North West business briefs: Network Rail; Beever and Struthers; Cards Beyond Comfort; St Helens Chamber; TalkTalk

Trafford signalling upgrade

A ‘once in a generation’ overhaul of Manchester’s railway signalling system is complete to improve future journeys for passengers and freight. Equipment which was nearly 40 years old around Trafford Park has been replaced with the latest digital technology.

Network Rail has installed a total of 23 new signals and a further 109 pieces of associated signalling equipment as part of a £36m Great North Rail Project investment. The work will improve reliability and safety for passengers and freight on this important route into Manchester. It will also allow longer freight trains to run in the North West taking traffic off the region’s roads. Now the work is complete a total of 26 signals are controlled from Manchester’s state-of-the-art signalling centre.

Roisin Nelson, sponsor for Network Rail, said: “This major work on this key rail artery into Manchester will transform connectivity for both freight and passengers across the North West. Work like this has never been more important – future proofing this economically important rail link as Britain emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d like to thank passengers and residents for their patience while we delivered these improvements over the last year. The investment will keep passengers on the move, products on supermarket shelves and vital goods going to businesses across the country for decades to come.”

Chris Jackson, regional director at Northern, said: “Our customers are at the heart of everything we do and the work carried out by colleagues at Network Rail will ensure our customers are able to travel on a more modern and more efficient rail network. The work to improve the infrastructure goes hand-in-hand with our own improvements which, over the past 18 months, have seen the full introduction of 101 new trains, the complete refurbishment of our older trains and significant enhancements at our stations.”

The upgrade started in August 2020 and finished over the August Bank Holiday weekend.


Geraldine Finn

As part of its longstanding commitment of giving back to the communities in which it operates, accountants and business advisors Beever and Struthers has donated recycled laptops to schools in Manchester and Blackburn. The schools donated to are Manchester Communication Academy (MCA) and Blackburn Central High School (BCHS).

The issue of a ‘digital divide’ between households came to the fore during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when schools, colleges and universities were closed, and students had to be educated remotely. Beever and Struthers wanted to help bridge the so-called ‘digital divide’ between homes that do or don’t have access to a laptop for learning purposes by providing students with the means to continue their education at home.

As well as donating the laptops, the firm’s partner Andrew McLaren gave a presentation on career prospects at the firm to Year 11 students at MCA. Geraldine Finn, the firm’s marketing and business development director and formal enterprise advisor for BCHS, said: “Being constantly aware of the need to give something back before, during and after the pandemic, sourcing and donating these laptops to GMAT and BCHS proves we’re more than an accountancy firm by investing in and supporting the communities in which we work and live.”

Martin Roberts, assistant principal at Manchester Communication Academy, said: “The donation of the laptops is an incredibly generous gesture and is already making a significant difference to our students, their studies and their future.”

Tracy Reeves, assistant headteacher and careers leader, said “Beever and Struthers is an extended part of our BCHS family. We have formed a meaningful and long lasting relationship that will continue to support our students through their studies as well as helping them to have high aspirations for life.”


Joe Nicklin, left, and Mark Wilsdon

Two lifelong friends from Blackpool have joined forces in a venture to improve the mental health and wellbeing of others through a series of social, physical, and mental challenges.

Joe Nicklin, from Thornton Cleveleys, and Mark Wilsdon, from Marton, both aged 22, always dreamt of starting their own business, and soon after the pandemic hit, this became a reality. Drawing on their own previous experiences, Joe and Mark, who is also known as The Improvement Artist, launched Cards Beyond Comfort in a bid to help tackle increased mental illness as a result of the pandemic and help others achieve their goals.

Comprising 52 unique social, physical, and mental challenges, Cards Beyond Comfort have been designed to help people improve their mental health, increase their confidence, reduce anxiety, and enhance general wellbeing in a fun and informative way. Each card contains a challenge, along with an explanation of the benefits and easy to follow instructions. As well as the cards being split into easy, medium, and hard, each challenge contains two variations, normal or expert, so the cards can cater for anyone.

Joe found himself in a dark place while at university during his placement year, and the challenges he overcame inspired the development of Cards Beyond Comfort. He said: “My mental health was the worst that it has ever been. I had little confidence, I’d struggle talking to new people and I was regularly forced into uncomfortable, pressurised situations that were far from my comfort zone. During my spare time I would research ways to improve my mindset, I started reflecting on why I felt the way that I did and how I could overcome it.”

A couple of years ago, Mark struggled with his mental health after he left his job to pursue his own goals. He said: “Some days I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, I didn’t feel like socialising or talking to people for a while, I was embarrassed to tell people that things were not going as well as I hoped, and this left me feeling completely deflated and beaten. In order to make myself feel better and take action, I started to read self-development books which gave me the motivation that I had lost and started making me think more positively again. I picked up many habits from those books which I still carry with me today and will practice for the rest of my life. We both knew that Cards Beyond Comfort would be a great idea and it was enjoyable creating it because the challenges are already a part of our lives, it feels great to share the knowledge and help others.”


St Helens Chamber

Based on the success of its last event, St Helens Chamber is holding another Jobs and Apprenticeship Fair, on September 16, 11am-3pm at Mercure Hotel St Helens, for local jobseekers looking to get into work and young people looking to start their careers.

With plenty of businesses recruiting in the run up to Christmas, this event will help to connect local people looking for opportunities and aims to help employers find the right candidates. The chamber has strong local business connections, and some employers are also offering apprenticeship opportunities to young people looking to start their careers.

Employers attending the event include: Matalan, Serco, Smyths Toys, McDonalds, Apprenticeships Be More, St Helens Chamber Apprenticeships, Building Careers, Alcedo Care, Optimum Education Resourcing, Citizens Advice St Helens, 3D Trans, The Liverpool Recruitment Company, Alternative Futures Group, National Careers Service St Helens, Swift Temps, Ways to Work, TF Jones and Allied Pharmacy.

As the National Careers Service for St Helens, St Helens Chamber’s qualified careers advisers will also be on hand during the event to give free and impartial careers advice. They can also sign attendees up to a range of free short courses to add extra skills to their CV’s.

Mike Unsworth, career development manager at St Helens Chamber, said: “We had a fantastic response to the last event, so we’ve decided to repeat the event on a larger scale to hopefully help more people. We have a fantastic venue at Mercure Hotel St Helens, and even more employers looking to recruit in the busy run up to Christmas. There’s plenty of opportunities for apprentices looking to start their careers, too, and many local businesses are wanting to support young people to get into work.”


TalkTalk chief executive Tristia Harrison

Greater Manchester is set to host an inspirational empowerment summit for girls aged 11-15 on September 18, at communications group TalkTalk’s Salford headquarters. The Next Generation Summit will be delivered by Reach, a community committed to championing women and girls across the UK, which was created by Sky Sports anchor and successful businesswoman Sarah Stirk.

The Reach Next Generation Summit aims to empower and educate girls from all backgrounds. The event will provide discussions and guidance from a series of female leaders across a broad range of themes, including: The environment; social media; body positivity; wellbeing; exercise; fashion; and opportunities in tech.

Informative and interactive sessions will inspire the girls to face challenges, improve confidence and help to fulfil personal ambitions. The summit also focuses on diversity and inclusion with speakers from all areas of society ready to share their life experiences. Speakers include: Jo Coates, CEO UK Athletics, Gemma Oaten, actress and founder of Seed Charity and Sharon Davies CEO of Young Enterprise.

Girls from across Greater Manchester are invited to attend The Reach Next Generation Summit at TalkTalk’s COVID-secure headquarters – or alternatively via a live stream. Those registering or watching will be encouraged to reach out to friends and classmates after the event, to widen its impact and foster long lasting results.

Tristia Harrison, chief executive at TalkTalk, said: “Young women today face a number of modern pressures, with issues like social media and climate change having an impact on mental wellbeing. That’s why events like The Reach Next Generation Summit are so vital, enabling young women to confidently pursue their goals in a friendly and exciting environment.”