Tag: yorkshire mafia

THINK SUMMITS: SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST AN EVENTS PROGRAMME

Tackling all things IT, tech and digital, THINK Summits raised the bar once again when a host of industry experts descended upon Aspire in Leeds city centre.

Hosted by our client, iSource Group, we were eager to join the team in welcoming 150 thought leaders to discuss, make connections and to hear more about the latest developments in the tech space – and we certainly weren’t disappointed!

Following lively roundtable debates about everything from infrastructure to DevOps and software development to digital, guests then came together to enjoy a drink, a chat and a delicious three-course dinner while hearing from a duo of esteemed speakers.

Taking to the stage, Dr Alan James, Partner at Expert Alliance and Former VP at Virgin Hyperloop One, discussed the digitalisation of transport while Richard Black, Director of Technology and Solution – Finance Sector at Accedian Networks, shared his opinions and expertise on cloud technology.

Aside from fantastic company, insightful talks and, of course, food and wine, there was plenty more to be gained from our attendance at the event.

  1. Becoming a part of the story

As an extension of our clients’ teams, we support their progress and where possible have a presence at events so that we can do everything we can to get to the heart of what makes each occasion special and worthwhile. It’s one of the things that we love the most.

After all, it’s all well and good sitting behind a desk and churning out the facts, but to live and breathe a client’s world makes all the difference. Not only does this approach allow us to build better working relationships, but also to produce impassioned and informative content which tells an authentic story.

  1. Content opportunities

With our PR hats firmly in place, each event generates a host of opportunities for content – whether it’s a post-event press release, a blog, gathering guest testimonials, live-tweeting from the occasion or even just observing and generating useful feedback for the team.

  1. Support where it’s needed

As the number one cheerleader for our clients, we wouldn’t dream of not being there to celebrate all of their hard work and to offer any support that’s required on the day. Events rarely take place without some kind of ‘hitch’ and having an extra pair of trusted hands on the ground often proves invaluable.

  1. Knowledge is key

Working for an agency, every day is varied and exciting. With a number of clients from diverse industries, being knowledgeable about the latest developments in each area is vital to the support that we provide. Therefore, any opportunity to learn more about a client or the sector that they operate in is welcomed with open arms.

  1. Sparking creativity

Finally, they do say that variety is the spice of life and there’s nothing like simply getting out from behind the desk to inspire fresh ideas. Taking a break from the day to day and being exposed to something new is a great way to spark our enthusiasm and creative thinking.

So, while PR isn’t all boozy lunches and glamorous events as some would have you believe, on the occasions that we do get out and about, there’s a whole lot to be achieved both professionally and personally.

OPEN EXTENDS CELEBRATIONS WITH YM SPONSORSHIP

Image source: Chris Wallbank, www.chriswallbank.co.uk

Image source: Chris Wallbank, www.chriswallbank.co.uk

We can’t quite believe where the years have gone, but here at Open Communications we will be celebrating our ninth anniversary in September and thought it would be a great opportunity (excuse) to get together for a drink and a natter! 

As a member of the Yorkshire Mafia (YM) we will be sponsoring the Wakefield Drinks event, which takes place on Thursday 28 September at Unity Works. All you need to do to come along is to register using the following link: http://theyorkshiremafia.com/events/view/438/wakefield-drinks-evening

Like many other businesses in the District, we can be accused of working hard but forgetting to take the time out to meet with others and to step away from our desks. That’s why we thought the drinks evening would be an ideal opportunity for us to let our hair down and to meet with some familiar – and not so familiar – faces. 

Having attended a number of the drinks events in the past, most recently Yorkshire Day at Blackhouse in Leeds, we know how popular they are and how they are a great way to bring people together in a relaxed and less formal business setting. 

Although the Wakefield drinks events are a relatively new addition to the YM calendar, we want to show just what the District has to offer. We are huge advocates of the city and surrounding towns and hope that other professionals from the area will take the time to come along to showcase the diversity of businesses and success stories that we have here. 

So, get your diaries out and pens at the ready, the 28 September from 6pm – 11pm will be the Open Comms celebration at the Yorkshire Mafia drinks evening and you’re all invited. We look forward to seeing you there.

How to make friends and influence business

I have always really enjoyed networking. Even though some people go cold at the very thought, the chance to meet new people always has me intrigued. It could be because I’m inherently nosy or that I’m simply sociable – perhaps a mix of the two – but either way it’s something I like to do.

Over the years we have been involved in a number of groups from the more formal that make you do business and pass leads, to those that encourage meeting people in order to build long-term relationships. Each of them has its benefits, depending on what you do, but the latter is very much my preference.

Formal Networking

What I find strange about formal networking is how forced it can be. You sit in a room, you deliver your ‘elevator speech’ and you listen intently while others tell you week in and week out what they do. Not only is it dull but it has people shaking in their high heels or flats*

It always surprised me that people didn’t grasp the basic concept; don’t be clever, keep it simple, say what you do, add an example and repeat… it’s not a test.

Having more fun  

I’m still not sure of the value of repetitive explanations to the same group of people when you could use that time to arrange a coffee with someone you are genuinely interested in. Better still, if you do your research you actually spend your time listening to music that you enjoy while meeting with others over a beer or a glass of wine.

Honestly, it’s not a joke, there is an event called Suits and Vinyl that is really picking up pace. It’s a fairly recent addition to the ‘corporate’ calendar but for businesses based in or around Wakefield it’s a real must. For more details visit:  https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4581132/profile

Working in Yorkshire

Yorkshire has so many interesting businesses doing some great things. All you need to do is pick up a copy of the Yorkshire Post, there are always an array of stories about the companies, large and small, that reside in the county.

From multi-million pound corporations to smaller businesses, each has a unique story to tell and their own network to share. You see, this is one thing that I did get from the more formal networking; when you meet people, you should see beyond that person and think more about their wider connections.

Now, I need to make it clear here, I do not meet people for who they may know, but there have been occasions where genuinely enjoying the company of people in a network has subsequently led to me meeting others of a similar mindset.

A group that means business  

Take the Yorkshire Mafia as an example. We have been involved with the organisation from the start and what it has produced has been staggering; Buy Yorkshire, the largest business-to-business conference in the North; Leeds Business Week, a week-long celebration of business in Leeds and regular drinks events to bring people together throughout the county.

If that wasn’t enough, there are further plans for the future but one thing is for sure, the Yorkshire Mafia has changed the way that people meet, learn and share in the region.

Whether you agree or otherwise with the Yorkshire Mafia brand – I personally think it was a great idea – what they have achieved is to champion Yorkshire as a region for getting things done and that’s what I really like about those that are involved.

I’ve made some connections and some good friends through the YM and I think this is what’s important when you network. It takes time, effort and, on occasion, you simply won’t be in the mood. It’s far easier to go to an event with people who are on your wave-length than those that sap you of all energy – we’ve all been there!

At YM events I like the fact I can walk in and there will be a friendly face. It’s really that simple. I like working with these people. They are well connected, many of them have been through similar achievements and challenges and they are all willing to give honest advice and even take time out of their day to help you if you ask.

This to me is real ‘networking’.

Making friends

When we think more literally about it, networking is just making friends for grown-ups. When you were little you didn’t care where someone came from, what their mum or dad did for a living or what they aspired to be when they were older but what naturally happens is you attract similar people. You typically become friends with people like you.

Meeting people in business is the same. I find that the groups that work best for me are those that have similar characters in them; work hard but remember to laugh. It’s so easy to walk into an event and be accosted by someone who has checked you out beforehand, seen your client list and made a point of introducing themselves.

The conversation usually starts like this “Hello, my name is (insert name), I’ve heard about you. I think we should get together for coffee, there is definitely some synergy between our businesses”. What that person actually means is, I have seen your client list and want their details. *Groan*

My mission moving forward

After too many years of visiting group sessions, I have decided to make it my mission to meet more often with those people that I have real respect for and who I enjoy spending time with. I’m still going to attend events that will give me the chance to meet with new people – it would be silly not to – but for the most part, I’m going to concentrate on the connections I already have and being more involved with the groups that I trust.

I think that others could benefit from doing the same. Rather than attending 4 breakfast meetings a month, 5 lunches and an evening meal, why not pick fewer events you want to go to because they might be fun? I’m guessing that you will be more relaxed, find it easier to be yourself and as such make stronger immediate connections than you will ever achieve from your elevator pitch.

I am going to put my theory to practice and will update with the results. Taking your own advice can difficult but I think 2017 is a year for making small changes that will have a big impact. I’ll keep you posted.

*subtle reference to today’s headlines about workwear for those who missed it – pfft, don’t know why I bother! 

LEEDS BUSINESS WEEK, IT WAS MUSIC TO MY EARS!

Leeds Business Week is one of the annual events of the business calendar and this year has been no exception. I’m always really intrigued by the variety of seminars and talks that are on offer and in particular those that are either very low cost or free.

Once upon a time there wouldn’t have been the trust there is today; to encourage so many people to come together to share their thoughts, ideas and specialisms, but thankfully things have changed.

Today I attended my second Leeds Business Lunch at Bibis restaurant. I was invited last year and was really impressed by the speaker (I know, let’s be honest this is usually the part that you dread) and this year I came face-to-face with a… legend.

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I’d heard a lot about ‘Tony’ from Leeds Arena but had never had the chance to meet with him. We’ve talked and emailed but never actually taken the time to meet up – such is a busy work schedule and life in general.

I’m always really cautious when people take to the stage – I’ve known some great speakers and some dreadful ones – you know, those people who are so chatty generally, humorous and personable yet come across like a bad Mr Bean sketch when the spotlight is on them *groan*.

Thankfully Tony was none of these things, he had us all laughing from the off.

Rather than talking at the audience Tony chose to present through song – I’m not absolutely convinced he didn’t just plug in his iPod play list and hope for the best but it worked amazingly and went a little something like this…

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  1. First was a blast of U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Well, you can’t argue with that. The concept behind the song choice being that if there is a gap in the market for something – such as the Arena in Leeds – then there is also a business opportunity too.  It was also to reiterate that although it can be hard work to get approval on an idea, it will be worth it in the end.
  2. Madonna, Like a Virgin (confession time, I once sang this to my coal man and my Dad has never forgiven me – I was 4 years old!). The thought behind the song choice was that it symbolised the first time that in business we do anything and to remember how you did it and most importantly what you learnt.
  3. Michael Jackson, You Gotta Be Starting Something. Tony explained that in the city there is a trend to start things and not finish them – I don’t think this is exclusive to Leeds but have to admit that he has a point. The idea was to plan and think about how you are going to finish a task before starting it. Good advice that is often dismissed but should be considered, very carefully.
  4. The Troggs, I Can’t Control Myself. The theory behind this was that people aren’t always creative and ‘STOP PRESS’ this doesn’t make them wrong. We need a mix of individuals and characters in a business to make it work; some creative and some not. Without the planning and controls nothing can ever be delivered and although the ‘big idea’ is exciting the doing makes it happen.
  5. David Bowie, Loving the alien. This did make me giggle. Right from launching Open Comms we have always said that we don’t want to be a PR team of clones, and we aren’t, but I wouldn’t go as far to say any of us are aliens. That said I did understand where Tony was coming from. He said that we should accept people for their quirky personalities and different characteristics because the person you consider ‘an alien’ could one day be your biggest asset.
  6. Lady Gaga, Bad Romance. This one was simple. If you have a negative atmosphere in the workplace and you do nothing to try to address it then, like a bad romance, it will continue to deteriorate until there is nothing left. I like this analogy and have seen this happen to businesses in the past.
  7. Freddy Mercury, Great Pretenders. Again, one that is close to my heart. It’s ok to pretend but then you need to be able to substantiate the claims and promises you have made with actions and results. Time and time again we come across this in our industry – promises of names in lights but not even a dimly lit candle to show for the budgets invested! It’s important to be honest and to be realistic with clients’; they will thank you for it in the end.

And so, that was the end of Tony’s talk and what a cracker it was too. I would like to personally thank Tony for making me laugh until my sides hurt. If you would like to hear more about him then follow @FDArenaTony or @JKTChallenge.

 

Doing better business in Yorkshire

Today I had the absolute pleasure of going to a lunchtime event hosted by the Yorkshire Mafia for Leeds Business Week. Unlike other ‘networking’ meetings that I have attended, I always find anything that is arranged in association with the Group to be ‘different’ and often on a larger scale than anyone would expect.

I have seen the massive amount of work, attention to detail and general organisation that goes into anything that the Yorkshire Mafia arrange and this event was no exception.

The lunchtime meeting was held at Bibis Italian Restaurant in Leeds, a central location with the capacity to host a leading business event, which in this instance was attended by more than 200 people.

As Leeds Metropolitan University alumni, I was pleased to see that the event was supported by the recently rebranded Leeds Beckett. Not only is the University a success story for the city and wider region in its own right but I was pleased to see that the Associate Dean, Simon Jones, took to the stage to explain that a massive £500m contribution is made as a result of students choosing courses in Leeds each year.

I have to be honest, when attending some events as the first speaker takes to the stage you can feel yourself glaze over. I’m never one for rags to riches and ‘how clever was I to think up this idea’ or ‘well done me’ type talks. Don’t get me wrong, I am always interested in hearing about the obstacles that people have faced and how they have overcome them – that’s interesting – but the fact that someone has a posh car and a yacht doesn’t really appeal.

And so, Larry Gould of The Big Word took to the stage. He started the business along with a partner in 1980. With 2 people, a phone and big ambition they launched a fledgling company – suddenly this story was starting to sound very familiar!

Recognising that companies miss out on a shocking £48bn in revenue as a result of language barriers there is little doubt that a business focusing on helping you to communicate with your prospects and export clients is going to have a bright future.

Fast forward to 2014 and Gould has just reported the best quarter the business has ever had (which was celebrated in typical Yorkshire fashion, quietly) with the statistics about the company making for interesting reading:

–          International head office based in Leeds

–          400 people employed in Leeds from 39 countries

–          12,000 linguists in 37 countries

–          12th largest business in its sector

–          Aspirations to be top five

Impressive figures but what struck me most was how personable and funny – yes funny – Gould was. He broke down barriers immediately with his quick wit and refusal to drop a story because his time was up. And as for his success, he refers to a comment his father made: “Perhaps you’re getting above yourself lad”.

I can’t quite see that happening but needless to say his short time on stage was met with a huge round of applause and lots of smiles.

The starter was then served and was quickly followed by the second speaker, Adam Cope, former CEO of Zenith Provecta and current Executive Chairman of FMG who had a tough act to follow.

Andrew chose not to talk about the business but instead to focus on a vision for the North. He referenced the fact that our aspirations for Leeds and surrounding cities needs to be bigger and that taking a Northern approach, as opposed to concentrating on individual regional agendas, would allow us to develop a culture and lifestyle to appeal to those considering their future.

His next comment was particularly refreshing; he said that in order to attract the best talent from local universities we need to make the North a compelling option for those making the transition from student to professional. The two things they are interested in are sex and money; as students don’t have any problem with getting excited by sex we need to motivate them with money.

I’m not sure whether I completely agree with this, but it certainly got me thinking. We do need to look at the North and consider how we can package the benefits of all cities within a given geography before marketing it to the country and internationally.

London has long taken the glory and it is about time that we started to redress the balance. I remember very vividly being told when I was at university that to have a career in PR you had to go to London. I would like to think that I have challenged that and proved the theory wrong however we need to ensure that others have a choice and that lessons have been learnt and shared since my time in the lecture theatres at Becketts.

Cope finished with a strong closing statement: “We can do it, we will do it and it would be so much better if we had more money to enjoy it.”

Applause and then the final speaker of the day was invited to take the stage. Helen Beachell, General Manager from Simon on the Streets, is a real inspiration but far too modest to ever take that kind of compliment.

Helen as ever was poised, professional and didn’t stumble, mumble or flounder over a single word. You wouldn’t have known that she was addressing a room of more than 200 people as she recalled a recent story of a homeless man, Dave*, who approached a diner sitting outside of a local restaurant.

The man clearly wanted to be left alone but Dave was hungry and desperate for money to buy food. He asked for any loose change and the response was nothing short of a torrent of abuse. Helen rightly acknowledged that it can be difficult when you are approached by those sleeping rough as you are never sure what they are going to spend the money on or how genuine they are in their hour of need.

In this instance what was out of the ordinary was that the man in the restaurant continued to scream at Dave even when he had walked away. Shouting comments such as ‘Get to the job centre’ and ‘You’re nothing but a waste of space’.

These stories aren’t unusual for Helen, or her colleagues at Simon on the Streets, but that doesn’t make them right and my heart turns over every time I hear what they have been faced with.  We worked on a recent campaign which I think puts this attitude – that of those who are suited and booted and their reaction to the homeless – in to real context, read more here.

Next up was lunch, a delicious plate of slow cooked beef with a creamy mash. Needless to say it went down very well but the thought of those on the streets wasn’t far from anyone’s minds and I’m sure, like me, some people would rather have offered a hot meal to those who really needed it.

Then it was time to chat with some familiar faces and also an opportunity to meet with some new. I couldn’t quite believe that so much had been packed into a two and a half hour lunch but then as I said in the introduction to this blog, nothing the Mafia ever do is half-hearted.

What an excellent and insightful event; great speakers, great company and great food but most of all another event that championed the fantastic entrepreneurship of the region by those living and working within it.

There are business led activities and networking sessions taking place throughout the remainder of the week in celebration of Leeds Business Week so don’t miss out, for more information simply visit: http://leedsbizweek.com/

A surprisingly ‘souper’ evening

My nerves were getting the better of me, what had I let myself in for this time? Why do I do it when I already have so much going on? Turning into Leeds, I could see the city before me, it looked peaceful and calm, if a little dark, but the lights were twinkling in the distance making it look pretty and inviting.

That’s the last thing I was expecting from the latest experience I’d signed up to – inviting was certainly not what was on the agenda this evening! You see, as many of you know, when I’m offered the chance to experience something new, I always think it’s important that you take it.

As an active member of the Yorkshire Mafia, I find that there are many opportunities to meet new people and to offer advice and support. In particular, you may have heard of something called Skill Will; it is the organisation which matches private and public sector businesses with third sector charities.

The concept behind Skill Will is simple; if you’re a painter and decorator then offer that skill to a charity, if you’re a lawyer however then it would be more worthwhile to provide legal services and advice to these companies, who are not often in the position to pay for them.

So, back to my story, I had been given the opportunity as a member of the Yorkshire Mafia to try out something new – but not all experiences can be categorised as positive and I was starting to fear the worst on my journey into Leeds City Centre. I had put my name down for a soup kitchen with Simon on the Streets, the charity that provides outreach services for the most vulnerable – and often homeless people – in West Yorkshire.

In all honesty I have been wanting to get involved in something similar for a while and tried at Christmas but learnt that you can’t just show up – you have to be a registered volunteer and you need to go through a process – so this was my chance to see what it was all about.

I scurried up the road, feeling a little anxious and if I’m honest unsafe. I don’t walk around Leeds a lot on my own at night and for some reason the thought of infiltrating a world I know very little about really unnerved me.

I met with Helen, General Manager for the charity and Jenny the Treasurer, along with another first time volunteer Sam. We met for a quick coffee in McDonalds for a catch up before getting out and into the thick of it.

I was aware that I had lots of questions; how do people end up on the streets, how are they meant to learn what’s right from wrong, why can’t society play a better role in helping them, surely there are resources available, where does the money come from, what can people do to help, why does this happen…

Once I’d got one or two things off my chest we were on our way and the butterflies returned. We had a better idea of what to expect and rather than handing out soup in doorways to people who barely graced you with a grunt, as I was expecting, we rounded the corner to a collective of around 20 people enjoying soup and a roll.

They were laughing, shouting, biking around and telling jokes. Some were singing and others just keeping themselves to themselves but what struck me was that in the crudest sense of the word this was a community. It may be a dysfunctional one but a community none-the-less.

Just like the regulars down our local pub, my Dad would say they were there to ‘tell some jokes and swap some lies’ and that was exactly what it looked like. It wasn’t scary at all. We stood a little away from the group and I have to admit to feeling a little ashamed. I was there to see what goes on, yet felt like I was ‘observing’ these people – as if that was my right, which of course it isn’t.

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I needn’t have worried, soon enough a young chap called Tommy* came over and introduced himself. He held out his hand and said I looked like a Russian doll – my coat is red and he mentioned his Mum had a figure that wore a similar outfit.

He then proceeded to make us laugh with his dry sense of humour for the proceeding 10 minutes with his anecdotes and warnings of ‘don’t step back – there’s something behind you and it’s not great. I’ve just moonwalked through it. Never one to miss an opportunity to perform!’.

He then explained, very matter-of-factly that he was going to be spending a couple of hours with a man he had recently met who was sleeping on the streets at the other side of Leeds; ‘he doesn’t know anyone you see’, he explained, ‘he doesn’t have a blanket, so I’m going to help him get one’.

I believe that Tommy is an exception to the rule when you’re trying to engage with people who have such complex needs. The basic principle is that it’s every man for himself but I was taken by this young man and his eagerness to engage and to help someone else.

Then came Stuart*. Well, what a character! He approached a little cautiously at first and then held his hand out and said ‘hello, miss’. He continued to call me ‘miss’ despite knowing my name, it was a very gentlemanly gesture. At one point he seemed to go off into his own world and relive some tragedy, which made him cry, before coming back to the conversation and telling me that I should listen to Led Zeppelin.

Looking around the group of people I didn’t feel nervous or scared, I just felt compassion and a very deep sympathy – but not the sadness I expected. I didn’t want to cry, I just wanted to let them know that for that brief moment, I think I understood. Many of these people have little choice but to end up in the situations they do – it’s no surprise when you listen to their stories but then again, the same can be said for anyone.

I wouldn’t wish this situation on my worst enemy – to end up reliant on drugs or drink to get you through the day and help you to forget about the awful things you have experienced, before tucking yourself up on the cold steps of a shop doorway at the end of a long day in preparation for another night on the streets.

What I was so thankful for was the wonderful work that the team at Simon on the Streets deliver. It was about more than soup and a bun, it was about companionship and the closest thing to friendship these people may ever experience. Most importantly it was about listening. As simple as that. Listening without judgement.

Like many others I go through my day worrying about many things that in the grand scheme are trivial by comparison to the worries that these people have.

When I fall asleep tonight, tucked up in my warm bed, cup of tea in hand and hot water bottle by my side I will think about Tommy and Stuart and hope that they are ok, because thanks to them, I had a great night out and an experience that I will pass on to others in the hope that we can all do more to support the people in the system who for one reason or another just don’t fit.

Good night all.

*The names of those I met have been changed in order to protect their identity.

Who owns social media? Let’s discuss!

Last week I had the privilege of being invited to a thought leadership roundtable event in Leeds. Held at Aspire, Think Yorkshire, which is organised and supported by the Yorkshire Mafia and in this instance sponsored by Salesforce, was a roundtable event with a twist.

As a Director of Open Communications I was asked to attend as a representative for the marketing roundtable. The subject and question that we would be discussing was ‘Who owns social media?’

Great topic and a subject that was likely to generate a great deal of debate. I arrived at the venue, which is a former penny bank – and for those who haven’t had the chance to visit yet it’s beautiful and very ornate – and took my seat.

The table I was directed to was chaired by Rob Wilmot, the former CTO of Freeserve and internet entrepreneur. I have met with Rob before but have never had the chance to really discuss social media with him. Knowing his background and credibility as an advisor for all things social to some of the largest companies in the UK, I was keen to listen to what he had to say.

Along with others from a range of differing sectors, we gathered around and started the debate. Interestingly we ‘fell’ at the first hurdle. Almost all of us had interpreted the question differently. I had presumed that the question was asking whether social media is a digital or PR driven discipline, whereas others were looking at department responsibility and ownership based on brand or employee.

As a result of the question (and I still don’t know if it was simply luck or great judgement) and our differing interpretations the debate quickly gathered momentum and built over the course of the next hour and a half with comments and opinion exchanged and advice offered for those seeking the answers to ‘real life’ concerns or problems.  It was great!

Having worked with the team from Buy Yorkshire and The Yorkshire Mafia for some years, I was aware that events that they host are always well worth attending however I have to say that this was really something else.

I have been invited to round table discussions before; you sit, you talk, you drink coffee and you leave. At these sessions you may get some feedback and learn a trick or two but it’s more a sharing of common themes and beliefs than knowledge and strong opinion.  Also, with many of these events you are a mere observer, rather than a participant.

This was completely different and what made it even more impressive was the wider format of the event. You see, I was just one representative of two marketing roundtables that were taking place simultaneously – along with a further series of tables that were discussing other topics.

So, rather than hosting a roundtable event about a given topic, Think Yorkshire chose to bring together best in class professionals to discuss and debate subjects that they specialise in before the event culminated with a three course dinner. The finale of the dinner was a stroke of genius, as people were allocated to tables that would give everyone the chance to meet someone new and to share the outcomes of the discussions they had – therefore never being short of conversation.

What a fantastic idea.

I’m sure that lots of organisations will now follow this format and so they should but it will take some work to get the balance of business with relaxed discussion absolutely right. This is the first event I have been to in a long time where I genuinely felt that everyone was there to share their knowledge and get to know each other – not a single person asked for my card and better still I wasn’t told that ‘our businesses have synergy’ or the dreaded phrase ‘I notice you work with…’

A truly excellent event and something that I hope will be repeated very soon.

Well done to the Yorkshire Mafia, once again, job done.

Where there’s a Skill Will there’s a way

It’s that time of year again… comfy sofa, glass of wine in hand, fire on, the family sat around wide eyed ready for the evening’s entertainment, wondering if this year ‘they’ will beat the target of last year, watching as people do a host of ridiculous stunts to try and raise just that little bit more for a worthwhile cause, giggles, smiles and then… it gets to 9pm and you find yourself sat, cheque book in one hand, phone in the other explaining to the family that presents are off this Christmas because we all have more than enough and should recognise the fact, our problems are nothing like those of others and for one year we can all just go without – it will do us some good. We then fall collectively (the women mostly) into a sniffling heap, promising the world to be a better person, to love our family more and to appreciate our children and step children even when they do all the things that make our blood boil every morning – yes folks, it’s Children In Need time!

I have to admit that despite my often hard exterior, I am one of those people. I will be sat sniffling in the corner, explaining to my long suffering husband that it’s just not fair and can’t we do a bit more and just live in a smaller house and do without wine – while he tops up my glass.

We both give to charities that are close to us on a regular basis (me Cancer Research UK and my hubby Barnardos) and we aren’t averse to helping out and volunteering when needed, in fact far from it, so I don’t harbour any guilt towards our philanthropic efforts – geez I even gave more than the usual £1 for a poppy this year, deciding that actually folding money would probably do more good.

However I often wonder, like most people, where the money really goes. Does it actually get to the people who matter? After working for a charity I completely understand the need to run these organisations like a business, otherwise they just don’t work, but it would be good to know how much of the donated pound we give, gets to those who matter.

More importantly I have found myself wondering more and more if there are other ways that people can do their bit without having to dig deep – especially when during difficult times every penny counts. Just because people don’t have a huge disposable income it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to help and that they have nothing to offer.

I notice that recent reports on the news have announced that there has been an increase in the number of local organisations offering food parcels to those who need them most, which I think is a great idea. If those who are able can add an item or two to the weekly grocery shop to donate to a food bank then we know that we are doing our bit. It may not change the world but it will give someone a meal for the evening.  What I like all the more is that you know that your donation will help someone locally.

I do think that supermarkets are missing a trick though. Why hasn’t one of the top four created a charity or worked with an existing organisation to simply ask that if people want to donate a tin or a jar of something that they pass it to the customer service counter. Would this be so difficult to administer? It seems like a wasted opportunity. Part of the reason people won’t donate to a food bank is that they won’t have the time to visit, so make it easier for them. You are also communicating with those who can donate at the point of purchase, what could be better?

Supermarkets may ask what they will get out of it but let’s be honest, they could do nothing and have a fantastic PR story that would support the food bank, raise the profile of the retailer and ensure that someone who needs it most is fed and watered.  All good.

And so, now on to business.

Yes, my thoughts about charitable giving didn’t stop at individual giving but also at business. As a member of the Yorkshire Mafia, a local networking group with more than 12,000 approved members, I was aware of a concept called Skill Will. At first I wasn’t so sure what it was all about but the idea is really simple; rather than giving money you give time.

As a small business there are lots of things that we would like to do for charity but the problem is who do you give to, where will your pound make most difference and how can you decide just how much is enough?  Also, unlike large corporate businesses we don’t have the big budgets to donate but what we do have is our skill.

Skill Will asks that businesses and charities come together to spend time providing advice and guidance to those who can benefit from it. Going back to my earlier point, charities have better things to do with their budgets than pay for PR, marketing, finance and legal costs, so if there are organisations who can offer these services for free everyone is happy.

As a business this idea works perfectly for us. We give our time out of hours, so that our commitment doesn’t impact on clients, and away we go. Not only can we offer professional advice but we can know that we are doing something that will add value and help.

So in the spirit of charitable giving and knowing that for today at least charity is at the forefront of people’s minds, can I please ask that all those businesses who feel that they have a skill to offer speak to the Yorkshire Mafia about how they can help? It would be fantastic if we could use this opportunity to make Yorkshire a shining example of how working together can make a genuine and very real difference.

Ok, so that’s my thoughts. Now for one final word and this time it’s advice, get your hankies at the ready folks, Pudsey the bear may look cuddly but he’s going to make you cry!