Speed of response in setting up a national testing centre for Covid-19 at Alderley Park in less than three weeks and challenges of getting people back into the workplace, plus Govt funding updates dominated the latest session of the new marketing and publishing organisation for East Cheshire – Marketing WAM.
Marketing WAM members and guests plus Cheshire East Council business support representatives joined the online forum session to talk, share experiences and advice on next steps in the fight against the virus and trying to get business back up and running.
Kath Mackay, Managing Director at Alderley Park, briefed the group on latest developments around the UK Lighthouse Labs Network, the national diagnostic lab network which is being supported by the scientific community, to support the fight against Covid-19. The Lighthouse Labs project is being led nationally by Medicines Discovery Catapult – the UK Government-funded technology and innovation centre – which is also based at Alderley Park. She commented:
It has been fascinating how quickly the wider team has been able to turn this around from a speculative phone call with the head of Medicines Discovery Catapult, sounding us out on how we would set a diagnostic capability, to actually processing patients samples within three weeks. That meant fitting out a lab and working on logistics as part of a large cross-functional team including Astra Zeneca, Sodexo, the British Army and Deloittes among many others.
“The lab is being manned by volunteer scientists from across the region, from the University of Manchester, Salford, Chester and Leeds among several others and Cancer Research UK in a real pan-northern effort bringing academia, health systems and business together.
“We are focused on testing for whether the virus is present in a swaps, which are being sent to us from Northern and Midland-based test centres with results sent back in a few days. Having gone from nothing to 1000s of these tests we are now working on scaling it up to help reach the 100,000 Government daily target. We are delighted to be playing a small part in such an important project and doing it from Cheshire.
“From a wider standpoint we have lots of companies on site at Alderley Park contributing to projects outside the Lighthouse Labs, working within safety guidelines, and we await fresh advice this weekend as we look to get more people back to work.”
Matt Galloway of Galloways Printers in Poynton echoed the discussions around challenges of getting people back to work. His business has been closed for four weeks but looking to reopen again.
I have got 22 production staff on furlough at the moment and 18 office-based also on furlough – they could work from home – but am trying to work out how to get people back to work safely and in line with business demands, which is going to take time to get back up to pre-Covid-19 levels.
“While we did have what you might call essential supply work in terms of food and drink packaging, NHS print and other critical customer projects there was not really enough volume to keep people in. We have a 25,000 sq ft factory, but I will be reliant on a few multi-skilled people initially who will have to work across multiple machines and I need to put in the necessary measures to safeguard them and resume production.”
Employment lawyer from SAS Daniels Warren Moore, who deals with lots of schools and businesses as an outsourced HR specialist, said that businesses need to take advice from their health and safety providers and insurance companies to make sure safety provisions were robust. He said:
There is some natural nervousness about going back into work and we await more guidance this weekend, but there have been grey areas as the Government have had to make such sudden announcements around it. There is talk about continuing social distancing, use of PPE, going back in tranches, to give workers confidence they will be safe returning.”
Mandy Fazelynia, from All Communications by Zest4, said things had settled for them and were forecasting a normal month of sales in May and were keen to get people back in the office. She said:
We miss the banter. The interaction is important, a sense of normality and we are taking advice on how to make the return safe, rotations, cleaning processes etc.”
Philip Kerr, from Cheshire East’s business support team, led the funding debate, explaining how they were continuing to get grants out to businesses in the area. He commented:
We have paid out £66m of the £85m allocated, a mix of £10,000 and £25,000 grants, putting us in the top 10% of local authorities in terms of delivery. But there is clearly more to do.”
Of the Government’s latest 5% top up scheme he said:
This is designed to help those businesses that fell in the gaps on criteria for previous grant funding and we are now working fast on how to get this out to people which will probably be based on an online application process – as simple as possible. We are allowed to use our discretion on what sectors we prioritise – probably weighted towards those most important to our local economy.”
Finally Anna McIntosh, Major Relationships Development Manager, from The Christie joined the call to talk about the impact of Covid-19 on fund-raising. She commented:
Before this all hit we had raised £3m of the £23m needed to build a new site in Macclesfield at the hospital but that is at a standstill now.
“So we are running on just 30% of usual income at the moment. We are in the process of thinking new fund-raising ideas – to replace things like the GM Marathon which have not gone ahead – all ideas would be gratefully received.”
Business development director at Marketing WAM Jan Cowan said the organisation would look to help where it could.
We will promote new fund-raising schemes to get people thinking again about non-Covid-19 causes, especially supporting the building of a new Christie site here in Macclesfield.”
The next Marketing WAM session will be on Tuesday 19th May at 10.30am. Members and guests are welcome to join. Email Jan Cowan to be added to a mailing list.