Archives for posts with tag: helen paterson

The new prison development in North Wales.

At first glance, maybe having Britain’s newest and biggest prison is nothing to shout about.

“It’s just a prison,” you might say. “Whose going to be excited about that?”

I am.

Let me explain.

Work on building Britain’s newest prison is well underway on Wrexham Industrial Estate. In fact, I was lucky enough enough to see progress first-hand on a recent site-visit.

On the site at the North Wales prison development.

The fact is, the benefit to our local economy is going to be huge.

It boils down to two things.

Business opportunities. And jobs.

While the prison is being built, the developers Lendlease will be looking to sub-contract to smaller firms for all kinds of materials and services.

While it’s unlikely that all of those contracts will be won by local firms, many Wrexham businesses will be in a brilliant position to compete for them.

Some local firms are already feeling the benefit. An example?

A significant contract was recently awarded to a Wrexham company specialising in steel works and erection.

And £10.6m in work has already been awarded to businesses within a 50-mile radius.

creating business opportunities

To help businesses understand the opportunities being created, we’ve worked with partners to stage networking events. And our business support team is encouraging local firms to bid for contracts.

But that’s just the construction. Once the prison is up and running, it’ll need all kinds of goods and services to keep it running.

Again, local companies will be able to compete for many of these contracts – we’ll be doing our best to encourage them.

All in all, the prison is expected to be worth up to £23 million a year to our economy.

So in 10 years, it may have generated £220 million for Wrexham and the surrounding region.

That’s a huge amount of money.

North Wales prison development.

creating jobs

I also mentioned jobs.

As well as opportunities for skilled workers, the construction phase is expected to provide around 100 apprenticeships.

That’s a great chance for people to learn skills on the job.

People like 18-year-old Daniel Davies from Penycae in Wrexham.

Daniel is training to be a civil engineer with local construction firm Jones Brothers. He spends one day-a-week at Coleg Cambria, and the rest of the week on site at the prison development.

He says: “An apprenticeship is the best way to learn skills and gain experience. And being paid is an incentive to work harder and progress within the industry.”

The point is, people like Daniel are learning important skills that will be retained in our local economy. That’s good.

Once its operational, the prison will provide around 1,000 jobs. Not to mention the jobs supported through contracts with suppliers and service-providers.

We’ve been working with colleges and universities to help make people aware of these career opportunities.

The video below was made at a recent student information day that engaged around 120 students and academics.

So is having Britain’s biggest and newest prison something get excited about?

Yes, actually. It is.

Watch this video.

Footage from an open air music event staged beneath Pontcysyllte Aqueduct a few weeks ago.

You could do this much anywhere, and it would still be memorable.

But the fact it’s staged beneath a World Heritage Site – and probably one of the most iconic heritage structures in the UK – makes it special.

Not because the aqueduct provides an incredible back-drop for a concert (which it certainly does), but because Pontcysyllte has a special significance for people in North East Wales.

There is genuine love for this structure, because – I suppose – it’s more than just history.

It embodies a spirit. It’s a testament to something in our DNA in this part of the world.

New thinking. Hard work. Enterprise.

the gift of identity

When Thomas Telford and William Jessop finished Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in 1805, it was the tallest canal boat crossing in the world.

And though they lived in a different age to today’s visionaries – Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Elon Musk and so on – they belonged to the same breed. They were ahead of their time.

The techniques and ideas they developed at Pontcysyllte were game-changers that helped shape the world through their impact on engineering.

Locally, they helped keep the wheels of industry turning by allowing goods and materials to be transported across the Dee Valley.

Of course, railways gradually replaced canals as the main method of in-land commercial transport in the 19th Century. But Pontcystllte never lost its relevance.

It remained an important pedestrian link between the villages of Froncysllte and Trevor, and continued to support economic actvity in various shapes and guises.

Today, it’s as much a component of our local economy as it was in Telford’s time.

How so?


Along with Chirk Aqueduct, the Horseshoe Falls and the 11 miles of canal that make up the World Heritage Site, Pontcysyllte provides a major tourism attraction that’s still growing towards its full potential.

But over the past 200+ years it’s come to serve a deeper, less tangible purpose than economic prosperity (important though that is).

The aqueduct helps provide a sense of identity.

It reflects that spirit of invention and hard work in Wrexham County Borough that I mentioned earlier.

From John Wilkinson to the European Extra Large Telescope. From Elihu Yale to Nu Instruments.

We have many stories of enterprise, hard work and ingenuity to tell (see my earlier article ‘Blood, sweat and ideas’), but the aqueduct embodies the human spirit behind them all.

paying homage

So when 5,000 people gather on that field for Under the Arches every summer, sure – they’re there for the music, atmosphere, the party.

But I don’t think I’m being over-romantic in saying they’re also there to celebrate Pontcysyllte.

To pay homage to a structure that tells our story in Wrexham, and reflects some of the greatest aspects of our collective DNA.


If you’ve never been to the aqueduct before, you should go.

Around 350,000 other people visit it every year. And how can that many people be wrong?

Here’s a fact. There are fewer women in top jobs than men.

The exact numbers and reasons vary – depending on what you read – but one thing is for sure. Inspiring more women to work their way towards top-level careers can only be good for society, and the economy.

One way to provide that inspiration is to celebrate the success of women already achieving great things.

So I was delighted to see Rachel Clacher win the ‘business’ category at the Inspiring Women Awards in Manchester recently.

And I’ll let you into a secret. I nominated Rachel.

Here’s why.

Rachel Clacher - Moneypenny

Rachel Clacher at the 2015 Inspiring Women Awards (picture by Tom Martin).


got the t-shirt

Rachel is co-founder of telephone answering specialist and outsourced switchboard provider, Moneypenny.

Moneypenny started life as a small enterprise right here in Wrexham.

But – with her brother Ed Reeves – Rachel has grown it into an international business with offices in New Zealand and Charleston, South Carolina in the US.

The company employs over 400 people at its Wrexham HQ, and consistently makes the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Moneypenny also made headlines recently when it revealed plans for a stunningly innovative new office building.

So she’s built a business from scratch, and not just any business.

But there’s more to her professional life than that.

As well as growing her own business, Rachel spends a lot of time inspiring other business leaders – both men and women.

She shares her experience and expertise through the Leadership and Management Wales programme (sponsored by Welsh Government).

And plays no small part in inspiring women within her own company. A fact borne out by Moneypenny winning the ‘nurturing female talent’ category.

In addition, Rachel last year set-up the Moneypenny Foundation to give unemployed young women new opportunities in life and work – combining employment experiences in a range of industry sectors with life-coaching, mentoring and gaining new skills.

So yes. Two awards in one night!

Rachel says: “The awards came as a complete surprise, but a lovely one.

“Setting up Moneypenny has been the biggest challenge, yet at the same time, one of the biggest joys of my life and the Foundation is very much a team effort, so I’m grateful to everyone who is making it possible.”


inspiring women awards 2016

The Inspiring Women Awards were founded in 1992 to raise money for charity.

They’re a fantastic platform for celebrating the achievements of women with inspirational stories to tell, and I was really moved by some of the people I met on the night.

Nominations for the 2016 awards open in September.

Details can be found on the website.

If you want to help encourage women in business, social enterprise and the public sector, well…maybe you know someone worth nominating?

If you do, go for it.

You might help inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs and leaders.

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.

A few months ago, I posted an article called ‘Becoming Digital.’

It got 51 shares on LinkedIn, so I’m guessing it struck a chord?

I talked about the challenges – and opportunities – that councils face in their quest to foster truly digital cultures. And I promised to keep you posted on our progress here in Wrexham.

One of the most exciting things we’ve been working on since that first article is an online customer service portal.

The portal – called My Account – will provide a personalised experience for people who want to access our services online.

We’re going for a soft launch – offering things like council tax and benefits claims – and then gradually building the range of things people can use the portal for.

It’ll look and feel like part of our website, and the technology behind it is very clever.

We’re not the first council to do this. Far from it. But it’s an important step in our digital journey.

My Account screen shot

how will it help our customers?

Simple question. Simple(ish) answer.

A lot of people expect to be able to do certain things online. A lot of people prefer to do things online.

Pay for stuff. Apply for stuff. Book stuff. And so on.

Generally speaking, doing stuff online is convenient. You can do it in on your laptop, tablet or phone in front of the TV, on the commute to work or whenever you like – just so long as you have an internet connection.

For those people, making our services available online – in a way that’s intuitive and easy – will meet their expectations.

They’ll get the convenience they want.

However, not everyone likes to do things online.

So when it comes to switching the focus to digital, a lot of organisations talk about ‘channel shift.’

They’re talking about the need to get out there and actively encourage some customers to try the digital option.

Take the Barclays ‘digital eagles’ for example.

The company wants more customers to access its services digitally – and it realises it needs to help certain groups do that. Customers who might not be comfortable using online services.

Achieving this channel-shift is probably a bigger challenge than the technology. It doesn’t happen on its own.

We’ve been running workshops at our customer contact centre to show people how to use our new system, along with other basic skills – like how to set up and manage an email account.

They’ve been really popular, and it’s great to see people lose their fear of the technology – and suddenly grasp the benefits that online services can offer.

ok…so how does it help wrexham council?

It helps us in two ways.

It’ll help us understand our customers better.

And it’ll save us money.

The cost of handling enquiries face-to-face or over the phone is – typically – far more expensive than online.

National comparisons suggest the following averages…

• Face-to-face = £8.62 per enquiry
• Telephone = £2.83 per enquiry
• Online = £0.15 per enquiry

We’ve done our sums, and we think My Account will save us £38,000 in the first year, £141,000 in the second year and £210,000 in the third year.

At a time when public sector budgets are shrinking, those savings are going to be important.

It doesn’t mean we can – or want – to do away with one-to-one interaction where its needed. Algorithms and artificial intelligence can’t solve everything.

But for services suited to the internet, encouraging customers to get online will save us money or free it up for where it’s really needed.

The other big win for us is the data.

The portal will help us understand what services different sets of customers use, when they use them, how often and so on.

That could help us manage those services, predict peaks and dips in demand, and target resources.

We’re not talking ‘big brother’ stuff. Just the kind of thing most digitally enabled service providers do – all within the bounds of data protection and with terms and conditions explained to the customer.

The data will help us deliver services better.

So come to think of it, it’s the customer who wins in the end on all counts.

That’s got to be a good thing.

People need services. But councils – which provide many of those services – are shrinking.

What are we going to do?

Here’s one idea.

Grow our communities, and enable them to deliver more services for themselves.

Now that might sound like a good way to dress up a bad situation, but there’s real substance to the concept.

And some councils – including Wrexham – are putting the theory into practice.

We recently launched Together in Wrexham – a drive to encourage more individuals, communities and groups to come together to make a difference.

Together in Wrexham

We’ll help residents who are willing to volunteer some time, knowledge or resources link-up with like-minded people to make things happen.

What kind of things?

Well, it could be something as simple as helping to coach a local football team. Or opening and locking up a community centre. Or helping an elderly neighbour.

It’s a new approach for Wrexham, but we’re not alone. Other councils with similar ideas include Milton Keynes and Worcestershire.

As it works, we’re seeing communities getting involved in delivering and re-designing some of the services that are important to them – resulting in better, more relevant services.

This is pretty amazing.

We’re talking about a fundamental shift in the relationship between people and local government, and it doesn’t happen by itself.

Councils need to do their bit – bringing people together, helping them develop ideas and providing support.

Together in Wrexham website

We’re not starting from scratch, because a lot of people are already committed to helping their community.

Here’s an example.

A group of local people recently took over Gresford village library here in Wrexham.

They formed a limited company and now open the library four days-a-week at key times.

And here’s another example.

Rhos Community Café describes itself as “the small café with the big heart.”

Managed by Wrexham Community Church, the café is manned by a pool of volunteers and – as well as good food and drink – offers local information, events and activities.

Both are brilliant examples driven by people who want to put something into their communities.
So it’s a case of building on the goodwill that already exists, and – as a council – giving people who act as ‘connectors’ and energisers in their neighbourhoods the support they need to make the difference they want to make.

We are genuinely re-framing our relationship with our customers, and saying that – by acting ‘together in Wrexham’ – we can continue to build communities for the future.

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

OK. This is not Star Wars. It wasn’t that long ago, and it wasn’t very far away.

But when local authorities were first set up in the UK, you could argue they were set up to manage and deliver a set of individual services.

Planning. Social services. Fixing roads. Removing rubbish. Providing schools. And so on.

So the structure and mechanisms of local authorities grew around this service provision.

But the world has turned since then, and with it, the expectations of our customers.

So we’re moving away from this approach at Wrexham Council.

We’re changing the way we do things – our ‘operating model’ – and thus our thinking, structures and processes.

people and place

Instead of building our structures and processes around service provision, we’re building our new ways of working around the people and place we serve.

old vs new

In other words, we’re moving to a model that takes our customers and our county borough as its starting point. Not our services.

Of course, changing the operating model of a big organisation is easy on paper – difficult in practice. Particularly in the public sector.

So we’ve developed some ‘shape principles’ to guide us.

shape principles

  • Wherever possible, resolve customer enquiries at the first point of contact.
  • Allow services to focus on quality provision.
  • Minimise transactions (but not income).
  • Reduce performance and regulatory functions in proportion with the rest of the organisation.

Developing how we work around these principles is helping us shift the focus of our thinking to people and place, instead of services.

empowering customers

There’s a lot of talk about empowering customers these days – giving them tools and support so they can do more for themselves.

Some organisations have been doing it for years. And doing it really well.

Take the software provider Adobe.

The company has developed a powerful online community where customers with expertise are encouraged to share their knowledge with others – help them get the best from Adobe products, trouble-shoot problems and so on.

Essentially, they’ve created a platform that links customers together so they can do more for themselves.

If we’re changing the way we do things at Wrexham Council, we need to take our customers with us.

We need to give them the tools and linkages they need to contribute to services and facilities in their communities. So they can deliver, support, create, share and lead for themselves.

We’ve given this customer-empowerment initiative a name – Together in Wrexham – and I’ll be writing about this in more depth in the next few weeks.

evolution, not revolution

Reframing the relationship between a local authority and its citizens is not a sprint. It’s a marathon…with hills and bumps along the way.

The direction is clear. We’re moving away from focusing on a set of services to focusing on the people and place we serve.

But it won’t happen by itself, and embedding our shape principles in everything we do will be crucial if we’re going to succeed.

Everyone needs a plan.

We have a plan at Wrexham Council – and supporting the local and regional economy is one the top objectives.

So it’s great to see the #7NorthWales films underlining why Wrexham and the rest of North Wales is such a great business location.

The films are based on informal research that suggests there are five key factors that influence a company’s decision to locate itself in a particular area…

  • Connectivity (does the location have good transport links and – increasingly – good digital connectivity?)
  • Workforce skills (does it offer a skilled labour pool?)
  • Land and premises (are the right commercial land and premises available?)
  • Business support (can business investors get help from government and other agencies?)
  • Proven track record (are other businesses already thriving there?)

The research was carried out for the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, and the films produced on the back of its findings.

The films are short and snappy, and feature footage of businesses from across the region.
Take a look.

And if you like what you see, do your thing on social media and help spread the word.

North Wales is a great place for business.

In the past decade, technology has fuelled human creativity in incredible ways.

We can all capture film footage. Or take a photo and apply filters to it. Write a song and upload it to the internet. Or write a blog like this.

And we can share these things with friends and strangers all over the world.

Web-based technology has brought previously exclusive creative pursuits to the masses. And it’s pretty amazing.

But every now and then, I’m reminded of the satisfaction that comes from more ‘analogue’ forms of creativity.

Things that we think of as quaint or old-fashioned sometimes. Like knitting.

Yes. Knitting. You heard me right.

I learnt this skill from my grandma when I was little. And I still really enjoy it.

It’s therapeutic and offers a different kind of satisfaction to blogging, digital photography and so on.

And it’s still useful too.

I recently started knitting poppies to sell in the run-up to Remembrance Day this November. I get satisfaction from knitting them, and the Poppy Appeal gets the proceeds.


Knitted poppies for the Poppy Appeal.

I’ll knit as many as I can, and share the pattern and encourage others at Wrexham Council to knit them too.

In fact, one colleague from Wrexham Waterwold (our leisure centre) has promised to learn to knit so he can make one. And if he does, his colleague says she’ll give £10 to the appeal.

I’ll hold them to that.

I’m also busy knitting banana socks (don’t ask), making jam…and I’ll soon be tackling the vegetable plot in the garden again.

Home-made jam.

But the only point I’m really trying to make is that crafting and growing things by hand is still great fun.

And a welcome break from our wonderful but all-consuming super-connected world.

(ps – If you’d like me to send you the knitting pattern for the poppies, drop me a line. The more we make and sell, the more we raise for a brilliant cause!)

Providing leadership is tough at the best of times.

So leading people in difficult times is a real challenge.

Here are five things that – in my experience – can really help…

1. Stay focused on the ‘vision.’

When things are tough, stay focused on the place your organisation is trying to get to.

At Wrexham Council, we want to provide ‘strong community leadership.’ So in challenging times, communicating that goal to the people around me is important.

2. Tell the right stories.

Keep telling the stories that support the purpose of your organisation. As a council, our purpose is to help Wrexham and its people “fulfil their potential and prosper.”

So I keep stories alive that support this. Things like Together in Wrexham – a new approach to help communities help themselves by providing support for volunteering.

3. Be visible and listen.

Invest even more time in your employees and customers. Get out and about. Be visible and listen to what people are saying.

Don’t just listen to their words. Listen more deeply. Reflect on the messages they’re giving out and adapt where needed.

4. Think before reacting to threats and opportunities.

Don’t jump-in. Be guided by your values, and the values and behaviours of your organisation.

At Wrexham Council, respect, trust and integrity are important to us. Even when the pressure is on, we maintain those values. From handling a PR issue in the local media to making big decisions around budgets.

5. Do the right thing.

Maintain your personal internal compass, and be an ‘authentic’ leader. If you haven’t read True North by Bill George, I recommend it.

And look after yourself. You can’t provide leadership if you burn out.


When people face uncertain times, leadership is crucial.

Get it right, and keep yourself and your organisation strong and resilient.

It can be ‘the difference.’

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