At the end of the fourth challenge in Gloucester, we were told that the fifth challenge would be in Birmingham, but not at the Council. When I quizzed Ami on the way back and found out that we were going to the West Midlands Combined Authority I felt both a sense of relief (that this wouldn’t be a long journey, and that I was already familiar with the Combined Authority), and a sense of anxiety (I didn’t want to lose a challenge on “home turf”).
As Coventry is a member of the West Midlands Combined Authority, when I got back to the office I immediately tried to make use of my “home” advantage. I asked as many people as I possibly could if they knew what the challenge was about, and if they could help me. None of this turned out to be of much use, as no one I spoke to knew anything, although I did have a productive lunch with Andy (Insight Manager at Coventry City Council), who was able to explain to me what the Combined Authority is and isn’t, what it does and doesn’t do, and what its priorities are.
When we arrived in Birmingham I was quickly put out of my misery as we headed to the Transport for West Midlands office. Our challenge was going to be about transport. Specifically, about engaging with young people to encourage them to make sustainable travel choices (walking, cycling, and using public transport).
In some ways, this was straightforward. Our team, made up of Dan (team captain), Alison, Mark and Emily had two Public Health people (Alison and I), and Alison’s day to day job is about encouraging active and sustainable travel. With that expertise, and my local knowledge, it seemed like we were (surely?) on to a winner.
The challenge happily coincided with national Clean Air day, so Dan, Mark and I headed out into the centre of Birmingham to meet with some local transport themed businesses to ask them about what they do to engage young people in sustainable travel. Emily and Alison went to a local school to talk to some children about their views on active and sustainable travel.
When we came back together, we had lots of good ideas of things that we could do to engage with and encourage young people. We focused on improving their capability (for example, learning how to ride a bike), opportunity (for example, having permission from their parents to ride a bike, and having a safe and suitable environment to do so), and motivation (making them want to ride a bike, providing some sort of incentive). This approach was based on evidence, what the children were telling us and what we already know, so seemed simple and straightforward. We also knew that any interventions needed to be designed in collaboration with young people themselves, and so this became a key part of our solution.
After a delicious dinner and a relatively calm night, we came back together in the morning to put together our business case and presentation. Despite giving a structured and thoughtful presentation and keeping it to exactly ten minutes (I also tried to smile – my main feedback from Ami from the last challenge in Gloucester being that I should do more of that), the other team won.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the day then went on to get worse, as the finalists were announced. Head judge / more pleasant Lord Sugar equivalent Claire Holloway called out each person’s name in turn. Denise, Katherine H and Mark were going through to the final. Dan, Catherine A, Emily, Austin and Catherine S weren’t. Alison and I remained neither in, nor out, and Claire told us that the results were so close they wanted us to compete in a tie break. We each had to give a sixty second presentation on our “idea” (what we would do with the money if we won the £10,000).
This wasn’t good for me. I had yet to really think through an idea. I cannot say strongly enough how much I did not want to do this. I very nearly gave up at this point, but Stephen and Ami (and Alison!), persuaded me to pull myself together and just get on with it.
I did it, but it wasn’t enough, and Alison was selected to go through to the final.
Although I was disappointed not to make it through to the final, I’m very glad I was able to take part in the 2017 Local Government Challenge. It’s been a busy, challenging but rewarding few months. I’ve learnt a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, I’ve developed new skills and I’ve definitely taken myself well out of my comfort zone. I’ve also learnt a lot about working in local government and been to parts of the country I didn’t even know existed. And most of all, I’ve been able to live out my dream of being on the Apprentice without actually having to be on the Apprentice.
I am so grateful to Stephen, Ami and my fellow contestants for all their time, energy and support. For picking me up when things were tough, giving me useful and constructive feedback and giving me the opportunity to do this in the first place. I also have to say a huge thank you to Liz, my Acting Director of Public Health in Coventry, who let me have ten days out of the office away from my day job to take part, and was behind me every step of the way. I may not have “won” in the traditional sense, but I have gained so much in knowledge, experience, skills and in new friends that I still feel like a winner.