Colors: Purple Color

A landmark development scheme for Digbeth has been unlocked thanks to investment of over £5 million from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). Stone Yard will deliver 995 homes on 1.37 hectares of brownfield land in the centre of Birmingham with work set to start on site in 2022.

The deal announced will pay for the clean-up of the site, which has stood vacant in recent years, so it can be brought forward for residential development. The scheme will include 20% affordable housing, using the WMCA’s unique definition of affordability, which is linked to real world local wages rather than property prices.

The investment has been made possible under the WMCA’s ‘brownfield first’ policy, which unlocks derelict industrial sites for new development, helping to protect green belt land in the process. Within a five-minute walk of the future Curzon Street HS2 Station and a number of existing rail links including Moor Street Station, the new development has excellent transports links and is located in the heart of Digbeth.

Known as Stone Yard, the project is the largest ‘build to rent’ scheme in Birmingham and built across seven blocks, with the tallest standing at 32 storeys, offering new residents fantastic views of the city skyline. Without this critical investment by the WMCA, using housing and land funds it has secured from Government, the Stone Yard scheme could not have proceeded. 

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair or the WMCA, said: “It really is brilliant news that another 995 homes on brownfield land are to be built in the region, creating more local jobs and helping to protect precious greenbelt land.

“I am particularly pleased that this development is in Digbeth, which is undergoing a radical transformation. With new housing, HS2, an expanded Midland Metro, the BBC relocation, and Stephen Knight’s film studios all on the way – along with so, so much more - Digbeth is fast becoming one of the real jewels of the West Midlands.

“Despite the pandemic the WMCA has continued to use the money we have secured from Government to unlock and transform brownfield sites, helping to build new high-quality homes that people need whilst protecting precious greenbelt land. That is exactly what we are doing once again with this Stone Yard development.” The multi-million-pound investment, from the WMCA’s Land Fund, will support the construction of a range of much needed housing types alongside amenity space for residents.

Councillor Mike Bird, WMCA portfolio holder for housing and land and leader of Walsall Council, said: “Stone Yard will be one of the largest projects the WMCA has supported to date.

“It’s regeneration is the latest in a series of WMCA investments that have continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, helping to provide market confidence and put in place the building blocks required to drive the region’s post-Covid economic recovery plans. The proposals will regenerate a key city centre brownfield site bringing much needed homes and helping to complete the regeneration of the southern side of High Street, Deritend, historically used for trade counters and car dealerships.”

Hundreds of local construction jobs will be created throughout the building phase and on completion the housing operator will become a new employer in the region, bringing in staff to manage the buildings. The scheme will be built around two landscaped courtyards and is being led by Birmingham- based residential developer Court Collaboration. The housing is designed by Glancy Nicholls Architects, alongside services consultant Couch Perry Wilkes and structural engineer CWA.

Anthony McCourt, CEO of Court Collaboration, said: “We’re delighted to have secured this investment from the WMCA and look forward to starting on site in the coming months.

“The Stone Yard is one of several fantastic developments coming forward in the heart of Birmingham and we’re immensely proud to be at the forefront of ambitious, innovative and thoroughly modern development in our beloved city.” The Stone Yard will also include around 30,000 sq ft of commercial space for uses such as a gym, cinema and co-working space.

With planning permission already given, the project is aimed to complete by 2026. The scheme will deliver transformational placemaking, affordable housing and innovative construction techniques. It will also address growing city centre housing demand with mixed tenure options.

Stone Yard will provide the opportunity to utilise modern methods of construction alongside the WMCA’s new Design Charter, ensuring quality design is embedded in all WMCA funded projects.

Iain McKenzie, CEO of The Guild of Property Professionals, says: “The resilience of the housing market in the face of coronavirus has seen house prices repeatedly hit new highs, and we expect this trend to continue in the coming months.

“There is the danger that first-time buyers could be increasingly priced out of the market, and this government scheme goes some way towards helping young people. 

“The work of employment has changed beyond recognition during Covid, and first-time buyers who can work from home could use this opportunity to find themselves a home in a cheaper part of the country.

“Do shop around if you’re tempted by taking out a 95% mortgage, as some of the rates on offer for a two-year fixed deal are 3.9% - more than 2% higher than the cheapest deals on the market.

“It is also worth checking whether the property you have your eye on is suitable for one of these new mortgages, as Halifax and Barclays have said that new-build properties will not fall under the scheme.

“While this is good news for property owners and first-time buyers, these measures could be like pouring gasoline on a roaring fire, potentially propelling house prices to higher and higher heights into the summer.”

The eSkootr Championship (eSC) has announced its first Global Sustainability Partnership with world-leading materials technology and recycling group Umicore.

The partnership will see Umicore develop and implement a circular design strategy for batteries used in the eSkootr series with the ambitious aim of applying potential insights to the real world of micromobility products and services.

The partnership will also use the promotional platform of the new sport to deliver educational programmes and advocacy campaigns for a new generation of mobility consumers demanding a more equitable and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

Umicore will work closely with the eSC Commission and its team of sustainability, technical and policy experts in the implementation of the partnership, ensuring that best practice on battery recyclability is dialled into the rulebook of the sport from the outset.

Hrag Sarkissian, eSkootr Championship CEO said: “We recognise and applaud Umicore’s strong commitment to cleaner mobility through new technologies and techniques. The use and reuse of battery materials at every point in the value chain has enormous implications for micromobility. We’re excited that Umicore shares eSC’s vision for the series as an innovation lab for knowledge transfer in this vitally important area.”

Chair of the eSC Commission Sustainability Working Group, Dr Cristiana Pace,  added: “Our Umicore partnership underlines how important circular design is for eSC and the meaningful and measurable achievement of our environmental mission. Although a new sport, eSC is already demonstrating its robust approach to sustainability through the programmes and partnerships it’s developing. I’m thrilled that Umicore is joining us on this new journey.”

Tom Van Bellinghen, VP OEM Sales and Marketing at Umicore Rechargeable Battery Materials said: "We are excited to be the first Global Sustainability Partner of eSC, the world’s first eSkootr Championship™. As a key player in rechargeable battery materials, Umicore is a proud contributor to a sustainable battery value chain. We strongly support eSC’s commitment to a net-zero carbon footprint in this exciting clean mobility solution and we look forward to sharing our expertise related to a closed battery loop design with eSC’s sustainability team."

Hundreds of Stoke-on-Trent residents are backing calls for the City Council to work solely with companies that pay ​full sick pay to care staff ​that need to take time off work because of Covid, says UNISON today (Tuesday). 

More than 400 people have signed a UNISON petition calling on councillors to ​better support staff who’ve battled to keep vulnerable ​and elderly people safe for the past year, UNISON says. The petition is to be delivered to the Civic Centre at noon tomorrow (Wednesday)*. 

More than thirty local care providers are only paying staff £96.35 a week if they need to isolate, the bare minimum the law allows, adds UNISON. This is despite local care employers receiving more than £6m from the Council to make sure low-paid staff aren’t out of pocket. ​

The cash is from the government’s £1.3bn social care infection control fund, specifically created to compensate low-paid staff, UNISON says.

Among the petition supporters are Stoke FC personality Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin, who’s backing the call for fair pay, says UNISON.  

UNISON Staffordshire community health assistant branch secretary Steve Jones said: “Care workers putting their health and that of their families on the line deserve more than the shabby treatment they’ve received from some employers. 

“The people of Stoke want the Council to do more to support care staff and make sure they don’t lose out financially for doing the right thing.   

“The Council must act now to make it a contractual requirement for all commissioned care employers to pay care workers their normal wages when they have to self-isolate. Payments must be backdated so staff ​don't lose out for keeping the people they care for safe.”  

Rail passengers are being urged to travel either side of the early May bank holiday when hundreds of railway engineers improve the West Coast main line.

Millions of pounds is being invested to improve future journeys for passengers and freight on Network Rail’s West Coast South route.

Between Saturday 1 and Monday 3 May, Euston station will be closed to main line train services while track upgrades take place in London, Watford and Milton Keynes.

The best time to travel will be on Friday 30 April and Tuesday 4 May.
Passengers needing to travel on the days in between will have longer journeys, fewer available seats, and may need to use rail replacement buses.

People should continue to follow Government guidance around the use of public transport and minimise the number of journeys they make where possible. Those needing to travel during the railway improvements should plan ahead by visiting: www.nationalrail.co.uk/westcoast.

James Dean, Network Rail’s West Coast South route director, said: “There is never an ideal time to shut the railway and we have worked hard to minimise disruption across the spring and summer – including a safe and reliable railway for the future. “The scale of work planned this May will mean changes for passengers, but we’re working with train companies to minimise disruption to people as much as possible.”

Elsewhere in Network Rail’s North West and Central region, further essential work taking place between May 1 and 3 includes:

• Track upgrades take place at various locations between Preston – Penrith
• Signalling upgrades continue in Trafford, Manchester.
• Work at Euston station to prepare it for HS2, Britain’s new high-speed railway.

The early May bank holiday will also be a major milestone for the East West Rail project - as work continues to reinstate a rail route between Oxford and Bletchley for the first time in more than 50 years. Huge steel beams will be lifted across all four lines of the West Coast main line as a flyover is rebuilt. It involves the dismantling of the 25,000 volt overhead line system which powers electric trains.

Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Rail staff will be working hard to upgrade the network over the May bank holiday to make future journeys more reliable, so we’re asking anyone travelling between 1 and 3 May to check before they travel.

"While extra cleaning and better information will help people travel with confidence, we ask passengers to wear their face masks and to consider whether their journey is really necessary if it will be affected by engineering work.”

This spring Network Rail brought forward some planned bank holiday projects and did the work while fewer people were travelling during the national coronavirus lockdown. This included carrying out projects in record breaking time in North London and Northamptonshire, saving taxpayers millions of pounds.

This super-fast approach meant Euston would not need to close at Easter or the late May bank holiday. However, the scale of the upgrades further up the West Coast main line meant the closure over 1-3 May was unavoidable.

Reviews into other planned summer upgrade work is underway to reduce its impact on passengers as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Centre for Cities think tank has called upon all of the candidates vying to be the West Midlands mayor to prioritise boosting economic growth and the post-Covid economic recovery ahead of next month’s election. The West Midlands entered the Covid-19 pandemic with levels of unemployment well above average, and the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits has increased by a further 77,000 – enough to fill the Hawthorns three times over – since March 2020.

To address this challenge and build back better from the pandemic, Centre for Cities’ policy paper (link active from 00:01 on Monday 19 April) sets out three key areas for the election winner to focus on.

1. Help Birmingham and Coventry city centres recover from Covid-19

Birmingham city centre’s economy has been hit particularly hard by lockdown. The ease with which many people have switched to homeworking has meant that the city centre’s footfall levels have been among the lowest in the country in the past year – with negative consequences for hospitality and retail businesses. City centre footfall and spending needs to increase avoid more job losses.

The next metro mayor should launch a campaign, similar to Sadiq Khan’s ‘London is Open’ campaign, to encourage a return to city centre working and public transport usage once it is safe to do so.

At the same time, the metro mayor should seek to increase the amount of high-quality city centre office space and new homes close to railway stations to ensure that the West Midlands remains affordable for workers.

2. Get unemployed people back to work

Unemployment is a particularly bad challenge for the West Midlands; almost one in ten adults are now claiming unemployment related benefits – the highest of any English city region.

The next metro mayor will need to implement targeted programmes to get people back to work, particularly those who have been out of work for a long time. In addition, they should assess the effectiveness of how money is currently being spent and streamline the training provision available to people – for example through the number of apprenticeships being offered.

3. Introduce congestion charging and boost bus ridership

Peak time congestion is a serious challenge that limits economic growth in the West Midlands. The next metro mayor should address this by introducing a congestion charge in Birmingham city centre. Congestion charging is politically controversial but is proven to have reduced congestion in other cities. The money raised can be invested in public transport.

In addition, the next metro mayor should bring the West Midlands’ buses under public management, as the Mayor of Greater Manchester recently announced plans to. This would improve services, reduce fares and unlock millions of pounds of extra central government funding.

Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive Andrew Carter said: “The last year has hit the West Midlands’s economy very hard and the next metro mayor has a big job ahead of them to repair some of this damage.

“Whoever is elected on May 6 needs to support Birmingham and Coventry city centres’ recoveries and work with local stakeholders, businesses and the Government to open up employment and education opportunities to anyone who needs them. Without these, employment will rise even further and thousands more people could find themselves locked out of the labour market.

“This is not a job that can be done from Whitehall and the Government should listen to the substantial majority of people in the West Midlands who back giving more powers to the West Midlands Mayor.” Recent Centre for Cities/Savanta ComRes polling found that 80% of people in the West Midlands back giving more powers to the metro mayor.

Almost half (46%) support giving the Mayor more responsibility for providing affordable housing, while significant numbers back the Mayor having a bigger role in supporting business (42%) and providing access to skills and training (40%). Just 5% of the public oppose further devolution to the West Midlands Mayor.

A business in Solihull, in the West Midlands, has raised money for food banks after committing to a virtual charity 5K and donating £100 worth of food to charity every month.

UVA UK is set to launch its new app-based ride-hailing service in Birmingham soon and has pledged to donate 3% of its overall profits to charities in the UK. Making good on its promise ahead of its launch, six UVA employees laced up their running shoes for The Trussell Trust’s Race Against Hunger 5k to raise money to help the charity on its mission to end poverty and destitution. The event saw 851 runners take part, raising more than £116,000.

The charity recently revealed that in the first six months of the pandemic, food banks in its network gave out 1.2 million emergency food parcels to those who needed them, which equates to one food parcel every 13 seconds. Alongside the 5k, UVA has committed to donating £100 a month to The Trussell Trust to support its network of food banks. The ambitious ride-hailing company, which has long-term plans of becoming a UK wide operation, has also launched its Local Heroes initiative to reward and celebrate incredible acts of bravery and generosity to individuals in the regions it operates in. 

Its first Local Heroes prize has been awarded to Turki Al-Shammari who jumped into icy waters to save the life of a dog walker who appeared to be drowning. UVA sent him a personalised letter along with a £100 voucher to celebrate and mark his courageous act. 

Ayesha Rees, CEO of UVA UK, said: “Giving back to our local communities is at the heart of our business model. These recent charity donations mark the start of a long term commitment to support those who need it most. It’s going to be an exciting month for us. The team have been training hard for The Trussell Trust 5K and it’s been brilliant to name Turki who recently saved a dog walker from a river as our first UVA Local Hero.”

Turki Al-Shammari, said: “I am humbled by the nomination for the UVA Local Hero Awards. Many things have crossed my mind since the incident, the praises and kind words I hear from people has really touched me. 

“Being physically able to help someone in need is a blessing, the letter I received from the UVA showed me the value of recognition as a form of help. I’m glad we all still see some positivity in such tough times.”

Following a strong March sales result, Jaguar and Land Rover retailers across England and Wales reopen today, nearly 100 days after the last national lockdown was announced.

Having operated virtually throughout lockdown, Jaguar Land Rover has achieved 5.3% of UK registrations in that last 12 months, an increase of 0.2% on the same period last year, which equates to 23.7% of market share in its competitive segments – all from behind closed doors. Now, customers nationwide can fully experience new Jaguar and Land Rover models in the metal for the first time.

COVID-safe procedures remain in place for full customer confidence including floor markings to aid social distancing, extra ventilation and sanitisation throughout and staggered appointment times to reduce the number of visitors in the showroom at any one time. Test drives will be unaccompanied and documentation will be exchanged digitally where possible to reduce contact points.

Jaguar and Land Rover’s lockdown ‘Click and Collect’ service for new vehicle handovers remains in place so customers can be confident that the same strict cleaning and sanitising procedures are in place ahead of handover.

In the past few months Jaguar has significantly updated the E-PACE and F-PACE with the introduction of new plug-in hybrid and mild-hybrid variants, along with updated interior, exterior and technology. Likewise, the Jaguar XF has received a fresh new look inside and out for 2021 with mild-hybrid engines and a range of advanced technologies, including the acclaimed Pivi Pro infotainment system.

Land Rover has also updated its Discovery seven-seat SUV with enhanced design, Pivi Pro and a range of efficient mild-hybrid powertrains. Customers have not had chance to see the refreshed ranges until now, so presenting these new models to customers marks a significant and exciting moment for retailers.

The essential introduction of Jaguar Land Rover’s digital sales model kept customers moving throughout each of the UK’s national lockdowns but test-drives and first-person experiences remain an integral part of the customer journey. AutoTrader data shows that, of the consumers in England and Wales looking to buy a car after mid-April surveyed, 55% want to buy in person at a showroom and 25% would like to reserve the vehicle online and visit their preferred showroom to complete the purchase.   

Rawdon Glover, Managing Director, Jaguar Land Rover UK, said; “With showrooms across England and Wales re-opening, there is a huge sense of excitement and potential in our outlook. We have learnt a lot in the last 12 months about how our customers want to buy cars, be it digitally, in person or as a blend of both. Now, with an enhanced portfolio with brand new models, and the inevitable demand has built since showrooms closed, we’re ready to showcase these wonderful vehicles and provide tailored experiences for our customers.

“Special thanks to our teams who have been working during lockdown to prepare for the safe reopening of showrooms, this is an important step in the strengthening of Jaguar and Land Rover, and the UK car industry as a whole.”

With 198 Jaguar and Land Rover retailer showrooms across the UK, customers can book their visit and/or test drive immediately – Jaguar customers can also benefit from an extended test drive option from early April until the end of June, designed to give customers optimum time behind the wheel.

Reflecting on International Women’s Day, two female entrepreneurs currently working with Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM) at Birmingham City University (part-funded by the European Social Fund) over the last two months have been highlighted. And they are going from strength-to-strength in the face of the challenges faced when growing a business and the support available through HLSM to help provide support.

Vanessa Kelly runs 2 Much Passion CIC, a non-profit organisation that teaches, trains and provides creative cooking classes that boost individual and family well-being by supporting them out of poverty. 

“We’re a non-profit organisation built on the sole purpose that food can bring people together” she says. “Our project’s Let’s Get Culture Cooking and Young Foodeez provides an online platform for growth and develop of cooking courses and events. We work from cooks to chefs and allow them to reach their full potential.” 

Muneerah Dubidat, who runs Transform Coaching & Events, whose enterprise supports hundreds of women online by offering coaching, mentoring, group workshop facilitation and events. The aim is to take women from a place of low confidence and low self-esteem to confident decision-makers and action takers. 

Reflecting on the last 12 months, Muneerah says “Transform Coaching & Events has supported hundreds of women online, building a beautiful community of empowered women seeking positive change in their lives.

“By focusing on ‘Self-Love’ and ‘Self-confidence’ the women gain the self-belief needed to take action, so they can achieve the life they want, whilst confidently owning their power and uniqueness. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge and that is exactly what we do as an organisation.

We challenge women’s thinking and help them to remove their perceived limitations so that they can create the change that they want to see.” 

Fast business growth hasn’t come without its challenges. Finding the time and knowledge to develop her brand online, and transition her mindset from an employee to a business owner were just two of the many challenges Muneerah faced. That was as well as the ongoing financial pressures. 

“Firstly, starting my business with very little capital during a pandemic presented challenges around balancing the needs of my family and the financial pressures to generate income to build a successful business. 

“I would have loved to employ a Digital Marketing expert to help me stand out and reach my niche, but that wasn’t an option for me at the time. But what it did give me was the opportunity to access a range of free training on-line, which opened more doors and opportunities to learn.” 

As well as access to knowledge and resource, Muneerah found she needed a mental shift in her approach to work. “Another business challenge was the transition in my mindset from an employee to a business owner. From the basics of registering my business and meeting Statutory Obligations, to decision making on a level that I had not yet experienced in my previous day to day roles. 

“Also, maintaining personal motivation and not being so hard on myself remain a daily challenge, especially being a high achiever. But I continue to draw upon my ever-growing network to help me make my mission a reality.” 

With this in mind, Vanessa also spoke about the challenges as a female entrepreneur and balancing overseeing all aspects of running a business through the different stages. Vanessa reflected on the importance of learning quickly the difference in work ethic and passion within the industry and the importance of the different skills individuals can bring.  

“My biggest challenge as a female entrepreneur is having to wear many different hats throughout all the different stages of my business” Vanessa stressed.  However, the importance of embracing new opportunities as business owners isn’t to be forgotten.  

“There is never one-hat-fits-all, it’s really important to be adaptable and allow yourself to be open to new opportunities. At times you’re the accountant, the social media manager, the admin, the driver, cleaner, it important to be prepared to work in all the different parts of the business. Until the day you are ready to expand and take staff on.”  

Similarly to Muneerah’s transition from an employee to a business owner, being familiar with changing mindsets was something Vanessa also felt was important for her when it came to business growth and taking on your first employees.  

“Once that happens you have to learn quickly not everyone has the same work ethic or passion as you do, everybody has different skill sets so appreciating individuals for being different and bringing something different to the table is a very valuable mindset.”  

When it came to supporting the development and management of individual and team skills within a business, both women sought out the support of Higher Level Skills Match – our Account Managed Skills solution. 

Asking both Vanessa and Muneerah on how approaching Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM) helped them and their business, Vanessa says: “The support on offer and the quality of the placement students has been amazing, it has meant that our business will grow and will continue to grow.” 

During a difficult year for business, students and graduates, and the community as a whole. The great collaboration between business and universities is incredibly valuable. HLSM enabled Vanessa and Muneerah to get access to students who were able to support their small businesses in specialist areas, as well as giving the students the opportunity to gain valuable skills to support with their career journey.

Muneerah also echoes the access to support from students “HLSM provides a fantastic opportunity for businesses like me to make connections with new talent wishing to establish themselves and gain experiences to springboard their careers. I was in the exact same position a few years ago, and as a new business owner, I’m excited and honoured to be able to offer growth opportunities for the students of Birmingham City University. 

“Being able to access the HLSM programme, allows me to develop my business, whilst giving the individual supporting me the much-needed business knowledge, exposure and experience to develop themselves and their career, which is a win-win for everyone.”  

Aside, to the additional access to student talent both businesses found the upskilling support helped them improve their own business management skills and become more confident in their own skillset.

Muneerah mentioned; “another advantage of being a part of the HSLM programme is having the opportunity to strengthen my current knowledge and skills, allowing me to take my business further and faster. I’m currently in the process of getting the valuable support needed and can’t wait to see the direct impact that being on the programme has on my business growth.”

Asking both Vanessa and Muneerah on the advice they would have for other business owners, especially on steps to growth.  

Vanessa says: “The best advice I would give to other businesses is to utilise the services that are made available, sometime you may think you don’t have the time to train a placement student or wonder if they are going to bring any value. The answer is YES, the new opportunity you open for them could be the new lease of life your business was looking for.”

Muneerah added: “My biggest piece of advice for other business owners looking to grow would be to invest in getting the right support for you and your business as soon as possible.

“Yes, you have done an amazing job taking your business this far (and possibly on your own) and you should be proud of everything you have achieved. But imagine how much further you could go with the advice, support and expertise of organisations whose sole focus is ensuring the success of your business. 

“Whether that’s business support through a service like Higher Level Skills Match, a collaboration with another complimentary business or having a conversation with a friend who runs a successful business. It will always be beneficial for you to get someone outside of the business give you their non-judgement feedback to help you grow your business in ways that you would not have thought were possible. 

“And most importantly, enjoy the journey, look to the future with excitement and continue to influence and create change in your industry, using your uniqueness. As after all, that is your superpower and what you offer is exactly what the world needs right now!”  

Both businesses are looking to continue to grow and inspire more and more each day.

Aston Martin Cheltenham has handed over a brand new Vantage Coupe to professional racing driver, Jamie Chadwick.

The reigning W Series champion, Jamie – who also competes in Extreme E and is a development driver for Williams Racing in Formula One – collected the Aston Martin Vantage Coupé, finished in silver with striking black and silver alloy wheels, from the showroom, managed by the H.R. Owen Group. Aston Martin Cheltenham is now able to host customers, by appointment only, in line with government-led COVID-19 lockdown easing.

The Vantage Coupe is an icon of performance sports car by Aston Martin, with Jamie’s car updated for 2021 and representing a dramatic step forward in sharp handling and eye-catching design. Powered by the sensational 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, the new Vantage is lighter and stiffer than before, focused on form and functionality with clear hints of evolution from the Vantage nameplate.

The taut and muscular-looking sports car is shaped with a sculpted bonnet that tapers to two slim LED wraparound headlights and a low, shark-like grille. The classic shape is highly expressive with its single falling shoulder line that connects front and rear with one swooping design line. This Vantage represents class-leading aerodynamics while the rear of the car is dominated by a diffuser that keeps the Aston Martin pinned to the road at high speeds – every detail about this car centres around performance.

Jamie Chadwick, professional racing driver, said: “Aston Martin Cheltenham was one of my first ever partners at the start of my car racing career back in 2015, so I am especially delighted to rekindle this relationship. The Aston Martin brand aligns perfectly with my current ambitions within motorsport and I am looking forward to working with the H.R. Owen team to encourage more young women to enjoy their amazing cars!”

Craig Davison at Aston Martin Cheltenham, said: “We are delighted to work with Jamie in supplying this incredible Aston Martin Vantage, fit for a professional racing driver. We know Jamie is local to us in Cheltenham, and it is important for us to support nearby talent as best we can. We have watched Jamie’s career progress over the last 5 years and we look forward to a continuing our relationship with Jamie as she races during 2021 and beyond.”

The Aston Martin showroom site in Cheltenham 2020 Aston Martin UK Dealer of the Year and Aftersales Customer Satisfaction Index Dealer of the Year, is joined by sister site in the H.R. Owen network, Aston Martin Reading, in stocking all models by the iconic British marque. Both showroom sites re-opened their doors to customers by appointment on 12 April, in line with government guidelines on easing lockdown rules. Throughout lockdowns the showrooms were closed to physical visits but continued to operate with virtual walkarounds and new digital sales processes – always with a customer-first approach.

Two new categories to reflect changing times are to be included in this year’s Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC) annual awards, which will again take place on-line.

The awards, again supported by headline sponsors Birmingham City University (BCU), will be revealed on the evening of Wednesday, July 28. They are open to all businesses and include new categories for the hospitality and retail sectors and a special one for companies showing excellence in sustainability.

It will be the second year the Chamber awards,  have been digital because of Covid-19 restrictions but plans are already underway to return to the ICC next year for an awards night bonanza with up to 1,500 guests.

Steve Allen, president of the GBCC, said: “We are, of course, disappointed that we can’t all gather at the ICC the normal way. However, we proved last year that it is still possible to have an evening of excitement and drama on-line.

“We shall still dress up for the occasion as many of our guests and viewers did last year. And we shall be announcing shortly the additional attractions we are arranging to make the evening go with a swing.”

The GBCC’s chief executive, Henrietta Brealey, said: “We are really looking forward to championing the local business community with our 2021 Awards. This well-loved, high-profile celebration is a brilliant platform for businesses to showcase everything they have achieved during the past year.

“Our awards reflect the major business trends of the day with the excellence in hospitality and retail award aimed at recognising those firms on the front end of pandemic restrictions. The sustainability award reflects another pressing issue for our time - the climate crisis - and aims to recognise businesses leading the way on addressing their environmental impact.

“The event will build on last year’s digital celebration - with a few tricks up our sleeves that we are looking forward to sharing closer to the day. We are delighted to once again have the support of BCU as headline sponsors and we look forward to working with them on what we know will be a fantastic celebration of the region’s business community.”

Professor Julian Beer, deputy vice-chancellor at the BCU, said: “It is a privilege to again join with the Chamber for the most prestigious business awards in the region.

“And we look forward to sharing the digital stage in July when the winners will be revealed. Last year’s event had all the pomp and ceremony of the awards dinner at the ICC and represented a fitting reward for some amazing businesses.”

Award categories

·         Excellence in Contribution to the Community 

·         Excellence in Customer Service

·         Excellence in Hospitality & Retail  

·         Excellence in International Business 

·         Excellence in Manufacturing

·         Excellence in People Development

·         Excellence in Responsible Business

·         Excellence in Sales & Marketing

·         Excellence in Sustainability  

·         Excellence in Technology & Innovation

·         Excellence in Third Sector

·         Excellence in Training & Education

·         Greater Birmingham Business of the year (picked from the category winners)

A group of employees from Azets Birmingham -  SME focused international accounting, tax, audit, advisory and business services group - is travelling 232.2 miles – the length of the M6 motorway – in a health and wellbeing office challenge with a twist, including milestones, pitstop days and challenges along the virtual route. Created by Jaden Reynolds, Jo Cox, Elizabeth Malkin and Rachel Green as an initiative to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace, they invited the whole of Azets’ Birmingham office to participate by clocking the distances they walk or run during the lockdown and adding it to the team tracker on Microsoft Teams.

The challenge started on 19th March 2021 at the southern end of the M6, in Catthorpe, and will end across the Scottish border in Gretna Green. There are 11 milestones along the way, with the team sharing interesting facts about the areas they have reached. The challenge also includes ‘pitstop days’, where participants are encouraged to virtually explore the M6 towns and villages by continuing physical activity without adding their mileage to the total, and ‘challenge days’, where participants complete feats such as the virtual Yorkshire 3 Peaks or Ingleton Waterfall Trail without these distances counting towards the total.

 

Praveen Gupta, Office Managing Partner with Azets Birmingham, added: “As a team, we are always coming up with new ways to support one another and this has been particularly important over the past year. I challenged the team to create an office-wide initiative and the ingenuity and commitment by Jaden, Jo, Elizabeth and Rachel to devise and manage the M6 Motorway Challenge is outstanding. Awareness around mental and physical health and wellbeing has been brought into sharp focus, and I am proud to lead a team that is as caring as it is talented.”

Administration Manager with Azets Birmingham, Rachel Green, said: “We wanted to encourage colleagues to get outdoors, take some fresh air and make time for themselves – especially during difficult periods of lockdown. The challenge has been really well received, with lots of people getting involved. At one 48-hour pitstop in the Peak District, we recorded 31 miles, which highlighted participation even when that distance didn’t count towards reaching the final milestone at Gretna Green."

Following confirmation that non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality will be allowed to open on tomorrow, Birmingham City Council has revealed new temporary measures to support businesses reopening.

Since the UK Government announced the Roadmap out of Lockdown in February 2021 the Council has approved 18 new Temporary Pavement Licences from businesses looking to place seating on public pavements outside their premises when they re-open next week. The licences were introduced last year as a means of supporting the economy through a quicker, cheaper application process.

The City Council will introduce new changes in the city centre to support the applications from next week, including pavement widening, parking and traffic changes and additional street furniture. The new measures will build on some of the successful schemes that were introduced last year.

Rob James, Birmingham City Council’s Director of Neighbourhoods said: “I’m delighted that by working across the Council, in partnership with our Business Improvement Districts and other key stakeholders, we have identified a number of ways we can support the safe easing of lockdown on April 12.

“We have taken a multi-agency approach to this work, engaging with public health, West Midlands Police, and others to ensure we can help deliver safe solutions that will support businesses after a challenging 12 months. I want to commend colleagues on their hard work under a short timescale.”

To support businesses in the Colmore BID, additional footway widening will take place on Church Street to allow for social distancing outside. Two additional parklets on Church St, funded and delivered by the BID, are also being installed and will be in addition to five parklets that they introduced last year.

To facilitate new Temporary Pavement Licences on Waterloo Street, the road will be closed to vehicles tomorrow between 11am and 11pm. The closure covers the loop from Colmore Row to the top of Victoria Square, and will also support Colmore and Retail BID in their joint venture to transform Victoria Square in to an outdoor seating space.

CEO of Colmore BID, Michele Wilby, said: “The measures we introduced last year have been positively received by the District and city.

“Over the coming months we intend to build on this with a number of new schemes including Summer in the Square and the introduction of two additional parklets. It has been a challenging twelve months for businesses, however we are hopeful for the future and keen to support in any way we can.”  In Westside, hospitality space on Broad Street and Gas Street will be created by enabling the businesses to use the footway and parking bays to support Temporary Pavement Licence arrangements.

Mike Olley, General Manager of Westside BID said: “We have been working with the Council closely to ensure that hospitality businesses in Westside can serve customers safely outside. I’m really pleased that by consulting with local residents, emergency services and other partners, we have been able to come up with a creative, practical solution.”

In the Jewellery Quarter work is already underway to utilise parking bays in Water Street and St Paul’s Square in order to create more space for hospitality businesses, and temporary seating will be introduced on Golden Square. Small-scale roadworks to prohibit vehicles turning left from Queensway onto Livery Street and to suspend the one way in the section between Lionel Street and Queensway will be implemented, to enable businesses to create outdoor hospitality areas within a safe space.

Luke Crane, Executive Director of JQBID said: “The Jewellery Quarter is a vibrant hub of retail and hospitality, so I’m really pleased that by working with the Council we have been able to introduce traffic changes that will increase space for pedestrians and support hospitality businesses to expand their outdoor offering.”

In Southside District, eighteen on-street parking bays will be suspended and converted in to segregated areas to create outdoor spaces on the highway for hospitality. These will be sectioned off using concrete barriers and painted bright colours to create vibrant eating and drinking areas.

There will be no road closures in Retail BID, however layout changes are taking place on John Bright Street to facilitate Temporary Pavement Licence arrangements. The BID has installed a number of new pavement cafes for hospitality businesses throughout the retail area with help from the City Council licensing team.

Latest figures from the UK’s largest coach operator show strong signs of the public’s increased confidence in domestic travel as the country moves toward the next step in the roadmap. National Express restarted operations with a limited timetable and reduced passenger numbers per vehicle on Monday March 29 following an 11 week suspension. Around 70% of seats were sold on services for its first week back, increasing to 80% over the Easter weekend.

John Boughton, commercial director of National Express UK Coach, comments: “Our first week back on the road has been encouraging. We will be adding new routes, including to Yorkshire, Nottingham and Blackpool, and increasing the frequency of some services from mid-April to meet the growing demand we are seeing in line with the next easing of restrictions.

“There have been significant jumps in people planning a coach journey in 2021 every time we reach a date in the roadmap or there is an announcement. We saw online searches increase by 24% yesterday (Sunday 5 April) following the official confirmation from Number 10 that we will move to step two of the roadmap on Monday 12 April.”

Big cities including Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham are consistently popular with demand for leisure destinations growing noticeably from mid-May onwards. “The uncertainty around foreign travel means more and more people are planning a break in the UK this year and using coach travel for their journey.

“Our new option to book accommodation and attractions along with coach travel, complete with a price guarantee and ABTA protection, is proving popular. And we are seeing particularly strong interest in services to major UK holiday destinations such as Bournemouth, Brighton, Blackpool, Skegness and Devon.”

A new full UK-wide timetable will go on sale later this month, and has been redesigned to offer quicker journey times, increased punctuality and improved connectivity for journeys in 2021. “We are going to make coach travel more convenient and even greater value in 2021.”

“We’ve removed the booking fee for any purchases made through a National Express online account and included more options to claim a refund or amend a journey if circumstances change. We have also automatically extended over 100,000 previously purchased coachcards by 12 months.”

There has also been significant investment in making the iconic white coaches the greenest fleet on the road on its return. The average age of a vehicle is only three years old and every one meets the highest possible engine emission standard (Euro VI).

John Boughton continues: “National Express has always been part of being able to see friends and family, go on holiday, attend events and visit attractions. We’re excited to play our part in the UK public’s safe return to travel and help make this happen again.”

Significant covid-secure measures are in place for travel with National Express, including:

• A reduction in the number of seats available on all coaches and social distancing in both stations and on vehicles.
• Enhanced cleaning in both stations and on coaches, including regular aerosol based disinfection -sometimes called ‘fogging’.
• An additional filter on the air conditioning systems of all coaches to reduce bacteria and corona type viruses; and improve air quality.
• Temperature screening before allowing travel with anyone with a high temperature reading not allowed to travel and given a full refund.
• Provision of PPE and use of protective screens on vehicles and in coach stations
• The requirement for customers to wear face coverings when in stations and travelling on coaches, in line with Government guidelines.

Caterham Cars has been acquired by Japan-headquartered automotive group, VT Holdings, from businessmen, Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun.

The company assumes custodianship of the legendary British sportscar brand having been the Japanese importer for the Seven since 2009, where it currently sells over 120 cars annually. As one of Japan’s largest retailer groups with over 200 showrooms nationwide and investments in UK, Spain, Thailand and South Africa, VT Holdings is also the importer for a collection of two and four wheeled brands including Royal Enfield and Lotus in its home-market.

Motorsport, and the global track-day communities, have always played a central role in Caterham’s commercial success. The brand now joins a group led by Chief Executive, Kazuho Takahashi, who shares the same passions, having raced competitively in JGTC, Super GT and Super Taikyu championships for the past 20 years.

Commenting on the acquisition, Takahashi-san, said: “VT Holdings is proud to welcome Caterham to the group. We have not only purchased a globally renowned performance car manufacturer but become custodians of a motoring legend. We will protect and develop the Seven to meet the legislative challenges that lie ahead.”

Graham MacDonald, chief executive of Caterham Cars, added: “Takahashi-san and the team truly understand the DNA of the Caterham brand, our heritage, our customers and our passions. As a team, we’re all excited about starting to write the next chapter for this very special brand.”

Caterham Cars sell to 20 markets globally with exports accounting for 60% of its annual new car sales volume.

Network Rail has completed a range of essential upgrades to the railway between Euston, the Midlands, North West and Scotland over Easter.

Between Friday 2 and Tuesday 6 April, teams carried out vital work on the railway to improve passenger and freight services on the West Coast main line – the Backbone of Britain.

The £31m investment across the whole of Network Rail's North West and Central region as part of Britain’s Railway Upgrade Plan saw:

·         Ongoing work to upgrade Birmingham New Street station's signals – the complex system and traffic lights of the railway which keep trains running safely

·         Two new bridges installed at Warrington Bank Quay station

·         Two underpasses driven underneath the Chiltern main line in Bicester

·         Work to prepare Euston station for Britain’s new high-speed railway, HS2

Tim Shoveller, managing director for Network Rail’s North West & Central region, said: “Hundreds of frontline staff worked throughout the bank holiday to improve journeys for passengers and freight in the North West and Central region and I’m immensely proud of them and our contractors who helped Network Rail deliver these major upgrades.

“This is just the start of 2021’s work to make the West Coast main line more reliable for our passengers and pave the way for HS2, which will bring much-needed extra railway capacity as the country builds back better from the pandemic.

“Now our attention turns to the early May bank holiday when more essential railway improvements will take place. Because of the amount of work being done, passengers are being urged to travel either side of the bank holiday on Friday 30 April and Tuesday 4 May.”

Meanwhile, travellers are reminded they must continue to follow government guidance to control the spread of coronavirus.