18 February 2015

Matthew's Manifesto for the Kingston upon Thames Society

When I took over as Chairman of the Kingston upon Thames Society in January I agreed to give a talk to one of our monthly public meetings about what I wanted to do in my new role and circumstances dictated that I would do this at the very next meeting in February!

This was challenging for a couple of reasons, it did not give me much time to get my thoughts together and I had already committed to giving another talk a couple of days later that also need quite a bit of preparation.

I managed to find an afternoon to work on this the weekend before I had to give it and after some juggling with ideas I was pleased with the structure that emerged. I knew most of the things that I wanted to say but the trick was to say them in the right order (and in the right way) to make a coherent and relevant story.

I started with just a few words about myself that were relevant to my new role, followed that with a few examples of places and building that I liked (a good excuse to dig out some holiday pictures) and then a few comments on what I found good, bad or indifferent about Kingston. Having set the context I then explained how I saw the role of the Society, how this could develop and what we would need to do to achieve that.

As is my strong preference, my slides had few words and as many pictures as possible. They were more there for my benefit, to remind me what to talk about, than to give the audience something to look at.

So, using the simple prompt "I moved to Kingston in '87" I was able to talk about why I chose Kingston, why that area and that house, and how I came to be a member of the Society soon after moving here.

I explained that a big influence on the way that I plan to operate as Chairman is my work, training and natural inclination for the structures approach of Management Consultancy, and this presentation was an example of that. Later I would say more about People, Process and Technology.

I made the section on some of the places and buildings that I like a little quiz and asked the audience is they recognised the places. There were a lot of correct shouts for Bruges and Portmeirion but nobody knew the amazing Python Bridge in Amsterdam.

The point of this part of the talk was to highlight the things that I like to see when travelling that could be applied to Kingston. I like exploring cities and finding little squares with fountains, or well designed public square or quirky buildings, and I like trams.

As a resident of Kingston I wanted to be able to have the sort of day out there that I have had in places like Hannover, Antwerp and Girona. That meant lots of interesting places well connected to each other.

I said some more about this in a quick summary of my thoughts on Kingston though my score on the good, bad and indifferent at 5, 2, 1 was probably more positive than I felt about the town.

Again the pictures allowed me to say more than just the words on the slide so when saying what I did not like about Kingston Station I mentioned the lack of routes and the way that the station is surrounded by the relief road so getting to or from it any any direction requires crossing several lanes of traffic where the lights are all phased to ease the flow of traffic to the hindrance of pedestrians.

Having set the context, I then talked about the purpose and activities of the society. I said that I think the Society is here to: Protect the things we like about Kingston, Celebrate them so that they can be appreciated by more people, which in turn helps their protection, and Enhance Kingston to make it a better place to live.

I had evolved the Protect/Celebrate/Enhance framework some time ago and this was the first chance that I had used it in anger and it lived up to the task. I used it to structure the activities that we already did and to show some of the additional things that I would like us to try, e.g. protect more through listing Assets of Community Value, celebrate more by arranging more visits and enhancing more by supporting relevant community projects.

Identifying things to do was the easy part, the hard part was working out how to do them, and the only way was to use more resources from within the Society or from other organisations.

The Management Consultant in me wanted to use the word "stakeholder" but I think that I managed to avoid it.

Having identified the main groups of people that we deal with I then went through each of them in turn suggesting how I thought we could work better with them. For example, we could do far more with our members than send them one email a month and invite them to one meeting. I said that I would like us to have more meetings of more sorts in more places, e.g. a semi-formal meeting in Tolworth to review plans for the former government offices site or a social gathering in New Malden to discuss local issues.

People was a large part of my manifesto but Process was significant too.

I closed the presentation with the summary, Matthew’s Manifesto means building our own capacity and using that of other groups so that we can do more things, improving our ways of working so that we can do things better and, above all, it means communication, dialogue and co-operation.

You can read the presentation on slideshare.

We then went in to an extended Q&A session that, I felt, worked very well. The questions showed that the members had understood what I was saying and were broadly supportive of it while understanding that it would be difficult to achieve. The questions were mixed and detailed and I enjoyed answering them, or rather participating in the conversations that followed.

I went into the lion's den confident on what I wanted to say but with some trepidation on how it would be received and I was delighted with the response that I got. I know it is not going to be easy making these changes to the Society but at least I know that a good number of our members are happy with the direction I am taking.

My next "state of the nation" address will be at the AGM in January 2016 and it will be interesting to see how much progress has been made by then.

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