Read the room: reasons to support Druidstone’s membership move

Manufactured storm clouds have gathered above Pembrokehire’s clifftops, at a place I know well.

They’re created by media interest in The Druidstone hotel’s membership scheme for non-guests who want an occasional drink in its popular bar. The Guardian sparked the interest on Friday, after a freelancer discovered the story whilst staying locally.

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Collaboration, not culture wars, will help us return to the office

Work at home (if you can). Get back to work (sorry, the office). Forget that, work at home please. Go back, gradually and carefully. Read the guidance. Businesses must work out what’s best. It’s on you. Fingers crossed!

These phrases illustrate the chaos surrounding England’s official office working guidance during the pandemic. I exaggerate in places. But each statement reflects a government position at a certain moment. Sometimes, ministers even took different positions on the same day.

Navigating this is tricky, especially if you’re not expert in workplace design, occupational health or HR. I’m more used to writing about 600-acre spaces than 600 sq ft ones, and I struggle to visualise how a shell will look when kitted out and occupied. “How many desks can you get in here again?” was a stock phrase used during recent forays into Bristol to check potential new office space.

What knowledge I have is shaped by conversations with helpful agents and dozens of viewings over recent years. Much of this was during COVID, which detonated drastic changes to everyone’s living and working patterns. Once, I nearly agreed a three-year lease on office space before government guidance shifted (again) to work from home. Not signing saved us from paying for a space we couldn’t use.

The process feels fraught with uncertainty and confusion. I know I’m not alone in struggling to find something that works for us post-COVID, as the environment around us remains in flux.

From this muddled standpoint, I’ve watched with interest as people on all sides of the vexed office debate state their case with certainty. As I write from Scotland (that’s flexible location working for you), respective positions around this debate appear to have hardened. Whether it’s work from home or return to the office, it’s taken a binary either/or context.

This is unhelpful when many organisations are looking at somewhere between those points (or hybrid, to use the jargon).

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Change to build community trust

This post first appeared on the TCPA’s blog series about trust in the planning process. Thanks so much to them for asking me to write something.

Public trust is a powerful concept, that’s beset with fuzziness and contradiction.

We instinctively know if we trust a person, organisation or process, but can’t always clearly explain why.

Leaders universally agree that trust matters, yet don’t pay enough attention to maintaining it. Like a football referee, many don’t fully appreciate its importance until something goes wrong.

I’m sure that most planning and place-making professionals appreciate how volatile trust can be. If you’re in any doubt, here’s a reality check: the sector faces a crisis of confidence amongst the people upon whom its legitimacy depends.

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#PlaceIndex webinar catch up: engaging communities after the pandemic

Industry leaders discussed our inaugural Place Index report at a webinar organised by Social colleagues today (14 May 2021).

It was an enjoyable and fascinating discussion chaired by political journalist Geri Scott, which covered key issues raised in our recently published report. I was on the panel discussing topics including ‘levelling up’, engaging young people about the future of their areas and building trust in the development process.

My heartfelt thanks go to colleagues for organising the session and for working on the report over recent months. It’s been seen by loads of people, been well picked up in the media and was great to work on. I hope those reading it find it useful.

Thanks also to TCPA’s Fiona Howie, MOBIE’s Mark Southgate and Ahead Partnership’s Stephanie Burras CBE for joining the panel today. We had some great feedback and want to do something like this again soon. If you attended and asked questions, thank you too. I hope to see you in person at a future event before too long.

You can catch up on the webinar below. It lasts for about an hour.

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Can the West of England’s new mayor tackle its collaboration challenge?

Although the West of England has had an incredibly tough year, it’s still one of the country’s best places to live and work by many measures.

Covering areas around Bristol and Bath, the region has the spirit, ingenuity and amazing places that are unmistakably its own. It’s also the most economically productive region outside London. But it’s the region’s human qualities that make it special for so many of us.  

Although many may not realise it, residents can decide this week who leads the organisaton representing the West of England on the political stage. Bristolians can vote on Thursday alongside electing their local councillors, Bristol’s mayor and Avon and Somerset’s Police and Crime Commissioner. 

‘Super Thursday’ presents an opportunity for candidates to lead a region that needs to make its case clearly.  

Business West touched on this point in its recent manifesto for the new mayor, who will lead an organisation covering Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire council areas. Full disclosure: I have worked with some of these organisations at Social. None are clients at the time of writing this.

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Looking south west: are you up for joining us?

Just over a year ago, we left our offices to start working from home – all together, at once. I wrote then about how our culture would help us through the tough times ahead. So, it’s proved to be.

In the year that’s followed my emotional trudge from our Bristol office, we’ve invested considerable time and energy in supporting each other through lockdown,

That support, implicit in our Life Happens company value, enabled us to grow during this most challenging of years. In the South West, we’ve doubled in size and are working on high profile, incredibly exciting accounts.

Although it’s been breathless at times, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. Our team promoted high quality places on sites with capacity for more than 12,000 homes last year. We’ve put the £85m regeneration of Gloucester city centre on a national platform. We’ve engaged communities on the future of Portishead town centre, drawing feedback from hundreds of people in the process. All this and more during lockdown. 

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