Nottingham – Great Stuff #10

I have blogged about Cobden Chambers before. It is a small independent retailers pitch hidden away on Pelham Street in Nottingham.


Ideas on Paper is there. Run by Alex Smith – this is an independent magazine shop. But it also sells notebooks and music. He’ll even make you a coffee. It’s not like Amazon…

Alex is at the heart of the Creative Quarter and absolutely what we have to do as a City to stave off the Claire’s Accessories effect. He is passionate about what he does. He knows his product. And he’s a nice guy.

We spoke about how hard it is to set up and the way in which this will all work – we are agreed that it is down to hard work. Like most things in life! It was slightly disappointing that he was among a handful of independent shops open on a Bank Holiday Monday! Claire’s Accessories was.

Alex appeared on the very trendy Monocle Radio show, The Stack, at the weekend. You can listen to it here – it starts at around 21 minutes. It tells the story of the shop and his background.

Esily worthy of inclusion on the list of great things about Nottingham – go seek him out – and tell him I sent you!

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300,000 hits….

I can’t quite believe that this little blog site has hit 300,000 hits!


It seems, according to the wonderful people at WordPress, that I have written 1,482 posts since September 2009. That month there were just 41 hits! I do know that the actual stats are higher since 296 of you subscribe – so get the blog in your mailbox when I publish. I also know that my 169 friends on Facebook also read the blog through fb – so that doesn’t count here either. And then there’s the 1,492 twitter followers!

The stats are flattering.

As you know, latterly I have been trying to get a business plan written for Nottingham – and I think we are making some progress, but the next stage needs to be in a different forum. I haven’t quite decided where that is – or whether it is for me to do!

I still believe Nottingham is a great place and I remain passionate that Nottingham can be so much better.

If I’m honest I’m not sure the blog will continue – you might have noticed that the posts have become slightly less frequent of late. I’m a bit busy at work – and that is not going to get better. I’m also heavily involved in Nottingham Squash Club – particularly in the run up to the European Championships in September. The blog might need to take a back seat.

I’m also thinking about doing a more visual blog – we have some really interesting shops and buildings appearing in Nottingham. I have in a mind a more ‘Monocle‘ approach!

Then again, I might just keep on bloggin…..

In the meantime – thanks for dropping by – it was really nice to see you here!

Manufacturing in Nottingham – a blow or opportunity

This week we saw the announcement by Imperial Tobacco to close their Nottingham factory and warehouse. The loss of 500+ jobs is not entirely helpful.


The East Midlands has around 300,000 workers in manufacturing – a decline of 40% in 25 years. Coal was a major blow – 60,000 people worked in that industry. Raleigh was lost 10 years ago as a major manufacturer.

What has happened is that there has been a shift – 1.5m now work in the service sector – 866% growth over the same 25 year term.

And we are told that there are now 155,000 people working in “Science” in Nottingham – BioCity and Boots are key players.

I was watching Animal Planet last night – an amazing piece of filming. But also a reminder how animals (apes in particular) learn how to adapt. From the apes who worked out how to get honey from a drilled hole to Kanzi who had learned to toast marshmallows on a fire (and order food by mobile phone). The point was that primates learn how to adapt.

And this is what we are doing. We are learning to adapt – the world is changing. We might not like it in the short term – but we must learn to adapt.

Those cities which embrace change will survive. If we don’t learn to do this we won’t survive. There is little point fighting against the changing circumstances. In the case of Players cigarettes the volume of cigarettes is falling – there is an inevitability to a shift in social fashions.

Engaging with people!

I’m always interested in how technology can be used to engage with people – especially if they are customers. Well McDonald’s is trialling a way of letting people put their avatars in it’s high profile digital screen in London’s Piccadilly Circus.


In essence you download from your artwork or animation and then digitally sign in to the screen!

You can create your own character on the site and once you are in the vicinity of Piccadilly Circus, you upload the image!

McDonald’s claims it is the world’s first digital advertising screen to be fully interactive 24/7, 365 days of the year.

Once posted to the screen, your character can introduce himself / herself and interact with others. The site detects the default language setting of your smartphone and flashes up a greeting from your character in its native language. Your character can dance, high five with others and perform magic tricks on the big screen. The sign is also updated according to the time of day, time of year, and the local weather.

This reminded me of the Bristol Hello Lamppost project I blogged about a few weeks ago (see here).

I like this sort of technology – it requires some input and is more than just a series of images being projected at you. Very clever!

Contemporary – Somewhat Abstract

I din’t go to the last Art Show at Nottingham Contemporary – it was a bit too ‘bodily fluid’ orientated for my taste. I was sent a book of some of the art – and it challenges me even on a coffee book level.

Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares, 1962

Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares, 1962

But on Friday it was the opening night of the latest show – Somewhat Abstract. This is a much more ‘mainstream’ collection of pieces owned by the Arts Council – in fact this is the largest exhibition of their pieces outside London. There are 68 artists on show and eight are Turner Prize winners.

I was interested to learn about the Arts Council – It is a relatively young organisation – you can read the history here. It operates on a very tight budget – but has clearly purchased well. They now have the work of 2,162 artists and holds 7,747 artworks. Of these, approximately 1,500 are paintings and over 5,000 are works on paper, including photographs. The Collection includes 845 sculptures and 113 audiovisual works.

I liked this exhibition – some of the paintings are much more my sort of thing.

The opening party was well represented with the great and good of the city there. You do begin to realise the importance of this place on the map of Nottingham. Visitors numbers, we are told, are ahead of expectations and that we get the sort of quality art on show now demonstrates just how important Nottingham Contemporary is – on a local scale but also giving us national visibility.

It’s a show worth going to see!

The future Office?

Twice last week I was interviewed by ‘National’ journalist writing pieces for some of our trade press – and twice the subject was ‘regional offices’.


This is a tough call for Nottingham. We have some good offices here but we struggle against the likes of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester (we should just ignore London for the moment!)

Our market has been characterised in the last few years by one big deal a year. Eon, Specsavers, Speedo – they are all built and occupied. Last year we didn’t have a big deal. I’m not sure we will this year – although the announcement that the City Council were to take 25,000 sq ft in the Unity Square development near the Station will be music to many ears.

One of the questions posed to me was that if we have a lack of demand why would you build supply – and it is a fair point. Speculative office building is a high roller poker game.

This got me thinking a little – particularly about my own situation. I have an office – it is very nice – it is open-plan and there are no ‘little boxes’. I have my files there – and quite a few staff! But actually I spend most of my working life away from the office. I can work out of Costa Coffee, or on East Midlands Trains. My daughter tells me that it called “Agile Working” – not needing a physical space or a fixed timetable.

SO if this is the case it may well be that our idea of an office in the future is substantially flawed. My method of working has changed significantly in the last five years – so what is going to happen in the next five as technology improves exponentially?

Food for thought about the way in which we will organise ourselves?

The Creative Quarter and regeneration

It is fairly obvious (to me at least) that the growth of the Creative Quarter in Nottingham gives the City so much potential. I spoke at an event on Friday last about what the issues were for Nottingham and how we might address them.


I touched on this in yesterdays blog – part of the answer (particularly for retail) lies in developing the independent offer. That can give us market differentiation. To my mind this is where success will lie. It’s the anti-Claires Accessories scenario. I have nothing against Claire (we’ve never been introduced) but it is just the representation of a vanilla High Street and, frankly – who cares.

The fact that the event was held in the old Vintage Clothes warehouse on Cranbrook Street was an interesting start. The space has been cleared to create a flexible space which has been used for flea markets and even productions of King Lear! This re-use of space which we might once have considered for demolition is a great example of what the creative industries want. They don’t want air conditioned sterile offices – with their raised floors and suspended ceiling tiles!

I likened what we need to do with how New York behaves – in reinventing itself. Constantly. It changes, it evolves – the city is a living breathing mass of talent.

And so is Nottingham.

The audience were mostly half my age – but I found it quite reassuring that there was so much interest!

The future looks bright – especially in the Creative Quarter….

Lord Heseltine swings by …

Yesterday Lord Heseltine was in our fair city. He is meeting up with the LEP’s to see what progress they are making on their various grand plans. I was amongst a mixed group of public and private sector representatives invited to quiz him at his meeting with D2N2.


They always say a good politician won’t answer a question. But Heseltine is better than that. I don’t think he ducked any questions. But his answers were clever. On the face of it I thought they were surprisingly candid. But afterwards thought that they were really shrewd.

One of the frustrations of many people in the room was the application process that is the gatekeeper to Government money. It seems perplexing to some (who give up) and frustrating to others (who battle on bravely). Civil servants can take on the mantle of ‘Business Prevention Officers’ at times. Heseltine said several times – ‘we need to make sure we’re getting value for money‘. This is right and proper – it is taxpayers money after all.

But then he said something quite surprising. He suggested that this frustration about process wasn’t known about in Government. No one was feeding that back. So, in the absence of such feedback, how was Government to know?

He then suggested that those folks scarred and bruised by the process should ‘fight back’. We should challenge the system. Make a noise – kick off (my phrases not his).

I smiled at the thought – it appeals to my troublemaking side.

But then I considered what he had said. His advice is difficult to follow. Firstly getting at the right person is never easy. Secondly, there might also be another opportunity to apply for funds again – and calling those who judge such things horrid names might be a short term feel-good moment and long term financial loss. It’s not easy to challenge the behemoths of Government departments.

After all, as he wisely said, Government won’t let go of power because they don’t think we are capable of making things work!

A must see place in Nottingham …

Cobden Chambers has opened its doors to the public. This is a hidden gem of a place behind the Bodega Pub on Pelham Street – just a few yards from the Market Square.


I called in on Sunday.

Last week I spoke at a Creative Quarter workshop (which I’ll pick upon tomorrow). I was asked to give my views on how were re-engineer Nottingham for the future – how we re-imagine the place and make it sustainable. I don;t pretend to have all of the answers – but one of my bug-bears is the growth of the multiple retailers and the general demise of the independents.

Cobden Chamber is all about independents. It’s quirky, slightly subversive and fiercely independent. It’s a little bit hidden too so you have to make the effort to go there. That is part of the charm of the amazingly open-yard when you get there.

I hope that it is a success. I hope that Ideas on Paper becomes the definitive place to pick up the trendy thought provoking magazines! I bought my Monocle magazine on Sunday and ordered a book.

The Vintage Reclaimed shop is a little treasure trove. The bundles of old stamps were fascinating – I’m trying to find a use for them!

When you have finished wandering around – go and have a coffee at Wired opposite – and tell them I sent you!

Update on Alex’s magazine shop here.

Poetry on the blog

This Youtube clip might divide people – but it is powerful!

Also it’s not exactly suitable for the speakers in the office as it contains some naughty words (you have been warned).

But it does feature my least favourite Minister, Michael Gove. A man who thinks all Schools should be as good as the best and all schools should be better than average

I’ll leave you to decide!