London

A rather special place

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I don’t get to go to the cinema as much as I would like, generally it is due to being busy with other things. I enjoy films and when in Nottingham tend to go to the Broadway Cinema which is a fantastic place. A recent visit to London however offered a chance to see a film and go to a very special cinema.

105_odeon_site_1

The film was The Railway Man – which I recommend, one of the best films I have seen in many years.

The cinema was The Odeon Leicester Square, a place that I have seen on numerous televised premiers but had never been to. It must be quite rare in the UK now as it is basically a single huge auditorium, much as all cinemas were many years ago. It was lovely to be in such an iconic building, and the digital projection onto such a large screen was amazing.

I can thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in London, it was worth every penny (it isn’t cheap). Sitting in the circle was an amazing experience although at the showing I attended the auditorium was not very full – I got the impression that the cinema was very much a ‘flagship’ and perhaps doesn’t make much if any money for Odeon Cinemas.

But what a flagship!

A reflection on customer service

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Talk is cheap - it's actions that count

The events of the last two weeks have set me wondering if we actually have any interest in our customers in the UK? My torrid experiences with Virgin can’t be the norm surely?

This has set me thinking and looking in my everyday life for examples of good customer care – going the extra yard for your client perhaps, or just being pleasant and thoughtful in the world of business. One of the things that people often complain about with Americans is that they are always so ‘insincere’ when they deal with you. I don’t agree, at least they are friendly and keen to help, it always strikes me that whatever their job they do it to their best and take pride – is this something lacking in the UK?

My experience with Virgin left me feeling somewhat ‘grubby’, they tried to make me feel guilty for chasing them – they were doing their best apparently (and it is quite likely they were) so I should wait. They were very good at saying sorry, to the point that it became meaningless. What ever happened to the client comes first? Call them to let them know what is going on – even if you don’t have any real news. The client will be grateful for the contact because it shows you are on the case – and dare I say, you are interested and care!

I am currently in Dublin, this is my first visit to Ireland and it is interesting to compare what is their capital city and its friendliness with London – is there any comparison? No!

Since arriving I have found the Irish to be very warm and friendly, they are keen to help and provide just that little bit extra. Not something that would be common in London! Do we perhaps still have a ‘bit of a chip on our shoulders’ as a race? We do still like to think we run the world – we don’t!

Perhaps just a bit of good old-fashioned humility and consideration would go a long way in the UK?

Time to get on our bikes?

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Boris has the right idea....

Everyone over a ‘certain age’ will remember the comment from Norman Tebbit that everyone should ‘get on their bikes’ to help find a job – that was the 80’s, but it appears we may be told the same now, but with a potentially different end result.

Apparently we should ‘cycle like the Danes’ as that would cut our carbon emissions by 25%!

According to a report by the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation (ECF) if the EU cycling rate was the same as Denmark, where the average person cycles almost 600 miles (965km) each year, then the EU would attain anything from 12% to 26% of its targeted emissions reduction, this is obviously dependant upon what forms of transport the cycling replaces.

This figure is also likely to be a significant underestimate, as it deliberately excludes the environmental impact of building road infrastructure and parking, or maintaining and disposing of cars. So it does offer a potentially low-cost way of reducing emissions.

Focusing on less technologically complex solutions to reducing emissions like this, rather than electric cars, makes a lot of sense, especially as a high proportion of journeys within the EU are 1.25 miles or less (so easily done on a cycle).

The big advantage of the bicycle is that it exists as a vehicle, and most of the infrastructure is already in place to allow its use. Electric cars need a massive amount of investment in charging points to make them anywhere near being a viable form of transport.

The calculations for bikes is also all encompassing. It includes manufacture – the ECF took a heavier, European-style bike as its model, assuming each used 14.6kg of aluminium, 3.7kg of steel and 1.6kg of rubber – maintenance and even the impact of producing extra calories consumed by someone cycling rather than driving, estimated at 175 an hour, on average.

This came up with a total of 21g of carbon emissions per passenger kilometre travelled for a bike, as against 271g for people in a car and 101g for a bus. The impact of electric-assisted bicycles, a boon for older or infirm riders, was almost as low, at 22g.

Increasing continent-wide cycling to Danish levels would, nonetheless, be quite a leap. The EU average is just under 120 miles per person per year, while in the UK it is a mere 46 miles, less than 8% of that in Denmark (which is 600 miles).

However, even if we only undertake a small amount of bike travel it is going to help reduce our personal carbon footprints – and every bit helps!

We’re still here Mr Osborne!

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It never ceases to amaze me how ‘London centric’ our economy is – I know there is bound to be a natural attraction to the capital and the South as it is closer to our European neighbours. But, in all my years in the East Midlands we always appear to be overlooked by Central Government.

However, we have some great businesses and in the last few days some good news stories – 1500 jobs at Toyota over the next two years as an example. And, strangely our Prime Minister was on hand when this announcement was made – good news it appears attracts Government from out of the depths of the South into the frozen North!

Obviously we all know that the East Midlands lies in the middle of the country and not the North – that is blindingly obvious to all but those in power! We have also produced many of the UK’s major success stories – Boots, Rolls Royce, Paul Smith to name but a few – but still we are overlooked or just plain ignored by central Government when it comes to investment.

More good news today that the first part of the A46 was opened around Bingham – that should help with traffic on the East of the City. But we are still in need of the A453 widening to link us up quickly to the M1 at junction 25.

If the press are to be believed (unlikely I know) then in his Autumn Statement the chancellor may well offer some money for large road works or similar to help stimulate the economy – how much of that money is likely to hit the East Midlands?

Only time will tell – over to you George..

Two great, and one not so great museums

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This week is half term, so like most parents I am off and trying to find ‘useful’ things to do with the family. One such act was a trip to London to visit certain museums for the benefit of the younger members of the family. The V&A was one choice for access to their amazing library of drawings and paintings for my stepdaughter’s A level work. This is a fantastic resource and access is free (but no white gloves are required which must have been disappointing!)

The V&A is one our great British resources – a greatly underestimated place. I also visited with my son the Imperial War museum – to help with GCSE History studies (and because it’s a great place). The sections on the First World War and Second World War are absolutely superb – there is an incredible amount of information and it is put over in an interesting and engaging way for all ages. The trench experience is well done and the top floor gallery showing winners of the VC is a must to visit.

So, two excellent museums.

We did have some time to spare in the afternoon however, and decided to look at the museum of London which is situated near St Paul’s in the city. We went with an open mind, London is a city with a lot of history so it could be a great museum.

Frankly it isn’t, it is dry and boring in its layout and presentation. A real lost opportunity – but at least it was free!

Blackfriars solar bridge

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Blackfriars station has just seen the start of development on what will be London’s largest solar array when it opens next year. The first of more than 4,400 solar panels are installed above the new Blackfriars station platform which is to be extended across Blackfriars Bridge as part of a multi Million Pound refit.

Programmed for completion in 2012, the Victorian bridge will play host to some 6,000 square metres of photovoltaic (PV) panels, making it London’s largest solar array. The panels are expected to generate around 900,000 kWh of electricity a year, providing half of the station’s energy and reducing annual CO2 emissions by an estimated 511 tonnes.

Blackfriars Bridge is an ideal location for a solar array, being right in the heart of a city, but not shadowed as it’s in the middle of a river!

Other energy-saving measures, such as rain harvesting systems and sun pipes for natural lighting, are also being fitted at Blackfriars, as part of Network Rail’s plans to reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent per passenger kilometre by 2020.

16,000 solar panels were laid on the top of a train tunnel in Belgium earlier this year. That array is capable of powering all of the country’s trains for one day a year!

It’s good to see some creative use of a structure that was constructed in Victorian times when Steam Trains were crossing it, plus it will actually look quite striking with its solar additions.

Now that is real customer service!

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Recently as a family we spent a few days in London. This involved eating out a few times which is all part of the ‘London experience’. On the basis that I am currently trying (and managing) to lose some weight we went for a known quantity in terms of restaurants – Nando’s. They have excellent dietary information on their website which enabled me to eat within my daily allowance – all good so far!

After ordering the food the payment unfortunately all went ‘pear shaped’, the visa terminal was having none of it and kept kicking out my transaction. So after numerous failed attempts the manager was called and then finally it appeared one successful transaction was made and the manager was happy.

Just incase the transaction had hit my account more than once the manager gave me his card and asked me to let him know in which case he would credit the difference back. A nice touch that I was impressed with.

Roll forward a week and checking the account at home the transaction had indeed been duplicated, time to ring the manager! A quick call was met with lots of apologies and a promise that my money would be debited to my account shortly or I could drop into the restaurant to sort it. After realising I was in Nottingham and he was in London we agreed to a BAC’s transfer and all was arranged – or I thought it was!

Then a few days later the manager phoned me out of the blue to say he had spoken to his accounts department and it was a nightmare to set up the transfer because of their accounts system – so he was going to transfer the money from his personal account! He assured me he could and would claim it back from the restaurant, but what a great act of service to the customer – Nando’s will certainly be on our list of restaurants in the future!

The managers name? Gabor Gombkoto.

The branch of Nando’s? Kings Cross.

Would I get the same level of service outside London – say in Nottingham? I would love to think so, but probably not! London is so much more cosmopolitan than other UK cities. There are so many restaurants that customer care has to be great. Plus it was a non-British manager, my experience is that on the continent they know how to treat the customer!

Camden Stables Market

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As my kids would confirm I am not a natural shopper – looking for gadgets is one thing but clothes shopping is frankly a chore!

So being told we were going to visit Camden Market in London did not fill me with delight! Especially as the market is apparently “heaven for trendy teenagers”.

part of the colour....

However, first impressions were good – it looks quite small from the outside!

How wrong this was! It is a huge collection of small shops and food outlets. I have never been to a big Arab style market but imagine that it feels like this!

The area selling foods was so colourful and reminded me of a scene from Blade Runner it was so atmospheric! I also heard comments that it was like “Diagon Alley” from Harry Potter!
Lots of narrow passages with stalls either side.

“The boys” separated from the girls and we actually enjoyed ourselves, getting lost at one point trying to find a specific stall!

The most remarkable thing about the market is that part of it is within the old stables, but a significant area is within a new build area, but kept looking old! This scale of development is only going to work in a large city, Nottingham wouldn’t unfortunately be a big enough draw – what a shame!

Everyone raves about Covent Garden in London, but this is the most intense retail experience I have ever had!

Thoroughly recommended – especially a visit to Cyberdog!

Abbey Road Studios

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Recent reports that EMI are looking to sell Abbey Road studios in London has had an amazing impact on the social media sites. The studios have an almost iconic status in the music world having been the home to the Beatles and a number of other famous bands.

It should be noted at this point that EMI have not actually confirmed that they are looking to sell, but the assumption has been made in the press that this is the case. Real momentum has been put behind the idea of the studios being saved after Chris Evans suggested on air on his Radio 2 morning show that perhaps the National Trust could step in and save the property for the nation.

To their credit the National Trust have picked up on this suggestion and have a page on their website asking the question ‘should the National Trust try to save the iconic Abbey Road Studios?’

The Trust are tasked with preserving historic buildings and are best known for their historic castles and stately homes. However they already have a link to the Beatles as they own both John Lennon’s and Sir Paul McCartney’s childhood homes in Liverpool. I believe this is an excellent idea, the Trust are asking people to let them know if it is something they feel is worth supporting by letting them know via all forms of social media – a first for such an organisation.

The Trust have a record for being able to raise funds in a short period of time following an appeal. In 2002 they started an appeal to save Tyntesfield near Bristol, a Victorian Gothic Revival Country House which was a time capsule of its era. In 100 days they raised £8,200,000, enabling it to be saved. In 2006 they received a further £20,000,000 in lottery funding and were able to proceed with repairs, including the complete re-roofing, re-wiring and re-plumbing of the premises.

Estimates of the value of Abbey Road are varied, but range from £10M to £30M, whatever the figure this could be a fantastic purchase for the Trust, visitors to the crossing outside (famous from the Beatles album cover – but not part of the sale) are a regular stop on tours of London. Adding a visit into the studios would be the obvious next step!

Lets hope that it starts to appear high on the Twitter trends and on Facebook!

UPDATE 21st February 2010 – The Estates Gazette reports this week that Simon Cowell has come together with his property investor brother to consider buying the studios. Interest appears to be hotting up with Sony, Universal, Warner Music and Disney all expressing an interest. Interesting times ahead!

UPDATE 2 – 21st February 2010 – EMI have now confirmed that Abbey Road is not up for sale. End of the story?………….