I thoroughly enjoyed chairing the Future of Culture, Tourism and Sport Conference on Tuesday. For my introduction, I decided to take the plunge and speak my mind about these conferences. To me, they are a chance to hear about good practice and to network. But more than that, they are also a chance to develop clear, key messages across our sector that we can support and reinforce. A bit like a brand really – the more exposure it gets and the clearer the message, the better it will do.
With this in mind, I reminded the audience of one of the great presentations I had heard at this conference two years ago by James Berresford of Visit England. He was promoting the ‘Staycation’ at that time. That was a great example of a clear and accessible message –invest in tourism and visitor services, promote to the domestic market, work together and bring about some real benefit to local communities in terms of economic development. A huge number of organisations got behind that campaign and what a success it was and still is.
The presentations that followed all met expectations. They were great examples of best practice and they all carried clear and accessible messages:
- work in partnership
- maximise return on your assets
- understand the skills and experience within the voluntary sector
- take advantage of the Olympic legacy.
In terms of legacy, Geoff Thompson mentioned the ‘glow’ that the Olympics has left in its wake that is hard to measure in socio-economic terms. I think this sense of the post-Olympics euphoria was reflected in many people’s presentations and that we seemed to have moved into a new era of positivism. Rather than hearing people talk about the challenges they were facing, many practitioners spoke out about the opportunities they were creating. So, although the LGS ‘graph of doom’ figured in a couple of presentations predicting every penny would need to be spent on care in future, it was seen more as an opportunity to advocate for culture and sport being part of the solution to the costly services of adult social care/health.
Shaun Dawson CEO of Lee Valley Park emphasised the need to establish a balance between offering opportunities at the Olympic venues for clubs, communities and schools to ‘learn to’ whilst still making provision for athletes to ‘excel at’. The need to be community focused and commercially driven was also a strong message.
Using your assets to their full potential was picked up by John Lanagan at Museum of East Anglian Life, in explaining how the museum had diversified their income streams he illustrated how the collection and land had been used to great advantage to generate social capital.
Lambeth the ‘co-operative council’ gave an example of how they are retaining public sector involvement in running libraries, whilst also letting go by handing the keys over to community groups at the end of the library day to use the facility as they see best. This was bold leadership not averse to risk. Adrian Smith, Director of Culture at Lambeth also advised to imagine a world without money; then identify the activities in your area that would still happen i.e. local football teams, amateur dramatics etc. Then, with this in mind it is easier to identify where your budget can make the most impact.
Ufi Ibrahim, from the British Hospitality Association emphasised that growing tourism represented one of the most significant opportunities for improving local economies. She showed projections of 236,000 extra jobs in the sector by 2015. Ufi also cautioned local government about the need to tap into the creativity, innovation and drive of the private sector rather than create new schemes.
One of my favourite comments from a presenter at the conference was that you can often judge the quality of an attraction or facility by the quality of the tea and bun in the café. It was agreed that local government can’t complete with the voluntary sector –who often provide beautiful homemade offerings on fine china. Perhaps this principle, ‘the bun factor’, can be applied across the board in terms of service delivery.
I thought it was an excellent conference and on a final note, I mentioned my handbag in my introduction, and how I am willing to splash out on a brand that makes me look successful. Many of the speakers then decided to share their own hand luggage choices with us. Geoff Thompson, the powerful ex karate champion brought the house down by confiding that he had a ‘man-bag’ in the hope of looking cool. I am still giggling about that.
Diana Shelton, Vice Chair of cCLOA