Awards update

With apologies for the double negative, I can’t not revisit this after the Devon & Somerset Law Society (DASLS) Awards took place last week.

It was a ‘virtual’ awards event, hosted by David Fitzgerald and perhaps the quickest awards I’ve ever attended (I think it took all of 30 mins)! I’d poured a glass of fizz in readiness just in case one of the finalists from The Family Law Company won. In the end I had to pour another as the award wins came thick and fast.

The first announced was the President’s Special Recognition Honours, a new award introduced to acknowledge someone who went the extra mile for clients and colleagues during the pandemic. I’d helped to put together a nomination for incredibly hardworking Senior Associate Solicitor Imran Khodabocus – and was so pleased when he was chosen in recognition for his extraordinary commitment not just in his work but for his community.

In the category awards success for The Family Law Company continued. Jane Chanot won Solicitor of the Year; Cassie Saunders picked up Support Team Member; Hannah Porter was named Rising Star; Gemma Sparks won Chartered Legal Executive; and Donna Hart was highly commended in Leader of the Year, with Grace Bradley a finalist in the Legal Aid Lawyer category.

At the same time as DASLS, the National Paralegal Awards took place virtually. The Family Law Company’s Becka Combes was a finalist in the Family Law and Best Newcomer categories and was delighted to win both categories. Becka wrote both her nominations, I just gave her a little help in tidying them up. So all credit to Becka, what a great win!

PS there was much hilarity at DASLS when one of the finalists forgot to mute themselves and we all heard them discussing Gus Honeybun who, local people will know, was a stuffed rabbit who Mr Fitzgerald had to work with many moons ago…. Let that be a lesson to all of us who continue to use Zoom.

PPS Not long after DASLS, The Family Law Company also won at the prestigious Law Society Awards, where they were awarded Excellence in Practice Management. Wow!

Getting outdoors with the Outdoors Group

It’s always easier to provide a PR service when you get to know a client’s product or service first-hand. So it was that I recently found myself in the middle of the woods, at the Exmouth Forest School. This is one of several sites the group runs in Devon, to deliver its innovative outdoor ethos for education, experiences and training. The course I was joining was Learning Beyond the Classroom, aimed at teachers and volunteers working at primary and secondary schools.

This course aims to build confidence for teachers wanting to take classes outside, giving them ideas, practical skills and guidance on risk assessment. It’s held outdoors, unsurprisingly, with a a central campfire and overhead tarpulin in case of rain.

Just as I arrived, the course attendees were about to embark on a creative task – making faces out of mud! They used sticks and leaves they found in the woods to create the face, and soon discovered that it was more practical to make the face on a tree stump than an upright tree. Something called gravity…. Other activities included ‘ninja sticks’ which caused much hilarity and more than a litttle competitiveness. Interwoven with the activities was serious discussion around the campfire, which gave me a real insight into how teachers can really use the outdoors to encourage learning.

While I was there a toddler group was also taking place, giving me a great opportunity to have a sneak peek of children having a huge amount of fun in natural woodlands. And not just the children, but their parents too.

I’m really taken with what The Outdoors Group wants to achieve, and to be working with them as they expand and develop. From the work I’ve done so far, it’s clear that getting children outside has a huge beneficial impact on their wellbeing, development and social skills.

The Outdoors Group

 

 

 

Ho Ho Hospiscare

Just before Christmas I was pleased to help out with PR support for Ho Ho Hospiscare, a lovely initiative by Rusty Pig and Mazzard Farm Cottages in Ottery St Mary with help from volunteer fundraiser, the irrepressible Toni Hiscocks.

Hospiscare, like many charities, has struggled during the pandemic with so many fundraising events being cancelled. There’s a lot of love for the charity locally, and Robin from Rusty Pig in particular because of the help given to his family when his dad was at the end of his life. It always strikes a chord with me too, as the local hospice in Southampton was amazing when my own dad was terminally ill back in 1986.

The event was an online draw – donate a tenner and be in with the chance of winning the top prize of a break at Mazzard Farm’s superb holiday cottages, plus a feast at Rusty Pig and a hamper supplied by Knights Farmshop. Local businesses donated vouchers for runners up prizes. I took a pic at Mazzard and sent out the press release pronto to the usual suspects. The initial target was £500 and we all watched as this was easily reached and the total started rising steadily…. So Rusty Pig and Mazzard Farm offered a second top prize if the fundraising reached £2,000, this time with the addition of an afternoon tea at Coldharbour Farmshop.

Just before the draw, the total had topped an amazing £2,300. Added to this was a donation of £250 from PASC, an organisation providing support for self-catering businesses. So the final total was £2,550, a 400% increase in the original target. The draw was made on Facebook Live at Rusty Pig, but I’m not sure anyone minded who won – everyone was so thrilled with the amount raised! I snuck out a follow up press release just to tell the world how amazing the folk of Ottery are. Another show of community spirit, just in time for Christmas.

Pre-event

Post-event

Nourishing Nourish!

I started working with Sarah Martin in January 2019. Sarah had founded zero waste provisions store Nourish of Topsham the year before, and was now poised to open her second store on Magdalen Road in Exeter.

It was a whirlwind ride, with Nourish ‘two’ featuring in Devon Live, Devon Life, Exeter Life, Food Magazine, Crumbs Magazine and Exeter Living, plus interviews secured for Sarah for International Women’s Day and a ‘first look’ at the shop. Nourish won the Retail category at the Exeter Living Awards and Best New Business at the Express & Echo Business Awards. Nourish was Highly Commended in the Start Up category in the 373 Awards.

We worked together for six months until Sarah realised she needed to invest more into the shops, so PR had to go. Quite right too! However much I love my clients, I am always conscious that my service is often the icing on the cake.

So, in May I was delighted to receive a message saying Nourish needed me once more! After closing for lockdown, Sarah was ready to reopen, and she needed my help.

First up a press release announcing the reopening of both stores. This highlighted the measures put in place to ensure customer and staff safety. Then a spot on the Exeter Chamber Friday Lockdown Show ‘good news’ and a customer featured in the campaign ‘We’re stronger together’.

I’m currently negotiating some speaker slots for Sarah to talk about sustainability and business. A second press release looking at keeping green during Covid-19 has just gone out. Busy busy!

The agreement is for three months which gives me plenty of time to get Nourish noticed again.

Although most of my clients are retained, I’m always happy to provide an ad hoc or shorter contract service. This is useful for start ups and smaller businesses needing a boost.

Grow

Exeter Daily

Stronger Together

Friday Lockdown (16:30)

Exeter Living Virtual Business Club

Fundraising for stem4

Last November I was asked to take part in a fundraising activity to raise money for teenage mental health support charity stem4, with agency Terra Ferma Media and our client Diespeker. Diespeker is a long-time supporter of the charity and I’ve written about their fundraising efforts over the years – but this was the first time I took part in one.

I often donate to clients and friends taking part in fundraising, but I’ve not had much time to get involved myself (apart from when I was a child and took part in a sponsored silence – wonder if the mums put their heads together to arrange that). This time I thought it would be great to challenge myself. The event was the Malta Marathon. Now, I’m not a runner and I never will be, but the event included a half marathon walkathon option of 13 miles (21km) which suited me, as I walk my dogs daily. I trained as much as I could in the miserable weather over the winter, trying to walk longer distances. My best distance was about 7 miles walking at about 3 miles per hour. At that rate I was never going to complete the walk in the 3 hours 45 mins required to be in a medal time. But that wasn’t the point for me.I flew to Malta with my Terra Ferma Media colleagues, David and Kaz, where we joined the other team members from stem4 and Diespeker – there were 36 of us in total aiming to raise £10K, some running the marathon, some the half marathon and the rest of us taking part in the walkathon. Diespeker sponsored the accommodation which was the lovely Radisson Blue Hotel. We were lucky enough to have a day’s sightseeing, taking in Mdina and Valletta. We woke to an amazing sunrise on the day of the event – the marathon runners had already left as their start time was early. We took a minibus then a coach to the start line at Mdina and then there was no turning back! Walking 13 miles doesn’t sound too much like hard work, but when we started I realised that the pace was going to be a lot faster than I was used to. I have a short stride so every so often I broke into a jog to catch up with my team mates. It was a pretty hot day so the water stops were much appreciated and I felt very professional taking a wet sponge and squeezing it over my head. My earplugs went in at around the 9km marker and I spent the next 12km walking, jogging and dancing to the soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy.

The last part of the walk was along the seafront and when I saw the 1km marker I knew the end was in sight. I was totally shocked to see the time – 3 hours 21 mins, almost a whole hour quicker than I was anticipating. And then – a medal was thrust into my hands. I felt elated and very proud of myself and my teammates. We’d all coped with pain and blisters but kept going. David, Kaz and I raised £1450 which went towards the total raised, over £10,400.

Someone asked me the other day if I’d do it again. I immediately said no. But…. it’s like childbirth, a short time later when the pain has faded then you start to tell yourself you really could do it all again!

stem4 is a charity that really does offer much needed support to teenagers – but also their families and carers, education professionals, school nurses and GPs through the provision of mental health education, resilience strategies and early intervention. Well worth the blisters!

Client Fundraising

It is always really uplifting to help clients shout about their fundraising. It’s not only good for the clients but great to raise the profiles of the charities they are supporting. Most choose local charities that mean something to them on a personal level.

Otter Garden Centres always have impressive fundraising totals. All the branches choose their own charities and last year these included RNLI Torquay, Shekinah Plymouth, Yeovil Freewheelers and Hospiscare, which was Ottery’s charity of the year. The Ottery team raised over £11,500 for Hospiscare, a superb total that was well received on social media and in the press.

Chilcotts Auctioneers also has a great relationship with Hospiscare. Every sale day Chilcotts hands over the kitchen to the charity, who sell cakes, bacon butties, teas and coffees to people attending the auction. Since this started in 2011, the ‘cafe takeover’ has raised in excess of £17,500.

Rusty Pig, too, fundraises for Hospiscare, and was recently in the news with Higher Wiscombe after a fundraising dinner and jumblebee auction raised over £3,000. Robin Rea from the Rusty Pig is a big supporter, as the charity helped his father at the end of his life.

Tickety-Boo in the meantime is fundraising on a smaller scale for Exeter Leukaemia Fund. The fundraising is mainly based around food, of course! The most recent campaign was just before Christmas when the entire proceeds from a week’s worth of mince pie sales went towards ELF. The ongoing total is now at £750. And who can forget that Tickety-Boo’s boss, Stuart, took part in a Kilimanjaro climb to raise money for Pete’s Dragons, Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Lullaby Trust.

The Family Law Company has supported various charities while I’ve worked with them, including Force Cancer Charity, domestic abuse agencies Spitz and Safe, Plymouth Parent Advocacy Project and Citizen’s Advice. Fundraising activities have included a Santa run, a tandem skydive, the Nello and an annual skittles challenge – all very active! They also have bake sales and a cream tea event.

The Volunteer Inn is always amongst the top fundraisers for the Carnival Committee, the organisation that keeps Ottery St Mary’s crazy Tar Barrel event rolling out each year!

While I always donate to these charities and support fundraising efforts of my clients, this year, it’s my turn! Next week I’m taking part in a Walkathon in aid of teenage mental health charity stem4. The tough part is that it’s taking place in Malta, where it’s looking like 18 C and sunshine….! My team, Terra Ferma Media (the agency I work with in London) has just achieved the fundraising target of £1,000 – but more is always welcome. Follow the link here to donate.

Well done to everyone who puts time into fundraising for charities. I know that every penny is appreciated.

Recycling tealight frenzy

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that create a buzz. Take tealights.

The Recycled Candle Company recycle all types of candles, including tealights. They’ve recently had lots of queries about these – people aren’t sure if they’re recyclable because of the metal parts.

So they added a photo to Instagram showing Richard holding a bag of tealights. Which I added to their Facebook page. And then it all went wild! Immediately the likes and comments started building – it was obviously hitting home with many people.

Richard followed up with a video thank you on and it all kicked off again.

The initial post now has well over 600 likes/loves and 600 shares, plus nearly 170 comments coming from Manchester, Cumbria, Sussex and even Texas! The reach is over 130K now, with engagement at 18.2K post clicks. The original Instagram post has also had fantastic engagement with over 320 likes, and an enquiry from the West Coast of Canada where they’re looking at setting up a similar initiative.

I’m just in the process of distributing a press release on the back of it, and I’m hoping we might get national interest. Tealights, who would have thought?

All this profile raising came from a very simple post, with a very simple photograph. Nothing fancy, nothing particularly clever, just absolutely spot on content that resonated with thousands of people.

It all goes to show that there’s a huge interest in recycling with more and more people seeking ways to keep as much as possible out of landfill.

Find out more by visiting therecycledcandlecompany.co.uk

2019 in review

2019 – that was the year that was!

So much can happen in a year, and 2019 turned out to be very busy in terms of fascinating projects, with a gratifying growth in media coverage for clients.

Spotlight came to Otter Garden Centres to film a special SEN day at Santa’s Grotto which aired on December 4th, and as a follow up Radio Devon sent roving reporter Richard on another day to interview families, elves and Santa himself. Other radio appearances were made by Richard and Sargon from The Recycled Candle Company who were also interviewed by The Telegraph for a feature and video about the current climate for small businesses.

Liz and Duncan Chilcott from Chilcotts Auctioneers enjoyed a session with Fitz on Radio Devon. The company celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2019 so I stepped up the PR with additional press releases and a feature for Devon Life. As usual, the stories were hugely varied, with a collection of vintage jewellery, a bomber pilot’s medals, a butcher’s bike, photos of the aftermath of the Lynton flood of 1952 and a huge table from Battle Abbey (allegedly!).

I helped a local community in Broadhembury to create and launch a new website for their village hall. Funded by the National Lottery, the end result is pretty impressive – and very colourful! Thanks to Terra Ferma Media who built the website and were incredibly responsive to all requests for tweaks. Decision by committee is never easy….

I also project-managed a website for trade client Devondale Electrical Wholesalers. I’ve been nagging them for several years to get a new website and I’m so pleased it’s now up and running and working well for them.

In London I was inspired by the many fabulous projects undertaken by marble & terrazzo client, Diespeker & Co. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about these, as well as a number of young, up and coming designers they’ve supported over the year. Next year will be even better, as Diespeker is exhibiting for the first time at the Surface Show in February. Then I’m flying out to Malta with Diespeker and agency Terra Ferma Media to fundraise for the charity they support, stem4 by taking part in a ‘walkathon’ of 13 miles.

I continue to write for Devon Life, the highlight in 2019 being the November issue when my articles about Devon Association of Smallholders, a series of green initiatives in the county and Devon Youth Jazz Orchestra were all published. More to come in 2020, starting with a visit to Sidmouth and a look at a painted pianos initiative!

I was delighted to support clients in awards nominations leading to some stunning successes. The Family Law Company won two categories (including Law Firm of the Year) and achieved Highly Commended in another category in the Devon & Somerset Law Society Awards. The firm also won the category ‘Promoting Access to the Profession’ in the national CILEx Awards. Sarah from Nourish Zero Waste won the Retail category at the Exeter Living Awards and Best New Business at the Express & Echo Business Awards. The Recycled Candle Company was runner up in the national Best Small Shops Awards, a massive achievement as there were over 600 entries. I loved visiting the House of Commons with them to attend the awards ceremony. Other clients were finalists in various awards events, including Griffin Chartered Accountants and Devondale Electrical. Congratulations to you all.

A personal highlight for me was winning Best Professional Services at the 373 Awards held at Escot Estate (another client!). Quite a surprise and I almost fell off my chair.

The refreshing thing about my work is that no day is ever the same. I’m really looking forward to 2020 and seeing what it brings.

Happy New Year to clients past, present and future. Here’s to the next decade!

BBC Spotlight filming

Otter’s magical grotto

I was really pleased to achieve coverage with BBC Spotlight for long-term client Otter Garden Centres, when a crew visited to film at the grotto one one very special day.

I have history with Otter’s magical grotto; I took my children there to meet Santa when they were little (it always amused me that one of the Santas was actually my friend Michael, a lovely Irish fella. We saw him at least twice, and the kids never guessed despite the accent). When they were older, both children worked at the grotto as helper elves – complete with pointy ears and jingling bells on their shoes.

The grotto is a major attraction for local families and over the years has become a well-oiled machine offering a wonderful experience for children and adults alike. But not every child can cope with the crowds. This year Otter talked to me about a grotto they were running for children with disabilities/special educational needs. They’ve done this before – it’s evolved from parents asking about options for children with disabilities like autism who hate crowds, noise and flashing lights. This year we felt that it would be a good opportunity to highlight the issue of these children who haven’t been able to have the same Christmas experience as their peers.

Firstly I talked with a group of mums on the list who Otter highlighted as being very proactive. They were all really pleased with the idea of being given a voice about the problems they faced. One mum and blogger, Danielle, was clearly going to be the perfect spokesperson. Next I approached BBC Spotlight. They loved the idea, but of course it had to fit with scheduling particularly in light of the fact we only had a small window available for filming with the families who had agreed.

It wasn’t until the day that they rang to say they were coming. After confirming with the mums I dashed along to the grotto to meet the crew, reporter Naomi Dymond and her cameraman. They went round the grotto with the families, interviewed Danielle and another mum, and were wonderfully sensitive with the children who had very different reactions to the grotto, the animated characters, music, lights, and quite unexpected things like the fur on a deer! Otter’s grotto team were brilliant, as patient as can be, making sure all the children enjoyed their visit.

At one point I decided to get out of the way of the crew, slipped through a door and found myself lost in the behind the scenes area of the grotto. It did give me the chance to hear, through the wall, one of the children meeting Santa. Santa was so calm and friendly that the potentially scary situation for a lad with autism was turned into a positive experience for him and his family.

The feature focused on the families, not the company, which was exactly what we wanted. It aired on Spotlight two days later, and received a great reaction with more parents contacting Otter to see if they could get on board for next year.

Danielle’s blog is called The Autism Diaries, and is definitely worth reading.

 

House of Commons

House of Commons or Bust

The Recycled Candle Company is a brilliant client for many reasons. Importantly, Richard and Sargon trust me to get on with what I’m good at, while I let them get on with what they’re good at – making luxury candles from recycled wax!

One recent upshot of this was entering them for the Best Small Shops 2019 Competition. I knew of this because Sarah from Nourish mentioned it to me, she was a finalist in 2018. It seemed perfect for TRCC so I started the process of adding them to the Indie Retail website and running through the awards questions with Richard and Sargon.

Part of the competition was a public vote, with the top ten competitors highlighted each week, so we could see how they were performing. TRCC has a very engaged social media following, so I posted a request for votes, and asked again, and again (always politely). TRCC are clearly doing something right, as they featured in the top ten fairly consistently.

It wasn’t just down to the vote, though. The judges looked at the submission questions for community engagement, use of technology and plans for the next five years.

We were all thrilled in October when TRCC was announced as one of the Best 25 Small Shops in Britain, and were invited to a reception at the House of Commons on November 5th. I pointed out the auspiciousness of the date and where we were going… but I was, naturally, delighted to be invited along.

Visiting the House of Commons was a real treat, particularly as I’d never been there. Such an awesome atmosphere. The reception was at the Terrace Pavilion, which is right above the River Thames with a first-rate view of the London Eye.

Icing on the cake? The Recycled Candle Company were announced as one of just two runners up in the competition, which had attracted over 600 entries, we were told. The winner was Papadeli, a Bristol-based deli, and the other runner-up was Book-ish, an independent bookshop in Crickhowell, Powys.

A lovely day, a great result and a very happy client!