I’ve worked in a fair few offices in my time, everything from the back seat of my car, to a stationery cupboard (with intermittent dial up internet access), through to an 11th floor palatial office suite in which full timers would glare from behind their desk dividers at us part timers. They’re funny spaces, offices; never to be viewed in the same light after the eponymous Ricky Gervais series, and for all the bland uniformity they present on the surface, underneath there’s a myriad of tensions, joys and exclamation marks.
Offices in the creative sector are particularly conflicted spaces; it’s expected that they should reflect the artistic, freewheeling creative spirit of the organisation, but on the other hand also have to accommodate people wrestling with spreadsheets, sensitive private conversations and long-term, life-changing budget decisions.
Open plan offices can be particularly fraught, holding multiple needs and conversations. It’s a bit like trying to play in a band: the lead guitarist is constantly inclined to rip into an extended guitar solo; the drummer’s constantly practicing his paradiddles, and the brass section – assuming they’ve got back from the pub in time – are always on the verge of walking out back to the pub. And then you’ve got your younger generation who take huge delight in sampling every possible sound, distorting it beyond recognition and playing it back in the least useful context imaginable. It’s potentially cacophonous, with very little musical enlightenment generated.
Stepping into the cacophony of silence of the TMC open plan office for the first time however, was a very pleasant surprise. We have a large open space, not particularly conducive to holding a jazz improvisation workshop, but it is very helpful if you need to concentrate and get some hard numbers sorted.
And sorting hard numbers and targets is something we’re pretty adept at.
In the last year alone, we’ve delivered:
- 16 social action projects for 261 young people participating in 109 events through our Act4Change programme;
- 8 Cultural Education Partnerships being established which has generated 7 partnership Investments (worth £564,580) and a return on investment of £1,259,818;
- 7,312 moderations and 194,250 hours of quality provision through Arts Award;
- 120 schools registered and 31,289 pupils reached through Artsmark;
- 8 school Continual Professional Development networks established, with 58 new schools through our Children and Young People workforce programme;
- activity in 4 locations, with 6 commissioned young artist artists, in 16 community labs with over 130 local young people who are working together to produce four Shakespeare inspired festivals on 23 April for the Emerge Youth Arts festival programme
- and and and.. the outputs, outcomes and achievements are formidable.
What is key to the organisation’s effectiveness? Our ability to collaborate, to share and to come together as team as well as with our wider partnerships across the region.
As a team we meet regularly at our ‘huddles’ where we give colleagues five minutes to pitch, share and offer ideas in whatever medium they like and then watch how the ideas flow. It’s a place to playfully engage with the hot topics of the day and ask the questions which need answering. Everyone’s invited to pitch in, share or ask questions. It’s possibly the most generative space in the office environment, in as much it generates conversation, ideas, suggestions: not just within the work place agenda but it allows us to bounce into other ideas, suggestions and inspirations.
In addition to the forward-looking huddles, we also reflect on our work through our quarterly management review meetings, which enables us to track progress against the many programme lines of activity. Probably as complex as tracking train movements out of Crewe Junction, the quarterly reviews have enabled us to coordinate our programme progress. Progress that includes building a strong case to secure a new Arts Council Bridge contract, which could support us until the dizzy heights of 2022 if successful, also managing the intricacies of our Emerge youth arts festivals, happening again in April 2017 (spanning the East and West Midlands), responding to the complexities of the Act4Change programme, which is resulting in hundreds of young people across the East Midlands making real, sustainable differences to their local communities; and meeting the challenges of delivering a 10 partner European programme on migration and culture. Our programmes’ activity is intricate and varied, demonstrating great impact across the region. Then, of course, there’s all the associated communications, finance and office support that’s needed to keep those programmes moving and delivering on time and to budget.
It’s a year to the day that I went for my interview for the post of CEO at TMC and got my first sight and sound of the office in full attentive flow. It’s been an amazing experience from the onset and I’m thrilled to see how the next five years map out for us, our colleagues and our partners regionally, nationally and internationally.