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 work that we have achieved over the past few months, despite the global uncertainty. 

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!