Archives for category: creative thinking

wrexham arts and cultural hub

Town and city centres all over the UK are facing huge challenges.

Shopping habits have changed. Disruptive technologies like e-commerce have emerged. And the role of our high-streets is less certain than ever.

Putting life and purpose back into these places – which are suffering from fewer shoppers and fewer shops – will be hard.

But it’s something we need to figure out.

A lot of towns and cities are trying to find an answer, and one idea in the mix is the arts.

In other words, there’s a belief that arts and culture can have a real impact on urban regeneration.

Now that might sound very light and fluffy (and public sector). But there are some huge success stories out there. Read on…


from liverpool to bristol…

Governments and councils have supported arts projects for a long time with a view to encouraging economic and social improvement.

Famous examples include the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Millennium Dome. And the cultural aspect of London 2012.

Did they make a difference? Well, it’s much-debated. But you don’t have to look too hard to find solid examples of return-on-investment.

Take the Albert Docks in Liverpool.

Built for sailing ships, the docks struggled to stay relevant in the 20th Century and fell into decline. Abandoned buildings, silted-up beds and job-losses to boot.

But in the 1980s Liverpool turned things around and created a cultural hub – with the Tate Liverpool arts centre at its heart.

It rejuvenated the docks (very few people will argue otherwise), helping to stimulate economic growth and create community and educational benefits for the city.

The Arnolfini arts centre is another example. It set up shop on Bristol’s waterfront in 1975, in an area that was a wasteland of disused warehouses (left over from when it was a thriving commercial port).

Again, it’s generally accepted that the Arnolfini played a key part in turning the harbour into a buzzing cultural hub. An economically important part of the city, full of cool cafes and trendy start-ups.

And Hull is in the news right now.

Chosen as 2017 UK City of Culture, Hull is hoping to reap big economic benefits – including inward investment (and they’re already doing brilliantly), jobs, tourism and skills opportunities for local people.

And if the experiences of Derry-Londonderry (City of Culture in 2013) are anything to go by, there’s no reason to think it won’t happen.


…to wrexham

Here in Wrexham, we’re also looking to the arts to help us manage the impact of economic challenges.

Welsh Government, Arts Council of Wales and Wrexham Council have committed £5m to help transform one of our indoor markets and multi-storey car-parks into a buzzing cultural centre.

Work on the People’s Market Arts and Cultural Space is set to begin in 2017. The building will offer space for touring exhibitions, work-shops, creative start-up businesses, events and performances.

And as the name suggests, it won’t just be an arts centre.

The market will continue to trade in the building, with stall-holders embracing the challenge of being part of something new. The market will feed-off and compliment the cultural offer – blending the life and vibrancy of stallholders with the creativity of artists. How good is that?

The reason we’re doing this is simple. Like everywhere else, we have fewer shops and fewer shoppers. And unless the internet breaks, there’s not much chance of winding the clock back to the noughties and 90s, when high streets were all about shopping.

So we need to find new ways to keep our town centres relevant. And we think arts and culture is part of the solution.

As well as providing a home for creative entrepreneurs and start-ups, our new arts centre will help us attract tourists and other leisure users.

In other words, it’ll help us attract more people for different reasons, helping to prolong their stay and increase what they spend in the town centre – supporting the businesses that remain.

wrexham arts hub

An artist’s impression of the People’s Market Arts and Cultural Space.


not all about money

And there’s another benefit we’re hoping to reap.

Projects like this usually bring big social and educational opportunities – helping people experience new things and grow their confidence.

Engaging local people in the arts – particularly the young – can really open doors. And that doesn’t have to mean creating art.

There’s all the other stuff that goes on around it – the curation, venue-management, event-management, marketing and so on. Lots of opportunities to develop skills and get experience.

The facilities will also be available to local groups for activities like dance, providing an inspiring rehearsal space.

Of course, our project is nowhere near the scale of the Albert Docks – or the Bristol docks.

But the People’s Market Arts and Cultural Space is a massive project for Wrexham. It’s huge.

We’re not expecting art to solve all of our town centre problems. But it’s going to be a really important – and really exciting – part of the solution.

helen paterson's blog

Anyone with a blog will tell you…some articles turn out better than others.

I’ve been running this blog for two years now.

I’ve posted over 30 articles on topics ranging from digital transformation to building sandcastles on Harlech beach.

If you’ve read any, I hope they were OK. Maybe even useful.

But maybe one of the hardest things is deciding what to write about.

So like everyone else these days, I use data to help me.

It’s primitive (!), but I try to keep an eye on the number of shares each article gets on LinkedIn.

And I look for any little spikes in traffic to help me get a feel for which content works best.

And then I write more of the same. Except I don’t. Not always.


If I was a professional blogger aiming to build huge volumes of traffic, I’d be using analytics to help shape my content strategy.

But I have a confession to make. While I do write these articles for other people to enjoy and hopefully gain the odd insight from, I also write them for myself.

It helps me map out my thoughts and ideas about work. And talking to colleagues about the articles helps stimulate a bit of creative thinking and generates new ideas.

So it’s a touch introspective at times, but it serves a useful purpose.

Now lets be clear. I’m a big fan of data in decision-making, and digitisation has given us data we didn’t dream of 10 – or even five – years ago.

But sometimes – when there isn’t much at risk – it’s probably OK to ignore it, and just follow your ideas where they take you (remind me I said that when people stop reading this blog).

So with that in mind, here are my top three articles.

Not necessarily my best articles. Or the most shared. Or the ones with the most page views.

Just the ones I like best.

– ‘Leadership in difficult times
– ‘Play
– ‘No purpose? No productivity

You’ve seen one office, you’ve seen ‘em all.

Well. Not quite.

The basic functions and features of offices have been pretty routine for a long time.

Chairs, tables, laptops, phones. A space to focus. To come together with colleagues and communicate. A marker between life inside work, and outside work.

But some organisations are going further and deeper in their quest to provide productive settings for employees.

There’s the Apple ‘donut’ in Cupertino.

And the Amazon ‘biosphere’ in Seattle.

And the Moneypenny ‘dreamland’ in…Wrexham.

That’s right. Wrexham-based Moneypenny will soon have an office-building that’s every bit as radical and innovative as the tech giants of our time.

Artist's impression of the new Moneypenny HQ in Wrexham.

more than just an office

The company – which provides outsourced call-handling, and has branches in New Zealand and Charleston, South Carolina in the US – has confirmed its continuing commitment to Wrexham by announcing plans to build a brand new HQ here.

Now that’s brilliant news for us. Moneypenny is a major local employer.

But what’s really interesting is the new-thinking behind the creation of the building.

Described as “10 acres of dreamland”, the £15 million development will include a treehouse, village pub and desks with spectacular countryside views.

It’ll also include nature trails, orchards and vegetable gardens.

Artist's impression of the interior of the new Moneypenny HQ.

somewhere you want to be

So what’s it all about? Why are companies with a reputation for forward-thinking creating these work-spaces?

Are they making a statement that supports their brand? Maybe. But it’s usually deeper than that.

It’s no accident that Moneypenny has consistently found itself on the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

It understands the benefits of having happy employees. And it achieves that partly by creating a brilliant working environment.

If you like where you work, you work better.


There’s another angle to this too.

Forward-thinking organisations need forward-thinkers.

You can bet that’s right at the front of company-thinking when the likes of Apple, Amazon, Google, Moneypenny and thousands of other organisations design their working environment.

When you think of creative agencies, you think of games rooms, soft sink-down sofas, posh coffee and rooftop patios.

Yes it creates a good impression for customers. Of course it does. But it’s about nurturing a creative mindset among employees.

If you work in a setting where the rules and rituals feel malleable (within reason), your thinking becomes more malleable.

Moneypenny co-founder and director Ed Reeves says: “We literally sat down with a blank piece of paper and asked ourselves ‘what could we do with these 10 acres of dream greenfield land?’

“The answer was to create our ideal home – somewhere exciting and innovative, yet practical.”

Moneypenny HQ in Wrexham.


When a business like Moneypenny reveals a vision like this to the world, it sends out a brilliant message about Wrexham.

It says ‘this is a place where innovative companies can grow.’ How great is that?

(Take a look at my previous article Blood, Sweat and Ideas to learn more about innovation in Wrexham.)

Of course, buildings and office space are only part of the picture. It’s about people. It’s about investing in your workforce.

Wrexham Council – like everyone else in the public sector – is facing huge financial challenges. We’re reshaping and resizing to meet that challenge, and we can’t build incredible work-spaces for staff.

But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in our employees and create the best environment and conditions we can.

If we invest in our staff, they’ll invest in our customers.

And investing in customers is at very heart of our business model.

Moneypenny HQ interior in Wrexham.

I’m not a PR expert. I’m not an advertising expert. But I’m a consumer.

And it seems to me – as a consumer – that something has changed in the past few years.

The hard “buy this product – it will change you life” message seems to have softened. Or at least, the way the message is delivered has softened.

where have all the straplines gone?

Nearly every business and organisation used to have a strapline that promised something great.

Councils and government were always talking about “making life better” or “creating happiness” and so on.

Global brands urged us to “think different”. To “just do it.”

But it feels like a lot organisations – including some of the biggest brands in the world – have quietly retired these once iconic marketing phrases. Or at least wound down their usage.

And instead of saying “our product will change your life”, they’re saying “look at what these other people thought of our product.”

Signposting, instead of hard-selling dialogue with customers.

I’m beginning to wonder why that might be?

consumer awareness

Maybe it just feels dated now?

Or maybe, in a socially-connected age when opinions, product-experiences and reviews are just a smart-phone away, consumer awareness (and scepticism?) has increased.

Perhaps we don’t trust organisations to appraise their own product or idea (perhaps we never did, but had no choice until now?). We want to know what other people think.

Maybe savvy organisations know that.

And in local government, maybe it’s even more important that we embrace these changes.

People trust public-sector organisations to provide reliable, factual, useful information.

But maybe they don’t trust subjective commentary about how good things are?

If a council says “this is a brilliant place to live, work, grow a business” and so on, a lot people are going to respond with “you would say that…it’s your job to say that and to help to make it a great place for these things.”

So for me, shouting loudest and longest doesn’t cut the mustard any more. For me, it’s not sensitive or thoughtful enough.

banging the drum for wrexham

In Wrexham, we’re communicating our message just like everyone else.

We want people to know that this is a great place to grow a business, to study, live, visit and so on. I know because I live here. And I’m a consumer.

But a lot of our work has shifted away from the bold rhetoric of a few years ago.

We try to sign-post audiences to what other people are saying.

Instead of tweeting ‘Wrexham is brilliant’ every five minutes, we sign-post to media stories, social content, blogs and other sources that communicate our message for us.

Content posted by product-users if you like – people who’ve experienced Wrexham and have an opinion.

We write case studies that focus on the success and experiences of different businesses here, and so on.

Businesses like Moneypenny, Brother or UCML.

This feels right.

Just shouting loud and long about how great you are doesn’t work any more.

on the flip-side…

There’s an irony here.

As advertisers and marketing people have softened their sales pitch, we – as individuals – have started to hard-sell ourselves in a way that never used to be possible.

People have always said things to try and look good in front of their friends and peers. That’s human nature.

But social media has amplified that.

So much so that the phrase ‘humble brag’ has entered the English language – used to describe bragging (usually online) that’s couched in false self-deprecation.

“So surprised to be invited to speak at the Conference of Something Massively Important. Little old me?!” That sort of thing.

So – as advertisers have grown more humility – we’ve lost some of ours.


We all need inspiration.

Something – or someone – that lifts us and makes us feel things are…well…possible.

A couple of months back, I went to a lecture at Glyndwr University by the mountaineer Doug Scott.

This elderly, grey-haired gentleman was in Wrexham to talk about his experiences on some of the world’s highest peaks.

He showed the audience photographs and told us about the challenges he’d faced.

Things like coping with two broken legs – caused by a fall. And then crawling for eight days to make it back to base camp.

He spoke of friends killed on climbs. And other scenarios of life and death and survival.

(If you want to learn more about Doug Scott, here’s a recent interview on YouTube…)

But the really moving thing was the way he talked with such matter-of-fact modesty. As though he hadn’t done anything special.

His gentle enthusiasm for the mountains was infectious. And his dedication to improving the lives of the Nepalise people through Community Action Nepal (CAN) made a deep impression on the audience.

And – while he was inspiring us – he talked about people who inspired him.

For example, a doctor from Liphook in Hampshire, who  regularly gives her time to set up and work at medical centres in remote parts of Nepal (I used to be a headteacher in Liphook…small world!).

It got me thinking.

It’s an amazing thing how one person’s actions can inspire another.

A lot of people inspire me.

People like Doug Scott.

And people right here in Wrexham, who’ve done amazing things.

For example, the fans at Wrexham FC who – through the supporters trust – helped turn the club around when it was faced with huge debts and an uncertain future.

Or local sportspeople. Like double Olympic gold-medalist Tom James and silver medalist Chris Bartley, who dedicated themselves to reaching the top of their fields.

Or the individuals behind local charities like Nightingale House , who make a difference to so many lives.

These are just some of the people that inspire me. And they – in turn – are probably inspired by others.

Like I said, we all need inspiration.

So what inspires you?

Question: does Google influence our daily lives more than government?


Every day we make decisions.

Decisions in work. At home. Some trivial. Some not.

So how many of those decisions are influenced by the search engine? If you’re reading this blog you obviously use the internet. So I’d guess quite a few.

It’s hard to believe that this tech firm – which started life in a garage back in 1998 – has embedded itself so deeply in our day-to-day lives in 2013.

For me, Google is one of the most influential entities on the planet and an incredible example of how creative thinking can lead to amazing success.

And that’s what this blog post is about. Converting creative thinking into tangible success.

So where does creative thinking start? Well, maybe Steven Johnson is a good person to ask? Take a look at this film…

I’d agree that connectivity with other thinkers, and time to think, are conditions that can help innovative ideas form.

But for me, the idea is just the start. Great ideas don’t become reality without hard work.

And maybe the greatest visionaries in human history were as much about commitment and stamina as anything else.

Albert Einstein. Steve Jobs. Nikola Tesla. William Blake. They were all blessed with extraordinary creative vision.

But they didn’t spend too many days with their feet up either. They worked hard to turn their ideas into reality.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct World Heritage Site

There are some incredible examples of creative thinking coupled with hard work right here in Wrexham County Borough.

Take Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Whenever I have visitors, I always take them to see this amazing World Heritage Site.

Completed by engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop in 1805, it’s the highest navigable aqueduct in the world.

There are two things that always strike me though.

Firstly, the incredible vision of Telford and Jessop. This massive structure – with its beautiful symmetry and radical construction methods – began life as an idea.

Secondly, the focus and determination needed to see it through (it took 10 years to complete).

So what am I trying to say here?

Well, I think I’m trying to say that without hard work, creative thinking doesn’t amount to much.

You have to take hold of new ideas and commit to making them happen.

Wrexham is lucky. It’s a creative place with a tremendous work ethic, so it’s good at turning ideas into reality.

And sometimes the best ideas start small.

Take Moneypenny – the UK’s first outsourced reception and call-answering service.

It started as a small enterprise in Wrexham in 2000. The concept worked and the business grew.

Now it employs over 300 people and has been named three times in The Sunday Times newspaper’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

It’s a great example of entrepreneurial vision and hard work delivering tremendous success.

But there’s something else that strikes me about successful ideas. The people and organisations behind them have courage.

They’re brave enough to risk failure. Mature enough to cope with the pain of falling short.

Even the greatest innovators in the world have one or two failed ideas in the locker. The fact is they didn’t let it stop them. They kept dreaming, thinking, creating.

To quote Apple co-founder Steve Jobs: “If I try my best and fail…well…I tried my best.”

And maybe failure is a key part of the creative process? Trialing new products and concepts in a ‘safe’ environment is certainly the norm.

You test something until it breaks, work out why it broke – and then make it better before you unleash it on the world.

But there’s only so much testing you can do before you have to put your idea out there for people to judge.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work out.

History is littered with highly anticipated products and ideas that – despite promising trials – didn’t quite set the world on fire when they were launched onto the market. This video clip examines a famous example.

Of course, it’s possible to involve customers in testing and product development to extraordinary levels. Software developers are a great example.

They often issue a ‘beta release’ of their software – a kind of pre-final version that they hand over to customers and say: “Here it is. Try it out. See if we can make it better.”

But even then, there’s no guarantee your product will be a rip-roaring success.

Failure is always a potential component in the creative equation – part of a ‘test and learn’ cycle that underpins the realisation of all great ideas.

To put it another way, successful concepts are often built on other concepts that didn’t quite work.

So here’s my conclusion.

Town or city. Public sector or business. Group or individual. It doesn’t matter.

Turning new ideas into reality demands hard work, courage and the strength to treat set-backs – if they happen – as part of the creative journey.

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