Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education

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Boss Bike Rides: presences and absences

Riding around Wilford this morning (alone, as part of a governmentally approved exercise regime and adhering to all the new norms of current social behaviour i.e. look away now, step right out of the way and hold your breath for at least five minutes after you’ve inadvertently crossed someone’s path), I was struck about how some residential areas are named.  Off a small central service road, there was a Hannah Crescent, a Kelly Walk and an Aaron Close all jostling up in neighbourly comfort.  I wondered whether in the history of the planning of Wilford, a town planner had decided to name these roads in honour of the members of his family? Or his cats? Or long lost loves?

I pondered this with my remote Boss Bike Rider pal, Liam, a business advisor who has recently signed up to the Boss Bike Rider campaign and was attempting to ride across the urban landscape of Chiswick Roundabout in London.

He reminded me sombrely that one of the first most important things to do when you’re setting up a new business is to make sure the name indicates what you intend to produce, service or experience.

He told me about a few business start-ups who had a few salutary lessons about the naming of their businesses.  Albert, who wanted to set up a horror mountain themed entertainment business called Alpine Doom Accelerator; Betty who wanted to establish the Nottingham Vodka Company and Carol, who was intent on establishing Blue Sky Human Resource Consultancy. All excellent ventures with aspirational titles Liam remarked which strongly suggested the presence of a particular experience in engaging with that business.

However, Liam found out to his cost that there wasn’t an edelweiss anywhere to be seen when punters stepped off the bus in the afternoon of entertainment that Albert had prepared for them; more a case of nettles, brambles and unending ferns which got in their hair and made the afternoon an increasingly miserable experience; likewise, Liam was to find that Nottingham Vodka was not only not made in Nottingham but that it also  contained no vodka; and yes, you’ve guessed it, Blue Sky Marketing soon became mired in the murky business operational realities of behaviour control.

Quite why businesses do this is anyone’s guess,” mused Liam as I pushed back my back to the city as a result of acquiring a flat back tyre somewhere between the Embankment and Wilford. “Perhaps it’s aspirational, perhaps it’s wishful thinking, perhaps it’s just presentational fluff.”

“The word ‘community’ is also frequently used in this rhetorical manner,” I added, “with community policing, nursing and indeed community arts used to suggest the presence of something when all too often the reality is the absence of aforesaid thing.”

The problem is that this inability to name the business according to its presence, rather than an absence gives the business a bad name from the word go.  Promising one thing when the reality is the diametrical opposite, hardly engenders confidence in the customer that they’re getting a “does what it says on the tin” experience.

That advert for fence varnish might have been unnecessarily loud and crude – but it had the benefit of being straightforward and promising and both delivering the promise, as well as just promising a promise.

Liam promised to join up again on another Boss Bike Ride at some point in the future and share more of his insights on being the boss of a business start up.  In the meantime, I continued the search for a bicycle repair kit in the depths of my rucksack but to no avail.

This Boss Bike Ride was soon to become a Boss Schlepp Back To Town.  “Another salutary reminder,” added Liam before he hung up and continued to confront the joys of Chiswick Roundabout.

You can find out all about Boss Bike Rides here – come and join us!


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The Rule of Six: blame, bluster and betrayal

England is experiencing the largest rise in confirmed Covid-19 cases since May; there are fears of a second wave across the four nations; Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is pleading for older people to “be even more vigilant” (not vigilante as some people would like to have understood) and the UK is now even more split over how we view non-face mask wearers than it was over Brexit.

In recent days, government scrutiny has focused in laser like fashion on the cause of all this current mayhem on… guess who? Yep, people under 30 i.e. Young People.

The new legislation – known in common parlance as the Rule of Six –forbids social groupings of more than six people.  I once wrote a youth theatre play called The Rules of The Game, the central premise of which was that football had been outlawed to such an extent that no more than 10 people were allowed to gather to watch it.  My professional writer friend, Alan McDonald, suggested at the time that the script asked readers to believe too many things before breakfast so it needed a re-write.   I thought he was probably right at the time, but this new legislation has prompted me to blow the dust off the script, tout it around various youth theatres and see how well the play has stood up to the test of time.  Prescient?  Moi?  Who would have predicted that.

The Rule of Six and the subsequent blame games it has generated conveniently ignore the fact that the hospitality sector has been encouraged to throw open its doors and feed all of us who’ve been missing out on our weekly trips to the local pizzeria; that organised sports are still permitted (note the key word in that phrase ‘organised’) and that it’s still possible to meet your gran as long as she leaves her house and meets up with you completely by surprise in the pub and as long as grandad isn’t tow and you don’t have a sniffling younger sibling in the background and there’s a G in the day of the week.

This new, non-fictional legislation is intended to prevent Gangs of Six from gathering in an un-organised manner in which heaven forbid young people decide for themselves on how to get to grips with the challenges that Covid-19 has thrust upon them: in itself, yet another symptom of the educational and economic betrayals that have been visited on young people over the last ten years, never mind the last six months. As another writer colleague, Mike Harris remarked,

I can’t think I would have been doing too much shielding aged 18 if I knew I was threatened at worst by a dose of flu and if the post-war generations had eaten up all the metaphorical pies and left me with metaphorical tofu…”

Do you remember the Gang of Four?  I don’t mean that anarcho-punk band from Leeds, but the political faction composed of four Chinese Communist Party officials who achieved infamy during the Cultural Revolution.  It didn’t end well for them (or the Leeds band either for that matter) and it doesn’t look like that these attempts to batten down the viral hatches by insisting that Gangs of Six are going to be our salvation are going to fare any better.

To start singling out a particular age group as being singularly responsible for the sharp uptick of Coronavirus cases is nonsensical and the sooner we can get to grips with that fact, the better it will be for all of us: under 30s, over 30s and those over ahem ahem years old.

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The Story of the 2.6 Campaign: new horizons, home and thanks

The Covid-19 crisis has shone a beacon on people’s innate creativity throughout the crisis and one of the post Covid-19 challenges for many of us working in the cultural sector will be how to harness this community buzz and demonstrate how creativity has been a vital part of people’s resilience to the challenges they’ve faced.

Public Art though is still a bit of a conundrum for me.  Every now and then on my travels I encountered odd pieces of public art whose purpose was baffling and whose aesthetics were indisputably challenging. Another cliché but still as true: roadside flora doesn’t need a purpose but just look splendid.  Perhaps we should rethink art in a similar way: there’s no need for art to have an instrumental purpose, but just to be enjoyed, celebrated or castigated for what it is.

Day 26 finally arrived and Janice, Sally, Hania, Tom and Stash made my return home really joyful.  Their celebrations made that final 100m stretch a real pleasure for the first time in 26 days and prevented me from hopping off the bike and ambling home up the hill unnoticed. When Day 26 was done and dusted a story of several numbers emerged:

Over 405km cycled…

Over 2170m climbed…

Over 46 hrs en route…

Over 75 ‘A-Ha’ moments of discovery…

I’m especially thankful to all my donors who helped make this campaign happen: The 2 Andys, Carl, Chris, the 3 Davids, Eleni, Emrys, Felicity, Janice, Jo, John, Jon, Jordan, Kevin, Kim, Laura, Lew, Marie, The 2 Martins, Nadine, Nick, Nigel, Pam, Paul, Raj, Rajesh, Rav, Roxie, Ryan, Sally, Tom and Vivek: thank you all so much.  And to all you anonymous donors: I couldn’t have done it without you too!

Thank you, Jon, for your advice on how to carry a bike. This was much needed at the 49 Steps of Sycamore Park in St Ann’s which clearly hadn’t had any human visitation since the Ice Age: and thanks to How We Roll for technical expertise on the Tiger Hazard-mobile.

My cycle challenge was part of the wider Mighty Creatives team challenge in which staff, trustees, friends and family all chipping into the team effort. Everything from running, cycling, walking the dog, working out, exercising, crocheting, learning German and lip-synching music theatre on TikTok: our team’s ingenuity knew no bounds!  All in all, we raised over £5,200 for children and young people in care (double our original target!)

If you’d like to know more how the funding has made a difference to their lives, please feel free to get in touch.


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The Story of the 2.6 Campaign: no–some–thing / yester–to–day–to–morrow

I became aware one bright morning riding along the Sneinton Greenway that the blossom that was there that morning, definitely hadn’t been there the day before. There’d clearly been a lot of endeavour over the previous 24 hours to make sure all the blossom all comes out, all together, all at the right time.

I was struck by the same thought later on when passing by BioCity, the supposed home of where Ibuprofen was discovered. One day, it’s not there, the next it is. And I’m wondering whether the people of Nottingham and Sneinton are going to be part of the next big anti-viral discovery for Covid-19. Let’s hope so. After all, it’s not (as far as we can see) here today – but it will be, inshallah, tomorrow.

I was delighted later that week to see how some of the burghers of Colwick were celebrating the NHS.  Many of them had dressed up scarecrows or mannequins in their gardens, all offering messages of support to the NHS or instructions to passers-by to ‘wash their hands’, ‘keep safe’ or ‘stay at home’, the final instruction soon mutating into the more ambiguous governmental advice of ‘Stay Alert’ as Covid-19 pandemic continued to grip the country.

They certainly hadn’t been there the day before either.

You can see an update of the campaign -and still donate if you wish – here.

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The Story of the 2.6 Campaign: the unfamiliarity of the familiar

It’s an old cliché but still true: travelling slower allows you to see familiar objects in a new light or see new things you’ve always missed in the normal daily hullabaloo.

Railway crossing signs are a case in point.  They describe distance in miles and chains. Chains? Since when did we stop using them? And whatever happened to the furlong? Furloughed I expect, given the times we’re in.

I found myself early into day 6 wondering why on earth the city’s called Nottingham and not Notting Hill? The inclines here are never-ending: sometimes innocent, sometimes shrewd, sometimes vicious. All within 5 minutes from home. Tour de France? Pyrenees? My Knees in Sneinton became something to write songs about.

The nooks and crannies of our highways, byways and industrial estates provided me with some arresting sights too: a fleet of London buses, the premises of Harry Potter’s day job and a mysterious tunnel which takes you from the tedium of Maid Marion Way to the Narnia of the Park Estate all provided moments of surprise and delight in the most mundane of settings.

You can see an update of the campaign -and still donate if you wish – here.

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The Story of the 2.6 Campaign: the A-Ha Moments

On Day 11 I found Colwick Quays. Who knew we had Quays? There was neither ship nor sailor in the rigging anywhere to be found, just logistics parks and container depots, probably the modern equivalent of quays these days so I thought perhaps the sign was a pointer to a bygone invisible past that no-one knew much about.

However, on Day 12 I found them (I think) behind the industrial estate, next to the river (of course) but a shadow of their former selves. There’s a great industrial heritage project here somewhere for someone.

And on the very next day, Day 13, I went out to Colwick again to look for the Netherfield Lagoons. I hadn’t known until recently that we had lagoons in the UK, never mind in Netherfield. But what a sight they were: the remnants of industrial riverside heritage, banks of pink and white hawthorn, broom, lupins and teasels, all a stone’s throw from the anonymous retail site that is the Victoria Retail Park. You could go to that retail park every day and not have a clue what’s on the other side of those warehouses and bulk buying emporiums.

One of the final ‘a-ha’ moments was finding the source of the Grantham Canal at the Trent, down by Lady Bay Bridge. I’d been perplexed over how the Beeston Canal could just disappear at the River Trent by the football stadia, only to turn up again in Gamston before it turned into the Grantham Canal.  But then one morning, I found it, quietly innocuous at the side of Lady Bay Bridge, all silted up and neglected by the looks of it but that hadn’t put the local wildlife off.

It is of course sited ironically enough right next to the Trentside Environment Agency.

You can see an update of the campaign -and still donate if you wish – here.

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The Story of the 2.6 Campaign: getting back on a bike

I acquired my bright white Tiger Hazard-mobile at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, unaware at the time that the 2.6 Challenge beckoned.  Whilst the bike started the challenge without a whimper, by day 6 the effects were beginning to tell on the handlebars which had developed a mind of their own. The brakes shockingly disappeared on the descent from the Sneinton Windmill down to the Hermitage too.

So I rapidly decided that I should invest in several small pieces of cycling technologies (spanners, puncture repair, first aid) as well as a pair of reinforced, padded underwear to protect myself in times of trouble.  Unfortunately, they hadn’t arrived by the time day 1 of the 2.6 Challenge dawned.

Whilst I soon learned to avoid the hills by tracking the river and the canals, one day I decided to track the tram rather than the river in the mistaken belief that 1) tram routes had nothing to do with the river and 2) that trams don’t ‘do’ uphill.

Mistaken belief number 1 was soon jettisoned when you realise that tram and river are so closely intertwined that before you know it, you’re riverside again, encountering Nature Reserves and Trent tributaries you weren’t aware of before. Mistaken Belief Number 2 was jettisoned when I attempted the route from the City Centre to the Arboretum which, if you don’t know it, is approached by one sly incline after another.

On day 21, Janice accompanied me to Attenborough Nature Reserve. The traffic on the cycle lanes had noticeably increased at this point and I was reminded of the TomTom advert of a few years ago which said, ‘You’re not stuck in traffic: you are traffic’.

The reinforced, padded underwear purchased online before the campaign needless to say still hadn’t arrived. Saddle sore doesn’t even begin to describe it.

You can see an update of the campaign -and still donate if you wish – here.

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The Story of the 2.6 Campaign: the Geography

I started my journeys from Sneinton with a visit to the proud Sneinton Windmill. It’s like a magnet for so much local history of international impact: George Green, William Booth and D.H. Lawrence all have ley line connections via the windmill, and it wears its significance modestly.

I headed out to the Arboretum, Attenborough Nature Reserve, Bassingfield, Burton Joyce, Clifton, Colwick, Commonwealth War Graves, Forest Fields, Gamston, Holme Pierrepoint, King’s Meadow Nature Reserve, Lady Bay, Netherfield, Nottingham Airport, Nottingham Castle Marina, Nottingham Race Course, Skylarks Nature Reserve, St. Ann’s, and Stoke Bardolph taking in the Beeston and Grantham Canals, the River Trent, the A52 (big mistake) and several smaller side roads of disputable pleasure and definite physical challenge.

You can see the routes I’ve taken on this post.  Just get in touch if you’d like some more detail.

But if you’re just starting out on your own voyage of discovery, you could do a lot worse than head down to the Beeston Canal or along the River Trent.  You’ll find some of the loveliest tracks near the City Centre which stretch on and on, and make you feel like you could ride forever – knees, uncertain balance and unreliable handlebars notwithstanding.

You can see an update of the campaign -and still donate if you wish – here.


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The Story of the 2.6 Campaign: Kick Starting

The UK’s mass participation event industry came together with the crowd funding website, JustGiving, in April 2020 to launch The 2.6 Challenge, a nationwide fundraising campaign intended to Save the UK’s Charities.  The onset of Covid-19 in early 2020 had seen the income of many charities plummet, so The 2.6 Challenge was an attempt to repair some of that damage.

The Mighty Creatives supported the campaign by helping some of the most vulnerable children and young people across the East Midlands: young people who are leaving care and who need help to make the transition from care to independent living. This is a huge step at any time for these young people:  navigating independence alongside the isolation of the Covid-19 crisis gave them additional challenges and pressures which were unimaginable just a few months previously.

My contribution to the campaign started on 26th April by deciding to cycle at least 2.6km per day in 1km increments so that I would be cycling at least 26km after 26 days. By donating to the campaign, donors would be able to help our young people in care navigate their futures by helping me navigate my rickety way around Sneinton and beyond into the bargain.

As well raising invaluable funds for the campaign, I experienced several journeys of discovery in their own right and this blog marks those journeys.  It charts the geography, the ‘A-Ha’ moments, what it was like to get back on a bike after so many years, discovering the unfamiliar of the familiar, the transience of life and some thoughts on our new horizons and what’s next for all of us.

You can see and update of the campaign – and donate if you wish – here.


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The Mighty Creatives:  sharing what we know about the Big Unknowns.

In February 2002, Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of State for Defence, stated at a Defence Department briefing: ‘There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.’

Whilst his words became a source of satire for some time after, little did any of us expect to be living our daily lives with so many unknown unknowns shaping what we do, how we work and how we relate with each other.  Covid-19  has injected the concept of ‘unknown unknowns’ with unimaginable levels of ambiguity, confusion and uncertainty into all aspects of our lives.  We’re all living with the Big Unknowns right now and it can be scary.

However, one thing we do know at The Mighty Creatives is that our fight for the creative voice of children and young people continues apace, often in deafening and confusing circumstances.

We’re reminded on a daily basis too that the work of teachers, artists, leaders, support staff, schools and cultural organisations across the East Midlands continues to be humbling and inspirational.

In amongst all this un-knowing-ness and uncertainty, we want you to know that we’re here for you in the weeks and months to come.

We don’t want to bombard you with knowledge, information and advice as we expect that you’re already receiving far more than is comfortable at the moment: but if you are looking for knowledge and practical skills on

  • Creativity in the classroom and at home
  • CPD on arts, culture and creativity for school staff
  • Online safeguarding
  • Online cultural and schools networks
  • Young People’s Creative Voice
  • Pupil and student engagement

We have a wealth of materials, content and connections which could help and support your challenge of turning your unknown, unknowns into your known, knowns.

If you would like to know more about us then please register on our website and we’ll make sure you get regular updates about how we’re leading the way for cultural education in the East Midlands: but if there is something specific you would like to know  and discuss with us please feel free to contact me.