Today marks one year since the first lockdown hit the UK and the country officially began its fight against covid-19.
On March 23, 2020 Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered an address to the nation in which he described coronavirus as “the biggest threat the country has faced for decades”.
Businesses were forced to close, employees were ordered to work from home and families were instructed to stay inside.
Twelve months on and companies and projects across the West Midlands are still feeling the affects of the global pandemic.
Many had to make difficult decisions to ensure their survival, some have pivoted and found new markets while others have simply carried on regardless, largely unaffected by the pandemic.
Others have made permanent changes to their businesses while the rest are hoping the world will get back to the way it was before.
Here, we take a look at just some of the West Midlands’ businesses and projects which tell the story of the year in lockdown.
AKTAR AT HOME
The restaurant industry has had a rocky old time of it over the past 12 months but many have launched so-called ‘at home’ services as a way of bringing in at least some revenue.
This has worked particularly well for high-end venues as it has given customers the chance to receive all the ingredients from their favourite places and prepare “posh” meals at home.
In Birmingham, Michelin-starred Simpsons, Masterchef winner Stuart Deeley and fine dining restaurant Opus have all been among those hoping to offer something different to the avalanche of takeaway apps now available.
One of those to take the service to the next level is Aktar Islam, owner of Michelin-starred Opheem and Argentine steakhouse Pulperia which opened just three weeks before lockdown started last March.
‘Aktar at Home’ offers traditional Indian curries or British Sunday roasts.
It is currently run from these two restaurants but Mr Islam has now agreed a deal on a 7,300 sq ft unit in the city’s Digbeth district from where he can run the service full-time.
The move suggests Aktar at Home could last well beyond the proposed end of lockdown restrictions in June and up to 20 jobs are being created at the operation.
Street furniture manufacturer Broxap was able to continue to operate throughout the pandemic – albeit at a reduced capacity.
But the Newcastle-under-Lyme business soon bounced back from the affects of Covid-19 and went on to open a new timber workshop at its Chesterton headquarters, in October, following an £80,000 investment.
The company, which specialises in the design, manufacture and installation of street furniture, shelters, canopies and outdoor play equipment, has since launched a recruitment drive to bolster its 170-strong workforce. It wants to take on dozens of new staff to help it respond to an increase in demand for its products.
Biologics firm Cobra Biologics was awarded three million euros in funding in March to support emergency R&D into Covid-19.
The company – which employs 114 people at Keele, Staffordshire, and a further 100 in Sweden – later signed a supply agreement with AstraZeneca to manufacture the AZD1222 vaccine.
The production agreement formed part of AstraZeneca’s in-licensed programme with the University of Oxford to manufacture one of the world’s first coronavirus vaccines.
The company has since entered a good manufacturing practice (GMP) agreement with Scancell for the production of a new vaccine which has the potential to provide long-lasting immunity against Covid-19 and new strains that may arise in the future.
COMMONWEALTH GAMES 2022 ATHLETES’ VILLAGE
A huge construction project in Birmingham was dealt a blow by the pandemic in August.
The 2022 Commonwealth Games athletes’ village was being built on a former university campus but, having been hit by delays caused by the lockdown, organisers decided to pull the plug on the scheme.
Timescales were already tight after Birmingham initially applied to host the 2026 Games but stepped in after Durban, the original host of 2022, pulled out.
Officials and competitors will now stay at two universities and a hotel instead.
The long-term aim for the athletes’ village was always to create housing once the games had completed and contractors are now on site and working towards that goal.
DP SKIP HIRE
DP Skip Hire was forced to extend its operating hours in May after seeing a huge increase in demand for skips during lockdown.
The Stoke-on-Trent business saw such a boost that it took the decision to open seven days a week instead of six.
After creating new jobs and investing in new skips, machinery, vehicles and infrastructure, the company has reverted back to operating six days a week.
And in February 2021, DP Skips recorded a 40 per cent increase in sales on the previous year.
Popular takeaway app Foodhub revealed plans to double the size of its business in August 2020 after seeing a huge surge in takeaway orders during lockdown.
The Fenton business – which is challenging the likes of Just Eat and Deliveroo – has grown its turnover from £3 million to £30 million in 2020 and has more than 22,000 businesses on it books.
It now operates in countries including the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, New Zealand and Australia.
Foodhub – which employs 700 people across the globe including 70 in the UK – is now looking raise £100 million in private equity funds to supercharge its global expansion.
GET SET GO TRAVEL
A travel consultant who had a ‘dreadful’ year used his time to rebrand his business – and plan for a brighter 2021.
John Lehnert endured a difficult 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic grounded planes and left cruise ships stranded at sea.
But he used his time wisely by rebranding and future-proofing the business in the hope of a better year this year.
John – who had worked as a travel consultant under the Not Just Travel brand, part of the Hays Travel empire – now operates as Get Set Go Travel and works alongside his son, Matthew, who joined the business in October.
Operating as a solely online retailer meant fitness fashion brand Gymshark was able to keep the wheels turning relatively unaffected by the pandemic.
The company launched a social media campaign inviting people to share their ‘sweaty selfies’ in exchange for donations to the NHS and in August co-founder Ben Francis put pen to paper on a private equity buyout which valued the company at around £1 billion.
Solihull-based Gymshark’s plans to launch a US office in Denver were delayed by the pandemic but this facility has now finally opened this month.
The investment deal with US-based General Atlantic also enabled a full exit for co-founder Lewis Morgan who told BusinessLive in October he would now use his wealth to support the next generation of entrepreneurs.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER
Just a few weeks ago, Jaguar Land Rover announced its ‘Reimagine’ strategy in which it outlined a clean, green, electric future, only to follow this up two days later by confirming 2,000 jobs were set to go.
The masterplan was outlined by chief executive Thierry Bolloré six months after he took over the top job and the switch to electric was likely to happen at some point regardless but it is not known whether it was brought forward by the crisis.
The UK government has banned the production of new petrol and diesel engines from 2030 and commuting habits look set to alter forever as a result of the changing attitude towards home working brought on by the pandemic.
In May, digger-maker JCB announced that it was axing 950 jobs across its UK plants after the company’s orders disappeared overnight.
The Rocester company also released 500 Guidant agency employees from the business as part of efforts to scale back its workforce.
The job losses were announced as a result of the severe disruption caused to JCB’s business by the covid-19 crisis.
Since then, JCB has ramped up production after seeing demand for construction equipment soar following the pandemic.
This has led to the creation of 850 new jobs at the business since the start of the year.
Like much of the retail industry, high-end department store chain John Lewis has had a tough year.
The group announced it was not reopening eight of its stores last summer including its ‘At Home’ branch in Tamworth and its huge outlet above New Street station in Birmingham which opened in 2015.
And earlier this month it announced losses of £500 million with a further announcement of store closures expected by the end of March.
KTG CARAVANS AND CAMPERS
Mobile home specialist KTG Caravans and Campers has made a series of improvements to its Newcastle-under-Lyme base after seeing strong sales during lockdown.
With Government restrictions preventing families from travelling abroad, holiday-makers turned to staycations in 2020.
And with travel bans still in place the staycation trend looks set to continue into 2021.
Following an increase in demand for mobile homes, KTG has installed a new warehouse for its caravan and motorhomes spares business, increased its forecourt and created a new reception area for customers.
It has also launched a new website and an eBay repairs parts shop.
The Birmingham Post Business Awards are back for 2021 and now open for entries here. The event will be held online only on Tuesday June 15 and will celebrate businesses and individuals across 12 categories including our overall Company of the Year and a special covid award.
The deadline to enter the awards is Monday April 19 and sponsorship opportunities are also now available. Please email [email protected] for details and follow the hashtag #BPBAwards for updates on social media.
The ceremony will be hosted on our new virtual events platform The Awards Room which gives nominees and sponsors the chance to experience real-time networking and hear from speakers.
All of your attendees will be placed together on your own table and you can invite people from outside your group to join you during the event.
Your table will also have private chat, allowing you to communicate with your colleagues during the awards. For more information about our Business Awards and events please visit www.reachplcevents.com.
Tech firm MyCleverGroup announced in June that it is allowing staff to work from home ‘forever’ if they wish to.
The Stoke-on-Trent company told its 50-plus employees that they can continue to work from home indefinitely, after proving they can make it work throughout the pandemic.
They had previously been allowed to work from home for two days a week if they wished, but have since been told they can work remotely all the time.
Bosses at the company said the decision showed a ‘further commitment to supporting employees wellbeing and provides the flexibility required in the modern world of work.’
One of the West Midlands’ most high-profile employers announced in September it had started consulting with staff over redundancies.
NEC Group operates a host of major exhibition and live event spaces but admitted it had generated “almost zero” revenue since the lockdown first started in March.
Sites such as the National Exhibition Centre, International Conference Centre and Resorts World Arena had stood unused for months.
A statement from the group was also keen to point out it had lent the exhibition centre rent free for use as a Nightingale hospital – a facility which in the end was never utilised.
In October, the group confirmed it was looking to shed 450 jobs or 55 per cent of its permanent workforce.
ORNUA FOODS UK
Dairy firm Ornua Foods UK is investing £3 million at its Staffordshire Moorlands headquarters after seeing strong growth during lockdown.
The company – which employs 650 people – is installing new cheese cutting and packing equipment at its Leek factory to increase capacity by an additional 7,000 tonnes.
The investment comes after the company saw sales rise by more than 15 per cent in 2020 and will take Ornua UK’s annual production of branded and own-label cheese to more than 110,000 tonnes.
Bosses at the company – which is behind some major dairy brands including Pilgrims Choice and Kerrygold butter – have attributed the growth to the change in consumer buying patterns during the pandemic and a surge in demand during lockdown.
Landscaping and garden maintenance business Planterra launched a new company in a bid to safeguard jobs on the back of the coronavirus crisis.
The management team behind the business – which is based in Barlaston, Staffordshire – launched OakHouse Professional in July, offering a range of admin, skilled and business support services such as data entry, social media management and book-keeping.
OakHouse Professional is currently staffed by existing Planterra employees which sometimes find themselves at a loose end when it is naturally quieter during the winter.
Bosses at the company said the launch of the new business would help to bring stability to the group while also helping other small businesses at the same time.
For classroom resources provider Teacher’s Pet, 2020 was one of the best year’s the company has ever seen.
The business was founded by husband-and-wife team Jay and Christina Loftus in 2010 to provide downloadable learning and teaching resources for primary schools around the world.
Unsurprisingly, Teacher’s Pet saw business boom during the pandemic as schools were closed and parents and teachers were forced to adapt to home-learning.
Not only did the business celebrate its milestone 10th year in business last year, it also relocated from its office at Burslem Enterprise Centre to a brand new base at Fellgate Court in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
It has also successfully grown its workforce from a team of three to a team of 10 in the last 12 months.
Technology repair business TMT First has grown its workforce to in excess of 100 staff in the last 12 months after seeing a huge increase in demand for its repair services during lockdown.
The Newcastle-under-Lyme company saw more than 100,000 mobile phones comes through its doors for processing – 30,000 of which needed repairing – in the first six months of the pandemic.
It also won a host of new contracts with the NHS, police forces, the Government and local authorities.
More recently the company, launched a training academy at its Chesterton headquarters to fill more than a dozen trainee repair technician roles.
The recruitment drive is all part of the company’s plan to further expand the business over the next 12 months.
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Varicose vein specialist Veincentre announced its ambitious growth plan towards the end of 2019 – before the pandemic hit.
The Stoke-on-Trent business secured a multi-million pound investment to help aid its plans to double in size in the next three years and have a 15-strong portfolio of clinics by the end of 2021.
Despite national lockdown restrictions forcing the business to close for months at the start of last year, Veincentre is well on track to reach its target.