The below was written as part of an internal communication piece showcasing employees who have chosen to relocate for their work. My piece focused on moving to London but with a classic Alice twist.
I wake each morning and stare at an isolated patch of peeling paint. I don’t how it came to be or why I look blankly at it every morning, but it has become a weird habit I’ve developed since relocating. Everyone has habits here, some people get through their commute with a super-skinny-muchos-frappy-bean café deluxe, others smoke like the bellowing car exhausts on Tower Bridge, for me staring at length at a flaky patch is mine. And I wonder why my Mum worries for me.
The most over repeated piece of advice on Development schemes is to make your own opportunities and I suppose for me London represented this to the extreme. If I could survive in the big smoke I could thrive anywhere. Combined with an exciting placement proposition I could hear Threadneedle calling in May 2018.
Upon arrival I told myself that I wouldn’t become another digit on London’s loneliness statistics which is why I have made every effort to try new things outside of work. “Speed-friending” events are all the rage in central London, up there with humanitarian clubs and vegan veg-outs. Regardless of my outlook I’ve attended all manner of get-togethers and learnt so much of wider society. I’ve even learnt to embrace my inner hipster, sitting crossed legged at acoustic sets and hanging out in independent coffee shops in berets and neck scarves (and getting subsequently mistaken for being French. “Je suis…Anglais”, the end result of five years of the British education system).
From the moment I leave my flat each morning I’m reminded of how far removed I am from Swindon. The smell of soot in the air, angry cyclists cursing at pedestrians, the wrapper of a tourist poncho blowing down the street, admittedly my battered copy of Lonely Planet didn’t prepare me well for daily life in the capital. But through perseverance I’ve forged my own lifestyle and friendship groups and that’s what I’m proudest of. The experiences I encounter, good and bad, are shaping me into a stronger person, the person I never thought I could be.
My advice to anyone considering placement relocation comes as no surprise. Do it! In the protective bubble of development schemes there’s a lot to gain from taking a plunge. Just don’t get in the way of my morning commute, yeah?
From July to October 2018 a small team of us from my organisation worked with Booth House, Salvation Army Centre in Swindon (Wiltshire, UK) to help increase revenue and awareness of one of their social enterprises called The Sandwich People. As part of our activities I spent time volunteering with the charity and even wrote an article off the back of my experiences.
Below is a video summarising what Booth House do, specifically the two enterprises Recycles and The Sandwich People:
Three months after we delivered our final report and presentation to staff and volunteers, myself and the team are so pleased to see how the social enterprise has implemented some of our recommendations and come on leaps and bounds in such a short space of time. Three things in particular which stand out for me:
The Sandwich People have set up an Instagram account and are more effectively using social media to get their message across.
As per our suggestions, the management have refined the menu based on the cost of production versus sales.
Starting this week, the centre manager has informed me that The Round (the daily sandwich delivery around offices) now have the equipment to take contactless payment. This is a big deal as before sales were entirely dependant on office workers carrying cash (which often they didn’t).
The social enterprise is also seeking collaborative groups and communities to help spread the word and foster a supportive environment for a number of local charities. I was recently asked to help contribute towards a case study article, the results of which you can find on the Swindon Social Enterprises website
It was great working with the guys at Booth House, as stakeholders they were infinitely helpful and useful, as human beings trying to make a difference they were complete saints. The residents and volunteers certainly taught me a thing or two (including how to make a chicken salad wrap) and it was an experience I will not forget in a hurry.
(Wait, you’re telling me this wasn’t top of your playlist?)
As we enter into the final furlough of Christmas shopping it felt only right I put fingers to keyboard and compose a seasonal post of what the UK consumer markets are trying to flog this year. And boy, has the High Street really invested a lot this year into our well-being.
Kicking off with that point, designers and retail buyers across the land have made a sterling effort to make us more aware of our health this season. It’s good to see decision makers moving away from chocolate and fast food related puns and products. That’s because this year there’s a new fad in town; alcoholism.
(You get the idea.)
Course, if gin isn’t your bag there are still a scattering of animal puns to be found in shops, however they haven’t charted so well so have found themselves relegated to the tea towel isles of TK Maxx.
And if tea towels or traditional animal puns aren’t your bag then there’s always toilet paper that features a rabid rabbit that looks like an extra from Watership Down.
(All I’m saying is that it’s a couple of Bright Eyes plays from…)
And that’s available all year round folks! (The loo roll, not Woundwart.)
Marketers struggling for new and original way to market often take a step back and return to the basic principles. Red is good, bells are better or if either aren’t possible from a branding perspective just stick a hat on it.
Even better though, you could always put a hat to something that’s already a symbol of Christmas. Because if you stuff up the colouring of a traditionally seasonal bird in the factory, chances are a comical hat (that said bird would never wear), well that will entirely baffle and charm consumers into a needless purchase.
I’ll take ten.
Now although a number of High Street stores have been making an active effort to advert public attention from certain political disruption (chiefly a UK event beginning with “Brex” and ending with “It”), unfortunately some shops just couldn’t overlook it. I found one bargain outlet stocking what I can only assume to be the retailer’s prediction of what a Post-Brexit banana will look like.
Speaking of China, I don’t find this assumption that British people only wear one sock funny either.
What are we paying our taxes for if not to have Foreign Ministers dispel these ridiculous rumours?
You know what, come to think of it I think Europe and the wider world want done with us. I mean, even Denmark (Denmark!) are flooding our stores with what look like neck crackers.
Ok, ok, enough political stuff. Lets get back to the high quality gift giving, such as these fish slippers.
Or an overpriced toothbrush?
Course, many people struggle to buy presents who those who may have been somewhat challenging throughout the year. When it comes to particularly ‘difficult’ presentees then I’d always recommend purchasing something that seeks to improve relations between the two parties. Something to subtly tell the recipient to lighten up or shut up.
Just be prepared for backlash from the recipient and their crew.
You know what, this year I think I’m going to revert back to the basics. It’ll be chocolate gift giving all the way with me. At least with festive chocolates everyone knows where they stand.
I’m going to stay in, have a glass of wine and watch a festive classic on TV.
It’s been a while since I put together a heavily picture-based post and I also haven’t given much of an update into my crazy London lifestyle* (*crazy mainly because I now shop at Tesco’s rather than Sainsburys – I’m off the chain). So as I was scrolling through the very typically Alice photo reels I thought I’d combine the two and create a random post full of random images. If you want to see more photos like these check me out on Instagram (aeb_thewriter).
First off, start with this to set your weekend off right:
Maybe it’s the work, maybe it’s the general buzz of the big city but I’ve very much got into my acoustic covers since moving. Perfect music to unwind to.
And what’s a chilled weekend without a good coffee? My local haunt is a tiny little shop on the corner of Cinnamon Street rather aptly called Cinnamon Coffee Shop.
Inside there’s only a small selection of seats however every one offers a perfect people watching spot, be it people walking down the quiet back streets of Wapping or those dashing in and out with their soy lattes to go. I’ve spent many an hour in this place on a weekend afternoon, chilling with a book whilst The Beatles play in the background.
And if Cinnamon is packed out then the coffee world is my oyster. I usually hang out at Caffe Nero on the South Bank (Oxo Tower), but closer to the flat you can find me either at the Starbucks at St. Katherine’s Docks or the Starbucks at Hay’s Galleria.
And if you disturb me whilst reading…
Or clean away my coffee when I haven’t finished…
That said, even though I’m arguably doing more ‘young professional’ reading (sans avocado) than ever before, I still think I have a little way to go yet. A) because an equally intellectual man has yet to act on this (“wait, you’re telling me Hollywood is a lie?”) and B) my powers of embracing all forms of Art is still a little way off. Case in point; this Sainsburys receipt on display at the Tate Modern (South Bank).
You know I’d probably have found it easier to accept if I hadn’t discovered the shopper-come-artist spent over £50 and didn’t claim any of the Nectar points.
But that’s the crazy thing with living somewhere where you wake up with a view of Tower Bridge and say goodnight to the bright lights of the Shard. Things and places that I wouldn’t have ever imagined having access to are now only a short walk away. I see the Tower of London twice everyday on my walking commute to work to the point of being blasé to its historic value and beauty.
Loathed as I am to say it, London has also opened me up to some great opportunities and experiences. I’ve attended fancy events with old friends I haven’t seen in ages…
…and at the polar opposite I’ve got completely drenched queuing for tickets in the pouring rain.
I recently discovered that, contrary to my assumptions, my name isn’t as obvious as I had thought. This is what happened when I went bowling after work with some colleagues (including Bev and Theo).
The weekend just gone marked the main celebration of Bonfire night (English tradition of lighting big fires and fireworks on or around 5th November. Has historical links, Google it). And in part because I didn’t have anyone to go with but more significantly because I didn’t fancy having to pay the money and fight the London crowds I chose to have a quiet one in. That was until I realised that my bedroom window had a clear sight of a massive firework display happening locally, which this expertly taken photo proves (and will you full on instantaneous envy).
Have you ever watched a firework display in slouch clothing with a plate of Chilli Con Carne? Very novel experience.
In a pictorial nutshell those are the key elements of my life in London. Work, coffee, books, exhibitions, embracing spontaneity. So far I think I’ve got the balance right, I’m spending more money (“welcome to London hun”) but not as much as I had expected. As I say to work colleagues and friends, “I can buy a cheap-ish coffee at work everyday and gulp it quickly in front of a computer monitor, or I can invest a little more on the weekends and enjoy a hot drink and cake in a coffee shop where I can relax for an hour.” Seems an obvious choice to me.
Central London may be causing havoc with my skin and with my shopping habits (it is frustrating that the entirety of ‘The City’ shuts down on the weekend) but I have come to accept that it’s what comes as part of the lifestyle when you live so ridiculously close to work by London standards. Charm and character will just have to wait for those times I travel back to the family home (picture the opening scene of Bridget Jones).
For what it’s worth (worth being not having to pay for a Tube season ticket and live in an area of suburbia feels out of character given its location), Wapping is more than good enough for me. Who knows what the next weeks will hold as I take on this smoke-filled jungle at Christmas, but right now I’m going to focus on the more pressing questions.
1. What was going through this person’s head last Saturday at the Surrey Quays Tesco Extra?
If it’s what I think it is then they’ve missed the point. Everyone knows the quality of water is only as good as the plant feed when it comes to cut flowers. Boy are they going to look silly when they come to put those on their kitchen table.
Been curious as to my whereabouts these past few weeks? Sat at home wondering what coffee shop I’m loitering in or whether, quite possibly, I’ve melted into a sticky puddle on the Tube? Well now I’ve come out the other side I can fill you in on exactly what I’ve been doing.
Snapshot summary: shut up in freezing cold rooms with the same people, ferried about the country in bright t shirts to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’. After 15 days pushed onto a large stage in front of important people to perform a corporate dance. For the winners, glory, for the losers, vending machine coffee. Scaring hashtag memories and bursting inboxes for all.
Make sense? Lets take it back a step or two.
In the beginning…
Cast your mind back to mid June. That crazy time when the temperatures were seasonally normal and people scoffed at England’s chances in the World Cup. Myself, alongside all those on two of my organisation’s career development streams were called into a room and informed that for the first three weeks of July we were to come off our day jobs and work on another sub-project titled “Innovation”. In true project style, the title Innovation remained as clear at ditch water to all but the organisers so what followed was a more detailed brief. Simply put, in teams we had between then and the 26h July to produce a new, innovative, solution to a problem being experienced currently by our organisation.
While we understood the aims and objectives of the Innovation Project as a whole, what we struggled with more was the idea of being removed from the business for three whole weeks. As you can imagine our day managers were less than thrilled but conveniently had been briefed in a separate meeting in a different building. Their ‘feedback’ pinged into inboxes just as we were being put into teams.
After brief conversations within our separate units, team names and compulsory hashtags were provided to those in charge. Given at the time none of us expected these to go any further than a internal communication or the organisation’s corporate social page, my group went for team “All Change” alongside #WeAreStrange. The hashtag in particular was done in good humour at the organisation of the Innovation Project. A week or so after that we were assigned a topic to base our separate projects around. For my team it was “how might we better identify member* needs of the future?” (*member being another way of saying our financial customers’) And with that we were all set off into the big world. It was now mid-late June and we knew that in a few weeks we’d be presenting an idea, a solution, a product to senior executives.
Late June – Another presentation on presentations…
Enter Capgemini, one of our organisation’s third party suppliers and soft skills trainers for the duration of the Innovation Project and organisers of several weeks of WebEx talks and dynamic team building sessions. On the whole these were good, it only took an hour a week to listen to the online video conferences and they required zero preparation (unless you had a question). Unsure of who did or did not know me, my signature intro ended up being “hi this is Alice, Alice Bennett here” but otherwise I held up my strong cool-kid reputation. Admittedly given my London location I often couldn’t attend meetings in person, but instead dialled in to noisy boardrooms only to question the benefit of me hearing fragments of ten different people instead of my team mates.
Other than these sessions our day jobs carried on as normal. All of us manically working away in the background to get what we could completed, tidied up or handed over for someone else to cover whilst we were away. It really did feel as if we were leaving our current teams for some shiny prospect that none of us could quite explain without making it look like we were going to be paid to do nothing for three weeks. Like parrots our default justification was “it’s development”.
July – week 1
Admittedly I was off in Majorca for the first formal week of tech training, led by second supplier IBM. Although I was off enjoying the sun I felt a bit sorry for the two remaining team mates who had to go through a tough five day boot camp into all things tech related from coding to the Cloud. As the heatwave blistered on outside, within the walls of the hotel the teams were shut away in ice cold rooms, spaces that were so chilly I later heard tales of people bringing cardigans and jumpers to keep warm.
Getting over holiday blues and how Britain could possibly be so hot still, the day after I landed back in Birmingham I was off again up north to Manchester. Here all the teams spent three days with, you guessed it, another third party supplier. Cisco is very proud of its innovation labs up in the northern powerhouse city, so was keen to show us what a dedicated innovation space looked like. But before that we had to settle into our hotel accommodation and be presented with our team t shirts. Remember what I said before about assuming the team name would go no further than that? Well I learnt a very painful lesson that evening about making assumptions…don’t. So now everyone had brightly coloured t shirts with a team name and hashtag printed boldly across the front and back. And we had to wear them the next day. And we had to walk halfway across Manchester to get to Cisco’s offices. Coincidentally management had long gone to bed by the time we realised all of this.
Day one in Manchester and we spent most of the day sitting on bean bags, because the stereotypes of creative spaces aren’t reinforced enough nowadays.
On this day we learnt more about what Cisco were doing at the MI-Idea labs and we met with start-ups to understand the personalities, mentalities and ideas that fall under the umbrella term.
On days two and three in Manchester IBM were back again to teach us how to unpick and create our own chatbots and visual recognition (VR). We found these sessions to be a lot quicker and easier to pick up and in no time at all Mike in my team was formulating his own Gareth Southgate chat bot and I looking into the boundaries of VR. I also posted several witty social media posts such as…
We started Wednesday’s session earlier than planned so we could rush back to Swindon in time for the England vs Croatia match. That evening both our bodies and souls were crushed. It would take several days for us to regain ourselves.
On Thursday all of us reunited in the conference suite, alongside the corporate graduates, to be briefed on another project we were to start working on. So now we had both an Innovation and Charity project to work on. As you can imagine we were so very, very, happy that day. So happy.
Friday was the first day were our teams all got together in separate rooms and started thrashing out ideas to tackle our theme. After so much time travelling or being lectured or learning or fighting off angry day job managers, the strain showed on everyone. We were all ready for the weekend.
In the final week of formally being off project team All Change started to do that, change. We had a concept but how that would look on paper and how we could make it work for our organisation was a tougher challenge. It’s one thing to say your idea is innovative, but if that idea is a dancing unicorn handing out red velvet cake to customers then it’s not likely to be as well received compared to something that is crazy but works.
For our team this final week featured a lot of competitor research (which isn’t easy – turns out corporations don’t like to make their finances public) and trying to pin people down for answers. In any other situation you wouldn’t expect a specialist to have a free enough diary to meet, say, the next day however in our bubble project time wasn’t a luxury. We quickly learnt that saying “we have to meet tomorrow because we’re presenting next week” made no difference at best and at worst got them asking us questions instead of our team asking them. Quick emails from their side did the job just as well. Alex pulled together a great presentation and our mentor Steve was a star in helping and showing us how to build a mobile app prototype, an essential part of making our idea tangible to the panel and creating a stand out presentation.
Throughout this week there were touch points with our project sponsors, the wider project leads and general chit chat with the third party suppliers who operated in a facilitate, support and provide external perspectives on our idea. On the Friday we delivered a dry run through of the presentation to a dummy panel of persons whose role was to provide initial feedback. As a team we were quite happy with the response and readily took on board the tweaks and minor adjustments which the presentation needed.
Despite all the craziness we made time for this ‘official’ team photo:
Back in day jobs = craziness = do not disturb = reminding team members we’re alive
Adjusting Innovation presentations = making time for research = making time for team rehearsals = trying to find rooms with phones (so I can dial in) = travelling back and forth from London to Swindon = shattered but ready
Thursday 26th July
Team All Change were fourth on the agenda after introductions and then the first presentation by Acta non Verba.
As we went up onto the main stage with all the big wigs, managers and colleagues of our organisation in front of us, we felt a little nervous. I’d never seen Claudia look so uncomfortable, bouncing on one foot to another as Alex set up his laptop with the presentation. “You’ve got this” I reassured her as we walked to the other side of the stage.
We not only smashed that presentation but completely owned it. All that was missing was internal fireworks or fire itself (the budget was there for health and safety checks).
We did good for a team which had #WeAreStrange printed across our backs (or yeah, the t shirts just had to be compulsory attire on the day of the final presentation, didn’t they? Cool-kid cred reduced to minus figures in seconds.)
After post presentation questioning and celebratory complimentary coffee we returned to our table in the conference suite and listened to the other three groups deliver their problem statement solutions. As each group watched the other in turn we were all amazed by both the quality and complexity of what had been designed and tested in such a short space of time. These weren’t “have you considered setting up a Google docs account?” or “have you thought about getting Amazon in to fix this?” It goes to show that if you give people resource and a free space then the ideas that can formulate are without limit. What is that saying about a man and a fish pole?
During the panel’s deliberation time I sipped on my coffee and wondered how anyone could pick out winners when all the presentations and contents were so good but so different. To me it felt a little bit like comparing chalk and cheese.
After a lot of heated discussions, the three winning teams were as follows:
Most viable (i.e. something the business could start doing straight away) – The Dream Team
People’s Choice (voted for by the audience) – Semper Progrediendi
Most Innovative – ALL CHANGE!! Yeeesss!
I wish I could say we won a pile of cash or a mini break to Paris, but instead we were happy to accept a framed certificate and team photo where we all looked good.
After all the excitement and the close of the main event at 1pm there was only a little time to take lunch and crash. After that for most it was a case of taking off t shirts and getting back into the day job. I personally kept my t shirt on, firstly because I missed the memo about everyone bringing a change of top (and I don’t think my company is about to relax its uniform policies that much) but also because by that point I was beyond embarrassment. Enough people had seen me strutting about the office in heels, pencil skirt and black jacket like some product rep for a new health drink. I didn’t care anymore. Like the presentation I’d been part of several hours beforehand I was happy, if not a little proud to own the look on that day. And when friends outside of the challenge pointed to my top with a smile and a laugh all I had to do was turn on my heel and lower my jacket.
“Well, we are strange”
“Aren’t you hot in that black jacket?”
“You cannot begin to imagine.”
After all that you are probably wondering what All Change’s big, award-winning innovation idea was or indeed the ideas of the four other teams. Well, I guess you’ll just have to watch this space to find out… #WeAreStrange #SimplyInnovating
(A big thank you to everyone involved in the Innovation Project, including organisers, facilitators, educators and panellists. Of the third party providers there are far too many of you to name individually so I hope that in thanking Capgemini, IBM and Cisco will suffice. You guys know who you are, especially the person who thought bright t shirts were a good idea…)
SELRES_22f08f43-6593-41cb-9f21-b91401619e46SELRES_cc68d849-c635-4b2d-af09-f72ffd6f56a7SELRES_c53bcbb3-a0ce-41a4-bf69-902ae4ae27b4Her forecHer forehead encrustedSELRES_c53bcbb3-a0ce-41a4-bf69-902ae4ae27b4SELRES_cc68d849-c635-4b2d-af09-f72ffd6f56a7SELRES_22f08f43-6593-41cb-9f21-b91401619e46 with a thin layer of salt, Ellie looked down to the vinyl floor and breathed, one, two, three.
Behind the plywood doors sat a meagre crowd, the best the promoters and her friend-turned-agent could rope together off the street. Free comedy and a place to shelter from the rain, that was what they were preaching outside. But as a late comer and his dog squeezed past Ellie started to wonder what had been emitted access to the pub’s basement.
‘Word of advice,’ grumbled a deep voice whose suddenness and proximity to the newbie’s ear made her jump. ‘Don’t go there with the dog. Thought I could pull that off at a Newport gig, turns out it was a Guide Dog. Didn’t sit to well with the crowd if you know what I mean.’
The scruffy man took a long drag of his vape as if to add depth and mystery to his tale but all Ellie could think about was the smell. Cigarette smoke infused with fake strawberries, neither of which made her swoon with admiration. She glimpsed the white box sticking out of his faded evening jacket, the same jacket she’d seen in the window of Primark five years ago. One of the buttons was missing, probably from a failed exploit about three years ago to get the cheap fabric over the large belly. Instead it fell to the checked shirt to contain the bloated stomach, a task which it evidently was struggling to do effectively. Ellie looked up at the man’s bearded face, topped with a flat cap, to meet his small eyes. He winked at her whilst finishing the dregs of the clouded pint glass.
With a tinge of illness at the thought, Ellie turned back to face the chipped door. Over her shoulder the large thumps of beefy feet and crackled growls to the landlord reassured her that the headline act wouldn’t bother her again until the interval at least. Like the yellowing teeth and bony fingers of those who normally attended these gigs, Ellie tried to not think how the ghastly male in the tight fitting shirt could be the pitched as the main event.
‘Is that what I should be aspiring to?’ She thought, ‘is that what is to become of me if I’m a success, or if I am a failure? What if I can’t move past the title of “warm up”?’
Just then, a young teenager with a lengthy mop of hair broke the dimness of the setting with one word.
‘Oh, hi.’ Ellie replied, shuffling to one side.
The landlord’s son pushed the double doors open with his back, phone in one hand, the other in his jeans pocket. Disinterest and sleep deprivation hung heavy over his eyes. As he walked into the room a few shouts came from the locals, people who no doubt would rather listen to him talk for an hour than watch the warm up act for ten minutes. A few words were mumbled limply (through the door slit Ellie could see him tapping on his phone) and then she was introduced.
‘…so clap your hands for tonight’s warm up.’
One, two, three. And away she went.
(Written in response to the WordPress Prompt of the day ‘Encrusted‘)