What on earth is agile working?

AgileNext month on the 16th of June I will be chairing a panel discussion at Legal Support Network’s conference on Transformation in the Legal Sector.  One of the topics I will be challenging my panel of industry experts on is the topic of ‘Agile’ working.  This is a particularly popular word in the legal world and the reasons for adopting it seem to differ depending on the angle you view it from.  So from my research so far here and with a bit of tongue in cheek is how different people in a law firm perceive it:

The HR director

For the HR director Agile working is about attracting generation y and millennials to their firm.  It is all about work life balance and ‘work when you want to’ culture.  The agile worker dips into his work when he wants and (can you see the image…) probably is multi tasking at the same time, he/she is a legal entrepreneur unconstrained by the confines of corporate concrete they are ipaded up, tweets as he goes and eats sushi for lunch.agile worker

The Facilities Director

For the Facilities director agile working is about saving serious money.  If we only provide 80% of the work stations we need and everybody is forced hot desk we save 20% of the floor space and this goes straight to the bottom line.  Agile working is about leveraging the mobile revolution which means you can work from anywhere and keep billing long after the lights of the office are off.

work late

The IT Director

For the IT director agile working is about rolling out loads of new toys to the business.  New communication systems, Bring Your Own Device policies, cloud services and plenty of apps.  Everybody in the business knows none of these will be adopted especially by the senior cohort but spending vast amounts on capital IT investment is what everybody else is doing so it must be right and after all its great fun.


Opps Director

The Opps director is desperate for agile working to work, he’s outsourced business services to the Philippines, outsourced due diligence to India,  outsourced IT to Poland and now would like to outsource lawyering too…apparently robots can do much of the work now so who needs humans?  robot

In short agile working means different things to different people in the business, but it is all about capitalising on efficiencies that are now available due to technological change.  The ability to work securely from a remote location with tip of your fingers 24/7 access to the full suite of business services you may require increases a firms ability to serve a customer quickly and that drives business!

My business ComXo  facilitates the adoption of these new working practices and the technologies that underpin them.  Our 2 key capabilities are :

  • We ensure, as your business becomes more global and complex, your clients experience of getting hold of your key people remains easy and a pleasure.


  • We stop your fee earners becoming hampered by new processes and technology adoption by making access to key on demand business services easy. This enables fee earners to spend more time being a lawyer and less grappling with administrative tasks.

Agile working takes on many guises and has been around longer than you might imagine.  As with anything the business that are adopting all types of ‘agile’ practices steadily as part of an evolution into the future are seeing more benefit than those who think an ‘agile’ revolution will be the answer to all their woes.

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Cyber Security

Cyber SecurityScams are getting more sophisticated and the risk of loosing large amounts of money to the swindlers should worry us all.

My company ComXo provides outsourced business services to top firms in the legal sector.  Almost 50%of the top 100 UK firms trust us with some part of their operation.  Data and communication security therefore is something we think a lot about.  Recently our company went through the process of attaining Cyber Security Plus accreditation and whilst we were with the consultants we asked them what the most dangerous scams currently out there are.

I thought I would share one of them with you and tell you what can be done about it.

The scam targets both law firms and house buyers/sellers.  By intercepting email correspondence or more lately by spoofing telephone number caller identities, bogus instruction are given to either the law firm or the house seller to transfer funds into a fraudulent account.


This is an article about the scam I found on line (Fraud story).

This scam can literally destroy a family’s entire wealth and prospects in a single transaction.  It is so devastating because it is hard to say where the fault lies.  Each party was prudent and followed what they thought were legitimate instructions.


It is not without question that this sort of fraud could be a risk in the business world where transaction amounts could be significantly higher.  What is clear is that both cyber security and communication security is essential.  The question must be asked…is who you think you are talking to actually who you are talking to?

As technology has become smarter so have criminals found ways to outsmart us by using it.  The huge  sums that can be had in a single transaction mean that serious and well resourced organised crime syndicates are involved.  We all know about the spam emails that purport to be from ourselves, a few years ago I discovered that apparently according to everyone in my contacts list I was a major distributor of cheap Viagra.  My account had been hacked.

But did you know that it is relatively simple to spoof an originating telephone number?  This would mean that a lawyer could mistakenly think they were talking to their client who’s number was in their mobile or outlook address book when in fact they were talking to a fraudster.

Did you also know that gaining access to a conference call is also pretty simple and our research suggests that security breaches are a common occurrence.

This might mean a complete compromise of client confidentiality with far reaching consequences for both client and advisor.

ComXo work closely with our customers to identify and overcome such security risks.  Our super secure conferencing service and real-time number validation capability are powerful weapons in the arsenal of cyber defence.  Our customers rely on us to advise them where the risks are in their communications pathways and build services to minimise them.

Whos on the line

A typical piece of research was our “Who is on the line” white paper in which we uncovered some horrendous security breaches in major firms.  This research paved the way for our super secure conferencing service which now is the backbone of  many of our clients requirements.   Down load here… Who’s on the line.

What Cyber Security Plus has taught us is that no amount of security will make you impervious to 21st century fraud.  However there are services and tools you can use to make you less of a target.  The lesson learnt by those who have been caught is wait for them to walk through the front door…lock it and alarm it!



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The 21st century client experience

20 grosvenorYesterday I was fortunate to be invited to 20 Grosvenor Street the new client meeting facility of KPMG.  My host was Greg Mace of Rapport the front of house outsource company owned by Compass Group and employed by many of the City’s top corporations to deliver the 5 star experience at reception.

20 Grosvenor Street sets a new standard in client experience.  When walking in you are greeted, signed in and navigated via the coat check and personally delivered to your destination.  I arrived slightly early and took the opportunity to have my concierge Charles show me the full extent of the facility.

Spread over 5 floors no expense has been spared in the fit out of the facility with meeting rooms of every size, break out areas, informal meeting space, private booths and lounge areas all equipped with the latest technologies but wrapped up in the relaxed surroundings of a modern media members club.

In fact as I was to learn it is indeed a members club but one you cannot join for membership is by invitation only and reserved for KPMG’s platinum clients.  As a member you are able to use the facilities for entertaining your own customers or holding meetings, as well no doubt, for KPMG business requirements.  The layout felt designed to encourage the sort of casual  coincidental ‘bump in to’ moment that might eventually lead to a mega deal.

I was being treated to lunch and not just in the sumptuous dining room but at the chefs table right in the kitchen.  The single sided long bench table gave an extraordinary view into the kitchen where Michael the chef and his team of extraordinary talent created their magic.

This is corporate fine dining as you have never experienced it and our 6 course feast was as good as any west end Michelin starred eatery I have been to.  Greg told me that the kitchen team were made up of some of the best chefs in the country temped by the business hours (Monday to Friday only) and the great pay.  Even the pastry chef of the Manoir De Quatre Season had moved  (his deconstructed tiramisu panna cotta was a lent busting marvel).

With well over 100 staff manning the facility and 3 full kitchens the investment by KPMG is remarkable and testament to their commitment to a client centric culture.

Providing managed business services to the professional service sector in the city of London I have seen the operations of most of the major global business HQ’s and experienced their customer experience.  However this experience was on a new par and may just give us a glimpse of where the professional service firm of the 21st century is heading.

Myself and Greg mace from Rapport with Credit Suisse

Myself and Greg mace from Rapport with Credit Suisse


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Feeding the soul

End of month meetingEvery last Friday of the month the entire team at my business ComXo gather for our Town Hall meeting. Here we share our triumphs for the previous month and explain what can be expected for the weeks to come. The event has always been accompanied by a free lunch organised and sometimes cooked by one of the departments within the business. The atmosphere is always relaxed as it is the one day every month where professional dress is not required and you can turn up wearing whatever you wish.

‘Last Friday’ as it is referred to has been running for 14 years and gives the departments within a 24 hour operation the opportunity to tell the entire business their successes and enable the free flow of communication.  Within a business that runs around the clock we have had to think up some innovative ways of trying to get everyone involved.  Lately we have been using video conferencing to reach out to the Comxo team.  The offer is this we will organise for you to be hooked into the video link via our on demand managed service and if you join we will send a pizza to your home so you can have a free lunch too.

Team up dates

Team up dates

We encourage every member of a team to take it in turns to stand up and give the update for the department.  It is a fact that the number one fear is the fear public speaking so a safe and forgiving audience helps all of us confront our fear and practice our oratory.

The final wrap up of the day is the monthly prize for Hero of the month.  When you join the business you have to adopt a superhero alter ego and throughout the month any acts of heroism are recognised and put up on a board in the canteen.  The act that is deemed the greatest for the month is rewarded with a voucher and a box of Cadbury heros.

Hero of the month

Hero of the month

This brings me to my insight for this week.  A month or so ago I awarded the monthly hero to one of our out of hours telephonists who’s act has inspired us all.  Seeing the left over food from our Last Friday event he boxed it up and took it to the homeless shelter in Slough who welcomed it warmly.

Bilal the selfless hero

Bilal the selfless hero

This selfless act of thought on behalf of others less fortunate than ourselves reflects the ComXo value Politeness.  As I have written about many times before here my business ComXo is built on 4 values Politeness, Professionalism, Proficiency and Personality.  When we speak about politeness we not only talk about it being the foundation of any switchboard call we take but moreover it is about respect for those around you, the environment and the community.  In this case a little thought meant what we couldn’t manage ended up with those who are finding it difficutl to manage.


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We work anywhere.com…ComXo’s culture goes Agile

SimmonsSimmons and Simmons are one of the worlds leading law firms with offices in 25 countries.  A month or so ago my Switchboard business ComXo (www.comxo.com) won a significant piece of business with them that has projected us into the new world of anywhere working.

In most traditional city firms Switchboard is an essential front line service provided by a loyal and dedicated team often squeezed into a small dimly lit office.  Training and career progression is seldom an option and so switchboard becomes a backwater where once engaged,s talented people get out of kilter with the rest of the business.


POPO (Passed over and pissed off!)

I have long held that to build engagement and high performance on a consistent basis you have to create a workplace culture around a value set that is honoured through actions not lip service.  I have written before on these pages about the ComXo 4 P’s : Politeness, Professionalism, Proficiency and Personality our values created in 1989 that are the pillars of our culture.

Our values..lived by NOT lip service

Our values..lived by NOT lip service

I have written about our attitude towards training and development that gives members of our team on average over 135 hours of training every year and more than 200 in the first year in the business and how last year alone over 14 people who started as operators developed their careers and transitioned into other roles in the business.  I have written about our bee hive, bake off’s and barbeques,  our eclectic events and community engagement and now I can talk about spreading that culture further a field.


Events dear boy… events

This month we welcomed into the ComXo family 3 new members of staff who have TUPE’d across from Simmons.  Whilst they still work on site at City Point but they are now members of our team and my challenge will be to make them feel as connected and engaged as everybody else.  This will be far from easy and trust will be hard won but over the years I have discovered a simple truth: that if you are who you are, live by your values and try your hardest to do the right thing everything else comes easily.  Welcome Faye, Laura and Diane!

Welcome to the ComXo family

Welcome to the ComXo family


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The Legal Sector…Its all about change!

The lawyer summit

Last Tuesday and Wednesday the ComXo team attended The Lawyer Business Leadership Summit 2015 as one of its lead sponsors.

The decision to invest key marketing focus on these awards were that their focus was around the massive change the sector is experiencing in the way it works both in the board room and around the office.


The ComXo team at Lawyer Business Leadership Summit 2015

The two day conference was structured to discuss and debate the seismic pressures that are asserting themselves on the legal sector both from a local and global perspective.

Here are some of the take away’s I heard:

Collaborating with specialist outsourcers is key to deliver innovation into the sector and the key to a successful outsource are delivering 3 key figures to 3 key drivers.


Athena Alexander Managing Director of Credit Suisse suggested that the magic formula for a value outsource delivers 30% cost reduction, a 30% revenue increase and 99% reduction of risk.

Client Facing technology that provides transparency, flexibility and speed are the way firms will deliver their legal services in the future.  Bas Boris Visser Global Head of Innovation and Business Change at Clifford Chance (crikey a law firm with person responsible for innovation!) underlined the importance of new forms of cooperation: in-house, out-source and collaboration.  The example he gave was Clocktimizer which used big data analysis to drive efficiencies.


The key finding from the Lawyers own Business Leadership Survey was that there is almost no innovation in the legal sector at all.  The discussions around the summit over the two days explored why this was and my insights are that the partnership business model is essentially a way of distributing current year profits to worker shareholders.  Since consensus is required for investment decisions and the older you are the greater your power but the less likely your return there is no incentive for anything other than short term decision making.  One of the delegates reported how IBM invest 9 billion a year in R&D….and law firms, even magic circle ones, spend nothing at all.

Bas also showed a great video on how the lawyer mind set kills innovation.  Lawyers he said are trained to find what is wrong not what is right. Click on the video below to watch…


The term Agile working came up time and again and I was fortunate enough to be chair of the panel discussion.

Here are the highlights from my panel: Penny Newman of Lewis Silkin and Derek Cummings of Burness Paull.

Agile working is about the ability for an employee to function at anytime, in any place without hindrance.  This could be in the office in an open plan, hot desking or ‘drop in’ environment or it could be a C class executive being on the road between offices 3 days a week.  Agile working is about maximising mobile technologies, with smart working practices in varied environments that say ‘my workplace is determined by me rather than by my buildings.’


The adoption of new technologies was a big topic both in my panel and across the two days.  Did you know for instance that though UK offices like and adopt Skype for Business for their voice conference calls but US offices don’t.  That surprised me!

Adoption of this new way of working needed cross company commitment and cross departmental cooperation to get it right.  HR programs to train senior fee earners that technology saves time and enables more billing not less, collaboration with 3rd parties to deliver solutions that are specific to the business need of the firm not out of the box, creative teams that included ‘non’ lawyers to facilitate and problem solve.

law lords

Who says the legal sector is resistant to change?

In summary the sector is being driven by the changing landscape of technology, efficiency and globalisation.  The structure of the traditional firm hinders investment and innovation and their is a lack of strategic foresight as to how these factors will change traditional legal structures for good.

A legal practice is a talent management business and a good analogy might be the England rugby team.  Talented people coming together as a team to execute a strategy where the parameters constantly move .  In the legal sector the players are also the talent scouts, the financial backers, the coaches, the physios, the managers and the grounds keepers and any new ideas must past muster with the oldest members of the team.

I remember feeling as I left the summit ‘…either legal firms need to embrace change or change will embrace them’

Its all about team...come on England!

Its all about team…come on England!

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Why we are passionate about ‘Local’

Cakes and bakes at the Ready!

Cakes and bakes at the Ready!

This week our focus around the office will be baking, flower arranging and possibly if we are feeling ambitious making an egg cosy!

The 110th Royal Windsor Rose Show

The 110th Royal Windsor Rose Show

Let me explain:  On Saturday the 18th of July hundreds of participants will stage their entry in a long marquee in the grounds of Windsor Castle.  Thereafter the exhibits will be judged and prize money, rosettes and trophies will be awarded.  I am of course speaking about the Royal Windsor Rose and Horticultural Society Summer Show…and my business ComXo will be sponsoring it for the 5th consecutive year…the question is why on earth is a business services company sponsoring a village flower show?

Probably the smallest Royal Show in the UK?

Probably the smallest Royal Society in the UK!


Let me explain in a round about way!  When we speak to the customers of my business ComXo we say we are ‘The Voice of the City’.  What we have come to understand is that the function of Switchboard is more than just a telephone answering function.  What the switchboard of the 21st century business does is help callers navigate their way into a the complex businesses of the modern mobile world.

More than just an answer!

More than just an answer!

People calling into the large professional services firms in the City of London expect to be answered and handled in a particular way.  For instance important callers do not expect a ‘Call centre’ experience they expect to be treated as though they had just walked into a 5* hotel.  Accent is important, city knowledge engenders trust, the educated skills more akin to a private secretary help the caller feel at ease as they are put through to their trusted advisor.

The Try household get ready to bake!

The Try household get ready to bake!

Finding such people has always been something ComXo worked hard at and our Windsor location so close to London has been a major factor in our appeal to the type of person who might not usually look at working on the phone for most of the day.  But how do you create a culture that draws in a professional, educated, well spoken person capable of multi tasking across different computer systems and with an effortlessly charming manner.  Well the answer is that such people often enjoy the sort of past times on show at the Society’s summer show.  A show that is becoming synonymous with the ComXo culture.

If you want to find and attract local talented people to join your team then starting with their culinary, horticultural or crafting skills is not a bad interview technique!

ps if you would like to come or want to enter you still have time go to www.rwrhs.com to find out how!

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Comedy night ComXo style

"It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear

“It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear

Its spoken about as the most anticipated and most sort after ticket in town! This year we have had more customers, of my business ComXo, and more friends and colleagues than ever before cancel other events and postpone their holidays to get to it.  It is of course the ComXo Shakespeare in the woods and this year we are celebrating our 10th production with Much Ado About Nothing.Much ado

Let me colour in the picture a little.  If any of you have been to Legoland you will recall the long drive up the hill towards the car park.  To the right of that road is mass of woodland that hides a very historic property.  The land is on a high promontory of the Thames Valley that juts out towards London.  I am told that if you stand in a particular spot you can in fact see 6 counties just by turning your head.  cropped-Windsor-castle.jpg


Because of this it has long been held as a strategic site and I suspect that as long as there have been people living in the area it has been lived on.  What we know for sure is that it was both an Iron Age fort and a Roman Encampment, in fact the symbol adopted by the Royal Society of Antiquities is that of an Roman lamp found on the site in the 1800’s.


St leonards hill Thomas Sandby

The Duke of Gloucester’s Royal Residence

Following that it became a hermitage for over 500 years and thereby a place of pilgrimage.  After a concession given in the middle ages by the Pope you could be absolved of your sins if you drank from the holy well on the site on three specific days of the year.  Sadly the well has long been lost and thereby I suspect easy penitence.

As part of the Royal estate from William the Conqueror’s time it became a royal residence and was lived in by The Duke of Gloucester, George III brother and then for the next 150 years was rented, bought and borrowed by almost anyone who was anyone.  Three British Prime Ministers, The Harcourt family, The Waldegrave’s and lastly Sir Francis Tree Barry.


Sir Francis Tress Barry re-modelling

It was after this that the property took a turn for the worse and following the First World War along with almost 20,000 country houses fell foul of a change in life style and taste. After 5 years on the open market without a flicker of interest American developers following the fashion of building huge country houses in Newport and the Hamptons took the roof off and extracted the interiors.

The ruins as a party venue

It was at this point that my grandfather himself a young entrepreneur decided to buy the derelict house and pleasure gardens with the dream of rebuilding it as a home for his family.  Sadly at the end of the second World War he was approached by the local garrisons who asked him to allow their troops to practice their drills for the D-Day landings.  The damage it sustained from live ammunition meant that for safety the rest had to be pulled down.

What is left is a rather romantic ruin and the most beautiful gardens filled with flora and fauna from its royal past.  The grounds have been a passion of mine for my entire life as they have served as the backdrop for my childhood, a party venue for my youth and now as my tastes change for Shakespeare.

Henry V 2007

Henry V 2007

Coincidently I discovered a month back that the property also had a role in the history of one of my most important customers, global law firm, Herbert Smith.  Sir Francis Tress Barry was Herbert Smiths brother in law and his first and most profitable customer.

Macbeth 2008

Macbeth 2008

When we sit down in a few weeks time the ruins will become a stage and the audience will be transported back in history…it is at that moment I like to ponder how so much of Britain’s history has actually passed under our feet.



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Windsor’s where its at!

Stag and copper

Early morning Monday in the Great park

Last week Windsor is at the centre of the social calendar. On Sunday we witnessed the celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta Barge

On the 15 th of June 1315 King John acquiesced to the will of the Barons who presented him with a bill of rights that form the foundation of modern democracy the world over. This all occurred at Runnymede, just down river from Windsor and as luck would have it the flotilla of 200 vessels including the Queens barge Gloriana passed the garden of my sister who lives on Ham Island on route. It was a spectacular sight and made me stop to think how a single moment eons ago, birthed from a cry for freedom resonates so powerfully through our lives today.

The Royal Barge Gloriana


2014 643

Her Majesty in Garter robes

The following day on Monday was Garter day and the knights of the order process through the castle precincts from the middle ward down to St George’s Chapel for a service of commemoration.

2014 648

The Garter Procession

The Queen is of course the head of the order and she is accompanied by 22 knights of her choosing and much of Her Court including heralds and anciently titled officers with names like ‘Bluemantle Persuivant of Arms in Ordinary’ , the service is short but the medieval costumes and sheer numbers of magnificently dressed soldiers is a feast for the eyes and a double shot of wonder for a patriotic soul.


The rest of the week is also centred around the Queen and her delight and passion for horses with racing at Royal Ascot.   It is a quintessentially British affair that offers a perfect snapshot of 21st century Britain at play.

Car park picnic Ascot style

Car park picnic Ascot style

Walking from Car Park 1, possibly the poshest car park in the world, where name badges glimpsed will include Dukes, Princes and scions of great dynastic families through the Royal Enclosure where cut glass accents mingle with those of the less affected entrepreneurial class and so on through to the Grandstand and even better the Bandstand where after the racing everyone gathers all suited and sloshed to guzzle the most expensive champagne in the country and sing with gusto the great old tunes from the east end and marching songs of the Great War.

It seemed to me yesterday that the appetite for drinking, having good old fashioned fun and spending money is not the preserve of any particular class or geography. In 21st century Britain a good time is accessible to more people than ever before and apart from accents, taste in fashion and attitude the social and particularly economic landscape of the country seems indeed to have become less defined.

Anachronistic..nah.. just a bit of fun!

Anachronistic..nah.. just a bit of fun!


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How to draw a virtuous circle

logoAs Chairman of the Royal Windsor Rose and Horticultural Society, a charity with 120 year pedigree and Her Majesty The Queen as Patron, I think a lot about our purpose.  Our world  is full of worthy causes and the plight of many is so desperate that one has to question how we can persuade any benefactor to support our horticultural society at all.

Well last week our purpose came to life.  Let me explain; in our constitution it states that we are to “further education through the promotion of knowledge of the science of horticulture in our community” and traditionally we deliver this through our Summer Show (18th July, Windsor Castle, all admitted) and the various visits and events we hold throughout the year.

Susann Laughton and Paul Roach

But last week something amazing happened.  Orchestrated by Susann Laughton, the Society’s Honorary Secretary, the face of Windsor was transformed.  Through careful planning and coordination 4 diverse and unconnected parts of our community worked together and by fulfilling their own purposes improved our community.

Let me explain.


Forlorn and un-loved Planter

The local council have for a number of years wanted to re-fill and plant up 8 abandoned and unloved street planters on St Leonards Road in Windsor.  Their problem in this age of austerity was resource and finance…the coffers for this sort of thing are empty.

The local primary schools all have planting, growing and community on their curriculum and need projects that covers these areas.  Making this interesting over and above the rather old fashioned blotting paper and water cress classroom lesson is difficult.

The Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) have a level 3 Horticulture module which requires students to do a project that includes design, landscaping and planting and also a module that requires team work and community.  Designing this in an interesting way to keep 17 year old students engaged is a challenge.

The local shop keepers want their end of Windsor to be upgraded to tempt the shoppers of Peascod Street to venture further and spend more.  But they have had to look out on these weed infested planters for years with little ability to change it.

& students from BCA Horticulture

BCA Horticulture

So on Monday last week 7 students from BCA, 6 schools from Windsor, a cohort of adjacent shop keepers and Paul Roach from the Local Council were orchestrated by The Royal Windsor Rose and Horticultural Society to ‘Adopt a Pot’.


Homer First school


Upton House

Two local businesses, Window Flowers and Plantify, supplied the flowers and plants in a colour scheme reflecting this weekends Magna Carta celebrations and the Virtuous Circle turned.

The out come…smiling teachers, smiling students, smiling councillors, smiling shop keepers and smiling shoppers.  All remits fulfilled…no money required!  And The Society’s Purpose delivered.

Kids 2

Smiles all round The Kings House School

We may not be solving the worlds Big problems…but we are getting our community smiling and that can’t be all bad!  Anyone fancy donating?

(click here to become a member of probably the smallest Royal Society in Britain!)




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