Wednesday 14 April 2010

EU exploration of Life Skills and Confidence in Cambridge


A grey Cambridge day turned sunny as I cycled the short stretch from Milton to the St John's Innovation Centre. I had not visited for a while and was delighted to see Jeanette, the restaurant manager looking well as I sat down with a very reasonably priced Brie and Cranberry baguette and some tea and looked out over the water feature.

I was joined for coffee by four delegates participating in the Grundtvig Program. This is a non vocational EU lifelong learning programme, aiming to build addtional life skills and confidence. Not that we needed the latter as the five of us soon got chatting.

John Falkner was a sociology graduate from Germany who listened before making thoughtful contributions; David Gallego came from Spain and oozed a certain Clooneyesque air - a temporary victim of the downturn in the small construction industry; Barbara Pononutti fom Italy was currently working in a telephone call centre, but lit up with animation when talking about a children's book she had written: and finally but not least Nora Aguirre, who had extensive experience within travel agencies, seen the Americas and now lived in Italy. Nora was good at the open ended questions to get people talking.

For some reason, the four had foregone the opportunities of setting up Barn Owl nesting boxes or Indian Cookery and expressed an interest in the development of businesses in the Cambridge area and the general way business functioned in the UK.

We were of course sitting in one of the incubators for the region. The St John's Innovation Centre is one of the places providing facilities and a nurturing environment for start-ups and micro-businesses. Whether high tech or "conventional", most businesses (over 90%) have only 1-5 employees and are the unsung heroes of any economy, despite lacking the glamour of larger branded corporations.

It hardly seems possible, but in the brief hour we covered a range of topics from book publishing (digitally and print, how to work out your charges as a business, and of course my favourite topics of the benefits of going out networking as well as finding like-minded people or companies with complementary skills to create new opportunities of your own. The role of serendipity in which way your business eventually developed was inevitably identified!

Too soon, the hour had passed and it was time for them to leave for the Chesterfield Science Park - a location for companies that had grown, established and required more space. The bright conversation leaving a warm memory as I returned to the mundane realities of work at the PC.

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