Category: News

North Wales travel firm’s £1m store refurb


A FAST-GROWING North Wales travel firm has completed the next phase of a £1m store refurbishment programme.

Bosses at Hays Travel North West, which has its head office in Wrexham, have finished a £200,000 transformation at three branches including the Mold store which was the first travel agency to be opened by Managing Director Don Bircham back in 2000.

Don’s travel firm empire now has 30 branches spreading across the North West and North Wales, having just signed a lease on his latest acquisition at Church Square shopping centre in St Helens.

The latest branches to receive a facelift alongside the Mold store in The Cross are Oswestry and Ellesmere Port and they form part of a rolling £1m refurbishment programme for the financial year.

The group’s three Bolton branches have already benefitted from a £250,000 makeover and there is a remaining £500,000 to be spent before the end of the company’s financial year in November on four Wirral branches – Birkenhead, Bebington, Prenton and Wallasey.

Don Bircham, Hays Travel North West Managing Director, said: “I know our customers are going to notice a huge difference when they visit our newly refurbished stores which we are really proud of.

“The major investment in the stores is all part of our commitment to the communities and customers we serve. Their support of our stores is helping our business to thrive.

“We are keen to reinvest to make sure our stores are modern, inviting, light and clean places to visit so people can relax and enjoy the experience of booking their holiday with us. We are spending quite a bit of money at each to ensure the refurbishments are robust and stand the test of time.”

For Don, the refurbishment of the Mold branch has marked a milestone in his successful business career.

The father-of-two of Padeswood said: “Without any shadow of a doubt, transforming our Mold store has been a highlight for me. Mold was the first store we opened, back in 2000, without two ha’pennies to rub together. I went with my wife Ruth to Ikea to buy the desks and we painted it ourselves and put some shelves up. It was absolutely a DIY job and I am proud of where we have come since then.

“It probably cost us no more than £5,000 to get up and running at Mold and we have just spent closer to £70,000 on the latest refurbishment.

“It has been a very successful site for us. The manager there Lydia, who is off on maternity leave at the moment and has just had a little boy called Noah, is very well thought of and people will queue up to book their holidays with her.

“We have also just taken on three new members of staff, who all bring a wealth of experience with them in the travel industry. Two have joined us following the closure of the Thomas Cook store in Mold and we are delighted to welcome them and their extensive travel knowledge to the team.

“The store has always been popular and now the team there books upwards of 3,000 holidays a year for people from the community.”

News of the refurbishment comes after Hays Travel North West launched a major recruitment drive to find 20 new apprentices.

The firm’s bosses started a comprehensive apprentice scheme three years ago and it has been so successful that they are looking again for a new wave of fresh intakes.

This comes on the back of a general 60-job recruitment drive launched at the end of last year as the company started expansion plans to open 12 new shops by the end of 2018.

To find out more about recruitment opportunities call 0800 2155045 or go to

New dementia app harnesses power of music

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An innovative new app is triggering musical memories for people with dementia to help them cope with the challenges of daily life.

The program for mobile devices is being developed with the help of residents at the Pendine Park care organisation in Wrexham who specialise in providing dementia care.

The Memory Tracks app is the brainchild of business development expert Gordon Anderson.

He is working on it with Manchester Metropolitan University’s Stuart Cunningham, who is also a visiting professor of affective computing at Wrexham Glyndwr University, alongside Mark Brill, Senior Lecturer in Creative Advertising, and Harry Whalley, Lecturer in Music Composition and Technology, at the University for the Creative Arts

Dementia symptoms include memory loss which causes confusion and agitation, and the app aims to help people overcome these challenges posed by the cruel condition by linking their daily tasks to their personal choice of reminiscence music.

According to Mr Anderson, Pendine Park were the ideal partners for the project because they had championed the use of the arts in social care for more than two decades.

He said: “We hope to see a real and measurable improvement in the mood of residents who use the app, and a much happier care environment within the home.

“Initially care practitioners will play songs on tablets from a list of tracks tailored to the individual resident.

“Those songs will act as triggers, for example; one song may mean it’s time to get dressed another may mean its medication time or time to eat or exercise.

“The idea stems from the fact that music builds long-term associative memories which are often tied to emotions which are proven to be more resilient to loss of other types of memories.

“Dementia results in steady deterioration of the brain function causing a wide range of daily issues for sufferers such as anxiety, disorientation, anger, fear, irritability, depression, and withdrawal.

“The use of reminiscence music can significantly decrease many of these behaviours and improve the lives of those living with dementia and their carers.”

He added: “When we introduce Memory Track music we hope to see an improvement in the mood of dementia patients. We have built up a large database of songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s. It’s not about trying to find favourite songs but songs that people will instantly recognise.

“Research shows that people remember the songs from their early childhood best. It’s as if when they get to their teenage years their interests become more specific or there are perhaps so many it becomes more difficult to remember.

“The hope is that, in time, the dementia patient will recognise the connection between a particular song and an activity.”

Professor Cunningham said: “The initial part of the trial will involve care practitioners observing and recording the moods of dementia patients without any Memory Tracks music being played.

“We will only know if the app works if we have a base line and know what the mood of residents was before the music was introduced via the app.

“We chose Pendine Park care organisation for the trial as I know from my time at Wrexham Glyndwr University that there is a strong connection between the organisation and the arts and particularly music.

“We know how good care is at Pendine Park and we know how passionate everyone is about the power of the arts. It seemed to us that Pendine Park was a natural partner for the project.”

He added: “The further development of Memory Tracks will utilise behavioural or physical triggers and sensors to create a contextual, more immersive user experience.

“The framework is that of song, association and task coming together with the robust emotional association providing the ‘glue’ between song and task.

“Memory Tracks is a care platform that provides a personalised selection of music tailored to an individual dementia patient’s routine, their family, carers and needs.

“Further development of Memory Tracks will utilise behavioural or physical triggers to create a contextual, more immersive user experience.

“Through these tools we can help those living with Dementia remain more independent in the early stages of the illness and in later stages, to be more connected to their environment.

“The expected impact will be that patients suffer lower anxiety, depression and agitation in addition to making the care process easier. Their Memory Tracks will also serve as a constant connection between the patient and their family, assisting recognition and shared experiences.”

The research at Pendine Park is partly funded by the Consortium for Research Excellence, Support and Training (CREST).

Sarah Edwards, who has been the artist in residence at Pendine Park for more than 20 years, is working closely with the Memory Tracks team to develop the app and oversee the trial.

She said: “We are really fortunate to have the opportunity to play a part in this important study. The Memory Track app has huge potential and could open the door to many other areas within the wider care environment or even in mental health.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the study develops and witnessing first hand if we can use the Memory Track app to help residents with their daily routine.

“We believe this is the perfect project for us to be helping because the arts provide the golden thread that runs through everything we do and led to the setting up of the Pendine Arts and Community Trust which supports artistic endeavour and community groups across North Wales.

“We are passionate about enriching lives across the generations, for our residents and staff alike.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Cindy Clutton, the manager of Pendine Park’s Hillbury Care Home, who believes the Memory Tracks app and study is an innovative and exciting development.

She said: “We know our residents get a real lift from music and despite living with dementia many can remember songs from their childhood. We have lots of activities centred on music and I’m fascinated to see how this project will develop.

“The project and study couldn’t work without having our care practitioners playing a full and active role and I have to say they are all on board with the study.

“We have even had staff coming in voluntarily on their days off to learn how the Memory Tracks app works. Staff are eager and enthusiastic about the project and keen to play a part.”

Bakery clinches major deal for gluten-free products

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A booming bakery firm has clinched a deal to supply a leading retail chain with its new gluten-free range.

The products are being rolled out by the Wrexham-based Village Bakery to a total of 60 Spar stores in North Wales – with another major announcement expected before the end of the year.

The family-run company is now receiving enquiries about their own-label Gluten Freedom range from across the UK and a number of European countries.

As a result of their expansion, they are now in the process of recruiting 20 new apprentices to become the new generation of bakers.

According to the Village Bakery’s managing director, Robin Jones, the “uber positive” response to the new gluten-free products has been beyond their wildest dreams.

They were already on sale at a string of independent stores North Wales, Cheshire, Merseyside and Shropshire.

The reaction of customers has justified the company’s £12 million investment in converting the former Caparo Wire factory, close to their two existing bakeries on Wrexham Industrial Estate, into a state-of-the-art production facility for a new range of gluten free goods.

The building has been re-clad and extended from 55,000 sq ft to 75,000 sq ft and is due to be up and running before the end of the year.

It will be the most advanced bakery of its kind in Europe and will cater for the explosion in demand from customers.

The first 10 products in the own-label range are being made at the family firm’s original but much smaller gluten free bakery on the industrial estate.

Until now it’s been a wholesale operation making the gluten and wheat free products for other customers.

Existing staff will be transferred to the new bakery when it’s ready and the company is confident the expansion will eventually create more jobs in addition to the apprenticeships.

Mr Jones said: “We’ve had an absolutely fantastic response to the Gluten Freedom range from our customers.

“The consumers love it. They can’t believe the texture of the products which are on sale alongside our traditional range.

“They are telling us things like this is the best ever gluten free bread they’ve ever tasted and that they had to double check it was in fact gluten free

“That is the best compliment we could ever have because that’s exactly what we were aiming to do.

“We tried to replicate our Village Bakery products in a gluten free manner and coeliacs and our wheat-free consumers now recognise that they are getting something a bit different.

“We’re setting a new benchmark in gluten free products so everything is now set fair for the opening of our new gluten-free bakery in December.

“This is a step change for the business in many respects and why we are taking on 20 new apprentices.

“We’ve been delighted by the demand from the UK and also now from across Europe with enquires from Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium and France.

“We’ve been baking gluten-free products now for 10 years and we’re also using our knowledge and skills as craft bakers to make the products better and better.

“Thanks to the new bakery, we will have the capacity to grow with all our customers, and also the capability to make new products.”

Peninsula’s grand design to create 50 new jobs

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A fast-growing home improvements company is aiming to create 50 new jobs thanks to the success of TV programmes like Grand Designs.

Ambitious Peninsula Home Improvements, based in Gaerwen, on Anglesey, have already taken on two staff in Cheshire where they are planning to open a second showroom as part of their expansion.

The company is reaping the reward for its decision to specialise in high-end glazing products like the ones frequently featured in television makeover shows like Grand Designs.

As a result, the firm which currently employs over 30 people is on course to double its turnover to £4 million in just two years.

Peninsula has signed an agreement with Solarlux, the top German manufacturer of glass houses, sliding folding doors and high spec ‘Wintergarden’ conservatories who helped transform the famous Yankee Stadium in New York.

The company has been Solarlux’s approved dealers for North Wales for more than four years, and are now looking to expand into parts of Cheshire and Merseyside.

Chief executive Ken Grayson revealed there was a huge amount of interest and they’ve already made the first UK sale of a brand new Solarlux product, the Acubis glass house which can be an extension to a customer’s house or a stand-alone structure in the garden.

Another partnership that’s working well, according to Mr Grayson, is one with the Fron Goch Garden Centre on the outskirts of Caernarfon.

A Solarlux glass house has been erected inside the garden centre while some of Fron Goch’s furniture and soft furnishings are on display at the Peninsula showroom.

Mr Grayson explained: “We approached Fron Goch because we recognised that they are a long-established family company like ourselves, sharing similar values and like us servicing the quality end of the market.

“The standard of everything at Fron Goch is top notch which fits in with our products and our offering to our customers.

“The Solarlux glass house that’s on display has been beautifully furnished by Fron Goch and looks stunning, it’s like something out of a magazine.

“Solarlux specialise in glass houses and bi-folding doors, including the single-glazed glass structures like the one here which is essentially a covered patio

“This enables people to create outdoor lifestyles all year around, having barbeques outside in the winter if they choose to and it’s basically protection from the elements which is a desirable thing in our climate.

“Being German, they are very well engineered and they are designed for specific post code areas.

“Their engineers work out all the calculations for it, for snow loadings, for wind. They’re hurricane proof.

“It’s important to stress the glass houses are not conservatories, although Solarlux also make fully insulated systems as well. The glass houses are about all-year-round outdoor living.

He added: “We’re seeing increasing demand for high-end products like Solarlux and a Scandinavian range called Nordan, among others.

“Grand Designs has been a game changer because people’s aspirations are a lot higher than they’ve ever been.

“People watch Grand Designs and aspire to that sort of living, and our high-end products are the perfect solution because they also have a long life expectancy.

“Customers realise that if you pay more, you get more – and it puts value on the house.

“It’s more like an investment in your home because it’s just moving money from a current account where it’s earning no interest and putting it on the value of the property.

“I am particularly pleased that Peninsula has achieved the first ever sale of the new Acubis in the whole of the UK, it’s quite a feather in our cap.

“It came about because the customer saw the glass house at Fron Goch.

“The Acubis is very cutting edge in design and attaches to a house but also has a stand-alone model which you can put at the bottom of the garden. It’s very Grand Designs.

“Although we still service the uPVC market, it is the high-end products that are driving our growth along with the service back-up that the clients expect.

“In terms of turnover we’re on target for £4 million this year, from £2 million a couple of years ago, and we’re expanding into Cheshire where we have appointed two directors.

“We are planning a new showroom over there and we are in the process of identifying the best site.

“Our high-end products are perfect for Cheshire, particularly affluent places like Nantwich, Tarporley and Tattenhall.

“We’re talking to the Welsh Government about development grants to help fund our expansion because of the potential for employment.”

It was music to the ears of Justin Williams, the managing director of the Fron Goch Garden Centre.

He said: “This partnership is great for both of us. We have the same type of customers because we’re supplying similar levels of service, standard and product. There is a great synergy that’s going to benefit both of us.”