2020 Round Up with Jim and Ayyab Cockburn

If you think back to January 2020 would you have predicted that we would be on lockdown for most of the year? No, neither did we!

This year has thrown curveballs but thanks to all of our amazing colleagues who adapted, listened and helped us to navigate through this time, we have been able to continue growing and innovating. We have drawn so much inspiration from them all, as well as the communities we have served and the partners we have worked with. It has been one of the toughest years ever, but also one which taught us so much about the power of the human spirit to endure and to overcome.

We very quickly adapted to new ways of working, finding creative ways to get our services and products to our communities digitally. We innovated – reflect for a second on Antser’s ground-breaking VR solution, bringing children back into the classroom virtually. Another example is our vision for a ‘TalkOut’ platform providing access to engagement, mental health and VR services from one portal, one which we have already started to realise.  These are just two of the many new models we are pioneering and building on.

We reprioritised and refocused, for instance diverting Martin James Foundation resources to more front-line projects; helping vulnerable families in Madagascar, supporting care-leavers in Birmingham with grants and resources, also renewing our partnership with Food-cycle to deliver food to families in greatest need locally. Let us not forget the amazing Epic Youth Project, which we are proud to say has reached over 120 young people, 15 of whom we are working with more intensively to realise their business goals. There has never been a more important time to give young people hope and opportunity, which we are just so pleased to be contributing to.

We also used the time to reflect on who we are as a collective network and what we want to continue doing and investing in. We have captured this very simply in our new strapline “Fearless Futures”. In these few words we are clear about our ongoing commitment to strengthening families and communities through ‘humanising’ social care, health and education structures, practice, and technologies. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live a fearless future and we exist to disrupt existing patterns of inequity and promote better social and health outcomes – it’s as simple as that!

Fearless Futures also applies internally and as part of this we have continued to develop our culture of ongoing learning and enterprise, most notably through our CoLab initiative. Many staff and Epic Youth members have participated in workshops ranging from photography to poetry and Mindfulness. Through such initiatives we are growing ever more comfortable about challenging ourselves and others on a daily basis to open up our minds, get curious and not be afraid to push ourselves.

In 2020 we also saw new businesses join the Network. UK Fire Training, a very valuable addition to our ‘fearless health’ portfolio, will be launching new training products in 2021, utilising the very best technologies.  Our ambition to do more to support causes close to our heart also led to us welcoming AboutFace – providers of anti-racism training into the Network. Events this year have clearly shown us that writing diversity charters and attending standard training are not enough, we need to get disruptive – something Cliff is on a mission to do!  Our new partnership with ‘Roots to Life’ Saturday School, due to be launched in January, also signifies our commitment to promoting inclusion and strengthening community – watch this space for more on this. We are also incredibly excited about the launch of CaseFlowHR solution in January 2021 – watch out Spreadsheet Britain, Greg and Jill are coming for you!

We must also recognise the areas that have grown from strength to strength, continuing to deliver the highest quality of service, despite the increase levels of demand; Key Assets Europe, Antser Assessment services and Intellect to name but a few.

Whilst we have achieved a lot it has not been an easy time for many people across the group, and we have both also certainly felt the pressure at times. Holy Moly has had to remain shut for a large part of the year which has had a significant impact on staff morale. The good news is we remain fully committed to re-opening when circumstances allow us to in 2021. We have also had to make tough business decisions around other areas of the network to ensure the realisation of future goals and priorities. Saying goodbye to people is never easy but we congratulate Agility and Tribera, two very successful businesses that are now forging their own way in the world.

There is so much to be proud of this year, the perseverance, the creativity, the collaboration, the learning, the resilience and the impact achieved. We really could go on. Empowering ‘Fearless Futures’ doesn’t mean that we haven’t felt the fear, this year has been full of it. But time and time again, we have demonstrated that we will never let fear own us, or hold us back. We truly appreciate all the hard work and support every single person has contributed to the Network over the last 12 months, and we look forward to building on our successes into 2021.

– Jim Cockburn and Ayyab Cockburn

 

Supporting Foster Carers in times of Covid-19

Supporting Foster Carers in times of Covid-19

FosterTalk was established in 2004 to give foster parents access to a greater degree of independent support. 

The foster care journey is challenging and unique for every child, young person and carer. FosterTalk supports families on this journey with services that are welcoming, trusted, reliable, knowledgeable and innovative.

2020 has been especially difficult for foster families. Due to the restrictions placed upon them, foster carers have expressed concerns about what support is still available to them, what their legal rights are, how to keep themselves and the children safe, and much more. 

But throughout lockdown, FosterTalk has been there to support its members in a variety of ways. We hear from three foster families that have benefited from our expertise this year:

We listened to our carers’ health and financial worries

One particular foster carer contacted FosterTalk as they had concerns regarding their health and financial circumstances. They also had worries around whether foster carers were defined as ‘key workers’, and if birth family contact for children was permitted. 

The foster carer felt there wasn’t much clarity from their fostering service regarding contact arrangements. Our FosterTalk advisor researched this with the foster carer over the phone. They found that there was a policy on the fostering service website, stating that carers must promote safe birth family contact through virtual means only. The foster carer was able to share this clear guidance to the young person in their care, easing their confusion and worry. 

In regards to whether foster carers were defined as ‘key workers’, our advisor referred the carer to the guidance published on the FosterTalk website, which clearly states that foster carers are not defined as key workers. Using the FosterTalk website, the foster carer was also signposted to finance and medical helplines for advice on their respective circumstances. 

At the start of the conversation, the carer was understandably confused and anxious about covid-19 and how it would affect their fostering responsibilities. They were ‘really worried about what’s going on’ but the call appeared to help the carer express their concerns. Before the end of the call, the carer was also signposted to the 24/7 counselling helpline for all members. With assurances, clarity on key issues, and relevant signposting from FosterTalk, the carer was supported as best as possible and fully utilised their membership benefits. 

 We encouraged open and honest discussions around difficult situations

A foster carer recently contacted FosterTalk to discuss their concerns regarding a funeral that a young person in foster care had been invited to. This was an extended family member of the young person, though still of great significance to them and they understandably wanted to attend the funeral. The carer wanted to honour the young person’s wishes, but was concerned around the rules of self-isolating and staying safe in the current climate. 

FosterTalk referred the carer to the guidelines on funeral arrangements via the Age UK website, which provide clarity on what steps the young person would need to take if they were to attend the funeral. Furthermore, FosterTalk informed the carer that it may be best practice for a risk assessment to be completed by the local authority social worker, in conjunction with the fostering service and the young person. 

Promoting an open and honest discussion with the young person was FosterTalk’s message, and this appeared to help the foster carer feel more at ease. They expressed to the carer that FosterTalk could not provide a ‘yes or no’ to whether a young person in foster care could attend a funeral, as this lies with the person with parental responsibility. 

However, by providing clear guidance on funeral arrangements, reiterating the importance of a risk assessment, along with referring the carer to the medical helpline, the carer received clarity on a complex matter and their mind was put at ease.

 

 

We clarified complex protocol, finding solutions using technology

Another complex matter for foster carers during the pandemic has been the protocol around statutory visits from children’s social workers, and visits from supervising social workers. 

FosterTalk have spoken to a number of foster carers regarding this matter and have advised them to clarify the policy of their fostering services and local authorities. They have also suggested that foster carers could work with professionals to ensure visits are completed through alternative video means. 

FosterTalk reiterated to the carers that it is more important than ever that all professionals supporting children in care work in partnership to ensure visits are completed, but not at the detriment of the children’s or foster carers’ health. This support and guidance appears to have been received positively by our members.

FosterTalk have, and will, continue to provide consistent advice to all foster carers who need us over the coming months. For more information on FosterTalk please visit their website: https://www.fostertalk.org/

Finding resilience in times of change

Finding resilience in times of change

Over the last few months we have seen further changes across the UK, tier systems introduced, closure of high street brands and curfews at 10pm. Since our last update back in April the Martin James Network has also been adapting to changes, and it’s been a busy few months.

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement made us stop, reflect and change. We made a stance to support the fight against any injustice both inside and outside the workplace. Not only did we talk candidly about Black Lives Matter on our blog, we also created a new diversity charter, ensuring that all our colleagues are treated fairly and without prejudice or discrimination.

During this period we have welcomed to the network Cliff Faulder and his business ‘About Face’. A new anti-racism training business that provides a safe space to ask the hard questions about diversity and equality in the workplace. Cliff recently created a blog for Black History Month where he discusses his dreams, diversity and more. Read his blog here.

VR and being a disruptive business

We expanded our business with the acquisition of a VR company – VR Simulation System which forms part of the TalkOut Group. Incorporating VR into our business allows us to expand our mental health services, offer alternative learning and support through VR and allow us to reach more people than ever before through collaboration.

In June, Martin James Network were successfully nominated and announced as runners up to Disruptive HR’s ‘Better Normal’ Awards. The awards recognised our leaders’ response to the Coronavirus pandemic – we were congratulated for our innovative and disruptive initiatives during lockdown.

Say hello to CoLAB – we welcome the Mayor of the West Midlands

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands officially opened our creative incubation centre ‘CoLAB’ in October.

The CoLAB will serve EPIC Youth, which is part of the Martin James Foundation. EPIC Youth allows access to mentoring, finance, marketing, and business advice. This collaborative, safe space allows them to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset, with access to laptops, camera and video equipment, plus a photo and podcast studio. 

The space has also been utilised by our colleagues when we hosted a ‘Festival of Learning’, offering workshops on creative storytelling, photography and video editing. CoLAB will be a cross functional space for everyone to use and gives our EPIC entrepreneurs direct access to mentoring from MJN talent.

Graffiti trail across the Midlands to celebrate National Poetry Day through founder’s COVID experience

To celebrate National Poetry Day, we decided to take over key areas around Birmingham to raise awareness of the poet ‘Basic Existential Boy’ – also known as our founder Jim Cockburn.

During the 1st lockdown, Jim launched a collection of COVID-19 poetry the month before after falling ill with symptoms of the virus at the start of the year. Showcasing parts of his work across the city, the ‘clean’ graffiti could be found in areas such as Moseley, Harborne, Digbeth, New Street, Moor Street and Snow Hill.

Supporting our colleagues for World Mental Health Day

At the network, we have a variety of initiatives to help support our colleagues’ mental health. Throughout this period we have offered access to our TalkOut app – allowing all colleagues to connect and speak with each other, access resources including mental health, employee rewards, and internal company updates all in one place.

We also increased online webinars to cover topics such as mental health, wellbeing and fitness. And we encouraged colleagues to join virtual hangouts, quizzes and celebrate birthdays online. We understood the pressure on working parents – juggling work life and family life as it merged into one. Everyone was offered flexible working, access to additional support online and more check ins with their managers to discuss any issues they had.

Welcome new businesses and a new vision

Even though it’s been a rocky year we have been fortunate to have a strong, resilient business which has allowed us to grow and welcome new leaders and businesses into the Network.

Cliff Faulder has joined as CEO of AboutFace a new diversity training business which will help educate around equality and diversity. We also welcomed Richard Morcombe who has taken lead at UK Fire Training – both new businesses to the network.

Paul Putman will now head up Talkout Group as their new CEO with Daniel Croft joining us as CEO for our Fostertalk brand.

This period has also given us time to step back and solidify our network vision and mission. A vision of a ‘society’ in which every individual is valued and where all dreams can be realised without fear, limitation or prejudice.’ As we move toward the end of the year, we take comfort in the the work that we have achieved over the past few months, despite the global uncertainity.

Riding the wave of a new business landscape

Riding the wave of a new business landscape

The recent COVID-19 outbreak has caused immense disruption to businesses across the globe – and in some cases, irreparable damage. But for The Martin James Group, the clever use of data and digital platforms, alongside unwavering persistence, has meant we have been able to navigate the crisis and ride the bumpy wave.

From charities to leading technology brands, The Martin James Network consists of three groups of companies all with a shared vision of changing futures. Founded by Martin James Cockburn – or Jim, as he’s commonly known – the network ranges from start-ups to well-established brands that have been in business for over 15 years.

jim cockburn
Chair of the network – Jim Cockburn

Like all businesses, the Martin James Network hasn’t been able to completely avoid the impact and interruption felt by this unprecedented global pandemic. Yet, thanks to its existing innovations and the need for continued support from the markets it operates within, the network has been able to adapt and make the most of a potentially catastrophic situation.

Jim shares the network’s learnings and successes from the last four weeks of this new business landscape:

Accelerating innovation

Over the last 12 months, the Martin James Network has developed and implemented a digital communication and engagement app called JiffyJab, which allows organisations to share information within their own private network. Having already been successfully adopted by a number of businesses, we are now offering the app to the care, charity and health sectors free of charge during the coronavirus crisis.

One of our brands, FosterTalk – a not-for-profit support service for foster carers – has also been working with internal partners to implement a new communication tool. Due to launch soon, the app will allow FosterTalk members to access advice and support, as well as chat in real-time to other foster carers at what is an extremely stressful and challenging time for them.

Responding to market needs

Our brand leaders across the network have been using this crisis to shape new ways of working, whilst responding to market needs. Life sciences company, Okra, is working to offer COVID-19 insights using transformative predictive AI technology. Our workplace mental health organisation, TalkOut, is offering more webinars and online training at a time when managing employee mental health remotely is crucial. Business support and IT brand, Anster, has been busy developing a family support package to help Local Authorities across the UK support more vulnerable families. And Intellect – our foster carer tax advice service – is supporting carers to unpick and understand the massive volume of information regarding self-employment.

Offering a helping hand

Our charity, the Martin James Foundation, supports vulnerable young people around the world and has stepped up during this crisis to launch an emergency appeal. It is also working closely with partners in Birmingham to support more vulnerable families within communities that need it.

Internally, the network’s People team have launched a range of initiatives to boost morale and wellbeing, including wellbeing Wednesday, Sing-a-long Thursday, quiz nights on Friday, daily HIIT workouts on Facebook Live, and a Facebook group for employees needing to keep their kids entertained which has grown to nearly 4,000 members.

We are also hugely proud that we haven’t had to furlough too many staff and any that have been, have had 100% of their salaries covered.

Crisis builds collaboration

In what is an unsettling and stressful time, our people have really stepped up to get employees and themselves through the upheaval. Whilst information and updates were always previously shared between brands, our network leaders are now having weekly virtual meetings so we can share ideas and concerns, as well as identify new ways to collaborate and support each other.

Our staff continue to support each other through candid and authentic communications via our internal communications app, JiffyJab, as well as through Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack.

Jim comments: “It could be very easy to be knocked back by a crisis like this but through collaborative effort and the commitment of each brand within the network, we’ve managed to explore new ways of working and meet market demands.

“Our focus has become sharper during these testing times and our network’s mantra of ‘connecting minds and shaping futures to transform lives’ resonates now more than ever.

“We’ve learned that times of crisis and uncertainty can actually give us more courage and we believe that we will come out the end stronger and more resilient as a network.”

Find out more about the Martin James Network here.

OKRA launches COVID-19 Status for Field Teams

OKRA launches COVID-19 Status for Field Teams

OKRA Technologies, a leading provider of Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven analytics for global life sciences, which is part of the Martin James Network today announced they have introduced a COVID-19 status within their FieldFocus system to further support life sciences sales representatives. The status allows sales representatives to understand how the outbreak has affected access to individual Hospitals and GP practices and their preferred method of contact.

Key insights

  • HCPs are limiting their interactions with sales representatives from life sciences due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • The new FieldFocus feature enables sales reps to communicate in real time the changing accessibility and preferred method of contact for Hospitals and GP practices across the country.
  • This new feature also allows sales representatives to feedback directly into the system, using a “traffic light” system providing a real-time understanding of the changing access environment caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The COVID-19 status function truly embraces the human-machine relationship. We are connecting user feedback to provide more accuracy in the predictions, suggestions and explanations for future actions.

“Our goal is to empower strategic and operational teams across life sciences to take action. The integrated COVID-19 solution will aim to support sales teams across the business to focus engagement decisions on areas where access is still available. Our primary objective is to provide AI solutions that place the user at the centre and enable individuals to execute their vision through explainable AI. This is another example of how we can evolve our FieldFocus solution at speed to meet the changing needs of the life science industry during these unprecedented times,” said Dr Loubna Bouarfa, Founder and CEO of OKRA Technologies.

Find out more about OKRA Technologies here.