A woman who was furloughed in May due to the coronavirus has since made £1million after turning an idea to cheer up her colleagues into a new business.
Natalie Bamford, 35, from Derby, worked as an expedite services assistant at technology company Selenity.
She was one of the millions to be furloughed this year as part of the coronavirus job retention scheme.
She had been off work for two weeks in May when her husband Adam – who also worked at Selenity – was asked by the chief executive to put together something to send to staff to raise their spirits and thank them for working from home or being on furlough during the pandemic.
The boxes were a hit and Natalie was asked by other businesses to send them to their staff too
Adam convinced his boss to bring Natalie back from furlough to work on the project, and together they put together a box of treats for their colleagues which included drinks, sweets and premium snacks.
The boxes were well-received and appreciated. After word got out, Natalie was soon approached by other local businesses to put together the boxes for their staff too and it snowballed from there.
Natalie said: ‘We sent more out and the feedback and response we got was so positive, it made us realise that it could be a viable business.’
From there, Colleague Box was born and it now delivers corporate personalised gift boxes to help companies stay connected to colleagues who are working from home or on furlough.
It is a unique option for a low cost, high quality gift that can be sent out en masse to entire staff registers. Boxes start at £12 but there is a discount for corporations ordering 50 or more.
The boxes can also be purchased individually by private customers to send to loved ones. The range began with the ‘Original Colleague Box‘ but requests came flying in for different items and themes and is still growing.
‘The response was and still is overwhelming,’ Natalie said. ‘The personalised messages that our customers are asking us to print inside the boxes are ones of positivity, hope, encouragement… all the things we need in our lives right now more than ever.’
‘We have 28 boxes in our collection at the moment but we are still growing and are about to announce our new Christmas range.’
Colleague Box currently offers 28 themed boxes with more to come out in time for Christmas
Each box comes with company branding and a personalised message and while they have been popular with businesses welcoming colleagues back, the gift boxes have also been a huge hit for special occasions.
To date, the company has sold 47,337 boxes and it has already turned over £1million in just five months.
Natalie and Adam have since left their old jobs and taken on full-time roles at Colleague Box as creative director and chief executive respectively.
Natalie added: ‘It has been a huge learning curve for me and I have picked up so many new skills that I never knew I was capable of.
‘We are hoping to see Colleague Box continue to grow and I’m looking forward to being there for the journey.
‘I think that messages of positivity and hope will always need to be sent across the nation regardless of a pandemic so we hope that there will always be a need for Colleague Box.’
Companies can have the gift boxes sent to their offices, direct to their colleagues’ door or a mix of both.
Though the business has seen a very successful start to their journey, the couple are aware of the struggles many self-employed workers are facing right now due to the pandemic.
This includes millions of those in the ‘ExcludedUK’ community that have received no help from the Government due to what has been criticised by small business and campaign groups as ‘unfair criteria’.
It includes new business owners, limited company directors, freelancers and many more.
Husband-and-wife team Adam and Natalie Bamford launched Colleague Box in May
‘I know some of my friends are part of the Excluded and I feel so upset for them,’ Natalie said. ‘It’s just not fair.
‘I think Rishi Sunak and the government have done a great job considering the circumstances but there must be more they can do for this group of excluded individuals who currently don’t ‘qualify’ for any financial support.
‘I think the furlough scheme has helped a lot of businesses but I worry about how sustainable this is and how we are going to pay for it going forward.
‘My main concern is what the world will look like for my children’s generation. I really worry about that.’
While it can’t stop a global pandemic nor can it help provide an income for millions of workers who have been left out of Government support, Natalie hopes Colleague Box can at least brighten someone’s day.
She added: ‘Colleague Box is important because it’s not just a surprise package in the post full of treats and goodies.
‘It’s a symbol of kindness, knowing that someone is thinking of you, whether that’s your boss, your team mate, your friend, relative or partner, during these strange times means so much to people.
‘It’s ultimately all about putting smiles on faces, and that’s what we deliver.’