Martin Simmons discusses his time spent stranded in Leeds during the pandemic and how he turned his ordeal into a business opportunity.
Being trapped in another country for an indefinite period of time is akin to a nightmare for most people. That’s exactly what happened to Martin Simmons and his wife Fran in March 2020. But instead of despairing, Martin cracked on with his job as a consultant for business analysis company Redvespa and made a new business opportunity right here in Leeds.
“My wife and I had been living in New Zealand for the last two years, though we lived in Leeds before that,” Martin said: “We were there on work visas, which is how all this came about. We were looking to stay there and get residency. But we came back to England on a ski trip to see some family and friends in March 2020. While we were on holiday New Zealand closed its borders, before we were able to get any flights or secure any return. They closed them with only 24 hours’ notice, and normally it takes 32 hours to get back if you already have a flight booked. We couldn’t get back in after the border had closed because we aren’t residents.” It was a time of difficulty for both Martin and his wife: “Fran had to leave her job. Her company couldn’t afford to keep her on while he wasn’t there. That period was fairly difficult. It’s funny what you end up doing in those kinds of times. The friends we were staying with had a small farm, so Fran ended up going and helping with the lambing season. It was a bizarre time because I was working nights for my employer, Redvespa, and she went off for a few weeks and lived on the farm, looking after the lambs. My company went to the New Zealand government and asked for us to be allowed to come back, but unfortunately that didn’t go anywhere.
There’s still quite a lot of people, if I’m honest, who want to return and are still unable to. I’m part of a Facebook group of people who are trying to return, and it’s full of people separated from their families. At least Fran and I were together.” It seemed a dire situation, but luckily Martin and Fran had roots in the area, as Leeds was their old stomping ground: “One thing that was difficult for me before, in New Zealand, was being away from friends and family. It would have been difficult knowing that everyone was going through the challenges of the pandemic here and not being here to help. In New Zealand, people are going through their own challenges, but they’re not the same as here. Being back in Leeds and being close to family and friends in familiar surroundings is such a relief in what was quite a difficult situation.”
Eventually, Martin and Fran made the decision that they would settle back in Leeds permanently: “We already owned a house in Leeds, which we rented out. Our tenant ended up buying a house in the pandemic, so we moved back in. We actually had to get a funeral director to clear out our flat in New Zealand, since we weren’t there. It’s a bit morbid, but it’s something they do a lot, just not usually for the living, so they were really great. Fran got another job. That was what made us decide to not go back to New Zealand. That’s where Redvespa came in and said ‘okay, let’s start up in Leeds then, since you’re not coming back.’” “Redvespa has a couple of aspects, but the core of it is business analysis,” Martin explained. “We help other companies through the process of change and transformation. Sometimes that means helping with their culture, showing businesses better ways to work with their teams and have meetings. Sometimes it can be helping businesses implement a new piece of software. It’s all about helping our clients grow their organisation, and that’s what we’re hoping to bring to Leeds.” The experience was definitely something that Martin learned from: “There was a certain amount of opportunism in what happened that helped us succeed here. When I first started asking the question ‘what am I going to do next?’ I started to open up my network and look for different financial networks and communities in local Facebook groups in my area. Sure enough, you find the odd person that you chat to and get to know, if you take enough time to connect with them. Sending a message out can feel a bit uncomfortable at first. I was thinking to myself ‘what’s my goal here, trying to connect to these people?’ but you still have to keep doing that, even if you’re someone that finds that difficult.”
Now, Martin is working on establishing Redvespa as a major business analysis consultant in Leeds: “We’ve just been touring office buildings. There’s an interesting debate going on at the moment about working from home versus in the office. We decided that we’re not going to have a full-blown office. Instead, we’re going to have a location in Leeds city centre, where we don’t have an office, but we can use it as a spot to connect. It’s an interesting, more modern approach.”
To learn more about Redvespa and its expansion into Leeds, visit Redvespa.com