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Conference Aston records best-ever Q1 and record May figures

Conference Aston, Birmingham’s largest residential conferencing venue, has recorded its best Q1 performance with a 10% increase in revenue compared with 12 months ago, as well as doubling the number of residential delegates against target in May.

The conferencing venue and hotel, which are part of Aston University, welcomed 15,000 delegates and hotel guests between January and March this year, from a wide range of organisations such as West Midlands Police and Direct Line.

Cementing its status as a leading conferencing venue in the city, Conference Aston also recorded an impressive May, coming in at 37% ahead of budget with over 4,000 day delegates passing through its doors. The month also saw 1,284 residential delegates stay at the venue, twice its target.

Paul Bunce, marketing manager at Conference Aston, said with Birmingham enjoying a resurgence in the number of corporate and leisure visitors, as well as residential conferences, it was gratifying that the venue was playing a significant role in attracting people to the city.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen a real increase in the number of organisations wanting to hold their training, events or meetings at Conference Aston and that has translated into ever-growing numbers of guests and an increase in revenue,” he said.

“One of the reasons for growth is an increase in residential conferencing which has been a slow part of the market since the recession. In the first five months of this year, volumes of residential conference delegates is up 16% ahead of expectation. Day meeting volumes are also up 21% against predicted volumes.

“Q1 2017 was particularly positive for us and we are thrilled that we’ve recorded our best figures yet for the quarter compared with previous years. With the proposed HS2 terminal being located very close to Aston University and Birmingham attracting increasing numbers of international events, we believe that our future as a leading conference venue in the city continues to be bright.”

Earlier this year (April), the venue attained a TripAdvisor gold GreenLeader award for its commitment to environmentally friendly practices, and is already looking forward to a bumper 2017.

Visitors from across the globe will be heading to Conference Aston for the International Conference of Urban Pests in July, while in November, the Prosthetics Event, with 1,000 delegates, returns to the venue.

Data from Marketing Birmingham’s Regional Observatory earlier this year revealed that the number of both international visitors and overnight visitors to the city have doubled in the last three years.

Birmingham has also been voted the most popular destination outside London for meetings, conferences and events for six successive years by the annual British Meetings & Events Industry Survey (BMEIS), with visitor expenditure reaching £82 per head last year, compared with £61 in 2013.

To find out more about Conference Aston, visit www.conferenceaston.co.uk

PR By Clive Reeves Public Relations 

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Armstrong Bell provides top marque telephone system for car dealership

A major car dealership has revved up its telephone system after appointing Worcestershire company Armstrong Bell to overhaul its telecommunications systems to cope with increasing demand.

Hills Ford, a family-owned dealership that has two Ford sites in Kidderminster and Malvern, asked Armstrong Bell to undertake a wholesale revision of its telephone system because its two old BT telephone systems were no longer fit for purpose.

Replacing the ailing ISDN system with a state-of-the-art business VOIP alternative, Armstrong Bell supplied its market-leading cloud-based system with 60 of the latest Cisco 7800 and 8800-series handsets.

The Bromsgrove-based telecommunications specialist worked closely with Hills Ford, which also runs Brookhire car and van rental in Malvern as well as Hills self-storage from its Kidderminster base, to create a bespoke, connected system that could cope with the volume of calls going to all three sites.

Catherine Heath, Director at Hills Ford, said: “A ringing phone is an opportunity not to be missed, so to suffer outages and downtime is not viable when we are actively growing the company. We spoke to a number of suppliers and asked Armstrong Bell to undertake the project because we were impressed with its personal touch as well as its expertise.”

Armstrong Bell installed more modern and efficient cabling throughout to ensure the business had maximum flexibility and seamless connectivity, a SIP-hosted telephony system with reporting system that automatically upgrades its software and provides call-forwarding and out-of-hours messages, headsets for staff at Brookhire as well as 60 handsets.

Catherine said: “The new system is so much better than our old one. Calls used to be transferred and left ringing on an extension but now it goes straight through to the first available operator. This improvement alone enables us to provide better customer service because we can make sure people get through to the right person and team.

“We were nervous about changing the telephones because a few months before we’d changed our document management software for invoicing and sales, which caused considerable disruption. But thankfully our concerns this time were not realised because the transition was smooth and efficient.

“Offering the personal touch is absolutely key to our business and we were confident that Armstrong Bell had the same ethos. It’s also a local company and we were impressed with how thorough it was throughout the process - from the planning visits to installation and training. We couldn’t have asked for better.”

William Copley, managing director of Armstrong Bell, said: “The beauty of having a hosted system is that it is constantly updated with latest software and so there is very little on-site maintenance. We were able to use our expertise in complex communications systems to ensure that Hills Ford had the most efficient telephone system in place for its needs, ensuring that no calls would be left unanswered. The brand new Cisco handsets offer long life expectancy - critical for anyone investing in new equipment.

“Our priority was the system’s users, ensuring that they understood how it works and how to make the most of its functionality. We continue to provide training and close support to Hills Ford to guarantee a smooth transition, and work alongside the organisation as it adapts its way of working. We worked very closely with the management team to understand how the business works and how we could support it.

“We pride ourselves on listening to an organisation’s needs and not selling for the sake of it. We are proud of our reputation and are delighted that we have another satisfied customer.”

PR by Clive Reeves Public Relations Birmingham

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 Birmingham Muslims raise £435,000 for charity in a single evening

Birmingham Muslims raise £435,000 for charity in a single evening

Generous Birmingham Muslims attending a major Ramadan prayer meeting last night (Wednesday, June 21) have raised an incredible £435,000 for a humanitarian charity working to help Syrian orphans.

Attendees at evening prayers at Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre (GLMCC) for the 27th night of the holy month of fasting, which is called Laylat al-Qadar or Night of Power - the day Muslims believe Mohammed first revealed the verses of the Quran.

In what was the largest amount raised ever by the mosque in one evening, worshippers pledged the cash for Saving Syria campaign, which is run by Human Appeal, the fastest growing British Muslim faith-based charity that delivers aid and development programmes to some of the world’s poorest and underprivileged nations.

It will use the donation to support the charity’s orphanage in Turkey, which has fully trained staff that provide psychological aid to children who have lost families and been displaced as a result of the war.

The donation comes just weeks after the Mosque’s fundraising arm Taskforce GLM handed over a £1.2 million cheque to Human Appeal following just eight months of fundraising from within Birmingham’s Muslim community.

And in the past month, Taskforce GLM has raised about £90,000 for the victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and sent volunteers to London to organise food, bedding and clothing in conjunction with Birmingham-based security firm ISA Support Services. It has also raised £28,000 for the victims of the Manchester attack, which killed 22 people and injured 116.

GLMCC Centre Manager Amer Ijaz said: “Zakat, the giving to charity, is a fundamental requirement of Muslims during Ramadan and we have been overwhelmed once again by the community’s generosity, who have donated £435,000 in a single evening. Because Taskforce GLM is run by volunteers, we are able to give every penny donated to Human Appeal to be spent on humanitarian aid.

“We’ve also supported those affected by appalling tragedies closer to home by sending a team to help set up a support service in London after the Grenfell Tower disaster and raising funds for those who have lost everything in the fire. We also sent a donation to a charity helping families affected by the Manchester attacks.”

Othman Moqbel, CEO of Human Appeal, said: “As well as tragedy throughout the holy month of Ramadan, there has been unrivalled generosity. British Muslims have given so much to help those in need here in the UK and around the globe. This Eid we will celebrate the generosity of the Muslim community, in the face of efforts to divide Britain’s communities with violence, we will spread the love needed to conquer the hatred.

“Nothing demonstrates our commitment to solidarity with our brothers and sisters more than people giving to help people they have never met before and may never meet. We are asking everyone to embrace and celebrate that solidarity this Eid.”

As one of the country's most forward-thinking and innovative mosques, Green Lane Masjid & Community Centre works tirelessly to fundraise and help its community. Along with their 6,000 congregants, Green Lane has spearheaded programmes such as food banks, knife banks, careers advice, and a professional counselling and mentoring service.

To learn more about the Green Lane Masjid & Community Centre’s initiatives, visit http://www.greenlanemasjid.org/

For more information on Human Appeal, visit https://donate.humanappeal.org.uk/

PR By Clive Reeves PR Birmingham

Conference Aston appoints new GM

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Conference Aston appoints new GM

Conference Aston has appointed a new general manager as it looks to cement its reputation as Birmingham’s premier independent conference venue.

Mark Ellison joins the venue from Fleet Street Kitchen, on the edge of the city’s Jewellery Quarter, where he was restaurant and bar manager.

36-year-old Mark has 15 years’ experience in the restaurant and hospitality trade - although he cut his teeth in the industry at the tender age of eight, when he washed pots and pans for his mother, who was a chef.

Since studying business and hospitality management at the Birmingham College of Food in 2003, he has taken on a number of management roles in venues across the city, including Newman College, Aston Villa Football Club and Birmingham City Council.

Now, as general manager at Conference Aston, which is a subsidiary of Aston University, Mark will be responsible for the team of 12 chefs and the team of front of house managers who help to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner for up to 700 conference delegates and external guests. He will also oversee housekeeping, which looks after all 163 four-star rated bedrooms.

Mark said he he was looking forward to taking a good product and making it great.

“I’ve really missed the diversity of running large-scale operations because no two days are ever the same and you are constantly challenging yourself and the team, so I’ll be relishing the opportunities here,” he said.

“Conference Aston rightly has a reputation as one of the leading independent conference venues in the city and it is innovating and growing all the time. Because we are incredibly fortunate to have Wilson Vale as our catering and housekeeping partners here, and I’m looking forward to working with them to take our food and beverage offering to the next level. They are real foodie people, which is rare in contract catering.

“I’ll also be focusing in the short term on making sure each department is supported with equal importance. It’s essential that service delivery in all areas of the venue are of the the same high standard, which means giving each the same amount of care and attention.”

Welcoming Mark to the team, Samantha Brown, head of Conference Aston, said: “Mark’s impressive CV and his strong experience in hospitality and events is perfect for Conference Aston and we're delighted that he's joined us.

“It is clear that Mark really understands the importance of driving innovation and the need for excellent customer service, so his experience across these fields will ensure that we are able to continue achieving and exceeding the expectations of our guests and conference delegates.”

Earlier this month (May), Conference Aston was awarded a TripAdvisor gold GreenLeader award for its commitment to environmentally friendly practices.

For more information on Conference Aston call 0121 204 4300 or, alternatively, visit www.ConferenceAston.co.uk

PR By Clive Reeves PR Birmingham

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Birmingham mosque launches £2m fundraising appeal for Syrian orphans

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Birmingham mosque launches £2m fundraising appeal for Syrian orphans

Green Lane Masjid & Community Centre (GLMCC) has launched a £2 million fundraising campaign to help Syrian orphans in the war-ravaged country.

The ambitious target for the Saving Syria campaign has been set by Taskforce GLM, the fundraising arm of the of GLMCC, and comes just weeks after it handed over a cheque for £1.2 million to international humanitarian aid charity Human Appeal.

GLMCC Centre Manager Amer Ijaz said the new campaign follows the Syria Bread Project, which saw them raise enough funds to transport 3,000 tonnes of flour to the country.

It will run until October but it is anticipated that about 80% of donations will be made during the month of Ramadan.

“There are 600,000 orphans in Syria alone and 257 die every day because of hunger and a lack of basic provisions,” said Amer.

“We cannot even begin to imagine the appalling conditions that many of these people are enduring every day and it is the children who are most affected in this warzone. Amid this disaster, we want to offer a glimmer of hope and we are confident that the Birmingham community will come together to help us achieve our fundraising aims.

“It is central to the tenets of Islam that we support orphans and feed the poor, so it is crucial that we continue to help those whose lives have been destroyed by the war in Syria.”

Every penny donated to Taskforce GLM is spent on humanitarian aid. The charity’s 100% donation policy means a £300 donation will provide essential support to a Syrian orphan for a year or will pay for enough flour for 6,000 meals.

The money raised by Taskforce GLM will be donated to Human Appeal, which operates an orphanage in Turkey and has fully-trained staff providing psychological support to children who have lost families and been displaced as a result of the war.

As one of the country's most forward-thinking and innovative mosques, Green Lane Masjid & Community Centre works relentlessly to fundraise and help its community. Along with their 6,000 congregants, Green Lane has spearheaded programmes such as food banks, knife banks, careers advice, and a professional counselling and mentoring service.

To learn more about GLMCC and its initiatives, please visit http://www.greenlanemasjid.org/

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Bar Opus joins forces with internationally renowned artist for second art exhibition

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Bar Opus joins forces with internationally renowned artist for second art exhibition

One of Birmingham’s best independent city bars, Bar Opus, is to showcase works by an internationally renowned artist as it launches its second art exhibition in support of local talent.

The bar at One Snowshill has joined forces with Sophie Hedderwick and Jewellery Quarter-based Argentea Gallery to present nine photographs by the artist, who creates multi-media artwork using light, film and textiles.

Opening on June 7, the exhibition is the second one that Bar Opus has hosted to celebrate the best of Birmingham’s cultural talent. The first took place in January when Mark Howard of Disorder Boutique combined his love of fashion and art to produce a range of thought-provoking pieces. 

The exhibition will also host works of art from Birmingham-born innovators Key & Tam, the creative duo behind LOWLFE.

LOWLFE takes everyday objects that can be found just about anywhere, such as  phones, plants, coins and dead insects and introduces them to the world of miniature people.

LOWLFE said, “We combine these elements to point the finger at issues we feel are bigger than us all; the decline of the planet's resources and inhabitants, our overuse and reliance of technology, the political figures that dominate our news feeds and what the world may look like once it hits the fan.”

With their whimsical approach and droll sense of humour, LOWLFE keeps the compositions playful but when carefully examined, there is an underlining message that sparks conversation and challenges the conventional.  

Irene Allen, director, said: “We’re very excited to work with Sophie and LOWLFE and celebrate their incredible work here at Bar Opus.  As an independent venue, we strive to do things a little differently and while the Opus brand has always advocated the local food scene and sourced produce from the region where we can, it makes sense to extend that support to the arts, which have a natural affinity with food.” 

Sophie Hedderwick’s work has been exhibited worldwide, featuring in Milan, New York, Tokyo and at the Venice Art Biennale 2009. 

She will bring her multimedia show Swift As A Shadow to Bar Opus, which comprises large format digital prints, Polaroid collections and a video installation.

Inspired by Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, it explores the contentious pose of the original sculpture through photographing a contemporary ballet dancer in a series of movements.  

By recording light traces from LED lights sewn into the dancer’s corset, the multi-layered images examine how the manipulation of the figure produces a sensuous art form that is not only beautiful but also challenging in its representation of female youth.   

Sophie, a PhD researcher at the Birmingham School of Art who lives in the Jewellery Quarter, said: “I couldn’t resist the opportunity to show my work at Bar Opus. It’s a bright and modern place that attracts a varied clientele, so it will be fascinating to see their reactions to my work.”

Jennie Anderson, of Argentea Gallery, which displayed Sophie’s show at the Argentea Gallery, added: “We were thrilled to have Sophie exhibiting her work at the gallery and to collaborate with Bar Opus is another great way to take her art to a bigger audience and engage with people who wouldn’t necessarily think of visiting an art gallery. I’ve no doubt that Sophie’s work will be admired because she is extremely talented, combining traditional and innovative techniques to create unique, experimental pieces.”

Swift As A Shadow and LOWFE can be seen at Bar Opus from June 7.  

For more information on Bar Opus, visit www.baropus.co.uk

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Children’s favourite The Gruffalo set to delight young fans at Selfridges

The world famous children’s picture book character, The Gruffalo will be wandering out of the deep dark woods and into Selfridges Birmingham this half term, for a complimentary ticketed event on Thursday 1st June.

The Gruffalo will be delighting fans with meet and greet sessions at 12:00pm, 1:00pm, 2:00pm, 3:00m and 4:00pm. The Gruffalo humours and engages children and parents alike, with a tale of a cunning mouse who avoids dangerous encounters with Fox, Owl and Snake, with what he thought was a figment of his imagination.

Fans are welcome to have their picture snapped with The Gruffalo, who has been sweeping the nation with a host of story books and films, since first being published in 1999. The wildly successful book was made into half-hour special that first premiered in 2009 with over 10 million viewers and continues to grow in popularity around the world.

Families can catch The Gruffalo in Selfridges Birmingham on Kids Level 1. Tickets are complimentary for children, but meet and greets must be pre-booked in advance. Please bring booking confirmations for entry. Tickets for adults do not need to be booked.

Tickets can be booked at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-gruffalo-character-appearance-tickets-34907171289

For further information visit www.selfridges.com

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Candy for grown-ups - Bar Opus unveils its summer cocktails

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Candy for grown-ups - Bar Opus unveils its summer cocktails

If you’re keen to use your lolly for some real treats this summer, Bar Opus in Birmingham has just the thing: its new collection of candy-inspired cocktails.

Bar Opus is taking us back to our childhoods with its new, seasonal confection and is adding a very grown-up twist to the sherbert lemons, pear drops, Parma violets and Drumsticks we all loved in our 10p mixes.

The expert booze technicians at Bar Opus have created 13 new cocktails - from creamy raspberry ripples to long, refreshing ice teas. 

Kiss your tastebuds with the Cherry Bomb, a cocktail inspired by the fragrant cherry lips sweets, combining cherry brandy, lime juice and tonic.

To cool down on a hot, summer’s day, what could be better than a Drumstick Lolly - a blend of Bar Opus’s homemade raspberry vodka, vanilla vodka and a dash of Drumstick lemonade?

And if life’s giving you lemons, the Sherbert Lemon cocktail is the ideal choice to turn that frown around with its sherbert-rimmed glass filled with homemade sherbert vodka and a dash of lemonade. 

Irene Allen, Director of Bar Opus, said: “Our cocktails are always hugely popular and our very own candy creators have devised a fantastic suite of fun cocktails for this summer, all inspired by their favourite childhood sweets.” 

Bar Opus is located at One Snowhill, Birmingham. For details of all 13 new seasonal cocktails, visit www.baropus.co.uk

PR By Clive Reeves PR Birmingham

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Rainbow cupcakes and unicorns come to Selfridges Birmingham this Pride Weekend

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Rainbow cupcakes and unicorns come to Selfridges Birmingham this Pride Weekend

Living up to one of its founding principles (“Everyone is welcome”), Selfridges Birmingham is happily joining in with the city’s Birmingham Gay Pride celebrations on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th May, in the most more-ish way.

Pride-goers will be able to pop into the Selfridges Birmingham Foodhall to get their hands on a rainbow cupcake for £3 and a slice of rainbow or unicorn cake for £4 and, literally, taste the rainbow.  For those with a bigger appetite or keen to share, the entire large cakes can be yours for £48 and will certainly create a stand out moment at any Pride party.

These colourful creations can be found in the Foodhall and will be the perfect addition to any pride celebration.

Shoppers will also be able to see the escalators inside the iconic store, changing colours to create the symbolic rainbow to striking effect.

For more information visit http://www.selfridges.com/GB/en/

PR by Clive Reeves PR Birmingham

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Furnace manufacturer’s new state-of-the-art telecoms system is on fire, thanks to Armstrong Bell

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Furnace manufacturer’s new state-of-the-art telecoms system is on fire, thanks to Armstrong Bell

Worcestershire telecommunications company Armstrong Bell has forged an alliance with the Midland’s office of a leading global induction furnace manufacturer after replacing its deteriorating telephone system with a dynamic, flexible version that has improved connectivity across its entire site.

The Bromsgrove-based telecoms business won the tender to replace the entire telephone system at Inductotherm, Droitwich, after a competitive three-way pitch.

Inductotherm’s European operations have been based at the Berry Hill Industrial site since 1971 and the company now employs 100 staff.

It was keen to modernise its 25-year-old system because it was unable to find spare parts for its Ericsson telephone; Armstrong Bell impressed the manufacturer with its technical know-how, innovative solutions and approach to identifying its specific needs across the manufacturing site and offices. It also suggested a cost-saving move of removing unused fax lines.

Because the cabling and cabinet were installed in an unsuitable location, Armstrong Bell undertook a survey and liaised with BT OpenReach to move the entire system into the firm’s computer room, which is air conditioned and a better suited environment for the equipment.

Its engineers replaced 60 ageing handsets with the NEC SV9100 system, which has front-end response with options, direct dial and hunt groups, plus voicemail and indication.

Staff also have individual external numbers that show up when dialling out, which has had a positive impact on customers who prefer to speak directly to their contact at the firm.

Finally, Armstrong Bell also installed and supplied 10 digitally enhanced cordless technology (DECT) handsets for staff and managers who are often in the large manufacturing facility.

While Inductotherm previously had used DECT handsets, poor coverage meant that staff in some areas of the site were not contactable. With Armstrong Bell’s system, the company now has full coverage of the factory and the yard.

Christine Morgan, buyer at Inductotherm, said: “We were extremely impressed with Armstrong Bell from the outset because it really went out of its way to understand how we used our phones and what we wanted to get out of a system. The firm’s attention to detail demonstrated that it really tailors solutions for its customers.

“We were also struck by how it drew up plans for something we needed rather than trying to sell us a complicated and costly system.”

Inductotherm staff had the opportunity to see a similar Armstrong Bell system in action at another local business and talk to staff about how it worked.

“That business guided us through what Armstrong Bell had done for them and the system they have. It really opened our eyes and it was reassuring that they were full of praise for how it all went,” said Christine.

“The downtime was so minimal, it was absolutely incredible. We were dreading having major downtime issues and no calls coming in or going out but those fears were not founded and everything went very smoothly.

“The system was installed first thing in the morning and engineers were on site to sort everything out within minutes. They were excellent in every way - from  selling the system to installation and post-installation support.”

Inductotherm was so pleased with the new Armstrong Bell telephone system that it commissioned the telecoms company to replace its ailing Panasonic system with  a smaller version - the NEC SL1100 - at Electric Melting Services (EMSCO), its sister company in Sheffield.

This “joined up” telephone system enables staff at the two companies to use short codes to dial each other - as if they are in the same building rather than 115 miles away.

Will Copley, managing director of Armstrong Bell, said: “Being local to Inductotherm gave us the edge but it was also the fact that we go out of our way to understand a customer’s needs, rather than trying to upsell.

“Inductotherm’s new telephone system is not only fit for purpose for a large, busy company, it is also agile and future-proof. Our team have done another excellent job there, also providing comprehensive training for its staff, which meant they were up and running in no time at all.”

PR by Clive Reeves PR Birmingham

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