Derby mum’s £1 million business takes on workers made redundant in lockdown

A booming Derby firm, set up by a husband-and-wife team from a city suburb, has taken on three workers who were made redundant during the pandemic.

Natalie and Adam Bamford, from Spondon, launched Colleague Box, a personalised gift box service, during the first Covid lockdown last May.

The couple say launching the letterbox gift company, which turned over £1 million in its first five months, has proved a huge success and they are now looking to move to a bigger premises in the city to cope with demand.

The firm has just taken on its third permanent member of staff, with Natalie thrilled to be able to offer jobs to local people who were made redundant during the pandemic, including her mum Hannah O’Brien, who has joined as accounts manager.

Order fulfilment manager Carly Dainty and project manager Alistair Thornton, have also found employment at Colleague Box after being made redundant as a result of the pandemic.

Natalie, who has been shortlisted for Businesswoman of the Year at the East Midlands Chamber Enterprising Women Awards, said: “It has been an incredible 12 months for us, I’m delighted that Colleague Box is in a good place, with exciting plans for the future and that we have been able to create jobs for local people during what has been a tough time for many, including Carly, Alistair and mum.

Natalie's mum Hannah O'Brien has joined Colleague Box as accounts manager after being made redundant during the pandemic
Natalie’s mum Hannah O’Brien has joined Colleague Box as accounts manager after being made redundant during the pandemic
(Image: Colleague Box / Penguin PR)

“We’re a close-knit team and all three have been so supportive of our venture. It has been a rollercoaster of a journey to make Colleague Box the success it is today; some late nights and juggling home-schooling our children Lola and Poppy with running a fledgling business hasn’t been easy.

“However, we are expecting a busy 2021 and have more than 40 different Colleague Boxes available to purchase on their website which are suitable for all occasions, from virtual quiz nights to awards ceremonies.”

Customers can choose from a variety of parcels, including craft beer boxes, “ultimate” chocolate boxes, summer picnic boxes and movie night sharing boxes.

Natalie, who founded the Derby Days Out events listings website for parents and carers in 2015 and sold it three years later, added: “Two of our most recent ones have been the ‘A Hug After Loss’ box – a collaboration with funeral directors Wathall’s, which people across the UK can send to their family, friends and colleagues who have lost a loved one – and an escape room-style puzzle box; a collaboration with a company called Puzzle Post, which have been really well received.

“And we’re always open to suggestions. We love the way in which people have been so imaginative with their idea of a Colleague Box; it’s so exciting when the phone rings and we get an unusual request.”

Natalie recently opened up about the effects memory loss suffered as a result of contracting meningitis as a child has had on her.

She contracted the more dangerous bacterial form of meningitis at the age of just 10 – causing doctors to fear they would have to amputate her legs and her family to say their goodbyes at her hospital bedside.

However, she won her fight for life and her incredible story resembles a real inspiration for others.

Natalie, whose memory will never fully recover, now keeps track of her life with husband Adam and daughters Lola and Poppy, with the help of endless lists, journals and an archive of 34,000 photos and videos.

Natalie and Adam are keen supporters of small businesses and as well as collaborating with the likes of Derby-based fashion designers Mr Shaw and beauty business Divine Box, they have championed the side hustles of both Carly and Alistair; Homemade Boutique and Levain Brownies.

Alistair said: “After losing my job due to the coronavirus pandemic, I set up a small at-home brownie business, Levain, delivering freshly baked goodies to peoples doorsteps. One of those doorsteps belonged to the Bamford’s.

“They saw that I had a really good product and Adam approached me to sell my brownies through Colleague Box, who were looking to add new boxes to their range at the time.

Order fulfilment manager Carly Dainty and project manager Alastair Thornton, have found employment at Colleague Box after being made redundant as a result of the pandemic
Order fulfilment manager Carly Dainty and project manager Alastair Thornton, have found employment at Colleague Box after being made redundant as a result of the pandemic
(Image: Colleague Box / Penguin PR)

“Over the next few months, we built up a good relationship and I started bringing the orders to the warehouse. I did a few hours work for Colleague Box over the Christmas period as the sales started to ramp up, and this eventually led to a permanent, full-time position.

“I am very grateful for the stability of a job during these uncertain times, whilst still having the flexibility to run my own business and other projects.

“A year ago, I was unemployed and my area of work, catering, was in ruins. Now I have a good, secure job and a business. Hard work and help from Colleague Box has made this achievable.”

A police constable using a ram to batter down the door to the property

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Mum-of-one Carly added: “After redundancy in 2020, I’ve been the given the opportunity to work within a great team, for a great company.

“They are also huge fans of Homemade Boutique; I designed and produced positivity cards for the ‘Self Care’ box and also the birthday card which comes in the ‘Vegan Birthday Box’. It’s great to see them going from strength to strength.

“I’m super grateful for Adam and Nat’s belief in me and for letting me become part of the Colleague Box journey. I’m looking forward to all the exciting projects ahead of us.”

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