Tales from the Barista’s steam-wand!

 

Hello Readers!

After months of planning and time-juggling, we finally opened our new coffee house in Painswick late last week. We’ve researched beans, blends, cakes and pastries until the proverbial ‘pips squeaked’, but the hours spent watching and learning from the Barista have really paid off!

It’s great to be on the ‘other’ side of the counter (despite the fact I’ve got less space and more gadgets than a Ryanair stewardess), and as part of the development of  www.mobilementor.me, I’m putting together a few notes on the do’s and don’ts of setting up a new small business and taking control of ‘self’ in order to hit the ground running.

We’re less than 72 hours in, but it feels like we’ve been working for 72 years to get this far. I hope you’ll find my musings useful, enlightening or even pithy! I’ll be pulling together some notes over the next few weeks, but as ever it’d be interesting to hear tales from you if you’re setting up a new business, you’re new behind a ‘counter’ (of any type) or are a barista with achy feet – just like me!

Watch this space for more ‘from the nozzle’ of life in this small but wonderful Cotswold town.

David

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Change is The Challenge for Future Success – The end is nigh! (part 3)

 

 

 

 

 

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Here we are, the third and final part of my change related blog. You’ll recall from part 1 and 2  that I’ve meandered through my personal journey through career related change, going back  over 25 years. The journey I encountered in a failing department store located in the UK’s second city in the fiscally hedonistic eighties is one that almost every day since I’ve seen, heard about or felt.

I can guarantee that in the last week, since my first post, you too will have been exposed to change. How we view change, how we deal with it and how effectively we plan and deliver change messages are critical to how we and our audiences react and feel.

So in my 80’s example, I finally did leave the Store Managers office, my tail firmly embedded between my legs! One part of me discounted his reaction, the other (and greater) part of me felt stunned, sickened and aghast. I was berating myself for being so stupid, for not preparing, for being the big-head, know-it-all.

I think I was going through the change (but the real mid-life crisis happened much later)!

I returned to an empty menswear department, where my colleagues stood or leaned on fixtures, dishevelled and soulless. Only one person knew the look on my face and she knew that things hadn’t gone well. Grace (and you know who you are Miss Murphy) listened, understood and helped me consider the next move. I needed to get on with something. I needed to get back on my horse!

With newly found gusto, I set about creating a new way of positioning the earlier manuscript. I’d been challenged by the attitude of a senior (both metaphorically and physically) but knew that this was a tome all by itself.

I knew that ‘The New Lewis’s’ would only be successful if our people were behind the strategy. To some customers, the upcoming changes were a closing down sale in all but name and they too were to shortly undergo change. Without our people and our customers (who were usually homo-sapiens!) behind the strategy, we’d be doomed to fail. 

On the 51 bus back to Walsall, the windows streaming with condensation, my thoughts finally crystallised. My plan was to create a guide, focused on the Boards’ internal and external customers. It was to be called ‘Change is The Challenge for Future Success’. It personalised change, it set out to inform, recognise the challenges ahead and outline the effects of the upcoming change if it didn’t work out.

For our customers, the guide targeted a ‘use it or lose it’ psychology, normally confined to Post Offices and desperate market traders in the city’s Bull Ring. It outlined that the ‘old’ Lewis’s offer was no longer sustainable, but in order to keep the Lewis’s portland stone facade clean and shining in Birmingham, we’d need their support. It effectively begged for Brummies to come together and support their shop! 

With more clarity, more understanding and having been bruised by witnessing the effects of change first hand, Wednesday came and the crisp morning fuelled my trip back up to the fourth floor.

I was lucky. `The Store Manager, and the rather officious Personnel Manager were at reception. Without hesitation, I launched into an apology / grovel! I invited them to listen to the effects the earlier meeting had on me. I outlined that (in my opinion), we needed to focus on people, whatever status or grade, we also needed to involve customers in our journey.

With no props to hand (and bear in mind there was no PowerPoint, iPads or even printed sheets to support), my slightly wobbly pitch was verbose and circuitous, but he got it and she got it. She loved it and proceeded to inform us that she was aware of the ‘change curve’ as “it was covered in her personnel course”! Of course, Personnel dealt with people, people just dealt with change! No wonder Personnel was rebranded HR once the Kubler-Ross theory got ‘out’!

They looked surprised by my enlightened stance on the subject, she looked devastated that someone else knew about this thing called change! He loved the brand and promised that he’d take it to the agency that day. (i had no idea what the agency was…)

Within a week, I was summoned to the fourth floor and presented with two A5 pamphlets, one finished in black, the other in white. Both had ‘The New Lewis’s’ logo on the cover and both carried the strap-line “Change is The Challenge for Future Success”.

There were diagrams and bullet points. Challenges and opportunities sections and a telephone contact at Headquarters for help. It looked stunning.

The store manager confirmed the pamphlet was to be distributed to all staff, across all Lewis’s stores. The white version would be produced in trifold, personalised to each store and distributed by floor walkers on each Saturday and late night trading event. (To be honest, they could just have printed a ream, we had so few punters!)

I was elated. Proud. For the second time in a year I felt that I’d accomplished something, that I’d learned more than any lesson in my poxy secondary school, and that after research, stiff fingers through hammering typewriter keys and obvious set-backs, I’d triumphed!

My the end of March, the pamphlets were out there. Meetings were reconvened with all staff, with the Personnel crew leading the way. Change is The Challenge for Future Success was published! I had a best seller!

Despite self doubt, my candour had won the day. The pamphlet wasn’t a modern day ‘spin’ on the truth – it was honest. Northern English, working class, strong and truthful – just like the Lewis’s brand values.

I saw customers reading it on escalators, staff pondering and scribbling notes on it in the canteen and, yes, I saw plenty in the bins of the Gents toilet. 

In 2013, my understanding of change has been buoyed by life experience and greater common-sense, rather than professional study. It’s been endowed by enormous grief, more workplace restructures than I’ve had hot dinners and about a dozen home relocations. 

I’m fortunate to have had a tri-directional view of change. I’ve developed it, implemented it and been affected by it. Three times I’ve become moribund due to my own change proposals! 

Does this make me a robot? Does this make me a ‘change manager’? Does this make me immune to the effects of change?

No. Not at all.

Admittedly, the change cycle for me is a rapid process. The alternations of change are nothing but a swift rollercoaster ride at a theme park for me, but often a deserted one. I become quite solitary through change and for me, quite reflective. My lower axes of change are also quite deep versus many of my peers, but the speed makes the stomach churning dips more manageable.

Knowing my reaction to change has also hindered some major change challenges that I have faced. Bringing friends, family or colleagues on such a riotous journey as mine simply doesn’t work, but a deep knowledge of change and it’s effects on different people helps me temper my outward appearance.

Those of you that know me well will know how I handle change and how effectively (or not) I help others through it. I’d welcome your feedback.

For those that don’t know me (yet), I’ve got a five point checklist that has sat with me since 1987. It’s professionally never failed me and personally it’s acted as a memory jogger when I’m at a low ebb.

My new life challenges are all about change – recovering from bereavement, opening a new business and discovering new personal opportunities. Much of my ‘new life’ is about helping others through change too, using the tools that I read about all those years ago, but just using them better (or at least a little more delicately!)

For those that dash through change, the following is your 60 second guide. For those that meander, here’s a five point starter for ten!

  1. Understand the basics of the change curve and consider how you’ll personally deal with each phase.
  2. If you’re delivering change, take time to fully understand the effects on you first, then go into the detail and ask yourself probing questions from every perspective. You may not know your audience, but you know yourself – there’s no excuse for not fully preparing!
  3. If you’re on the receiving end of change, or find yourself at a low ebb, stop and think about how you’re feeling, how you’re reacting and challenge yourself to define your next steps. Own yourself, it’s likely you’ll have only one chance to make your case or ask the right questions.
  4. Control external emotions. Whether it’s the loss of a pet hamster or closing a multinational, most of us will externalise the effects of change. I once knew a CEO who, after a major corporate change announcement to the City would retire to his office and cry. If that’s what it takes to protect those professionally affected, do it!
  5. Manage self. Protecting others doesn’t mean closedown. Find a release mechanism and talk through your feelings with significant others, mentors or third parties. If you’re delivering change, be honest, be authentic – show you understand. If you’re on the receiving end, be constructive, honest and remain authentic. 

It doesn’t matter what type of change you’re going through or if it’s 1987 or 2017, the effects of change are as disparate as human emotion itself.

Preparation, determination and stoicism is the way I deal with stuff, but that’s not for everyone! As I continue to learn something new about me every day, I add it to my knowledge-book, but ultimately my learnings always boil down to the five bullet points.

Change is The Challenge for Future Success, and to be frank, success isn’t always forthcoming. ‘The New Lewis’s’ didn’t work. Lewis’s Limited, Bull Street, Birmingham closed just a few years later and sat cold and empty for several years, as a symbol of changing retail requirements. On reflection, I don’t think customers ever ‘got it’ and I’m not sure the staff could overcome the loss that customers emoted whilst losing their retail monolith.

Ironically, almost 30 years later, John Lewis (and there is no business connection, despite the moniker) will open a flagship branch in Birmingham as part of the New Street redevelopment. Like any organisation, it will flex and change to market dynamics, but I hope their management will be receptive to the apprentices in the business recommending a different approach or applying different tactics to help their Partners and Customers through whatever change is before them.

Whatever happens, Retail in the next Century will evolve just as quickly as it did in the Lewis’s era. Let’s hope the evolution of people are considered in that process, as the Retail industry like many others, can’t be fully automated and ‘manned’ with automatons!

 

David Oxendale

http://www.mobilementor.me

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Suspended Coffees and ‘nano-philanthropy’ – your thoughts

Dear Readers!

I’m currently researching the Italian and latterly Eastern European tradition of ‘Suspended Coffees’ and its juxtaposition to modern day philanthropy. 

As ever, I’ve produced some early mind-drafts on the link with low-cost marketing strategies and (cynically) the corporate tax advantages of large-scale ‘giving’, but would like to know more about your personal experience of helping the less fortunate in our society.

Let me know!

David

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Change is The Challenge for Future Success – Part two

After a longer break than anticipated due to some last minute challenges in the setting up of our new coffee shop in Painswick, I’m bringing you a continuation of last weeks’ blog – ‘Change is The Challenge for Future Success’.
 
…All around me, colleagues, people, humans were lost in the cycle of change but few knew how to handle their individual grief, far above and beyond the practicalities of ‘where the next meal was coming from’.
 
On Saturday afternoon, I left work early and walked purposefully to the brutally engineered Birmingham central library, so lovingly crafted from concrete, famously captured by Prince Charles as “a place to burn rather than read books”. (Just a few years before this, Telly Savalas had said of the monolith that “it was like being propelled into the 21st century!)
 
In the early eighties, I’d spent many hours in this mausoleum of literature, whilst studying for exams, but actually daydreaming for hours, gazing at the concrete beams and listening to the hum of forced ventilation blowing across the roughcast ceiling and floor panels. 
 
On this day however, I had real purpose, I was going to read about change and the process that ‘mr or mrs average’ will take through their journey.
 
I studied works by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and soon learned that change was an alternating pathway of highs and lows, originally designed to explain the grieving process. Whilst you can rest assured I won’t be teaching grandma to suck eggs in this blog, the psychology of change grasped my attention all those years ago and hasn’t left me since.
 
I set about short-handing some of my new found knowledge and building a story around the theories that all my colleagues would comprehend. Whilst even writing these words makes me sound patronising, the conversion of ‘big words’ into more commonsense and concise  terminology was my aim – I knew that this deeper understanding may just help me and my colleagues understand the bigger picture and allow them to consider next steps in a more constructive and less emotional way.
 
Over the next week, I scribbled and typed (on Dad’s old Olivetti typewriter) about 500 words, entitled ‘this thing called change’.
 
Along with the uneven and slightly faded type, littered with ‘tippex’, I included a few sketches that demonstrated ‘change’ designed for those people who like me, were more adept at ‘understanding through pictures’.
 
I was incredibly proud of my manuscript. Outside of school theses, this was the most learning I’d undertaken since my ‘O’ levels. I was sure I’d have a captive audience of management and staff and I was ready to launch!
 
How I reflect on this enthusiasm and the effect it had on my friends – this really was a huge learning!
 
Following my industrious day off, at break time on Tuesday, I eagerly made my way to the almost deserted 4th floor, where one could find the management offices. Wiping away some facial perspiration, I spoke to the secretary requesting a meeting with the store manager. I was pleased she knew me by name and reflected on my earlier commendations – maybe it was her with the sub standard spelling, I thought?
 
To my amazement, the manager, in his Captain Peacock-esque grey suit, red tie and matching handkerchief halted on his way through the door onto the shop floor. 
 
Seeing him, I piped and said “I was just talking about you….”
 
He looked slightly taken aback, almost seeing this insubordination as a slight on his role, position or even his character! With a feintly interested “yes”, he listened to my reason for my talking about him and with some brevity, asked the secretary to book ten minutes with me later in the day.
 
Lunchtime in the canteen came and went, where I discussed my meeting with colleagues who looked quizzically at me. I didn’t seem to be gaining any traction with them at all. (The word traction wouldn’t have been used in 1987, but i’m sure I’ll be forgiven with using a modern day corporatism?)
 
With not a moment to think about reconstructing my pitch, the time had come to talk to the big cheese in his oak-lined office. 
 
I started with standard patter, my sales figures, commission earned and talked of some new Pierre Cardin suits, that I thought would meet with his approval. I talked about the upcoming store rebranding and segued into my research and prepared notes.
 
I explained the reasons for my enthusiasm and stated (quite obliquely) that I felt the way change was being pushed on the troops was detached and inconsiderate. I told him that cascading a fait a complis such as ‘The New Lewis’s’ was not just a short-term shock, but was having a detrimental effect on our performance. At that moment, I clearly overcame my nerves and unwittingly became the voice box for colleagues that I believed needed attention and assistance to overcome their unhappiness.
 
What happened next was to stay with me until today and will do until my demise.
 
Firstly, I was given a lesson in 1987 corporate etiquette and manners. Not to call a manager by his first name on the shop floor and not to be ‘cheeky’. It was quite clear, I’d put him in a tricky position in front of his secretary.
 
Secondly, he informed me that a significant number of my colleagues actually wanted to leave, wanted to take the generous golden handshake and were just “acting sad”, so as not to offend those of us that we’re staying on the sinking ship or who weren’t fortunate enough to be receiving superannuation. The fact was, he went on to explain, that my supervisor, Brian, earned less than £7k PA and with that pocket-money supported a wife and kids. Brian was for the chop, with a pay-off under five grand. To be honest, Brian was a cracking bloke but in the fashion led city of 1986, wouldn’t be working in retail again, anytime soon.
 
In an almost continuous stream of angst and frustration, he also highlighted that The New Lewis’s also meant new management. Sears had dumped the department stores chain like a runt from a dog’s litter. He, like all but the Personnel Manager were to leave the store in April, despite his 25 years of service.
 
The Store Manager was displaying all the traits of someone who was deeply affected by the grief of change, but I’d lost my gravitas (nay, my bollocks) and found myself without words, without a way to provide solace.
 
The man who led his team to the slaughter was also about to be slain. Did I have an answer for that? No! Did I console him with well thought through words? No!
 
 
I sat in silence and waited for his next reaction. Whatever I’d learned from Kubler-Ross and however I’d prepared my strategy, I’d neglected that the real effects of change are omni-directional. I’d read my audience wrongly. I wouldn’t rush to be in that position again, anytime soon!
 
In the final part of this blog, I’ll not just talk through the ‘what happened next’, but also my personal recommendations for those involved in any type of change. The rule book evolves all the time, but I hope in some small way, this story demonstrates the importance of understanding the effects of change – on everyone.
 
David Oxendale

 

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Change is the challenge for future success – the background.

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Or is it?

Back in 1986, I was 16 and faced several choices as most Comprehensively educated males  also did in the British Midlands at that time. 

The choices were simple. Continue in education, work within the declining motor industry or find a placement on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS), which was a government backed form of slavery and abuse. There of course was a further option of ‘The Dole’, and whilst in 1986 money was easy to find this way, I’d always had a low threshold for boredom, so couldn’t imagine not actually doing anything all day!

So, after a series of interviews and aptitude tests, in June 1986, I walked through the ‘staff only’ doors of Lewis’s Limited which was a mid-market UK department store chain owned at that time, by the Sears conglomerate from the US.

I felt really grown up, wore a new Burton’s grey suit with pink flecks and shoulder pads and entered the world of work with my first placement being in a department called ‘cleaning aids’. Selling buckets, bowls and ironing boards was not a choice I made purposefully, but I loved it. I found that by engaging customers in conversations about their purchases led to increased sales, as did polishing the shelves, ensuring all the stock was visible, ticketed and priced.

At the end of my first week, I went to the cash office and retrieved a brown envelope with £27.13 inside. 16 years old, 39 hours worked and £27.13 in my pocket. By the time I’d paid for my bus pass (£5.00) and my Mom ‘board and lodgings’ of £10, I’d got just over a tenner to spend on canteen tea, subsidised lunches and a new beverage I found called ‘lager’, supped in a pub called ‘The Brown Derby’ in a dingy subway in Birmingham. There’ll be more of The Brown Derby in a ‘weekend’ blog in the future!

Now then, Dear reader, I am sorry to have put you through that intro, but I want you to feel the sense of pride, achievement and honour I had at the time to work in such an institution as Lewis’s. I had walked away from further education, disobeyed my father’s wishes and become a retailer!

Week 2 was very much the same as week 1. Hard work, conversation, plenty of tea and £27.13 reward.

And so on.

Immediately after Christmas, (January 1987), I was introduced to the store manager who not only gave me a ‘customer service comendation‘ (with the word commendation incorrectly spelled), but also handed a more formal letter on Lewis’s letterhead which he made me read out loud to my colleagues on the department.

“Your efforts on the YTS scheme have been recognised and with effect from 1st February, I am pleased to formerly (sic) offer you a full time position as Sales Consultant on the Menswear department. Your pay will be £66.66 per week, paid into your bank account. You will also be entitled to staff discount at 15% and uniform”. Obviously, the secretaries at Lewis’s didn’t check their spelling, but I didn’t care – I’d got a full time job with a massive jump in pay!

I was so happy! My colleagues cheered and clapped, my manager put his arm around my shoulder and I was even allowed to use the company telephone to phone Mom, who was elated. 

The following month, I started to measure inside legs, learn about differing types of wool (there are at least 20 types used in mens suits) and was introduced to brands such as Pierre Cardin, Dash and Ton sur Ton – all very trendy for this fat kid from Walsall!

But all that was about to change.

Later in 1987, a ‘change‘ announcement was given to all staff in various locations across the store. We knew that takings were down and that Lewis’s was losing market share to competitors such as House of Fraser. Those of us that travelled outside of Birmingham also knew that new towns and cities such as Redditch and Milton Keynes had shiny new shopping centres where there was no soot, rain or traffic. We knew Birmingham was dying. Later that day, some of us speculated Lewis’s was dying too.

The announcement was delivered in the canteen, with the usual Lewis’s aplomb. In short, Lewis’s was to undergo a re-brand (to be called The New Lewis’s). Some stores would close and all larger stores would be reformatted and refitted to save money. The new format would mean ‘mothballing’ the top three or four floors of each store (which would in turn save rent, rates, heating and lighting costs) and the famous Lewis’s cradle to grave offer, would be reduced and refocused on fashion, gifts and electricals.

Cleaning Aids were axed, but I survived because I was part of the future! I was young, flexible, malleable and cheap!

Despite my naivety, it was quite obvious there were glaring gaps in the announcement. With the closure of all these stores and departments, where will all the staff go, Lewis’s had 1200 on it’s role at the time. If the store was going to focus on fashion, where would the elderly stalwarts of the DIY department and Foodmarket go? Were they The New Lewis’s?

At close hand, I saw Loretta’s tears, Malcolm’s grey complexion and Harry’s look of amazement. This was the first time I’d seen real shock on people’s faces.

After a particularly wet journey home, with my grey polyester uniform splattered with slush from the snowy roads, I felt largely unaffected by the earlier proceedings, but felt uncomfortable about the emotion I saw unravelling around me. I’d noted two weird things in the staff locker room that evening, one side was quiet, upset, worried. The other was angry, frustrated, flustered. Despite this, that evening, I felt that nothing would or could affect me. I was invincible! (or was I in denial?)

My next week at work was much the same. I was surrounded by emotion, speculation, worry and concern. My colleagues simply knew nothing about ‘next steps’, what was involved, what happens next and what this meant to them. They were angry and fought out at ‘younger’ colleagues, my YTS predecessors, their managers and even the customers. It really felt that we were rats on a rapidly sinking ship.

At the end of the week, I drank lager in the pub with a great mate called Grace. We laughed, speculated and watched the Lewis’s ‘old timers’ cry into their pints in the corner. 

That evening, slightly tipsy, I spoke to Dad about how I felt about what I’d seen in the previous week. I told him that I felt useless because I was unable to “get through” to people and that I “felt guilty” as I had no real commitments, but some of my friends could lose their jobs, their houses, their livelihoods.

Whilst Dad was no psychologist, he knew that what I was describing was something called the ‘change cycle’ and that “people needed to work through this”, like when “he lost his Dad a few years ago”. He also was remarkably resolute and stated “the most important thing is that you are always a step ahead of the bosses and never get yourself in the position that change is a bad thing”. 

He told me to cheer up, clean my teeth (as I clearly smelled of stale ale!) and get a good nights sleep.

Over 25 years later, I’ll never forget his words or the scenarios that led to that conversation. I’ll also never forget the actions I took to understand the psychology of change and how I helped others understand it too.

In part two of this three part blog, you’ll understand why I made it my business to understand the importance of well delivered change from a people perspective and later, why change will always be an inevitable part of commerce in the 21st Century.

None of us will ever be too far from change, but with change comes considerable opportunity. As individuals, if we are to be successful and hold our lives together we need to make it our business to understand effective change – and not just in a business context.

David Oxendale

 

 

 

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Energy, Economy, Environment: The 3 E’s quandary.

 

 

 

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Anyone watching the news yesterday evening or reading todays tabloids would struggle to believe the UK is the world’s 8th largest economy. An economy that’s days away from gas rationing, a country that has de-incentivised the storage of fuel and that, if the management of SSE (Scottish & Southern Energy) is right, is very close to large scale power outages.

Most of us interested in the maintenance of the UK as a world powerhouse and are proud of our world-leading heritage in developing core infrastructure backbones such as the National Grid and developing the North Sea Oil and Gas fields can hardly believe the position we’re in.

Even if we ignore the pressures of the recent cold spell, balancing energy supply and demand has become an industry in its own right, employing hundreds of souls across trading floors, but has also become a finely balanced battle of political wits. The crucial job of monitoring our demands for heat and light (often by watching commercial TV ad-breaks and weather forecasts) has simply become a vital by-product of back-office battles /interplay between multinational corporations and inter continental governments. 

With these dynamics in play, whether we stay warm (or cool on that July day when the country takes its top off!)is now more likely to be decided on the other end of a pipeline in Russia or in a natural gas shipping terminal in Qatar, so ensuring effective ‘working’ relationships has become the top priority. With the reputation of UK PLC on the line and the safety of our population in the hands of offshore entities, I believe the matter of energy supply should be firmly on the agenda and on the conscience of all of us.

So, in this mean new world, the UK has moved to being a Just-In-Time (JIT) energy consumer (we now import more oil and gas than we export) and has ostensibly done away with the gasometers that scarred the skylines in the 1960’s. When we face chronic shortages of gas, as we do today, the blame games commence. The PLC’s who are mostly non-UK entities blame the government. The Coalition blames their predecessors. The Labour Party will point to the JIT model working well in other countries, but why does France keep 100 days ‘stock’ of gas, when we’ll survive on a forecast average of just 15? 

With a mean stock of just 15 days, a prolonged cold spell, a government argument with a supplying nation or, as happened in Belgium this week, an inter-connector technical problem, could leave the UK facing a shivery future.

Then we look closer to home. In the last week, Councillors in Gloucestershire turned down plans for a waste incinerator which not only would have reduced the County’s nightmare waste problem, but also generated enough electricity for 25,000 homes. Similar incinerators using pyrolysis technology are springing up across Europe and achieving great efficiency rates, reducing landfill and creating both electricity and heat for local communities. 

We look a little closer at other ‘green energy’ schemes also facing NIMBY-esque battles such as wind farms and wave schemes which are either on hold, have proven too costly for developers or have been cancelled. Will it take mass energy shortages for the population, local councillors and the government to realise that we’re running out of options? I can guarantee that once the lights start going out, the government presiding on that day won’t be re-elected!

So we find ourselves in a catch 22 position. Energy companies are owned offshore and outside of government control. They blame the government for the current position and refuse to invest unless long-term RoAM figures can be agreed. Negotiations to agree these positions are taking too much time and meanwhile energy projects such as Hinkley Point are fifteen years away.

This week, we closed down ‘dirty old Didcot’ and soon the cooling towers will disappear. The megawatts that fuelled the grid from the Oxfordshire plant will be replaced largely by gas and oil generated power – and there’s the rub, by having to switch away from coal, we’ve just opened ourselves up to more interdependence on a foreign energy source.

We’ve now got the problem in our cross heirs – we need to clean up our act and save the environment, we all agree that, but to achieve this is taking not just regulation but enforcement, resulting in a loss of capacity when we need it most. Whilst the generators can keep the turbines spinning for a few more years, the EU will ultimately force their cessation.

We’ve now hit a tipping point where the negotiators need to do their job more effectively to prevent price hikes, shortages and worse. As a nation, we need to increase our awareness of this issue and lobby our representatives hard.

We also need to realise that this issue out-trumps our historic right for un-blighted landscapes, free of windmills and humming grey boxes and whilst this is unpalatable for many who like me, live in the beautiful south west, we can either blame governments past, polish our NIMBY attitudes, or get on with curing a critical illness that won’t just go away.

David Oxendale

 

 

 

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What Price for a Natural Treasure?

In the summer of 2012, billions across the World enjoyed the spectacle of the London Olympics. In the UK alone, 23m watched the tremendous, tear jerking opening ceremony and overall the event has been hailed as @one of the most successful ‘games ever”.

We’re now less than a year forward and the arguments continue about a key facet of any national spectacle once the TV crews have gone – the legacy.

Different events have created differing legacies. Ask the residents of Sheffield who are still paying for the 1991 Student Games or conversely the folk of Manchester who’ve seen regeneration and investment on the back of the 2002 Commonwealth Games – and arguably the recreation of Manchester City as a leading edge football club. (I’m not a football fan, so no need to argue on this point!)

With todays news that our national treasure, the Olympic Stadium in East London, will require additional taxpayer money (about £60m in total) to convert it into a suitable asset for West Ham FC to occupy is, in my opinion, a smear on the success of the ‘games and something that shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet.

I can see the arguments for additional investment. No-one wants to see such a great piece of architecture (and frankly, huge capital investment) fall into disrepair. A cracking and weed ridden monument would do nothing for the reputation of  London or the UK – we have all seen the desolation of stadia and amusement parks in New Orleans, or the shells of industry in Detroit that the URBEX community place on YouTube…

What doesn’t chime well for me is that the UK is pebble-dashed with national treasures which also require investment and in their own right these are equally important. These treasures are often supported by local charities, voluntary groups or are owned by overburdened businesses, beset by regulation and legislation.

If I think locally, we have the Birnbeck Pier and Tropicana in Weston super Mare which, with the right cash injection, could create much needed, long term income for the town.

A little further afield, other treasured seaside towns and their piers are struggling to survive. Take Hastings pier now closed and Eastbourne pier which again needs commercial support to help maintain it’s position as one of the finest examples of Eugenius Birch engineering.  

The reason for my interest in this topic is a personal belief that we can use our great heritage to regenerate our lost towns, involve local communities, improve civic pride and in turn create commercial / fiscal inflow.

The discussion for me is one of scale. We spent £12bn on last years ‘games. We’ll spend an additional £60m to make the main stadium rentable, but why are we not sweating the asset more, before paying for a commercial enterprise to occupy this space?

In the ocean that is UK debt, £60m is nothing, but to the projects and towns that I’ve highlighted above, it’s a considerable amount that could help get regional investment off the ground.

I’m fortunate to have lived in and visited many towns in the UK, north and south, east to west. There are examples of national treasures at every extremity of our ‘green and pleasant land’ that need looking at through a different lens and I hope that others out there share my passion. You know where I am!

David Oxendale

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