For the third challenge, we were off to Harrow Council in North West London. Having lived in Harrow for the first 19 years of my life, it was great to go back “home”, but Harrow Council also felt like an organisation that’s ahead of the game in the way it works and its aspirations for the future.
The challenge was to develop Harrow as a food destination. Harrow Council is currently leading a regeneration programme (Building a Better Harrow) to change the landscapes of both Harrow and Wealdstone town centres. As part of the programme, the Council is looking to develop an improved food offer to attract businesses to Harrow, bring visitors in, and encourage Harrow residents to eat in Harrow. Our challenge was to come up with a way to do this. We had 24 hours.
The teams were mixed around, and I was moved to Team Dynamic with Austin, Denise, Katherine and Dan. We very quickly came up with a few concepts and initial ideas about having a food market or food festival, and about harnessing Harrow’s diversity. We then met with a number of stakeholders from different parts of the Council – communications and marketing, environmental health, public health, and economic development, amongst others, to find out a bit more about Harrow as a Council and how it currently works with businesses, communicates with residents and develops the local economy.
Having taken in as much information as we could, Denise and I got to work on fleshing out some of our ideas, while the rest of the team headed outside to speak to local Harrow residents and businesses. We used our local knowledge to develop the brand around what makes Harrow unique – the diversity of the borough, and the potential to eat food from different cuisines from around the world. The other half of the team returned with some interesting feedback about some of the challenges local businesses face, which we knew we would need to address in our business case and presentation.
In the evening we went out for dinner with the Sachin Shah, the Leader of the Council, and Michael Lockwood, the Chief Executive. We took the opportunity to test some of our ideas out, but we also learnt a bit about what it’s like to be a Chief Executive and about the value of working in local government. We learnt that you can be the Chief Executive and yet still find time to do a seven mile run every lunch time. The political environment of a local authority can be hard, but the skills you learn and develop are invaluable and can be used in various other industries. We also learnt that it’s OK to be different, and having a personality is not a bad thing – it’s good to be known for something (like being known as Iron Man Mike)!
After a bit of night time work, we were up early the next day to finish off our business case and prepare our presentation. Our plans were focused on building on the fantastic food offer already available in Harrow by:
- Addressing small business priorities and improving communication, involving small businesses in the development of plans and inviting them to be part of a food traders association to put plans into action.
- Developing a brand, Eat Your Way Around The World and holding events such as a food and dance festival and a street food night market. We also looked at developing a calendar of all food related events in Harrow, a challenge map for residents and visitors to try and eat as many different cuisines as possible, and a loyalty scheme to encourage them to do so.
- Inspiring a sustainable food movement, led and championed by the food sector to engage and recruit new food businesses to Harrow.
Our business case was detailed. There were action plans against all three areas and we managed to keep it to two sides of A4 (plus some very important appendices!), as well as getting it in on time.
We then gave our presentation, which didn’t go quite as well as it could have done. The other team brought food for the judges. Was it a bribe? Perhaps, but it was a good idea and it made them stand out. We also stood on the dark side of the room, instead of on the light side, and we spoke for too long without showing everything we wanted to. In hindsight, we should have been stricter about timing, run through our presentation in the room to get a sense of the space, and thought a bit more about innovative ways to present our ideas.
Feeling a little despondent after the presentation, we listened anxiously to the feedback. The judges liked our business case and that we had a brand (although they didn’t like the brand itself), and thought our ideas were very creative. Amazingly, we won the challenge!
We were thrilled with the result, but I didn’t get the victory rush I was hoping for. Like last time, I was happy for the team, but not that happy with myself. I had volunteered to do the presentation, and it could have been much better. I had developed the brand, and the judges didn’t like the brand. I had also struggled with team working more on this occasion than before – I started to realise that I had enjoyed the first challenge much more than the other two, and wondered if I only enjoy things when I am in charge?!
Overall, Harrow Council gave us a very interesting and rewarding experience. It was nice to go back home, but it was even better to work in an organisation that is so clearly thinking about the long term future.