North West business briefs: Made Smarter; Rapid IT; UCLan; World Duty Free; EY

Kate Stalker, Oubas Knitwear director

Textile manufacturers across the region are being urged to adopt digitilisation to drive sustainability and growth by Made Smarter, the technology adoption programme.

To date, 125 companies from the sector based in the North West are embracing change by tapping into impartial expert technology advice, digital transformation workshops to help them take their first steps, a leadership programme, digital technology internships, and skills development support. Of these, 13 businesses, supported by matched-funding, are investing in new digital technology to solve key challenges while increasing productivity, growth, and creating new high value jobs.

But with more than 1,000 fashion and textile manufacturers in the region employing around 15,000 people and with a collective turnover of £1.83bn, Made Smarter believes the sector and region synonymous with the ‘first’ Industrial Revolution has a golden opportunity to lead the ‘fourth’.

Alain Dilworth, North West adoption programme manager at Made Smarter, said: “The textile industry in the North West was at the centre of the first industrial revolution with technological advances enabling cottons, wools, silks and dyestuffs to be produced at unprecedented rates for export around the globe. It is fitting that Made Smarter is now offering its support and expertise to help the same industry embrace the opportunity to lead the fourth industrial revolution.”

Tibard, based in Dukinfield, which makes uniforms for Pizza Express, Wagamama and the NHS, benefited from Made Smarter’s digital transformation process before securing support to invest in a modern IoT-connected, industry 4.0 machine. Managing director, Ian Mitchell, said: “Made Smarter has helped us develop a digital strategy and accelerated our adoption of advanced manufacturing technology. The last two years have been extremely challenging, but we had to diversify our products and customers and are now currently operating at three times our pre-COVID capacity.”

Others tapping into Made Smarter include: Oubas Knitwear, based in Ulverston, as manufacturer of knitted textiles, garments and accessories, Openhouse Products, a manufacture of bespoke medical bags, based in Birkenhead and Try & Lilly, headwear manufacturers based in Liverpool.


Jack Bannister (left) and Rapid IT customer relationships director Chris Stevenson

A Burnley IT asset management specialist has secured a prestigious framework agreement to deliver IT recycling services to universities nationwide.

Rapid IT fought off competition from 17 UK businesses to be named one of the top three suppliers for five consortia connected to UK Universities Purchasing Consortia (UKUPC), a formal entity supporting collaborative procurement within Higher and Further Education.

The firm has more than 30 years of trading experience within the sector and boasts one of the most advanced facilities for IT life cycle and asset management in the UK. Strong customer relationships, repeat business, certifications and awards are all testimony to the company’s achievements and success, it said.

The framework agreement is designed to reduce waste volumes, optimise product utilisation and enable the repurposing of redundant items for use by others. The UKUPC requires suppliers to embed responsible and ethical procurement, sustainable supply chain management and social value into their services, all of which are mirrored within Rapid IT’s own company vision.

Jack Bannister, Rapid IT’s managing director said: “Rapid IT’s purpose goes far beyond profit. We are constantly striving to make positive changes in the world for the benefit of our customers, community and the environment. We are a business passionate about our own green credentials and are committed to helping our customers attain their sustainability objectives.”


Prof Chris Pyke

The Lancashire School for Business and Enterprise (LSBE), at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), has been awarded the Small Business Charter (SBC) in recognition of its commitment to supporting student entrepreneurship, small businesses, and the local economy.

The SBC is an award for the UK’s world class business schools. LSBE was found to have a demonstrable focus on small business engagement and the promotion of enterprise skills to students through inter and co-curricular activities.

The assessment report verified that the funded business support projects across the Business School and wider University have assisted 1,744 SMEs, created 236 jobs and generated £15,000,000 to the local economy.

The Centre for SMEs and Enterprise Development works across the University and the region, demonstrating significant and wide reaching impacts and outcomes. The focus is on both external SME engagement with a network of 1,400 members and internal enterprise development of students and graduates, accumulating in supporting 851 start-ups in the past six years, making UCLan the top university in the North, and fifth in the UK, for student start-ups.

Prof Chris Pyke, Executive Dean of the Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise, said: “Achieving the Small Business Charter reflects our commitment to have a positive economic and social impact within the region and beyond, by being an innovative and enterprising business school, positively changing lives through business and enterprise. As a civic and anchor institution, we will continue our commitment to enterprise and SMEs supporting the regional development agenda which places Lancashire at the heart of opportunities arising from the National Industrial Strategy and as part of the Northern PowerHouse.”


From left: Charlie Cornish, Julian Diaz, Fred Creighton

Following the successful completion of its 1,980 sq m walkthrough store in Manchester’s new Terminal 2 last year, Dufry and Manchester Airports Group (MAG) joined up to officially inaugurate the main duty free store.

The event was attended by Julian Diaz, CEO Dufry, and Fred Creighton, CEO World Duty Free UK & Germany, with Charlie Cornish, MAG chief executive.

Fred Creighton said: “We are extremely proud of the valued and longstanding partnership we have with the Manchester Airports Group and are delighted to join them to officially open this striking new store. It conveys such a strong sense of place and really reflects the great spirit and culture of Manchester.”

The store started trading in the third quarter of 2021 as flights started to move over to the airport’s new Terminal 2 extension.

Alongside the main duty free store World Duty Free also operates a further three stores in the Terminal 2 area – a 129 sq m  Express store, a dedicated 231 sq m Beauty Collection store, and a 230 sq m  Collection store.


Stephen Church

Business advisor EY is set to open its first Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence (NCoE) in Manchester, to fuel innovation in technology, bring a new dimension of creativity, and drive greater diversity and inclusion in the UK workplace.

While EY continues to learn from the contributions of its current neurodivergent employees, the NCoE is designed to create a supportive working environment for individuals with cognitive differences – such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD – that will help them to apply their strengths and meet clients’ business needs in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, automation, blockchain and cyber.

Globally, EY already has six NCoEs in the US, three in Canada, one in India, one in Poland and one in Spain, with further expansion plans into Europe, South America and Asia Pacific.

The Manchester NCoE will draw on the experience of EY’s US practice, which opened its first NCoE in Philadelphia in 2016, spearheaded by Hiren Shukla, who is now EY’s global and Americas Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence Leader. Manchester was selected as the first location in the UK based on the quality of local tech talent and the level of community engagement in the North of England.

Stephen Church, Manchester office managing partner and North markets leader said: “I couldn’t be prouder that EY has selected Manchester and the North of England to locate the NCoE, recognising the innovative spirit in the city and the strength of the community we have locally. We have joined cities around the globe that are opening up the world of work to neurodiverse individuals, whilst offering local businesses largely untapped talent to help fuel their growth in ways they haven’t imagined before.”