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'Fireside Chat' is an opportunity to share best business practice

Businesses in Cumbria are being invited to take part in a free virtual ‘fireside chat’ to swap ideas about best practice led by two of Cumbria’s award-winning, innovation-focused business leaders next week.

The discussion, which takes place online next Friday (11 December, 11am), is one of a series of free events organised by Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (CLEP) aimed at supporting county businesses through the current pandemic crisis.

The title of next Friday’s session is ‘How Leaders Can Innovate in a Remote Environment’ and will feature Barry Leahey, MBE (Managing Director of Playdale Playgrounds) and Emma Porter (Managing Director, Story Contracting).

They’ll be in discussion with Miranda Kirschel, CLEP’s Head of Business and Innovation, but all three are keen to encourage active participation from all involved so that businesses can learn from each other.

Miranda said: “We’re very grateful to have secured the assistance of Barry and Emma, two of Cumbria’s leading business figures and both members of the county’s Business and Economic Response and Recovery Group, which is responsible for developing our economic response to COVID-19.

“It will be fascinating to learn from them – and everyone else in the discussion – how their businesses are coping with changing working practices as a result of COVID.

“We’re expecting some interesting questions to be raised, such as ‘would you go back to how it was?’ ‘How do you deal with lack of business travel?’ ’How do you manage the responsibility of your workforce’s mental health under the circumstances?’

“In the ‘new normal’, we may all have to consider a mix of on-site and remote working where practicable, a hybrid virtual model in which some employees are on premises while others work from home.”

Playdale designs and manufactures children’s playground equipment at its base at Haverthwaite, near Ulverston.

It has picked up several awards in recent years, including ‘UK family Manufacturer’, Federation of Small Businesses ‘UK SME Exporter of the Year’ and was named as a Department for International Trade and Commonwealth Export Champion. In 2018, Barry was named Institute of Directors North West ‘Global Director of the Year 2018’ as well as ‘Cumbria Business Person of the Year’.

He said: “We are all in this together and I have found most of my learnings are coming from keeping in touch with others and sharing ideas. Emma is a fantastic leader and I am looking forward to hearing how their business has adapted and sharing with her and the audience how Playdale have not wasted a crisis to change for the better.”

Emma rejoined Story Contracting in April 2019 and was appointed Managing Director just over a year ago. She has overseen a £30m turnover for the Construction team and led it to deliver a number of high-profile projects throughout Cumbria.

With over 12 years of experience working in the construction industry, Emma also Chairs CLEP’s Construction Sector Panel and plays an active role in mentoring other women in the industry.

She said: ““The world is changing and it is changing faster than ever. We have massive challenges ahead in terms of managing the effects of Covid, Brexit and getting to zero carbon. Invariably, there are opportunities in change and the most innovative responses to the challenges will come through creative collaborations. I have a lot of respect for Barry and I’m looking forward to this chance to debate and share ideas with him on this topic.”

The ‘Fireside Chats’ are part of a new programme of online CLEP events to assist businesses in the county. The series of free events will cover a range of topics of interest to the county’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) over the coming weeks and months.

To check the calendar and register to take part, go to:

For more information, contact Project Manager Helen Atherton on 07791 804031 – e-mail:

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