Water lot of nonsense

I came across a blog entry (copied below) that I wrote in September 2006; strange how appropriate it remains almost six years later. ‘Plus ├ža change’ as they say.

“Customers of Sutton and East Surrey Water are subject to a Drought Order granted by the Environment Minister to allow the Company to restrict the ‘non-essential use’ of water.
At the same time the Government is encouraging the building of many more homes which in turn will increase the demand for water in this area.”

Small businesses being killed by ignorance of the Internet and Social Media?

It was interesting to read the article in the Guardian/Observer which highlights how large stores such as Tesco are regretting their past decisions to open ever larger stores now that an increasing number of customers are abandoning them in favour of Internet shopping. I must confess I have little sympathy for these retail giants; I have always seen the building of these huge stores as a greed lead approach to business which often steamrollers across environmental common sense and the wishes of local communities to produced traffic nightmares and an unpleasant and time consuming shopping experience.
However, while these massive companies are using their huge resources to reinvent themselves the small businesses in our high streets are also suffering from the Internet but for different reasons. They are undoubtedly struggling to match the prices that the Internet-only businesses such as Amazon can manage but what is less obvious is that they are often invisible to the enormous number of potential customers who start their shopping via Google and other search engines.
Try making a mental map of the businesses in your local high street then pay a quick visit to your favourite search engine and see how many of those businesses have become invisible. Now repeat the exercise using your favourite Social Media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and FourSquare and see how well they have managed to hide themselves from the huge number of Internet-literate shoppers.
I am currently organising an event which offers businesses free publicity and thereby the opportunity to attract customers. The Internet and Social Media ‘invisibility’ of many businesses makes it harder to contact them, harder to make them aware of what is on offer and consequently harder to push potential customers their way.
There are many initiatives from the government and elsewhere that are trying to stop ‘the death of the high street’. Maybe some simple, and relatively cheap, guidance on the creation of web sites and use of Social Media may help them to once again become visible to their twenty-first century customers.

Leaving Wigan Pier for a flash

All I knew of Wigan was the pier made famous by George Orwell’s book (which I have only just read) and the sight of the tall chimney proclaiming ‘Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls’ as I whooshed by on a train that felt itself too important to stop. I also knew they had a rugby team thanks to Eddie Waring’s strange way of pronouncing ‘Wiiiigan’ in the Saturday sports results on the TV in the1960’s .
A recent family connection, in fact two, has caused me to get to know Wigan and it’s history a lot better. I was surprised to find the pier didn’t exist but despite this fundamental problem it still came to fame following a traveller mistakenly thinking they were in Blackpool, a period as a Music Hall joke then George Orwell giving it a permanent place in history when he wrote ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’. A stub of a ‘pier’ has been built in more recent times to provide a focus for tourist activity.
The 1930’s Wigan described in the book was a dirty smelly place with people living in extreme poverty and working in one of the large number of coal mines in the area. Since then all the mines have gone, the last closing in the 1990’s, and even the ‘Wigan Alps‘ are no more, having been leveled in the 1960’s. Walking in and around Wigan in 2011 it is hard to imagine the scenes in Orwell’s book without the mines, their supporting industries and the dilapidated workers accommodation.
One of the side effects of mining is subsidence caused as the land starts to collapse into the mine workings below. In Orwell’s book this is typified by the poor living in houses whose doors and windows won’t open due to the movement of the building caused by the subsidence. Modern Wigan has taken advantage of the subsidence by allowing holes to fill up with water and transform into ‘flashes’, huge lakes which have now been designated as nature reserves. A look on Google Maps shows the extent of these flashes with the Leeds & Liverpool canal and its Leigh Branch providing a route amongst them. The local council and organisations such as Lancashire Wildlife Trust have worked hard to transform one of these areas into Wigan Flashes Nature Reserve, a home to a huge variety of wildlife, including the rare Bittern. Look around and you will find other similar areas that provide a green band around Wigan.
So, there is now a ‘pier’, you can try ales from Wigan’s two excellent breweries and you can walk home by the flashes listening to ‘booming’ bitterns while sucking one of Uncle Joe’s tasty mint balls. What more could you want, except maybe one of Wigan’s famous pies.

It’s a bank Jim, but not as we know it

I spent an unusual (for me) but interesting day today visiting two charities who have major projects to enhance their buildings so that they can improve the services they offer in their community.
The first was St Andrew’s Fulham Field Church which, as well as its Church of England duties, provides a hub for its community and a food and clothing service for the homeless.
The afternoon stop was at YMCA Wimbledon which is a place I have walked past many times during the past 35 years. Although I knew it was there it was a real eye opener to see the wide range of services it provides to its community such as childcare, fitness facilities and accommodation for (typically) younger people while they are helped along the path to an independent life.
Both building projects were able to happen thanks to funding provided by Charity Bank who kindly arranged the visits and kept me fed and watered. At the moment banks generally have very bad press coverage, and I can sympathise with those that have a mental picture of overpaid ‘fat cats’ making a mess of the lives and future of the wider population. However, I can see Charity Bank is a very different beast as it exists purely to pay a reasonable rate of interest to it’s investors so that it can then lend the money to charities. While doing this it also seems to avoid the poor loan default rate that has brought other banks to their knees. If this wasn’t enough, it raises itself further in my estimations by using any profits it makes for good causes.
Maybe it’s time to extend this banking model to personal and business customers, anyone got a few million to spare?