Transience

I’m sat in the sun with a foaming pint of ale in a handled, dimpled glass. And it’s bliss. A dozen or so metres away, people pass by, stepping onto or from the trains that make up our transport network. 

I’m at Lancaster Station on the West Coast Mainline and as I sit and reflect, I’m reminded of the joy of transience. Of passing by. Nipping in. 

Living in West Cumbria, I don’t see much of this. But today, with my pint, I can soak it up. 

It’s lunchtime and it’s a glorious day. This means that I can observe people gliding through the station, as well as those who have taken the time to rest their travel-weary legs in this refreshment room. 

I’ve seen the mix, the full spectrum. From commuters grabbing a half between meetings to the couple – one on a pint, another with a coffee. There’s been noisy stag groups heading for the Morecambe train alongside quiet, reflective ale drinkers. The lycra-clad cyclists are cheek by jowl with crisp crunching, beer bingers. 

And it makes me happy; I feel content. 

Everyone here shares something. They’re all travelling. They’re all passing through on the way to somewhere, something else. 

Me, I’m on the way to catch up with friends in Birmingham before an excursion to Wales. This pint is an hors d’oeuvre before the main event. 

But it’s joyous. 

Soaking up life and seeking out conversations and finding connections – the men at the table in front of me talk of the price of a round on a weekend night out, the two girls who’ve just walked in, greet each other like long lost friends. The man at the table nearest the platform rips a hunk of cheese from a much larger slab. He enjoys it with cider. I enjoy that he’s enjoying that. 

I’ve had a sandwich, with a greedy handful of crisps squeezed inside. The crunch contrasts perfectly against softness of the rolls made many hours ago, many miles away. 

And now I’ve written this post, and finished my pint, I’ll move on. Much like everyone else does. 

If you want to replicate this experience, I urge you to visit the new Tite & Locke bar at Lancaster Station. It’s next to platform 3, and I’m not sure there is a better place to try one of the half dozen or more ales on offer – many of which come from the very decent Lancaster Brewery. There’s another dozen craft beers on side pull taps.

And it’s beautiful. A fantastic use of a former storage space. 

A love affair, pure and simple

Like all love affairs, it must come to an end. 

At 11am on Sunday 27 February 2022, after three and a half years of mostly joy, the end did come. Marcelo Bielsa has been relieved of his duties as Leeds United manager. 

Some, like Adrian Pope at BBC Radio Leeds suggest it should never have ended like this. Phil Hay has said something similar. In truth, I wonder if it was actually always inevitable?

Bielsa is all encompassing. He’s the real deal. There are no half measures. In football and in life. 

To my mind, that meant the end was always going to be abrupt. A plaster being pulled or maybe a limb being torn from your body. 

As soon as the doubts start to niggle and the cracks appear, there’s only one result – however undesirable. 

When the news broke on Saturday evening (from Talk Sport of all places. I mean, come on), it talked of it being “by mutual consent”. That was always unlikely. Marcelo would have left if he felt he couldn’t deliver and would stay if he felt he could. There isn’t really a middle ground. Sunday’s announcement confirmed that. 

Truthfully, after conceding fourteen goals in three games and the bottom of the table inching nearer thanks to the form others have found, the writing couldn’t fail to be painted on the wall. 

I won’t dissect Bielsa’s performance here, suffice to say that his worth is so much greater than the goals conceded column in the table would suggest. 

Losing Marcelo really is a loss. It feels like a bereavement. To fans of any of the other 91 teams in English football, that sounds ridiculous. I know that. I get it. But ask any Leeds fan and they’ll tell you it’s true. 

He didn’t just achieve what so many others failed to do, and get us promoted. He transformed the club. He brought professionalism back. He reminded the players of why they play and why the supporters pay. He transformed the mindset to one in which the greater good means everyone achieves more. 

Look around Leeds and you can see colour, where once the landscape was grey. From Burley Banksy and his transformed telephone cabinets, to the prominent murals of Beilsa and his transformed players, his influence is everywhere to see. 

So it feels very sad to know that is no more. The people of Wetherby are sad he won’t be living there. Fans are sad they won’t chance upon him in Costa or Morrisons, where he always had time for a smile and a selfie. I’m sad for all of the above and I fear the man we quickly came to love will never visit this patch of West Yorkshire again. His work here is done. 

Those days are gone now. But hopefully so much of what he brought will remain. 

They say that when you lose someone, you shouldn’t mourn, but instead remember the good times, and we will do that. 

From that first league game, where the fans were left as shell-shocked as Stoke when they saw something new and un-Leeds-like on display, to the blistering performances that saw promotion not just secured, but grabbed eagerly with both hands. 

We’ll not forget taking on teams like Liverpool on the first day of last season, and bloodying their nose before a narrow loss. Or the win and draw against ultimate title winners Man City. 

This season they both hammered us, scoring six and seven unanswered goals. Bielsa’s approach centres around playing high intensity football that creates chances. Even if we’d been better at converting those this season, we weren’t going to score seven or eight. 

I am sad this day has arrived, but it’s been coming. We might have wished for a dozen more games to give Marcelo Bielsa the send off we all believe he deserved. But if that was a relegation battle we ultimately lost, it wouldn’t quite have worked, would it? 

Instead we say thanks for the memories and hope the season ends as he thought it would. 

Gracias. 

A lot more than OK – Oka, Carlisle review

Cumbria is an interesting place for food. It has more Michelin starred places to eat than any other county. It has some fantastic, cosy pubs – whether you fancy pub grub or something more fancy.

But it isn’t necessarily that diverse.

This make’s Oka’s arrival on the scene all the more welcome. It offers street-food-style plates to the dozen or so groups of people lucky enough to grab a table in the tiny restaurant. 

After hearing some very good reports, Charlotte and I managed to bag a table for the Saturday lunchtime before Valentine’s Day. If love wasn’t already in the air, the food would soon have your heart racing.

The menu is a mix of Japanese classics and other perhaps lesser-known Asian options, all put together with intelligence to offer something for all. This means that not only do you get sushi, ramen, and gyozo, but also nduja prawn toast, Vietnamese chicken wings and more. 

We arrived to take the last available table, and were delighted by the warm welcome we received, along with Teddy, who was keen to see where we’d taken him today. Our waitress explained the menu and was very helpful in offering her tips on how and what to order.

We plumped for the day’s special – a bento box filled with treats, supplemented by a main of Korean belly pork and the day’s gyoza special – duck. 

The food was served as it was cooked, and this meant that you were presented with a steady stream of fresh, delicious items. 

A bento box to behold

The bento box might be new to Cumbria, but the concept is increasingly well known. After all  grazing menus, tapas and bar bites are springing up on menus all the way up and down the M6. 

In the Oka take, you get a mix of their tastier menu options. Ours included sashimi and sushi rolls, filled bao, teriyaki beef and sticky rice, seaweed salad and the aforementioned prawn toast, all served in a beautiful, ceramic box.

Each was an explosion on the taste buds, and left you wanting more. The flavours were paired perfectly, and the selection of items in the box meant you took a rewarding, whistlestop Eastern tour. 

Belly pork has rarely tasted better

We were advised that this and a couple of other items would be plenty, and this was sound advice. The belly pork was a perfect addition, and the gyoza really were a highlight as we were advised.

Duck me: amazing gyozo

I considered ordering the ramen, but noticed the bowls were huge, steaming affairs. Our waitress advised otherwise, and I am glad I listened. This just means I’ll need to return soon. And the mizo creme brulee, which also felt a step too far for a lunchtime with a child to entertain, is another reason to come back. 

All of the food tasted fresh and vibrant. None of it felt routine or mundane. It wasn’t Asia-by-numbers. It was clear that everything was prepared to order, and that the team went the extra mile to present Asain food which avoids the stereotypes and pitfalls that chain restaurants can suffer from.

The menu is complemented by an interesting drinks menu, which includes a handful of special cocktails, alongside local and less local beers. The attention to detail was faultless.

The restaurant is in a couple of rooms, with an open kitchen in the larger. We were seated in the smaller room, but had plenty of space in a minimalist room. Splashes of colour from some ropework on the walls and ceilings add to the relaxed vibe, reminiscent of a market in the Far East. I imagine. 

Go for the food. Stay for the cocktails. Soak up. the ambience. You’ll be very content. 

I could have saved myself some trouble with this review and simply repeated what someone said to me – Oka is very good – not Cumbria good, but anywhere good.

That sums it up perfectly.

www.okacarlisle.co.uk on the webz or Insta to find out more.

The eight things I learned at the IoIC Festival

A week ago, my colleagues and I were frantically planning how I was going to get to the Institute of Internal Communication’s first Festival. The event took place near Nottingham, and perhaps my first piece of learning was that this is not an easy place to get to on public transport from West Cumbria.

After five trains, a couple of Ubers and a banging Indian meal, I arrived at the hotel ready for two days of learning.

This blog summarises some of the things that I and my colleagues learned.

In the room

What’s the collective noun for a group of internal communicators?

I’ve attended lots of communications events and I always enjoy them. This was my first IoIC event. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

At other events it can feel like internal communication is a bolt on – the thing you do if you have time after everything else.

All the internal communicators in the room at Nottingham would tell you just how bad an idea that is – after all, employees are a group of people communicating about your business, day-in, day-out. A group who could be your biggest advocates.

From soaking up suggestions like a sponge, to sharing a coffee with someone who is also trying to engage people, spending time with IC colleagues is a tonic.

Flexible/hybrid/agile is the challenge facing internal communicators

“The next big disrupter”

It will be no surprise to hear that implementing hybrid working and the communications challenges that brings was the big challenge facing internal communicators right now.

We heard from Volkswagen Group Financial Services about how they’ve successfully implemented hybrid, and lots of others in the margins about the challenges they’re facing.

The biggest takeaways? Flexibility, securing buy-in and thinking big but starting small.

Over-communication isn’t a thing

Priya Lakhani gave a passionate keynote speech covering her career, the importance of engagement and being one of the 13%.

It was clear that she saw Covid-19 as both a challenge and an opportunity, and that during this time the best leaders were self-selecting – the people who came forward and reached out to their employees during the pandemic.

These are the people who recognised the importance of communications and took it upon themselves to deliver this. They recognised that there is rarely such a thing as over-communication, especially in a crisis.

Regular blogs and video updates about your ‘north star’ make the difference and help cement the culture of your organisation (more on that later).

The importance of line managers

Anyone who works in internal communication knows the importance of line managers to successful communications, and this was writ large in the Festival.

Want to get buy-in to a change programme? You need line manager support.

Want to reach digitally disconnected workers? It’ll be line managers who can help you.

Want to better understand your audience? Ask line managers about their teams.

But with all of the above, remember that line managers are the layer of the organisation that works flows both up and down to. Some call it the treacle layer, but that’s a disservice to a valuable asset.

Line managers have a limited amount of time and capacity, so do your best to make their lives easier.

Culture

I could write reams on culture. However, that would only add to the reams and reams that already exist, and which are likely to be far more eloquent.

I’ll keep it short and simple.

Culture is everything. If you don’t have the culture you want, you won’t get the organisation you want.

Ignore this at your peril, and don’t underestimate the size of the task that changing culture is. But believe me, and all of those who spoke at the Festival, when we say it is the key to success.

Want one tip for how to help achieve this? Find your organisation’s influencers and get to know them and their struggles. Support them. Enable them. Empower them.  

We’re doing alright

Not only was it reassuring to see we’re facing the same challenges as other organisations, it was great to hear we’re on the same page in trying to solve them.

We’d done almost everything that Volkswagen talked about to encourage hybrid working, we’ve identified and engaged with ambassadors across our business, we’ve used business and communication change principles to inform or work, and we’re doing similar work to others on diversity and inclusion – trying to focus on the things that make a difference, shift the needle and avoid tokenism.

It was great to share some of our experience with others.

The main room or zone at the 2021 IoIC Festival

Getting away from it

We all know this, but it deserves to be said – taking some time out of your diary for some learning and development is important.

For that learning and development to be in person is invaluable.

Getting away from the office with some colleagues is fab. But we don’t do it enough.

Call it networking if you like but having a pint and breaking bread with someone you don’t see very often will make your working life better. You understand that person, and their pressures, stresses, interests and drivers so much more by spending time with them.

And finally…

My colleague Chris and I hosted one of the workshop sessions at the Festival, talking about how we moved wellbeing online during the pandemic.

This pushed me outside my comfort zone, and I’m glad it did. I thoroughly enjoyed talking about a topic I am passionate about and loved having the opportunity to answer questions from the engaged audience.

If you want to know more about this, please give me a shout.

If you’re toying with something you’ve not done before, my advice would be to give it a go.

Finding a balance

Agile. Hybrid. Connected. Mixed.

Whatever you call it, we’re all doing it – working from the office and from home.

If you work in a sector like mine, then the move to home working when the pandemic hit might have been sudden and unfamiliar. This, of course, means that the move to agile working is also something new.

I’ve now been working this way for around three months, and by and large the experience has been positive.

Our agile working hub

It is undoubtedly a good thing to be able to catch back up with colleagues, in person. A number of projects and pieces of work have moved forward more quickly because we can work on these together.

I have loved seeing people I’d lost contact with. I relish the news and gossip I’d missed out on – from new babies to new jobs. I soak up conversations about pieces of work that I am interested in but wasn’t aware of.

Lunch from the local café, and sandwiches packed in tin foil have never tasted so good!

But I have to be honest and say that it hasn’t always been an easy ride. There have been lumps and bumps, and I am only now getting to grips with these and trying to smooth them out.

Spending time between two locations means being more organised. It means you need to ensure your diary management and time management are strong. I’ve noticed that on the days I am in the office, I am sucked into a mix of longer meetings, unplanned sessions and catch-up chats with colleagues.

These are all valuable. In fact, they’re essential. They also steal time.

As my team are in the office and a Monday and Tuesday, it means the back end of the week is even busier. I find my email inbox is packed with things I’ve not got near at the start of the week, I have work to pick up from the meetings on Monday and Tuesday, and I have additional meetings, virtually, with those who have avoided booking them at the start of the week.

It can be intense. Only by blocking out time in my diary can I achieve the things I need to.

The home office, in all it’s glory.

This brings me on to what I think is the biggest scourge of agile working – the half-hour meeting.

Back when we were in the office, people didn’t bother with half-hour meetings. They weren’t long enough to be taken seriously – perhaps people wouldn’t get out of their metaphorical beds for them.

At home, it’s different. At home, they’re all the rage. And as you don’t need any traveling time, you can nip from one to another at the stroke of a mouse.

This means things like a trio of back to back meetings – moving from topic to topic, all the while gathering actions on an ever-expanding to-do list, are increasingly common and increasingly problematic.

I think they’re especially challenging for communicators. I tend to find I am invited to half-hour meetings because people want me to do something for them. After all, it’s more than enough time to explain what the ask is, hand over the action, then sign off. It’s rare for a communicator to be the one handing over work, however hard we try. When we see a half hour meeting, we something’s coming our way.

I’d love to say I’ve found a solution to this problem, but in truth I haven’t. At least, not beyond being clear about what you can and can’t do, and how quick you can or can’t do it. And continuing to block out time. Keep doing that.

If you’ve got a solution, I’d love to hear it. In fact, if you’ve noticed the growth of half-hour meetings, let me know. How do you find them?

I always like to end on a positive note – so here we are: at least we don’t have 15 minute meetings.

And we do have canteen lunches again.

Shaun W Keaveny

It’s a loss. Unquestionably. But that in itself is puzzling. People come in and out of our lives all the time. We move on.

Shaun has been part of my life since 2009, when I first picked up a DAB radio from an Amazon flash sale. We’d not had DAB for long up here in the North. People still talked of transitor radios and turning on the wireless. Thankfully he knew that. 

When I tuned to 6music for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it’d be for me. I was the target audience and liked the music. But what about the presenters? Where would they fit on the popular music spectrum that extends from Radio One at one end to, I suppose, Radio 2 at another?

The truth is they fit perfectly in that middle space. Friendly, but too much. Knowledgeable, but not as the expense of interest. Popular, but without sacrificing substance in favour of style, or even a broader audience.

This applies to Shaun more than most.

He’s been a mainstay of my time listening to the station, and one of the reasons the dial has barely shifted – and certainly not for anything other than a temporary aural excursion. Middle aged shout outs have made me smile for years – in fact from long before they seemed like they could be written to describe my own life.

Presenters have been and gone on 6. The loss of some has been felt more than others, but genuinely, I feel bereft at losing Shaun. The closest I’ve got to feeling like this previously was when Adam and Joe went their separate ways. Even that was different. Their departure was elongated. We kept hoping for a return. With Shaun we know we’re not getting that.

If we are honest with ourselves, we probably knew that the move from breakfast marked the beginning of the end; a changing of the guard. Being the consummate professional, Shaun has given his all to the afternoon slot, but his wit and dour and deadpan, yet enthusiastic observations on life never felt like they were quite in the right place. 

Like a shark swimming, confused, into a British harbour town, Shaun was edged from the place he should be, and was doing his level best to see it positively.

As yet, we don’t know what Shaun’s next radiomove will be. I am hoping beyond hope this is simply because of his current contractual obligations to the Beeb. Rockanory suggests a link up with Absolute Radio. Perhaps that’s a more comfortable fit in 2021.

Because that’s the other thing. Six is changing. We are hearing more diverse voices, covering a more eclectic mix of music than a station that previously had its foundations firmly in the British rock and indie scenes. This is undoubtedly a good thing. 

But change is uncomfortable. We crave the familiar, and there is nothing more familiar that the sound of a warm, welcoming northerner somehow achieving that trickiest of tasks and making their show sound like it is being broadcast just for you.

I’ll be sticking with the new 6. I like the music they play and enjoy listening to fresh voices playing fresh sounds.  It’s one of the few things that still makes me feel young.

The startling this about that is that with each day that passes, it is less true. Eventually that means I’ll no longer be target audience and I’ll have to find a new home. Right now, I’m not prepared to take that step. Though I might venture out to wherever Shaun W Keaveny does sit himself down, with a gentle sigh. After all, I know it’ll be familiar and welcoming, wherever it is.

For now I’ll end with a simple thank you. Thanks Shaun. Thanks Matt. Thanks to the whole team for making me feel at home for the last nine years. The self-deprecation and belly laughs really did help.

Keep up the work.

Returning to the workplace

If my maths is right, it’s 490 days since I last spent a whole day in the office. That is, working at a desk (or workstation as we now call them), having meetings with colleagues and nipping to the canteen or into town for lunch.

Like everyone else, little did I know, as I made my journey home that day, that that was that. But now, more than a year later, I will head back to the office.

I write this sat in my home office on a Friday afternoon. With one, hopefully sunny, weekend ahead of me before I set my compass for the office. Back in March last year, I had no office. In fact, I didn’t have a desk, a chair, nor anything else designed for working at home.

It’s a slow and phased return. So, I’ll only be in the office a day a week to begin with. I don’t doubt that these early days will be more about reconnecting with colleagues than about productive work. But that doesn’t make them any less important.

I’ve been working on our plans for agile working and the return to the workplace for some time. Abortive work started in late 2020, before the focus shifted back to staying safe in lockdown. But much of 2021 has been focused on how we get back to the office, and how we bring employees along for the journey.

It’s not been an easy task, but it’s been a crucial one.

The first challenge was setting and communicating a vision for agile working that people could understand. In a highly regulated industry like ours, this perhaps means a little less individual flexibility than for people in other sectors. But regardless of that, it’s new, it’s different and it will see most office workers going from working in one fixed location at one fixed desk, to several locations, depending on what they’re doing.

Agile working will succeed or fail depending on how much people buy in to it. Everyone will need to work differently and adapting to this might not be easy at first.

But by working together; by sharing information quickly; by being honest about the expectations of the business; and by encouraging people to be kind, respectful and supportive, I hope we have made it a little easier.

Kindness is crucial. People are going to be doing something new – something unfamiliar. They’re likely to feel anxious about this. Even those who are desperate to get back to the office will need time to adapt.

For me, I often like the comfort of familiarity. I like to know where I am going, how to get there and what to expect when I arrive. That means this week I’ll get the anxious Sunday evening feeling and some Monday morning trepidation, but I think it’ll disappear pretty quickly after I find a workstation and settle in.

Helping your friends and colleagues, and even those you don’t know through the process will be important.

In practice, this means following the rules. It means offering people support. It means not publicly challenging people who get things wrong. It means offering advice and tips to people you see having problems. It also means checking in with people who you think could be struggling with the return. Above all else, it means trying to be positive.

At an organisation like mine, it also means bearing in mind that half our workforce has been at work throughout the pandemic, and it’s their hard work and adaptation that has made it safe for us to return, having learned from their experiences.

Of course, there are also lots of practical things we can do to smooth the bumps. I have marked my Outlook diary with the days I am in the office, so people know how to contact me. I’ll be rearranging my diary to ensure I avoid Teams and Zoom meetings when in the office. I have made sure I know how to contact my colleagues, and I have made sure I have clear priorities for the next few weeks.

To anyone returning to the workplace next week or to anyone embracing hybrid/blended/agile working, I wish you the very best of luck.

To those of you who have been in the workplace throughout the pandemic or who have been working this way for years and are wondering what all the fuss is about, I thank you for your efforts.

Now, where’s my rucksack?

 

Not so hidden

On the one hand, paying £7.50 for a cardboard carton of soup and a paper bag of bread sounds quite ridiculous. 

When you point out that this is at seaside shack with views to die for, it starts to make a little more sense. 

And when you realise that this is at the Hidden Hut – a venue with its own following, regular TV appearances and a beautiful cookbook – it makes perfect sense. 

The first thing to say about the Hidden Hut is that despite no signage or visible marketing, it’s anything but hidden. Over time, its reputation has grown enough to make details like advertising entirely unnecessary. 

The picture shows the Hidden Hut and the seating to the front, side and behind the hut. You can see the kitchen area to the right and a wider view of the surrounding fields. There are lots of people eating or queueing.
The Hidden Hut had been found by a few others.

In fact, the mere mention of a trip to Cornwall is likely to lead to a recommendation to visit from those ‘in the know’. 

But they’d be right. 

The hut is perched above the sea at Porthcurnick Beach. This isn’t one of the county’s most famous beaches, nor given the competition, the most beautiful. But that’s all part of the charm. 

The cafe looks primitive, which means it’s in keeping with the surroundings. A wooden hut and outdoor kitchen greet you, along with seating cut from logs. 

The cafe sits on the coastal path, which means you bear left to walk the coast or, as most choose, filter right if you’re tempted by the smells or the queue of eager diners. 

The menu is short and simple. That is to say the offerings are rustic and homely, rather than basic. They reflect the fact that the team are cooking outside in facilities that can be removed as necessitated by the weather or seasons. 

Think pots of stew, warming soups, and famously fresh seafood served with hot hunks of bread and you’ll be along the right lines. 

There’s a lovely range of cakes and pastries to tempt those with a sweet tooth, and all the usual hot and cold drinks to warm you up or cool you down as appropriate. 

I went for a delicious homemade soup – mushroom and celeriac, topped with a Cornish blue cheese croutons. This was served with the aforementioned warm bread and this dunked into the thick, enveloping soup made for a happy chappy. 

A cup of mushroom and celeriac soup with blue cheese croutons, with a view of the sea, beach and cliffs in the background.
Soup with a view.

Charlotte plumped for a hot pulled pork ciabatta – though the name really is a disservice to what she was presented with. There wasn’t a hint of bbq sauce and the pork was thick and juicy. It was topped with fennel and red cabbage coleslaw, a salsa verde and wild rocket. The bread was light and fluffy with a crispy crust – a cloud on which the pork could rest! It was worth every one of the nine quid it cost.

We sat and ate our food overlooking the beach. Beneath us were a mix of brave swimmers, hardy dog walkers and many, many other happy diners. 

A pulled pork ciabatta, with salsa verde and salad leaves. The sandwich is pictured with the view.of the beach in the background.
Pulled pork, but not as you know it.

Having finished our food, we recycled our dining plates and cups and headed off back up the hill, never once questioning the value for money of a meal, instead reflecting on a dining experience as good as any we had while visiting Cornwall. 

Later this year, they’re planning to relaunch their popular feast nights where 80-100 people gather in the evening, whatever the weather, to dine on that night’s dish. Look out for these on social media. But in truth, by the time you hear it, they’ll be sold out. 

That probably says it all. 

All the info you need is at www.hiddenhut.co.uk. Or buy the cook book and try the recipes for yourself at home. That’s what I’ll be doing next. 

A picture of the Hidden Hut cook book on our sofa at home, ready for use. The book features countless recipes from the cafe, as well as stories of the venue. The cover features a crab claw on a blue wooden board background. The author is the Hidden Hut's owner Simon Stallard.
Inspiration for the weeks’ ahead.

Getting a buzz from the bus station


My memories of Whitehaven bus station aren’t of the halcyon days. By the time I came to use it, it was for Saturday visits to spend my pocket money in the town centre (pick and mix and singles from Woolworths, and stationery from WH Smiths, for the record).

At this point, it was pretty run down. There were fewer buses and therefore fewer people. Colourful advertising hoardings were long gone, and the travel centre was on its last legs. It also stunk of pee.

That’s when it was open. 

For almost twenty years since then, it’s been decaying. The once proud building, a shadow of its former self.

So, the fact that the bus station has been redeveloped is positive news in itself. One of the iconic buildings, at a gateway to the town, will be thriving again.

A picture of the newly renovated former bus station in Whitehaven, which is becoming a new business incubation centre.
Back to its former glory, and with a new lease of life.

That’s before you consider that the facility will become an incubator for new businesses – leading to investment and new jobs in Whitehaven.

It’s before you consider that one of the world’s biggest banks is bringing its Eagle Lab concept to a small town – sitting alongside its other venues in the North West – Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester.

It’s before you consider that it’s got an inspiring new catering facility. This is creating more jobs and providing a service to the bus station and to the town. 

I was lucky enough to take a tour round the bus station earlier this month, and it was inspiring. The sepia-tinted memories of the fume-filled depot were shot to pieces.

The new facility is light, airy and modern. It’s been designed for the future, not the past.

Three separate spaces are joined seamlessly, allowing movement between each of them.

This means flexible spaces that can be used by businesses large or small, with kit to try out new ideas. It means a place where businesses can collaborate and share ideas – moving from small office space to labs and meeting spaces.

The Peddlar cafe bar. A facility that will serve the centre and the town.

The facility has already found its first tenants. I really can’t wait to see what they’ve got planned.

For me, facilities like the bus station demonstrate the value of social impact. Gone are the days of small grants for community football team kits and family fun days. These grants were helpful but rarely delivered long lasting change 

In their place are fewer, larger programmes of work to provide a sea change to the economy, to the community in which Sellafield sits – bringing better life chances to all they reach. 

I don’t doubt that the bus station will provide a boost to a side of town that needs it. After all, when I used to get the number 12 bus to town, Tangier Street and Duke Street were both still shopping streets. How times have changed.

You can read more about our Social Impact programme – SiX here.

And as a final point, I am delighted that the Buzz Station name was dropped!

Celebrating success

I passionately believe that your workforce is your most important audience. If you’re planning a project, or are managing an issue, employees should be the first group listed in the audience section of your comms plan.

Your employees can be your most powerful advocates. They can also be your fiercest critics. It might seem obvious, but it’s people that deliver projects. It’s people that achieve your milestones. It’s people that transform an organisation.

Today was our employee awards – the Wave Awards – ceremony. It’s usually an annual event. The pandemic meant it was eighteen months since we last gathered in a room to celebrate employee successes.

Despite the challenges, we knew the show must go on. Celebrating successes is writ large in our Manifesto, and it’s a behaviour we should all encourage.

Working in employee communications, it’s always one of the very best events of the year. And despite this one taking place virtually with fewer people gathered in a room, this was as true as ever.

So, there was no physical event. This meant fewer ill-fitting tuxedos and badly tied bowties. There were fewer awkward conversations with tablemates. No physical event meant people could relax in their own home or at their desk, and they could enjoy the event without any of the usual distractions.

Our virtual Wave Awards had more than 190 entries from all across our business. This meant almost two hundred examples of people going the extra mile. There were two hundred teams who felt their achievement was worth shouting about. Two hundred success stories to share.

And what stories they were.

• We heard of an employee who saved the life of a grandparent taken ill.
• We heard how our work has adapted and how we’d continued to deliver in the face of adversity.
• We heard how a team delivered a task considered impossible. They delivered an oil change in a highly radioactive environment, keeping mission moving.
• We heard how our IT department reacted to the pandemic to introduce remote working measures at a pace never seen before.
• We learned how we managed to introduce one of the first Covid-19 test facilities at an industrial site.

We even heard how the internal communications team quickly introduced new channels to keep everyone up to date in a pandemic.

At times people say that Sellafield moves too slowly, that we don’t collaborate and struggle to address our biggest challenges. Today’s awards proved this is far from the truth; that the opposite is true.

The common thread throughout the 190 entries, 40 shortlisted entries and 10 winners, was the pride from all those involved.

As a member of the organising committee for the last two years, I feel proud to have been able to do my bit – a small effort really – to celebrate our employees’ successes.

Because a workforce filled with pride is a workforce who deliver.

Well done to everyone who won awards at this year’s event.

Commiserations to those who missed out. Believe me when I say that the judges were proud of each and every one of you.