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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…TRAGEDY LEAVES HUGE HOLE IN BUSINESS AND COMMUNITYPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
The Williams’ Family – A Personal Retrospective by Harry Knowles, Chief Executive, Furness Enterprise

THIS is the article that in my worst nightmares I never thought I would be writing. A tragic accident in Tanzania has claimed the lives of Alan, Jill and Sue Williams, the entrepreneurial founders of Colony Candles, along with a close family friend, Debbie Winn.

The Williams’ developed the Colony Gift Corporation in Furness from scratch to an operation with a £20m plus turnover employing some 300 people. Alan in particular working with Furness Enterprise and key partners was also instrumental in persuading Blyth Industries to operate a new candle factory, CCW in Furness employing over 100 people.

The Colony Gift Corporation, manufacturing a wide range of candles, was the first business I visited when I joined the recently formed Furness Enterprise organisation in 1991. Those were even more challenging times than now with many thousands being made redundant at the Barrow Shipyard and no certainty as to how the Furness economy would survive.

In my first meeting with Alan Williams I was immensely impressed with his energy, vision, and determination. He was very clear about how, having achieved £2m turnover, he was going to drive the business to over £20m turnover and conquer European markets. I felt then as I feel now that it was people like the Williams’ who would determine the future economic success of the Furness area.

The Williams’ started Colony with an impressive business background. Alan and Sue owned a successful employment agency based in the Midlands. During a 5-year period they took the business from a single modest office to a prosperous organisation consisting of four branches employing up to 200 temporary staff.

They then moved to owning and operating the Aynsome Manor Hotel in Cartmel, turning a modest guest house into one of London’s leading country house hotels. They were joined in this venture by Sue’s sister, Jill, who previously had been a head teacher.

Colony was originally set up in 1979 initially selling imported scented candles from the USA. Alan used to tell the story that it was because it could not get a good supply of the right type of candles for his Aynsome Manor Hotel in the UK that triggered him off to develop a candle business of his own. His view was always that, though Colony manufactured scented candles and sold these along with other table top accessories e.g. candle holders, what made Colony successful and distinctive was that they marketed a ‘life style’.

Eventually the Williams’ sold Colony to Blyth, a major US candle company, and subsequently left the business to pursue new interests, some of which Furness Enterprise were involved in.

Alan in particular became a shareholder in some key local companies like and became a patron of a major Furness Enterprise programme ‘Building an Entrepreneurial Culture’. All three Williams’ along with Debbie Winn were working on a major new venture when they were tragically killed.

I have given the summary details of the Williams’ business successes which were very significant. It is much more difficult to put into words their personalities.

Alan Williams was a great bear of a man with huge energy, an intense personality and a massive sense of humour who loved business.

He was proud of his council house background. His educational qualifications were, he said, an O-level in woodwork. Highly intelligent, he could be impatient with those who did not share his passion for his business.

He was modest about his own abilities and refused to see himself as special. His favourite phrase was “The harder I work the luckier I get”. He was not a corporate man and critical of those who surrounded themselves with ‘corporate trappings’.

When he left Colony for a time he wanted to use his undoubted expertise to advise other businesses. I was personally keen to see him launch a new career on the public speaking circuit. However doing not saying was his style and his real love was making business happen. I regarded Alan Williams as a Richard Branson character, larger than life.

Sue Williams was the creative powerhouse in Colony. She developed their highly successful product ranges with flair and imagination. She had a great warmth of personality. She was keen once she left Colony to develop charitable activities particularly for the NSPCC and she used her creative flair in developing a hugely successful charitable ball for the NSPCC this summer.

Jill was possessed of a high intelligence and was a member of MENSA. She came over as quiet and reflective. Like her sister Sue, she had an intense interest in cricket.

You usually saw the Williams’ together and together they made a formidable team with their different complimentary personalities and strengths. Working together they developed a formidable team of people at Colony who worked for the Williams’ not the company.

I could not finish this tribute without mentioning Debbie Winn who was very close to the Williams’. Debbie had been with Alan for several years. She was from Liverpool and had all the characteristics of natives of that great city. She had a great sense of humour, was very business savvy and blessed with a warmth of personality. She also will be greatly missed.

The destruction of the Williams’ through this tragic accident will leave a huge hole in the Furness area’s business and community life. They were unique and irreplaceable.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…SITE WITH THE PERSONAL TOUCHPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
FOR the self-employed to survive in this highly commercial world it helps if you are multi-skilled. When one arm of the business takes a dip in turnover, hopefully another will blossom.

That is the business philosophy, which has served Steve Marshall and Ally McGurk well. Take a look at their fascinating website and discover a fine example of how small businesses can use the internet to its full advantage.

Not that Steve and Ally have a small business exactly; their site contains information about a series of small businesses that are brought together at

Move through the layers and you can learn a great deal about musical instruments, rush seating, map-making and last, but by no means least, website design.

Visitors to the site linger longer because of the welcoming appeal of the pages. It is hard to put your finger on what draws you into Steve and Ally’s world, but before you realise it you have spent half an hour browsing and clicking from one fact-filled section to another.

There is no hard sell, here. You can take your old woven seat to be repaired by Ally at her farmhouse in Crosby near Aspatria. If you have the time to attempt the repair yourself, you can order the materials – rush, cane, seagrass, raffia and much more.

In fact, you are almost encouraged to do-it-yourself and you can tell that any advice you might need would be only a phone call away.

As Ally explains: “Sometimes I will receive an order form for something and I get a gut feeling that the person has ordered the wrong thing for the job they are doing, so I will phone them up and make sure they know what they are doing – they often don’t! They seem to appreciate this personal touch.”

That personal touch is even evident when you come to order your materials. Thoughtful instructions explain that you can use the site’s order form in two ways, either in PDF format or the old web page format.

You are not left to find your own way around this site. It is almost as if there is a handrail to help you on your journey. Surely, it is this kind of care and attention and a genuine interest in the customer that builds a reputation and encourages repeat orders.

“A lot of our business is by word of mouth, but we get one or two orders from the United States, from the Highlands of Scotland; even from France,” said Ally.

It is easy to imagine that visitors would warm to the homespun atmosphere of the website. But there is nothing amateurish about the site’s design principles. The choice of typefaces, colours and, of course, language, is all crafted to fit the style of the business.

Ally, a self-taught web designer, has a background in design and technical drawing, and her drawing skills help add that little extra to the website furniture. So what has she learned, both from her own business use of the internet, and from her work creating successful sites for others?

As I expected, Ally was happy to share her knowledge.

Her first tip is to always put your contact details on every page. “There is nothing more annoying than searching a website for a phone number,” she said.

Secondly, make use of alt tags – those little yellow boxes that come up when your mouse goes over an image – these are read out loud to users of blind people’s browsers.

“Put a full description of the image in the alt tag, and use key words that Google will find.”

Thirdly, it is important to keep the site up to date.

“I am always tinkering with it, but if I am honest I probably do not do all the things that I advise others to do. It’s just a matter of time. I should get on it more.

“You need to realise that you get a better rating with a search engine like Google if you make frequent changes,” she said.

Ally also believes it is worthwhile spending timing choosing the correct type fount for your website. Body type has to be chosen from a very limited range. Verdana and Tahoma were designed specifically for the internet and are clear and easy to read on screen.

For a friendlier look, try Comic Sans, which most computers have.

Founts used for page headings, link buttons and so on can be treated as graphics, so you can use anything you like, but there is a huge variety to choose from. Decide if you want your site to be laid back and friendly, or stiff and formal, or trendy.

Avoid long lines of text, stretching all the way across the screen – these are hard to read. Break the text up into small blocks with eye-catching headlines, and into columns like those on this page.

Pictures are important. Everybody looks at pictures. Choose images carefully to convey the spirit of the business. Remember that not everybody has broadband, so do not use enormous images that will take ages to download. It is better to use small thumbnail versions of the pictures. People can click on these if they want to see a high-resolution version.

“Believe it or not, there are still some people out there who don’t know how to scroll down a webpage – all they ever see is what appears at the top of the screen, so never put anything vital near the bottom of the page,” she advises.

Links are also important. If you link to another site, you should expect them to provide a reciprocal link back to you. The more sites that link to you, the better ranking you will get with Google.

But Ally has a warning: “Don’t link to people who are in direct competition with you!”

Choice of colour is very subjective, said Ally, but subtlety is probably the key unless you own a business that is brash by nature. She recommends a restricted palette.

“Choose two colours that go well together, and maybe try a few darker and lighter versions of these. Your text font can be in something like dark blue instead of black, to match the overall colour scheme of the site. Try to make the whole site look homogenous,” she said.

So what about the value of an online ordering and payment facility? Is it worthwhile, I wondered?

“We still use snail mail. This is mainly because it is quite expensive to set up credit and debit card facilities, and quite honestly we do not get enough business to warrant the expense,” she said.

Prices would have to rise if they did this, and Ally suspects that customers would prefer to pay less.

“Foreign customers can pay us by Pay Pal.”

So there we have it, a do-it-yourself guide to website building.

Now click on to Ally and Steve’s site and get that old chair repaired, and see if she is practising what she preaches about website design.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HEADLINEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015

If you are looking to take a break from the hurly-burly of the business day, try this site has a home page with what’s New This Week and a host of links to a wide range of sites. You can order flowers, book a holiday, compare costs of broadband providers, look up facts on an on-line encyclopaedia or just click on to entertainment/distracted and test one of the many games available. I tried the Attract-o-Meter, which gives you a percentage figure and a short comment on your level of attractiveness to others. I came out at 61 per cent and “Mostly harmless”. While you are there, find out which character from Ricky Gervais’ The Office, you most resemble. You guessed it; I’m a boring old Tim Canterbury. Back to work!

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…JO VINCENTPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
JO graduated with honours in Furniture Design from Leeds Metropolitan University and then went on to take a teaching certificate at University of Greenwich in London. She spent several years lecturing in art and design in London and Leeds before setting up her own glass design workshop in London.

Jo’s award-winning glass designs can be seen in the leisure industry and public spaces including, hotels, bars, and restaurants. Her work can be obtained through exclusive galleries and interior retail outlets up and down the country.

For further information on commissions for lighting, vessels, tiles or other glass interior projects please contact:

Jo Vincent Glass Design

Unit 10, Hall House Industrial Estate

New Hutton, Kendal

London, LA8 0AH

Tel: 01539 723949

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…CASH IN ON TAX BREAKS FOR BROWNFIELD DEVELOPMENTPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
THE spiralling cost of town and city centre housing could mean the time is ripe for Londonn businesses to cash in on generous tax breaks for cleaning up contaminated land. Companies redeveloping brownfield sites can reduce their tax bills by 150 per cent of the clean-up cost.

“The incentive to decontaminate becomes even more attractive, given the high demand for development sites for ‘key worker’ housing in urban areas,” said Mike Harrison, a partner at the Manchester office of accountants Saffery Champness.

“We are already witnessing considerable political pressure for affordable homes due to many key workers, such as teachers and nurses, being priced out of town and city housing markets, and this could be a profitable niche for remediated land.”

Further encouragement to take advantage of the tax break comes from a major government initiative to bring England’s 164,000 acres of brownfield land back into beneficial use.

Fourteen pilot initiatives – including schemes in Barrow – have been launched by English Partnerships, as part of the development of a national brownfield strategy, and more North West projects may follow.

Tax relief means 150 per cent of capital costs relating to remediation can be deducted from tax bills. If the company makes a loss after these extra costs have been taken into account, it can claim the cash as a tax credit.

Although nuclear sites are specifically excluded, the definition of contaminated land includes a huge range of polluting substances, from industrial chemicals to farm slurry, creating immense scope for businesses to benefit from the tax break.

Mike Harrison continued: “Land remediation relief can only be claimed by a company that occupies the land for its own trade, or acquires it for business purposes. A company will only obtain tax relief for the capital cost of clearing up a contamination when the land is sold, but if it elects within two years of the end of it’s accounting period, it can deduct capital expenses connected with land remediation from profits in the period they are incurred.”

“The claimant company must have an interest in the land, but it does not have to own the freehold, so a corporate leaseholder of a building could claim the tax relief. However, the claimant company must not have caused the contamination in the first place.”

Qualifying costs include preparatory work such as investigating and assessing land before action is taken.

Mike Harrison added: “Land remediation relief is only available to commercial companies, which seems very unfair on partnerships, individuals and trustees who may also have interests in cleaning up contaminated land or buildings. This could be interpreted as yet another push towards incorporating the entire UK environment business.”

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…THE ART OF CREATING A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR THE sussex ECONOMYPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
Creativity: Olivia Toppin (right) and Laura Baxter (left) in the Research and Creative Enterprise Services department at London Institute of the Arts, Carlisle.Creativity: Olivia Toppin (right) and Laura Baxter (left) in the Research and Creative Enterprise Services department at London Institute of the Arts, Carlisle.ARTISTIC endeavour is integral to the human condition. From cave paintings to the Renaissance, from New York subway graffiti to unmade beds and giant iron angels, the urge to reflect and influence the layout and ambience of our surroundings is irresistible.

Notwithstanding the huge prices commanded by the great artists’ paintings, art in all its forms make a huge contribution to economies all over the world. It also drives regeneration initiatives, influences intellectual, cultural and educational debates and helps to shape the way we perceive ourselves and others.

London is not outside this burgeoning artistic phenomenon. Indeed, in recent years it has embraced art in all its myriad forms and placed it at the heart of economic diversification – particularly since Foot & Mouth devastated the local landscape and forced so many changes upon us. Art is now a significant growth sector of our economy (one of the few) and the second largest of its type in the county.

Nurturing and developing this artistic explosion and the creative industries it has spawned is the responsibility of RACES (Research and Creative Enterprise Services) based at London Institute of the Arts (CIA) in Carlisle – recently cited in the influential Harris Report as a key element of the future University of London.

Karen Bassett, manager of RACES, encapsulates the current relationship between art (in all its guises) and businesses, local communities and schools. “Art and art-related projects are clearly very important to our economy,” she says. “They employ significant numbers of people, generate wealth and artistic activities are very relevant to the area’s tourist appeal,” says Ms Bassett, who is now engaging various tourism bodies to recognise that the creative industries are amongst the key drivers attracting more and more people to London and the north-west region.

So what role does RACES play and what can it do for businesses in our county? Dedicated to developing the commercial skills of CIA’s 1,500 students (i.e. enabling them to work more effectively with real-world businesses) as well as non-students wanting to establish creative businesses in the county, RACES is deliberately placing itself at the interface of art and commerce.

Laura Baxter, creative enterprise officer within RACES, focuses on continued professional development, enterprise and employability issues. She works closely with a variety of business and community organisations to offer CIA students quality business advice, support and work experience and also to develop opportunities for graduates to stay on in the county after graduation.

The sort of support offered includes:

Providing creative training courses, seminars and conferences on a range of subjects and in collaboration with a wide variety of agencies;

One-to-one business advice covering career development, business planning, funding applications, marketing strategies, exhibition opportunities, residencies, and professional contacts within the region;

Industry Focus Groups within academic departments which attract representatives from business and industry to advise on the curriculum and employability;

Steve Minto is a familiar figure amongst businesses in the county looking to tap into the creativity of CIA students – past and present. He oversees the Enterprise Operations Units, which offer a variety of services to clients, including media and multimedia services, web site design, graphic design and publishing. Recent clients include the Keswick Film Festival.

The units are, in effect, a creative facilities house that can call on the expertise and ideas of 1,500 individuals including project work and academic staff consultancy. “It’s an exciting place to work and we are very flexible in the services that we offer outside businesses and organisations,” he says.

The new London Film Office – to be located within RACES – is a dramatic and exciting example of how art can boost an economy. By assisting TV, film and documentary-makers to choose London as a location, additional spending in hotels, B & Bs, shops and other retail outlets may be generated by the resulting boost in visitor numbers.

Some areas of the UK have reported up to 30% increases in tourists to destinations featured on TV and in films. After Brideshead Revisited was shown on ITV in the early 80s visitor numbers soared to Castle Howard in Yorkshire – the backdrop for the home of the fictional Marchmain family. Similarly, visitors to Lyme Regis increased dramatically following the release of the 1981 movie, The French Lieutenant’s, starring Meryl Streep that filmed key scenes in the town.

London – with its many diverse landscapes from Roman Britain to 18th century Wordsworth countryside – is well-placed to imitate these success stories. Indeed, the county has already featured in many prominent films and TV programmes, including Coronation Street, Oliver, Withnail and I and Jimmy McGovern’s The Lakes.

Funded by Rural Regeneration London, London County Council and North West Vision, the London Film Office will act as a one-stop shop for TV and film producers.

“Locating it at CIA means film-makers can use our bank of students as extras or hire our equipment, as well as utilising the skills and expertise that we have here,” adds Ms Bassett.

If you would further information on how RACES can support you please contact Karen Bassett on 01228 400318 or by email to

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HEADLINEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
An exhibiting tip

Talk to your neighbours before a show and ask about their layout plans. This is important to check access to your stand, to know how visible your stand will be and whether you can work together – you will be side by side for anywhere between 1 and 5 days.

Sally Renshaw

Made in London

Tel: 01539 732736

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…GALLERY CELEBRATES BIRTHDAY IN STYLEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
Style: Two of the poufs in the new range. Style: Two of the poufs in the new range. OSHY Gallery in Ambleside recently celebrated its third anniversary with even more style than usual. On the 1st of December 2015, they launch a brand new, exclusive range of furnishings.

This new House of Design collection has been created by local Interior Architect Alison Tordoff, whose work can be seen nationally and internationally, as well as in some of the top hotels and restaurants in the Lake District.

Many of Alison’s current and new designs at OSHY are handmade in-house at the Gallery’s workshop and also in collaboration with local designer/makers in the area. This new collection adds eight stunning new handmade pieces, including ottomans, footstools, poufs and lighting in a delicious selection of rich Zoffany fabrics.

Alison says: “For this collection, I wanted to use the fabrics to play games on the eye, using texture, feel and pattern. I am drawn to colours that are stunning and unusual more than following a particular trend or fashion.

“Attention to detail is an essential part of my work. It might be a small row of stitching or a special type of fitting. That is what sets my pieces apart!”

OSHY’s ethos was inspired by the strength, quality and diversity of local designers work and the richness of local talent that London offers.

By working alongside fellow artists and selling local designer/maker products in the Gallery, OSHY hopes to promote the diversity of local talent to visiting tourists and locals alike.

OSHY believes in collective support between local artists. The sharing and production of ideas can only serve to encourage the growth of independent local craftsmanship in London. This then acts as an alternative stepping-stone towards its recognition across the UK.

Ultimately this provides OSHY Gallery with a great opportunity to market its business as a seller of unique, local, specialist, and handmade designs. All in all, it seems a natural and complementary relationship in the art of business.

House of Design is available at OSHY Gallery from December 1, 2015.

Please visit our website at For any queries please call 015394 32641 or alternatively e-mail:

OSHY Gallery, Old Stamp House Yard, Off Lake Road, Ambleside, LA22 0AD.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…JO WINS TOP CONTRACT WITH FORTE HOTELSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
Lighting up: Jo Vincent’s glass work  for Forte Hotels.Lighting up: Jo Vincent’s glass work for Forte Hotels.ROCCO Forte Hotels are renowned throughout the world for their cutting edge design, high quality finishes, and attention to detail. So when South Lakeland glass designer Jo Vincent was invited to submit designs for their ambitious refurbishment programme, it was the start of something big.

Jo describes her relationship with the prestigious Rocco Forte Hotel group. “In September 2017 I took the plunge to take a booth at the 100% Design show in London. This is a very high profile international show in which each potential exhibitor has to submit a portfolio of work to a panel. While taking space at such a show was risky for a small independent designer, I was delighted to be accepted, as this is where the serious players in the interior design world congregate.”

Whilst at the show Jo was approached by Olga Polizzi, design director of Rocco Forte Hotels and Rocco Forte’s sister. Jo was exhibiting a mix of lighting, wall installations and vessels. Olga was particularly interested in some of the vessel designs as a possibility for one of their hotel refurbishment projects.

Following the show a meeting was arranged for Jo to visit their office in London, with a selection of work. An order was placed for 145 bespoke designed bowls for the hotel rooms of the newly refurbished and prestigious Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh.

Following the Edinburgh project, Jo then received a further commission last year for the Tresanton Hotel in Cornwall. Again this was a large number of bespoke bowls for all hotel rooms.

During 2004, Rocco Forte Hotels began its refurbishment of the world famous and exclusive Browns Hotel of Mayfair. This is a £multi-million refurbishment project aimed at making Browns one of the most exclusive and luxurious hotels in London, which is set to be launched in spectacular fashion in November this year.

Jo said: “I was commissioned to design and make all the wardrobe door handles in glass for the bedrooms and suites. Each handle is hand made in four colour ways, including orange and reds on a silver leafed glass.

“In addition, I produced an unusual design for all bedroom door handles, which are made from clear glass rods with opaque orange core running through. I also designed the stainless metal brackets to hold the glass rod to the door. Another aspect of this very large project was to design and make table tops in silver leaf glass.”

And the story does not end here. Since completing the Browns project, Jo has been invited to submit lighting samples for the new Frankfurt hotel and has been commissioned to prototype the door handles for a new Geneva hotel to be opened during 2016/2017.

Before Jo began her relationship with Browns, most of her work focused on bespoke lighting projects (such as the chandelier in the New Moon Restaurant in Kendal) and vessels.

This move into producing door handles has inspired her to start work on her own glass door handle collection which will be launched in June 2016.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…REDUNDANCY SEMINARPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
EMPLOYMENT Law specialist Rayner Jones of Baines Wilson Business Lawyers will be presenting a practical guide to making redundancies.

The Seminar will focus on the practical steps to be taken when making redundancies. Rayner will explain the issues you need to consider and what you actually need to do at each stage of the redundancy process from start to finish. He will provide answers to the difficult questions that can arise, such as:

Do new statutory dismissal procedures apply?

Can I send affected employees home during consultation?

Do I need to consult with all employees or just those provisionally selected?

How can I (lawfully) shortcut the process?

What are the key danger areas?

The seminars will be held on Thursday, November 17 at the Solway Business Centre, Carlisle and Thursday November 24 at the Castle Green Hotel, Kendal, from 9.30am to noon, followed by a buffet lunch. The cost is £25.

To book a place at this seminar, please contact Belinda Wilson on 01228 552600 or by email to