Specialist sports technology firm, Skylab, part of the Manchester-based Inc & Co Group, has agreed a performance analysis partnership with North American soccer club, Lexington Sporting Club, due to make its debut in the United Soccer League (USL) next year.

Based in Lexington, Kentucky, with a rich sporting history in horse racing, the city has been awarded a League One expansion franchise within the USL, the largest and fastest growing professional soccer organisation in North America. Together with Skylab: EPA, the club has ambitious to not only create a soccer club for the city, but create a cultural and sporting legacy.

To maximise this opportunity, Skylab will leverage technology to empower Lexington Sporting Club across multiple touch points, including talent ID, performance analysis, coach and player development, and recruitment for the expansion teams. Services will include bespoke data capture of Lexington Sporting Club’s senior teams, academies and recruitment targets, analysis of the playing styles and trends across the USL League One, and buiild key, insightful and actionable reports for key stakeholders across the club.

Lexington sporting director, Sam Stockley, said: “We are so excited to have Skylab as part of our team moving forward. As we build out our performance operations, our planning sessions with Skylab for the various projects have been fantastic and their expertise will be a huge asset across Lexington Sporting Club. We look forward to embracing innovative strategies to service the club to its fullest potential.”

Zak Saucede, head of analysis, Skylab: EPA, said: “Our partnership with Lexington Sporting Club is a really exciting opportunity to support the team with multiple performance analysis solutions that will build a dynamic department for the future. Our work will feed into Lexington’s player recruitment process and underpin their game model as they prepare their team for 2023 and future years.”

Ciaran Skinner, business development manager, Skylab, said: “Everyone at Skylab is delighted to partner with Lexington Sporting Club, at a hugely exciting time for everyone involved. The partnership allows for a full end-to-end delivery of Skylab: EPA’s services where we have the perfect environment to work closely with Lexington’s leadership team to inspire and develop young people, grow talent, and push human performance.”


Cllr Eamonn O’Brien

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has secured £7m from the Department of Education to provide fully-funded training to people living and working in the city region, aiming to support them into employment after a career break.

Training will be delivered as part of Greater Manchester’s Skills Bootcamps – part of the Government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee – which helps people to get onto the career ladder, transition back into work after a break or access progression opportunities.

The bootcamps will support people aged 19 and over from priority groups with flexible courses of up to 16 weeks, while helping employers to fill skills shortages they have identified. In 2018, GMCA initially worked with the Department for Media, Culture and Sport to test Skills Bootcamps through a pilot scheme called the ‘Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund’, which focused particularly on providing accessible routes into digital employment.

As a result of the pilot’s success, whereby 53% of learners were successfully supported into employment, the Department for Education is now rolling out and scaling up more varied Skills Bootcamps nationally. The funding GMCA has been awarded will go towards offering training in the city region until 2023 across range of industries such as construction, manufacturing, digital, the green economy and others.

Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, Greater Manchester’s new lead for education, work, skills, apprenticeships and digital, said: “It’s fantastic that our success rolling out the previous Digital Workforce Fund has led to Skills Bootcamps being scaled up on a national level. This demonstrates how Greater Manchester is committed and forward thinking when it comes to offering a skills system that is fit for purpose, ensuring local people have access to new opportunities while businesses can benefit from a high-quality talent pool.”


Gary Wilkinson

Warrington-based Redwood Bank has reaped the rewards of continuing to lend to British businesses throughout the pandemic by reporting its first profit. The specialist lender recorded a pre-tax operating profit of £2.2m in the year to December 31, 2021, compared with a £1.7 m loss the previous year, while its loan book increased by 14% to £370m (2020: £324m) and deposits rose by 15% to £438m (2020: £380m).

Since its inception in 2017, the bank has loaned more than £140m to people and properties based in Warrington and the North West, representing approximately 28% of Redwood Bank’s lending. This compares to an industry average of 10%, underlining the bank’s commitment to its roots.

Gary Wilkinson, CEO and co-founder of Redwood Bank, said: “Where we are from is important to us, we are a part of the community. Giving back to Warrington and the North West, and helping to deliver vital funding to the area, is something we are extremely passionate about.

“The fact that we made our first profit, in 2021, is testament to the robustness of our business model. We reached this milestone because we continued to offer vital lending support to British businesses during the various COVID-19 lockdowns, when many other lenders retrenched. We are proud to have played our part in bolstering the resilience of British business.”

Redwood Bank was ‘born in the cloud’ in 2017, with its infrastructure helping it achieve one of the fastest ‘licence-to-launches’ in UK banking history. Having started with a team of 12, the bank now employs more than 125 employees. Due to the demand in the region, Redwood is moving to bigger offices within the Base in Dallam Lane, Warrington, where up to 30 staff will be based.


The Sidemen

Fried chicken brand, Sides, has further expanded in Manchester. The new delivery locations of Moston, Salford and Oldham have been announced as the brand forges ahead with its ambitious growth plans to bring its delicious chicken dishes across the UK and beyond.

The brand has been developed by famous YouTube collective, The Sidemen, arguably the most popular and engaged content creators in Europe. Sides is a food concept facilitated by REEF, the world’s largest operator of virtual restaurants, and is available for delivery only and sold online via major food delivery platforms UberEats and Deliveroo.

Sides is part of Virtual Hero, a subsidiary of Hero Brands, the company behind the expanding fast casual chain German Doner Kebab, Choppaluna, Island Poké, and XIX Vodka, a further Sidemen brand. Working in partnership with the creator collective to develop the brand, Sides is the latest cloud kitchen-based food mega brand to launch in multiple locations simultaneously, via REEF’s community hubs.

Sides is currently available to order across London, Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester, Bradford and the UAE with 200 sites set to open globally by the end of 2022. The brand also launched its first ever physical location in February at BOXPARK Wembley.. Vik Barn, of The Sidemen, said: “As huge fans of fried chicken, we’re excited to launch into further locations in Manchester and bring Sides to the people of Moston, Salford and Oldham as we continue to expand rapidly throughout the UK and beyond.”

Virtual Hero, CEO Robin Mehta, said: “At Virtual Hero we are responding to emerging consumer trends in this fast growing market and building the brands of the future. The pandemic has escalated the rise of delivery only brands, and we’re excited to bring Sides to Moston, Salford and Oldham and give consumers a new and delicious food experience to try as we ramp up our expansion.”


Peaky Blinders glasses

Scottish innovative glasses brand IOLLA is bringing its fresh take on eyewear to Manchester’s retail and fashion scene by opening its first English store in St Ann’s Square.

The brand is known for its spectacles worn by Cillian Murphy’s character, Tommy Shelby, in hit TV series Peaky Blinders,

When the store launches in August, IOLLA customers will get the chance to experience an instore ‘styling session’ with an IOLLA eyewear expert. The styling offering is designed to help people discover which frames go with which personal styles and tastes.

IOLLA advises customers to have their eye test prescription to hand, as the shop does not offer eye tests, before placing their order through their digitally-enabled platform, either in person or online.

Stefan Hunter, CEO at IOLLA, said: “We are incredibly excited to be launching our first store outside of Scotland, and where better than Manchester? One of the fashion capitals of the UK – and the perfect launch location for IOLLA south of the border.”


Neill Wood

A new football finance education programme – the first of its kind in higher education – has been created by Manchester-based entrepreneur, Neill Wood.

Neill, from Oldham, was formerly the financial controller of City Football Group, where he was responsible for the group’s financial accounting, tax, risk management, payroll, the external reporting for Manchester City Football Club as well as strategic finance projects for the club and wider group.

The new online education programme will be launched in August by Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, where Neill studied Sports Science and Maths as an undergraduate. In recognition of his achievement in developing the course and his expertise in the field, built over a 15-year career in finance, Loughborough University has awarded Neill the honorary title of Visiting Fellow in Sport and Football Finance.

The football finance course has been designed to provide delegates with a broad understanding of football finance using first-hand industry experience. Starting with the basic principles of financial accounting and progressing to the more complex areas, the course allows individuals to build a foundation of practical knowledge of football finance, culminating in a review of UEFA Financial Fair Play.

Neill, who is currently the managing director of George Moss & Sons, owners of Moss Industrial Estate in Leigh, said: “I am honoured to be collaborating with the best sporting educational establishment in the world to bring innovative learning opportunities to ambitious sports professionals using the exciting medium of sport. Loughborough University was transformational for me, personally and professionally, and the experience I gained at the university provided the foundations for me to pursue a career combining my passion for sport with a talent for finance.”