MJN celebrates entrepreneurs week with EPIC Youth

MJN celebrates entrepreneurs week with EPIC Youth

This week, Martin James Foundation and EPIC Youth are celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week 2020. Hear the stories about our EPIC Entrepreneurs Dion and Rennae who have been working with EPIC Youth over the last few months.


Dion Fanthom – Mindful Monday


Dion joined EPIC Youth in June 2020. Dion had already launched her business the previous year however required some further support to develop and grow her business. With the help of EPIC Youth we were able to trademark the name ‘Mindful Monday’ as well as providing intensive business and financial support.

The inspiration for Mindful Monday came about from bad experiences within the workplace, when it came to employee mental health and wellbeing. I had openly spoken about my mental health challenges and encouraged my colleagues to do the same but the support was non-existent. It seemed at the time that managers didn’t really care about or know how to approach the topic of mental health in the workplace.

I saw my colleagues burn out, experienced terrible anxiety myself and as a result ended up dreading going to work on a Monday morning. My one wish was to simply have a more mindful Monday, hence the name for my own business came to life.

When I left these toxic working environments I was filled with frustration towards my prior managers, I was left damaged by the poor experiences myself and my colleagues had been through. It was only after reflecting I started to think maybe it’s not their fault, maybe it’s not always about being ignorant, maybe it is about being uneducated. That is why I created Mindful Monday, to be proactive when it came to mental health. To create understanding and educated environments across all industries for individuals to thrive, completely shame-free.


Since launching at the beginning of the year we have held fully booked events, launched a project to give over 100 people a free box of positivity at the beginning of lockdown, created online content, and sold a range of products via our website.

Some of these products include mugs, coasters, pocket mirrors, and as we approach December we have created an alternative advent calendar that provides self-care and mindful prompts each day in order to inspire people to be kind to their mind over the festive period.

When it comes to Mindful Monday, success to me is achieved every day. With each message or order that comes through I get a sense of success as I know we are helping those who want to get a better understanding of mental health. Long term success would be seeing a real change when it comes to mental health in all industries and environments, normalised conversations and support systems, individuals thriving in work with constant support for employees mental health.

I have very ambitious plans for Mindful Monday and I am confident I will achieve them. There is a need for an organisation like the one me and my community have created, this pandemic has shown there is a clear demand for more organic mental health support and I am determined to continue providing that for as long as it is needed.

Rennae Smith – Tressamore

Rennae joined EPIC Youth in January 2020, she had a passion for hair extensions and wanted some support to launch her own business as she was unsure of how to do it on her own. Rennae received intensive support from the Martin James Network which included business and financial help. Some of the ways in which the network was able to help was by guiding her through trademarking her name, registering her business, helping her to design logos and branding as well as ongoing pastoral support.

When Rennae was asked why she chose to start a hair extension business she replied ‘ I chose to start a hair business as it was something I’m passionate about as I’ve always been doing hair from a little girl to make extra money on the side. And it’s a skill that I have naturally become very good at. I am very fond of the hair industry and origin; it’s something that I find really interesting’. 

Due to COVID-19 it has unfortunately delayed the launch of Tressamore as products have become unavailable or hard to get hold of but Rennae is still hoping to launch online after Christmas.

‘I’m excited to finally launch so everyone can see the amazing quality hair extensions I have in store as I have so many ideas up my sleeve. I am hoping to Launch after Christmas’  

Rennae has a clear idea of what being successful means to her. ‘What drives me is the idea of being successful and meeting my end goal that I have worked so hard for. Coming up with new creative ideas to improve business & just becoming the best version of myself and becoming a role model to my siblings.’

Lindsey Hyde – EPIC Youth: I am so excited for Rennae to launch her hair business, she has been committed driven and passionate to get this point. I am sure the business will be a massive success and I can’t wait to her see her launch and to finally start selling her products. Good luck Rennae!!

Please look out for more information on where you can purchase some of Rennae’s amazing products…………


Find out more about Martin James Foundation and our EPIC Youth scheme by clicking here 

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid?

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid?

Cliff Faulder is CEO and Training Director of AboutFace and ‘The EmbRACE Awards’. Here he discusses the backlash to this years Sainsbury’s Christmas advert

“At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade….”

OK Mr Geldof you’re losing me with the second line. Considering this song was originally penned to highlight the plight of the starving people in Africa at a time when good will to all men (and surely women ) was in order, it feels like it’s loaded with subliminal intent.

Where is this festive nostalgic scrutiny coming from Cliff, I hear you say?

Well actually.

It comes from the almighty backlash that Sainsbury’s have faced for having a black family in one of their three new Christmas advertisements.

When my wife informed me that the unrest over the imagery of a black family enjoying Christmas was really a thing, I immediately took to YouTube to watch the advertisement again to check if I had missed anything.

I mentally compiled a list in my head.

  • Warm festive home video footage. CHECK!
  • Cute children, tinsel, seasoned food. CHECK!
  • Positive Christmas vibes. CHECK!
  • Sense of family. CHECK!
  • Fun, laughter, love. CHECK-CHECK-CHECK!

So what is the problem? Surely, surely it could not  be simply because the family being depicted are black.

In a fashion reminiscent of BAT-MAN turning to his trusted sidekick Robin, with the urgency of comic book hero I exclaimed.

“To the comments section!”

Alas there were no comments on YouTube.

I grew suspicious. Had YouTube removed the ability for the public to comment on this wonderfully crafted showcase of a black family at Christmas, because they knew what would follow?

I headed to another source.

One Google search was all it took to find the backlash. A tsunami of racial hatred, all related to the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert.

The Daily Mail online reported:

Customers accuse Sainsbury’s of ‘virtue signaling’.

The Independent led with:


 The Independent found a few people that celebrated the advert and challenged the views of those railing against the ad online.

As I sat back in my chair and thought about what I was playing out in this very public outpouring of emotion, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

Shocked? No. Never shocked, but certainly disappointed.

This year I have joined my neighbours, as many of you have, to stand on our doorsteps and applaud the valour and dedication of the men and women who make up our beloved NHS.

All over the country we have stood and put our hands together to show that in these desperate times we can come together as the Great British public and stand against the most challenging of foes.  Britain was famous for this in war time. When it asked men and women of colour to come to its aid and fight for the mother country.

I can imagine those black and ethnic minority soldiers who fought for this country, genuinely thinking they were amongst brothers. But after the conflict was over, they were met with a society with a unerring passion for the rhetoric of Enoch Powell.

Fast forward to 2020, could it be that when many of the British public whooped and hollered on the nations’ front lawns, they were only cheering for the white doctors, nurses, hospital staff and carers.

Fifty years on, we are still giving out the message that the black family is not welcome in Brittan.

Enoch Powell warned that his speech would fizz like a rocket and true to his prediction it has shaped the minds of post war Britain ever since.

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid.

Yes there is, but it depends on your level of privilege and social standing.

You see as the nights draw in and the autumnal chill fills the air we look around us and, and much like John Snow from Game of Thrones we utter in dimly lit corners that “winter is coming”.

As the season of glad tidings approaches many of us gather to celebrate the birth of a child of colour. A child born to a  family with skin as dark as his own, in a country who still to this day, have a high population of people with dark skin trying to find a place to be welcomed.

So, as you tuck into your umpteenth mince pie and partake in the odd libation, please take a moment to consider this.

Somewhere not too far from you there is a black family who are clearing the table after a fine breakfast of akee and saltfish, green banana and fried plantain, hard dough bread, and bucks fizz. Later they will be playing charades and opening gifts, wetting their whistle with Guinness punch and sitting down for a most splendid Christmas meal.

Do they know it’s Christmas time…..?

Sure they do.

And it’s ok for Sainsbury’s to know it too.

Cliff celebrating Christmas with his family last year

Meet one of the Martin James Network’s very own entrepreneurs, Tim Luft

Meet one of the Martin James Network’s very own entrepreneurs, Tim Luft

I have always had a passion for technology – from my early days in school operating a BBC Microcomputer where I would play the latest games (many of which were extremely basic, 2D, with very poor graphics). 

Jump 20 years on and the games industry has changed beyond all recognition, new games consoles have appeared, Apple iTunes have brought out mobile games and computers that are able to process highly engaging 3D graphics.  It is from this that I recognised an opportunity to create highly innovative products from the skill set of the games industry. However, instead of building entertainment games, I felt we should look towards gamification and 3D virtual environments to assist with everyday tasks such as teaching and learning. 

Before I set up my own Virtual Reality Studio I went through the process of running other businesses – my first being a French Restaurant (but my cooking skills were pretty questionable and I am not sure whether Wolverhampton was quite ready for Crepes in the mid-1990s), I ran my own consultancy business (advising blue chips and the UK Government on Innovation and IT) for many years and then decided the time was right to go it alone with a technical development studio in the West Midlands. 

As a small business focusing on Virtual Reality and Simulation I was able to slowly build up a company and generate a mix of clients from Arriva Trains to the Gwent Police. But it was clear, I needed to invest in products if the business was going to grow, at this stage I started with the Rail Industry, developing a learning tool using a virtual 3D environment to increase safety on railway platforms – it worked, our first client experienced a 60% reduction in incidents on the rail stations as a result of training their staff with our software (Result!). This gave us the confidence to explore similar products for the UK Police and before long we had two titles in the market. 

As I progressed the business I often presented at events, conferences and workshops, it was at such a presentation that Jim and Ayyab happened to be in the audience. They had an interest in VR/ AR and it wasn’t long before I had a call from an old friend of mine, Faye. One thing led to another and the opportunity to join the MJN family of businesses became real – this was an easy option for me, I recognised that as a small business with little or no investment we can only grow at a certain pace, but being a smaller part of something bigger (TalkOut Group) we could grab with both hands the real opportunity to innovate and scale. Jim and Ayyab recognise the potential of technology as a source for good if developed properly, they have also created an enviable group of companies, all of whom I felt could be great partners and collaborators going forward. 

I feel that we are still on an exciting journey and with the support of the Martin James Network, and the wider teams across the globe I am very excited to see where this journey takes us. The appointment of Paul Putman as our new TalkOut CEO and a focus on combining our VR tech team with world class experts in mobile development also offers tremendous potential for growth. We recognise how significant the TalkOut App will become and are fully onboard to support the company with a portfolio of Virtual Reality Worlds. Watch this space!

National Care Leavers week at Martin James Network

National Care Leavers week at Martin James Network

At the Martin James Network, we support learning, collaboration and support any initiatives which are part of the network. This year, National Care Leavers week (26th October – 1st November)  the network hosted events, workshops, and information pieces to support care leavers  (where upon turning 18, many young care leavers  are forced to leave their placement and start to live independently before they feel ready) on our network which was led by EPIC Youth – a young person initiative through the Martin James Foundation.

Over the week we carried out 3 workshops, 1 for personal branding and storytelling led by Shane Sidaway from Tribera, An EPIC youth open day with presentations from Abba (Birmingham Care Leavers Trust), Luke Mulekezi (Business mentor for EPIC Youth) and Rachael Cole (FosterTalk). We also held a session around CV writing and application forms led by Ketan Chhatbar from The People’s team (Martin James Group). 

The EPIC Youth open day was created to demonstrate joint working with other partners such as Birmingham Care Leavers Trust. BCLT have always supported EPIC Youth by promoting the programme as well as providing referrals. Abba explained the importance of working together and what care leavers week meant. We also showcased EPIC Youth and what support can be offered. Luke explained the role of a business mentor and what young people could expect if accepted onto the programme. Rachael explained the link between Fostertalk and EPIC Youth and how they work together to raise awareness – we also advertised and asked for expressions of interest to arrange a youth board/council so they could help shape and be involved in moving EPIC Youth forward.

Lindsey Hyde, UK Programme Manager from EPIC Youth, was also asked by Lambeth council to give a presentation on EPIC Youth as part of their National Care Leavers week (Be inspired). Rennae, a young person on the programme, accompanied her and as well as answering questions from the young people explained her journey from January to be ready to launch her own business by December. Lindsey explained how the programme worked and how they could access the support by different referral streams. Shared success stories from some of the young people that are on the programme and will soon be ready to launch.

Lindsey said “It’s been great to work in collaboration with different parts of the network, care leavers trust and allow people to find out more about EPIC and the amazing work we do. We love supporting our care leavers and hope the workshops help them to learn and grow.”

Find out more about the foundation and EPIC youth by clicking here.

Black History Month at the Martin James Network

Black History Month at the Martin James Network

At the Martin James Network, diversity and inclusivity has always been a priority. But this year in particular, we’ve been educating our employees around race, culture and the importance of diversity in the workplace.

In October, we supported and celebrated Black History Month. We had events, workshops and support going on throughout the month, as well as encouraging colleagues across the business to talk about their experiences. In this blog post, we take a look at some of the projects that have taken place and the initiatives taking shape within the network.

Going back to the classroom

There’s no denying that school curriculums are failing at teaching us the very basics when it comes to black history. In fact, according to The Black Curriculum, 73% of people in the UK learnt about the Great Fire of London, but only 10% learnt about the role of slavery in the British Industrial Revolution.

We believe that knowledge leads to understanding and change. So, to mark Black History Month, we’ve been taking employees back to the classroom (virtually, of course) to give them the opportunities to learn more.

We held an Inclusive Webinar Series with sessions around understanding white privilege, exploring black culture, and using mentoring and reverse mentoring to drive inclusive cultures. We’ve also shared resources and links to events taking place in Birmingham on our internal engagement app, TalkOut.

Progressing our diversity charter

Our diversity charter has been in development for some time but has really evolved over the last six months. The charter demonstrates our commitment to leading the way when it comes to diversity, equality, and anti-discriminatory practices within the workplace. It outlines both our business commitments and the personal commitments we want our employees to adopt to support diversity.

As part of the charter, we have run several events and webinars to give all employees the chance to explore and discuss diversity in the workplace. As part of the Charter, we have also joined Inclusive Employers giving us access to leading edge resources on diversity and allowing us to benchmark our processes against other organisations.

Encouraging employees to share their dreams

Whether it’s our website, social media or internal engagement tool, we’re always encouraging employees at all levels to share their personal experiences and raise awareness of important issues. In October, network employee Cliff Faulder kindly wrote a blog post discussing what Black History Month means to him and what having a dream is really about.

He talks about growing up as a black child in 70s, 80s and 90s Britain, and explores society’s misconceptions of people of colour and how they’ve contributed to the world we live in. Click here to read Cliff’s blog post in full.

Whilst Black History Month has given us a platform to promote diversity, we know that this isn’t just once a year and we have events planned across the year to promote diversity and to continue the discussion around race and culture.