Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education

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The Ratcliffe-on-Soar Boss Bike Ride: navigating the elusive volcanoes.

Dan Lamoon from Colab Creation and I set off on our Boss Bike Ride from Nottingham train station in pursuit of some conversations about transitioning: not our own gender re-identification issues on this occasion, but reflections on what identity challenges our respective businesses were facing up to in the months ahead.

Dan was puzzling out about how we transition into a new way of working and how what ‘hybrid working’ really means these days when the novelty of WFH has well and truly worn off and the pleasure of back to back Zoom calls has long since lost its sheen.  What are we now aiming at in this transitioning world we wondered?

We decided to set ourselves a quite straight froward target for this ride: the cooling towers at Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station.  A regional monument to the days when Coal was King, the towers have always offered me a welcome home signal, whenever I’ve travelled back to Nottingham from some distant location.  A few years ago, one of those journeys was marked for ever in my memory by a young girl who remarked to her mum as we passed through East Midlands Parkway, ‘Look mummy, the volcanoes!’  What an evocative, natural world description of power for something so obviously modern and industrial.

Whilst they weren’t smoking on the day Dan and I rode out there, there is something about their elusive behaviour that conjures up a fog of political smoke and mirrors at work.

You’ll experience that elusive behaviour if you ride out to those towers as they show some very strange behaviour en route: one minute they’re directly in front of you, the next they’re on your left, then they’re behind you and before you know it, in front of you again.  

It’s a bit disconcerting and doesn’t help you orientate yourself too easily as you’re riding along.  It’s made worse when you think you’re nearly there, only to see them having shifted way off into the distance again.  And yet whilst you think they’re still miles away, lo and behold, you blink and there they are again.  You’ve inadvertently crept up on them and they’re there in all their volcanic, industrial magnificence.

This elusiveness echoed itself in our chats on the bikes.  Whilst we thought we had plotted out some clear transitions and targets for our businesses, in reality these are quite difficult things to navigate at the moment.  Many of us are trying to steer a path through the fog of Brexit, Covid, the cost-of-living crisis and the deep fog of the unknown unknowns that the Ukraine-Russia war is generating.  One minute you’re looking at your targets face on, the next they’re behind you and then before you know it, they’ve metamorphosed into something completely different. 

The cooling towers are supposed to make their own transition to closure by September 2024; but whether their future is also as elusive as their presence remains to be seen.  We’re taking bets on whether they’ve seen their last days or whether the current fogginess of the world’s economy might just reconfigure that future and we’ll see them fired up and supplying the region with coal fired power, just one more time.

You can support The Mighty Creatives Boss Bike Ride Campaign here.

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Annihilating time and space in Lincolnshire. By Bike.

Back in 1850, the Stamford Mercury was so impressed with the impact that train travel was having on the journey from Lincoln to Boston (reducing it from a tedious six hours to just over eighty minutes), it proclaimed in a hyperbolic frenzy that rail travel now made possible the ‘annihilation of time and space’.

Now, we’re quite used to the press stoking up the frenzy on a daily basis in this part of the 21st century so we shouldn’t be too surprised that they were at it in the mid 19th either. What makes this particular brand of hyperbole really interesting though is the fact that the notion of time and space as a ‘thing’ wasn’t really invented until 1908 when the mathematician Hermann Minkowski proposed the space-time continuum as a way to reformulate Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

So, how was it possible for a lowly reporter at the Stamford Mercury to report on the annihilation of a thing that actually wasn’t a thing until 58 years later? Had s/he mysteriously encountered a warp in the time space continuum on the banks of the River Witham which enabled them fall 58 years forward and gain prior knowledge of theoretical physics well before anyone else got a look in? Was train travel that good?

Given the state of the nation’s trains since then, I think this is implausible: but huzzah for the Stamford Mercury and its hyperbole. May it continue until the end of time. Or time-space. Or something like that. We could all do with some time-space annihilation at some point in our lives, and if it takes to riding a bike to experience it, when once only a train would do, then so be it.

I look forward to some time space warp adventures around the shire in the months to come.

More about Boss Bike Rides here.

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The Mablethorpe Boss Bike Ride: blowing away the preconceptions of Lincolnshire.

RAF Binbrook and its significance in the Cold War; a 1400 Megawatt high voltage electricity link connecting the electricity transmission systems at Bicker Fen in Lincolnshire, and Revsing in southern Jutland, Denmark, (also known as the Viking Link); and the Alford butchers who make Tomato Sausages for Yorkshire Immigrants. Who knew a pre-supposed isolated county life could conceal so much?

Riding out from Mablethorpe today with Aenaes Richardson from Magna Vitae was a great reminder of Lincolnshire’s significance in the 2nd World War and more latterly on the energy agenda.  Wind turbines are never out of view; the talk of nuclear dumps in Threddlethorpe is literally a hot topic; and cycling across the Viking Way which scars its way across fields and the ocean all the way to Denmark is a startling discovery when all you’re expecting are peaceful country lanes trailing down to the sea and the sky in Sutton on Sea.

But perhaps the biggest reveal of the rural idyll is that, actually, rural doesn’t mean isolation, it doesn’t mean disconnected and it doesn’t mean that it’s separated from the turbulence of economic, cultural and climate changes which are battering our more populated areas around the country. 

On the contrary, the region is in the thick of it as much as anywhere else.

Skegness has been at the forefront of hosting refuges from Afghanistan recently at its seaside Bed and Breakfasts  (only for them to be temporarily shipped to Leicester and back again on account of the poor standard of accommodation but that’s another story); climate emergency planning is expecting to see flooding in the City of Lincoln down at the Brayford Pool  in the not too distant future; and in the meantime we’re planning for large scale industrial expansion and new jobs for young people, and for industries looking for young new leaders.

Whilst Mablethorpe might have one of the biggest static caravan sites in the UK, one thing that isn’t static are the winds of change that are gusting along the roads, down the dykes and across the plains to Denmark and beyond.

If you’re young, want to play hard, work hard and shape your life in Lincolnshire, then now is an exceedingly good time to plan for that vibrant future.  Rural isolation? No chance.

If you’d like to get involved in future Boss Bike Rides, just check us out here.

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Boss Bike Rides at the Switch Up Celebrity Fun Run: how not to be helpless in times of helplessness.

Today’s Boss Bike Riders came to support the work of Marcellus Baz and the Switch Up Celebrity Fun Run in Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham.

This wasn’t a day for emptying the personal petrol tank and pedalling along the sodden A6 for what seemed like weeks; or reflecting on civil wars, ancient and modern, up on Bosworth Hill; but a day to step back, change down a couple of gears and marvel at the acts of kindness of strangers and their desire to combat what seems to be an overwhelming problem: the mental health challenges that many young people have faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We’re all becoming increasingly familiar with that story:  the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a mental health epidemic for young people; front line services are overloaded; and voluntary organisations like Switch Up are filling the gaps by encouraging strangers to open their hearts and wallets and give of their time and money in the belief that these actions will benefit the young people for whom they are intended. 

Fanciful? Naïve? Unrealistic?

Not in the slightest. Whilst the pandemic has overwhelmed much of the world’s health care systems, the last 18 months has also seen a remarkable surge of charitable intent from all sorts of people in all sorts of places with all sorts of motivations generating all sorts of amazing outcomes and outputs. 

From those who swore blind they would never give to charity; to those who were determined never to shake a bucket in public; to those who argued that charitable acts were all in vain, tantamount to sticking an Elastoplast over a haemorrhaging economical system: the fact is that the actions of volunteers, and their acts of altruism, faith and optimism have been instrumental in helping many people overcome their sense of helplessness in what feels like an overwhelming crisis.

The apparent tsunami that the pandemic became, led to an overwhelming response in return from so many quarters: from the story of Captain Tom’s walks raising over £38m for the NHS; to The Scouts’ Hike To The Moon mass participation digital fundraising campaign which encouraged folks to hike a mile or more and raised over £700,000; through to Lydia from Aylesbury who performed songs from Oliver! to members of her church congregation via Zoom and raised £355, five times more than she had originally hoped for. The stories of how people’s response to the pandemic has generated overwhelming returns for an initial tiny investment of their time, their ideas and their creativity are legion.

Today’s Switch Up Celebrity Fun Run was no exception.  Hundreds of people turned up to give their time, their money and their expertise for the benefit of the young people that Switch Up work with. The spirits of Captain Tom, the Scouts and Lydia and the many other thousands of people who responded in their own ways to an overwhelming situation with their overwhelming responses, were never far away today.  Running along the tow path, sparring in the boxing ring or laying down gasping for breath by the side of the Burger Van, the participants in today’s Switch Up Fun Run showed yet again the altruism, faith and optimism people can generate when faced with seemingly overwhelming odds.

Switch Up will know in a few days about the financial outcomes of today’s event.  What will take longer to understand, and perhaps be impossible to measure, are the effects that today’s acts of faith and kindness will have for the young people Switch Up are focused on supporting.  One thing we can be certain of though is that they will be catalytic and provide countless examples of how to counteract a sense of helplessness in times of overwhelming crisis.

More about Boss Bike Rides here.

And more about Switch Up here.

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Boss Bike Rides: supporting the Switch Up Celebrity Fun Run

The next Boss Bike Ride will take place on Sunday 29 August at Holme Pierrepoint in Nottingham from 10am.

We’re supporting another great cause: the Switch Up Celebrity Fun Run for Mental Health.

This will involve the family of Tyson Fury, including his father John, and will raise much-needed funds for Switch Up’s work with young people. Because of Covid-19, there’s a mental health epidemic right now. Front line services are overloaded, there’s long waiting lists, and Switch Up is having to fill the gaps and pick up the pieces.

The route of the Boss Bike Ride is here

If you’d like to join us, please get in touch for further details.

Meanwhile, here’s some words from our supporters!

And you can sign up here:

Further details about the Boss Bike Ride Campaign are here.

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This is what a Boss looks like!

This is what a Boss looks like!

But you don’t have to be a BMX champ like GB Olympic Gold Medallist Charlotte Worthington to take part in our #BossBikeRides campaign and ride for our Creative Mentoring programme.

Want to learn more? Get on your bike over to the website now! 🚴🚴🚴https://themightycreatives.com/boss-bike-rides/

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Boss Bike Rides: uncovering the darker side of creativity and collaboration

Our July Boss Bike Ride pedalled out from Market Bosworth in Leicestershire on this year’s Independence Day, namely Sunday 4th July. Whilst this marked my 5th birthday as CEO at The Mighty Creatives, my co-rider Dan Lamoon from Colab Creation and I soon came across a site where independence, sovereignty and the right to set our own laws was marked as an impressive site of historical significance.  No, not the squalid cupboards where the Brexit deals were done and dusted, but Bosworth Field where the last major battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought. 

Duly named the Battle of Bosworth, the field allegedly was the site where the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York reached a grim conclusion.  Over 1,000 poeple were killed over one day on the fields that swept before us (the same number of deaths caused by Covid-19 on 8 April 2020 incidentally).

I say allegedly because the exact site of the battle is disputed.  Whilst the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre was built in 1974 on this site, it that has subsequently been challenged and another research team suggested in 2003 another location 2 miles away at Ambion Hill.

Be that as it may, what wasn’t in dispute was that Dan and I cycled to the top of Bosworth Hill and then duly cycled back down again in the best Grand Old Duke of York tradition.

There may well have only been two of us (100,000 Boss Bike Riders is still some way off) but the ever-present reminder of warfare, and the recognition that a collaboration was needed between the Lancastrians and some disgruntled Yorkists to win that battle prompted a lot of Boss Bike Ride discussions along the rest of the route on the nature of power, warfare, collaboration and the disconcerting presence of creativity in that mix

Back in the 2nd World War, collaborators were shot we reminded ourselves over a cappuccino whilst taking stock of the stocks, invitingly placed so as to encourage us to stick our heads and hands through them. Whilst we declined that invitation, we did engage with the challenge that presents itself when thinking about the role of creativity in politics and power.

How would you design the perfect hand grenade?  This was a question students at Furness College were posed whilst exploring the airfield and gun ranges of Fort Walney in Barrow in Furness as part of the Fort Walney Uncovered project I managed for Art Gene in Cumbria a few years ago.

Clearly, you have to be able to hold it comfortably, get a firm grip and be able to pull the pin and not have it explode in your hand which would be completely counterproductive. It should also, to be a truly effective hand grenade, cause the maximum amount of damage to whomever you throw it at: again, it would be a pretty pointless hand grenade should it just fizzle out. That’s why the surface has all those groove marks in it: when it explodes, the grooves provide natural fault lines for the explosive to detonate meaning that it fragments into thousands of pieces of shrapnel which will guarantee the maximum amount of damage possible for a weapon of its size and weight.

Apparently, the guys who designed the original hand grenade also designed a grenade to fit into rifle barrels. They would be shot out of your rifle and travel a great deal further than the ordinary hand grenade would be able to. Also, distinguished by deep grooves in their surfaces, these rifle grenades were the progenitors to latter day mortar weapons, the kind you see being used in Syria, Afghanistan and all those other theatres of modern-day warfare we are accustomed to seeing.

So, our art and design students learnt that the weapons of choice of the early 20th century were designed in much the same way as the sewing machine or horse drawn cart: paying full attention to form, function and effectiveness. There may even have been aesthetic considerations at play when it came to designing the hand grenade although it’s hard to see what they were.

It’s also hard to imagine a thought process in which earnest young men and women would sit down at a table and engage in some blue sky thinking about what it would take to design the most effective hand grenade. Did they talk about body parts? Mortality rates? Bang for your buck? Or did they do it with one hand over their eyes, pretending not to know what they were doing and perhaps imagining a use for the hand grenade which didn’t involve blowing people to bits? Is there somewhere, in the Ministry of Defence, a portfolio of uses of hand grenades which weren’t deemed appropriate and so have been confined to the dustbins of history?

We shall probably never know that but one thing we do know is that the religious-military -industrial complex that was evident in Bosworth Field over 500 years ago, is still alive and very much kicking today. 

Our worship at the altar of creativity and collaboration is all very well and can generate many great things in our lives: but it has its darker, annihilistic capabilities too and we’d be well minded to take that into account as we go about extolling the value of creativity in our work places.

More on creativity and forces of destruction here.

More about the Boss Bike Rides here.

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Boss Bike Rides: exploring Market Bosworth on Sunday 4 July from 12 noon.

 Set up with Nottingham’s Switch Up! Boss Bike Rides provide informal opportunities for CEOs, founders and senior managers of any business (family business, small and medium to corporate or even sole traders) to meet, network, socialise and become a peer support network  – all through the medium of shared bike rides around the East Midlands and beyond.

 Our next major ride will be on Sunday 4 July, starting at the Market Square in Market Bosworth in North West Leicestershire.  The ride is a circular one and lasts about 3 hours and is suitable for riders who want to take it easy and have plenty of stops along the way!

 The route is here.

You are very welcome to join us for some or all of the part of the ride: it’s not a race either so you’ll be able to go at your own pace too with like minded colleagues.  It’s as much about sharing your experience of being ‘the boss’ as it is about riding a bike!

 If you would like to know more, or would like to join up, please get in touch any time.

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Boss Bike Rides: how to create a bit of Urban Magic.

The basic premises of Boss Bike Rides are that you spend time on a bike with someone else and that you then share your experiences of boss-ness, boss-dom and boss-icity or a combination of all of the above.

But what if you don’t have some-one to ride with? And what if you’re not sure about how to start up a conversation with someone you may have known a long time?

This might sound an odd supposition but given many of us have just spent 16+ months in various degrees of isolation and separateness, it’s not surprising that perhaps our previous confidence in social settings may have taken a bit of a shaking since the onset of social distancing.  So perhaps we could do with a bit of help in getting those conversations going again.

One way of doing that is suggested by the venture Street Wisdom who describe themselves as a “social enterprise that offers mind-opening WalkShops on streets all over the world. Run by volunteers, our immersive public experiences turn the city into your creative playground – a place to unlock fresh thinking and set new direction.”

Now, whilst their focus is on walking, the principles apply to cycling in general and to Boss Bike Riding in particular.

“All you need is to turn up with a question you’d like some fresh answers to. It could be a business-related question, a personal one. Or both. Come by yourself, tell your friends to sign up or even enrol your whole team – this is a great way for business colleagues to hit the refresh button.”

You can keep your question secret if you want, but it’s good to have something in mind. Nothing as big as ‘when am I going to win the Lottery?’ or as small as ‘Left or Right Lion?’ – but something that matters to you, right here, right now.

What happens next on a Street Wisdom walk is that you ‘tune into’ the street over four shorts walks: each walk you can make alone or with friends, and each walk had an instruction to guide you:

“Look for what you’re drawn to.”

“Slow right down.”

“Notice the patterns.”

“See the beauty in everything.”

When I undertook a Street Wisdom walk in Nottingham with a group of five complete strangers, the walks and the focus given by the instructions generated for all of us on the walks a quite astounding set of responses.

I found myself being drawn to the fountains on the other side of the square, feeling quite wistful about the lack of water features in the city and the distance we were from the coastline.

The instruction to Slow Right Down had me stopped dead still in my tracks for over fifteen minutes which enabled me to see how fast everyone rushes around the city: always with intent and a job to do or a place to go or a person to visit. Staying much longer under this instruction would have seen me draining away through the concrete, I was relaxing that rapidly.

It was on the third walk – Notice the Patterns – that I really started to feel the effects of the process. Normally I brush off patterns or pay no attention to them at all: but given ten minutes just to look at them made me hugely aware of just how patterned and ordered our city scape is: it was intoxicating to see patterns in every nook and cranny and in every small piece of iron railing, shop window and bus stop. Had this been after a Friday evening at the Cross Keys, one might have explained this with 15 pints of IPA: but no, this was Friday lunchtime and I was technically still at work.

The fourth walk – See the Beauty in everything – was the peak of the afternoon. It meant that it was impossible to go anywhere with stopping to marvel at everything. I found myself marvelling at all of modern technology when I overheard a couple of tourists extol loudly the wonder that was Skype, which had allowed them to talk to a long lost aunt in Australia that very morning.  Fast forward five years to the middle of the pandemic, and our familiarity with Teams and Zoom makes that appreciation of Skype has a warm cosy nostalgic glow woven through every strand of that moment.

After the four short walks, you’re encouraged to go off on a journey by yourself: your own street quest.   You do this with your own question at the back of your mind and later on meet up with the rest of the group to share your experiences and improved wisdom. I can’t tell you whether the question I had posed was answered other than to say that your first question may not be the right question; but I can tell you that all six of us were swept away by the experience and promised to go divining for more Nottingham in the weeks to come.

“It’s urban magic on your doorstep” say Street Wisdom and for once in your life, the reality lives up to the promise.

You can  interpret these Street Wisdom walks into 4 phases of your Boss Bike Ride of course and we look forward to seeing how your Boss Bike Ride can generate it’s own brand of urban magic.

Why Boss Bike Rides?  Here’s an answer.

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Thinking About Dance Action Zones

The metaphor of the Zone is a recurring element of educational discourses in which space and time is structured in such a way as to generate learning spaces whose properties are thought to magnify, extend, or transform a particular aspect of learning. 

Drawing on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), – the process by which children learn with the support of significant others – the transformational capacities of Zones have been well documented in the field of music, creative writing and educational aspiration and attainment in general.

Zones can generate additional, magnifying effects and produce outputs which are more than the sum of their individual parts.  Specially they can:

  • contribute to academic standards
  • engage learners in ‘real world’ educational challenges
  • engage low achievers and challenge high achievers
  • develop artistic, social and interpersonal skills
  • increase the fun of learning

Action Zones can offer regionally responsive programmes to children and young people with least opportunity to participate in quality dance-making activities.

Traditionally, funding for educationally focused action zones (including Youth Music Action Zones)  has been focused on those with least access to opportunities, targeting those affected by social, economic, geographical or cultural deprivation and has led to very high levels of involvement and impact.

YMAZ’s also worked within Youth Music’s own strategic priorities of Early Years, Young People At Risk, Transition, Singing and Workforce Development: priorities (perhaps with the exception of singing) which could be sympathetic to many dance educators.

Possible Model of Youth Dance Action Zones (borrowing heavily from YMAZ’s!)

Youth Dance Action Zones (YDAZs)  would be a regional network of organisations dedicated to providing quality dance-making experiences for 0-25 year olds who might not otherwise get the chance.

YDAZs would be unique in bringing together a range of organisations across the voluntary, public and private sectors for the benefit of local children and young people.

Each YDAZ would designed to respond to the particular needs of their host community. Their agenda would be broad – from providing pathways for young people to develop dance skills to supporting the training of dancers and educators working within the sector.

Each YDAZ would deliver a wide range of high quality activities covering a broad range of dance styles and genres.  The activities, which would take place mainly outside school hours, include workshops, rehearsals, performances, one-to-one teaching and mentoring. 

As engines of strategic change and pioneers of innovative dance making in their regions, YDAZs would build local and regional partnerships to ensure a sustainable future for their activities. At the same time, their most significant partnership is with the young people themselves, ensuring that the YDAZs remain in-touch and relevant to their most important stakeholders.


•          To establish a legacy of dance-making opportunities in areas of high social and economic need and geographical isolation

•          To improve the overall standards of dance-making across all dance styles and genres

•          To champion the value of dance making in advancing the educational and social development of children and young people

•          To establish dance-making opportunities as a force for regeneration in communities, fostering social inclusion and community cohesion

Target audiences

YDAZs  would work with the hardest to reach children and young people, including young offenders, those at risk of offending, young people out of mainstream education and looked after children. 

YDAZs  would also offer CPD opportunities to their dance leaders, ensuring the highest quality practice.