Grinstead and here we have a Scientology Church, every year they invite around 7000 people to join one of their big events, a friend of ours from the Church asked me and my husband to help deliver invitation cards to the local residents. He gave us about fifty cards to drop through the letter boxes on a very nice private road, my daughter at the time was about seven months old, I was pushing her whilst walking with my husband on a beautiful day in September, and it was so very enjoyable! We were walking and spending time together, enjoying the fresh air, it was brilliant!

At the time my husband was working in London as a landscape architect, commuting every morning and returning home late every evening and we had a baby so the money he was earning was never enough. Then, again we saw on Facebook some friends asking for help in delivering their leaflets, and that we could earn extra money at the weekends, so he started delivering to around 500 houses every week, at the weekend and in his own time. I then started to help him, we were even going out delivering on Sundays and spent time trying to work out the best and fastest way to do it.

After a while people started recommending us, they started to come to us more and more, so my husband decided to work his five-day job into four days and delivering leaflets the other three days, Friday to Sunday. I was helping as well – we were delivering around 1500 leaflets at a time. More recommendations were coming in and we started receiving requests to do 10,000 leaflets per week! It then became a challenge, we definitely couldn’t do it by ourselves, there was no way.

It was in the Summer of 2017 when we were delivering together in a very nice location when I realised what we were doing was very suitable for Mums’ – like me. If you walk intensively, it really helps you lose weight, young Mums like me who put on weight when their children are born can burn off the weight easily. I did, I started to lose the weight, it will also help to pay for your child’s nursery, it’s great, you’re outside, it’s good for your mental health and you’re not stuck indoors. I started advertising what we do on Facebook and the Mums texted me, but also asking for jobs for their teenagers! It wasn’t what I expected! That Summer I interviewed around 150 teenagers – I had to be selective with who I choose as it’s our reputation on the line and quite a responsibility for a teenager to do a good job.

We then started to advertise more and turned it into a real business, my husband gave up his job in London and when we put our plan together, we worked out he would earn more money than what he was getting in London! We needed to build a bigger team and started to hire more people and constantly looked for more clients. Delivering leaflets is important, it’s not junk mail or rubbish and the people we deliver for earn up to 75% of their income from the leaflets we deliver! These are successful people, that rely on this type of advertising and local awareness. They don’t just do it the once, you have to keep it going, it’s like brushing your teeth, you can’t just do it the once, we have clients who have received an enquiry from a leaflet that we delivered a year ago, so it’s important to be consistent.

There’s a lot of potential in this area – any business needs to promote themselves, it doesn’t matter the size of the company”

 

“I started in the insurance business straight from college, at eighteen I joined a company called Bowring Bradford I was there for about four years. I then spent ten years at Sun Alliance where I became an inspector, on the commercial side, going out and seeing other brokers, leading on from that I actually got a job with one of the brokers I was inspecting. That was in 1994 and by the September of that year, three of us, took the company over as directors and formed Phonus Insurance Services which is the company we have today.

We do all forms of commercial, household and personal insurance business but I’m much more into the commercial side. There’s three of us, myself, Andrew Corbett and Neil Speake. Neil looks after a separate scheme that looks after courtesy cars for car garages as well as some insurance companies who supply cars to the garages as courtesy cars.

We’re an old fashioned insurance broker that likes to deal face to face with people that we know. Of course, Insurance is about getting quotes, but we do that bit for you, for us it’s more about finding out our clients individual needs and then finding the policy that suits them the best. Nearly all of our work comes via word of mouth, we like to deal with the personal relationship and once we’ve got that going, we generally find that the majority of people renew through us.

One of the companies that we work with are the catering firm that looked after the artists and staff at the MTV awards, as well as the Brit awards, they do a lot of personal catering for touring bands too. They had these three nine feet tall puppets that were in the reception area, I had to get them insured for the four days whilst the MTV awards were taking place, they were worth around fifteen grand each! So, I get some weird requests, but the normal stuff is what we like.

We’re busy than we’ve ever been, I like that, I like being busy, insurance isn’t the most interesting job, it’s the customers that make it interesting and building the relationships with them.”

“I’ve always enjoyed photography as a hobby, I started to get a bit more creative with it with my job in the RAF, working in a pre-press office where I helped with some digital work which was the first step towards it being a career, I invested in a camera and just started shooting. It all came together with a sport that I do called Cross Fit, I did a lot of it in the RAF and continued with it in civvy street. People wanted me to photograph their events

and with my style, which is a documentary kind of style with story-telling, classic wedding photography and behind-the-scenes, it worked really well for the sporting events, so I gave it a go. The gyms that I worked for used the images for the community side and to give something back to them, they are always very focused on their community and we found it very popular with the Gym owners. It all really spiralled quite quickly as there was a real demand for it at the time.

I moved to Tunbridge Wells in June 2020, previously I built the business up in Gloucester so I’m starting again here, it’s a great opportunity because it really is a passion of mine, it’s really exciting to be able to start it up all over again. I learnt a lot when I started it the first time and things change so this time, I can approach it with a lot more confidence. I still work full-time as well, I work in marketing for a camera retailer, I do all their social media and test their lenses and cameras, so I quite often get a new bit of a kit to take on a shoot with me. It’s great because I get to write about the products in a blog or on the social media channels and listings, which helps me because I get access to great kit, plus it helps me learn about the new gear.

In the RAF I was an air cartographer, creating and updating the digital maps of the skies, I did that for nearly seven years which I absolutely loved, it also included lots of sport which was great for me. I ended up in a department where we were taking massive classic air charts, which were in huge formats and converting them so they could be used in the cockpits for low flying jets. We had to get them into a kind of tom-tom system where they were readable in the cockpit and navigate through it. I did the graphic side of it which involved a lot of work with images and graphic re-sizing etc which is where my creative side started to come through, it involved learning how Adobe, Illustrator and Photoshop worked which I knew would help me with the fun stuff that I’m doing now.

My speciality is behind-the-scenes and storytelling in a nutshell, I use that approach across all the content photography that I do, it works really well on social media, you need something different that really shows the human side of things and I really like the candid natural side of it. If I was to sum up the most enjoyment I get from what I do, it would be friendship, the clients and the businesses that I’ve worked with have become good friends, I’ve gone on to photograph their weddings or their events – I’m not just the hired help it’s like I’m a guest at the wedding or the event and that’s the best part of it.”

“My story starts Back in 2004, my father was involved in pest control with a large UK company, he had always been interested in birds of prey, he had his own birds prior to working with the company when he saw a demonstration being performed and realised that he could do it better. So, he created the company that you can see today.

In 2007 I did some Summer work with him prior to going to University, I got into my chosen University and the course I wanted and was going to go off and be a PE teacher. I really enjoyed the Summer work, had a great time and liked the experience working with my father. One day, we sat down over a family meal and probably had the biggest financial conversation we had ever had together. I was asked the question; why are you going to university to get an £18,000 per year job with £30,000 worth of debt? what’s the plan from there? I knew they were right and to be fair I picked the easiest University course I found because I wanted to enjoy the lifestyle.

Before I knew it, I was fully invested in the business, back then it was just me and my Dad, two vehicles and four birds and we built the business from there. At that time, we were going out across the whole country with probably only another two bird control companies that were doing the same thing. We had a great time and saw some fantastic sites.

In 2013 we decided that we needed to venture out a bit more so along-side the bird-control company we started our own experience days with Owls, Hawks and Falcons where people could come down and see them. The problem was we would meet people and do the experience out the back of my van, which I hated. However, we got great reviews because people loved it and my passion came through. So, we decided to look at getting a larger office and with that came an opportunity to own a birds of prey centre, which we built up and made very successful. The location wasn’t suited to us so after a couple of years we parted company and moved to the location we are now, which is ‘Willows Birds of Prey and Wildlife Trail.’ This is where all the birds of prey are kept whether they are our birds of prey for pest control or for the visitors to come and see. Visitors can come for the day or book a private experience, there’s lots of different options with corporate days and birthdays parties etc. You can really get up and close with the birds of prey and with different types of animals, wallabies, racoon dogs, pigs – people love pigs! They have such lovely personalities.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve grown each business with eight employees at the bird of prey centre and twelve employees out on the road, just flying birds of prey every day across London and the South East, I’m really proud of that. We’ve also got a pest technician for rats and mice and we’re on the up with it all.”

“In a nutshell, we founded a company in the middle of a global pandemic. You can say that this is a perfect example of the professional pivot. Gavin, an internationally experienced jeweller and gemstone setter, decided that the challenges of 2020 were in fact the perfect catalyst to realise our dream of owning our own jewellery business.

I’ve always had interest in jewellery especially diamonds and gemstones. I went to college after school to do an art and design course, which led me down the path of jewellery and it was then when I found in my local newspaper, a jewellery firm advertising a job for a jeweller, I went for it and fell in love with it straight away. I remember thinking that this was it – this is my job for the rest of my life. I spent 3 years as a jeweller and moved up to become a diamond and gemstone setter within the same company. The master setter took me under his wing, trained me up, and taught me everything I know now. A few years after, I went to Hatton Garden as a diamond setter, working for a larger company where I really had the opportunity to refine my skills. In 2000, jewellery manufacturers started sending work overseas to be set. Luckily, I was young enough to come out and do something else.

Due to my strong jewellery background, I secured a role at Rolex with their service centre in St. James’s square, refurbishing cases and bracelets. I had the opportunity to meet high net worth individuals including celebrities. I worked for Rolex for about four years, then I decided to travel – I found myself in Thailand as a scuba diver instructor, which is where I met my wife Lorraine who was already an entrepreneur in the hotel industry. In 2017, we decided to travel more and moved to New Zealand and that’s when I came back to jewellery. Whilst in Thailand, I learnt about gemstones that are from Asia. I also made Lorraine’s engagement ring and our wedding rings, through a local jeweller. But it was in New Zealand when I started working for a small family run business which sparked my love for it again. I was their master stone setter and within the 3 years of my time there, I learnt new skills, acquired new tools and new methods that brought me up to the current times.

In 2019, we decided to move back to England due to family events and when we finally arrived in February 2020, I was due to start a new job as a diamond setter for a local jeweller but because of uncertainty, that did not proceed. Lorraine’s contract was also retracted by a chain hotel. During lockdown, I made a small pendant for my son, which had a nice etched pattern and a couple of melee diamonds. Lorraine was actually the one who conceptualised the thought of selling it. That’s when our company ‘The Diamond Setter’ was born.

We got to the drawing books and started designing our first range. Whilst I am very technical, Lorraine makes sure the feminine touch and beauty of the jewellery is there. We then moved at The Solomon Estate, end of September. It was just like an old garage, it didn’t have anything in it. So I built the wall and created a jewellery studio. We’re not the typical showroom jewellers. We focus on making it here on site and you can actually see me working here in my workshop. And in some occasions, you can even wait whilst we help restore your jewellery piece. Our customers are wedding couples looking for that extra special experience of creating their wedding bands with us rather than getting it off the shelf. We also have a stunning range of jewellery for your everyday wear – accessible and made sustainably with dedication and care.

Our customers don’t want to hand in their jewellery, have it sent away and part with it for several weeks – that’s one of our unique service; everything is done here, and our customer’s jewellery does not leave this room.

We have an e-commerce website run by Lorraine which includes a https://www.thediamondsetter.co.uk/personalised-jewellery one of a kind personalisation tool. We firmly believe that that everyone has the right to own fine jewellery, and we are excited about being able to deliver our collaborative designs in eco conscious, luxury gift boxes. Using recycled gold and silver our exquisite pieces breathe new life into existing materials, with minimal environmental impact. We are very proud to have a jeweller and diamond setter in house.”

“Public speaking was always something I thought I could do, I was a bit of a show-off as a kid, doing drama, writing sketches in church etc and I loved it. Then when I went to university to train to be a physiotherapist, I found that I stumbled with my words, I blushed, and my heart raced! I just couldn’t do it. It was ridiculous, I’m an extrovert, I’d done drama in front of hundreds of people but realised it was a completely different skill. So, I had the choice in deciding not to do it or to throw myself into it, so I threw myself into it and seized any opportunity that I could and gradually learnt and got better, the sweats got less and the heart racing slowed down.

This was in the days before the internet, so I had to learn from books as well as attending a couple of courses which gave me some tips and I realised it was just a skill. I just had to keep practicing it and gradually the previous worried feeling I had, turned into one of excitement – it helped me through university, I became a lecturer and ran a training company.

With the training company I got to speak more and more in front of people but at that time I had a bit of a change in life and decided I just didn’t want to do it anymore, I was working seven days a week with too many long hours and I had to stop. At that time, I met my wife, we bought a house here in Tunbridge Wells and spent two and a half years renovating it, which gave me time to think.

I joined a public speaking club in Tunbridge Wells and started running it, doing all their education and I just loved it! It was so rewarding when people would come to the club telling me they were nervous with public speaking and when I told them I used to be like that, they couldn’t believe it. I explained that I had learnt how to do it and through that process, I had helped a lot of people, taught some courses at schools and the kids were saying the same thing, not being able to structure a speech, not being very confident or funny. It was just taking each individual and working with them. It gave me the combination of learning how to do it, the public speaking and the business element.

It got to the end of last year when I had finished the house renovation when I thought, what am I going to do with the rest of my life. I needed to make a choice and all of my friends and family surrounding me said it was just obvious that I had to help people with public speaking and that’s when I launched my business and it’s been really successful! In May 2020 I won two of the four Toastmasters UK National Speech contests, one in impromptu speaking and one in evaluating a speech.

I get to work with such a variety of people and seeing the change in them when their speech flows beautiful is so very rewarding. It’s things like that which makes my job so very cool. It’s the best job in the world! It’s been a slow steady journey of me learning how to do it myself and then just seeing the love and the passion I get from helping others be empowered to speak more effectively, with confidence and that’s been the greatest gift to me.”

 

“I left school, not knowing what I wanted to do, and I started some temping when I got a phone call from a lady telling me there was a receptionist role at an agency, I was 18 years old, so I was up for taking on something new.
It was a digital agency called Digital Clarity in Guildford and I joined on the day that the first iPhone was being released and the town was just crazy busy with what we know now as iPhone junkies, it was an exciting time for digital media etc. I never even realised you could do Google ads at the time, I just wasn’t aware of it but it made me realise and understand, why I loved the psychology behind marketing, the science of creating a product and delivering the urgency where people would queue out on the streets to buy a product.

So that’s why I started learning how to become Google qualified. I just loved it and that’s how I got the Google bug! Every year since then, I’ve been passing the exams and am now proud to be an accredited Google partner.

I landed a job in London and worked with some big clients like RAC and Aviva, in 2010, I moved out to Dubai and it was brilliant! I really enjoyed working with different brands but started to realise there were a lot of clients being mis-sold too, promises were being made but results were not being delivered. There was a lot of fixing to do.

In 2016, I was in quite a serious car accident and was let go from my job because I was off recovering, and in Dubai, you have to have a visa to be able to stay in the country. So, I decided that this was the chance for me to set up my own business and create my own destiny, so I set up Digital AdDoctor where I would go into my clients accounts and fix the areas that had been implemented by less qualified people. It’s been a roller coaster of a journey but has been the best life choice that I have ever made! I don’t see what I do as a 9 to 5, I live and breathe what I do and that’s why I enjoy waking up every day, logging in and seeing the accounts perform and creating reports for my clients.

I gave birth to my son in 2019 and went back to work three days afterwards, not because I had to but because I honestly love what I do.

I have clients in the US, Dubai and the UK, mainly in the lifestyle and financial industries and because I’m a DMI qualified instructor (Digital Marketing Institute) I was training someone on how to do Linkedin marketing, it turned out that she was an editor for the US based Entrepreneur Magazine. She wanted to do a story about me on how my work came about, but when I explained I could write, she asked If I could write for them. I wrote an article called ‘I Got 99 Problems, But Leads Ain’t One: Eight Tips For Generating Leads’ it blew up the website and went viral, a thousand people had viewed in the first hour!”

“I worked for myself when I left school as a hairdresser, did the training, qualified and continued working whilst my two children were young, but when they grew up, I got to a point where I just knew I didn’t want that for the rest of my life, I needed change. So, I re-educated myself, got a degree, had a complete turnaround and qualified to be a probation officer. I did sixteen years in the probation service and moved from the frontline probation work and trained myself up to do ISO auditing and compliance. It was another turnaround which meant moving into corporate work. It also involved more leadership and I really enjoyed that part of it, it was a little bit like going back to being self-employed, meaning I was more in control of what was going on.

I do, really like to be able to influence and shape, whatever is going on, whether it’s to support and help people shape their lives or to shape my own life, I always feel that drive to lead, to steer and to influence.

At that time, I was also a heavy trade unionist, which fits in with my ethos of making change for the good and for the better. I wanted the company to be as good as it could be as much as I want myself to be as good as I can be. I discovered the trade union very early on, and really enjoyed that work, I became quite a dominant feature in the trade union locally and then moved up to a more national role. The probation service was ​later privatised , drivers and agendas changed and the service no longer aligned with my values. I was made redundant ​after a long battle which actually destroyed me at the time. I spiralled into a really bad place that I don’t think I’d ever been before, in life you have all sorts of trials and tribulations, but this was different, it really made me lose my confidence and who I was, I actually completely lost what I felt was my status, It felt like ​it had been taken from me but I realised I had allowed that.

I’ve always struggled to be financially independent, I’ve managed it and managed to bring the children up and survive, but sometimes it’s always been about survival, rather than taking a step beyond survival and saying actually, now I’ve got a lot more control and steer of where I want to go and to what I’m doing. So, I had no job but had some money and I wanted to use that money to really do something. I thought I wanted to go to London and continue the type of work that I was previously doing, I had several interviews, but I came away just feeling very deflated, it just didn’t feel right. It felt like I needed to be offered that job to make me feel better. But did I really actually want that job? I was going through the motions.

It was my birthday in the June – it’s always a nice time of the year and my daughter said; “Let’s go away Mum” so we went down to Poole in Dorset, she loves it down there and we hired these bikes. I was still thinking about what to do with the money, how to invest it to make it grow, it was a reasonable pot but compared to the cost of living etc it wasn’t a lot so I knew I had to be wise with my decisions.

So, I started to think about business ideas and then we hired these bikes. I just said, I love this bike, it’s really cool, I’m going to buy it.

In between being unemployed, I worked at The Castle Inn pub and rebuilt my confidence , I’ve got a big local network of friends and people I know in the area and because I’ve been in the area a long time I was aware that there was a gap in the market for taxis and with working in the pub, it highlighted that more so, with people coming in wanting to get a cab. So, I would jokingly say maybe I should be a taxi driver? The people in the pub said – you should, you’d be really good at it! So that seed started to grow, it started off as a bit of a joke but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it because it was going back to work for myself.

Normally, when you start to have an idea, and you grow it, you think it through and plan it, test some ideas etc. It didn’t happen like that. It was as if somebody planted the idea into my head from maybe I’ll be a taxi driver, to by the way, I’m also going to buy the bike to suddenly it was like, do both – hire the bikes, drive them to people, collect them etc.

I had always wanted to go walking in the Dolomites so decided to take the trip and use the time to do some thinking, I told my daughters I was going on holiday but said I had a business idea – they said where did that come from?! It wasn’t there yesterday! But it felt 100% right! And everyone that I spoke to about it all thought it was a fantastic idea. I tested the idea just by talking about it.

When you get on that bike, it sells itself and when people see them, they love them. I’ve created a concept that doesn’t exist, so it’s a challenge to market the idea, hiring a bike that can be delivered and collected doesn’t exist – especially bikes like these! But it does now, and I’ve got to get the concept out there.

For me, it wasn’t just a business idea that worked, it had to fulfil my needs, it’s about meeting people and being with new people ​– both with the taxi side and the bikes.

I love being outside, meeting people and my business is around supporting people, connecting the communities, getting out and about and also supporting the other businesses with what they’ve got to offer. I feel like I’m fulfilling all of the things that I love.”

“The first time I came about coaching was when I was made redundant in 2006. I was in my early twenty’s – I spent some time with an outplacement agency working alongside a career coach doing online psychometric testing to find what career would be most suited to me. It came up with coaching or HR as high as a career path I should consider, however I never really thought anything of it.

I then went on to work in banking and through that time I gained quite a bit of weight, I’ve always exercised but have always struggled with weight, I had some trauma in my background, and I just started seeking comfort aids, therefore the weight started piling on and no matter what diet I tried, I was getting some results but soon after would regain the weight I lost.

I met a lady at a networking event, last year in Kensington, I got dragged along with a friend – didn’t really want to go, we had to speak to somebody next to us that we didn’t know and explain why we were there that day and what we were trying to achieve. So I started talking about my weight issues and how I was struggling with stress management, and she just said; “You’ve met the right person” she recently certified as a practitioner and as part of her certification she needed a practice client, so she said, how about we meet one to one, have a general session to see if we match, I can then see if I can help you.

It worked out well and I went on this 12-week programme which was one hour a week and she just coached me and helped me to find the underlying reason as to why I was gaining weight and working around my habits and changing these. Through that process I had two holidays, I enjoyed my life, nothing stopped, I still had fun, I’m an extrovert so lots of parties! She got down to the bottom of why I was eating and what the triggers were etc. I started having these aha moments through that whole process and started to re-frame my mind with the way that I look at food which made me more alert and conscientious, being more mindful about eating.

I lost 22 pounds in 12 weeks without even really thinking about it and through the programme we discovered I was a people pleaser. When I would previously go to a restaurant and say you have five friends with you, they’re going to have olives, bread, wine, they’re going to have starters and desserts too! I really only have a main when I eat. I don’t need all the extras and what I was finding myself doing was eating all the extras and it was just too much. You have to be in tune with your body, listen to it, using your intuition and going with it. Finding comfort in other places, having self-care instead of looking at food as a source of comfort.

My coach at the time sent me a questionnaire, and on her headed paper I saw the name of the institute where she studied which gravitated me towards being curious, so I had a look at it online and the course was £6000 pounds. It was a lot of money, but I just thought, you know what – I’m going to invest in this for myself, for my momentum, I didn’t want to become a coach in my head at that time. I wanted to try and keep this going, I didn’t want to gain the weight back, I wanted to maintain it and carry on with the journey I was having. It was phenomenal, I had tried every diet, and nothing had worked until I found this. I felt free and liberated and for once happy in my body!

So, I went on and studied and It took me a year to certify and qualify but I didn’t realise at the time how much coaching would be involved and how much I actually enjoyed it.
I had to coach 50 hours of coaching and then through that I had to take two practice clients through the 12 week programmes, both of them lost weight, through lockdown! It’s such a wonderful feeling when you go through that process with a client – when they come and meet you, and even though you are on Zoom, you can see the change and how lighter they feel, and they’re focusing on the positive. It’s all about focusing on the positive and holding that belief for those clients and that they can actually be a better version of themselves, that they have that potential, and the belief and then holding that for them and taking them through that process.

I’m now in a space where I’m helping other people to feel good about themselves and I love that support that I can give people, I’m passionate about that. It doesn’t matter whether it’s weight loss, stress management or anxiety. With the experiential exercises we do, you close your eyes and you see this version of yourself and you just can’t let it go, it’s just amazing!

I now support men and women who are stuck in self-limiting beliefs, helping them discover their confidence and power to transform their habits and beliefs so that they can live unhindered, abundant and flourishing lives. On the programme I teach you how to make lasting changes, using behavioural techniques, so that you simply have the tools and the mindset to make the right choices for you.”

“It all started back at the beginning of last year, when I decided that 2019 was the time for me to start exploring what really mattered to me! I joined a social networking group, yoga classes, volunteered at a local festival, and organised a working road trip with my son. It was time to change my world! Then in May, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and that rather put the brakes on things in the short term. I was fantastically lucky as it was caught early, and after a successful mastectomy and bionic boob installation, I had even more impetus to do something tangible, to change the world; not just talk about it, not just think about it – but actually do something.

Plastic waste and over packaging has always really maddened me. During my recovery I spent time thinking about what Little Old Me could do to change things for the better. At home we’ve bought refills of various products for a while, but we always had to travel to Heathfield or Tunbridge Wells; there was nothing available in Crowborough and I felt that we really needed a refill option for household products here. You have to be dedicated and focused to travel out of town to buy everyday items responsibly. I’m convinced that if an environmentally conscious option is easily accessible then more of us will choose it. We’re all so busy juggling our commitments that it’s easy to lose sight of the biggest picture of all….. our environment. If a town can conveniently access plastic free products it will mean that thousands of plastic bottles can be avoided every year, and be completely taken out of the production loop. Think about that; one town with some people within it making a change to their purchasing habits saves thousands of plastic bottles being made and disposed of. Now multiply that across all of the towns that have zero waste options, and that’s an amazing reduction!

I started looking at creating a refill shop combined with an eco community hub for recycling, maybe workshops and a “library of things”, which was my ultimate dream, but after looking at rents etc I quickly realised that wouldn’t be sustainable, at all. So, I decided that the only way I was going to be able to do it was to be mobile; and my car was almost suitable. Then I realised that being mobile would actually be a huge advantage, rather than being a compromise, as there are so many towns and villages which don’t yet have their own plastic free options, so I can go to them and provide this convenient service.

One of the most important things to me when I was researching my suppliers, was to find a genuine single use plastic free supplier. Many of the eco refill products available are supplied to their stockists in 5 litre containers which then have to go into the recycling for disposal. To me, that isn’t really helping to reduce plastic as much as it could. I was delighted when I found SESI who have a completely closed loop system and re-use all of the containers from manufacture to delivery to me. Aside from the household detergents which SESI make, they have also teamed up with Cole & Co, who are based in Wales and hand make the most wonderful showering products. When I receive a delivery they collect the empties, wash them, refill and send them back out to the next stockist.

Once I’d got the products sorted out, we created a superdooper contraption that pulls out of the back of my car, which gave me my “shop”, and I was ready to rock and roll. I then just needed to find somewhere that would host me and my WeFill Local pop-up. That was a bit of a challenge, but Crowborough Community Centre came up trumps and were fully on board with the idea, which was great! They are very eco conscious themselves, so they were really happy for me to pop-up by their front door every other Tuesday evening.

I only managed to get two pop-ups in before lockdown was upon us, so for a while I was only offering deliveries locally, but now I’m back at Crowborough Community Centre fortnightly, and doing monthly deliveries further afield. I’ve also got a monthly pop-up behind Monkey Puzzle Nursery in Edenbridge and another at the wonderful Falconhurst Farm Shop in Markbeech. I’d like more places to pop-up; more villages and towns that don’t have their own permanent shop, that would like me and my plastic free products to visit once a month.

The customers and hosts that I’ve met through WeFill are totally super and I’m loving every minute of my moonlighting, eco, teeny business.”

“It all started in the pub …

I’ve had a varied career which I’ve really enjoyed, working in construction equipment rental (plant hire), with big equipment in mines and steel works as a sales manager in the UK and Scandinavia. I then went selling video facilities in the TV business in Soho, London. Then after a couple of years and a recession I worked abroad in Holland with a specialist company in the Petrochem industry, then came back and worked in a high-end jewellery display business.

Unfortunately that didn’t work out, possibly due to a clash of styles. These things happen.

Then, one day I was at one end of the bar in the Fox and Hounds up at Toys Hill, I was saying to the landlady; “there must be someone around here that needs a hard-battling Sales Manager?” At the other end of the bar was Mike Collier saying exactly the same thing – “there must be a hard-battling Sales Manager around here that wants to take a chance on a start-up!” The lovely landlady, Hazel Pelling, asked if we knew each other, we said yes but only to nod to, she said she thought we would get on well, and on that basis, it worked very well. We then sold ourselves to each other and it’s worked well ever since! That was in 1994!

I knew nothing about IT, but I think if you’re selling a system, it’s actually all about what people are going to get out of it, you’re much better off with somebody that’s actually curious about your business than enthusiastic about the bits and bytes, and because I’ve worked with small and large broadcasters, high end jewellers and all sorts of people, I could at least empathise and understand what the problems were across a wide range of businesses.

So, we built that business up, it grew out of Mike’s garage and it was called Chartland Associates in those days, based on Puddledock Lane in Toys Hill, just up the road. We grew that into a business that needed offices, which we had on Oak Hill Road just behind Sevenoaks station. We then moved to an old harpsichord factory at the top of St John’s Hill in Sevenoaks, then while we were looking to acquire other businesses, we realised that we were an attractive target and ended up selling to a PLC called Touchstone, not the big media organisation – who were already in CRM and accounting systems. Then after about 18 months, we weren’t overly happy, and we didn’t think our clients were. You just can’t upset the likes of Citibank, the BBC and the Stock Exchange. We went to the CFO and told him we were unhappy, and that their processes were not making our clients happy and asked if we could part amicably. Rather than lots of protracted discussions we folded an A4 piece of paper in half and drew up a heads of terms agreement, which was approved by the rest of the board in the next 36 hours. So, in 2002, we left them, taking a handful of clients with us, the following year we bought the rest of the Maximizer client base and the following year the Saleslogix (now Infor CRM) customer base and we’ve been here ever since. We have a lovely office here with plenty of free car parking and beautiful views.

What I enjoy the most is going out and seeing people, also talking to people who I already know about what’s going on in their business and asking about the problems they’ve been having, have we been able to help them, and whether now that they have the systems in place do they want to move on to the next stage etc. Some clients use the exact same system we set them up with in the nineties! Whereas other clients are continually developing their system as business rules change, their corporate structure changes, their target clients change, their personnel change and the management reporting structures changes. Therefore, you can change the structure of your CRM system to suit. So, going out and seeing those guys and talking to them about the changes within their business and being able to help them is what I love doing.”

“My father and my grandfather were both carpenters and joiners, so I followed suit. Back then you did a five-year apprenticeship followed by a year in Technical College. After completing college, I joined a firm in Tonbridge called Punnets and stayed with the same joiner for quite a few years to make sure I learnt the trade properly. I saw an advert for a carpenter joiner to help in a pub in Tunbridge Wells called the Castle Hotel, I applied and got the job, I built the bars in there, there were three of them so that took two or three years to complete. I then started working for a bedroom company and got involved in sales. I was at the ideal home exhibition when a couple of guys approached me to head up a company for them. Funny enough that was called Silks bedrooms, hence the name Silk. In those days, people used the yellow pages to look for a company and Sharps bedrooms was the one that everybody knew and used. Therefore, we used Silks because of the S.

After working for those guys for a couple of years, I decided to buy a showroom on Upper Grosvenor road, I bought the showroom under the name of Silks bedrooms and stayed there for around three years but selling furniture made by other people. I then thought, I could do this and make the furniture myself. There was a small company in Tunbridge Wells opposite High Brooms station, it used to be the old laundry, it was called Orchid Kitchens and it was up for sale. So, in 1989 I bought it and the machinery they had and was there for three years. That was in partnership with my father in law, we were then known as Silks bedrooms, but as we’ve now moved into building kitchens the name has changed to Silks Designs Kent Limited, but in the early days, it was Silks bedrooms. In 2004 we bought and moved to number ten Chapman Way and we were there until 2015, we then moved to the present building which is one to four Chapman Way.

I’m 71 years old now and looking to retire, my son Aaron is taking over, he’s been working within the business for the last ten years or so and is doing really well. I’m still coming in on a consultancy basis, but the reality is that I need to retire. I have another son here, who helps in the paint shop downstairs, originally it was a family business. It was my father in law, my wife and myself who kicked it off, we had a couple of staff and we’ve gradually grown it with two of my boys working here.

We have a nice showroom, open to the public, displaying bedrooms and kitchens, and have 9 members of staff. Post COVID we’ve employed a new designer and we’re looking to take on another CNC operator, so, even in these hard times, we’ve managed to employ another person, and are just about to advertise for a second one.

I’ve always loved manufacturing and to see the end product in somebody’s house is a great feeling of satisfaction, the smile on their face and the happiness that they show is extremely rewarding. It all starts with the client’s ideas as to what they want to do, what they want to involve in the way the kitchen or the bedroom works. What worktop colours they want, we bring them in the showroom, go through the internals and the appliances, the different colours and then putting all that together and seeing the pleasure on their face and talking to them afterwards – that is the icing on the cake.

Over 70% of our business is from recommendation, without question! I used to think you would deal with a client once and you would never see them again, but that was so wrong. They move house and their children grow up, they talk to their neighbours and friends and even 20 years later we get people coming back to us after they’ve moved etc.

People can actually come into the showroom and they can sit and look through the window and see their furniture being made, which I think is a tremendous bit of confidence for them. We actually do everything in this showroom. We make it right here, we spray it right here and we fit it, that’s how we’ve built our reputation. We’ve managed to get through recessions, tough times, obviously Pandemics too and there have been times when it’s been really tough, but whatever has happened, we’ve never shut the door and we’ve managed to get through it and we are all still here.

I’m a bit of a dinosaur as far as social media goes but it’s definitely the way to go, we’ve taken on someone to do it for us, we don’t really advertise in magazines anymore so social media is where we are pushing it. Aaron definitely wants to get the public more aware of us, getting them in the showroom so they can enjoy the experience of being in here. We’re going to be installing a new contemporary kitchen in the showroom and start doing cooking demonstrations, our designer knows a top local chef who will be coming in to do the demonstrations and we’re going to be developing the showroom so we have a working kitchen for the demos and invite people in to experience them. Not just for the public, but also for architects, interior designers and small developers etc.

My advice to anyone setting up a business today is just don’t give up! If you’ve made your mind up as to what you want to do, do it. You need to be determined and honest, but if you’ve got something in your mind that you want to do, don’t give up. It has to be sensible and achievable, don’t set your goals too high but also don’t set them too low, just keep going, if it’s meant to be, you’re going to do it!”

 

“I grew up in Brighton, the social and catering backbone of the South of England. I left school with few qualifications and decided to go to college in Brighton to study catering where I did my apprenticeship at the George and Dragon in Speldhurst. At that time, back in the 80s, the George and Dragon was a very high-end restaurant, it was the place to be seen. I worked there for three years; it was hard work, working five days at the George, one day at Brighton Technical College and then one day off.

A friend of mine then asked if I would like to go and work for a new company that were evolving in the music business. They were called Eat to the Beat, and were looking for chefs. I went for a trial day; it was at Brixton Academy, catering for a band that were playing there. Within the week, I was touring with Megadeth, Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies and Testament! I spent six years touring around the world, with bands, doing all the catering for them, in arenas, stadiums and concert halls. We catered for the truck drivers, the lighting guys, the sound engineers, and the backline crew. Also the bands themselves! We’d come back from a tour, repack our clothes and were off again. In 1989 I was on Take That’s first tour and continued working with them until Robbie left where there was now a massive band and crew to cater for on a daily bases in any part of the world. I certainly learnt to improvise, overcome and adapt on a daily bases to all their catering needs.

Tours were two or three months long with the festival season in-between. We’d go from one tour to another. I worked for Elvis Costello, Kylie Minogue, ZZ Top and Aerosmith plus others and with the bigger bands they would do the stadiums, so we already had the purpose-built kitchens that were ready to go. When we did the smaller tours, with the smaller venues we would have to bring all our own kitchen equipment, hot cupboards, all our meat dry stores, herb boxes all in flight cases, packed on the back of the truck. We really did cater on the move! When we arrived at the venue, we had a driver that would take us to the local supermarkets or cash and carry if it was a really big job. We had to make menus up with everything everyone needed, no matter where we were, buying local ingredients. Whether it was in the Kremlin in Moscow where I worked for a few months or the Caribbean in Martinique where I lived and worked for a while, or even touring around the world with Zuccaro – we went everywhere with him and cooked whatever he wanted. He had Al Dente pasta with chilli, every night. Take That loved everything and anything, home cooked food boys; Muller yoghurt was Gary Barlow’s favourite. Kylie Minogue loved home-made smoothies after the show, she would sit down and have dinner with me and Lou every night.

Dietary requirements are more popular than ever, but for rock and roll people they were a major requirement then as they are now. The bass player from ZZ Top loved Ambrose custard, we had to get tins and tins of it. Aerosmith would only have Gatorade – but in the old days when we couldn’t get it, we’d have to go to American Air Force base in Germany and get it from them. We had to develop food and drinks contacts, with dietary requirements at a very early stage in the evolvement of food that is very popular now.

I worked for the Admirable Crighton and was then seconded to work for Prince Charles, at Holyrood. We catered a lot at Buckingham Palace with the Palace Brigades. Prince Charles had a lot of private events and we would go with his personal chef to help cater for a wide selection of nobility all around Europe going to local butchers to local farmers, getting all the ingredients to cater for his events. Again, dietary requirements were really popular and local food was all we could buy. This was back in the 80s and 90s, we didn’t have Deliveroo or emails. I did all this without a mobile phone!

I did that for another six years, so after fourteen years of being out and about, I decided to make a change. A friend asked me if I could help him with a party and then another asked, and then a friend of mine’s daughter was getting married and wanted me to cater for that, so I literally gave up work in London one day and started up Purple Pumpkin Catering the next. It goes from strength to strength and we, as a company, are still adapting to the needs of the modern-day customer. My background is outside catering, event catering, constant problem solving and reprioritising according to the needs of the customer and supplying lots of different food for lots of different people with lots of different dietary requirements, which is now the norm!

Purple Pumpkin has evolved with a good understanding of not just the basics but the explicit and implicit needs and requirements that our customers want now. After 18 years, Purple Pumpkin is still going strong and for me, at 55, I’m still working hard!”

“We both worked for a good quality independent optician, Ayshah has been qualified for twenty years now, but what we found was a large part of people attending didn’t actually want to be there, they didn’t really want new glasses, they had possibly been sent a letter saying they were due a renewal so thought they should. When you sat them down and said they needed a new pair of glasses, you could see their shoulders drop! They think of the expense – having to choose something they are un-sure about and are usually not really into glasses.

This trend tends to be similar all over the UK and part of the reason why the chains who are at the lower end of the market are so busy, because if it’s something the people don’t really want, they don’t want to spend much money. Whereas across Europe, glasses are seen as something different, you might have six different pairs of really nice glasses for different activities and different looks.

I’m very much into my frames and Ayshah is very much into eye care and we have often thought that it would be great to open a European style store in the UK and the one place we kept thinking of where it would work was Tunbridge Wells, but we had some doubt in our mind as if it’s that obvious, why hasn’t someone else done it. So, we kind of toyed around with the idea for a while, I had just had my 40th birthday, Ayshah was pregnant with our second child and It was that situation, realising we could be working another 20 to 25 years, maybe even more! So, we thought, let’s go for it!

We came and looked at premises and this place had been free for a year and whilst my heart was telling me we should be down in the Chapel Place area, the rents were so much more down there, and we were starting at zero. We thought this is a great road to be on (Monson Road) and a really good location, so I waved the lease under Ayshahs nose when she was feeling rough in her pregnancy. You could say I got her to commit at her weakest point, but it worked!

We knew if we did it the right way, we will attract people from not just Tunbridge Wells but the outside villages and the gated communities, but also from afar. People who are into their eyewear are into it, it’s just not that high a percentage. But, we knew if we get it right, we’ll get people coming back who previously had one pair in the last two years or four years and even come back in a period of two years and buy three or four times because now they’ve opened up their eyes to what is available, it’s not just a pair of glasses. It’s not just brown or black, it’s not just ray-ban, there’s a whole plethora of amazing creative designers, producing the most amazing frames. A common phrase we hear is ‘this is like a sweet shop for glasses’

We quite often get somebody come in and say, I’ve looked in four or five opticians so far and I can’t find anything. So, if we do it right, when they come here, they will find four or five pairs they like and then their decision is which one do they go for. A lady came in this morning saying she struggled to find glasses and that she didn’t particularly like wearing glasses, we sat down and looked at six carefully chosen pairs, she bought four of them – she was actually un-sure which of the four she should go for because she loved them all.

When we signed the lease, I was celebrating with some buddies up in London and took a step off a curb and broke my ankle! so the whole refit, which was done by professional shop fitters but designed completely by us, was done with a cast on my ankle, but we got it done in time, at one point I said to Ayshah I wasn’t sure if I could get to work – she made sure I did!

That was in August 2016 and we opened on 15th October 2016. When we opened, we put together an eyewear collection which had a lot of what we wanted, but because we were opening from zero, we didn’t want people to come in and see frames that they had never heard of or seen before and be frightened off, and not shop with us. So, we introduced some mass produced brands – ranges that people would be aware of, that’s not what we wanted – but we thought we’d best play it safe, so that people would recognise something, we might then be able to show them something a little bit different and they can move with us. It became apparent within six months that nobody wanted that at all, people were coming in and were wowed by all the other really creative unique pieces we have.

We spent that first 12 months expanding on the eyewear that we source from all around the world, from all different suppliers – who only make frames! All of those frames with the fashion label on the side aren’t actually made by the fashion house. They just sell the licence, then a big frame producer produces them, stamps them, and then they are sold.

We make sure that every company we work with has a story to back it up, everything’s handmade, they innovate and then the rest of the industry follows, but like a lot of innovators, not many people see what they’re doing before a big company copies it, put their own stamp on it and then puts it on the back of Vogue, that’s very much how it works. So, we’re supporting the small guys and those small guys really support us. We want to enjoy working, the clients we attract are amazing, real characters, everyone comes in with a smile on their face, they kind of know what they’re walking into and because of that they want to be here. Customers see our passion and they like the husband and wife team, our names on the door so we’re going to look after people. The best thing is working with people that actually want to be here.”

 

“When I left school, I went into catering and worked in France for a year and a half, when I came back, I started working in London for Pret A Manger, they were a small company who then only had about 15 stores, I stayed with them for about six years and ended up running a store on Hanover street and I really enjoyed that time in my life it was a fun company to work for. I then left to be part of a new start-up, that failed, following this I did a couple of other jobs, including recruitment and then joined the Police – I was in the police force for 14 years. Unfortunately, I sustained an eye injury, a detached retina in one eye and a blind spot on the other one.

My job involved driving fast cars and motorcycles, so the injury didn’t fit very well with driving at speed through London, chasing suspects with blue lights flashing! So ultimately, I couldn’t perform that role anymore, but they also wouldn’t let me out on the street, in case I got attacked or assaulted causing further injury which could cause me go blind. So, I decided to retrain towards the end of my police career, in an area that I had always been excited about, which was fitness. I joined the Police to do something that was active and quite physical, but towards the end I was just working behind a desk which I really hated. I did lots of training courses and realised that I could turn my passion into a business, so, I moved out of London and came to Tunbridge Wells and approached Jake Gowan the owner of Halo Gym to see if I could become the oldest personal trainer in Tunbridge Wells! I was lucky because he gave me a chance which I’ll always be grateful for. I got my foot in the door and this enabled me to slowly build a client base and from there to create a business.

Since then I’ve specialised in some specific areas of coaching, such as bodyweight training, handstands and gymnastic rings. My very first client told me he wanted to learn how to handstand walk! It was part of his business to show people that things can be seen from a different perspective, he was a young 50 year-old, pretty fit, had previously done triathlons etc and he wanted to walk out on to a stage on his hands! Of course I said I could teach him how to do it, truth was though, that I had no idea how to, so, I spent a lot of time falling over during the course of the next six months, got some coaching and now three years later I teach people how to do handstands. I started doing this when I was 45 and with belligerent perseverance and relentless practice have made a lot of headway in that area so it’s one of the specialist areas that I help people with.

I started working with clients in Halo Gym in January 2017 and have also worked with some different CrossFit gyms, CrossFit Tunbridge Wells and also CrossFit Tonbridge, and I still work with them doing classes and gymnastics speciality classes. I’ve run bodyweight workshops, corporate nutritional seminars, held strongman competitions and promoted an event where I invited Laurence Shahlaei to come and do a seminar in the gym which fortunately went ahead as it was right before lockdown.

The part about my job that I love is convincing people that they’re not too old to get fit and healthy and that they’re not ready for the pipe and slippers just yet. The people from my dad’s generation, at 40, were watching tv whilst smoking a pipe, now people have the opportunity to be a lot more active, for a lot longer. I want to help convince people that they can have an active lifestyle and create health and wellness and therefore be productive later on in their life. My oldest client is 87! He just wants to get fitter for walking and being mobile so he’s still actively engaged in life. I honestly believe that those who are past 40 are capable of a lot more than they think. The caveat to this is that you are not operating the same body that you had when you were 20, but you can get a hell of a lot more out of it than perhaps you previously thought – with my help of course 🙂

I’m currently doing a degree in psychology and I love the idea of behaviour change. Helping people with their fitness is more than just imparting information, this you can find for free almost anywhere these days. And in fairness people generally know the difference between an apple and a doughnut, but still they pick the doughnut every single time. So, knowing is not the same thing as doing. Information is only one part of that puzzle, if all it took was information, then everybody who ever read a diet book would be fit and healthy. So I see my job as helping people to bridge that gap between what they know and what they actually end up doing. Facilitating lifestyle habit change incrementally over the course of time accrues to make profound long-lasting sustainable changes. Knowing is not the same thing as doing.”

Finally if lockdown has taught me anything is that :

Health and wellness has slowly crept up in people’s priorities surpassing vanity projects such as the six pack abs or beach bum. You don’t need much equipment to get the job done.Working out with a small group of like minded people virtually or socially distanded is powerful.

 

“Passionate about Tunbridge Wells, its companies, its people and the town in general, every day for us is exciting. Helping people start their careers, enter the workplace, find new jobs, progress their careers, backshift from London or undertake temporary work to build experience and make income, is what we do day to day; for us, helping companies grow and expand, or replace that all important leaver, is our greatest pleasure.

 

As a company we hold on to our founding values every day “ to deliver the service, we would want to receive, were we to be either a candidate or a client” and we try always to treat everyone as we wish to be treated. It’s exciting.

Our business is organic and evolves day by day to reflect the needs of the companies with whom we work, having expanded from 1 to 3 locations, our founding office of Tunbridge Wells is able to draw upon the widest candidate source of all 3 offices to ensure clients meet the best candidates the market can offer.

We are a team of 15 people committed honest and with the highest of ethics, and consultation lies at the core of how we operate, be it taking a client brief or consulting with a candidate to understand their skills, experience, wants, hopes and aims.

Embedded within our local communities, Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and Kings Hill, we are local people, working with local companies and local candidates, and boy of boy do we care! From our local offices we work with companies throughout the whole of Kent and into London, with many of those now asking to support them with their national roles both of a permanent and temporary nature, and we now work with companies in Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Sunderland, Portsmouth, Colchester as well as London and its wider environs, all, receiving the 100% commitment and care, be they a small company of 2 or 3 looking for that all important next member of the team, to SMES and large corporates seeking the expertise we bring to the process too.

Robert Dutton – March 2022
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“Since we saw you last time around, so much as happened! We love our industry and partnering with clients and candidates to help companies recruit the talent they need to operate grow and prosper and to help candidates at all levels commence, evolve and transition their careers. 2019 saw us take a bold step forward and to open our 3rd location, in Kings Hill, completing those of Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks – this gives us unparalleled access to candidates to meet client needs and creates ever more opportunities for candidates to be able to consider.

The last 12 months have been interesting, what with the uncertainty of both Brexit and a General election, but it has been good to see tremendous market confidence, with a huge growth in the SME sector, whilst we have continually sough to support our corporate clients with their growth plans.

We are at an interesting stage, as we seek to extend the range of services offered to our clients, and we are expanding our own teams too, with a real drive to continue to add value to the client process. The role of a recruiter is like no other! Its varied, and not only centred on helping our clients attract the talent they need, but also supporting them to retain that talent with every greater challenge and opportunity.

Tunbridge Wells continue to be a great town in which to both live and work, and we all share a common excitement and passion for the job that we do. July saw us celebrate our 20th year if trading, and we look back with pride at the loves we have helped to change through the job that we do, with many candidates going on to become clients and indeed friends. Our founding principles are as fresh today as they were on day 1, to simply deliver to our clients and candidates the service we would wish to receive, and through that we help companies build teams that build businesses and job seekers build careers that reward.”

“When I think back to my early childhood memories, as a family we were very active, with my parents being very much into tennis and gymnastics. In fact, my mum was quite a successful gymnast, so it seemed logical for me to pursue this through my teenage years. Unfortunately, before long, I had injured my back due to all the training, and so I made the decision that despite my love of sport, I didn’t necessarily want to go down a competitive route, pushing myself and others to better or stronger. Instead, I wanted to help others feel better about themselves and their overall heath, without any emotional pressure or too much physical pain.

I was fortunate enough to study in Cologne, which still has the best sports university in Europe. While completing my Masters degree in Sports Science, I also worked in modelling, dance and fitness to pay to for my lifestyle apart from accommodation etc which my parents financed. I also began providing back and fitness sessions for company staff, focusing on improving posture, which helped contribute to my university fees.

I’ve always loved surfing, windsurfing in particular. While at university, my boyfriend (who was a team rider) and I used to spend lots of time wind surfing and then kite surfing, and I would say that next to my family, it still remains my greatest passion today; and something I do whenever I have any spare time.

Studying Sports Science combined with marketing meant that I could choose from a variety of options career-wise, so I chose to go into marketing with an element of sport. It was the best decision because straight after graduating, I received an amazing job offer from an international company to run their events division based in Germany. What made this even better was that I was chosen to participate in the renowned Marlboro Expedition, with 11 others who had passed a rigorous training and selection process. So, at the age of 25, and with the help of two professional guides, I went into the wilderness in Canada and Alaska and to participate in ice-climbing, building river rafts and hiking. It was one of the best things in my life that I’ve done, and, as well as attracting media attention, it really gave me that connection with the outdoors.

Following this, I took on a music marketing role at T-Mobile, where I met my husband while working on the Robbie Williams tour 2006. By this point, I was no longer teaching, probably for a few years – as I was earning enough that there wasn’t any time left for focussing on sport other than kitesurfing and travelling whenever I had time.

I remember when I met my husband, and the tour was about to end, I was just about to set off travelling and surfing for six months and agreed to meet up with him again afterwards. He then decided to come with me for a week, before returning to work to complete the tour. That where I found my love for TARIFA, probably one of my favourite spot to kitesurf in Europe.

After my amazing experience travelling through Europe – reading, partying and kite surfing every day for about 5 months – I returned home to meet up with my then boy friend and now father of my children. We spent time working and travelling between Germany and the UK, and when I fell pregnant, we moved to Penshurst – a world away from Cologne, but a wonderful place nonetheless.

During pregnancy I had severe back problems and could hardly move, which led me to take up Pilates. It was amazing how it helped my body, and I knew instantly this was the career I wanted to pursue. I had visions of owning my own studio where I could teach people about their body, for instance ensuring they know how to sit or stand properly. And now, seven years on, after starting in the village hall in 2014, moving to my current premises in 2015, and completing a two-year Polestar accreditation, I’m proud to be running an award-winning Pilates studio right here in Penshurst.

I love the connection of people, and I’m proud to have brought people together that would have never met before. We are like a little community that grows by the day…People are so happy in my studio; it’s just such a fun place to be.”

“I have worked in HR for roughly 15 years now and started my HR consulting firm in 2017. Soon after completing my post graduate studies in HR from Bombay University, I moved to London. I continued my very engaging work with trade unions, across various sectors. I have never got my hands dirtier since then!

As luck would have it, I moved to Singapore – I based my further studies in HR on a local pre-school which was in need of some support. The project involved creating a HR framework whilst marrying two different diverse outlooks to education and child development. I was very pleased to see my work being taken on board to initiate change, a relatively quick turnaround, which I had never witnessed in Corporate before. Having invested a lot of time with Unions, I realised I didn’t want to go back to Corporate. I wanted to get more involved with small businesses within the local community. But I had no idea where to start! The HR Dept and their fantastic network of professionals, has been the best thing that I stumbled upon.

This was also the typical stage of mid life crisis and oh yes, I was contemplating divorce.

About a year later I got back to the UK, filed for divorce and started my business under the HR Dept brand! My girls, then 3 and 5, our dog and myself – we had a plain canvas before us. I always get asked the question whether I was scared when I started the business and filed for divorce in the same month. And my response is always the same – when your back is against the wall, you only have yourself to fear.

I was always told that there’s nothing in HR to be proud of because it’s a lot of dirty work. Today when I help a small business owner, and I see the sense of relief they feel in having a problem taken off their head and hands, it makes my efforts seem worthwhile. It makes me smile and motivates me! And I have forged new friendships within the local business community as a result, many of whom are my clients. This makes my job even more rewarding.

Running my own business has also meant I can harbour more support for a social cause which is important to me and my local community. I had to overcome a few very difficult situations before I started the business. I had to leave a marriage that had been a challenge for many years.

Ironically the same challenges fed my yearning to regain control of my professional and personal life – but that was also possible because of the help from amazing friends, family and local businesses. By just speaking about domestic abuse as a social issue within our local communities, we start to shirk away those taboos, show support and start addressing the matter at its bare roots level. Yet it is hardly ever discussed on the same level as mental health issues. The biggest enabler for DA is the awkward silence it is faced with. Some of the women grappling with the issue are very capable and talented but they could do better if they had the support of the local community. (I focus on women when I speak about domestic abuse because statistically they are the ones more affected by this issue).

I share my story of hope and happiness because it is also real for any individual out there who thinks they cannot get out of the difficult situation they may be in, with or without children – because they can’t see a future. The message is more powerful when it comes from a local business owner who has walked the talk. There may be other business owners who have walked this journey before me. But I hadn’t heard similar stories from a woman entrepreneur before I started my own business.

Also, children are resilient. Investing my time and resources in a new business not only provided me with the pivot to manage different demands of my new life, but it also fuelled the much needed, positive energy between all of us during times of change. Nobody tells you that it can be a lot of fun growing a business whilst raising a family. It is very possible to have fun despite the endless demands to multi-task. Today my girls understand and accept they will have to complain to the dog about each other if Mum is on the phone with her client..and Truffle will listen, because she is the best embodiment of patience!

My vision for my business is simple – to leave every client feeling it was worth their while engaging with me. I would like to continue my support within the local business community in addressing a social cause that I relate with. And spend quality time every day with my two lovely daughters and very soppy four-year old labradoodle! We love cycling in the countryside and Truffle will happily trot along, until she gets distracted by that stream.”

“In the late 80’s my wife, Pauline and I started a restaurant which specialised in Italian street food. This was a great time in our lives we met some interesting people and made some good friends. However, the work was extremely hard, covering very long hours; as time passed and with the want of starting a family, we decided to sell our beloved restaurant finally completing in late 1993. Followed by the arrival of our daughter in 1994. Once we the restaurant had sold, I decided that I wanted to find a new career that I would enjoy working in as much as the restaurant trade.

Over the years I had used the services of several accountants but generally found the way the advice was given, to be difficult to understand and disjointed. Having an interest in business record-keeping I felt that this was something I could do and would enjoy. So, I went back to college to get my qualifications as an accountant. Whilst still training I joined an accountancy practice in Hounslow, Middlesex it was a Chartered practice with a variety of different clients; This gave me a good founding. In 1996 the firm decided to move to the Isle of Man and for family reasons I decided not to go with them. The senior partner suggested that I set up my own firm, which seemed a logical step at the time due to having a few private clients anyway and so, MVL Business Services was born.

I decided that the emphasis I was going to put on MVL was getting the clients to understand their business, for example, being able to understand their profit and loss, read a balance sheet, understand what their margins are and how cashflow impacts on their ability to trade; as I believe that allowing my clients to have the information they needed to run a profitable business at their fingertips. This was about empowering our clients to have that information, so they know what their business was doing and this is how I created MVL Business Services.

In December 2014, I decided that it would be a good idea to extend the services available under the MVL umbrella and so, I decided to set up MVL Wills and Trusts. This was set up initially to help our existing clients with estate planning including, what they do with their business. When I set up MVL Wills and Trusts I wanted some support from an experienced organisation, I looked at several different organisations out there and settled on Countrywide Tax & Trust Corporation Ltd to assist. Countrywide gives us at MVL the support we need having a very a very solid founding in the sector. Countrywide were invited to appear in the first ever Law & Justice Edition of the prestigious Parliamentary Review. The main aim of the review is to showcase best practice as a learning tool to both the public and private sector, we really liked that as it allows us to give all the information and support to our clients.

My Wife and I have built several businesses over the years that have been a team effort. I like to surround myself with people who are as driven as I am. Both Tony and Andrew who have joined me on the Wills and Trusts team are very good. I have known Tony for at least 15 years; originally, he was my bank manager! I have also known Andrew and his family for many years. Andrew comes from a media background and is a complete sponge when it comes to relevant information and subsequently has become a very good estate planner.

I built the MVL accountancy practice up until last year when we merged with an Eastbourne firm called Xynamo 5 Limited (“X5”). X5 is the coming together of several firms with a similar ethos. We made the decision to merge with X5 as unfortunately, as a small accountancy practice it is very hard to function alone due to the costs associated with the day to day running and so, we are now growing the accountancy practice within X5. I have a whole ethos about honesty – if you do not know, you say to our clients that. You go and research it and learn the answer. Any of the staff that works for me in either the accounts practice or at Wills and Trusts know this.

Being able to help our clients is extremely enjoyable but, as we all know, at the moment we are operating in very difficult times. There are a lot of businesses in trouble and being able to ease our clients fears and help them find a way to survive in the current marketplace is very important to me. Either helping a client to keep their business afloat or a client has to close down their business which, for some clients, it has been their life’s work.

We are living in an ever-changing world, even when Covid-19 is under control, the workplace would have changed. Many people are working from home, how many of them are going to go back into an office environment? How many firms with big offices in London, that seat 200 people, will be thinking actually, we can do this that seats 25 and have people working from home and use a rotation system instead. As many of us now know, you must teach yourself to work from home, you must be strict with yourself and focus as if you are working in an office. However, I know when it is a nice day I would rather be sitting in the garden!”

“My partner, Len and I started our 1st Best Health Food Shop in 2016. We already had our own businesses; Len has a website marketing company which he founded in Jan 2008 which he still runs and I founded a business consultancy company in 2014. We decided wanted to go into business together and wanted to do something that we were both passionate about and going into the health industry just seemed to click and make perfect sense for us because of our backgrounds.

Len’s mum is the well-known nutritionist – Dr Marilyn Glenville who has written many books appears on TV & radio and has a successful clinic in Tunbridge Wells (just along St Johns Road not far from the shop) and also in Harley Street. Len was brought up on healthy food and has that side of the health industry and knowledge in his blood. Marilyn’s husband’s company is The Natural Health Practice which supplies and manufactures supplements. I was director of this company for 10 years and also managed Marilyn’s clinic as well. Which is how Len and I met.

I’ve lived in Tunbridge Wells my whole life and went to school here (TWGGS – just round the corner from the shop) and Lens family are from Crowborough so we’re all very local. Initially we thought we’d like to buy an existing business rather than setting one up from scratch, so we were looking at things like gyms and anything that was health related. We looked at a few and kept thinking, wouldn’t it be good if you could put a shop at the front with all the healthy food and it’s then that we realised we should be looking at doing a health food shop instead.

I’ve always had a love for health food shops. Len lived in London for a while and I would go up there and visit Whole Foods and Planet Organic and loved the way most of the health food shops in London looked modern and lovely. I often wondered why the health food shops outside of London did not really have that same kind of vibe.

After a long time of searching and visiting many health food shops, we finally found the perfect one and bought our first shop in Shoreham-by-Sea in 2016. The previous owner had been there about 8 years and had done an amazing job growing the business and being well known with the local customers.

When we took over the store the first thing we did was to extend the opening hours so we were open 7 days a week and we worked in the shop every day for 9 months to learn the ropes and to understand the processes needed to run the business. We knew a lot about the food and the supplements, but we had never actually worked in retail before. Once we had got the hang of it and introduced new till systems, etc we then spend a long time recruiting staff that would carry the same ethos and customer service we had been building.

We trained them up so that they could carry on with the day to day running of the store whilst we focused our time on bring other things into the business (like doing local events that Marilyn would give; a health talk for half a day to local residents. Our first talk reached maximum venue capacity with over 150 people attending, which was amazing! So we decided we would be doing more of these events going forwards – as education is also hugely important to us). As we were confident with our team we decided to open a Best Health Food Shop in Tunbridge Wells on St Johns road (in the middle of the little row of shops along that road). As it was my hometown and somewhere I really wanted to have another shop. We specifically wanted to be on St Johns road too as I also used to work at the Atman clinic (a complementary health clinic) and also because I went to school near there. We’ve never wanted our shops to be in shopping malls as we’ve always wanted them to be amongst a community and to grow them to be part of those communities supporting local residents and other local businesses too.

At the time, in 2017, there weren’t any units to rent on St Johns road so we put a letter through everyone’s door, saying that if they were thinking of leaving we would like to take on their lease etc and we were contacted by someone who was looking to do just that! We are really pleased with where we are, right next to the traffic lighted pedestrian crossing near the antique shop and opposite Basil, with a nice community feel about it. We opened the St Johns shop completely from scratch and got it up and running in about 6 weeks.

In February last year, we had a phone call from the gentleman who owned the health food shop down near the train station on the high street in Tunbridge Wells, and he said he would like to retire and asked if we wanted his shop! We hadn’t even planned for this and his lease was running out in April, so we only had less than two months to make a quick decision! Previously when we took on the Shoreham-by-Sea shop it took us a year to finalise everything, so we had no idea how we would turn this all around in six weeks! But we knew we wanted to do it so found a way and we took it over from him on 29th April 2019.

At the same time, we had been chatting to a lady who owned a health food shop in Uckfield, we’d been talking to her for about two years as she had been looking to retire as well. Then, in June she rang us, telling us that she was ready to retire and that we could have the shop if we wanted it! So, we had to put our thinking caps on again and work out how to make this happen whilst we had only just taken over the High Street store. We worked it all out and renovated the whole of the Uckfield store to make it more modern and in keeping with the rest of our stores and we opened the doors on the 12th October. At the same time that this was going on we had a call from an agent that we had approached a few years back about a particular street in Worthing, where we wanted to open a Best Health Food Shop – he called us out of the blue to say a retail unit had come up and he would give us first refusal on it but the landlord wants us to complete on the 1st October! So 2 weeks after we’d have opened the doors to the Uckfield store! We couldn’t quite get the timing to work for us to open on the 1st of Oct but we did open on the 15th of Nov instead.

We could then now focus our attention back on the High Street shop as we had wanted to refurbish it and add in our zero waste refill stations, etc. The refurbishment of the shop on the high street in Tunbridge Wells was completed in January this year, 2020 and we re-launched as Best Health Food Shop, with brand new flooring, dispensers, shelving and the zero waste sections. We also put new signage up and had a launch party that the Mayor came to on the 1st of February this year.

Something we were hugely proud of was wining the best Retailer of the Year award (Better Retailing Magazine) for our St Johns store, for exceptional customer service and best shopping experience in a Health Food shop, across the whole of the UK just eighteen months after we had opened! We were over the moon with that as is exactly what we had set out to achieve from the beginning and to be recognised for it was just amazing.

It was always a bit of a gamble to have two shops in Tunbridge Wells but, they are very different and have a different demographic between them and they also work well from a staff and a stock perspective because we can share across the two and work together as team which in turn benefits our lovely and loyal customers as well.

I love Tunbridge Wells and am very grateful for all the support and positivity that the lovely people in the community of Tunbridge Wells have offered. We could not have done it without them and all our lovely and supportive staff. So thank you to everyone and make sure you pop in to one of our stores if you haven’t already as we’ve got lots of goodies and will hunt down pretty much anything might be after as well!

We absolutely love what we do and our passion for health, food and the environment is what motivates us to keep busy and keep the shops innovative and always offering new things. We also enjoy sharing our knowledge and getting involved with the local community with things like events, in store demonstrations and qualified nutritionists in the shops to offer advice and help to customers. We strive to give every customer exceptional service and hope that they all have a positive experience in the shops and that we can help them with anything they need.”

 

“I’ve been practicing yoga for about 30 years, since I was at university, and have been teaching now for just over 10 years. Ben and I met about 8 years ago, Ben is an Osteopath and because of the synergy between yoga and osteopathy, it made so much sense for the two of us to build a business together. We also have 4 kids between us and are what people call a fusion family merging together with our teenage boys who are all now taller than me!

 

We’ve built a bespoke studio at our home, specifically so that we have both a yoga studio and a treatment room, it’s not a huge building but there’s often the joke that you go to the East wing for him and the West wing for me! If people are injured, they can start with osteopathy and move towards yoga or the other way around. We built the building when we bought our house, specifically to engage the whole family, to have room for all 4 of our kids. The building was built to our specifications for what we wanted to do for Yoga and Osteopathy, we opened 5 years ago and have won an award from Muddy Stilettos for the best Yoga studio in Kent for two years running!

Part of our main ethos is to help people in terms of learning more about themselves, it’s not just an exercise routine, it’s more about helping people discover and develop more, which means we now offer a lot of workshops & courses, including anatomy courses through Ben. We also offer a comprehensive yoga teacher training course which is fully accredited with some amazing, internationally known yoga teachers. We’ve even recently put together a special new 7-week course to support people in light of the challenges of Covid-19. Titled ‘Know Thyself – Finding and Trusting your Inner Voice’ this course aims to give people lots of new tools to help relive stress, build confidence and find opportunities in any crisis! There’s still time to book your space as the course starts on 9th June.

I’ve been an Osteopath for 20 years, once I qualified, I worked in other people’s practices and then gradually moved to working on my own. I bought a shop front in Groombridge village and turned it into a treatment room, which was long before I met Lucy. When I trained to be an Osteopath it was usual that a patient was treated by using a certain technique, now evidence has shown, much more, that a combination of including exercise and combining that with hands on treatment is the most effective way of getting some good results. Before I met Lucy, I always had yoga on my list of things to try, but like a lot of people, I didn’t really know who to go to, it’s quite confusing when there seems to be a lot of different types of yoga. We were introduced by a mutual friend so when we got together, I had no excuse but to try it out!

The synergy that our business has, has worked really well and from our point of view and experience the benefits we’ve both enjoyed have been fantastic. It’s important that there’s a progression to the experience and for me, as a practitioner one of the main attractions is that our clients don’t have to keep coming back. The most rewarding things is that we are getting people out of problems, long term and it’s the success stories that we love.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic it was important for us to turn our business around within a week to move away from running classes in the studio and establishing classes online through Zoom. We now have a robust online platform where we’re running up to 3 classes a day with the different teachers that we have, specialist teachers that offer unique classes and workshops in meditation, pranayama, pregnancy yoga, or teenage yoga etc. As Ben mentioned, there are a lot of different yoga classes out there and It can be confusing, the best thing to do is to try different ones, test it, now is a great time as people are having more free time to try things. It’s really down to personal preference, you may like one coffee shops Cappuccino but not another, it’s a similar thing.

Once we are out of lockdown I’d still like to use the online platform as well as the studio classes, I read this morning that social distancing is not such a useful word, it’s physical distancing that is what’s needed, but we do need social interaction. The online platform allows us to physical distance, it also allows us to socially connect and we’ve found that, not only have we been getting the regular people coming through Zoom, we’ve been getting people in other parts of the UK or even abroad that have been on our retreats and don’t live locally joining us in the Zoom classes, they’ve been delighted to do that!

Helping people to really live the best lives they can, to really dig deep and understand who they are, to trust their inner voice, physically and mentally. We want to encourage and inspire people to live their best lives. On the Osteopathy side it’s all about sitting down with someone and understanding them. It’s a privilege that they have decided to come and see me, to try and work out a way to get them through to a better life and that process is incredibly rewarding, when it so often works out.

Both of us treat people holistically, which is hugely rewarding if you have got a specific problem, if you go to a Doctor or a Surgeon, they will only be looking at that specific problem, they won’t be looking around it. We understand that the body has a chain reaction up and down and it allows that holistic approach which can be hugely effective.”

“I’m from Tunbridge Wells and we started the business in 2007 with the initial intention of helping local people with their computers – in the beginning we worked from home without any business premises working out of one room. Then slowly, slowly we grew by doing leaflet drops, then word of mouth, advertising in local newspapers and magazines as well as google advertising and started offering remote help, visiting customers at their homes.

We look after hardware and software computer repairs including Apple products and more so now with MacBooks and iMacs etc, we also carry out phone repairs with broken screens. Apple products have become more popular in recent years, so it’s been important for us to keep up to date with their products. We attend lots of training to keep up to date with all computer products. We heavily invest in our engineers in training and qualifications.

After 13 years we now have hundreds of happy customers and really want to grow the business more, I look after the management with the admin at the office, speaking with the customers, looking after the bookings etc and my colleagues do all the repairs. We help people and businesses in Tunbridge Wells and go out as far as 10 miles in the surrounding areas.

The Lockdown has made our business very unpredictable, sometimes it’s very quiet, yet some days are very busy. I always wanted to work with computers and it’s worked really well with both of us working on the business, my colleagues are very professionals and qualified and I’m the organised one that looks after the customers and the bookings, the administration and the marketing.

Saying thanks to our NHS staff and emergency workers we are offering a 20% discount whilst we are in the lockdown. To define Computer Gurus in three words – local, affordable, friendly experts”

“We’re not just a cleaning company anymore – we’ve become more like a concierge company, people come to us for everything and it’s all changed since we set the business up. One of things that we do is re-location services, we’ll get a house ready, home stage it, re-organise it and clean it ready for photography and marketing.

We also do the removals, the packing, clean the windows, sort the garden, handyman services and the property maintenance side of things, we move the family over and even get the house that they’ve left in a clean state too. We look after Airbnb, holiday lets and serviced apartments – we have two blocks that we look after, one in Ashford and one in Maidstone with the potential for us to grow that even more. We are also working with estate agents on property maintenance. I’m really looking at our marketing at the moment to make sure we deliver the message in the right way, there’s so much scope for us to deliver these services.”

Vanda Jooganah, Royal Home Services. February 2021

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“Going back 20 years, I’ve always been in customer services, I started off with Thomas Cook on the YTS (youth training scheme) I had no idea what I wanted to do and this was the direction I was sent in, so I just went along with it. I was a business travel consultant and stayed within that industry for a very long time until the recession in the late 80’s when I decided I needed to get into a more stable industry. So, I moved into more office-based customer service roles away from the leisure industry. I carried on doing that in London but have also lived in Germany, Australia and Mauritius, which is where I am from, but whilst working in London, I was living with my 3 girls in a two-bedroom flat, working for a company that ran a HP service desk. It was all about customer services, managing engineers, parts for customers, systems and processes and warranties etc. It was then that I met my partner Gavin who lived in Tunbridge Wells and I was thinking of buying a house but didn’t want to live in London, I couldn’t face it, especially after living in Australia and Mauritius. I started visiting Gavin more in Tunbridge Wells and loved this area, so I rented out my property and rented a property in Tonbridge to be closer to Tunbridge Wells. I was commuting to London from Tonbridge and it was exhausting, I didn’t want to do it for much longer and by this time I had already bought my property in Tunbridge Wells, which came with planning permission for an extension.

I decided to give up my job in London, I had a bit of money behind me so decided to enjoy the country life for a while, which was great, just a better quality of life. I started working on the extension on my house when Gavin had an accident and slipped a disc in his back, he couldn’t walk, couldn’t work – at this time I had 5 children to look after, I had no job and scaffolding everywhere! I had no contacts as I had just moved to the area and didn’t really know anyone. However, I knew a lady that did part-time cleaning and was considering giving up her clients and she offered them to me. So, I took them! Carried on for a bit and actually really enjoyed it, meeting people, coming out of the office environment and just talking with people, that’s what I’m good at, that’s my thing. So, I carried on doing it and also joined an agency, but, wherever I went, the clients were complaining about their cleaners and housekeepers, and I was the one they would send in to find the solution and fix the problem.

Also, one of the things I found frustrating, especially with Gavin being sick, was that there was no support, even if it was just someone to help me with the children, moral support etc, I found that really difficult and quite isolating. Who would I call to find a builder?

One of my clients said to me “Vanda, you would be really good as a housekeeper, you are so organised!” it made me realise that the agencies were missing something, that connection with their clients, so I decided to set up my own business. I had all the skills and transferable skills, so I decided to set it up and see how we go. One of the key elements was the staff, how they look and how they presented themselves, I’ve previously seen people arrive looking like they are in their pyjamas with a cigarette in their hand! It’s crazy and creates the wrong image completely! I spend a good chunk of time with my clients, getting to know them, their lifestyle, their allergies, what their requirements are and if there is anything else, I can offer them.

The company has grown and grown, and I now have a range of staff that I mentor with my experience and knowledge, giving them a uniform and the confidence to make them feel good about themselves, they’re not just cleaners, they are very well taken care of. I pay above minimum wage, give staff benefits, we all go out together and that’s how they deliver their best. It’s quality over everything.

It’s not just a cleaning company, it’s a home service company, full laundry service, house cleaning, deep cleaning,window cleaning, carpet cleaning and End of Tenancy cleans It’s led on to some property maintenance, I can arrange builders, Handyman, plumbers, electricians, gardeners etc, all through my BNI group and other connections.

So, you have one person, who you can call to make all the necessary arrangements instead of googling and relying on reviews etc, no one has time for that.

I’ve been asked to look at office cleaning now too, so we are no longer just a home services business but a service business offering post Covid-19 cleaning for residential and commercial property.

I love what I do, and that’s the main thing!”

“I started my property career in my beloved City of London and spent over 10 years in the corporate property world, working for corporate property companies. Magical days. In 2010 I set up AU Consultancy as part of my pre-designed 10 year plan and worked out of the City, similar to the the previous 10 years.

Between 2010 – 2015, AU Consultancy continued to focus on corporate and institutional (nationwide) property portfolio instructions. However, in 2006 after coming to Tunbridge Wells, on a property matter – a new romance began with this lovely town, that ultimately led to the decision to leave London for Tunbridge Wells in 2015 and reassemble my business here. The move completely transformed my work/family life balance, and has been a true delight. Tunbridge Wells is a wonderful pro-business town and over the past few years I have got to know many of the leading business figures, many of whom are now very dear acquaintances, of a wonderful growing list. I look forward to seeing both Tunbridge Wells and my business evolve in the years ahead.”

“I was an engineer, working for a telecoms company in London, I did that for nearly nine years. I enjoyed it, but it consumed my every hour. I grew up in Rusthall, went to school there and then went to Huntleys in Tunbridge Wells, after that I went to college and then university where I did a degree in engineering. There wasn’t much work in engineering at the time, so I went into Telecoms engineering – fibre optics design, one of my biggest projects was the TFL (Transport for London) network job. I was leaving at 5am and not getting back home until 10pm, I was working weekends and sometimes doing 21 days on with 2 days off, it was killing me! At that time, my son was due to be born and I was really concerned that I wouldn’t see him grow up.

One weekend I was at a wedding and a guy did a magic trick on me, I said to him “how did you do that” I was hooked! I said; “do it again” and that was it – I wanted to be like that guy.

I then trained with one of the top sleight of hand magicians in the country, sleight of hand is hand manipulation with cards or other props, they always say the hand is quicker than the eye and sleight of hand proves it. That was nearly 20 years ago, it was quite costly at the time but so very worthwhile. I trained for a couple of years and I’ve been doing it full-time now for nearly 17 years!

I love the sleight of hand magic, I love that magic, where you can give me a deck of cards, give me a coin, or a Rubik’s Cube and I’ll make a magic trick out of it. There are great tricks out there, that don’t need sleight of hand, but I love it.

I’m a member of the Magic Circle which is a club – It’s a magic club but it’s for what they class as the top magicians in the magic world. You have to be nominated to be in it, you then have to do an exam and a test in front of other magicians, it’s an amazing society to be part of. I was at a wedding fair recently and someone saw the sign that I have saying that I’m in the magic circle – they came across really impressed saying “you must be bonafide then!” but that’s how people see it! There are hundreds of magicians out there, that aren’t in the magic circle that are unbelievable magicians, but, being in the magic circle is just a well, recognised thing to be part of, everyone has heard of it.

My main joy is being out there doing magic and seeing people’s reactions, I get asked if I get bored – you’ve been doing this for so long, going to gigs 3 to 4 times per week – do you get bored, performing a magic trick. I’ll say how can you! With the reactions you get, every reaction is different, everybody acts completely different, you get sceptics, but by the time you’ve finished with them, they are your biggest fan and they want to follow you around everywhere you go. Some people go from being an adult, to acting like a kid. It’s great fun!

I specialise in sleight of hand with playing cards, I love doing card manipulation – but I use other props like rope, coins and rubik’s cubes. I do stage theatre shows which I love, a bit of everything, but cards are my favourite and my bread and butter. My tools are a pack of cards, I love them because you can pull out a coin and do a trick, but people look at it and question it, but, everybody knows a pack of cards, everyone knows the four of clubs and everyone know the seven of diamonds, you can still do a card trick to someone who speaks a different language, everyone knows what a card is, if you give someone a weird coin they can become sceptical.

I’m learning all the time and I try and practice 5 – 6 hours a day, there’s always a trick that I want to learn. A couple of years ago I had a young girl come for a lesson with me, she was only 10 years old – I gave her some lessons, taught her some basic magic, she then asked if she could show me a trick – she showed me this trick and it was like being back as a kid again! I said, how have you just done that?! She completely baffled me with a card trick. I didn’t have a clue how she had done it! Luckily, she taught me how to do it! I’m always learning.

I love performance and I love learning, there are some moves out there that can take months and months just to get right, some of the moves I do took me six to seven months to get right. It’s all down to OCD and dedication, I’m very OCD and the dedication for getting it right is what it’s about.

I love doing charity work, I do 48 hours non-stop magic marathons each year if I can. I have three main charities that I fundraise for, my main one is multiple sclerosis, my Mum has MS. I raise money for dementia, my Dad was recently diagnosed with Vascula Dementia so that’s a really important one for me and also, Mind and the mental health charities. I do lectures on mental health and magic, how I went through a lot of bad times and how I got through them using magic, and also how it can help you be positive, I always wear my mental health badge and always try to support people when I can.

People can come to me to learn some basic magic, some basic card tricks to show their friends. From the ages of 9 to 10 years is when they can start, but I also had one gentleman of 92 who wanted to learn magic tricks to show to his grandchildren – just some basic stuff. You’re never too old or too young to learn Magic!

People think that I started leaning magic at a young age, but I didn’t, I didn’t pick up a deck of cards until I was 31 – That’s pretty old to learn something new and make a career out of it, so if I can, then anything is possible.”

 

“My passion for dress agencies and buying second hand clothes began when I was about 17 – the mother of my boyfriend at the time always looked amazing and very stylish wearing the most beautiful clothes but on a tight budget. I would constantly ask where she got her latest outfit and she would always say either a charity shop or a dress agency. Once she educated me about dress agencies there was no going back, I was addicted!

I had the choice of three dress agencies at the time in Aberdeen and I used them all! I was absolutely astounded by the brands and quality of the clothes for such a cheap price in comparison to buying new. And so began my love of second hand shopping!

When I was 18 I got accepted to train with Shell Oil in Aberdeen. This meant I needed to dress in a corporate way, but I was only on a trainee salary. I would go to the dress agencies and buy the most amazing designer suits for a fraction of the price. It certainly helped me look the part! I’d often get asked where my clothes were from and delighted telling people I’d bought them in dress agencies or charity shops. It’s a standard joke between my friends to this day if they ever ask where something I’m wearing is from – “don’t tell me, a charity shop or dress agency?”

When I was about 21, the owner from one of the dress agencies I used, and knowing my passion for them, offered me the business as they had decided to sell. At the time I had a mortgage and a good job, so made the decision not to do it. I always remember that being a regret, for years later I would think, why did I not just go for it then?

Life continued, and I found myself leaving the oil industry and moving to the Cayman Islands where I had lived with my parents when I was younger. The oil industry and the cold NE wind had lost their shine and I was desperate for a new adventure. Throughout all the various paths I took I always talked about how much I would like to have my own dress agency one day. Life in Cayman was wonderful but after meeting someone over there I ended up agreeing to move back to Tunbridge Wells. I remember landing at Gatwick, driving through Forest Row, Hartfield and onto to Groombridge and thinking it was one of the most beautiful places I ever been. I fell in love with the history, architecture and landscape straight away.

I was thrilled to discover at the time Tunbridge Wells had a wonderful dress agency called Panache. I absolutely loved visiting there and became a regular customer. Eventually there were three agencies in town but unfortunately, they have all gone now.

After some time, I ended up moving to London, I then lived in Sevenoaks, Westerham and then back to London again! I worked in the music industry, television, and in events. I enjoyed all of the jobs I did during that time, but the dress agency dream was always in the background and I often talked about it.

After having my son Elliot, I decided to stop commuting to London and try being freelance locally. I was lucky to land a job at Wadhurst Castle running the events there and I also picked up some corporate clients too. Once my son went to school I gave up weekend events at the Castle and continued to support my other clients working mostly from home. All the while I was still talking about having my own dress agency to my husband and friends who continually encouraged me to just go for it!

After a couple of years last summer, I started to search for the nearest dress agency as all the agencies in Tunbridge Wells had closed. It turned out there was one in Cranbrook only 25 minutes away. Strangely I had never heard of it and was surprised not to have visited before. I headed over there one Wednesday and parked on the main High Street. I was amazed how many wonderful independent shops I discovered there and how beautiful Cranbrook was with its very own windmill!
I found myself in the Hospice charity shop on Stone Street while I was looking for the dress agency. As I had volunteered in the Wadhurst shop I loved to support them, and they often have amazing finds as a note! As I was standing at the till waiting to buy yet another toy for Elliot, the lady in front of me turned around to comment on my perfume and how much she liked it. That conversation ended up being the start of me becoming the owner of my very own dress agency.

It turns out she was the owner of the dress agency I was there to visit, and when I finally arrived at the shop I explained her shop was the reason I was in Cranbrook that day. I remember I was there for almost 2 hours chatting and sharing our love of dress agencies and charity shops. Fast forward another month and another lengthy visit and she offered me the business. It was exactly what had happened with the other dress agency owner all those years earlier in Aberdeen when I was 21.

I drove home that day full of excitement with the thought I could finally realise the dream I had thought about for over 20 years. The opportunity had come out of no-where but if you believe in serendipity then this felt like one of those moments! I bought the business and ended up taking over on 1st November 2019. After doing a full refurb and rebrand Claire Elliot Dress Agency opened for business on the 25th January 2020.

I have been lucky to see return customers and we are also gathering new customers every day, which has been fantastic. I hope to take us online this year too, so we can reach an ever wider clientele.

There is so much potential with the business and I really hope I can get the message far and wide how wonderful buying from dress agencies really is. Don’t get me wrong the expensive designers certainly have their place, I just appreciate them way more second time around as do my lucky customers finding amazing pieces for a fraction of the original price!”

“People ask how we got started in the world of logistics and, to be honest, it’s not an obvious path. My background is engineering, but quickly moved into product marketing and have had a career in B2B sales and marketing ever since. Jo has had a range of careers, working in licensing, recruitment, IT support and teaching. We were both working with Perkins Engines / Caterpillar in Peterborough, when we got the opportunity to move to Dubai. We had a young family at that time and Jo had given up work to look after the children. Money was bit tight and this seemed to be an opportunity to do something new and get our life back in order.

So, we moved to the Middle East with 3 children under 3, far from family and friends. The first few months were pretty tough but once we made new friends through work and school, it all began to come together. We had intended to go for 3 years but in the end we stayed for 13! I had a number of sales and marketing roles helping to build and develop the brand for Aggreko, a power rental business, which grew from $40 million turnover to $1,300 million; whilst I was there we became a FTSE 100 business. We got to travel to many interesting places (in all sorts of ways) and made friends with people from all over the world. I’ve been to 64 countries so far and plan to add to that total when time permits. My last role was sales and marketing director and I was also responsible for the International Major Events business, a role I enjoyed very much. We worked on many interesting contracts including the Palm Island construction in Dubai, the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa.

By the time that the children had reached GCSE’s and A levels and we were looking at University options and felt that it was time to return to UK. Our experience of the education system in Dubai had been a bit disappointing, and the timing coincided with a reorganisation in the business, so we took the opportunity to come home and put down new roots. I took a contract in Germany with an engineering business as a sales and marketing consultant, it was a weekly commute from Stanstead to Stuttgart on a 3 month contract that lasted for two years before coming to a natural end.

We had seen adverts for franchises and thought it would be a good idea and time to start our own business, but weren’t sure which would be the right franchise to invest in. I went to a few meetings and found a broker on LinkedIn, somebody who specialised in matching people with different franchises. We went through a process of finding out our strengths and weaknesses, what hours would suit us and how much we had to invest. We shortlisted a list of five franchises, a couple we knocked off straightaway. I went to see the other three and ended going with InXpress.

Although my background is engineering, sales and marketing and not logistics, the common thread is that both Jo and I have a customer service background – and that’s an integral part of what makes InXpress successful. Also, the fact that we’ve worked in international business where logistics is a key part of the service offering. That was in 2017 so we are now into our third year – it’s been a steep learning curve, especially in the first year with all the systems to learn and contacts to make. We’ve done a lot of training and made a few mistakes – learning the hard way. The InXpress network is also very deep and there is always someone who has been there before to help give you a contact or advice on how to get something done. Because I had been working overseas for so long, I didn’t really have many local business contacts, so I do a lot of networking – eating a lot of breakfasts and drinking a lot of coffee – making some great friends in the process.

Whilst running your own business has many frustrations, there are a lot of upsides too. We like the independence and flexibility and the opportunity to make it be what you want. It’s also great that you don’t have to commute every day, you plan your own day and working from home is a breath of fresh air. Being responsive is also important and it fits in nicely with the way we like to do business.

We’ve met a lot of interesting people as well, from a really diverse group of markets. Almost every business has some need to move goods, imports from suppliers and distributing products to customers at home and overseas.

Carriers are different too, documents, parcels and pallets all have their own ways of distribution. Same day, next day economy, DDP or DAP and now there’s Brexit to consider as well. The common feature is that our customers value the additional personal service that we bring; not a faceless online comparison site or call centre where you are just another number. We get to know and understand our customers’ needs and this means we can suggest the right solutions for what they need. Every day is different. There are always challenges to overcome. When you combine vehicles, traffic, IT, people, communications, weather disruption, public holidays, last minute emergencies.

It’s a fast paced, people-focused, business and that’s what we like about it.”

“With my personal styling work, I never wanted to just encourage women to wear what was on trend and to follow certain rules about what they should wear, shape wise or colour wise, it always had to be very much an expression of their true selves. It made me realise that a lot of women just didn’t have that confidence, they didn’t realise they needed help with regards to their look, they were very happy to go to somebody that would show them what they should wear, not what they wanted to, because they didn’t have the confidence.

The best thing I could do would be to go deeper, and really engage with them to bring out their soul and their true personality.
I’ve always worked within fashion and beauty, on and off in various ways, so going into coaching meant I could help instil that confidence, and also help them to realise what their true spirit is. I want to make women aware that they don’t need to feel like they need to fit in, or, they need to look a certain way. Coaching to bring out the real person and character creates something unique and also gives them the confidence to say, well, this is who I am and I’m not a follower of crowds or trends. I started going down a more spiritual route, looking into the history of women throughout the centuries, how women are always more supportive of each other, more confident within their femininity and of their powers and their skills as women, what they brought to the table. And, with the feminist movement, which is very strong right now, it felt really nice to go back to bringing out that real sense, of enjoying that pure enjoyment of being a woman, what that means, and learning to appreciate it ourselves as women, rather than always battling to prove ourselves. Sometimes we move into the more masculine mode, because we feel that we have to get ahead and be heard. I think that women have lost the joy of being women, they seem to think of themselves as downtrodden and feel they need to display more masculine traits to get where they need to be. But they’re mostly being torn in different directions, and I don’t think it’s ultimately satisfying for women. Becoming confused, aggressive, and just not learning to love. So really what I offer, is a full mental, spiritual, and presentational makeover.”

 

“There are different sides to our business within Space Marketing, we continue to be the outsourced sales division for several independent magazine publishers which continues to perform well. We are always looking for new publishers who wish us to bring our sales expertise to their publications.

There’s no disguising the fact that it’s been tough throughout the pandemic, advertising and marketing budgets were the first line for many businesses to cut, but we’ve been able to stay strong as we have a diverse range of publications that we work with.

All our publishers and their publications have been able to survive the COVID period and are looking to developing their titles further, as we now move into this new ‘normal’ living with the pandemic period.

The second part of our business is ‘Local Lifestyle’ magazine which we launched into Tunbridge Wells in 2020, at the end of the first lockdown. We expected that to be the end of COVID, we didn’t know we had another eighteen months to go! Despite the economy and the obvious difficulties that many local businesses faced we’ve gone from strength to strength which has been fantastic. So much so, last year we launched a second ‘Local Lifestyle’ title covering East Kent, based in Canterbury which has increased our readership and has been beneficial for some of the businesses that sit halfway between the two areas.

People love our editorial – there’s a whole host of magazines that drop through peoples letterboxes every single month, each one of them serves its own purpose, but I get told time and time again that people look for ours to read every month. We are not a directory; if directory reading was a way for local businesses to advertise, we would still have the Yellow Pages being the size it previously was.

The challenge for all businesses is getting their brand in front of their target audience at the right time, and we do that – we introduce companies into the households of thousands of people across Tunbridge Wells every single month, and allow brand recognition to build trust and awareness so that when that reader enters the buying circle they respond to your brand.

For example ; If you know you need a new tyre, you can google all the tyre fitters in Tunbridge Wells, but it’s about being ahead of that process and being recognised. You may find ten different tyre fitters on google but you’ll respond to the one that you’ve seen month in and month out in the magazine because you’ll know and trust that brand.

That is the purpose of ‘Local Lifestyle’ getting in front of people when they maybe a sub-conscious buyer and keeping that brand recognition going.

But whilst the power of print can not be underestimated it’s important that people have a multi-media approach, they must have a website and they must be present on social media, and they also need to be trusted and recognised. Everybody that advertises with us gets mentioned on our social media channels, we’ve worked hard over the last year to grow the followings, so people trust our printed products as well as our brand on social media. It’s exciting that we can extend our advertising reach from print to online.

We are also really excited to announce that we now offer social media management. As a small business owner, I know that you must be consistent on social media, you must post a minimum of two to three times a week. If you visit a business’s Facebook page or Instagram account and they haven’t posted for three weeks, you start to ask questions; are they still in existence? are they still trading? Or there’s a blast of content and then nothing for a few weeks, it’s not a good way to portray your business, so we help with that. We realise how time consuming it is for a business to do it right, so we now offer that as a service; writing content, following people, sharing content, making sure the business owners social media channels are all taken care of, so they don’t have to worry about the consistent time it takes them. It’s important and sits nicely alongside their print advertising and we’re delighted that we can now offer that service for the first time.

We are also working with an energy broker to help small businesses guide themselves through the massive energy price hikes that we’ve been seeing recently, it’s a powerful string to our offerings being able to offer this support by someone our clients can trust.

When I set up ‘Local Lifestyle’ I wanted to help small businesses in Tunbridge Wells to reach new audiences and that’s what we are continuing to do, both through print and now online with social media.”

David Hobden, Space Marketing March 2022

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“The concept behind Local Lifestyle TW magazine developed after I was approached by a magazine franchising company, they produced local magazines in a very generic manner – all celebrities and recipes with a local cover on them. The idea was appealing but when I looked at it in more detail, I just knew we could do it much better and make local matter! Which is what we’ve set out to do with this magazine, making sure it is local, it reflects our area and the people reading it and making purchasing decisions from it, with good local content.

I have a background in local media, having worked for the Courier newspaper group for 20 years, developing a good amount of contacts, so we’ve pulled together what I consider to be the best. We’ve got Sarah Hamilton-Walker, who is a great editor, Lisa Tobin, a great designer both with strong local media backgrounds. After sitting down for a couple of hours, playing with ideas we came up with Local Lifestyle. It was launched in October 2020, not the easiest time to launch a new magazine into the market, but we’ve done it and are really trying to support local businesses. It’s an A5 magazine, delivered free of charge through 6,000 letter boxes across Tunbridge Wells and available from various pickup points. We work closely with the TN card and share the same philosophy, which is if businesses are going to survive and thrive after this pandemic, then we all have a part to play in supporting local. There’s some research that says around 60 percent of your time is spent within 6 to 7 miles of your house, in the last 12 months I would argue that percentage is probably more like 90 percent of your time. If anything good has come out of this pandemic, it is perhaps the renewed sense of community, the desire to support local independent traders, and therefore I think there is a strong future for a quality local magazine. We’ve not set out to charge a fortune for advertising rates, obviously we are a business and have to charge, but we’ve tried to make the prices affordable and sensible, with distribution targeted to the right households and the magazine being available electronically and supported by our Facebook and Instagram pages as well, we really do deliver a great audience for our advertisers.

As to the future, well who knows, if the last twelve months has taught us anything, its that we can not know what’s around the corner, however, there’s every opportunity to add new editions in other towns and to grow the concept of Local Lifestyle. One thing is however certain and that’s we will stay loyal to the “local” model, making local more, putting local back at the heart of our community.

David Hobden
January 2021
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“I kind of stumbled on advertising, as a career by accident. When I left school, I had a Saturday job in WHSmith, which progressed into full time work, but, at the age of 20 I really needed to find a career and work out what I was going to do. I went for an interview with Cornhill insurance, I wanted to be a financial advisor – at the interview the guy said, I like you, I think you could do a good job for us, but you’re too young and you don’t have the experience. He told me to go and get a job with my local newspaper, specifically a sales job as they are the best sales trainers in in the industry, then come back and see me in 12 months. So off I went down to The Courier – I thought I can get a job there for 12 months then go and make my fortune in insurance.

I got the job at the Courier at the very bottom of the advertising department, doing telephone sales to private advertisers. I found that I just loved publishing and never really went anywhere else, for the next 20 years. I moved into trade sales, recruitment advertising, property advertising and started climbing the career ladder, within the newspaper group, became display manager, looking after the homebuyer as it was at that time, local people would remember that – 80 pages of houses for sale.

I continued to progress and eventually at about the age of 30 – 10 years after I joined, I was promoted to the position of advertisement director, then after a couple of years went into business development, and then into operations and became Operations Director for the southeast. Everything was going swimmingly, I kind of had my career path mapped out in my mind, where I would have ever made it, who knows but I knew where I wanted to be. But then the financial markets crashed. We spent a lot of time as a newspaper group and as a media group, talking about what would we do if we lost the property advertising? What would we do, if we lost motors advertising? recruitment advertising? We never actually discussed what we would do if we lost all three of them overnight.

When the bank’s crashed in 2008/2009 after it all settled down and the advertising returned, it was greatly reduced. There were lots of cutbacks, lots of changes and eventually the regional press side of the business, was sold. The new owners changed a lot of things, as they needed to in order to ensure the business would continue, but in so doing took the business that I loved in a direction that I didn’t feel comfortable with, and it was clear the time was right to leave the business and forge a new path.

I remembered that I was interested in pensions and mortgages previously, so I went away and trained – got my qualifications, so I am actually a qualified mortgage advisor. But I found the sector unfulfilling and for me personally I bit boring – it certainly was not where I wanted to develop my career.

I went to work for another local publisher on a freelance consultancy basis as distribution manager. I jumped at this opportunity as distribution was the only part of publishing I had not really had exposure to, I had sold and been a senior manager, I had editorial staff and photographers reporting to me, but being involved in getting the product into the hands of the readers was a new area of the industry. I did that for the best part of two years and was beginning to feel I needed more again.

I was asked by a recruitment agency that I was using to attend an interview here at Space Marketing, I nearly didn’t go. It was very much a case of, why would I want to go back to do telephone sales, something that I had done 25 years ago when I started my career on roughly the same package that I was on 25 years ago too. But I decided to go, and I remember having a conversation with the then owner Brian Shilling, who I got on really well with, but there was still part of me thinking, why am I even considering this role? I had a phone call the next day from the agency “Brian really liked you” they said, and would I be prepared to go and see him again and sign a non-disclosure agreement. I went back to see Brian, signed the NDA and he asked me if I wanted to buy the business! There was an interesting conversation that evening over the dinner table with my wife – there I was looking for a job that paid a steady income that kept us comfortable, to investing our savings into buying a business!

I joined Space Marketing in September 2018, always with a view of buying it, but also with a view of working in it for six months. I loved the atmosphere and the work. I also believe there is a huge potential in print advertising and whilst we sell sell digital, primarily we work with small independent publishers, on business to business, membership magazines and such like. I liked our situation, the locality, the staff, the titles we have in our portfolio. It all seemed to make sense and was exactly what I was looking for.

I had never purchased a business before, I had some great advice from Jonathan Parsons at BSR Bespoke Accountants and genuinely without Jonathan’s help and advice I don’t think I would have pulled it off, he was brilliant in guiding me all the way through. I also had some really sound advice from Nick Gabay form Thomson Snell & Passmore, who looked after the legal aspects for me. The deal was done on February 13th 2019 – almost one year ago.

For me owning and running a business is as much about a lifestyle choice as anything else. Like many other business owners, I could earn more, I’m sure over the short term, working for others but you don’t get the flexibility and freedom. I do a lot in the community with the Scouts, with the Cricket Club and football on top of my family life, and being able to juggle work, family and social activities is important to me. This gives me the best of everything, the opportunity to enjoy my work again whilst juggling family and social commitments means, whilst ensuring we deliver great results for our clients means the world too me and I cant imagine doing anything else now!

“I’ve been into physical discipline for 45 years. I’m 59 now and I started with Kung Fu when I was 14 in the 70s – Bruce Lee was my idol and I wanted to be just like him. I ended up doing Kung Fu for 15 years and I actually became quite proficient – that led into Greco Roman wrestling, which I did in competition as well as fencing. I really enjoyed all of those things – I enjoyed the one to one disciplines rather than group sports.

I did those for many years, butI was just getting a little tired of the stuff that I already knew, so started to look for something else, I didn’t know what it would be, but I wanted it to be non-competitive and I wanted to just do it on my own, but I had no idea how that would work.

I happened to stumble across a demonstration of yoga, at a mind, body, spirit show in 1995. All I saw on the programme was a demonstration of ‘ashtanga vinyasa yoga’ by the late Derek Ireland. I had no idea what ‘ashtanga vinyasa’ meant, I just saw the word ‘yoga’ and watched the half hour demo by this very charismatic guy. His physique was really cut, and he was wearing an electric blue unitard! it looked like a combination of gymnastics, martial arts and ‘something else’. Whatever it was, I wanted to do it!
So, I had a chat with the guy afterwards and he told me that it was Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. I asked where he taught it – it was in London and I was in Warwickshire. The very next weekend, I was in my car driving down to London to do the class and I continued to do that on a weekly basis to be taught by him, and his then partner, Rhada. That set me up, I was completely sold. I continued to study Ashtanga vinyasa for five years and the teachers that I was studying under – which was now in Warwickshire – were encouraging me to teach because I knew the system really well. I hadn’t even considered that before, so I assisted those guys on a couple of occasions and it all went very well.
I’d come from the music industry, since I was a kid from the age of 16. I had been in punk rock bands, and then behind the scenes, so I was a big fat show off and I knew how to walk into a room and hold an audience. That helped me to not be put off by a number of people in front of me. So I ended up teaching full time – I gave up my job in the music industry in 2000 – just ditched it as I was sick of it. I loved the music – still do – I was just sick of the business. That was when I was 40 and I was a little worried about a career change at 40, but nevertheless I went for it, and it worked! I haven’t looked back.
I’ve been teaching full time now for 20 years, but the landscape has changed. There are many different types of yoga, and as I got further and further down the line with this particular system, I started to analyse it and pick it apart, I realised it wasn’t as carefully put together as I thought it was – it ended up looking like it was haphazardly put together. I wondered why, and thought, okay, if I was designing this system, I would put that position there, that sequence here. But who was I to question this? in private, I started playing around with the system and even though I was teaching it as it was, I was privately thinking that it made more sense my way, but again, who was I to change it?
Around this time, I was going to America for various reasons, especially New York City, and I ended up going to a yoga studio called the Kula Yoga Project in Manhattan, and it blew my mind. There were obviously people who came from the same tradition that I had, but they had also started playing around with it. I didn’t need permission from anybody to tinker with a system, but it was nice to see somebody else thinking along the same lines. I then knew that I had to start teaching the same way that I was practicing.
So, I came home and started feeding all this new material into my classes, and I kind of knew what would happen – I would lose a bunch of students, but I did attract a whole new set of people who wanted to play and who wanted to experiment. So, that carried on, and then I noticed I was going so far away from that system that I had to find a new identity for it – a new name. The Freestyle Yoga Project is what I came up with in 2008. I carefully chose the word ‘freestyle’ because I wanted to be at liberty to take bits and pieces from other systems, and when I started to look at my old kung fu and wrestling days, I decided to take some elements from that and put it into this project. I wanted to be able to do this forever, I don’t ever want it to come to an end and not be able to tinker with it some more. So, I’ve left it open ended – thus the word ‘project’. In the old version of the FYP logo, the bottom rocker said ‘dynamic vinyasa yoga’ – the new version of that logo, since about 6 years ago, is ‘dynamic yoga and movement’, because it took another evolutionary turn about seven years ago, when I opened this studio, coincidentally. It was when I studied with a guy called Ido Portal, one of the most inspiring athletes I’ve ever come across, he was like a superhero! He could do everything, a perfect physical specimen. He could climb a rock face better than trained rock climbers, he could do Brazilian jujitsu better than trained BJJ experts. He wanted to transfer his skills from discipline to discipline, without necessarily becoming an expert in any particular one – so he was a ‘generalist’ rather than a ‘specialist’. I did a weekend workshop with him and it just completely blew everything out of the water, what I thought I knew, about physical disciplines. I then thought, okay, I’m more or less done with trad static yoga positions, I want to move, I absolutely want to move. This is what took me away from focusing on ‘flexibility’ – yoga places so much emphasis on flexibility at the expense of strength and agility – mobility is a better word. We can only stretch muscles so far, they won’t keep stretching. Even if you’re a contortionist, you still can’t keep stretching muscle indefinitely. Unless we ‘mobilise’ our joints and that’s every joint in the body, we’re going to seize up, and in later life we won’t be able to move those joints freely.
So, I focused on being very mobile, very strong, very agile – a lot of bodyweight conditioning, rolling around on the floor, standing on my hands and jumping around like Spider-Man! I just thought, okay, as I’m getting older, I need to start adapting my training to the way my body is evolving.
It won’t be long before I’m 60, yet I’ve never felt stronger, more mobile or more agile – it’s worked for me, so I want to pass it on to my students. I’ve got people who hire the space out, and they run their traditional yoga classes or their meditation or ballet classes and that’s great as I’ve got to have the studio sweating. But with the classes that I teach, they need to satisfy me, as well as satisfy my students. And you know what, if the only money that comes in is enough to pay the rent, then I’m happy, because I love doing this.”

Big thanks to Tina Francis Photography.

“Since my teen years I have been in a sales role, it’s always been an area that I have naturally gravitated to and have had great success within. I moved to Tunbridge Wells when my first child was a toddler and as she started at nursery I looked for a role that would work around her hours and the first one that came up was a media sales position- it worked so well, in terms of being family friendly that I stayed in the role for over 12 years. Over that time period I undertook a number of evening courses, whilst bringing up two children, one of which was a legal course.