Cities need more than a ‘back to work’ campaign

One of my saddest moments from the last six months came when I left our office in Bristol for the last time before lockdown started. *

It was 19 March and news broke that all but ‘essential’ travel for work was discouraged. Full lockdown was four days away, but we decided at Social to work from home until further notice from that point. Although we were used to flexible working, vacating our offices en masse took things to a different level.

On the bus home from Bristol, my head was spinning with questions. How are our clients coping? Would any of them leave us? What would happen if they did? When would we see the office or colleagues again? After all our work over the previous two-and-a-half years to build a viable business, this felt wounding and deeply unfair. Swapping WhatsApp messages with colleagues, sitting on the top deck, I felt alone.

That week, I spoke with each member of the Bristol team and felt that while there was a chance of getting through this, we had to dig in and work for that outcome. And that’s what we did.

We’ve kept most clients and found new work. We’ve moved into new areas, helping clients engage communities, manage issues and grow. We’ve grown and created new jobs. This week, a new starter joins my team. We’ve done all of this from home, having left our office in the summer.

When I think of how I felt on the way home in March, what’s happened since feels incredible. For me, it’s been a steep learning curve. It’s been physically and emotionally draining. Above all, it’s been hard work.

This is my personal backdrop to recent stories about the emerging narrative to persuade people to get ‘back to work’ in a bid to save city centres.

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Toppling Colston’s statue could be an iconic moment for Bristol

This article was published in PR Week on 9 June. Thanks to them for giving me the opportunity to provide some thoughts from the perspective of a Bristol-based business.

Recent anti-racism protests across the world illustrate that, while language matters, action changes things.

Sunday’s dramatic events in Bristol, where debates about 17th century slave trader and former MP Edward Colston have simmered for many years, are a case in point.

Discussions about how a man with shared responsibility for transporting tens of thousands of Africans to British colonies is reflected in Bristol’s history were swept aside by protesters. It highlighted a sense that the time for talking (and getting nowhere) is over. In reality, as the debate goes global, the local conversation may be about to get going again.

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Why social value must be at the heart of our places

Promoting the ‘value’ of development has been a standard approach for major projects for many years.

Statistics about investment, jobs and training opportunities are often used to generate headlines and online buzz.

After supporting projects for more than 15 years, I’ve seen how this can influence opinions towards a project when presented well. When set out using technical terms like ‘Gross Value Added (GVA) per capita’, it misses the mark, however.

But I’m getting the sense that its impact is on the wane, in the face of rising scepticism and changing views around what ‘value’ means.

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The South West somehow needs to find its voice – and fast

Castle Bridge at Finzels Reach in Bristol.

It’s almost 10 years since I moved from Manchester to start a new life in the South West with my family.

I’ve spent time all over the region since 2010, working in every county. I love its culture, quality of life and the opportunities it has offered us.

The South West is an area of contrasts. It’s largely rural, with successful and sought-after cities like Exeter, Bath and Bristol. These cities are brilliant places to live and work, if you have the skills and experience to find employment there – and can afford somewhere to live.

Somerset, where I live, highlights the region’s contrasts. Many people know the county for Glastonbury festival and Europe’s largest construction project at Hinkley Point C, which is worth £50bn to the region over the coming decades. These are very different things, which together make Somerset an attractive destination for many.

There’s shed loads happening here, and we’re proud to play a part in some of this at Social since we set up in the South West. We’ve supported major developments in Bristol and Gloucester. And we helped the region’s nuclear industry raise its national and international profile.

It’s difficult to know if things would be better for us if we lived elsewhere. But, of all the places I’ve lived and worked, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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Building trust is tough: dumping spin will help

Writing on a white wall

I’ve been thinking recently about a meeting I covered as a young reporter, which has stayed with me for years since.

It was an unremarkable event in Sheffield, in around 2004, ahead of that year’s European elections. The British National Party (remember them?) was pressing to win a seat in Yorkshire and city leaders were spooked by the threat that presented.

Civic and political leaders came together at Sheffield City Hall to show a united front against the BNP and give personal statements denouncing them.

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Four thoughts on the government’s housing story

Anyone who’s worked in PR within government knows the drill when it comes to big announcements like the Prime Minister’s housing speech today.

The announcement to proposed changes to the dry-but-much-maligned area of planning policy followed some familiar and well-executed steps.

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