What a year. It's been an absolute roller coaster for us.
We've still felt the effects of Coronavirus throughout this year, with many summer festivals being cancelled or postponed.
Three local businesses that rose to the challenges of the pandemic have been recognised with a new special award.
The first COVID-Resilience Leamington Business Awards, organised by Talk Business UK, were held as part of a virtual ceremony hosted by local DJ and event host, Kirsty Leahy from Noisegate Media Studio in Leamington on Friday night.
As well as a performance from Motionhouse, the event also featured a special message from Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western.
He said: "It is really unpredictable how the pandemic is playing out and I appreciate just how hard it is hitting our businesses. If businesses can't be open then we must have the financial support for them to see them through this incredibly difficult time, particularly the hospitality sector.
"I really want to thank all the businesses which have taken this seriously and have spent so much money to get COVID-safe and adhere to Government guidelines at a time when the revenue hasn't been coming in.
"Huge thanks on behalf of the whole community to all the local businesses whose response to the pandemic has been extraordinary and I was very proud to see just how quickly businesses galvanized. It is a real measure of our community what has taken place these last few months.
"It is so important for all of us that these businesses are around next year and the year after. We depend on the prosperity of our businesses for the vitality and the jobs and so on but they are such a core part of what makes Leamington so unique."
2020 Business Resilience Award: This award went to a business that has demonstrated determination and resilience throughout the pandemic and tackled challenges head-on.
WINNER: CJ's Events, Warwick www.cjseventswarwickshire.co.uk When the national lockdown hit in March, family-run business CJ's Events Warwickshire took the decision to close its markets but, over a period of two months, the company worked hard on plans to return safely in line with Government advice, investing heavily in COVID barriers, signage and hand sanitiser stations and implementing policies and procedures, with the support of Warwick District Council.
And in June, CJ's Events Warwickshire and Warwick Market were adopted by Central Government as a case study for how to implement a market's safe return.
Their markets also continued to operate in line with the Government advice during the second lockdown.
Director and COVID-19 Compliance Officer Jamie Walker said: "We are absolutely ecstatic to have won the Business Resilience Award, this year has been a very tough one, one which wouldn't have been possible without the support of Warwick District Council, BID Leamington, our whole team, traders and customers.
"Our whole business turned upside down during the announcement of the first lockdown, with all our events being cancelled. We're immensely proud of what we've achieved over the past nine months and our business has gone from strength to strength despite the times we've faced.
"Winning this award highlights the appreciation of our hard work and this has ended 2020 on a high for us, we can't thank everyone enough."
Judge Sarah Windrum, CEO Emerald Group and CWLEP Board member, said this of the winning entry: "For the judges, the company that shone through was one that acted quickly when faced with adversity and when their business as usual had been turned completely on its head. They helped us keep our town safe and open with new COVID measures and their proactive approach to training meant that we could have the first UK market to reopen after the initial lockdown.
"They worked with regional stakeholders, led by a young team and it's really inspirational to see what they have done for us. They're also keeping us in good Christmas cheer as we stay within the tier 3 restrictions."
Business Pivot Award: This category was open to any business that can demonstrate how they have 'pivoted' their product or service during 2020, ie. adapted their offering for new or existing customers, thus allowing their business to survive – and even thrive.
WINNER: Heartbreak Productions, Leamington www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk This outdoor theatre business of 30 years had to respond quickly to the realisation that their much-anticipated 2020 tour would not go ahead and so curated the following projects:
Heartbreak at Home – Free shared footage of past performances edited for the small screen at-home viewer.
Tell My Story – A competition for young people to devise their own story based on the phrase 'Escape from Lockdown.' This project, with funding from Arts Council England, was able to offer the out-of-work Heartbreak actors an opportunity to earn again by adapting eight of the young people's stories into 50-minute screenplays live-streamed to families at home.
Alice In Lockdown - Following an announcement that outdoor theatre could return, in July, Alice In Lockdown was written, rehearsed and set on the road in a matter of weeks, travelling to 24 socially-distanced venues across the UK.
Judge, Louise Richards of Motionhouse dance circus production company, said: "The theatre sector was truly decimated and everybody lost all of their work. Heartbreak Productions, which receives absolutely no regular funding, managed to turn on a pinhead.
"People underestimate the time and work that goes into the creations in the theatre world and to do all of that in such a short period of time and be so responsive and so opportunistic is the sign of a brilliant business."
Lockdown Hero Award: This award recognises the Leamington business that has gone 'above and beyond' during 2020. The business may have provided products to vulnerable groups free of charge, offered their services pro-bono to struggling local businesses or individuals, or spread positivity during challenging times.
WINNER: Baabzi Takeaway, Warwick www.baabziindiantakeaway.co.uk Baabzi have been actively involved in their local community throughout the year, including meal deliveries to Warwick and Birmingham Children's Hospitals.
The team also supplied nutritious meals to Helping Hands charity as well as raising more than £10,000 for the NHS Charity through food nights, a charity bike ride and skydive.
At the same time the business found ways to fund and supply keyworkers with PPE.
Owner Faruk Miah said: "All the finalists have done amazing jobs ad we are all winners in truth. Winning this tonight is much welcome recognition of the value of local businesses and their essential contributions to overall wellbeing.
"What we did, we did purely because it felt like the right thing to do and we are proud to be a part of the community spirit. Watch this space because we have only just begun."
Judge, Roger Scott, Area Director South Midlands for Lloyds SME, said: "Baabzi did a fantastic job working with others in the community, supporting the NHS. And what we loved is that personal connection with the town of Leamington but also that they wanted to give something back and that really touched our hearts."
The bespoke awards were specially designed by Warwickshire College students Spencer Bronckaerts and Kodie Wood.
Nominations for the main Leamington Business Awards will open on January 21st 2021 when businesses have the opportunity to enter 12 categories: New Business of the Year; Business and Community Award; Customers Service Excellence Award; Young Person of the Year Award, Employer of the Year; South Warwickshire Achievement of the Year; Innovation of the Year; Outstanding Achievement of the Year; Independent Business of the Year; Property Business of the Year, Warwick District Charity of the Year and The People's Choice Award.
A winner from all the categories will also be selected for the prestigious Judges' Choice Award – Business of the Year.
Sponsors include HB&O, Lodders solicitors and The Box Factory but more are invited to get onboard by contacting Jonathan Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Further details about the awards categories and how to nominate are available at: leamingtonbusinessawards.co.uk