On Thursday 19th October, we held a launch event our new Business Centre, and we asked long-standing member and Chief Executive of Gloucester Business Shows, Pete Allison to reflect on the town’s commercial life and the Chamber’s role within it, past, present and future.
He reminded us that throughout its 120-year history, the Chamber’s remit has been to represent businesses and associated organisations of all types and sizes. A recent Business West analysis showed that nearly 90% of the town’s businesses can be classified as “micro” (<9 employees) and just 0.4% as “large” (250+).
In other words, as in most of the UK, it is the SME sector that is the beating heart of our commercial life.
He raised several thought-provoking topics, as we ponder a future in which technology, especially cyber security and AI will play a huge role in the town’s commercial life.
He talked about Together Gloucestershire, the Chamber’s partnership with Cirencester Chamber and FSB, set up to examine ways local business can benefit from the huge supply chain potential of large-scale projects. He also addressed the challenges of fostering more innovation and bridging the considerable gap in skills that our businesses will need.
His first topic, however, was the critical connection between Business and the Arts and an edited version of his talk appears below.
Cheltenham has a long and well-integrated history in arts and culture. Its recently adopted brand identity as The Festival Town bears witness to that.
The Festival of Performing Arts was the town’s first “non-sporting” festival founded with the help of the Chamber in 1926 and still going strong. And with a large variety of major and independent festivals across the year and with the Culture Board, The Cheltenham Trust, The Everyman Theatre and Cheltenham Festivals leading the charge, then we can see the arts are very much alive and well.
The arts need a healthy business ecosystem to exist and thrive. Of course, many of those involved need employment but the arts fulfil their potential best of all when sustainably supported directly by businesses that understand just how important they are in every way.
The arts create their own supply chain, which is very well serviced in Cheltenham, creating its own momentum that supports Festivals, Theatre, music, and corporate events worldwide. Pete himself, has been closely involved in that supply chain since the early 1980’s.
The arts, in all their forms, bring culture and depth and sense of place, they make a place stimulating, exciting, educational, enjoyable and a place where people want to live, work and to visit. Without that input, businesses struggle to attract staff, skills and the long-term view that creates an environment where people want to develop their careers and build a home for extended families.
Business needs the arts to move forward, to Innovate. That’s something that every business must have as a core discipline. creative thinking is a fundamental element of Innovation and creative growth. To quote a significant Gloucestershire business leader.
“Of coure, we have process of innovation, but far more importantly we value a culture of innovation where every single employee is encouraged to think outside the box whatever their job may be”.
There’s no better place to drive creative thinking than in the wider world of the creative, performing and fine arts. It’s where early creative skills are nurtured and where individuals come to a realisation that their creative instincts can grow and thrive in their professional world.
Skills learned in the world of the arts include communication, motivation, peer to peer engagement and handling challenging situations – all of which are valuable, transferable skills that build a rounded and capable staff team.
The arts play an important role in mental health, whether as leisure time activity, or a process engaged in the professional workplace.
Businesses that think strategically about a cohesive, culturally broad, and well-motivated workplace come to realise that the place that arts & culture take in the process is vitally important.
In Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and the South West, If we put the culture of the arts together with the investment and innovation that is developing around the Digital sector with Golden Valley, the A 417 missing link and other significant capital projects, then we see a very powerful set of ingredients.
But the wider, cohesive benefits won’t “just happen”.
When great ideas happen and great business develops, there’s an understandable inclination to hold our cards tight to our chest and a danger that we create cliques and silos. As a result, we end up with the focus exclusively on what will benefit us and our stakeholders rather than plan and develop opportunities that embrace a wider community and create wider opportunities.
It can seem counterintuitive but, we are seeing far more clearly that the future needs to be inclusive with culture, equality, diversity and inclusion in the heart of our thinking alongside enlightened environmental, social and governance principles of business.
The Chamber is well placed to think carefully about how we create and support that business ecosystem. One where successful, entrepreneurial businesses do not focus purely on interested parties, but keeping goals and priorities firmly in place, businesses can be supported in ensuring their spending, influence and growth are deployed to a wider benefit in the town the county, the region and the UK.
By keeping those wider ESG values in front of mind, then without creating additional cost, we can influence a far broader ecosystem of businesses, skills, employees and communities.
And businesses can make a real difference to the communities in which they’re based.