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The stellamedia spotlight..shines on Maxine Hayter, director of Bespoke Blinds & Poles

Anyone who meets Maxine Hayter – who provides informed and honest sales advice, as one half of the husband and wife director team behind leading Sheffield independent blinds specialists Bespoke Blinds & Poles Ltd – is left in no doubt about the passion and commitment herself and hubby Neil (who’s in charge of all fitting and installation) have for their business.

Launched in 2007, Bespoke Blinds & Poles Ltd have two showrooms in the city – one in Beauchief and the more spacious location in Hillsborough has just celebrated its 1st birthday. Time for a chat…

Happy Birthday to your Hillsborough showroom Maxine. What’s new?
Cheers, Stella. Loads of new stuff is going on here. The sunshine always brings our customers to us – either for blackout blinds, especially now the clocks have changed, or for advice on cutting down heat and glare in rooms, especially conservatories.
Awnings are this years’ must-have, and we’ve taken on a new supplier making our offer much broader (we get inundated with requests to open accounts with people, and it takes a while to meet them all, vet the quality of their products and make a decision!)

At this time of year we always get updated ranges in as well, so we start considering new display products. As you kindly mentioned, we’ve just completed our first year at our second showroom, and that’s been exciting for us as well. Our staff; Danielle and Emma; have really settled in, and are now an integral part of the team. As members of the BBSA (British Blinds & Shutters Association) we’re committed to raising awareness of Child Safety in the industry. One of our suppliers has brought out two new, innovative control mechanisms which sit superbly within our recommended ranges and safety product ranges, so we are busy promoting these to our customers old and new.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as an independent business?
One of the main things for us is finding time! Our customers come to us for quality products and quality advice, and our installation service is an integral part of this. This makes diary time, and appointments, very precious – luckily our customers understand and wait (and we always have a “cancellation” list on the go, although it’s rare we get any!)
Another one is footfall. The majority of our products are bespoke, and not something you would want to purchase over the internet. We try and get our presence out there in the virtual world by as many means possible so that our customer can glean as much info as possible (should they want to) before they visit us. We want our customers to see that we are worth the effort of a visit!

Here’s a magic wand. What three wishes will you make? (for business or pleasure)
Only three! Here goes…….
Business 1: I would like anyone considering dressing a window to think, before anything else “I wonder how Bespoke Blinds & Poles would handle this one?”
Business 2: I would like an eight-day week, so we can still open for six of them (as now), and have two days off work!
Pleasure: I would like more time to go hiking (our favourite pastime) especially in this lovely weather.

Pass it on. Your biggest business lesson?
Just because “experts” say it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Stay focused on your core products – too much diversification will weaken your offer.

And the worst commercial mistake, you readily admit to?
Spending a fair amount of money on a marketing promotion from a cold call! This was when we first opened, and taught me very quickly to do your homework before committing to anything. I’m still mad with myself about that one!

Your favourite places in Sheffield (for business or pleasure)?
Definitely the open spaces and the pubs! We are so lucky as a city to have the space we have – most weekends were spent in Greno Woods, Longley Park (when they had the open air swimming pool – no comments on age, please ;-)) and Hillsborough Park. When I met Neil, we spent Sundays in Graves Park with his daughter Gemma.
Pubs – I love the Thornbridge Brewery atmosphere and our local is the Coach & Horses at Dronfield. There’s also a great pub at Holmesfield; the Rutland Arms; which was bought by a great couple just over a year ago. Both these pubs let dogs in, so we get to do a hike, and finish with a great, well-kept pint.
I don’t get to Sheffield City centre too much, but I enjoyed a lovely lunch in Henry’s on Cambridge Street the other week and in all three cases the staff and service is impeccable. I learnt a long time ago that service is as important as the product. It’s what we strive to provide in our business, and I am always appreciative of it when I enjoy it in other businesses.

Bespoke Blinds & Poles Ltd:
http://www.sheffieldblinds.co.uk/

A blog about blogging? Shine a light!

Today is Twitter’s 5th birthday. How time flies and never more so than in the increasingly digital world of 24-hour, rolling status updates, constant link-sharing and network-building we live in.

Take blogs. I can remember a not too distant past when bloggers were regarded as quite a strange, far-removed species of geeks, who were never happier than when they were pale-faced and glued to their keyboards. Most bloggers then tended to be writers, tech-heads or both rolled into one.

Quite a few people predicted at the time, that the popularity and, up to then, increasing numbers of blogs would be on the wane – indeed that blogging was slowly dying off.

I must admit I haven’t looked into the facts and figures to back up whether this prediction has turned out to be right, but from where I’m sitting blogging is very much alive and well – with everyone who’s online either posting merrily away or seriously considering launching themselves (or their business) into the blogorati.

Why is this? In a nutshell, professional blogging as an idea has broken through the ‘geek’ barrier and gone mainstream. More and more companies are starting to recognise that if they provide blog posts with valuable and/or engaging content, what they’re effectively doing is breathing new life into their business, brand, and website SEO (Google loves blogs!) without shoving any hard-sell marketing message down the throats of their audience.

For me, my blog lies somewhere between the polar opposites of the entirely professional and the bearing-my-soul personal platforms. Not only do I think this space is a great place to not only share some of my ideas/musings, provide updates on my work and other snippets I hope you, dear readers, find interesting, but I also see it as the perfect vehicle to showcase fantastic events, organisations and businesses I come across in my professional and personal comings and goings.

So with this in mind, ladies and gents, drum roll please as I proudly present….

the stellamedia spotlight – a brand new regular section of my blog, which I’m already thinking of as my own bespoke and inspirational ‘feel good’ newspaper. If you want to be featured or know someone who might, just drop me a line at stellamedia@googlemail.com.

Watch this space for the first business ‘star’ I’ll be highlighting soon….

Happy Blogging!

A House of Languages? Now you’re talking…

Guest blog by Elizabeth Birks, a language professional, who is based in Sheffield, UK

It’s not exactly a new notion, but I’ve recently become interested in an idea which Professor David Crystal has been talking about since around 2000 – establishing a House of Languages in the UK. Back when the beginnings of this idea were forming – around the time of the Millennium – there seemed to be an appetite for it, the money seemed to be there and plenty of influential people were backing the idea…then BANG! The closest we’ve probably ever got to seeing a House of Languages being set up, got blown out of the way by the Millennium Dome of course!

Well it dawned on me that maybe we could create something along the same lines in South Yorkshire. We have plenty of people here who speak different languages. How many? Well according to their website, there are about 150 languages offered by SCAIS (Sheffield Community Access & Interpreting Service) so presumably there are people in the region who speak those languages. Moreover, South Yorkshire. I’m putting the idea out there and asking:  Why don’t we give this a go?

I’ve found a funding body that seems to be looking for a project like this to give some initial funding to. I can imagine the project would need some initial investment to help it get going before it can provide an income for many people, but it could be really fun and maybe in the future, lucrative as well.

Just think that someone who speaks Cantonese, say, could come along and let us record their voice while they are singing a folk song, or telling a story, or even having a conversation with a friend! I think it would be fantastic if the project had a physical location so that people can actually go there to meet other participants, see/hear experiences or stories which have been collected and listen to different languages to see how they are written or watch videos of people searching for lost languages. I also envisage a House of Languages as having the potential to become a pretty big online presence.

Sheffield Community Access & Interpreting Service

What do you think about this idea? Does a House of Languages make you think, ‘now you’re talking’?

If so, or if you know of people who might like to get involved in getting this idea off the ground in some way, please get in touch with me and I’ll pass your details onto Elizabeth.

Happy talking!

Welcome to 2011: Time for a virtual facelift & Network Hub night!


There’s nothing like seeing in another year to make us reflect on the past – and look to the future. If we’re lucky, we learn a few handy lessons along the way too.

It’s a year since the launch of the copywriting side of the business kicked off, which I proclaimed in my first blog post of 2010 (in the midst of deep snow, just like recent weeks!)

So what was my big professional lesson of last year? Network, network, and network! That’s how I connected with my first copywriting clients and I’ve found face-to-face networking to be fruitful, as well as fun. Some events are more ‘me’ than others, but building business relationships and my company profile this way is something that’s become vital to my working week.

Which brings me to…drum roll please, ladies & gents…Network Hub – the new name for the business social events I put together with another creative professional and friend, Richard Smith. Last Thursday evening, we held our first do of 2011 at the Showroom Cinema Cafe, in Sheffield.

Just like our launch event in October, we were thrilled with the turnout – about 70 proactive guests! By the amount of chatter that hardly seemed to let up, many new connections and re-connections were made over a few drinks, in a relaxed atmosphere, which is exactly what our evenings are all about.

The snapper (yours truly) gets snapped @ Network Hub, Showroom Cinema Cafe, 20/1/11. Photo credit: Elizabeth Birks

Check out a couple of the much-appreciated positive comments received after our big night:

‘I haven’t been to a formal networking event for a long time and to be honest, I was concerned and a bit fearful. My fears were assuaged, however, as I began to meet so many lovely people. As a group worker, I know that a good event reflects the people who set it up and this was an evening of warmth and genuine interest in other people. I found it an atmosphere conducive to meeting people and making connections.’ Valerie Monti Holland, www.leftluggagetraining.co.uk

‘Thanks for the invite & hospitality again last night. There seemed to be a good mix/good buzz/plenty of conversations and connections. Well done, you are a star!’ Jim Lawson, www.be-sy.co.uk

Our next night’s coming in April so watch this space! In the meantime, our fresh website look’s now live and loud. Any thoughts about the revamp would be most welcome….

Here’s to a fabulous 2011 one & all!

http://www.richsmithillustration.com/

http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/

Rotherham: The Little Town That Can

by T. Rafiq

Rotherham is a town that has been through some difficult times lately. However, we are also a little town that never gives up. We might not have the grandeur of big cities like York, but our ambitions are grand.

We’re scrappy and we’re tough and we punch well above our weight. We have a heart as big as the Pennines and we will always surprise you.

Rotherham has been short listed for a People’s Millions Big Lottery Fund grant of £50,000. We are competing against a York based project in a contest of David vs. Goliath magnitude, which we definitely have the stones to win.

If we win – when we win – this money will go towards establishing a permanent arts centre and community resource in the centre of town on the spacious top floor complex of the Westgate Chambers building. It is the magnificent brainchild of Karen Sherwood and Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance, also known as R.O.A.R.

Westgate Chambers will be a place where Rotherham artists from every discipline will be able to gather to create and trade and exhibit: painting, sculpting, writing, performing, music, cinema, new media and any other craft you care to name will find a home here.

It will also be a place where every member of the community will be welcomed to appreciate and participate in the wonderful and liberating world of art. You never know who you might discover here: the new Hockney, the new Spielberg, maybe even the new you. For you might very well unearth your own hidden talent, something that no one has ever seen before – something that will blow people’s minds all the way to the Wonderland of Wow!

R.O.A.R. has already managed to uncover some dazzling treasures of artistic wonder concealed here in Rotherham:

Jill: the finger painting dynamo whose canvass is the very bones of the North, slate and granite she has salvaged from skips and derelict factories, things that others thought were of no more use or worth, but she takes these things and turns them into visions of unique beauty.

Leslie: a gentleman who as overcome profound deafness and the loss of his beloved wife to cancer, a man who creates magnificent miniatures in oils and fibreboard as breathtaking as any majestic Rembrandt.

Gemma: the walking, talking living doll who lives in a button tin and makes magic with a needle and thread, and buttons and rags all the colours of the rainbow.

And then there’s me. Who am I? I am Rotherham, and my best is yet to come!

But for us to triumph, we need your help. We need your votes. The official voting for the People’s Millions is on Monday 22nd November 2010. Phone lines will be open between 9am and midnight – the phone number to cast your vote will be publicised on the day of voting in the Daily Mirror newspaper, on the People’s Millions web site and on the R.O.A.R web site.

Before then, you can find out more about our project and register your support for R.O.A.R. and Rotherham at our official People’s Millions page by clicking the following link:

http://www.peoplesmillions.org.uk/2010-finalists/yorkshire/rotherham-roar

I must stress that registering your support before the official voting date does not constitute a firm commitment on your part; it simply gives us a rough idea of how much support we might be able to expect.

Needless to say, you would earn eternal gratitude if you then followed through with this support with a solid vote for R.O.A.R. on 22nd of November.

Pass this on to your friends and family and anyone you happen to bump into. A brighter future for Rotherham is in all our hands.

Thank you for your time.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/

http://www.rotherhamroar.org/index.php?page=24

Holy Smoke! Why I thank Sheffield for my divine DIY events trinity

Are you familiar with the idea of the power of three? Don’t worry, I’m not getting all mathematical on you.

I’m talking about the generally well-accepted principle that when it comes to effective communications, our brains are best at grasping information as a trio.

Of course, most of the time we aren’t conscious of the fact that many of the most inspirational speeches and phrases of our age are peppered with examples of this oral ‘trick’; ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, ‘hook, line & sinker’ and (here comes that crucial third point) ‘signed, sealed, delivered.’  You get the idea…

Well over the last three weeks, my calendar’s certainly been shaken up (in a fantastic way) by three great events, which have definitely left their mark in my thinking.

The first one was self-generated, born out of a casual chat a few months ago, over a drink with my self-employed illustrator friend Richard Smith. ‘Why don’t we hold an evening business social, inviting contacts from the creative and commercial sector?’ we asked ourselves.

Before you can say ‘How hard can it be?’, the venue was booked, invites sent and the night was upon us. Held at Henry’s bar in Sheffield city centre, the 130-something guests we’d invited duly turned up in their droves and created an incredible buzz, no doubt buoyed by a free glass of bubbly and some complimentary nibbles.

On a serious note though, both myself and Richard were completely blown away by the response we had from our guests – and judging by the string of enthusiastic comments I had on the night and since (‘You got exactly the right vibe going – it felt friendly and inclusive which is a rare thing indeed. Best networking bash I’ve ever been to!’ Justine Gaubert, founder of social enterprise Silent Cities) it looks as though another one may well on the cards…so watch this space!

Yours truly at our event at Henry's. Photo credit: Justine Gaubert

Roll call of special thanks goes out to AV events firm CVC Event Services, who provided the PA equipment FOC, and the following local businesses who kindly donated a prize to our raffle and helped us raise £61 in ticket proceeds, in aid of Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity – We Love Sleep, Integrate Nutrition, Richard Smith Illustration, The Heavenly Cheesecake Company, PJ Taste, Tender Loving Care (TLC) and Fix-my-PC.net. Check out their links at the bottom of this post…

Back to that trinity again and the following week, I was invited to another free Sheffield event, which perfectly encapsulates the DIY ‘can do’ spirit of the city’s business and creative community – the launch of The Blue Shed, a 1,500 sqm arts venue (with performance space and fully-licensed bar), which has been converted from an old workshop by engineering firm Ekspan.

Paul Scriven Sheffield Council leader with Ekspan CEO Matthew Dronfield

Sheffield Council leader Paul Scriven officially did the honours with the unveiling of this new brand – the space was previously up-and-running under the name of the Brightside Project – and again I found myself with bubbly in hand and an unexpected spring in my step.

I was struck by the energy and goodwill – and dare I say it excitement – palpable in the air in respect to this forward-thinking enterprise. Here’s a video snapshot of the night, created by Richard Bolam Digital Media: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioBKhqNX2Dc

My trio of positive experiences – in the very same weeks when the deep government cuts were slowly trickled out – ended this Friday morning, at a fantastic networking event, organised by Time2Network (http://twitter.com/time2network), held at probably the most famous eaterie in Sheffield right now (thanks to their well-deserved success in becoming semi-finalists in Gordan Ramsey’s Best Restaurant TV show), The Milestone.

Three elements (of course!) made the meet work well in my eyes – there was a diverse mix of proactive people, the venue suited the informal format and as you’d expect the breakfast was spot on. Hats off to organisers Alan Fenn, of Compass Distribution and Jon Covey of Sponduly.

So…

yes, the cuts are here

yes, our financial belts are set to get pinched like nobody’s business

YET there’s still spirit to the power of three in this city I’m proud to call my home.

Links:

We Love Sleep: http://www.welovesleep.co.uk/

Integrate Nutrition: http://www.integratenutrition.co.uk/

PJ Taste: http://www.pjtaste.co.uk/

Fix-my-PC.net: http://www.fix-my-pc.net/

Richard Smith Illustration: http://www.richsmithillustration.com/

The Heavenly Cheesecake Company: http://www.heavenlycheesecakes.co.uk/

Tender Loving Care (TLC): http://www.tlc-childcare.co.uk/

CVC Event Services: http://www.cvceventservices.co.uk/

Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity: http://www.wphcancercharity.org.uk/

Silent Cities: http://www.silentcities.org.uk/

Henry’s bar: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=364882495011

Richard Bolam Digital Media: http://richardbolam.net

The Milestone: http://www.the-milestone.co.uk/

Compass Distribution: http://www.compassdistribution.co.uk/

Sponduly: http://sponduly.com/

Theatre review: The History Boys by Sheffield University Theatre Company (SuTCo)

Photo credit: SuTCo

Taking on this well-versed Alan Bennett gently-comic modern classic, which has appeared in more guises than you can shake a school cane at, could be something of a daunting task for a first-time director.

Sheffield University Theatre Company’s Paul Hilliar has not come unstuck, creating a warm, well-paced production with a convincing cast who convey humour and pathos to the witty, wordy script. Standout performances come from Todd Baker, (Hector), Mark Chapman (Headmaster) and Chris Ince (Posner).

Switching the setting to 1980s Sheffield gives a local twist, which leads to some added belly laughs. During one poignant scene, lovesick Posner bemoans being ‘Jewish, small, homosexual – and ginger- in Sheffield!’.

Hilliar’s fresh approach also overlays iconic pop soundtracks of the age (The Undertones, ABC, The Smiths) as the drama unfolds. Music’s a fantastic shorthand for tapping into characters’ emotions so, at these moments, it’s easy to feel you’re standing in the scuffed shoes of the boy protagonists.

There’s a fair amount of ground to cover in this nostalgic exploration into education, the conflict over the way history is taught in schools (Hector’s focus on literature and ‘the truth’ does battle with Irwin’s contemporary ideas about subverting the ‘dull’ standard teachings in favour of a contrary ‘angle’ to the past) and adolescent struggles with sexuality.

With this in mind, the three-hour show (including interval) may have benefited from some salami-sliced editing but this crowd-pleasing, cracking production makes it’s own little piece of history.

http://www.sutco.union.shef.ac.uk/

http://twitter.com/suTCo

http://www.facebook.com/SuTCo