Innovation and Technology
AIS Survivex is a business that provides training to the oil, wind, gas, maritime and heavy industry sectors - providing more than 500 training courses, and working to ensure that workers are able to do their jobs smartly and safely. With more than 14 years of experience, AIS has been a consistent innovator - improving and diversifying the training it offers. AIS offers virtual training courses that offer in-depth training despite distance - and during the pandemic this resource was invaluable, with AIS delivering more than 600 virtual courses in 2021. The business has also developed a virtual assessment for rigging and lifting, as well as simulator courses for oil drilling crews. Through innovations like these, AIS is able to provide high quality training that helps crews learn anywhere in the world.
ClearVUE is an energy technology company that provides advice and services to assist businesses on their road to net zero. ClearVUE helps businesses monitor their energy levels and identify areas for improvement - providing real time data that gives clients an in-depth understanding of their energy use. ClearVUE has worked to make this an innovative solution - merging software, hardware and cloud tech to create a seamless and quick experience - and saving businesses the hassle of processing and analysing data.The ClearVUE platform also offers cost projections, to help businesses lower costs as well as energy usage. Offering staff energy awareness training alongside this, ClearVUE strives to ensure that clients always have the most innovative and environmentally-friendly solutions to hand.
GAP Group (North East) Ltd
GAP Group (North East) Ltd is a business dedicated to helping other companies dispose of their waste in an environmentally friendly manner - and make the UK economy more sustainable. GAP uses innovative partnerships to help achieve this goal - including one with clean tech consultancy Descycle to build a £6m e-waste recycling facility in the North East. This facility will utilise a process involving Deep Eutectic Solvents (DES) - a form of chemistry developed at the University of Leicester. DES makes it possible to break down metals without toxic chemicals or excessive energy use - and can be recycled to be used again. In doing so, it can help to make e-waste recycling a far more sustainable process.
Apprenticeships, Training and Skills Award
EGGER (UK) Ltd
Founded in 1961, EGGER provides wood-based products to clients in the DIY, trade, furniture and retail industries. A family-owned business, EGGER is committed to a sustainable way of operating, and to constantly helping employees and apprentices develop. Starting an apprenticeship program in 2003, the business offers apprenticeships in mechanical and electrical maintenance, production, business administration, transport, and warehousing among others - and currently has 45 apprentices onsite. In 2021, EGGER began its upskilling program which aims to improve the knowledge and skills of employees, and make it easier for them to progress to leadership roles. EGGER also regularly invests in its apprenticeship training academy to ensure apprentices get the best learning experience possible.
Newcastle Building Society
With more than 150 years of history, Newcastle Building Society is dedicated to providing people with the help and expertise they need to properly plan their finances. The business strives to provide people with opportunities via apprenticeships and training - taking on 40 apprentices and 24 student placements since 2017. Newcastle Building Society creates an encouraging environment in which these learners can thrive and has achieved a 94% retention rate as a result. The business also aims to make 50% of new entry roles apprenticeships by 2025. The training Newcastle Building Society offers has seen it win the regional finals of the National Apprenticeship Awards three years running, and seen it named a top 60 and top 100 employer by RateMyPlacement and RateMyApprenticeship respectively.
Smart IT is a business that provides a range of IT solutions to clients across the North East. The business has been running its apprenticeship program for 10 years now - designed to produce first-class engineers with all the skills they need to succeed. Providing a variety of courses, Smart IT is also able to help learners become Microsoft certified IT professionals. Apprentices are offered full-time employment with Smart IT when they complete their qualifications, providing them with an immediate opportunity to put their learning to use, and building a workforce of highly qualified and skilled professionals. Smart IT plans to further expand its apprenticeship program in the coming years and hit the benchmark of having 5% of employees be apprentices.
Heart of the Community Award
Karbon Homes builds and manages affordable homes for people across the North East. Having built almost 30,000 homes, Karbon is also dedicated to helping build communities - supporting 62 community initiatives, totalling £300,000 of investment, in the last 12 months. Karbon has partnered with charities like Feeding Families to tackle food poverty, and If U Care Share to run suicide awareness sessions in schools - and has launched an £80,000 Haltwhistle Community Fund to support community projects in Haltwhistle. Karbon also offers in-house support programs to help people improve their financial, employment and digital skills - with its caseworkers assisting more than 5,000 customers last year. Karbon also ran 70 free activity sessions for young people during the 2021 summer holidays.
Muckle LLP is a commercial law firm that works to positively impact the community - collaborating with local charities to help disadvantaged people. Running a community fund for 20 years, Muckle has aided more than 600 charities and provided grants of over £603,000 - with a focus on young people, the disadvantaged, and social mobility. As well as offering monetary support, Muckle also works with charities to raise awareness and promote good causes. Muckle also encourages volunteer work on the part of employees - providing paid leave days for volunteering - and works with other businesses to help them meet ethical practice standards. Muckle has demonstrated a strong commitment to sustainability - working with local councils on net-zero initiatives, and aiming to be net-zero by 2030.
SOS Group Ltd
SOS Group Ltd is a business that provides clients with a range of services to help their offices run smoothly - from IT support and document management, to the provision of office furniture. Throughout its 20 year history, SOS Group has been dedicated to serving the community - creating an environment in which employees are encouraged to support causes that they are passionate about. Around 50% of SOS Group’s staff take part in volunteering activities - providing time and resources to those in need. Since launching in 2002, the business itself has donated more than £250,000 to local charities and community organisations and projects. This includes providing covid-sanitising devices to NE Youth HQ, sponsoring Newcastle Panthers Volleyball Club, and creating food hampers for families during Christmas.
Black Hills Products Ltd
Based in Northumberland, Black Hills Products Ltd is a manufacturing and engineering business that has demonstrated an impressive ability to adapt and grow. Founded in 2011, the business originally started out designing, making and distributing white label products for the automotive industry. During the pandemic, however, the business also made the move into providing solutions to an energy distribution network, to meet a pressing need. Black Hills’ adaptability has helped spur the company’s growth - with just one employee working at the start of the pandemic, by late 2020 another two had been recruited - and in 2021 another two trainees were taken on board. Black Hills’ high standard of work throughout has seen it awarded an Integrated Management ISO Certification in the three areas of Quality, Environmental and Health & Safety.
Sterling Pharma Solutions
Sterling Pharma Solutions provides development and manufacturing services to the pharmaceutical industry - specifically in the area of API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) development. Sterling has shown consistent growth in recent years - with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 20% - and a jump from 270 employees in 2019 to more than 860 in 2021. Sterling has also invested considerably in its facilities - with sites in Dudley and North Carolina, and in 2021 it acquired new premises in Deeside, north Wales, and Germantown, Wisconsin. Sterling also opened up a Centre of Excellence for Flow Chemistry at its Dudley site. The business also has a strong environmental ethos - aiming for a 50% decrease in carbon footprint by 2025, and investing in sustainable production processes.
WSG Print is a print and signage business that strived to adapt and succeed during the pandemic. Originally, the business provided a range of print services, with a predominant focus on vehicle livery. With the advent of the pandemic, WSG made a pivot - and began producing face masks and acrylic safety partitions to help keep people safe. Since then, WSG has adapted yet again - diversifying its offerings and moving into signage fabrication. Making these changes required dedication, and WSG invested in new machinery and new staff to ensure that it was successful - growing and providing jobs. Despite having a small team, WSG was able to demonstrate the ambition and resilience required to succeed during a challenging time.
High Growth & Ambition Award
GAP Group (North East) Ltd
GAP Group (North East) Ltd is a waste management business dedicated to sustainable growth, and helping the UK economy become more sustainable. GAP Group works to create growth through innovation - in the way it operates, and the partnerships it forms. The business has collaborated with technology consultancy Desycle on the creation of a £6m e-waste recycling facility - as well as environmental tech investment company Ritchie Bland Energy, to acquire complementary businesses, invest in plastic separation technology, and expand its facilities and fleet. This allows GAP to access new markets, and improve the sustainability of the waste management and e-waste recycling industries. GAP has its sights set on the future, with the aim of more than doubling its turnover to £30m over the next three years.
NPH Group is a provider of medical services to clients across the North East. With a wide range of services - including health screening, health surveillance, health promotion and employment medicals among others - NPH has achieved an impressive growth during the last few years. During the pandemic, the business was able to serve an important need by adding covid testing to its services - delivering more than 4 million covid tests, and branching out into international markets. Between 2019 and 2021, NPH was able to grow its revenue from £1m to £7m - and invested £250,000 into technology solutions, to ensure it would be able to innovate and meet new challenges. The business also doubled its workforce to 40, and added 500 sq ft to its premises.
Opencast Software is an independent technology consultancy that provides digital and technology solutions, designed to help businesses become more efficient and effective. With a range of services including user-centred design, software delivery and cloud and platform engineering, Opencast has demonstrated impressive ambition and growth. In 2021, the business’ year-on-year turnover was up 56%, with profits rising by 83%. Opencast has also greatly expanded its team, with a growth in the same year of 70% to 200 people - and ambitions to employ 500 people by the end of 2022. Opencast works to ensure that this growth is sustainable - in particular providing learning and development opportunities to employees, and creating a work environment that is supportive, diverse and ambitious.
Newcomer of the Year
AR Kitchens, Bedrooms and Bathrooms
AR Kitchens, Bedrooms and Bathrooms is a business dedicated to quality in everything it does. Started as a small family business, its driving aim was to provide innovative and high quality interior design solutions. The business produces kitchen, bedroom and bathroom units, offering bespoke designs made from high-quality material. AR works to provide an outstanding customer experience alongside its products - accompanying them from design through to the fitting of units, to ensure that everything is as it should be. AR’s dedication to quality has helped it grow - seeing a move from a 900 sq ft premises to a 9,000 sq ft showroom, and recently winning a contract to provide 52 kitchens to Ouseburn Quays.
Rowen Homes is an online interiors store providing luxury homeware products to customers across the UK, as well as curated interior designs. Founded during the pandemic, Rowen was able to succeed in spite of such a challenging period for businesses. In its first 18 months of operating, the business saw top line sales exceed £6.5m, grew its employee team from 7 to 28 - and moved from a 3,000 sq ft premises to a 30,000 sq ft warehouse. Rowen’s innovative approach to marketing has also been extremely successful - creating content on social media, the business has already racked up 70 million views on TikTok, using the platform to promote products and its interior designs.
Talentheads is a recruitment services company that strives to not only recruit the right people for the job, but to also help clients improve their own recruitment processes. Talentheads works with businesses to help them build recruitment strategies that continue to provide great results in the future. Talenthead’s dedication to helping clients has already helped it win 18 contracts in just two years - including one with Coopland’s, the UK’s second-largest bakery chain. The business itself has also seen impressive growth - growing its team by 300 percent in the last 12 months, and opening an office in Morpeth. Talenthead’s has also seen a growth in turnover from £42,178 between 2020-2021, to £173,850 from 2021-2022.
MSK Sports Injury Clinic
Based in Newcastle, MSK Sports Injury Clinic provides a range of physical therapy services to clients - specialising in sports massage therapy. MSK works with clients of all ages - offering massage therapy, rehabilitation, shockwave therapy among other services - and strives to meet each patient’s specific needs, to help them get free of pain quickly and easily. The team at MSK has more than a decade’s experience with sports therapy - and in the four years since it was set up, the business has seen significant growth. The business has also gone from a home conservatory to a commercial premises with two treatment rooms - and has helped more than 2,000 clients, with an average of 90 new clients per month.
Reeves Independent Limited
Founded by Nigel Reeves in 1996, Reeves Independent Limited is a specialist financial advice firm that works to help people take control of their pensions. Dedicated to impeccable and ethical customer service, Reeves has grown significantly since its founding. Today, the business has a team of more than 80 people, and manages over £385m of funds. Some of this growth took place recently, with the workforce growing 130% since the start of the pandemic. Reeves’ focus on providing quality to clients has seen it achieve a 99% customer retention rate, as well as a 4.8 rating on Trustpilot - and won it a spot on the Financial Times Top 100 Advice Firms for the last three years running.
Smart IT is a business that works to provide clients with high quality and reliable IT solutions. The business prides itself on its versatility - working with a range of clients across the North East on everything from IT networks to standalone services. Smart IT currently works with 497 businesses and clients - with 12,425 individual users, and 23,283 support cases to respond to in 2021. Smart IT uses its wealth of experience to help customers with ease and efficiency - resolving 91% of support incidents via telephone and remote support, and resolving 96% of problems within 24 hours in 2021. Smart IT’s skill and dedication won it the Zen UK New Partner of the Year Award in 2021.
Small Business Award
FOOTY.COM is a price comparison website that gives people the ability to compare prices on a range of products from various brands. Founded in 2015, FOOTY.COM offers comparisons on more than 60,000 products - and makes finding the best deals easy and efficient. In recent years, the company has seen significant growth - with an increase in turnover of 125% from 2021-2022, up from the previous year, and a record trading month in December of 2021. FOOTY.COM has also expanded its customer base - with average monthly site sessions reaching 350,000, and growth of its social media following to 150,000. The business also ran an advertising campaign which saw its social media impressions grow by 50%.
Kelly's Heroes Private Tuition Ltd
Kelly's Heroes Private Tuition Ltd is a private tuition business with a deep commitment to helping young people reach their full potential. The business offers bespoke tuition sessions in maths and English that are designed to meet each child’s specific needs, and help them develop a strong understanding of the curriculum. Kelly’s Heroes also works to boost the confidence of learners, and give them confidence in their ability to achieve. The business opened up its first centre in November of 2020, growing the team to 10 people, and expanding its capabilities - and opened a second centre in Ponteland in 2021. With plans to open a third centre, Kelly’s Heroes strives to make education a fulfilling and confidence-building experience for young people for years to come.
McGovern & Co Ltd
Founded in 1949, McGovern & Co Ltd is a brick merchant that strives to combine impeccable service with ethical practice. With more than 2 million bricks across 250 types currently stocked, McGovern works with clients in a range of industries - including architects, merchants, homeowners and more - to provide the right bricks for them. McGovern also has a strong ethical practice ethos - in particular working to become more sustainable. The business aims to be carbon neutral by 2040, works to use brick materials that are more carbon efficient, and also tries to educate young bricklayers on the importance of using sustainable materials and methods. McGovern’s commitment to quality and sustainability has helped it grow - with sales increasing by 50% in the last 18 months.
Company of the year
The Doxford Group
The Doxford Group is a luxury hospitality business that has worked to thrive in the face of adversity. Providing a venue for weddings and other events, the pandemic was a difficult time for The Doxford Group as it faced cancellations, quarantine and changing safety restrictions. Nonetheless, the business continued to excel, adapting to changing circumstances to book more than 400 weddings over the last two years and working tirelessly to ensure events were safe and remained a special experience. The Doxford Group also continued to expand, building 14 new bedrooms and beginning construction on a new hotel, bar and restaurant. This perseverance and commitment to high quality has won The Doxford Group a variety of accolades - most recently being named a finalist at the English Wedding Awards.
Newcastle Building Society
With 30 branches across the region, Newcastle Building Society is dedicated to helping people in the North East take control of their finances. The business works to make financial information and advice accessible, so that anyone can make positive changes and plan for their future. Employing around 1,300 people, Newcastle Building Society tries to create a working culture that provides equality and the opportunity to flourish. The business has a thriving apprenticeship programme, with 38 apprentices being taken on over the last four years - and has made significant progress towards gender parity, achieving a figure of 40% for women in senior management. Newcastle Building Society also works to serve the community - partnering with organisations on a range of charitable causes and projects.
Founded in 2012, Opencast Software is a technology consultancy that provides digital and technology solutions to help clients maximise their efficiency and potential. Working with clients in the government, global finance and business sectors, Opencast offers a range of services including user-centred design; software delivery, cloud and platform engineering; and live services support among others. The business has worked with a variety of high-profile clients including HMRC, JP Morgan Chase and NHS Business Services Authority. Opencast has seen impressive growth over the last couple of years - with year-on-year turnover increasing by 56% in 2021 - and profits growing 83%. The business has also expanded its team, growing 70% to 200 people, with plans to employ 300 people by 2025.
Port of Blyth
Established in 1882, Port of Blyth is a trust port providing a range of marine, stevedoring and similar services. Despite the obstacles presented by the pandemic, the port was able to thrive during this period - recording record financial figures in 2021, with a growth in turnover of 16% and a doubling of net profit. As a trust port, Port of Blyth reinvests its profits in the business, and supports the local community. The port is a significant innovator in the renewable sector, launching the Bates Clean Energy Terminal development 2021. This terminal will feature a range of energy-saving and decarbonisation features - including solar power and a mine water heating scheme - and will hopefully set an inspirational precedent for other businesses looking to become more environmentally friendly.