Greenhead Park Regeneration: Family, Fun & Concerts 2012

One of my continuing enjoyments over the last couple of years has been visiting Greenhead Park, Huddersfield. Its restoration has been terrefic. My first post about the park was a couple of years back, when the main restoration was nearly complete. For the last year or so I have walked through it on my way to the office, and in a short flirtation with foursquare was briefly, dare I say proudly, Mayor! I’ve now dropped foursquare, but not the park.

We regularly visit as a family, making full use of the tennis courts and spaces for football and basketball. We often take the bikes and scooters, so the children can race around. I take the young lad up on a Sunday morning even when its raining, to get a bit of extra football practice in. Most recently I have taken part in the Huddersfield Park Run, a 5km Saturday morning run around the park – wonderfully organised by volunteers with an overall very friendly and vibrant atmosphere.

Just the other week, Mumford & Sons performed there. Now, I’m going to hold my hands up and say I am not a big fan of theirs. But then, that’s just musical preference. It doesn’t take away from the fact that a good couple of thousand people had a really cracking time, by all accounts. I might also add however that, even had it been a band I liked, the ticket prices I did not!

What I did like is the brilliant Concerts in the Park 2012, whole weekend of free music performances and entertainment that was staged by Kirklees Council. If you missed it, then you missed out. We managed to attend two out of the three days.

Friday evening was an Abba and BeeGees tribute night. It was wet. Very. But it clearly didn’t dampen the spirits of those that endured the rain and mud; certainly not ours. It also wouldn’t be a proper trip to the park without a go on the swings, regardless of the rain. We didn’t make Saturday nights Proms, and I guess this would be the one where sunshine would have been most appropriate. Classical music and a couple of Pimms would have been lovely. Sunday got the best of the weather and it was fitting for the finale,with Tinchy Stryder completing proceedings. The park was rammed with people and the atmosphere pretty good. We watched this one from afar, up on the hill so the children could see properly.

We had a great family weekend, at a park that has vastly improved since the completion of the restoration work. It has a warmer, friendlier atmosphere all round, whether you’re at a concert, having a stroll, or using the sporting facilities and cafe.

I hope these type of events continue to take place, but more importantly that the full range of facilities continue to be used and enjoyed by families over the coming years. In what are testing times for many families, it is great when there is something right on your doorstep which provides somewhere to go and have fun. I expect there are a cumugeonly few out there whom would disagree with some or all of what I’ve said, and each to their own, but I and my family love it.

Greenhead Park is also pretty much on the Olympic Torch Route, as it passes through Huddersfield on 24 June. Excellent!

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Running Scared: Kirklees 10k Challenge

Saturday, 26 May 2012, was the day of the Kirklees 10k Challenge. It started from the grounds of the splendid looking Cathedral House, on St Thomas’s Road, Huddersfield. The run incorporates a short stretch along St Thomas’s Road, then down onto the tow path of the canal, which you follow for another 4 and a bit kilometers, passing through Milnsbridge and Linthwaite, before reaching Titantic Mills (halfway-point), home of Titantic Spa (looking for a much needed free massage, for the free advertising) before looping around and back along the tow path.

Just another 10k run for many. For me, it was my first. Since first considering doing it I have, quite literally, been running scared.

For anybody familiar with my Snowdon blog posts, Snowdon in the Snow meets Spencer’s Vertigo and Up Snowdon and Up My Vertigo they were very much about facing my fears and challenging my comfort zones. This 10k challenge was another one those times.

So for context, I’ll give you a quick run down of my journey.

I made my first trip back to the gym at Huddersfield Sports Centre, in September 2011. I started with 20 minute walks. Nothing more. Over a number of weeks I built up to jogging about 2k, and mixing this in with some time of thecross-trainers. By Christmas, I’d managed to shift about 10lbs. Not bad. And I felt fitter and healthier. By New Year, I’d managed to put some of those lbs back on!!

With a renewed determination to win back my good work lost, I stepped up the pace. Four months down the line and was easily doing 4k runs, and I’d shifted about 23lbs since the previous September.

A colleague at work suggested I do the Park Run at Greenhead Park. These are 5k runs. I’d never done 5k outside. Had done it at a push on the treadmill, in about 30mins. So, I did a couple of these 5k’s and managed them in just over 25 minutes each time. Then I stupidly suggested I might do the 10k challenge!

I can’t describe to you how scary a prospect this was. Throughout May, I stepped up the training. In that time I ran about four 10k’s on the treadmill. I had to really push to sneak these in under the hour mark. I mean, really push. The challenge I made to myself was try and get around the course in under an hour. I was doubtful I could manage it.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man…cometh the fear.

I signed in, got my number, pinned it on. Went out side to warm up, stretch, focus on what I was doing and what I needed to do. I treated it like a professional athlete would, going into a big race.

And then we were off. And I was running. And I trusted to my self and my preparation. I knew the pace I needed to go. Despite many people running past me, that was fine. To cut a long story short, I just found a rhythm, my rhythm, and I ran.

It must have been a good rhythm, and I was right to trust myself, as I passed many people on the way around. Eventually, I hit the main stretch, the home straight. Imagine how awesome it felt when I came around the final corner, and I looked up and saw the clock still in the 50 minutes. Yes, I’d done it in under an hour. But more than that, the clock had only just got into the 50’s.

I came home in 50 minutes, 50 seconds. Unbelievable.

Another fear faced. Another comfort zone challenged. Another victory!

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In which Jemima celebrates HTAFC victory

Huddersfield Town F.C. Reserves and Academy

In 2011, I took Jemima, my youngest daughter, to Old Trafford to watch Huddersfield Town in the play-off final against Peterbourough.

We left that day with Jemima very much under a cloud, bemoaning missed chances and, in true football supporter fashion, blaming the referee. She was not a happy bunny!

In 2012, we watched the final on TV with family and friends. This time it was a different story. This was how Jemima felt about it:

Albert Camus, Introspection and the Social Media Journey

English: Albert Camus in 1957
Albert Camus – The Fall (1956)

Albert Camus is one of my favourite authors. I haven’t read all his novels; probably never will. I don’t (and won’t) pretend to understand the ins and outs of his work; my mind doesn’t have the capacity. He’s one of my favourite authors because of one novel, The Fall (1956). This is a story about ‘a successful Paris barrister…who has come to recognise the deep-seated hypocrisy of his existence. His brilliant, epigrammatic and, above all, discomforting monologue gradually saps, then undermines, the reader’s own complacency’. Wow, bleak, eh?

Though, it’s not bleak. Not as far as I’m concerned. It is an introspection that goes deep into the human psyche, posing questions about our nature and character, morals and our penchant for judgement of self and each other. It is the introspection that appeals. Introspection is part of who I am, as I reflect often on what ‘makes me tick’ as an individual; I want to understand myself better, so I become better, more effective, able to employ skills learned directly into the work I do. It is part of my lifes journey – a blessing and a curse. To search, discover, disect piece by piece, give rise to provision of a solution. Camus’s, The Fall, allows me to reflect on this as a positive approach to continued learning about human nature, helping me navigate life in a much more positive way.

With this positive aspect in mind, there is a particular passage that struck me recently, offering up a peach of a reflection and opportunity for constructive introspection.

You were wrong, cher, the boat is going at full speed. But the Zuyderzee is a dead sea, or almost. With its flat shores, lost in the fog, there’s no knowing where it begins or ends. So we are steaming along without any landmark; we can’t gauge our speed. We are making progress and yet nothing is changing. It’s not navigation but dreaming.

This, to me, is powerful writing. It is exactly this sort of literary description that I connect with, where imagery through prose conjurs thoughts that syncronise with situations of the present. In this case, I link the passage with the social media journey.

More and more of us are becoming a part of this journey, for pleasure, for work, both; intertwined. We are going at full speed, while each of us at our own pace. We are being swept along in progressing our knowledge, often without knowing where we began or where we’re going. There are no landmarks, only the wake of others froth and bother as they speed along. All our paths cross constantly, a mass of tracks. Sometimes we collide beautifully, creating fleeting moments of shared vision, before speeding off again.

“We are making progress and yet nothing is changing”, and right there is the ultimate pondering moment, of social media, open data, new web technologies in local government. Progress is being made. I read it. I’ve seen it. I’m forever being amazed by the new ways people speak about what they’ve done and what they’re doing.

Change will come, when its ready, subtly slinking its way into everybodies conciousness. It will begin to apply itself in new ways of thinking, about how services are delivered. We will keep on going at full speed, lost in the fog, and it will be brilliant. Paths of navigation will be left in the wake for others to follow (I’ll be following), by the dreamers who dare to hurtle along, unbound by beginnings or ends or safety of landmarks.

Sandal Castle

Since the weather over the last few weeks has been particularly wet, when the sun came out on Saturday (12 May) we jumped at the chance to get out and enjoy the fresh air and warm sunshine. We threw Jemima’s bike in the back of the car and headed over to Pugney’s Country Park. The large expanse of water and quiet setting makes it a pleasant walk for grown ups and, with paths wide enough for people and bikes to share, its the perfect place set the kids free cycling.

Before you get even half way around there is a path that leads to the remains of Sandal Castle. Jemima wanted to go up and see it. So off we went. This is what we found.

The ruins of Sandal Castle: The Motte and Barbican

It isn’t a huge castle, but it is somehow quite impressive. It was especially nice to see an artisits

Artisits impression of what Sandal Castle may have looked like

impression of what it probably looked like back in the 13th Centrury. This offered a real image of what life would have been like, but more than that, you could actually feel that history; of real people, living real lives, traversing the paths as they went about their daily routines.

It also gave me that astounding perspective, not of how long a go this all took place, but of how far things have moved on. Imagine, just for a minute, lifting people from that time and transporting them to ours; a ruined castle, people in funny clothes, and a girl riding around on a shiny pink metal contraption with two wheels!

God forbid they should get sight of a motor car, me holding a small box to my ear and talking into it. Or the magical mechanical dragon that flew near by with what looked like rapidly rotating swords keeping it in the air!!

A bit of history:

When the stone castle was built during the 1200’s, it could withstand almost any attack. In my photo above, you can see the high earth mound (motte) with the foundations of the stone tower (keep) on top. When the castle was under attack, people retreated to the keep for protection.
To make Sandal Castle stronger another tower, called the barbican, was built. The foundations of the barbican, surrounded by a moat of its own, are in front. Attackers would have to cross the moat and drawbridge and through this extra tower to reach the keep.

The views from and around the castle are also pretty good. And that ice cream…in the slideshow below…it was only a meduim size one!

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Entrepreneurs! Do they exist in local government…

…or are they exclusive to organisations that exist to generate capital and profit?

This question presented itself to me after a colleague of mine, @andysimcox (you should follow him), posted an interesting link on twitter titled, What’s an Entrepreneur? The Best Answer Ever. It claims ‘this classic…definition pares entrepreneurship to its essence and explains why it’s so hard. And so addictive’.

Now entrepreneurs, or the word entrepreneur, has always been a capitalist word in my eyes. If you said to me, “That man over there. He’s an entrepreneur.” I would assume he was a self-made business man. That he had seen a business opportunity, maybe a gap in the market, from which he had made his fortune (or least a decent living).

Indeed, traditional definitions seem to back up my capitalist theory: ‘the owner or manager of a business enterprise who, by risk and initiative, attempts to make profits’, or ‘a middleman or commercial intermediary’.

The definition in the article is as follows:

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.

As the article suggests, “people…need to say it out loud 50 or 100 times before they really understand what it means”. I’m not suggesting I do understand and I’m not going to waste your time or mine, breaking down and giving you my interpretation.

It was the following interpretation within the article that struck me. This was the bit that triggered formulation of the question posing as the title of this blog:

[The definition] matched the one demographic fact Harvard Business School researchers already knew about entrepreneurs—they were more likely to start out poor than rich.

Followed by:

“They see an opportunity and don’t feel constrained from pursuing it because they lack resources…They’re used to making do without resources.”

How could I not immediately associate these elements with the current austerity confines of local government: ‘more likely to start out poor’ and ‘used to making do without resources’. It sort of just fits. So, what of it? Well, my relative experience of working in local government, in controlling and managing budgets, forecasting spend and knowing full well that once it’s gone, it’s gone, develops a sense of care – often unspeculative, uncreative.

I also assert that some of the best work a team I worked in carried out, was when our capital funding was slashed and there wasn’t as much to throw at projects. It forced us to start thinking differently. It fit more with this:

The perception of opportunity in the absence of resources helps explain much of what differentiates entrepreneurial leadership from that of corporate administrators

It is not my intention to label ‘corporate administrators’ as lacking in the vision department. What the public sector is going through currently, the enforced changes, efficiency savings, looking for new and more effective ways to deliver services on reduced budgets, in short, must be an absolute bloody nightmare.

I would assert that their position as guardians of an organisation, trying to implement programs of change whilst sustaining its integrity, is difficult. Equally, it is surely worthwhile for them to consider how they could more freely evoke “emphasis on team rather than hierarchy, fast decisions rather than deliberation”.

Overall Change versus Pockets of Invention

These are clearly two very different things.

Change, on a corporate level, has to be a top down process, but one on which to consult with your employees. In a heirarchical structure of change, the natural steps are to look at Directorate; Services; Departments; Teams; Staff.

Pockets of invention would be defined more like this: “entrepreneurs offer their team members a larger share of a vision for a future payoff, rather than a smaller share of the meager resources at hand”. It is difficult to say this, without it seeming critical of the Change level heirarchy.

Yet, these two elements can surely be complimentary, depending on how you execute the former over the latter.

The question is:  At what level within the heirarchy of a local authority is it safe to promote the letting loose of creativity in an entrepreneurial sense, whilst at the same time maintaining the stabilty of the organisation?

Surely it is worth some thought!

At whatever level the organisation conclude it is safe to let loose, it should consider its approach in the following way, but be brave enough to err not on the side of caution, but a little beyond it.

Every time you want to make any important decision, there are two possible courses of action. You can look at the array of choices that present themselves, pick the best available option and try to make it fit. Or, you can do what the true entrepreneur does: Figure out the best conceivable option and then make it available.

There are surely services or departments that through the Change approach, ultimately suffer from the first part of the above statement. From the latter Entrepreneurial approach, surely there are some services or departments that could thrive through re-invention.

The necessity for local government to uncover their own entrepreneurs

This, I guess, is the most important part from my point of view. That, just becuase a person works in the public sector, does not automatically mean they do not possess the entrepeneurial vision or skill of somebody who applies their skills in the private sector.

If we just quickly go back to the original definition:

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.

Never has there been a time in local government, where there is so much need for the rise of the public sector entrepreneur. This is a person, or people, who operate in a way that is beyond the need of immediate resource. People who are not restrained by tradition or blinkered by long established process.

I am certain that these people exist in local government. I am certain because I’m pretty sure I know some. Not only that, I have worked alongside some who have inspired me to change the way I think about service delivery.

The unfortunate restriction is that, rather than being able to continually pursue their entrepreneurial outlook and vision, it is a second place role to their ‘day job’, which means they are heavily restricted in bringing their special qualities to the table as much as they should, which is therefore detrimental to progressing new ways of doing things.

If somebody could find a way to discover public sector entrepreneurs, freeing them from the confines of their daily chores, allowing them the freedom to explore, I believe the potential then exisits for local government to really change and meet the challenges it is currently faced with, and those it will be faced with for a number of years to come.

I sincerely think it would be worth investigating.

How do you think local government can find and let loose public sector entrepreneurs, whilst maintaing the strong governance and integrity of the organisation? There must be an answer. Maybe it needs an entrepreneur to start the ball rolling?

Councillors need to get down with the Social Media Disco

Hip Young Councillors Are After Your Seat

Chances are that newcomers to the local political playground will be social media savvy. Younger, faster, slicker than their long established peers? Maybe! Better politicians? Perhaps not, yet, but given time and the benefit of advice and guidance of their peers and they have the potential to be. The combination of this ongoig political education and use of social media tools, will over time strengthen the potential for the newbies to reach out further to their constituents. In the annual game of political musical chairs, those who can play the social media tune alongside the doorstep dancing, will find they’re the ones more likely to be sitting on the chair when DJ Purdah stops the music.

That said, not all long established councillors are social media ignorant, nor all young inaugurals aware of the real value or potential of social media tools. Just because you have a Facebook page or blog, or Twitter account, doesn’t automatically give you one-up-man-ship on an opponent who does without.

Maybe I have over-egged the impact use of social media tools can have on wooing the electorate, as you still cannot beat that face to face door step discussion, where your potential voter gets to see you and listen to you in the flesh. Human to human interaction, even for social media advocates, is not something dismissed as outdated and wasteful use of time. However, the way society is shaping up and technology allowing for swathes of citizens to access the internet and develop their own online presence, as we see commercial organisations beginning to utilise these tools for marketing and developing stronger customer bases, councillors need to also recognise the opportunities to develop and connect with their own customers in this very same way.

By having a blog, using twitter, setting up a facebook page, all and any councillor can begin to tap into the online communities that exist, and which are spreading all the time. Councillors are pretty blooming good at doing social: Listening, discussing, supporting, and taking up issues on behalf of residents or groups in the community. Social media tools therefore should hold little fear, although they do seem to in many cases.

The fact is that, even if you just have basic IT skills, it’s enough to be able to use a range of online tools. The biggest barrier is having the confidence to use them, or find out which one (if not all) is for you. Yet, it’s not just confidence about the tools themselves, rather how they can be used effectively.

CllrSocMed

Last year the CllrSocMed team undertook a number of social media group sessions across the Yorkshire and Humber region. These sessions were purely for councillors who wanted to know more about the ins and outs of social media, what it meant, the potential pit falls, saying the wrong thing, why should they use it, how will it make their life easier as surely its just something else they have tolearn but don’t have time for!

In excess of 50 councillors attended those sessions. Each of them took something positive away. The age range varied, as did the political hue.

The best thing about those sessions though was that they were not run by council officers, but fronted by councillors already using social media. Who better for a councillor to talk to, listen to, debate the range of issues that the words ‘social media’ raise, than with a peer who already uses them? So, whilst the officers offered technical support, Cllr Cooke (@SimonMagus), Cllr Cheetham (@CllrTim) and Cllr Cooper (@clrandrewcooper) were at the forefront of discussion, debate, advice and encouragement.

Some learning resources you just can’t buy…because they’re FREE!

What the CllrSocMed team were able to do was to capture a lot of learning from these sessions, developing resources that could be used by councillors anywhere across the country. They were generated as a direct result of questions raised and debates had by and between councillors.

This particular link will direct you to a range of material, to give you a flavour of what is on offer.

Where can CllrSocMed next be found?

The CllrSocMed team will next be found at Local Gov Camp North West, on 4 February 2012, and are very much looking forward to hopping over the border into the red rose county.

The role councillors play in the lives of their communities can be pivotal, especially in terms of planning, environment, community safety, health and education. If you had the option to make an even greater impact by reaching more people in your community, morereadily, that can only be a good thing, a quite powerful thing. Social media is the means by which this can happen!