Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Joys of Travel

My Blackberry buzzed on the short walk from Bury St Edmunds station to my home. The message said `Futurebuilders'. Ah, the email rebuff, I thought. But no, they want me for their Investment Committee, just what I wanted too. I felt as elated as I have for a while, a bit like when a major deal comes in. I so want to be near the action in social investment and, after all I have learned from the Impetus experience, I have something very real to offer.

Got home, heard all about how Ruby had done her first business on the potty and my good news was lost amid the family `high' about this key milestone in the life of my two year old. Lost to me too, I have to say. That's the wonderful thing about coming home to young children. Win, lose or draw, their world is bigger than yours.

The day started with a check-in call with Mark Griffiths, one of my mentors. Mark runs Ideal Word, a brand consultancy and his power with words and ideas helped shape the message of Speaking Up and, later, my book.

As usual he was juggling several projects, from a new brand of powder for bodybuilders to a new product for the Gay market (he wasn't specific). And as ever, he was reassuring and resourceful about the loss of 75k of venture funding which, by this morning was hanging over my head like a tequila-hangover.

The 0856 train to Liverpool Street from Bury is, I believe, one of the better train journeys to be taken in the UK in 2008. You get on when the train is virtually empty and thus have your choice of seats. It is clean, calm and nearly always on time. People join down the line but the carriage only gets full near to London when the loud hordes of Essex (with their unbearable accents) all pile on and ask if the seat next you is free - or demand you move, as happened today. The mobile phone signal is good all the way and there are no tunnels to chop up your call. You arrive in London at half-ten feeling almost human.

My morning meeting was with Matthew Smerdon, who is an extremely bright lad who I first met doing the Living Values project in 05. He's now working for David Cutler at Barings, running a grants programme ranging from global warming through to parents with disabilities. We spent some time discussing the debate about the third sector and public services (the more I talk to people, the more I believe that most sensible people think the same thing) and then I pitched some ideas for Barings' latest programme on strengthening the sector.

Our kids are about the same age so we finished off comparing how outragiously early our children rouse us in the morning and swopping tricks on how to keep them in bed as long as possible. For the chicken-clock trick, Matthew, THANK-YOU.

Lunch with Helen Warrell from Third Sector Magazine... Helen is expanding their social enterprise news coverage and is very sensibly building contacts and getting a sense for where the stories are coming from.

She made the very good point that there is very little critical reflection about anything to do with social enterprise at the moment and that this cannot be a good thing. I agreed with her saying that there has probably been a reluctance in the sector to `talk ourselves down' after waiting so long to receive the political backing we have. Now, I agree, its time for a bit more in the way of real investigation of what's good and what's not in the sector - for its own good really.

Like all of the sector journalists I have met, Helen is very well informed, has superb contacts and is actually very positive about the sector and its potential. Its easy, I find, to trust her and open up. We will, I think, be working together on a few things this year, which I know I will enjoy...

The train back was the reverse journey in every sense. We were relieved of Essex within the hour and I could get down to some proper work for the remainder of the trip. Had a very useful call with Vik Anderson of CAF (Charities Aid Foundation) who has this amazing network that spans all the sectors. We discussed how she might be able to help us to address any gaps left by the venture-fund-that-wasn't which was incredibly helpful.

At Stowmarket I get switch trains and phone the office. My part-time PA who also does admin has gone on the sick and sounds like she won't be coming back. She was a temp so we're getting another in tomorrow.

I briefly mourn the loss of my old PA, Anna, who moved to another part of the UK. With a Board meeting next week, I try to avoid thinking about what isn't being sent out in good time to our Trustees.

A bright Suffolk sun cheers me as I step onto the local train for the final leg home.

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