Oriel Square

Oxford-based strategy, publishing and research company continues to lend breadth and strength in education with support from OxLEP Business.

Oriel Square develops and produces content for education on behalf of large publishers and other organisations.

Everything they do supports teaching and learning, whether that’s for use by teachers, learners or parents. They also provide research, training, coaching and mentoring aimed at creators of educational content. Their work is based mainly in the schools’ sector (known internationally as the K12 space), and the English Language Teaching (ELT) sector.

Since so much professional learning has now moved online, they also now produce CPD digital resources for not-for-profits and professional organisations. Oriel Square Director Sam Derby explains:

“Some of our work is traditional content publishing where we provide subject specialist editors, designers, illustrators and so on; some is more technical work on digital products – it might be user stories for the development of an online learning platform, for instance. We also provide support for strategic initiatives to managing directors and directors of sales and publishing, which enables them to plan their publishing over three-five years, up-skill their teams or maybe look at a particular acquisition or partnership opportunity.”

Challenging Times

“We had some anxiety when the pandemic hit as one of our largest clients put a stop to all external spending", said Sam. "This lasted for quite a long period, which affected the business. This was followed by a small number of cancelled projects as work was pulled back in-house at large publishers."

"Quite a few of our clients’ projects were paused, but at the same time, it was obvious there was going to be an enormous need for companies like Oriel Square to support the huge amount of educational resource creation required by the shift to learning outside school during the pandemic. This left us trying to get through a tight period before preparing for what we knew was going to be a big increase in demand for our services.”

Sam continues: “The most immediate concern, as for most small businesses, was future cash flow. Government support meant we were quickly confident in the short-term, but we knew that we would soon need to recruit to build the team. Secondly, came the logistical challenges of no longer being able to be based in an office, and making sure we had the means to work remotely."

"We knew that this would not be a problem on a short-term basis as we work with remote teams most of the time anyway, but we hadn’t experienced it for long periods. We wanted to ensure the team’s well-being was supported and make sure we could manage effectively as well as bring in new members of staff and maintain effective customer relationships.”

Reaching out for support

“When we set up in 2017, we wanted to make sure that we were aware of all possible forms of funding and support available to us. I discovered OxLEP and signed up for their monthly newsletter which informs me of the different types of support on offer, webinars and funding rounds.”

During the pandemic, Oriel Square applied for and were awarded a £3,000 Kickstart Grant which they utilised to accelerate their marketing to a wider-reaching audience. They also received OxLEP’s peer-to-peer networking support, putting them in touch virtually with other members of Oxfordshire based businesses facing similar challenges.

“As it happened, I knew one person on the course, so it was great to link up with her again,” added Sam. “As well as peer support, we completed two sessions of one-to-one mentoring; one on export, in case the UK market froze long-term and we needed to look for export opportunities, which was really useful to explore for the future. The other was discussing remote working and supporting new employees. These sessions are great because they give you permission to talk to someone outside of the business and obtain a neutral and experienced view of matters. Often in a small business, you just don’t get that.”

Squaring up to the future

“We are three times larger than we were in October in terms of people in the team. We feel like we’re coming out of the storm period and getting back on top. It’s looking positive for us so far. We’re looking forward to moving into a new office in central Oxford soon and being able to work in person with our new employees once restrictions allow. It feels like we’re back on an even keel after an unsettled time. I will continue to use OxLEP’s services both now and in the future. They have been a great support.”

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