2020 - A Year Like No Other!

January 2, 2021

Thanks to COVID-19, there has never in my lifetime been a year as strange as 2020. What is hard to fathom is that it hasn’t just been a weird year for me, it has literally affected every single person in the entire world!

I have a huge amount to be thankful for and it has definitely been a year to focus on all the positives. At the time of writing, none of my family have contracted the virus and whilst a handful of friends and acquaintances have had it, all have fully recovered with no lasting effects.

From a business point of view, March and April were tough with numerous projects put on hold, no new enquiries and no government financial help. Ironically, what transpired was the two most enjoyable months of the year!

For once my brain could take a rest, there were no emails to check, phone calls to make or projects to juggle. The sun was shining and as a family we threw ourselves into converting an old Mercedes Sprinter van into a camper van. Armed with a few borrowed tools, a mountain of timber, insulation, eBay orders and numerous YouTube tutorials, we created an incredibly comfortable camper van that is truly unique and something as a family we can proudly say “we made this”!

This year has helped reinforce to me the importance of personal relationships within my business. I’m lucky to be surrounded by an incredibly talented group of people whom I’m privileged to call friends. They deserve a thank you publicly. Jon English, Adam Rifat and Becci Roach have contributed so much this year and the help they’ve given has resulted in the best work we’ve ever produced.

Jon, a fellow designer and agency owner in his own right has been my sounding board for new ideas and business development. We share very similar business values, are both ambitious and genuinely love design. We have collaborated on numerous design projects this year but perhaps his most valuable contribution has been keeping me occupied with WhatsApp chatter about rugby, design and the cool things he has found on the internet! We have loads planned for 2021 and I’m looking forward to working together in-person.

A few of the images I've been sent by Jon on WhatsApp - Thanks Jon :-)

Adam has brought to life my designs for a number of East Sussex County Council websites over the last 12 months and we are particularly proud of the i-go website and soon to be launched Gypsy, Romany, Traveller (GRT) website. His expertise have helped us create highly accessible sites which have exceeded our client’s expectations.

Becci is always happy and a joy to work with. We had the pleasure of running face-to-face group workshops together in the week before lockdown with the East Sussex County Council Local Offer team and a selection of families with children who have Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND). Those workshops have lead to a definitive brief for the redesign of the Local Offer website which we will be embarking on in January 2021. By including the families from the beginning, we can ensure that the site will meet their needs and we look forward to getting stuck into the project in the new year. Becci’s attention to detail is second to none and I’m eternally grateful for the time and effort she gave to ensuring the workshop reports were created in a format that best suited our client.

I’m also privileged to work with some amazing companies. In particular, my longest serving client, Sussex Plumbing Supplies have been fantastic. It is said that in adversity, true colours shine through and in my opinion, SPS have been a beacon of light. As with many companies, large numbers of staff had to be furloughed but SPS topped up everyones wages to their full amount for the entirety of both lockdowns. For me, this highlights the incredible culture that has been nurtured over the years. When I spoke to Glenn Vinall, the founder of SPS about whether he would be in a position to keep everyone employed, he emphasised that it was the single most important thing for his company. He acknowledged that a lot of time had been spent building an incredible team and he didn’t want to lose anyone regardless of the short-term cost. Having worked with the company for close to 15 years, I know first hand what an incredible company culture they have and what wonderful loyalty the staff have to Glenn and the directors.

Our role for SPS changed during the initial lockdown from the usual marketing and design to a strictly communications role. We kept the SPS customers informed of every development, every step of the way with complete transparency. It has built additional trust between SPS and their customers and many have commented that the SPS communication has put the larger firms to shame.

So what does the future hold?

I’m truly excited for 2021. From a personal point of view, I’m embarking on a quest for more knowledge by enrolling on the Level C Brand Strategist certification. I’ve committed to the ambitious task of completing Masterclasses 1, 2 and 3, all in 2021. I’m obsessed with branding and strategy, so I’m extremely excited about the prospect of meeting other like-minded people whilst expanding my knowledge as well as having a recognised qualification to show for it.

Another goal is to learn to snowboard, although that’ll only happen if the tier system here in the UK eases sooner rather than later. Hopefully the latter part of the year will allow this to happen ready to hit the slopes in December. Only time will tell I guess!

I intend to read more. I don’t do it enough but when I do I find it relaxing. My resolution is to put time aside to read, not as an afterthought to squeeze in between other tasks but a designated hour a day to simply read. So far since Christmas I’ve already finished Living with the Monks by Jesse Itzler. Next on my list is A Promised Land by Barack Obama. It’s a pretty hefty book, so it may take me a while.

Sharing my knowledge

I’ve set the wheels in motion to start a design mentoring service for students in their final year of University. The time I donate is completely free-of-charge and the process for helping will evolve over time. Initially it will be a private Facebook group for Q&A, portfolio reviews over Zoom, help with their projects, and advice for job hunting. In addition to this, where my own projects allow, I will utilise the students in a paid role so they can gain valuable experience without being taken advantage of which is so often the case with ‘work experience’.

To sum up then

2020 was a year like no other. The start of 2021 looks like continuing in the same vein but I have so much to look forward to and so much to be grateful for that I’m feeling excited about what the future holds.

Cheers everyone. Happy New Year!

Tom Buttle

Tom & Friends Founder

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