Let’s buy Crocker’s Folly

Today, I was walking through here and later, after a couple of phone calls went to have a look around Crocker’s Folly, a Grade II* listed building which is up for sale. It has a special place in my heart as it was one of the first places in London I performed after leaving drama school in 1984 (long story) and where I met my (future ex-)wife (even longer story).
Even that aside, it is a stunningly beautiful interior with enormous potential.

The folklore behind the building is that one Frank Crocker built the place in the late part of the 19th Century based on a mistaken belief that Marylebone station would be built nearby and that there would be a need for a large hotel and hostelry. The film Georgy Girl was shot in the surrounding area of Little Venice and I have a feeling the pub is featured in a scene.

It is a crying shame that it has stood empty and boarded up for the last three or four years. My vision would be to create an alternative music venue there: Victorian Music Hall, 1930s Variety, Burlesque, Cockney & Western, etc…

I would naturally love to blog about what goes on there once opened, but it would also make a really cool blog in the meantime talking about raising the money to buy it and the restoration and other work that needs to be done to make it habitable and sea-worthy.

I shot some footage in the most interesting bit, the pub downstairs, but there are three floors of residential opportunities above the pub as well which could provide some serious rental income if refurbished right.

The owner is asking for bids by this Friday (21st April 2006) in the region of £3million but even my untrained eye could see that one would need several hundred thousand more to restore it to a going concern. My reading between the estate agent’s lines was also that there was no big unavoidable rush, but that the deadline had been set to focus the minds of potential purchasers.

Sadly, this is too short a period for me to get a few million nicker all by myself, and anyway Debbie & I are going to Birmingham for the day. But it occurred to me that to two or three degrees of separation, I do know or am known by an awful lot of people around the world and I would really like to see how possible this is. So I throw it open to you inkernet webizens. How could we put a deal together quickly to secure this lovely space (subject naturally to acceptance of such a bid by the current owners) and make reasonable returns for investors if they want them – preferably somewhere manageable and suitably long-tail ranging from 1 investor who stumps up £3m+ and 3m investors who each stump up £1.

This does not form a prospectus or any such blah blah blah.

TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS. NO, REALLY. TELL *ALL* YOUR FRIENDS

FAQ

You’re joking, right. This is one of Lloyd’s mad ideas Half right – it is one of my mad ideas, but I’m not joking. Can I put you down for say £1.50?

Are you drunk? No, nor am I on drugs. I may be otherwise mentally twisted, but not seriously so. Can I put you down for £100 then?

Don’t you realise what a stupid idea this is? No, so can I put you down for £1,000?

Do you know anything about what you’re doing… at all? No, but that’s never stopped me in the past. Can I put you down for £10,000?

Isn’t this illegal? I don’t know. I promise not to do anything illegal in the event that any of this comes off. I am not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV, but I’m not doing anything at the moment except talk about it. Of course one way you could contribute is if you happen to be a lawyer. So can I put you down for £100,000?

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Laird Mackay at Blogging4Business

If video doesn’t play please download it here

When I was sitting on the podcasting and videoblogging panel at B4B I just saw 3 or 4 suits animatedly jiggling and nodding and generally getting excited on the front row.

Then one of them piped up during questions and explained that he was the managing director of Prontaprint (a print and copy franchising business) and he’d done his own podcast for staff. Smacked was my gob – how fantabulous was this? So I snuck over after the panel was done and we had a chat.

Why don’t you leave your suggestions here for how Laird and his team can make their own podcast more “street” or just informal or whatever.

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Joanna King at Blogging4Business

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I’d had some contact with Joanna before because I did a slot on blogging for IDM at Internetworld last year. I’m hoping that her experience here will feed through into other events that IDM get involved in. Of course I’d love to help in any way I can! If you want to see more of this kind of stuff Joanna, do come along on May 17th

Bizarre synchronicity point: As I was about to cross the road to go into my flat yesterday afternoon, Joanna came jogging by with her sister Michelle. She wasn’t sure if I recognised her, but I assured her that I’d been looking at video of her a lot. I worry that this slightly freaked Michelle out. Just to put your mind at rest, Michelle, I’m not stalking your sister, I just made this video when we met at a conference :-)

Next time you’re passing, ladies, do drop in for a cup of tea. [OK, I admit it, now I'm getting a bit stalky]

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Ellee Seymour at Blogging 4 Business

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We met Ellee Seymour during one of the breaks. She has enormous energy and enthusiasm for blogging (as you can see) and I’m sure we could have filled a whole camcorder tape just by talking to her. Perhaps we will one day! Check out her post on Rhubarb Lasagne and encourage her to follow through on the Beetroot Trifle.

She’s been getting some mentoring from the East Anglian super-blogger Geoff Jones, so is clearly in good hands.

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Hugh MacLeod at Blogging4Business

If video doesn’t play please download it here

Met up with Hugh again at Blogging 4 Business on Tuesday. I caught him saying this sensible stuff in the first session, but I do think lots of people in the hall weren’t quite ready for it then. I’m sure though that they’d have got it by the end of the day.

If you’re not aware of Hugh’s work, then you must be new around here. I first got wind of him when I saw his “How to be creative” around the time that I started Perfect Path, and then we met last year when I helped out on the first Scoble dinner by providing the wiki sign-up space. Hugh-newbies should also immerse themselves in the Hughtrain Manifesto.

Debbie and I chatted to Hugh later on too (off camera, sorry folks) about cartooning and blogging and global microbrands and blogging, but we also showed him the snowman movie from “All this…” as he’s a Cumbrian resident and was one of the kind and understanding people we rang while on the M6 to desparately trying to find out where there might be some snow. Debbie came away with a signed business card (with three xxx’s no less!) she was dead chuffed.

Lots more video from the conference coming soon, including what I think I said on the panel during the podcasting and videoblogging session.

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John Browne from BP on Ageing and Age Discrimination

geoff mulganOn Thursday, I went over to the fantastic Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End to listen to a lecture organised by The Young Foundation on ageing and age discrimination. John Browne, chief executive of BP spoke and took questions about the issue.

Afterwards I spoke to Geoff Mulgan (pictured right) about what he’d heard Lord Browne say. Click on the picture to see the video.

The Perfect Path interest in this area is in putting together a project called The New Generation, which is a videoblog telling stories from active older people – focusing on their aspirations for the future rather than using simply them as a historical resource telling us about the past. If you’re interested in making a contribution to this project, do get in touch – we are very happy to accept help and support, financially and otherwise.

Lord Browne started by paying tribute to Michael Young. Though they’d never met, and if they had they might not have agreed on the subject of meritocracy, he was sure that they would have agreed on the need to help individuals to reach their full potential, no matter where they are starting from.

They would also have agreed on chronologism, a term that Young coined, to describe the tendency to judge people according to their physical age. Browne pointed out that we have created a bureacracy of age around the ticking of the clock whereas interest and abilities in relation to physical age are actually very diverse and people increasingly refuse to conform. He spoke of the need to break from the traditional concept of retirement which has become the end of usefulness and the beginning of death.

Approaching this from the perspective of a businessman employing 100,000 staff worldwide in the energy industry, he can see four key points:

1. We can’t sustain the idea that everyone retires at the same age – which first came about when men started work at 13 and living to the age of 70 was exceptional. We live in a different world and for much longer. The countries in which we work need people to work longer to ensure that the balance between those working and those not doesn’t shift to the point where paying for it is intolerable. By 2010 23 percent of the UK population will be over 60 as a result of declining birthrates and life expectancy extending beyond 80. At the same time, we are encouraging more and more young people into further and higher education, so the ratio of workers to non-workers is falling year by year. Pension systems may differ across the world, but all depend on continued creation of wealth.

2. The world economy is changing too. 70 per cent of the economy is now based on services rather than manufacturing. It’s a knowledge economy and this is true across industries. So we can’t neglect experience. We can’t say “You’re now too old to be useful.”

“How can we afford” Browne said, “to learn things again and again just because we’ve decided that people have to stop work at a certain age”. He also pointed out that in the US people are retiring later and later – and productivity has increased.

3. The basic demographics of the energy industry. More than half of his employees are over 45. BP still needs engineers. Fewer people are studying mathematics at a higher level, so they are less likely to become engineers, but those that do are in enormous demand. The number of registered engineers falling. So there is every incentive for a company like BP to encourage people to stay on as long as possible.

4. A civilised society needs to overcome prejudice. We’ve come a long way on gender, race and aspects of lifestyle. Most places select people on the basis of merit, but it seems OK to say “We don’t want you if you’ve over 60.” Youth is synonymous with vitality and success and the future. Old is only seed as good when applied to art, furniture or alcohol. The cult of youth is very strong.

Waste is shocking and prejudice is intolerable, people should be given the choice – because some want to stop, but many don’t.

Lord Browne praised signs of progress. There are changes coming in legislation to allow people to drawing down funds from pensions and to improve accrual rates for state pensions. Age discrimination legislation is coming in the UK later this year. The upper age limit for unfair dismissal will be removed and there will be a duty to consider an employee’s request to keep working. This is all good, but the issue is only partly one of process – it’s also culture.

There are good signs, the appointment of Richard Lambert at the CBI recognises the qualities of being older. We at BP can’t change attitudes on our own, but we can show what can be done. We can respond to changing times, giving people choice. We can provide flexibility – the chance to stay on full- or part-time, and live on a combination of paid income and pension. We can give people the option to phase themselves out of the work they do or to change their role – becoming advisors rather than managers. BP is employing older people now as coaches, as sources of wisdom and experience who don’t have to work full-time to make a great contribution.

The key, Browne says, is the principle of mutual advantage and working to find a way of matching both sets of aspirations matching. There are complex issues of motivation as well as economics. It’s not just about 70-year-olds – it’s about how needs get met with flexibility throughout your working life to give you genuine choices.

There were then questions from the floor which is where my note-taking fell apart. I include the following to give a flavour of the discussion, but apologise if I misrepresent anyone’s question or point of view. [As ever, many of the "questions" were actually opportunities to make statements of support or dissent.]

Geoff Mulgan kicked off with asking about the difference between different types of jobs, manual labour as opposed to brain work.

JB: It’s important to recognise that those who have done physically demanding work throughout their life have a great understanding about how the organisation should be run – it’s about transferring what is really important – advising on automatic control systms depends on knowing how things really get done

Q: age-related redundancy isn’t civilised, we have to change this now.
JB: things don’t change rapidly or overnight – but we are making progress.

Q: Your own org is exemplary – but I picked up on something you said, that in 2 years you would be retiring. Is there a rigid rule in force in BP?
JB: We never finish business on anything, everything is a work in progrees and there will always be things that are going wrong. As for me it’s different – it’s about choice and tenure and succession and motivation – anyway I prefer to see it as life after first retirement.

Q: What does BP do for older people who are stuck in their own home?
JB: There is a limit to what non-governmental orgs can do – there is a big role for government to intervene when other societal forces fail. So what we do is set examples and accept that by doing so we’re contributing to things getting better. He can remember a time when it was difficult to talk about employing women. We got better at that. Race and colour embarrassed people too. Lifestyle and sexual preference is becoming less of a taboo and now we’re dealing with age.

Q: How do we spread things across business?
JB: There are changes coming in today – A-day. A huge distance to travel for people elsewhere. How can we spread things around? not by lecturing people, you will be tested by the single failure and people don’t take kindly to being told what to do. The best solution is to raise awareness through networks and local organisations.

Q: Anti-business crowd – how are they reacting to your egalitarian business model.
JB: Business needs to keep thinking about itself – to think about how it can serve human needs. Success comes this way. This purpose is not always talked about – we’re usually focused on profit and return, but business organisations can’t exist unless these needs are thought about. I don’t see this as being purely philanthropic, that’s the role of foundations – for business it’s about looking at what you’re really doing here to satisfy human needs.

Q: Volunteering – is there any evidence of an increased desire to volunteer with age
JB: I don’t know, but it should be age independent it’s not voluntary if its the only thing left to do.

Q: How do you deal with the political points in organisations?
JB: Change takes time and creates anxiety – that fear can dissipate over time if we talk about it. People say to me if I’ve only got 3 employees what can i do. I sa, “Think about the value of having someone who can guide you through”. All business try to learn – and the best way is through people – not through information technology what still works best is passing knowledge on through the oral tradition.

Q: How do we challenge the prejudice the other way – prejudices older people have against younger people.
JB: I don’t have a clear view but i am thinking about it. It varies around the world but the bottom line is saying how can we get rid of prejudice

Q: On the use of networks and awareness raising, we’re getting a new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights – what do you think the balance of encouragement, influence and enforcement should be?
JB: Well you’re right that it’s not just one of those things, it’s a combination. As an analogy, there are groups that still have to keep making the point that women should be treated on the same basis of merit as men – they keep asking the difficult questions and providing possible answers. This is a counterpart to the rules, the boundaries, it’s the ways to make the internals work. We can’t assume things will happen automatically.

Q: I’d like to keep talking about death, gender, family in relation to age.
JB: I agree and I’d like to talk more. My experience is that it’s rare inside corporations to talk about these things, especially death except when people have direct personal experience.

Q: At age X you have to stop working – to what degree do you see bp pushing that logic, and what things are you personally interested in?
JB: Lots of different things and variety is key. Not enough people ask how is the company meeting your needs – how do you maintain a relationship of mutual advantage. If it goes slightly wrong then performance goes wrong because people are anxious because they don’t know where they stand how they’re thought of etc. so the answer is to talk to people about how things are going and you ask people what it means to them and how they’d like to go forward. It’s so important to keep managers in “a good place”. A lot happens when there is big change in the world – managers can underestimate the intelligence of people under them when change is happening.