Business in the Community Award


Category criteria

  • This category will recognise businesses that demonstrate an impactful commitment to corporate social responsibility, including contributing to the community within which they’re based.
  • Businesses can be of any size and working within any sector.

Acorn Training

Business in the Cpmmunity entrant

Acorn Training is a national training provider, founded and rooted in Staffordshire, delivering adult education, employability programmes, apprenticeships, justice services, skills and careers development for the past 16 years.
It has experienced rapid business and financial growth over the past three years including opening new Acorn Training Centres in Hanley, Manchester, Bolton, Leek, and Crewe.
The centres serve as hubs of support where the team delivers vital services. They go above and beyond by providing additional aids to support including free tea and coffee in all centres, support with paying for travel, walk-in wardrobes for job interviews, in-house learner support for those with neurodiverse needs and signposting to national and local health, money, food and wellbeing services.
It has Invested thousands of pounds into the Hanley Training Centre, which has become the Acorn Training Head Office, spanning three floors including study classrooms, new kitchens, offices, dedicated computer area, enhanced accessibility with a newly installed lift and a bright and professional facade to enhance the aesthetic of its surroundings in the Piccadilly Arcade in Stoke-on-Trent city centre.
Acorn Training has diversified the business into a new justice market and then grown this to a successful new division. This includes an information, advice and guidance service and also supporting returning citizens (ex-offenders) back into the community.
Over the past three years it has supported more than 2,000 individuals to positively enrich their lives through delivering courses to develop skills and knowledge, helping people to find sustainable work, signposting to other wellbeing services, breaking down stereotypes and barriers and providing sustenance.
Acorn Training has been recognised for championing equality, diversity and inclusivity within its work and continues to break down barriers for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those battling mental and physical health conditions, returning citizens, the LGBTQ+ community, veterans and many more minority groups and underrepresented areas of society in Staffordshire and beyond.
Acorn Training has entered the Growth and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Rebus Training

Business in the Community entrant

Since 2010 Rebus Training has been on a mission to be the best electrical training provider in Stoke-on-Trent and the surrounding area. It offers life-changing apprenticeships and professional training for qualified electricians.
Rebus was founded by joint Managing Directors Gary Jackson and Jon Grocock who between them have more than 60 years of experience in the industry and love to share their knowledge to bring the electrical sector forward.
Both born in Stoke-on-Trent, they have always been mindful of giving back to their hometown and the community in which they were raised, especially as their business has grown and progressed over recent years.
Rebus employs 30 staff and currently trains more than 180 apprentices in addition to delivering a wide range of commercial electrical courses.
A commitment to social responsibility is at the core of the organisation. Rebus encourages all staff, learners and apprentices to engage with fundraising efforts and make a positive contribution to the local community.
In 2023 Rebus introduced a nominated charity of the year to provide a focus for fundraising efforts over a 12-month period. The selected charity for 2023 was The Hubb Foundation. The Midlands Air Ambulance Charity was selected for 2024.
Rebus Training has entered the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

YMCA North Staffs

Business in the Community entrant

YMCA North Staffordshire has been serving communities across Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire from its youth campus since 1976.
Communities are at the heart of everything it does and every year it has a footfall of around 90,000 people accessing services including accommodation, sports, youth clubs, family work, training, education health and wellbeing activities.
Activities over the past 12 months have included hosting a community meal with partner organisations to around 150 people every month and delivering weekly youth clubs in five locations across the city providing activities, safe spaces and new opportunities for children and young people.
It has worked with communities through its volunteering programme to help with a variety of projects across the city including a rubbish pick up around Westport Lake, helping at the Shelton allotments and cooking food and gifting it to people in partnership with FEASTED.
YMCA North Staffs has organised and delivered the summer SPACE programme launch in Hanley, Tunstall and Longton providing activities with partners to hundreds of children, provided hampers to more than 500 families during the Christmas period and hosted a weekly space for Sanctus to work from, delivering food, ESOL and guidance to people from the refugee and asylum community.
It has also supported more than 100 families every week through its Pantry – providing food, community and a friendly welcome.
Every night of the year YMCA North Staffs provides a home and shelter to 210 young people aged 16 to 24, reducing the risks of those young people becoming homeless .
In addition it helps its friends and partners across the city wherever it can, gifting the use of a minibus so more children and young people can benefit from wider experiences, offering the YMCA as a safe space to meet, providing support to community groups and working in partnership wherever possible.
Nicky Twemlow, Partnerships and Community Director of YMCA North Staffs, said: “Supporting our city to become the best it can be is a key priority for YMCA North Staffordshire and we work tirelessly to support the strategic ambitions for our communities and the people we serve.
“We play a key role in the work of the Collaborative Network, working with around 30 plus partner agencies to deliver a collective impact. We also helped to launch Made in Stoke, connecting diaspora communities back to the city to gift their time, talent and treasure to benefit others.
“Over the past six years we have won YMCA of the Year twice and we continually challenge the negative perceptions surrounding our city, championing the great work that we all do and the brilliant kind people in our city whenever we can.
“We know that none of us can do this alone and we achieve our greatest impact when we work with others. “
YMCA North Staffs has entered the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Emmaus North Staffs

Business in the Community entrant

Emmaus North Staffs launched a Beds for Kids campaign two years ago to support families who couldn’t afford basic essentials for their homes.
New bed bundles have since been provided to children throughout Stoke-on-Trent and surrounding areas. The bundles include a new bed, bedding and a mattress - which ultimately help to change the lives of children.
“No child should be without a bed, but unfortunately we are seeing more children living on the grips of poverty crisis,” said John Webbe, Executive Lead at Emmaus North Staffs.
“It’s heartbreaking to know there are thousands of children across Stoke-on-Trent who do not have a bed to call their own. The impact this can have on a young person can be quite severe and affects their schooling and all-round physical and mental wellbeing.
“We aim to eradicate this and to put an end to bed poverty by bringing about positive change.”
Emmaus North Staffs teamed up with children’s bed charity Zarach in December 2023 to provide a local support hub at its Furniture and Home Charity Emporium in Etruria.
The hub enables more support to be provided, with more than 100 beds delivered through the partnership in five months.
Emmaus North Staffs also supports around 850 local households by supplying furniture items and appliances to those who cannot afford their own.
In 2023 the organisation, which also has a large store in the Potteries Centre, was recognised for its commitment to the environment with a Sustainability Award at the Potteries Centre’s Annual Awards.
John said: “As well as providing support to local families we are very committed to helping the environment and educating other businesses on how they can help too.
“Each year we help to save hundreds of tonnes of waste going to landfill by recycling household items and we are very keen to support others to do the same.”
The charity has 11 members of staff along with 15 regular volunteers. Workshops take place at the emporium and are run by volunteers to help others to develop new skills for employment opportunities.
John added: “We very much have a large community in which we provide support on several levels - all to help others to achieve more and build confidence in the workplace.”
Emmaus North Staffs has entered the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Alice Charity

Business in the Community entrant

In 2023 The Alice Charity supported 7,688 children, completed 4,470 home visits to support families, made 4,385 wellbeing calls, held 320 parent and toddler groups and provided 21,015 meals through its foodbank.
The Charity was created in 2011 to support vulnerable and disadvantaged families across Stoke- on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme.
It believes in providing strong foundations and diverse services to help individuals to thrive. It has an unwavering commitment to wellness, kindness and community advancement.
Alice has a core staff of 12 employees and has been supported by more than 40 volunteers and placement students from Keele University, Staffordshire University and Newcastle College over the past year. The charity is also supported by organisations including Hanley Economic Building Society, AMB Insurance, Panda Press and RSM.
Every family helped includes at least one person under the age of 18 with wide-range support including the likes of food parcels, help with household budgeting, emotional support and even providing furniture and household items for people in difficult circumstances.
Alice Charity has been entered into the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards by CEO Heather Sheldon.
She said: “Alice is a great place. There is lots of love in our team and everyone here wants to make a difference. I am entering the Staffordshire University Business Awards in recognition of the people who work so hard to make that difference.”

GRN Financial Services

Business in the Community entrant

A financial services company committed to promoting the Staffordshire Moorlands town where it has a high street base has nearly doubled its turnover since 2021.
GRN Financial Services launched in Leek six years ago and has since helped hundreds of people find a home.
Owners Aga and Tom Gronkiewicz have a second mission, to promote their adopted town of Leek and the surrounding Staffordshire Moorlands countryside.
“We are based in the heart of Leek and the desire to serve the town has always been at the heart of our plans,” said Aga.
Husband and wife, Tom and Aga made Leek their home after arriving in England from their native Poland – and they fell in love with the Moorlands market town.
GRN is the only shop-front town centre business in Leek to purely specialise in mortgage and insurance protection services.
This is important to Aga and Tom, they believe people should have an opportunity to pop into their premises, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, and be able to discuss their needs.
Aga and Tom are determined to remain committed to Leek and have plans to invest in larger premises in the town, as part of a strategy for growth.
Aga said: “We took a leap of faith to leave our home in Poland and come to England. Thankfully, we found Leek and we have been made to feel incredibly welcome. We want to pay that back in any way we can.
“I am delighted to have been elected as a member of the Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce Staffordshire Moorlands Advisory Board and our business has this year become a member of Totally Locally, supporting business growth in Leek.
“We always signpost any visitors to Leek town centre shops where we can and think the little things are important, such as ordering in great coffee when people come into our office.
“Leek town centres is the heart of local business, and we want to collaborate with other companies to ensure it continues to thrive.
A careful bounce back strategy following Covid has left GRN in good shape. Turnover increased from £65,874 in 2021 to £119,415, and £123,354 in the current year.
Aga and Tom have introduced their older son, Filip, into the business and their growth plan is to employ two more case managers.
Aga and Tom each completed five years as financial advisers before founding GRN in 2018.
The company provides a wide range of mortgage, insurance and protection services, with Aga handling the mortgage business and Tom supporting clients with matters such as business and health insurance.
GRN Financial Services has entered the High Street Impact and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
GRN Financial Services Limited is an Appointed Representative of PRIMIS Mortgage Network, a trading name of Personal Touch Financial Services Ltd. Personal Touch Financial Services Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Little Athletes

Business in the Community entrant

A sports coaching business founded by Staffordshire University alumni Daniel Hatton now has 10 franchises around the world including in Dubai, Singapore and Northern Ireland.
The 30-year-old launched Little Athletes eight years ago after graduating in Physical Education and Youth Sports Coaching. He believes it’s the first business started in Stoke-on-Trent to have been franchised globally.
“When I was younger, I failed at school. I wasn’t academic.” said Daniel, from Maybank. “I was really good at sports but wasn’t given the opportunities to work with it.
“So I decided the only way to work in sport was to start my own business. It’s gone from strength to strength.
“Little Athletes was initially set up to give me an opportunity to work in sport and to reach as many children as possible. Now I’m giving other people an opportunity to start their own business with a franchise.”
Little Athletes is a specialised physical activity provider for early years, working with nurseries, schools, children’s centres and sports centres.
Programmes include toddler football, a soccer school, multi-sports holiday camps, dance mania, fit for a quid and more.
The aim is to become the UK’s leading early years physical education provider.
Daniel added: “There’s still a long way to go. I want to get Little Athletes into more locations, but for a business started in Stoke-on-Trent it’s already travelled a long way.
“As a company, we believe all children should have access to extra-curricular physical activity outside of school and nursery hours. We aim to make our sessions accessible to all children across the UK through our different programmes and initiatives. Exposure to physical activity at a young age is vital to a child's physical, social and emotional development and wellbeing.”
Daniel has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and has entered Little Athletes into the Growth and Business in the Community categories of the awards.

KMF Group

Business in the Community entrant

KMF Group is one of the most successful precision sheet metal and precision engineering companies in the UK. It’s also passionate about charity and community projects including raising more than £200,000 for the Douglas Macmillan Hospice.
The Newcastle-under-Lyme business’s team of more than 400 staff were set the target of raising £50,000 last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Dougie Mac – they smashed that and raised £70,000.
Other charity and community work has included the likes of KMF’s Young Engineer of The Year Award. Since this was launched it has reached more than 25,000 secondary school students, attracted 75 sponsors and invested more than £925,000 into STEM development.
Young Engineer of The Year raises the aspirations of budding engineers, inspires innovation, encourages teamwork and ignites interest in engineering careers.
KMF attends and presents at numerous school careers fairs and open days. It hosts HAF and Stem Days that impact on hundreds of local children and provides regular, quality work placement opportunities for a number of local secondary school students.
KMF apprentices are put into charity teams and given the target of raising more than £2,500 per team for local children’s charities.
Staff take on various individual and team charity events to support the likes of Affordable Food Stoke, The Hubb Foundation and North Staffordshire Carers and Link Line. Activities have included foodbank collections, staff socials, raffles, the KMF Spitfire sculpture, a Murder Mystery Evening, a Christmas Tree Collection and a KMF Christmas Jumper Day.
Jenny Johnston, People and Culture Manager at KMF, said: “At KMF we are very proud of the support we provide to our wider community - none of which would be possible without the active engagement, enthusiasm and support of our brilliant staff.
“We hope the support we continue to provide will help us to make a continued difference to the community.”
KMF has entered the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

ChattyDuck Creative

Business in the Community entrant

A Stoke-on-Trent creative agency has given more than 600 hours of free-of-charge services to local charities and non-profits – equivalent to more than £50,000 of work at its standard hourly rate.
ChattyDuck Creative, based in Fenton, has a team of four staff working across writing, multimedia content creation and quality assurance.
Since the business was founded in 2021 it has donated more than £2,300 to local causes, representing more than 4.5% of its post-tax profits for FY 2021/22 and FY 2022/23.
It works with clients in sectors including real estate and construction, manufacturing and industrial, automotive, logistics, energy and utilities, infrastructure, technology, travel and tourism, education and R&D, charities, non-profits and government.
Set up by Managing Director James Morgan, the company works with clients across the UK as well as in Europe and the Middle East.
James said: “Our modest size makes it easy to ensure we champion charities and non-profits that are close to our employees’ hearts, with each team member having a say in the causes we support.”
ChattyDuck is accredited by the Living Wage Foundation and is committed to having a healthy work environment.
All members of staff receive 30 days of paid annual leave plus the period between December 23 and January 2, no one other than the MD has access to work emails on their mobile phone and everyone is told to not work other than during their allotted work hours.
James added: “We understand that work-related stress is not only preventable, but also an organisational issue as well as a personal one.
“We appreciate that operating in a high-pressure, client-centric industry with exacting standards and tight deadlines can have a detrimental impact on employees’ mental wellbeing if not managed effectively.
“To this end, ChattyDuck has implemented a stress evaluation and mitigation tool that identified a series of mental health-related risk factors based on team members’ responses to an in-depth questionnaire. We then developed an Employee Wellbeing Policy designed to mitigate these factors and ensure a healthy work environment for everyone at ChattyDuck.”
ChattyDuck Creative has entered the Team of the Year and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Better Together

Business in the Community entrant

Staffordshire University alumna Birgit (Bridge) Allport has transformed Better Together Community Support Group from a small social group into a registered charity with nine members of staff in the space of just over five years – despite being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in 2019.
Bridge, now 54, moved to Stoke-on-Trent from her native Germany in 2010 after meeting her now husband Colin – and was surprised to find that he didn’t know his neighbours.
Inspired by her own experience of homelessness following a breakdown in family relationships as a young woman, she was driven to find ways to connect with the people around her. In 2018 she set up a social group for older people from her Trent Vale home while she was a mature student at Staffordshire University studying international history.
Bridge says: “I was lucky because there were people who supported me and let me use their shower and so on while I was living in my car in my early 20s. A friend helped me to find a room in a shared house and I have never forgotten what a difference his help meant to me.
“That experience made me the person I am. I’m not always the most diplomatic person but my heart is in the right place. I have been vulnerable; I have needed help. I know how important it is to have a friend there when you need it most.”
The group’s popularity soared, with people attending from across Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, but in 2019 Bridge was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, which she has nicknamed Hugo, wrapped around her optic nerve. In the best-case scenario operating would leave her blind; or in the worst outcome, surgery could be fatal.
“When they told me, I responded in very strong language – too strong to repeat here – that I didn’t have time for this. My first thought was that if I’m not here anymore, who will help everyone? I put my affairs in order and then I just got on with things.”
When the Covid pandemic hit, Bridge and Colin started providing and delivering emergency food parcels for residents in need seven days a week, as well sourcing equipment such as fridge freezers and PPE and making hand sanitiser. In the beginning the couple funded everything themselves and even gave away their own clothes to people in need.
In 2021 Better Together became a registered charity to help more people and opened its headquarters in a row of shops in Trent Val, in October 2022, as a hub for activities and a warm space for the community. In March 2024 the charity expanded its HQ into the adjacent disused shop to offer more activities for the community and bring a long-vacant unit back to life.
The charity now runs a wide range of activities, including a warm space which is open six days a week, drop-in advice sessions, emergency food and hygiene parcels, four weekly playgroups in different locations across Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle, a weekly community café, a book club, men’s group, youth group and a community garden.
In 2023 Better Together provided 1,890 emergency food and hygiene parcels to people in need, with 3,952 people attending activities in the same year and 208 people signposted to other services for additional assistance. Year-on-year this represents a 30 per cent increase in emergency parcels, a 27 per cent increase in attendance at activities and a 14 per cent increase in signposting to other services.
In December 2023 Better Together was given £338,000 over four years by the National Lottery Community Fund’s Reaching Communities England programme to employ five additional staff members, taking the total number of employees to nine.
Bridge was invited to the Queen’s last Garden Party at Buckingham Palace and afternoon tea with the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire in 2022, and to 10 Downing Street in 2023, in recognition of her charity work, while Better Together won the Breakthrough Award: Organisation at Voluntary Action Stoke-on-Trent’s Totally Stoked awards in January 2024, in recognition of its ‘significant growth’.
Bridge says: “Hugo [her brain tumour] is driving me on – helping others makes me forget my own health issues.
“I work stupid hours even when I’m dead on my feet. I look at the people who come to our warm space and our groups and they make it all worth it. What we do makes a big difference to their lives and that is my reward.
“What we do is life-saving – one of our community members told us that he had considered ending his life before he found us.
“Sometimes a cup of tea, a smile or a friendly word is all it takes to make someone’s life better. Doing good is wonderful – for the person doing it and for the person receiving it – and I just like to see people happy.”
Better Together now aims to continue to serve people across Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, by offering new activities in the extended headquarters, such as sessions aimed at people with special educational needs and disabilities. The charity is also planning to launch a new group and café in Chell Heath, and is exploring new partnerships across Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, while in the longer term there will be an increased focus on building the charity’s supporter base and expanding fundraising from individuals, trusts and foundations.
Bridge’s brain tumour has continued to grow slowly and she is set to have a scan in the summer to identify the next steps, which could include a course of radiotherapy.
She adds: “Our aim is not to become the biggest charity, but to work hard to make individual lives better and easier. If we can lift people’s spirits and create a sense of belonging where people feel comfortable to ask for help – and can receive that help – we will have achieved our aims.”
Birgit Allport has been nominated as Alumni Business Person of the Year and has entered Better Together into the Business in the Community and Growth categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.


Business in the Community entrant

Ahbid Choudry set up a specialist taxi firm for people with disabilities to stop them suffering from the embarrassment he says he faced growing up.
The 43-year-old, who is in a wheelchair himself, has spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative condition that he was born with.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Ahbid couldn’t do the things his friends and peers were doing socially because he couldn’t get a taxi to transport him in his wheelchair. There were evenings out at nightclubs like The Place and Valentinos where he simply couldn’t get home.
It was this experience and his dogged determination to make a difference to those in the same boat as himself that led to the creation of CabAbility in 2017.
Starting with just two jobs in the first year of trading the company has grown hugely. Ahbid now has 22 wheelchair accessible cars and minibuses with a fleet of drivers covering North Staffordshire and South Cheshire and more than 50 regular customers.
Ahbid, who comes from a family of taxi owners, lives in Shelton. He said: “Growing up I experienced firsthand how difficult it was to get a taxi when you’re in a wheelchair. There was absolutely no dignity in it.
“Taxi drivers wouldn’t come and get me because it would take too much time to get me in and out, which meant less time to do other jobs which they saw as costing them money.
“And when I did manage to get a taxi, there would be times where my wheelchair wasn’t clamped in correctly which was just laziness on their part and dangerous for me.
“I wanted to something to change that and give people with disabilities their dignity back. In an age where there is supposed to be equality, why should a person in a wheelchair have to wait in the rain for hours just to get home because they can’t get a taxi?
“I went to New York around 16 years ago and over there calling for a taxi when you’re disabled was quick and easy – it was like having a 4th emergency service. I don’t understand why that’s not the case here, why isn’t providing an accessible transport system for all at the forefront of people’s minds?”
He added: “I want us to make a difference to people’s lives and from the reviews we are getting I know that’s the case. It makes me and the team incredibly proud and humbled to see how we are helping make peoples’ lives that little bit easier. I might have taken this line from the Batman movie but it’s true - we may not be the hero you want but we may be the hero you need.”
All the company’s drivers are trained in how to strap different wheelchairs in safely and correctly which is essential when some wheelchairs can be as heavy as twenty stone. Drivers also have British Sign Language, autism and seizure training.
Ahbid left school before taking any qualifications and started selling windows before working in sales for Vodafone. He credits this sales background and his own personal experience as the reasons for the company’s success.
He added: “I want to expand massively and would love the company to operate nationally. I want to leave a legacy and for me that legacy is CabAbility.”
Keen supporters of charities in the local community CabAbility regularly donates to the Douglas Macmillan Hospice and sponsors events including boxing matches. Ahbid is also in the process of setting up a charity to pay for electric wheelchairs.
CabAbility has entered the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Mitchell Arts Centre

Business in the Community entrant

Nearly 70 years after it opened as a tribute to the designer of the Spitfire, The Mitchell Arts Centre continues to be a hub of the community and to support and entertain thousands of people.
The Stoke-on-Trent city centre venue is home to a theatre auditorium, dance studio and café plus various spaces it offers for corporate hire.
Education and community outreach play a key role. MAC Education was launched in September 2022 and in its first year supported 528 families with accessible arts and committed 1,270 hours to education.
In 2023 the centre partnered with the Hubb Foundation to provide 240 free workshops across the year for children receiving free school meals.
Other key programmes have included the cultural project You Are Here and the creation of a Youth Board.
In 2024 MAC Education is doubling its public workshops in half term and working hard behind the scenes applying for funding to provide more opportunities for the community.
Mitchell Arts Centre Education Officer Caroline Sherratt said: “Our strengths blossom from the legacy of the venue. The venue was paid for by public money in 1957 and the community spirit has continued to shine through ever since.
“The venue is used by local amateur dramatics groups, community groups and children’s theatre groups and within these connections we have made strong relationships which helps the venue stand tall in Stoke-on-Trent.”
The Mitchell Arts Centre has entered the Small Business of the Year, Team of the Year, Growth, Skills For the Future and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.


Business in the Community entrant

From the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns Stoke-on-Trent fast food business owner Mohammed Arfan began helping anyone in his community that was in need of a meal – and he hasn’t stopped.
From his business, Sizzlers in Abbey Hulton, he offered free meals to shielding pensioners and vulnerable people while supporting firefighters, NHS staff and care home workers with food.
Providing free food was just the beginning of what turned into wider support for the communities within which his business is based
Arfan and his team progressed to raising money towards the cost of funerals and helping struggling families at Christmas.
He has also supported people who have suffered house fires and assisted local charities that have struggled with fundraising.
Arfan even rewarded home-schooled children for excellent reports and having a good attitude to learning.
In 2021 Mohammed was named Charity Champion or Volunteer of the Year at the Your Heroes Awards and was praised for being ‘a beacon of light’ and for ‘putting the spirit back into local communities’.
Now Mohammed has entered the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
He said: “We are a community- based takeaway surrounded by amazing communities. We at Sizzlers for over four years now have been helping and serving our communities across the city by delivering free food packs to pensioners and giving money to pensioners to top up their gas and electric meters.
“We have also helped many vulnerable families with funeral costs and young families that are struggling with nappies and milk.
“We also for the past few years now have raised more than 1,000 Christmas presents for children as well as Christmas hampers for struggling pensioners and families.”

Evelyn Howe and Stride Revive

Business in the Community entrant

The seemingly simple act of going outdoors and walking has been transformative for former corporate sales specialist Evelyn Howe and now she has turned it into a business.
Daily walks in the forest after taking a career break to be a full-time mum helped her rethink her future work plans. The idea for what would become Stride Revive started to form.
The 45-year-old now combines working as a life coach with building her walking business and studying for the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship.
Stride Revive sets out to educate people about the healing benefits walking can have physically, emotionally and mentally.
Evelyn’s business has a number of strands including a WhatsApp group, organised walks and collaborations with local authorities and organisations such as the Staffordshire Moorlands Walking Festival.
“When I started talking to people about my plans and putting out polls I found that 40% of people don’t walk during the day when they’re at work and that many people don’t move away from their computer every few hours,” said Evelyn, from Stafford.
“It quickly became apparent that people don’t walk enough and that people feel lonely when they’re homeworking.
“So I started working on ways to gamify walking to make it fun to walk and started organising group walks including mindfulness walks.
“It’s all about connecting with nature, connecting with one another and looking after your own wellbeing.”
Evelyn has an undergraduate degree in Design Management from Staffordshire University and has worked as a client specialist for the likes of Vodafone and BT.
She added: “I’m trying to re-educate people and give them the tools to access the healing benefits of walking.”
Evelyn has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year, Skills For the Future and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

I Am Warrior Now

Business in the Community entrant

Whether it’s helping employees in the workplace or online individuals anywhere in the world, Clover Douglas’s business is all about wellness and empowerment.
Based in Stoke-on-Trent but potentially working with people anywhere around the globe Clover organises retreats, runs group healing sessions, yoga classes, online sleep sessions and much more.
Her business, I Am Warrior Now, runs sessions at venues including This Girl and Valentine Clays and is increasing working online so that Clover can literally help anyone based anywhere.
The 44-year-old moved to Stoke-on-Trent from London to study Sport, Recreation and Tourism at Staffordshire University and decided to stay living and working in the city after graduating in 2001.
She initially worked in the education sector creating and delivering projects for colleges, prisons and housing organisations before founding her own business in 2016.
“2018 was a time of real change for me,” said Clover. “I went to India to study yoga, shaved my hair off and fixed my back as I’d been having problems with it after a car accident.
“Then lockdown happened and I couldn’t touch anyone or practice the breathwork that had been a significant part of my business. So I ventured online and changed the name of my business from Natural Rays to I Am Warrior Now, because it felt like I really was a warrior.
“I’m giving people practical exercises and ways to reduce their anxiety, concentrate more clearly and come back together. I help people to feel better.”
Clover is currently studying for the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship.
She said: “It’s really nice to be back at University and to be able to focus on my own dreams. It’s helped me to take more manageable steps forward.
“I also put my big picture down on paper and it felt really good to get it out of my head and into the world.”
Clover has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.


Business in the Community entrant

Saltbox has been making a difference to the lives of people across Stoke-on-Trent for more than four decades.
At any one time the charity supports more than 450 people who may be facing life-changing circumstances.
Saltbox provides three caring services – Restart, CareLink and Money Matters.
Restart provides housing support for people who are leaving prison and currently supports more than 120 people who are homeless or in danger of homelessness. Many of Restart’s clients struggle with mental health, drug and alcohol challenges.
The national re-offending rate for prolific offenders is more than 60%. Restart’s re-offending rate is 6%.
CareLink is a befriending service which provides telephone support for more than 300 elderly people. 40 volunteers make 12,000 phone calls every year, including on Christmas Day.
Many of CareLink’s clients are aged over 75, live alone and do not have family to give them support or advice. CareLink has also developed a reablement service which visits people in their own homes after they have experienced some life challenging circumstance and hand-holds clients through several weeks of rehabilitation.
Money Matters is a debt and benefits advice service that supports all of Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank’s 16 distribution venues in the city. In the last 12 months Money Matters helped clients write off more than £150,000 of debt and also to successfully claim more than £600,000 in benefits they were entitled to.
Lloyd Cooke, Chief Executive of Saltbox, has entered Saltbox into the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
He said: “I’m entering the business awards as a tribute to Saltbox’s staff and the work that they do. The charity couldn’t work with so many people within the community without their continued hard work and dedication.”

Harji Kaur

Business in the Community entrant

Harji Kaur has made it her mission to spread happiness and to help as many people as she can along the way.
The mum-of-two, who moved to Stoke-on-Trent from India, has set up two linked businesses inspired by years of volunteering within the community.
Indian Fusion combines her love of dancing, cooking and yoga to offer classes within schools and through organisations including The HUBB Foundation, Affordable Food Stoke and The Indi Club.
Harji’s Help at Home is a home support and cleaning service.
The businesses, both based in Fenton in Stoke-on-Trent, were launched in May 2023. Harji is currently a sole trader but aims to recruit a team as her businesses grow.
The 37-year-old, who previously worked as a chef, said: “I’ve always wanted to help people. I did volunteering with people with learning disabilities which inspired me to want to make their life better.”
Harji trained as a fitness instructor and did a yoga course and says she is proud to be ‘a plus sized girl’ with the confidence to deliver fitness classes.
“I wanted to prove that if you set out to do something and if you want it enough then you can make it happen,” she said. “My aim is to spread happiness regardless of size and regardless of skin colour.
“The first thing I do in my classes is to smile and I encourage everyone else to smile too. I see around 150 ladies in my classes each week and I get them all smiling.”
Harji has entered the Young Business Person of the Year, Small Business of the Year and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Dr M Sha

Business on the Community Award entrant

Dr M Sha is a first generation immigrant woman determined to create an empire from scratch.
The 35-year-old has launched an aesthetics and wellness clinic alongside her work as a GP.
She opened her first aesthetics clinic within M Club in Stoke-on-Trent in August 2023 and has ambitions to open a clinic in the city centre.
“When people talk about aesthetics they think about overly filled cheeks and lips. It’s so much more than that,” she said. “I want to specialise in menopause-related skin and scalp problems and to introduce aesthetics treatments for men.
“A very important part of the process is talking to people about why they want a procedure and whether to go ahead with it. We talk about whether their health and self-esteem is being affected because treating that is more important.”
Dr Sha, who works as an out of hours GP and also as an aesthetics trainer for The Harley Institute in London, says that Stoke-on-Trent doesn’t currently have many doctor-led aesthetics clinics.
She is currently the only practitioner at her clinic but says her husband, a research scientist, researches the treatments and products she offers before they are introduced.
Dr Sha added: “My small clinic is in the massive MClub Spa and Fitness Centre and its owner, Mo Chaudry is an absolute inspiration. I wish I could be the next Mo for Stoke-on-Trent and my family.”
She has entered five categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards – Small Business of the Year, Young Business Person of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, Business in the Community and High Street Impact.

Ten Count Boxing Gym

Business in the Community nominee

Ten Count aims to use exercise and boxing to improve the self-esteem, confidence and health of children and adults.
It organises free or subsidised family day trips and offers nutritional and wellbeing advice alongside fun fitness classes.
There is a youth group, rehab sessions for the elderly and the owners have plans for a soft play area, a music studio, a warm room for pensioners and a library area for people to study.
Ten Count Boxing Gym has been nominated in the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards by Laura Bailey who runs a youth group from the gym. She has also nominated the seven members of staff in the Team of the Year category.
She said: “The success of the gym at serving its community rests on the fantastic team who work tirelessly both behind the scenes and within the gym to create an inclusive and vibrant environment where children, teens and adults come and thrive.
“Some of the young amateur boxers are now becoming increasingly involved in other gym projects as volunteers and sessional staff, building on the strength that lies within such as Bradley who young people from the youth group actively recruited to join their activities.
“Max has a busy schedule of coaching young people during the daytime who come from specialist education providers and youth offending team referrals and also within schools across the city as a diversionary extracurricular activity.
“Lee selflessly volunteers his time and specialises in teaching children and young people with a broad range of disabilitie, in his BoxSEN classes which see 16 children enjoy adapted boxing sessions weekly to meet their abilities and enhance their physical and emotional wellbeing.
“Ultimately Ten Count’s team comprises of individuals all with a shared goal of supporting people’s wellbeing and development and to be a part of that is so rewarding and motivational.”
Max Maxwell said: “When people think of gyms they think it’s for a particular type of person but it isn’t. I try to make people feel comfortable and to take away any barriers.
“We’re affordable for everyone and I want to bring in children’s soft play for just £1 or £2 so that it’s easier for parents to exercise.”

This Girl Consultancy Ltd

Business in the Community entrant

A recovering gambling addict, business strategist Bianca Colclough uses her own life experiences to inspire other women.
The 43-year-old mum-of-two is the founder of This Girl Consultancy Ltd which has helped establish 25 women-owned businesses and has directly impacted the lives of 1,500 women.
Bianca, from Stoke-on-Trent, launched This Girl in 2020 after working in recruitment for 20 years.
In July 2023 she opened headquarters in Newcastle-under-Lyme with the aim of creating a safe and purposeful space for professional women to work, network and socialise.
As of January 2024, 11 women have residency at This Girl and pay a fixed monthly fee to use the space. Bianca also offers a pay-as-you-go option to allow a hybrid working model for women seeking flexibility or for those who work from home but want to increase their social interactions.
Bianca said: “Amidst the lockdown and while pregnant with my first child I launched my business online. Fast forward to today the business is four years old, financially sound and boasts a recognisable brand with a social media following of 20,000, putting North Staffordshire on the map.
“Initially starting as an online networking event, This Girl Community has evolved into a thriving digital platform. With 86 active members and an average of 150 monthly guests, TGC now consists of various themed sessions, each hosted by experts in their respective fields, ranging from finance and marketing to neurodiversity, motherhood, nutrition and fitness, wellbeing and trauma.
“In the post-COVID landscape, I recognised the need for in-person interactions and launched This Girl Meets in January 2022. Initially starting with 12 attendees, the event rapidly gained traction, quickly welcoming 76 women. This proved that there was a clear gap in the market for women’s networking in Staffordshire and beyond.”
Bianca was among the first cohort of the Peter Coates MSc in Entrepreneurship and has used her story as a recovering gambling addict to inspire others. She’s now a board member of GambleAware, has become a Lived Experience Practitioner through Bet Know More and achieved Train the Trainer status.
She added: “There is a significant lack of support for women entrepreneurs who are looking to start up their own business. This Girl stands out by filling a crucial void, surpassing generic traditional business courses.”
Bianca has entered the Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and has entered This Girl into the Business in the Community category.

Vellichor Books

Business in the Community entrant

Mitch Hughes says his partner is delighted he’s opened a book shop – because now he hoards books at work rather than at home.
The 30-year-old, from Fenton, opened Vellichor Books in Piccadilly Arcade, Hanley on February 3.
He sells new and preloved books, has a café area and has opened up a first floor community room that groups can use free of charge.
“I’ve always loved the idea of having my own book shop,” said Mitch, who previously worked as a teaching assistant and support worker.
“Maybe it’s because I used to watch the comedy series Black Books. It’s something I’ve wanted for so long.
“Then some friends of mine opened Geek Retreat in the city centre and I thought if they could do it then I could too. Once I decided to do it everything moved quickly.”
Community impact is important to Mitch so he created a room on the first floor, complete with chairs and beanbags, that he hopes will be used for book club meetings, book launches, artists’ workshops and more.
“I think it’s especially important to have this sort of offer in Hanley,” said Mitch. “It could even be that a group of friends would like to use the space as somewhere quiet to study. I want to sell books and I’d like people to buy drinks but I also want Vellichor to be a community.”
The shop sells books of all genres although Mitch says he has a personal interest in horror writing and will also be stocking comics.
He added: “I love reading and I just love being around books and collecting books. My partner is happy because now I’m collecting them at the shop rather than at home.”
Vellichor Books has entered the High Street Impact and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Martin 'Mr Bigz' Mwale

Business in the Community entrant

Community cohesion is every bit as important as flavour combinations for restaurant owner Martin ‘Mr Bigz’ Mwale.
Staffordshire University business management alumni, Martin is the owner of Mr Bigz Flavours restaurant and cocktail bar in Alsager.
“What I run here is much more than a business,” said Martin, who is also a DJ and cake baker.
“When people come in they want to know more about the food, the flavours and where it originates from. I give them food for thought and the history behind every dish.
“People always learn something when they eat here. They learn more about different cultures.”
Martin, originally from Etruria, has been running his Alsager business for a year and a half and is now hoping to open a second premises in Crewe.
“We get really good community support from people in Alsager. It’s about community cohesion – we’re bringing different types of backgrounds together,” he said.
“We did a Christmas event in Crewe and a huge crowd of people were saying we should open up there too. I’m hoping we can expand in a few months time.”
Martin completed a foundation degree in business management at Staffordshire University, a course which he says ‘changed his life’.
Martin’s other ventures include a cake business, he has worked in the care services sector and he mentors young people.
Martin Mwale has entered the Alumni Business Person of the Year and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

The Fitness Collab

Business in the Community entrant

A mum and daughter have opened a boutique gym-alternative studio with the aim of bringing fun back to fitness.
Josie McLean and her 26-year-old daughter, Frankie Hurst, ran fitness classes in church and community halls around North Staffordshire before finding their perfect premises in Station Road, Kidsgrove in 2023.
Their diverse classes include aerial yoga, pound (with drumsticks), boogie bounce and they are the only studio within a 25-mile radius to offer bungee fitness.
Facilities include a main studio, a Zen Den social space, a private therapy room, a private personal training room, a second spin studio and now a small crystal shop.
The Fitness Collab began with just Josie and Frankie but now has a team of seven instructors working with more than 60 members.
Frankie said: “We believe that you don’t need to just go to the gym to keep fit. In fact there’s a lack in the community for those who want to look after their health but don’t feel comfortable in a gym environment.
“We work with all different age groups ranging from three to 83 years to empower, give confidence and help people who may not be your regular gym-goers to manifest their health.
“We provide a senior fitness class at the studio and I also visit St Thomas’s Church every Monday to deliver a seated fitness class for more than 20 seniors. They enjoy 45 mins of exercise and then stay for a coffee and biscuit to encourage socialisation, which is especially important after covid. Many friendships have been formed in this class and it’s so lovely to see the community come together.”
The Fitness Collab works with other small businesses to host the likes of retreat days, business empowerment events and charity fundraisers.
Last year the team staged a fitathon and raised £600 for the charity Aura. In 2022, before opening the studio, Josie and Frankie held a fitathon in a park and raised more than £400 to support relief efforts in Ukraine.
Frankie added: “We believe that The Fitness Collab has given the community a safe space to exercise, improve their mental and physical health and make amazing new relationships.”
The Fitness Collab has entered the Small Business of the Year and Business in the Community categories of the Staffordshire University Business Awards and Frankie Hurst has entered the Young Business Person of the Year category.

Affordable Food Stoke

Business in the Community entrant

As the name suggests, Affordable Food Stoke works to reduce food poverty and food waste. What many people don’t realise is that the registered charity supports the communities within which it is based in numerous other ways too.
Founders Duane and Nikki Barrett have a community lounge at their Blurton base which is open four days each week for anyone who needs a warm, safe space. There is free tea, coffee, toast, cereal and a friendly welcome.
The lounge is staffed by volunteers trained to look out for new people, people sitting on their own and anyone who seems particularly in need of a friendly face and a chat.
The community lounge has a knit and natter group, runs school holiday activities and has a ‘locality connector’ to help ensure the people who use the facility are supported in as many ways as possible.
Staffordshire University alumni Duane Barrett, who founded Affordable Food Stoke with his wife Nikki, said: “2023 was a breakthrough year for Affordable Food Stoke. After forming in 2017 and becoming a registered charity mid-way through 2021, 2023 was the year we were able take our next steps in developing the charity.
“2023 was also the year we were able to secure National Lottery Reaching Communities funding, securing us three years of funding.
“This enabled me to personally leave my job of 10 years and come over to Affordable Food Stoke full-time to support the work my wife and co-founder was already doing. Although a big risk both personally and professionally it was a risk worth taking to establish Affordable Food Stoke as a genuine Stoke-on-Trent institution.”
Nikki and Duane offer free food five days a week and put together emergency food parcels from their independent food bank which takes referrals from other food banks, Stoke-on-Trent City Council and professional bodies. They also have a social supermarket where members pay a small fee in return for food items worth considerably more.
Affordable Food Stoke has entered the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Jo Gideon MP and Third Sector Connect Charity Roundtable

Business in the Community nomination

A bi-monthly roundtable set up by Jo Gideon MP brings together more than 70 social enterprises, charities and community groups in Stoke-on-Trent.
Third Sector Connect Charity Roundtable has been running for around two years and has emerged as a pivotal force in community collaboration in the city.
It is dedicated to fostering collaboration, addressing key sector issues and advocating for government support.
Now Jo Gideon MP and her Third Sector Connect Charity Roundtable, which held its first meeting in the Catalyst at Staffordshire University, have been nominated in the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
Matthew Bridger, Jo’s senior communications advisor and constituency office manager, said: “The impact of Third Sector Connect, under the guidance of Jo Gideon MP, extends beyond the individual organisations involved.
“It is evident in the strengthened relationships, the innovative solutions born out of collaborative efforts and the increased collective influence in advocating for the needs of the sector.
“Jo Gideon MP’s leadership brings a strategic vision to Third Sector Connect, elevating the organisation to a position where it actively contributes to shaping policies that support the growth and resilience of the third sector.
“The story of Third Sector Connect is a narrative of unity, resilience and a dedication to creating a thriving community sector.”
The roundtable is committed to addressing the support needed by organisations to thrive. It actively seeks ways to offer collective assistance, recognising that the challenges faced by one organisation can often be alleviated through the collaboration and support of others.
Matthew added: “Jo’s involvement in establishing Third Sector Connect brings a unique perspective to the organisation’s mission. As a Member of Parliament, Jo Gideon has played a crucial role in bridging the gap between grassroots efforts and government policies.
“This dual perspective allows Third Sector Connect to not only address immediate needs but also advocate for broader policy changes that can positively impact the entire sector.”

Sutton Trust

Business in the Community entrant

A Stoke-on-Trent community group has been nominated in the Business in the Community category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards for work including caring for a community garden.
Sutton Trust Community Group has been put forward for the accolade by Matthew Bridger, who chairs the board of trustees.
He said: “At the heart of their impactful work lies the Betty Rushton Community Gardens—a vibrant space that transcends the conventional notion of a community garden.
“More than just a collection of plants and greenery, it is a haven for fostering connections, personal growth and community development.
“The garden provides a serene environment where individuals can engage in light exercise, participate in gardening activities and develop new skills.
“It’s a space where the therapeutic power of nature combines with the joy of communal activities, creating a truly transformative experience.”
The Sutton Trust also stages community events and celebrations including an annual fireworks display and a Christmas lights switch-on event.
It also organises outreach and engagement sessions to help residents to overcome challenges, develop new skills and forge meaningful connections.
Matthew added: “The impact of The Sutton Trust Community Group’s work is immeasurable. Behind the statistics and numbers are real stories of individuals whose lives have been touched and transformed.”

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