After School Dance Club.

After School Dance Club.

When I was fifteen, there was a place in town that I might well have considered a kind of mythical land of adventure; an exotic place of fabulous willowy creatures and strange ancient sporting customs. All for reasons that would have been obvious at the time, twenty-five years ago.

Sitting in Bournemouth School For Girls yesterday, however, I felt decidedly odd. Not because I’d blindly followed a faulty Satnav into the middle of the playground or anything – little as I know the backroads of anywhere north of the Cooper Dean, you understand – or because I didn’t spot one lacrosse stick while I was there.

No. It was at least partly because when you don’t have kids of your own, schools become weird places to walk around out of hours. ..Or any hours.

You know there’s a whole industry of community normally swarming around the corridors of the place, swilling up the walls in sudden buzzing torrents of scruffily-branded pupils when bells ring out of the blue; a place as active and familiar to its thronging inhabitants as anything they’ve ever known of the world. A world in itself; self-sufficient and self-referential.

A ritual, diurnal chaos that parents navigate like harassed ambassadors of other countries – people who constantly roll their eyes and proclaim their adult homeland far away and how this isn’t where they belong, yet move as fluently through the cultural rites as any four-foot native.

But by four in the afternoon, the same space is an almost-instant ghost town. Haunted by just the occasional uniformed small person, looking as spooked as you to find themselves in the unnerving netherworld of After School.

It also partly felt odd, as I sat on a very school-ish stacking chair in some new arts wing of BSG, because at four in the afternoon on a Thursday I should be making stuff I can sell. Not sitting in some new arts wing of something, listening to other people’s kids talk about building 20-meter revolving mushrooms in the Lower Gardens.

Now. I told myself that Momo’s whole remit is to be open to apparently-daft random opportunities and that the invitation from little local think tank Conurbation 2050 to pop along to their presentation to council members at the local girls’ grammar was just such an on-brand random O for my business. Most especially because I do seem to have a thing in my bonnet about the town and its future, and the chance to shoot my mouth off about What I Reckon was too vainly tempting to pass up.

The first couple of hours saw presentations from two levels of ages from local schools about what we should do with Bournemouth. To anyone with any passing knowledge of the local press it will come as precisely zero surprise that every single project proposed for the future of our seaside town by its represented young people was to be built on the site of the Imax, or Waterfront building.

To anyone with a slightly longer knowledge of the local press it will come as no surprise – and, in fact, serve to illustrate well the likelihood of being able to build a metro system under East Dorset – to have heard one old town servant tell the room later that at the 25th birthday of the Bournemouth International Centre this week, someone actually turned up to complain that the BIC should never have been built in the first place. (I believe this chap’s wise political response was something like “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET IT GO.”)

The point in this time together was, however, really to see what the current generation of school folk really think of where they live. And I was heartened, as much as anything, by how much I recognised those young people. As cybernetic and otherworldly as media portrayals of post-internet age tweeners seem to be, I saw the same bunch of sincere and ordinary young humans I went to school with up there. Except the ones I went to school with were now sat in the audience, feeling as secretly bemused as me to be apparently responsible for everything now.

And I must say that one or two of those ideas presented by my generation’s offspring were rather tempting to possibly just pinch.

Then came our presentation as a loose association of local ne’er-do-wells – or in some cases, rather-done-wells – to reps from the Bomo chambers. Most of whom had been inexplicably ‘warned off’ by the famously open-minded and community-spirited leader of Bournemouth Council for some political reason or other. “Will make for a slightly more interesting film version of this” said co-organiser Brian Jenner to me with a grin.

We would be sharing some essentially loony ideas about flying cars and space tourism or similar with a handful of weary, largely apparently elderly councilors – attempting to get chaps who have been serving the local community’s pressing village green dog poo issues since the 1970s excited about the practical plans for Bournemouth’s monorail system and hydroelectric offshore energy farm and sub-oribital space ladder attraction planned in earnest for 2050.

When I got up at the very end and, just slightly demented from fatigue, began to extol the virtues of community drumming and how dance can unlock business innovation and – most importantly – my Branded Bomo Artz! Smock For Every BH Citizen initiative, I could see I was possibly losing one or two of them. Which, in one or two cases would have had me feeling for my mobile and the emergency services speed dial.

No. Of course, distorted comedy vignette aside, these guys are committed public servants and have a thankless, gradually exhausting task. I get it. And lord knows I respect it. It takes a hardy and committed soul to step up to public life and the spread of members who gave up their time to listen lastnight included some personalities you’d be grateful to have on your side in any issue. It’s just that some of them have been in the local political groove for a committedly long time and have certain peccadillos of perspective. Some of the fresher council faces who joined us in that half-empty school hall I thought represented some heartening new outlook.

I mean, I’m really only good for shooting my mouth off with no qualification. I get that too. But my hard-earned experience at doing anything whatsoever in public is the ability to do it with gusto to almost nobody in an empty school hall somewhere. Which must count for something, right?

Sometimes the creative road takes you to odd places and claps its metaphorical hands to get you to sometimes literally dance. And when it comes to the creative life of this neck of the woods, I am prepared at least to do the odd unco-ordinated jig if it will have some kind of effect as a fertility dance to the seeds we’re trying to sow in people’s minds about the possibilities around us as we ponder the future.

I think there’s a lot of potential to unlock in this part of the world, and I’m happy to turn up and drone on about it if kindly asked.

Below is my little speech about the cultural hopes for the future of our inspirational but politically annoying part of the world. A very-much work in progress that barely touches the issues. I will write a full manifesto about it soon, no doubt. Mean time, many thanks to local innovation legend, Matt Desmier, for furnishing me with a few uncharacteristic Actual Facts and to Brian Jenner and local MP Tobias Elwood for foolishly inviting me along to hear a bad example of speech writing.

See what you think. And feel free to read out loud in my slightly pompous over-sincere faux-posh Southbourne accent.

Inspiration and innovation:
Re-imagining the heart of the south coast.
How arts and business can encourage a clear vision for Christchurch, Poole and Bournemouth.

As we consider all these ideas and plans and exciting thoughts for the future of where we live, I often feel quite encouraged that so many people have so many big ideas for the place. Over the sumptuous breakfasts we’ve shared at Conurbation 2050 gatherings, I can feel quite inspired.

But I think there is one issue that ties all these different things together; that presents itself as a fairly immediate challenge, but also as a potential solution.

The one question that I believe hangs over everything we’re thinking about today is: What is Christchurch, Poole and Bournemouth’s vision?

Now, to ask such a question is not to question all the hard work and ideas already going on in all our local authorities to address that every day. But, you see, I don’t believe that it is my local authority’s job to give me a vision. I think it’s our local authorities’ job to cleverly facilitate and focus and amplify and encourage my vision. Your vision. To tap into what’s already true about where we live – the resources, the people, the potential. To help it work better.

And I think the way to unlock our vision for the heart of the south coast is to champion ways to bring together business and the arts. And do it obviously.

The challenge I think we really face is one of branding. Now, branding is a fairly soulless media word that media types themselves shy away from because it can confuse – but branding is none-the-less the challenge we face because it is concerned with perception; how people see us. And how we see ourselves.

A brand isn’t a logo. It isn’t a typeface or a tagline or a tee shirt. It isn’t a product – it isn’t even an initiative. A brand is simply an idea in someone’s head about you. About your business. When someone says the name of your product, what’s the first impression to drop into the mind of the listener? That’s your brand.

So the question is: What do you think of when you hear Christchurch, Poole, Bournemouth? And just as importantly, what do potential customers hear?

..It matters, because it’s silly human impressions that guide our decisions. It’s my daft romantic notions about a place that make me want to go there on holiday, or not.

Our job as local stakeholders is to clear the way for the very best ideas and impressions of our part of the world to connect with its audience.

And I think the very best people to help us do this are the creatives.

This is already a place of great creativity and media work – did you know that? A place where arts and business are already working together. For example:

Right in the heart of the area, on the busy borderland between Poole and Bournemouth, we have two world class universities. Bournemouth University is home to the National Centre for Computer Animation which provided more CGI artists for the film Avatar than any other single country (54 in total). It’s also home to the Centre for Digital Entertainment and the country’s only Centre for Excellence in Media Practice.

Earlier this year, Bournemouth University and the National Centre for Computer Animation was held up as a prime example by Ian Livingstone OBE in the government-backed NESTA report into skills for the visual effects and computer gaming industry.

Last year the Academy Award for Visual Effects in a Motion Picture went to BU graduate for his work on the film Inception.

Meanwhile, Arts University College at Bournemouth graduate Simon Beaufoy won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire. One of Simon’s previous films, The Full Monty, was written whilst he was a student at the institute and only narrowly missed out on an award.

Turner Prize-winning artist Wolfgang Tilman is also an AUCB graduate, as is internationally renowned rock photographer Andy Earl.

Significantly too, the Academy Award-winning visual effects studio, Framestore CFC, who have produced effects for all of the Harry Potter movies, Avatar and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory amongst others and have studios in London and New York, are so enamoured with the graduates being produced by these two universities, they are opening up a third location here in Bournemouth.

And David Sproxton, Founder and CEO of Aardman Animation, employs more graduates from the two Bournemouth universities than any other location in the world.

Meanwhile, the more than 100 creative and digital agencies locally boast some of the best in the business – award winners in their fields, from web, to advertising, from games to marketing.

Dance SouthWest based their exciting new school, Pavilion Dance, right in front of the pier approach in Bournemouth’s historic Pavilion Theatre – creating a dynamic new facility drawing dance students and other creatives from across the south right down to our seafront to learn and share their art.

And while The Lighthouse attracts and encourages arts coverage to the area like no other venue between Southampton and the West Country, the BIC has placed itself firmly on the big name music and comedy grid, bringing audiences in to see some of the biggest names in pop and TV – even as the Christchurch Regent Centre does more to champion local theatrical talent and independent film throughout its packed schedule than perhaps
anywhere else in the region.

But besides the media talent here in Christchurch, Poole and Bournemouth, the area is also home to a burgeoning creative scene for practicing artists of all disciplines – painters, poets, writers, sculptors and musicians, with new bands and music acts searching for venues locally all the time. Between the music hubs of London, Brighton and Bristol – right in the middle is our conurbation. With a lot of creative people trekking past it.

People are meeting in upstairs rooms, cafes, empty retail space, small live venues and in front of big stages to celebrate and invest in the arts right here, where we live. And a lot of people from beyond the area already know this.

The trick is to realise its potential, and do all we can to make it obvious. To enable it to bring our brand alive.

The practical truth is that brands are built on behaviours. If we say we are an area ideal for business, we must provide an effortless, well-connected transport and business infrastructure. If we say we are a tourist destination, we must provide the very finest hotels across the age and budget markets, and we must give tourists ample reason to spend time and money here.

But it is the arts and culture that hold the key to this. It’s the writers, designers, artists and performers who will create the buzz about being here – not simply by providing more of the attractions themselves, but by having the skills to articulate the idea of the area to potential investors – from family tourists, to international business. To help us speak in the right tone of voice to the right audiences.

If we realise this – and the potential of it – then we must behave accordingly. We must let it feed our vision, let it make our vision obvious. We must provide facilities that not only encourage big creative business to relocate here, but which encourage the creative individual to work here. And we must build those facilities in symbolic locations – purposeful, obvious and proud. A place very obviously friendly to innovation.

We have a vision for the area as the creative heart of the south coast.

A vision not for an elitist niche, but for everyone. A cultural reputation that would inspire business and tourism across the board. An eminently deliverable vision – because it would be tapping into something already happening here, already true. Built from the ground up – from the individual pixels of people practicing their art, being who they are, professionally and personally, right here in the colourful crossroads of the south.

A vision of our area as one where anyone can find ways to tap into their potential. Find inspiration. And more than that, something vital – encouragement.

We believe that throwing strategic weight behind arts, culture and media would bring the heart of the south coast into focus as internationally as it would locally – the outlook we should be aiming for as we look ahead to 2050. Or even 2015.

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