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The perfect night’s sleep is the ultimate quest for many - but is our growing love of Instagram-friendly mattresses with generous returns policies doing more harm than good?

In recent years, a glut of social media-savvy businesses have sparked a revolution of mattresses fit for the social media age. Bright, modern designs and lofty promises of space-age technology designed to provide a restful slumber have charmed thousands of buyers, especially thanks to their consumer-friendly returns policies.

“They turn up in a box, with next day delivery, and you can send it back if you hate it - and there are always voucher codes online so you never pay full price,” says Lara, 29, who purchased one such mattress this year. Other buyers agree that the appeal of these mattresses is in the ease of purchase and the generous returns policy, with 26-year-old Matt commenting: “If you’ve got to sleep on it every night, it has to be perfect. I wouldn’t spend hundreds of pounds on something for it just to give me backache and then not be able to return it.”

Many of these modern mattress firms offer long ‘no quibble’ return guarantees, giving consumers upwards of three months, some even 365 days to try out their sleep-giving properties before either keeping or returning the mattress. Divert.co.uk, a rubbish removal expert, say these policies are causing an unacceptable rise in landfill waste - and should be banned.

A spokesperson for Divert.co.uk, Mark Hall, said: “These returns policies might seem like a no-brainer for buyers - and some companies promise returns are refurbished and re-sold, appealing to the eco minded consumer. But the more sinister reality is that hundreds of these mattresses are returned each day and, in order to cope with demand, brands use cheap local waste removal firms who are taking them straight to the tip - destined for landfill.

“Firms should be required by law to limit their returns policies to a period which means most returned mattresses can be refurbished, cleaned, and resold - or face hefty fines for unnecessary pollution.

"We've been offered various contracts to collect these perfectly good mattresses and turned them down as we refuse to take them to landfill, which is what is demanded from the client"

Pollution is even more of a key issue with modern mattresses, Divert.co.uk warns, due to the rise in demand for memory foam mattresses.”

While comfortable and supportive to sleep on, memory foam is made from polyurethane, a type of plastic. While recyclable in some forms, once the material has been made into a foam, it can’t be returned to another form - diminishing its re-use potential. Additionally, many mattresses - while they do contain other, more easily recycled materials such as metal springs or fabric coverings - tend to be sent to landfill whole. This further worsens their environmental impact: a high price to pay, even for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Hall continued: “Even something as small as mandating that mattresses should be stripped to their constituent parts and recycled before disposal could have an enormously beneficial effect. The impact that this boom in mattress sales could have must be caught before it is too late - and it requires bold moves and truly environmentally-friendly thinking by legislators. Shortening return times and requiring any reusable material to be stripped is the very least we can do to avoid sending thousands of tonnes of useless plastic to landfill after just months of use.”

Virgin Media is today unveiling a comprehensive five year plan which sets out how the company will support and connect communities across the UK, reduce its impact on the environment and continue to become a more inclusive employer.

The ‘Meaningful Connections Plan’ is a bold and far-reaching strategy with ambitious five year goals spread across three key areas: people, planet and communities. As part of the strategy, Virgin Media will use its connectivity and presence in towns and cities nationwide to support projects which address loneliness and create greater community belonging. In addition, it will take steps to employ more people from underrepresented groups, and is committing to achieve net zero carbon operations (Scopes 1 and 2) and zero waste operations by the end of 2025. 

Virgin Media is also joining forces with the charity, Carers UK, for a five year strategic partnership which will use technology and innovation to address the loneliness experienced by eight out of ten unpaid carers, and will work together to connect more carers to each other and to their communities.

Lutz Schüler, Chief Executive Officer at Virgin Media, said: “With the country beginning to look towards recovering and rebuilding, we believe it’s vital to use this moment to bounce back in a better way. As a major UK employer and investor with a presence in communities across the country, we know that we can make a positive impact.

“Our Meaningful Connections Plan will use our purpose, people and products to create lasting change in the towns and cities we serve, drive greater diversity and inclusion into our business and see direct action taken to help tackle climate change. This plan spans across our whole business and is backed by bold and ambitious goals which set a benchmark and provide focus for what we want to achieve over the next five years, starting right now.”

 

The Meaningful Connections Plan

Virgin Media’s ‘Meaningful Connections Plan’ has been created following extensive research and insight from its customers, employees and experts around the role the company should play in society over the next five years. 

This highlighted that Virgin Media should use its purpose, people and products to bring communities together to address the issue of loneliness and the erosion of community belonging. This has been backed by further independent research of 5,000 people where more than two fifths of people said that the wellbeing of their community is more important to them following the pandemic. Almost two thirds say they feel lonely when they do not have time to connect with friends or family in person, while two fifths say they feel lonely when they do not have time to connect with their communities in person.

Virgin Media’s research has also found that more than one in five of its 5.6 million cable customers in the UK is an unpaid carer – the equivalent of around 1.2 million customers - with 58% saying they have felt lonely or isolated. An unpaid carer is someone who looks after a loved one, friend or neighbour who is older, disabled or seriously ill, offering practical, emotional support or hands-on care.

Virgin Media found that the issues of loneliness and isolation are exacerbated for the 6.5 million unpaid carers across the country – as they are seven times more likely to be lonely compared to non-carers. According to Carers UK, the pandemic has compounded these issues as carers now have little or no time for themselves or the opportunity to connect up with loved ones or their communities.

 

Communities: 1.5 million people more meaningfully connected

Virgin Media will use its people, brand and connectivity to help end the loneliness experienced by carers, and to bring communities closer together: its goal is to connect 1.5 million people to their communities and each other. Virgin Media will use digital technology, innovation and the power of its people to support carers and communities. This includes helping one million carers to access more digital services and platforms to build support networks and friendships; collaborating with community groups to provide skills, training or funding; and using Virgin Media’s network of local workers to support projects which create a greater sense of community belonging.

To ensure this goal is shared across the business, Virgin Media is boldly increasing the number of annual paid volunteering days for its people to five – the equivalent of around 450,000 hours per year across its 12,000 workforce. Employees will be encouraged to take time regularly to support projects – either in-person or digitally - which build meaningful connections in their own community, including micro-volunteering opportunities that have a more sustained impact on their local communities. 

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “Carers UK’s new five year partnership with Virgin Media is exciting and transformative, enabling us to connect with many more unpaid carers and critically raise awareness of the issue.

“We know now more than ever millions of people are looking after someone and through this partnership we aim to reach them sooner and create better connections so that they are supported, leading to a reduction in loneliness and isolation. As Carers UK also embark on our new five-year strategy this partnership really underpins our ambitious plans to make life better for carers – we can’t wait to get started!”

 

Lutz Schüler continued: “We’re supporting communities with a long-term plan to tackle loneliness and isolation. We know that our connectivity, combined with the power of our people, can have a lasting impact and bring people together. 

“With our new partnership with Carers UK at the heart of our plan, we will use digital technology and innovation to make life better for one million unpaid carers, creating meaningful connections to each other and their communities.”

 

Planet: reducing impact

Virgin Media is stepping up action to tackle climate change – with a goal to achieve net zero carbon operations (Scopes 1 and 2) and zero waste operations by the end of 2025.

Virgin Media will continue to reduce its impact on the planet by becoming more energy efficient, cutting emissions, sourcing renewable power supply and reducing waste by increasing reuse of materials across its products and operations. By the end of 2025, Virgin Media aims to achieve:

 

Net zero carbon operations

 

·         Reduction in Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 25%, sourcing 100% renewable electricity and investing in carbon removal offsetting schemes for remaining emissions from 2025 onwards

·         Transition fleet to electric vehicles with full completion by 2030

Zero waste operations

 

·         Ensure 95% of all operational waste is reused or recycled and that customer products, such as set-top boxes or routers, contain at least 75% recycled plastic content or be a refurbished product, which is expected to save more than 5,000 tonnes of materials

·         Reuse or recycle 100% of all returned customer equipment and mobile handsets

·         Use 100% recyclable customer packaging with no single-use plastic

TV content

·         Virgin Media has signed up to the Media Climate Pact, an industry-wide initiative where it will use its TV platform to promote programming which highlights the effect of climate change to help educate and inform viewers

 

People: creating a culture of belonging

 

Virgin Media is continuing to take steps to become a more inclusive employer so that the company represents the communities it serves and creates a culture of belonging where all of its people – no matter their background – can be themselves at work and achieve their potential.

This includes creating hundreds more employment opportunities for people from underrepresented groups, and ensuring projects and products are equitable and are developed with all of its people and customers in mind. This builds on the existing measures Virgin Media has introduced to become a more inclusive employer, such as launching five employee networks representing underrepresented ethnicities, gender equality, disability, neurodiversity, and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as rolling out specialist equity training across the business.

Lutz Schüler concluded: “A diverse business is a better business. It’s critical to our growth that we have a culture where no-one is left behind and all of our people feel valued, heard and can be themselves. We’ve already taken action to create greater representation across Virgin Media, and will use this momentum to drive further positive change to become a more inclusive company.”

A British entrepreneur has launched a social impact company The HUG Agency in partnership with His Highness Sheikh Saqer Bin Mohamed Al Qasimi private office in Dubai.

"We are launching recruitment agencies globally which gift 100% net agency fees back to the worker and society" says their founder, Ian Seddon. "We can help countries strengthen their economy, reduce social tension and reduce inequality by giving families free financial assets.

“The more we can give to society, the more our impact investors are rewarded, so everyone benefits". The recruitment industry market exceeds $400 billion annually but rather than giving cash, HUG will give workers free financial assets (Tesla shares, Amazon shares, Bitcoin...whatever they choose).

The assets, worth on average $3,000 per job placement, are released gradually over 24 months, so the recipient builds wealth and security whilst receiving free financial education via a digital wallet. But it's not just workers who will benefit. Businesses won't pay higher fees and they will get happy staff incentivised to stay for at least two years (while their free assets accumulate). If the worker does leave, the hiring business gets a 50% refund of the remaining balance.

Businesses can promote their ESG credentials, proving they support society and in future HUG will help smaller firms administer staff incentive schemes. It's a great way for businesses to gain customers and to retain them, especially as we inject more free wealth into the next generations.

HUG never risks the investments they allocate to workers and have modelled how they can still produce a great, long-dated return for impact investors or philanthropists. "Basically, we're really a fintech which is taking stewardship of the recruitment market because they have failed to innovate for decades." says Ian.

"We're introducing better technology so users can control their own data and for every 250,000 jobs we place, we forecast $1 billion assets under management which will give $600 million to families and $400 million to society".

HUG are planning to launch in the UK, USA, Europe and Australia this year and their Sovereign partners in Dubai give excellent opportunities for growth in MENA. Businesses, families, governments, investors and the global economy... everyone benefits when we recapitalise society.

With the introduction of the Bentley Mulliner Visualiser, it is now easier for customers to work with their retailer remotely to fulfil their personal commissioning requirements.

The Bentley Mulliner Visualiser is a digital application that allows customers to view images of bespoke hide, veneer and stitching options tailored by them – and ultimately to envision their own bespoke Bentley. Working with the retailer or Bentley’s own Mulliner designers, customers are able to configure up to three different colours to create their own interior design.

The digital application guides the customer, via their retailer, through the process and produces images of the final design in real time, providing feedback and confidence that their personalised design matches their vision and is part of the same on-screen experience.

The Mulliner Visualiser also allows customers to create or match a bespoke main hide colour and provides a reference code that can be sent directly to the craftspeople of Bentley Mulliner.

Bespoke choices do not finish on the inside of the car. Beyond the standard palette of Bentley paints, Mulliner has carefully curated their own exquisite range of paint colours; giving customers an additional 26 colours to choose from.

The additional palette contains a mixture of fifteen solid and metallic options, four satin finishes, and seven complex pearlescent three-layer paints. Hand spraying expertise, complemented by the latest robotic technology, delivers the best possible finish on each vehicle. Combining the art of colour with the science of paint, Bentley offers one of the largest ‘stock’ colour palettes of any luxury automotive manufacturer.

For the ultimate in exclusivity, the craftspeople at Bentley’s personal commissioning division can colour-match virtually any sample provided, using innovative colour recognition software to analyse the composition of the sample provided and reproducing it to perfection. The only limit is the customer’s imagination.

In addition, for those customers wanting to bring their exterior colour choice into the cabin of their grand tourer, Bentley now offers the luxury of choice through painted veneers – with the fascias and waistrails painted to the same piano-finish standard as the exterior, in any one of the scores of colours on offer.

Via the Bentley configurator, customers can visualise the new choices the extended palette offers. By selecting the different paints, the information panel will display the story and history behind the chosen colour.

City of Wolverhampton micro and small businesses have started receiving specialist support as part of the first cohort of the Council’s new Relight Business Programme.

Applications are now also being invited for the second cohort, with a deadline of Wednesday, March 31. The programme went live last month, and the Council’s Business Development team is already working with 30 city businesses in sectors such as hair and beauty, health and wellbeing, photography, manufacturing, painting and decorating, retail and hospitality.

The programme provides financial management advice and digital guidance and is being run in conjunction with the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses. Each business will receive at least £750 worth of professional support in the form of financial health checks, analysis of funding and cashflow, reviews of products and services, and ways to improve market awareness, with the aim to rapidly build their capacity to survive and grow in the Covid-19 hit economy.

Membership of the Federation of Small Business or the Black Country Chamber of Commerce is also included as part of the programme. One company that is being supported is photography, graphic design and print company, Image Squad Ltd.

Its Creative Director/Owner, Lee 'Bear' Guest, said: “It has been a breath of fresh air to be involved in something positive during this testing time. I’m finding that as a small business who is cut off from both clients and freelance staff that being part of this scheme is a positive beacon. 

“Too many people are struggling to see a way out of this pandemic, myself included.  However, I refuse to accept that today will be the same as tomorrow. I can start to make changes to ready my business for reopening, whenever that may be.

“The support I have had so far has been helpful and, as someone who is in their 50s, I am embracing both the education and advice available. I am a realist and I also know what I have built so far has a long way to go and grow.”

Councillor Stephen Simkins, Cabinet Member for City Economy, said: “These are incredibly difficult times for our small businesses, and we are constantly looking at new ways we can support them and help them bounce back from the current crisis.

“Through our work in administering thousands of vital business grants during the Covid-19 pandemic we have identified where some small businesses need more than just financial support.

“The Relight Business Programme provides more tailored support from business professionals that will help some of our smallest, but most ambitious businesses, survive and grow.”

The programme is aiming to support up to 200 micro and small city businesses in total. Applications must show ambition and passion about the business and programme.

Boris Johnson hoped to raise spirits with his roadmap out of lockdown yesterday, but small business owners weren’t riding the PM’s wave of optimism about the future. A new survey of small business owners around the UK suggests that, as the economy reopens in earnest, the Government’s handling of the pandemic has crushed our entrepreneurial spirit.

More than half (53%) of the 1,012 small business owners surveyed by the free small business PR platform, Newspage (formerly The Great British Bounce Back), said the treatment of small businesses, especially small limited company directors, would “discourage people from setting up their own businesses” in the future, and result in a decline in entrepreneurialism.

Just 31% of the respondents said the Government’s handling of the pandemic over the past year would “encourage people to set up their own businesses”, while 9% said it would likely have no impact on the number of people setting up their own businesses. 7% were unsure.

Asked how they feel as a small business owner nearly one year on from the start of the pandemic, many of those who responded expressed feelings of despair and anger. A selection of those responses are provided below.

Sarah Gatford, director of Derby-based Sarah Gatford Limited: “No doubt the Government roadmap will rely on small businesses, the backbone of this country, to drive the economy forward. And yet so many of us have been sidelined by an incompetent and arrogant Government that couldn't care less about small business, and which has crushed our entrepreneurial spirit. My resilience has been stretched to its limits just to keep my head above water and taking on debt in the form of a Bounce Back Loan is not support.”

Beverley Wakefield, co-founder of Derby-based Vibrant Accountancy: “It’s great the Government has announced a roadmap out of the pandemic, but I fear the Treasury may have burnt its bridges with a huge number of small businesses that it will rely on to reignite the economy. While the pandemic will force more businesses to start, for the simple reason that fewer people are in jobs, I’m concerned about the Budget update and whether small business owners will be penalised in new tax measures. After all, the Government has made it crystal clear it does not like how small business owners remunerate themselves. Let’s hope this isn’t the case given that small business owners are the lifeblood of our country.”

 

Trudy Simmons, founder of London-based The Daisy Chain Group: “The road out of lockdown will be strewn with the wreckage of many small businesses that have received zero support from the Government. And while many people could enter self-employment due to the uncertain jobs market, the lack of support for small company limited directors over the past year could discourage people from setting up companies. Clearly, this could have ramifications for the economy as companies are able to scale up in a way sole traders cannot."

Maddy Alexander-Grout, founder of the Southampton-based small business national discount scheme, MyVIPCard: "The UK has always been an entrepreneurial country but the lack of support for so many small businesses over the past twelve months could become a headache for the Prime Minister in the short-term because so many would-be entrepreneurs have become disincentivised. Government support has been very sporadic for small businesses and those trading less than one year have not received anything. As a result, I think a lot of people will be scared to take the plunge into self-employment in the months ahead, and certainly until the market is a bit more stable."

 

Denise Yeats, director of London-based Denise Yeats Creative Event Production: "The Government roadmap should take into account the mass disillusionment of so many small businesses. To say I feel hugely let down by this Government would be an understatement. I feel continually stressed, anxious and fearful of the future, and can only see my hard earned business disappear.”

Lynsey Pollard, founder of London-based kids’ books provider, Little Box of Books: “In economic terms, I’m optimistic about our planned exit from the pandemic as so many newly launched companies have just been through the most intense business boot camp ever. To run a business in any circumstance, for any length of time, you need resilience, courage and creativity — and emergency schooling, pivoting, stock problems, delivery problems and social distancing have tested all of these to the limit. If we can repeatedly think of solutions during a global pandemic, we can take on the world, at least after some sleep and a few weekends of childcare.”

Keisha Shah, founder of the Milton Keynes-based educational resources provider, Teddo Play: “Although the road out of the pandemic is likely to be bumpy, I feel positive about the future because of the way e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Amazon, Etsy and others have helped companies to thrive, enabling customers and businesses to interact with each other pandemic or no pandemic, lockdown or no lockdown. The wheels of the economy have continued to spin thanks to the internet, e-commerce, fintech and the cloud.”

Peter Marples, founder of the Leicestershire-based consulting business, Aquifer Solutions: “With the roadmap out of lockdown, opportunity dawns. For many, the risk of setting up a business reduces as individuals are in less secure employment, which creates opportunities for change.”

Vicki Lovegrove, founder of Staffordshire-based Seventy Three Design: “Roadmap or not, I feel completely abandoned. I’ve had my micro business for seventeen years, have always paid my tax on time and kept my accounts up to date. Yet as a company director I have been lumped in a group and essentially deemed a fraud risk by the Treasury and therefore only been given a loan. I am disgusted by our treatment.”