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 LittlePicca.com 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 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!

My last squash story of the season (promise!)

On Tuesday night Air-IT Nottingham – ‘my’ professional squash team plated the last match of the season – up in Pontefract. We had a very slim chance of making the play offs for the Title but it relied too much on us demolishing the opposition and other teams winning by high margins.


That didn’t happen and we came 4th in the end.

But we did win the match at Pontefract 4-1.

My star player this year has been the Scottish number one and world ranked 26 Alan Clyne. On Tuesday something extraordinary happened. He was up against the world number five (and previous world number one player) James Willstrop.

Willstrop finishes at 6 ft 4 inches. Clyne is 5 ft 8 inches. And the 21 place difference in world rankings should have sealed an automatic three points for Pontefract. But Willstrop was all out of sorts and we sat in silence as Clyne won the first game 11-0. He then won the next four points – Willstrop took two and then Clyne closed the game down 11-2. This is unheard of in Squash!

In the third Willstrop clearly had decided to play and the game was much tighter – but Clyne won it at 12-10!

There were some interesting lessons I think (not just for squash):

1. Don’t underestimate the under-dog
2. Just because the opponent is much bigger than you – it means nothing
3. Support is still important (the crowd at pontefract was very subdued!)
4. If the early parts of the match are won easily you need to keep your concentration.

It’s been a great fun season – I’m really proud of the players and the way they have conducted themselves. We really had to rebuilt the team from scratch when we lost our sponsor.

If you fancy seeing some world class squash we’ll be doing it all again next year!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged Air-It Nottingham, Alan Clyne, Eddie Charlton, James Willstrop, , PSL,

The paperless office?

I might have touched on the desire of my office to try to be paperless. We have failed.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 21.32.28

We still have comfort blanket style files. They have plans and copy emails in (that used to read copy letters – but we don’t write many letters now!). In some cases we red files for maintaining our professional indemnity insurance. The phrase ‘contemporaneous notes’ rings in a young surveyors ears!

I have made a bit of a step though. I left my notebook and pen behind at Christmas. It was a big step as I still quite like a notebook (Leuchtturm if you must ask). I also like ink pens.

But they all went and I switched to my iPad. I principally use an App called Day One – not because it is clever but rather I can make entries on any of my devices and they sync to each other. I also use dropbox and Evernote pro. I think it works ok – I have to be a bit more organised than scribbling a note. But the notes are gone. If I need them on a file I print the Day One note!

But this new little toy came to my notice yesterday – Sony have seemingly managed to cross a notepad with a kindle and created the nattily titled DPTS1 – which stands for Digital Paper System (except it doesn’t). Even if there’s an extra “T” I still want one!

This looks to be a clever move forward…

Pricing is rumoured to be around $1,000.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Green stuff Tagged digital notepad, , Leuchttrum, notepad, paperless office, Sony

Nottingham – great stuff #9

I can’t quite believe that I have got to number 9 on my list without mentioning our two Universities. The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University are really key component parts of the City.


Nottingham University has it’s campus to the West of the City on land originally gifted by Jesse Boot. There are overseas campuses in Malaysia and Ningbo. I have been to Ningbo – you can read about it here. The University has 50 departments, institutes and research centres. There are around 34,000 students and 9,000 staff. Total income was £520 million in 2012/13, of which £100 million was from research grants and contracts. A 2014 survey suggested it is the most targeted university by the UK’s top employers – that story is here.

Nottingham Trent University was created when a number of Polytechnics were given ‘University’ stays in 1992. It has three campuses all in Nottingham. It is one of the largest universities in the UK with around 28,000 students. And the University has “one of the best employability records of any university in England and Wales”. It maintains close ties to over 6,000 businesses and 94% of students progress to full-time employment or further education within six months of graduating.

The two Institutions are of huge importance to the City across many areas. Apart from the obvious aspect of bringing young people to the City (with their money and parents!), it brings some of the brightest people around not our patch. But they also have, in recent years, been consistently building new facilities – you only need to look at Triumph Road or The Clifton Campus to see the massive investment that has taken place.

The two Universities continue to attract new talent to the City and if we can retain them then that can only bode well of the future?