We take a look back at some of the biggest business stories of 2020

This year has been arguably one of the most challenging year’s in history for businesses across the UK and the rest of the world.

What started out as a year of hope and plans of growth for many quickly turned on its head as the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to the economy and forced businesses to adapt to a ‘new normal.’

But for some resillient firms, 2020 has been a year of opportunity.

Here we take a look back on some of the biggest business stories from the past 12 months.

Online furniture business Olivia’s saves rival firm Houseology from collapse

Nick Moutter, founder of The Moot Group
Nick Moutter, founder of The Moot Group

Luxury furniture and homeware brand Olivia’s saved a rival business from collapse – by acquiring it.

Online furniture business Olivia’s – which is part of The Moot Group based in Stone – took over Scotland-based Houseology.

The deal – for an undisclosed sum – came one month after Houseology went into administration.

Its collapse was blamed on a number of ‘poor marketing decisions and returns’ and a ‘dysfunctional logistics process.’

JCB announces plans to axe 950 jobs as demand falls as a result of Covid-19

Lord Bamford, chairman of JCB
Lord Bamford, chairman of JCB
(Image: Derby Telegraph)

Digger-maker JCB announced that up to 950 jobs are at risk of redundancy at its UK plants – after demand for its machines fell by half as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

The company wrote to UK employees to advise that hundreds jobs are under threat at its 10 plants in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Wrexham.

At the same time, around 500 Guidant agency employees, who work at JCB’s UK sites, were released from the business.

The job losses were announced as a result of the severe disruption caused to JCB’s business by the covid-19 crisis.

Also this year, JCB – which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020 – made history with the development of the world’s first hydrogen digger.

Lord Bamford and his son Jo Bamford teamed up to create the industry’s first ever hydrogen-powered excavator.

The 20-tonne 220X excavator was in development for 12 months and underwent rigorous testing at JCB’s quarry proving grounds for a further year.

JCB is the first construction equipment company in the world to unveil a working prototype of an excavator powered by hydrogen.

Biologics firm wins multi-million pound funding package to help develop covid-19 vaccine

Cobra Biologics is based at Keele University. Inset, chief executive Peter Coleman
Cobra Biologics is based at Keele University. Inset, chief executive Peter Coleman

A biologics and pharmaceuticals firm which employs 114 people in North Staffordshire was awarded €3 million funding to help support emergency research and development against the coronavirus outbreak.

Keele University Science Park-based Cobra Biologics and the Karolinksa Instituet – a world-leading medical university in Sweden – teamed up in an attempt to develop a vaccine to covid-19.

The organisations, which are part of the OPENCORONA consortium, were awarded the emergency funding by Horizon 2020 for research and development and a phase one clinical trial testing of a DNA vaccine against coronavirus.

The aim of the project is to manufacture a DNA vaccine, which will be delivered to patient muscle to generate a viral antigen on which the immune system then reacts.

Big name pottery firms reveal plans to axe more than 360 staff

The Steelite factory in Stoke-on-Trent
The Steelite factory in Stoke-on-Trent

Pottery firms Churchill China and Steelite International announced plans to axe around 360 staff between them.

Sandyford-based Churchill revealed it was cutting 250 jobs amid fears the hospitality industry will continue to experience the impact of the pandemic into next year.

While global pottery firm Steelite International announced it was axing 20 per cent of its UK workforce.

The Middleport company cut 160 people as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and in anticipation of reduced demand for its tableware.

Work completes on 85,000 sqft industrial scheme which could see 150 new jobs created in North Staffordshire

St Modwen Park Stoke Central
St Modwen Park Stoke Central
(Image: St Modwen Park Stoke Central)

Work finished on a major industrial development which could lead to the creation of 150 new jobs in North Staffordshire.

St Modwen built 85,000 sq ft of industrial space in Stoke-on-Trent which includes a 43,000 sq ft trade park and a speculative 43,000 sq ft warehouse.

The buildings were constructed on a former steelworks site at the newly-named St Modwen Park Stoke Central.

The developer delivered the scheme on behalf of Stoke-on-Trent City Council which acquired the trade park site last year, while the C43 warehouse has been delivered for St Modwen.

Up to 50 new jobs created at Capula

The view south across the Hinkley Point C
(Image: EDF Energy)

Industrial control and automation systems specialists Capula revealed it will create up to 50 new jobs after winning a contract to work on the next phase of construction at the UK’s first new nuclear power station in a generation.

The Stone-based business landed the multi-million pound contract to design and build instrument and control cabinets at the Hinkley Point C power plant in Somerset.

The cabinets are a first of a kind to be designed and made in the UK and will link the station’s control systems together – playing a vital role in the station’s long term operations.

The new contract will see Capula – and its supply chain – create 50 new engineering roles.

It will also lead to additional investment in new facilities and allow it to strengthen its design and manufacturing capabilities.

Following a comprehensive procurement process, Capula was selected for its significant nuclear industry experience having supported projects across the UK civil nuclear industry for more four decades.

Almost 600 jobs saved as Looping Group buys Drayton Manor Park

Drayton Manor Park has been sold to Looping Parks UK Ltd
Drayton Manor Park has been sold to Looping Parks UK Ltd

A family-run theme park which attracts more than one million visitors a year was sold out of administration to a group which owns a West Midlands rival.

Representatives from PwC were appointed as administrators of Tamworth-based Drayton Manor Park Limited – along with its catering and hotel businesses – before the resort was sold to Looping Group.

The buy-out saw the resort’s 599 employees transfer across to the new business and all trading aspects of the group remain in operation as usual.

Looping Group also owns West Midlands Safari Park in Bewdley.

Two Staffordshire firms receive Queen’s Award honours

Addmaster founder and chief executive Paul Morris
Addmaster founder and chief executive Paul Morris

Two Staffordshire businesses were awarded a Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

Stafford-based additives manufacturer Addmaster and Sandyford pottery firm Churchill China were granted the accolade in the Innovation and International Trade categories, respectively.

The firms were among 15 West Midlands firms to be awarded this year – and the only two in Staffordshire.

Plans lodged for huge new Pets at Home distribution centre in Staffordshire

CGI of the proposed 670,000 sq ft national storage and distribution centre in Staffordshire.
CGI of the proposed 670,000 sq ft national storage and distribution centre in Staffordshire.

Retailer Pets at Home unveiled plans to move into a huge new £48 million storage and distribution centre in Staffordshire.

The firm signed a conditional agreement for a 20-year lease on the proposed unit at a 52-acre site at Stafford North Business Park, close to junction 14 of the M6.

The scheme comprises of a purpose-built 620,000 sq ft warehouse and a three-storey office of 50,000 sq ft. Plans also include the construction of a new roundabout on the A34 Stone Road and an access road to serve the new warehouse.

The proposal forms phase two of Redhill Business Park which was developed following an £11 million investment by Staffordshire County Council.

Construction on Pets at Home’s new headquarters could start as early as 2021 – and be completed during 2022.

Fully let Stoke-on-Trent trade park under new ownership after £6m acquisition

Tunstall Trade Park in Stoke-on-Trent
Tunstall Trade Park in Stoke-on-Trent

A fully-let trade park in Stoke-on-Trent came under new ownership after being acquired by an industrial property company.

Stenprop has bought Tunstall Trade Park from Derbyshire-based Clowes Developments in a deal worth almost £6 million.

The deal came just weeks after the final warehouse on Tunstall Trade Park – which is made up of eight units totalling 56,500 sq ft – was let to technology repair and insurance business Assurant.

The company took on a 30,000 sq ft building at the bottom of the Brownhills Road site and will relocate from its existing base in Newcastle-under-Lyme next year.

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Technology firm announces plans to double size of workforce by Christmas

TMT First currently employs 100 staff at its headquarters in North Staffordshire
TMT First currently employs 100 staff at its headquarters in North Staffordshire

A North Staffordshire technology repair business revealed plans to double the size of its workforce by Christmas.

Newcastle-under-Lyme-based TMT First had already taken on 40 new staff since the start of lockdown in March after seeing thousands more mobile phones come in for repair.

The recruitment drive also followed a host of new contract wins with the NHS, police forces, the Government and local authorities.

And the company revealed plans to recruit another 20 staff by the end of the year – to take its workforce to 120.

The firm, which is based in Holditch Road, Chesterton, has already recruited operational, sales, customer services and warehouse staff, senior managers and repair technicians.

Online electrical retailer AO to create 120 jobs with opening of huge new warehouse

The new AO warehouse at G-Park Stoke
The new AO warehouse at G-Park Stoke

Online electricals retailer AO announced it was creating 120 new jobs as it opens its third distribution warehouse in almost as many months.

The Bolton-based company opened its ‘biggest warehouse to date’ after taking on a 275,000 sq ft site at G-Park in Stoke-on-Trent.

In just four months, AO acquired more than half a million sq ft of new warehousing space across Staffordshire and Cheshire to help meet the growing demand of its customers – and ensure staff can be socially distant.

And the new warehouse – the fifth in AO’s portfolio – was expected to create 120 new jobs across a range of roles.

The G-Park site will mainly be used for distribution to AO’s 18 ‘local hub’ deports nationwide, however, there are plans for it to include a delivery depot in the future.

Stoke-on-Trent’s first Hilton hotel opens its doors

Pictured at the Hilton Garden Inn is general manager Ben Carey, Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader, Councillor Abi Brown, Richard Ingham, Partner at Genr8 Developments, Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Councillor Ross Irving and Graham Dodd, Managing Director of Development at Hilton.
Pictured at the Hilton Garden Inn is general manager Ben Carey, Stoke-on-Trent City Council Leader, Councillor Abi Brown, Richard Ingham, Partner at Genr8 Developments, Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Councillor Ross Irving and Graham Dodd, Managing Director of Development at Hilton.

Stoke-on-Trent’s first Hilton-branded hotel officially opened its doors.

The city’s Lord Mayor, councillor Ross Irving, took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to declare Hanley’s Hilton Garden Inn officially open.

The £20 million hotel – which is owned by Genr8 Developments and operated by RBH – forms part of the landmark Smithfield development, being brought to the city in a partnership between Genr8 and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

It boasts 140 bedrooms, state-of-the-art meeting and conference facilities and a fully-equipped gym for guests. There is also a stylish bar and full-service restaurant.

Staffordshire’s ‘biggest ever’ gym opens

M Club spa and fitness is opening in Stoke-on-Trent
M Club spa and fitness is opening in Stoke-on-Trent

A huge gym, spa and fitness facility which is thought to be the ‘biggest in Staffordshire’ opened its doors for the first time.

The new M-Club opened inside a 70,000 sq ft building which has been constructed as an extension to the Waterworld Leisure Resort on Festival Park, in Stoke-on-Trent.

The three-storey facility boasts more than 300 pieces of cutting-edge equipment supplied by Pulse Fitness. It also has a functional training zone, a free weights area and a 50-metre running track.

Elsewhere the spa area includes a huge swimming pool, plus sauna, steam room, plunge pool, hydrotherapy pool, and heated seating.

Dairy firm Ornua Foods UK announces plans to invest £3m into its Staffordshire Moorlands factory

Bill Hunter is the managing director of Ornua Foods UK
Bill Hunter is the managing director of Ornua Foods UK

Cheese and butter producer Ornua Foods UK announced plans to invest £3 million at its Staffordshire Moorlands headquarters on the back of ‘strong growth’ during lockdown.

The Leek-based company – which is behind some major dairy brands including Pilgrims Choice and Kerrygold butter – wants to install new state-of-the-art cheese cutting and packing equipment at the site after seeing sales rise by more than 15 per cent in 2020.

The investment will increase capacity by an additional 7,000 tonnes, bringing the company’s total annual production of branded and own-label cheese to more than 110,000 tonnes.

Animation company starts work on transforming former NatWest branch to its new HQ

Carse and Waterman founders Daniel Waterman and Gary Carse at the company's new HQ
Carse and Waterman founders Daniel Waterman and Gary Carse at the company’s new HQ

An animation company which is credited for work on some big-name films and TV shows revealed plans to relocate its headquarters – to a former NatWest branch in Stoke town centre.

Carse and Waterman is transforming the three-storey building, in Campbell Place, Stoke, into its new base after making the decision to move out of it former home at Federation House.

The company has started to move its new offices to the first floor of the building; and work is already underway to transform the ground floor into a digital and creative skills hub for the city.

The hub – called Framescape – is a not-for-profit community asset which aims to put Stoke-on-Trent on the map and make the city part of the ‘digital revolution’.

The ambitious development – which involves London-based Dreamscape Studios and Popcorn Learning Media – will feature a classroom and a 17-seat film viewing room and will be accessible to anyone with ambitions of a creative industries career.

Staffordshire manufacturer acquired by FTSE 250 company

Stairbox HQ on Trentham Lakes
Stairbox HQ on Trentham Lakes

Wooden staircase manufacturer StairBox came under new ownership after being acquired by a FTSE 250 company.

StairBox, which is based in Trentham Lakes, was bought by building materials distributor and DIY retailer Grafton Group plc for an undisclosed sum.

Founded in 1994, StairBox delivers bespoke staircase solutions directly to primarily trade customers operating in the residential repair, maintenance and improvement market across the UK.

It has experienced significant growth in recent years and reported revenue of £19.5 million and adjusted operating profit of £6.1 million for the year end March 31, 2020.

North Staffordshire fintech tops table of UK’s 50 fastest-growing tech companies

DivideBuy CEO Robert Flowers
DivideBuy CEO Robert Flowers

Interest-free credit provider DivideBuy came out on top of a prestigious ranking of the UK’s 50 fastest-growing technology companies.

The Newcastle-under-Lyme fintech business was named the overall winner of Deloitte’s 2020 UK Technology Fast 50 award after reporting an average growth rate of 20,733 per cent to 2019/20.

Dividebuy – which ranked third in last year’s competition – employs 50 people and works with more than 500 small, medium and large corporations to provide consumers with access to interest-free credit.

The company was founded in 2015 by serial entrepreneur and CEO Robert Flowers.

Moneyshake secures seven-figure investment from former Group 1 Automotive MD Darren Guiver

Moneyshake CEO Eben Lovatt
Moneyshake CEO Eben Lovatt

Car leasing price comparison site Moneyshake secured a seven-figure investment – from the former managing director of a Fortune 500-listed motor group.

The Keele-based start-up was launched in 2019 with £500,000 of seed capital from institutional and private investors.

Now the 10-strong business has received ‘significant’ equity investment from automotive veteran Darren Guiver.

The investment will be used to help fuel further growth, create new jobs and roll out the next phase of Moneyshake’s price comparison technology.

Three new occupiers sign up for huge new St Modwen development in Stoke-on-Trent

Pictured: (L-R) Stuart Murray of St. Modwen, Robert Rae of Avison Young, Daniel Jellyman, deputy leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Ed Kennerley of Knight Frank, Steve Smith of St. Modwen, and Richard Mounsey of Mounsey Chartered Surveyors.
Pictured: (L-R) Stuart Murray of St. Modwen, Robert Rae of Avison Young, Daniel Jellyman, deputy leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Ed Kennerley of Knight Frank, Steve Smith of St. Modwen, and Richard Mounsey of Mounsey Chartered Surveyors.

Tenants were secured for three brand new warehouses which have been constructed in Stoke-on-Trent.

St Modwen started work on five speculative industrial units at its 400-acre mixed-use St Modwen Park Stoke South development in January 2020- totalling more than 183,000 sq ft.

And three of the five units were snapped up – by energy supplies E.ON, Planova UK Ltd and Neida Products Engineering Ltd, pre-letting more than 80,000 sq ft between them.

Energy supplier E.ON signed a 10-year lease on a 37,100 sq ft unit at the Trentham Lakes development, while shop fitting and shelving systems specialist Planova UK Ltd agreed terms on a 22,000 sq ft unit.

Contract manufacturer and precision components supplier Neida Products Engineering Ltd also signed a deal for a 22,000 sq ft unit on a 15-year lease.

Business Live – West Midlands