Saturday, 11 April 2015

My first 100 days

So, I am reliably informed that the 11th April marks my first 100 days as the Head of Culture in Bristol. In some respects it feels like I’ve been here much longer, but it also seems like just yesterday I was stood in St John’s Museum watching @RuairiTheFawn and colleagues from Heritage and Culture Warwickshire on the karaoke at my leaving do. 

Leaving Warwickshire was a big deal for me, it was a service I had worked in for over seven years that I still have a real soft spot for, in an area of the country I love and where my husband comes from.  I worked with some great people who I consider good friends and really miss, however it was time to move on.  From the moment I arrived in Bristol for interview I knew, given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance.

So having been offered the job back in September and having done a few trips down for hand over meetings and house hunting, my husband and I officially moved to Bristol on 21st December.  By the way – never do that – never leave your job, move house and organise Christmas in the same week – it is rather stressful!  We spent our first night in Bristol a couple of days after Christmas having been in Liverpool, where I originate from and where my family still live, for the festive period – and from the moment we arrived we have loved it!  It’s a great city, with lots going on culturally, great bars and restaurants, lots of green spaces and good shopping – what’s not to like?  Actually, there is one thing… the hills, particularly Park Street, a hill I sometimes do three times a day.  Before I started no one warned me about the hills, but as a positive I must be fitter than I have ever been.

I officially started in post on the 1st January, a great day to start as it’s a bank holiday, however I spent the day at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG), partly if I am honest to make sure I could find my way there as I didn’t want to be late on my first day, but it was great to be able to say hi to some of our Front of House staff and talk to them about how busy we had been over Christmas.

My first day in the office was the 2nd, which, being a Friday meant very few people were in the office. I had meetings that day with two of my three management team – Zak (@zakmensah) – Head of Transformation and Ray (@mrraybarnett) our Head of Collections and Archives with Phil (@PhilipJMWalker) our Head of Engagement still enjoying his Christmas break.

The team had been through a whole team restructure, which had taken most of 2014, with a few areas being finalised now, so although Zak, Ray and Phil had all worked for the service for a while – some more than others – it was their first day in their new roles too! That first day I remember quite clearly, I met with Zak and Ray to start to get an understanding of some of the issues and opportunities, Ray showed me around behind the scenes at BMAG, I said hello to the staff who were in that day and I sent out a few emails introducing myself to people and partners in the city. First day done and all was fairly calm.

Since then it has been a bit of a blur as I have tried to find my way around the city and our sites, have tried to remember the names of my own team and the numerous external partners I have met, have tried to get to grips with our budgets and service plans for the next three years and beyond and tried to understand the values and priorities of the new Culture team in order to articulate a vision for the next 10 years and beyond. People talk about what they wish to achieve in their first 100 day in a new post, I am not too sure about my achievements, but I know I have certainly learnt a lot so I thought I would share my three main learning points.

·         My new remit is big, but I am supported by an amazing team – Mine is a new role covering the Museums, Galleries and Archives team (which also includes a commercial Archaeology team and Environmental records centre), the Arts and Events team (who also do festivals and site permissions), the Film Office and Run Bristol. Everyone I meet in city pulls the same faces as they say “it’s a big job”, well yes it is but I don’t do it alone. The new Culture Team is a big team with just over 200 staff and I am really fortunate to work was some of the most talented and committed staff I have ever met. We are a team who have been through a lot of change and despite still being a big team we are much smaller than we were and have lost some very valued colleagues over the last 12 months. However as things start to settle down and we all start to get more comfortable with our new roles I am sure we have the team to deliver great things right across the whole team.

·         Small things matter- A lot of my role is dealing with things at a fairly high/ hands off level, I don’t deliver school sessions anymore or plan new exhibitions, I am not the person stood on our front desk saying hello or the person out in the community delivering an event but I still think it’s important for me to focus on the small things. It bothers me when the paper towels are on the floor in the toilet or when the wall needs repainting when a sign has been removed. I spend hours thinking about and discussing cleaning and worrying about how staff answer the phone and I do all of this because the small things matter and have an impact on the overall public offer and I believe to create a culture where everyone worries about these things we as a management team have to show it matters to us.

·         Rome wasn’t built in a day- Patience has never really been one of my skills, I have always been really frustrated when things which could be done in 5 minutes take 4 weeks but I am getting better at accepting that Rome wasn’t built in a day and acknowledging that some things will have to wait. We use trello (a free web-based project management application) as a management team to keep track of what we are working on and where certain things are up to. Our “stalled” list is by far the longest list we have but this doesn’t stress me in the way it would have in the past. We will get there and we are making progress as our “done” and “archive” lists shows.

So that’s my first 100 days done, some of our team could write blogs about their 10,000 plus days which would maybe require a whole book. 10,000 days seems a very long way off but I am certainly looking forward to my first 1000 days. The team in Bristol have been great since I arrived and I am really grateful for their hard work and support, particularly Ray, Phil and Zak who have been amazing. I still miss Warwickshire and all the people there including @oisinthedeer and @ruairithefawn but I am loving life in Bristol and looking forward to leading the Culture team in the coming months and years.