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Technology: How SWR Business Direct offers rail bookings across the country

Platform allows seamless ticket purchases and travel policy tracking for SMEs

SWR has created its Business Direct platform to help firms manage their travel

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“If you’re looking to save money as a small or medium-size company, you need to have a travel policy in place,” said Joe Thurgood, sales manager at South Western Railway (SWR).

With the post-pandemic return to face-to-face meetings, making journeys to attend events or spend time with clients has been back on the agenda for some time.

That means organisations of all kinds returning – or in the case of some more recent startups, beginning – to booking travel for people to get them to where they need to be efficiently.

It’s something the company Joe works for is taking seriously – developing the SWR Business Direct platform to enable users to book journeys across the whole country, not just on its own trains.

“It’s free to sign up, there are no fees on top of the fares and it’s very easy to use,” said Joe.

“It takes businesses about 20 minutes to set up an account and then there’s a dedicated customer service team to look after clients.

“We also offer online training in how to use the platform, though it’s been designed to be as simple as possible.

“It offers businesses the ability to track bookings that are made and to generate reports that tell them who travelled when and where they went.

“There are also custom fields that can be used to capture things like PO numbers, the department an individual works in or the customer they were going to visit.

“Users can make things as detailed or as simple as they like, so they can easily see whether the firm is operating in line with a travel policy.

Bookings on the platform can be made for journeys across Britain

“Customers can set up different users with different roles.

“For example, a director might be able to travel first class or to book those seats only if the journey is longer than an hour. 

“You can put all this information into the platform, so it acts accordingly when a person wants to make a booking.

“One of the other things it does is that it will show users all of the prices available for their journey.

“That’s in contrast to some other apps that might only offer the cheapest.

“This means you can see options that might be more appropriate – adding on ferry tickets or a TfL Travel Card, for example, to ensure you are buying what you need.”

With the majority of companies taking greater care with their environmental impact, SWR Business Direct also has a built-in tool to help firms assess this.

“You can track your carbon footprint if you’re serious about your green agenda,” said Joe.

“At any point, the platform will provide a detailed report on that, which is something businesses increasingly want to talk about.”

SWR, which operates a network of services from Waterloo to destinations including Exeter, Portsmouth, Weymouth, Reading and Guildford, created the tool in a bid to offer companies and their employees a frictionless way of booking travel on the railways.

“If you’re a large organisation, it’s likely you have a travel policy that’s saving you millions of pounds,” said Joe.

“For small and medium-size businesses, saving money is even more imperative – managing your cash flow is vital – and you need to be meeting clients, tendering for new business or travelling to see existing customers to improve retention. It also helps guard against fraud. 

“We are always happy to talk to organisations to discuss a policy or to help them come up with one.

“When it comes to train travel, that doesn’t always mean just booking the cheapest fare on offer. 

SWR is set to receive a new fleet of 90 Arterio trains

“Especially with smaller organisations, there’s a focus on caring for the wellbeing of staff and so they may be happier paying for a slightly pricier ticket if it means members of their team are less stressed when travelling.

“That might mean being able to listen to a podcast or catching up on work on the train rather than being stuck in a queue of traffic.

“That way companies know staff will arrive at their destination relaxed and ready to work.

“It might also mean having a flexible ticket so, if a meeting finishes early or is cancelled in a certain location, the employee has the ability to get a different train rather than wasting time.”

SWR is currently targeting small and medium-size organisations and those who book travel within them, such as PAs, EAs and office managers.

To that end, the company is sponsoring The PA Show Autumn, which is set to take place on October 17, 2023, at Old Billingsgate on the edge of the Thames.

The platform is always online, allowing users to make and plan bookings at any time and there are no fixed contracts for clients.

The platform offers comprehensive information across Britain

In addition to featuring the lowest fares available for any given journey, the platform allows customers to purchase season tickets individually or in bulk, and to benefit from a range of discounts and offers – including up to 34% off when booking three or more tickets via GroupSave.

The service provides both digital eTickets and paper tickets, which can be collected from any station in the country without the need to present a company credit card.

Business travellers on SWR services can expect free Wi-fi at stations and on board all trains, as well as quiet carriages on selected services.

First class facilities include large tables and at-seat wireless charging.

The railway is also set to receive a fleet of 90 new Arterio trains that will operate on its network, promising better performance, greater capacity, air conditioning, cycle racks and charging points for every seat.

Find our more about SWR Business Direct here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Royal Docks: How Expressway offers industrial and office space to business

Royal Victoria Dock-based facility provides studio and growth space for small, expanding companies

An image of Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson
Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson – image Matt Grayson

For drivers cruising down into the southern slice of Royal Docks via the long, graceful curve of the Silvertown Way flyover it would be entirely possible to miss something extraordinary taking place beneath the smooth asphalt caressed by the rubber of their tyres.

But, turn right at the bottom onto the switchback of North Woolwich Road, and the hive of activity beneath the arc of the carriageways becomes increasingly apparent, a crescendo as the height of the units rises, culminating in a main entrance.

This is Expressway, a comprehensive revitalisation of the old Waterfront Studios Business Centre. General Projects, the company that bought the space in 2018, hasn’t so much updated the existing real estate as reinvented it, punching a fresh entrance through the wall to Royal Victoria Dock and installing a coffee shop serving Perky Blenders’ products to open it up to the public and fuel occupants of its studios and industrial units.

Outside, dark grey paint has refreshed the structure, while indoors, whites, greens and stencilled lettering alongside a profusion of plywood and real plants lend its communal spaces and corridors a light, airy feel. There’s no plastic foliage nonsense here, just a friendly welcoming atmosphere replete with community notice board and plenty of puns around the word ‘way’.

It’s a visual expression of the light-touch authenticity that’s at the core of General Projects’ scheme.

Studio space at Expressway in Royal Docks – image Matt Grayson

Expressway principal Jacob Sandelson said: “When the company was founded, the serviced office market was popping up all over central London, but what became apparent to us was that when you got further out, to areas such as Acton in the west, Croydon in the south, Haringey in the north and Royal Docks in the east, there wasn’t that same provision of space. 

“There were lots of blue carpet, white light offices but not much in the way of amenities or service for what we call steady growth innovators – hard working small businesses such as craft brewers, accountants, recruitment consultants and fashion designers.

“These aren’t the kinds of companies that are looking to raise £50million from venture capitalists. They’re looking to hire a couple of people who they trust, who will feel ownership of that business and will like going to work. Hyper-talented one-man-bands growing to five person firms.

“So when we were looking for locations as a company, we were hunting an incumbent sense of community.

“I’m not the figurehead of Expressway – it’s made up of the people who have worked here the longest. As a company, we’re just here to provide nice space for people and exactly the things that they want and not more than that because we know value is the most important part of our product.”

In addition to private office studios, typically 350sq ft, the facility boasts communal showers, cycle spaces, meeting rooms and a co-working space as well as industrial units of between 1,000sq ft and 7,000sq ft.

“We think this is London’s first truly serviced industrial space,” said Jacob. “We can provide spaces fully furnished or fitted at a basic level with services connected and wireless and wired internet connections included. It’s really up to the business. It’s also about supporting local people – around 50% of the people who work here live within 15 minutes’ walk.”

Key to Expressway’s offer is the importance it places on developing its community of businesses, whether that’s assisting firms in navigating through the choppy economic waters of Covid-19 or helping support the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“I’m incredibly proud of how we acted through the pandemic,” said Jacob. “It was a time when there was fear in every email. 

“As soon as it was clear Covid-19 was becoming a problem we set up the Expressway Genius Bar for our tenants, staffed full-time by a colleague of mine.

“His job was to understand and be the guy to go to on everything from VAT deferment to furlough, the Coronavirus Interruption Business Loan Scheme, grant funding and the bounce back loans.

“The aim was to communicate with all of our tenants and stand between them and the complexity of accessing assistance and money.

“We helped more than 60 businesses get more than £600,000 of grant funding and that really helped. We’re currently at 92% occupancy and I hope people here would talk about us favourably as an owner-operator.” 

Expressway’s industrial units – image Matt Grayson

General Projects is also working to create a circular model where Expressway, in partnership with the council-run Newham Workplace and the Royal Docks Team, hosts the Youth Incubator programme.

“Fostering small and local businesses is at the core of everything we do,” said Jacob. “We have a number of initiatives but this programme in particular offers 17 people aged 18-30 free membership of Expressway. Newham has very high levels of youth unemployment but, when you have that, you can also have very high levels of entrepreneurship.

“Our incubees get skills seminars, development support, social media marketing advice, guidance on accounting for small businesses and on how to raise funds. 

“They also get free, relevant mentoring – we’re not experts in any of those areas but we have an on-site network of 162 small and medium-size businesses that have all been down those roads, have trodden those paths and completely understand and empathise with the challenges. 

“Expressway acts as a social brokerage to match businesses with young people on the programme and we welcomed our second cohort at the end of March.

“What I would really like to see is someone go round the full circle, coming to the incubator, growing from a single person business and taking space from us and then in turn becoming a mentor. 

“I want as large a number as possible of our existing tenants to remain with us and for Expressway to be a place that feels lived in as well as worked in, for it to continue to be a space where genuine experiences happen.” 

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Isle Of Dogs: The Bloom Clinic launches to offer medical aesthetic treatments and wellness consultations near Canary Wharf

Image shows Dr Rita Nandi in her treatment room

GP Dr Rita Nandi founded the Skylines Village-based business after 14 years working in the NHS

Image shows Dr Rita Nandi of The Bloom Clinic
Dr Rita Nandi has launched The Bloom Clinic on the Isle Of Dogs – image Holly Cant

Time, care and attention to detail are the three things that stand out in a conversation with Dr Rita Nandi – apposite, given the nature of her new venture. Having spent 14 years working in the NHS – the last six as a GP – she’s launched The Bloom Cinic on the Isle Of Dogs, specialising in non-surgical medical aesthetics and wellness.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to work in medicine – as a child I used to play doctor in roleplay with my friends and family,” said Dr Nandi. 

“I started to contemplate aesthetics back at medical school – a GP I was shadowing at the time was doing treatments privately.

“That piqued my interest – it planted the seed in my head and as I’ve gone through the ageing process, I’ve started to look at having treatments myself. 

“Seeing the befores and afters, I was amazed at what could be achieved non-surgically and that the effects of the treatments could be reversed if desired – I have my procedures booked with the doctor I usually see in a couple of months.

“I also spoke to colleagues who were doing them and they said it was great in terms of owning your own business, but also for getting to spend as much time with your clients as they need. 

“What’s really frustrated me, working as a GP is that the time constraint of 10 minutes to see a patient – that just kills me.”

After making the decision to launch her clinic, Dr Nandi set about training in January 2020.

She said: “I’m all about safety – the oath we take as doctors is to do no harm so, for me, it was really important to get as much practical education as possible. I decided to do a Level 7 diploma – equivalent to a Masters – in injectables and a Level 4 in cosmetic dermatology with Harley Academy, as a foundation for my practice, and I’ve also completed numerous courses with Derma Medical and Cosmetic Courses, meaning I’ve trained with the top three leading organisations in the field.

“I’ve hand-picked the training so that I am able to run this clinic really well and, above all, safely.”

Image shows the managing director of The Bloom Clinic
Dr Nandi’s husband, Vivien Blossier is MD of The Bloom Clinic – image Holly Cant
Dr Nandi launched The Bloom clinic with husband Vivien Blossier as managing director.
  He said: “The key is that what we’re offering is non-surgical, reversible and that Rita is a fully qualified doctor.
  “We want to make sure The Bloom Clinic truly lives up to its name  – that it really helps clients and makes their lives better. We will prove the concept that way and then look at whether we want to expand the business.
  “Canary Wharf is a great market – Rita did some research and found there were a lot of people in the area in need of the holistic approach we provide. They work long hours and don’t have time to really think about their health and their needs as a person. We can help them bloom.” 

While the list of treatments offered by Dr Nandi at The Bloom Clinic is too long to reproduce in full here, services include injecting botulinum toxin  and hyaluronic acid fillers as well as microneedling, facials and chemical peels.

“I see the confidence that aesthetic treatments can bring about in people’s lives – they can have a life-changing effect,” said Dr Nandi. “As they walk out of the clinic, they’re ready to face the world. 

“It’s like wearing a red lipstick. They feel so powerful – it changes their outlook on the day, on life.

“Aesthetic treatments are great for people who feel fine but look at themselves in the mirror and think: ‘I look so exhausted, so tired’.

“Some people might think these treatments are a little bit superficial, but it’s like wearing makeup – whether that’s younger clients looking to enhance their lips, cheekbones or jawlines, or rejuvenation to reverse the signs of ageing. 

“There’s a little bit of risk involved, but we counsel our clients thoroughly on the possible side effects. I’m there 24-hours a day for my clients. We have emergency drugs ready at the clinic in the unlikely event we need to deal with an allergic reaction.

“None of my patients have had issues – and these are very rare – but if someone does, they can contact me and I can see them at the clinic if necessary. I live in Leyton so it only takes me 20 minutes to get there – and we’re fully equipped to deal with any problems.”

After making an enquiry, prospective clients can expect Dr Nandi to contact them for a chat about what they’d like to achieve and their health, to establish whether there’s anything that might rule out a particular treatment. 

Following initial screening, clients are invited for a consultation either in-clinic or via video chat, when a full medical and aesthetic history is taken.

“Then I’ll tell them about the treatments we offer and can advise them on which would be appropriate, if they’re still unsure,” said Dr Nandi.

“These procedures are not taken lightly. According to research by Glowday – a platform where clients can find medically qualified aesthetic practitioners – the average person takes 18 months to decide whether to have an aesthetic treatment from the point of coming across it to the point of sitting there in the treatment chair.

“Normally clients do loads of research, they’ll speak to the practitioner and assess their options before going ahead.”

While aesthetic treatments are at the core of what The Bloom Clinic offers, its ethos is to go above and beyond to provide its clients with access to a wider range of services.

“In order to achieve true wellness people want to deal with their fitness, their nutrition and their mindset as well,” said Dr Nandi. 

“So we’ve taken a holistic approach, working in partnership with experts in a range of areas.”

These include life coaches Maggie Edwards and Hans Schumann, Isle Of Dogs-based personal training studio Delta Fitness and online nutritional clinic CityDietitians

“After we’ve spoken to our clients about what they want to achieve and they’ve told me they want to work on a particular area, then I’ll tell them about our partners,” said Dr Nandi, who will continue to work as an NHS GP, part-time.

“Anybody who is having treatment at our clinic will then get 10% off our partner’s services. 

“Also, £1 from every single treatment The Bloom Clinic performs goes to the Trussell Trust, which operates about two thirds of the food banks in the UK.”

The Bloom Clinic is located within easy walking distance of the Canary Wharf estate and South Quay DLR at Skylines Village.

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