Sunday, 21 December 2014

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


January’s on the way which means most people are planning their resolutions for the moment when the Christmas festivities end and a clean sheet presents itself in the form of a new year.

As well as getting fit, losing weight and ditching the alcohol, learning a foreign language is in the top ten most common resolutions.
Vici Language Academy in Newbury sees a 20% increase in enquiries in January with the most common languages being French, Spanish then German.

German is a particular favourite of business people and bilingual employees can earn up to 20% more than their monolingual counterparts, making language learning a good choice of New Year’s resolution.

Nathalie Danon-Kerr, founder and director of the VICI Language Academy shares her top tips for learning a language.

1. Find out what kind of learner you are:
Everyone learns differently. Some people learn better when they see something written down, others like to hear something several times; some language learners like to learn the grammar rules by heart. Nathalie recommends using a variety of strategies including books, listening to recordings, rehearsing dialogues and learning vocabulary to practise the different skills of listening, writing, speaking and reading. It is proven that you are 67% more likely to remember something if you have gone through the process of writing it down.

2. Work at your own pace
Nathalie recommends studying in half hour segments, but not trying to do too much at once. She recommends regular lessons, supplemented by practice. She also says that you should vary the task according to your mood; for example, if you are tired, try a less demanding task such as repeating activities. If your concentration is waning, try reading a foreign language magazine article about a subject that interests you.
3. Never give up
Remember that it is possible to communicate with just a few words; don’t get disheartened if you feel you are not making progress as eve when you get things wrong, you are still learning.
4. Improvise
Sometimes you need a word that you don’t yet know. Nathalie assures learners that every language learner has been in this position and if you can communicate by facial expressions, hand movements or props, you will build up confidence and will maintain the conversation. She extends this technique to tenses as well; if you don’t know the past tense of the verb, then use the present tense, plus the word “yesterday” so that people will understand the gist of what you are trying to say.
5. Guess!
You aren’t expected to understand everything first time round so use clues such as tone of voice, words that sound similar to English (eg vacances in French sounds like vacation in English).
6. Keep speaking
Nathalie recommends recording yourself speaking, particularly when doing pronunciation practice. When you listen back, evaluate your performance and don’t worry about mistakes. Keep practising!
7. Vocabulary
Take just two words at a time and learn them. Put them into sentences in your mind and come back to them later.

8. Get the right tools
A bilingual dictionary is useful to help translate new words and expressions. Choose a dictionary that gives plenty of information on usage through illustrative examples to help guide you through the contexts it can be used it. Advanced learners may like to have a foreign language thesaurus to help them build vocabulary. It’s also helpful to build your own dictionary using an index book.

9. Get used to hearing everyday language at normal speed
Watching foreign language films and TV is a good way of getting used to sounds and intonations. Nathalie recommends watching the news or a programme that reflects your own interests so that you learn the language quickly and effectively.

Nathalie adds: “Learning a language is an on-going process so it’s vital to make it as enjoyable as possible. Remember that a fluent language speaker is a beginner who never gave up!”
Language programmes in French, Spanish, German, Italian, English as a second language, Turkish, Arabic, Portuguese, Polish, Japanese, Russian and Mandarin are available, with Dutch becoming available for the first time from January 2015.


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Thanks to the Ardrossan Herald!

Nothing like a nice investment story where local jobs are created. Thanks to the Ardrossan Herald for using this...

Abbotsford Nursing Home in Ardrossan has recently benefited from a six-figure upgrade to increase occupancy and to enlarge and upgrade existing rooms.

The two-phase project was part-funded by RBS and included the construction of an extension which increased the number of beds from 35 to 39, plus a reconfigured layout of the main house, meaning many rooms have been enlarged and now have new en-suite bathrooms.

New facilities were also added, including a fifth lounge and day rooms for activities, a new hair salon and treatment room for more effective storage of supplies and treatment of patients.

Additionally, ten new jobs have been created at the home, increasing the headcount to 74.

The home is owned by husband-and-wife team Nigel and Lynn Wanless with business partner Brian Collins. When they wanted to upgrade the home to ensure it matched the standards offered by nearby Burnlea Care Home in Largs, which they also own, they approached Stuart Frame at RBS for assistance with funding.

Together they attracted a development loan of £500,000 from RBS as part of the bank’s participation in the government’s Funding for Lending Scheme. With the addition of their own savings, the loan enabled the team to carry out the work, which took 14 months to complete. Turnover is expected to increase by about £120,000.

Nigel said: “We wanted our investment to make the accommodation more responsive to the needs and expectations of current and future residents which is why overall the work has only added four extra rooms. For what we spent, we haven’t added a huge number of rooms, but have improved the look and feel of the home and have made the facilities a better layout, whilst retaining a homely, domestic feel.

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of residents and their families and we’re delighted that disruption has been kept to a minimum. The feedback since completion has been excellent; everyone is settled and enjoying the extra space on offer. All the different facilities are working well together.

“Abbotsford Nursing Home is known for the level of commitment and quality of care given to its residents and this recent work will help us to maintain our market position as a care home of choice within North Ayrshire.

“We chose RBS as we have been with them since 1986 and their customer service is outstanding. Since we met Stuart, he has been in close contact and regularly visits us onsite.”

Stuart Frame from RBS added: “Abbotsford is renowned for the commitment and care offered by its staff and we were delighted to have been able to support their vision for a bigger and better home. Nigel has been involved with Abbotsford since the 1990s and is a proven business operator that we knew we wanted to support.”

Renault Retail re-launches its website at

Renault Retail has re-launched its website at after working with design agency ADZ Media to deliver a more intuitive and customer-focused site.
Based on customer feedback, the new site has been designed to be more accessible and responsive, particularly to users on mobile phones and other devices.

The new layout gives the customer a much easier path to follow, with intuitive navigation, enhanced features and usability.

Elina Karppinen, group marketing manager for Renault Retail Group said that as 45.55% of the site’s visitors currently use a mobile or a tablet, there was a huge focus on making the site responsive.

She said: “We have talked to our customers and listened to their views very carefully. Their feedback has informed the redesign of the website – not just the content, but the look and feel of it, as well as the attention to detail.”

Many of the site’s original features have been retained, giving the user the opportunity to search by area through new and used Renault vehicles, as well as other makes. Users can also search through Motability offers and there’s a dedicated section for business customers guiding them through everything from financing and advising on the best car or van for their requirements, to keeping the fleet maintained and on the road.

Renault Retail Group is a national network of 19 dealerships and sells 1 in every 4 Renault in the UK. The group is 100%-owned by Renault and offers the full range of Renault cars, vans and associated products. Renault Retail Group has sold more than 350,000 vehicles in the UK since it was started in 1996.


Thursday, 11 December 2014


Just found an old release showcasing joint working and collaboration with other organisations - will be discussing this in the PR workshops in January......

Liverpool steel fabricators Wren Industrial and Marine Fabrication has secured the future of three staff members with the significant investment in a new piece of equipment thanks to the Stepclever Legacy project run by Invest Sefton through Sefton Council, NatWest and its dedicated asset finance division Lombard.

Wren Industrial and Marine Fabrication was set up by David and Helen Wren in 1990 when they saw a need for a metal fabrication business that could supply products to marine and land-based firms. The company has now grown to serve a client list including Stena and Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and supply products ranging from ship doors to walkways, stairways, storage tanks and subsea ballast frames.

Since then, they have grown to turnover £1.2m and now employ 16 staff. However, having found times tough during the economic downturn of the last four years, they needed to invest in a new profile cutting machine as their current piece of equipment incurred increasing amounts of downtime.

They decided to apply for £22,000 from Sefton Council’s Stepclever Legacy grant fund that helps local small businesses, based in the wards of Anfield, Everton, Kirkdale, County, Derby & Linacre to get funding to secure existing employment and create jobs.

The new machine has a much larger cutting capacity and its implementation has enabled the company to diversify into producing a wider range of products and sub components. It’s hoped that it will add a further 12% to the company’s turnover and means two additional machine operatives can employed in the next three months to use the machine to its best potential.


Athena Network speakers in January

West Berkshire businesswomen are invited to get their 2015 off to the right start with the Athena Network with a varied menu of business topics on the agenda for January.
Sue Jackson, a qualified accountant and tax adviser from Working Numbers will talk to the Hungerford group about her recent conquest of Ben Nevis and how it helped with goal setting. The meeting takes place at Audley Inglewood on Friday, 9th January.

The Newbury North group meets on Wednesday, 14th January at the Chequers Hotel where the Athena Network regional director Debbie Miles will discuss not only how to create a business plan but how to make it fun. There will also be a discussion on how to be remembered after a networking event.
The Thatcham group meets at the Regency Park Hotel on Tuesday, 20th January, when Jo Cooke of Tapioca Tidy and Hoarding Disorders UK will be offering tips on how to declutter workspaces and prepare for 2015.

Meanwhile, the Newbury South group meets on Wednesday, 21st January at La Tasca, where Clare Sheffield from S & T Design will be talking about branding and ensuring a strong business image.

Debbie Miles, regional director of the West Berkshire Athena Network said: “As well as interesting business topics, there is also strategy training, a wonderful lunch and the chance to gain support from local business owners who are passionate about what they do.”
All meetings take place from 12pm to 2pm. For more information, contact Debbie Miles via

Thursday, 4 December 2014

"The future of texting" opinion piece

Just got this piece from Mobile Magazine based on the opinion piece we wrote here:

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Thanks so much to the KM Group for using this piece on an expanding Strood company. I've included the original release below as it was such a lovely story about a 50-year-old company that was started by a 20-year-old and has grown to be a multi-million pound giant in the construction industry.

A specialist paving supplier, approaching its 50th year in business, is about to enter a new chapter after securing over £3million in investment to open a new factory in Strood and a retail outlet in Lincoln.

Castacrete was originally started by Terry Smallman on a small site near Maidstone, Kent when he was just 20, after his father had a six-week wait for their patio paving slabs. Today, the Castacrete Group employs 100 staff across its manufacturing plants and 10 retail sites, supplying decorative paving products to builders’ merchants, DIY chains and garden centres throughout the UK.

Realising that demand for block and “rumbled” paving was rising during the recession, outstripping the speed at which their supplier could react, Smallman decided to invest in specialist machinery and manufacture block paving products on a larger scale themselves.

They approached Grahame Wells, Relationship Director at RBS’ Commercial and Private banking division who assisted in obtaining a loan of £600,000 to help fund the construction of a bespoke building to house the new machinery. An additional loan of £2.5m was provided by the bank’s asset finance specialist Lombard.

The new Strood factory means the creation of five new jobs and a predicted 30% increase in turnover.

“My school teachers always said I should run my own business,” said Terry, who now owns outlets in Leicester, Coventry, Halesowen, Bristol, High Wycombe, Strood, Maidstone, Ashford, and the latest one in Somerset. “It appears they were right”.

“I left school when I was 14 and went on a retail management course. When dad had to wait six weeks for his paving slabs for our patio, he joked that this is what I should do and so I went into paving,” he added.

The secret to success is to be competitive, said Terry, whose son Christopher helps run the Ashford site. He said: “Our retail sales are growing and people are shopping around to find us. A large part of Castacrete’s success is due to our loyal and hardworking staff and the very good management team we have in place”.

Terry described the five-year relationship with Grahame Wells at RBS as “invaluable” and that it had enabled him to diversify and grow the business.

Grahame added: “Having known Terry for five years I understand his business, its history and integrity. With our experience we have been able to help take this independent family business on to the next exciting chapter in its long history.”


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

VICI language academy graduation

Thanks Jane at the NWN!