Posts & Media

In praise of the humble field trip

If you weren’t sure whether field trips have value, all you needed to do this spring was walk by one – and they are re-appearing, slowly but surely. Beyond the classic pointing, photo-snapping and chatting on the move, the real ‘tell’ has been the unabashed grins at reconnecting face-to-face.

We are drowning in debate over how we should meet for work, if and when people come in at all. If we can avoid fatiguing community groups, council teams or developers, field trips are a great way to surface.

Good visits bring urban problems and solutions to life; give local people a stronger voice; let guests share ideas, ideally with people they don’t know (now including co-workers); and can give junior or less visible team members a manageable project to own. The organisations I work with also avoid nametags, which flattens hierarchy, calms the business development imperative and produces more honest conversations.

Now, amidst astonishingly vague COVID guidelines, field trips have even more value – outdoors and easily spaced, they can be a way to connect ‘live’ without formal focus on core content, so those who miss team or course outings don’t miss out on essentials.

And some will stay away. COVID-linked obstacles can include travel concerns, health vulnerability or care for others, and some won’t disappear when the PM calls the ‘all clear’ – they may always have been issues, just with less permission to decline before the pandemic. As employers and hosts, we need to shuffle our thinking to allow for this, and find ways to bring people back willingly.

Here are a few types of trip we’ve co-hosted recently:

Future of London was one of the first organisations to take courses and events online, and I’m proud that we were one of the first to re-start field trips. You can find summaries of recent walkabouts with London Leaders Plus here and Greater Manchester Leaders Plus here.

These visits were less formal than usual, offered partly to connect cohorts who’ve never met. Still, they covered a lot of ground, from how major projects like Ancoats and King’s Cross are bedding in, to options for greening central Manchester and understanding how the Gay Village might evolve. Huge thanks to our hosts – mostly Leaders candidates and alumni – from Argent, Hatch, Arup, Manchester City Council, Homes England and U+I.


With my Coherent Cities hat on, I also co-hosted a visit organised by LB Camden with the Camley Street Steering Group. it was a well-considered tour with just enough flex, where local residents and business owners shared insight and concerns for this King’s Cross-adjacent area, set to undergo major change. This group may never see eye-to-eye on key aspects of the regeneration, but built up a stock of respect since launching in February 2020, and all were keen to see each other in person.

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, the project design team, provided user-friendly materials and joined as participants, along with two Kickstarters who coordinated everything. The itinerary was just 1.5hrs long across short distances and the Camden Garden Centre café provided a place to comment on maps and for a disabled councillor to both participate and hear all the findings. The weather was mad, but it was an enjoyable, eye-opening visit that also led to a fruitful Zoom discussion with members who couldn’t join.


Finally, I’m on the steering group of Placemaking Collective UK, a loose-knit volunteer group of placemaking practitioners and fans from all sorts of disciplines. PCUK hosts field trips every two months, alternating between London and other cities, and we’ve visited Bristol, Manchester and Brighton as well as Wembley, Croydon and Poplar. PCUK uses a free membership system and Eventbrite registration, with trips led by peers involved in projects in each place, ending with discussion at a pub and followed by a write-up. Guests come from across the UK, which makes for great best practice-sharing – and given the jump in membership, clearly there’s appetite!


However field trips are delivered, the keys to successful ones seem to be:

  • Enough organisation so hosts and guests are comfortable (and can find you!)
  • Enough informality so people don’t feel constrained or intimidated by expertise
  • A manageable group size and/or a max 1:10 ratio of hosts to guests
  • Quiet spots to hear people speak – shocking how loud it is out there in the world!
  • Not selling (at least overtly): single-site visits by host developers or councils bring scepticism; broaden the offer and be open to tough questions.
  • Respect for all involved, e.g. considering accessibility, providing user-friendly materials, offering a café wrap-up as an alternative to a pub – and actively listening to each other!

As a host or guest, hope to see you out there soon!

CityBites podcast: How do we lead now?

For most people working from home since March 2020, life is a rollercoaster propelled by lockdowns and releases, steep learning curves, waves of home-schooling, rising burnout and chaotic policy (this post goes online as the UK locks down for a third time).

In June, 88% of 5,500 surveyed employees said they wanted to continue some form of home working when offices reopen fully (PropelHub). In September, 69% of [US] employees surveyed said they were suffering from burn-out (Forbes – good tips in here).

In this interview, Miffa Salter, founder and director of Urbancanda, talks about the ‘luck’ of being ahead of the curve, the massive shift she’s seen from surge to burnout, and how leaders and learners can make the most of this less-than-ideal world.

Coherent Cities, Future of London and all of our partners are working to continually improve the calibre and feel of our online events, and to see which elements are worth carrying into the working world of the future. Watch this space. For now, hope you enjoy this chat with Miffa as much as I did!

Transcript: CityBites Podcast – Miffa Salter interview 4.12.20


  • Virtues of Virtual, Dr Brennan Jacoby, Philosophy at Work
  • Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat – Blog and podcast from Bruce Daisley: brilliant compendium of fresh thinking on working and leading remotely and what we may see next.
  • FoL’s #LearningFromCrisis resource hub with signposts to a great variety of support and insight.

City Bites Podcast: Digital + Small Business

This episode of the City Bites ‘Connections’ series is on the evolving relationship between digital and small business – including how local government is supporting Small & Medium Enterprises or SMEs.

Across the UK, businesses at all scales have shifted from wholesale to consumer sales, or from ‘B2B’ to ‘B2C’, while people at risk of job losses have been urged to ‘pivot’ their careers.

Some of that is working: While many large-scale sectors wilt and the ONS shows 247,000 fewer people working in June-Sept 2020 than 2019, the Centre for Entrepreneurs reports a record 570,000 start-ups to date this year, with 29% year-on-year growth in September alone. Many are tied directly to pandemic-related health products, but digital has at least a promotional and logistics role there, and a much larger role in services.

Small and micro business feature heavily in those figures and have always been an economic force. In 2019, some 5.9m UK SMEs accounted for £2.2tr in turnover, or half the UK total, and 16m jobs, or 60% of the total [Federation of Small Business].

In a Covid context, they range from shops which can’t stay open or sell online through digital agencies embracing work-from-home to the Amazons and Etsy makers whose businesses are thriving in relative terms.

As Covid’s one-year anniversary rolls into view, some of the questions to address about digital and small business include:

  • Equal citizen access – How do we include everyone in emerging economic and connection opportunities (and do that better than we have in the bricks-and-mortar world)? This is one of London’s Recovery priorities, and it appears across the UK as an issue.
  • Equal commercial access – Making sure small, diverse and locally based tech companies get a crack at government work, currently procured in silos and shared among a small number of very big players. This is one of guest Onyeka Onyekwelu’s projects.
  • Integrating digital into organisational strategy as opposed to having it sit “over in IT”. This has a major learning component, especially since platforms and devices proliferate so fast. How do we communicate with colleagues, customers and communities? Who are we reaching and what can we do with commercial, place-based or other data? To paraphrase speaker Joe Mathewson, if doing things online automatically creates a record, we should be able to streamline and share better.
  • Resilience: As guest Alison Partridge points out, start-up and survival aren’t the same thing. Are there [digital?] ways to share more support and guidance so that 2020’s record number of business births is sustained over the long term?
  • Security: of systems, of Intellectual Property, of personal data. This podcast was recorded before the crippling Hackney Council breach so doesn’t address cybersecurity, but with home-based digital companies spreading like wildfire, are we protected enough?
  • Format innovation: Can we make hybrid live/online contact work and be inclusive? [As a corollary, will Zoom and Teams become the PowerPoint of the next decade? A bit crap as an experience, but the default when our learning time is sucked away by.. online meetings?]

Today’s guests deliver or support digital services in a small-business world, and cover the above and more… 

Alison Partridge is Managing Director of OneTech, part of the Capital Enterprise family. For nearly 30 years she’s worked across EU cities to support inclusive entrepreneurship and innovation. In 2018 she founded OneTech with colleagues and members at Capital Enterprise to tackle the lack of diversity in London’s tech start-up ecosystem. Alison’s been at the forefront of Covid impact on the tech sector and responses to it.

“I think we can try and turn this into an opportunity and see digital and tech as a bit of an equaliser: you can access new markets, you can access talent, you can talk to people anywhere in the world. These are things we could do for the last 5, 10 years, but probably haven’t done habitually… But there are still a lot of people who are excluded, so one of the things we’re trying to do is to connect under-represented people with the opportunities in London’s tech start-up ecosystem.” – Alison Partridge

Joe Mathewson is co-founder & Chief Operating Officer of Firefly Learning, a fast-growing EdTech platform for parent engagement and learning continuity. Joe and his business partner created Firefly while doing their GCSEs, when the experience was very close to home. In response to Covid-19, Firefly has offered schools free access to the platform through the end of December.

“Our customers are having to take a much more strategic approach to technology than I think many of them have done before. It’s something that senior leadership teams are engaging with more than ever… I think that’s probably just going to grow from here.” – Joe Mathewson

Onyeka Onyekwelu is Strategic Engagement Manager at the London Office of Technology & Innovation. LOTI helps boroughs collaborate on projects that use the best of digital, data and innovation to improve services and outcomes for Londoners. She’s also worked with the UN Women, Equality & Human Rights Commission and the Bar Associations on access to justice, digitisation of the courts, and equality and diversity. During lockdown, she’s worked with colleagues on digital methods for public engagement.

“[Boroughs] are doing amazing work, but they don’t always know what each other is doing. We’re committed to supporting boroughs to share the knowledge and resources being developed, ensure that they’re aligned with the higher-level missions of the London Recovery Task Force, and that they’re replicable and scalable by others.” – Onyeka Onyekwelu

Listen to the podcast to hear their lively discussion…

Further resources and links

  • Federation of Small Business: Digital Skills Initiative – visit the free resource hub.
    Firefly Learning launches a new Parent Portal on 11th November and is offering free access to its Parent Engagement & Learning Continuity platform through 31st December 2020: find out more here.
  • For surviving remote work in all its guises, check out Bruce Daisley’s excellent Make Work Better newsletter & website. The Nov 4th edition shares the concept of a digital commute…the work/home transition you need, without the armpits.
  • London Office of Technology & Innovation‘s main site, with projects, data & resources is here
  • LOTI ‘Thirty3’ London procurement resource – including council tech contracts – is here.
  • OneTech Entrepreneur & Enterprise Incubator: a 12-week programme to give entrepreneurs skills, opportunities and access to get to the next stage and achieve their goals. Find out more here.

Catch all podcast episodes on the Future of London City Bites page.

CityBites Podcast: Culture + Place

This episode of the CityBites ‘Connections’ podcast series is on the evolving relationship between culture and place. You’ll hear how different types and scales of organisation are mitigating the damage to the creative sector… how society, government and the market are reassessing culture’s value to local identity and economy… and what aspects of this changing world could be with us for the long term. 

In cases like the Southbank Centre, ‘London’s living room’, culture creates and defines place. Normally audiences flock to these destinations, but so do people who just want somewhere inviting to meet, work or pass the time at no charge. Now too many venues – whether single- or multi-purpose – stand empty, and as guest Gillian Moore points out, the generally sensible move to diversify revenue has had awful knock-on effects as the pandemic hit tenant businesses.

At the other end of the spectrum, individual artists and freelancers from fashion to video face an economic cliff-edge, though some help has come – often from each other. For some, this massive disruption could force a change of career. Even if individuals come out OK, will the neighbourhoods where they made and shared creative output be the poorer?

Somewhere between the two lies public art: beautifying barriers, making statements, cheering us up – and in recent years, claiming more space in development and regeneration schemes. It’s worth considering how climate action could intersect here. The creative industries were worth £306m a DAY to the UK economy in 2018 and had been on the ascendant; that talent and investment will be seeking a new outlet, and both climate action and cultural delivery can be very effective at ground level. That’s a topic for another podcast…


Today’s guests have been working to reduce the pandemic’s damage to culture and place across all scales:

Gillian Moore CBE is Director of Music at the Southbank Centre. She has worked at bringing music and the arts to London and international audiences for more than 35 years, including efforts to integrate education and the arts. She held leadership roles at the London Sinfonietta before joining Southbank in 2006 and was awarded an MBE in 1994 and a CBE in 2018 for her services to music. She also writes and broadcasts regularly about music, and you can find her on BBC3 – or see her championing column on the Southbank Centre here.

“People do happen across the Southbank because they just happen to be wandering along the riverfront. But we can never take that for granted. We know that even people who live half a mile or a mile away, kids who live on local estates, they’ve not seen the River Thames. So we have to make lots of extra effort to be in different places.” – Gillian Moore

Aida Esposito is founder-director of creativethinking, a cultural strategist for cross-sector clients and co-director of the Tottenham Creative Enterprise Zone. She is a passionate cultural and creative specialist who has delivered  innovative strategy, development and projects around the world. Through the pandemic, among other things, Aida has been connecting councils with individual artists and small businesses to generate work and help shape what places can look like.

“I think arts organisations will become much more savvy about how they use digital to augment what they’re trying to do, what they’re trying to say, and how they show work. Hopefully we will have a digital world which is complementary, another public space to use and engage with alongside other more physical manifestations.” – Aida Esposito

Paul Augarde is an award-winning placemaking strategist, working with cross-sector clients on socioeconomic and cultural regeneration strategies and focusing on resilient mixed communities. He’s an associate at Coherent Cities and WorkWild and a board member of arts charities ACAVA and UP Projects. Paul was core to the creation of Poplar Works and helped direct the £1.5m Creative Workspace Resilience Fund on behalf of the Mayor and the Creative Land Trust.

What the creative workspace sector has done really cleverly is support their tenant base. So as and when we come out of this, they will still have a strong market and a strong set of tenants. Whereas I suspect within certain parts of the private sector, that won’t be the case and they won’t have built that strength.” – Paul Augarde

Listen to the podcast to hear their lively debate…

or check out these resources:

Catch all podcast episodes on Future of London’s City Bites page.


The wonderful Queenhithe mosaic of London’s history seems particularly apt & the far end still has room for our current disaster. Designed by Tessa Hunkin and executed by South Bank Mosaics under the supervision of Jo Thorpe [thanks to Spitalfields Life for the info]

Making Equality the New Normal

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted and exacerbated long-term inequalities that permeate almost every aspect of life and work. The built environment sector is no different, with a talent pool that isn’t diverse enough at entry level and narrows to a heavily white, male top tier.

Lockdown provided time to reflect; the George Floyd murder and revitalised Black Lives Matter movement provided impetus. This is the moment to put good will into action, address inequality and deliver lasting change.

At this roundtable, a core of invited guests connected senior change drivers with next-wave leaders. In a truly galvanising session, guests shared insight on the work ahead – for all kinds of under-represented groups ­– and offered sector challenges and personal commitments to make equality the ‘new normal’.

Session video

For useful resources & links, visit the Future of London #LearningFromCrisis event page.

Roundtable participants

  • Lisa Taylor – Director, Coherent Cities (session producer, moderator)
  • Kelly Canterford – Programme Manager, Changing the Face of Property
  • Kate Dodsworth – CEO, Gateway Housing & diversity champion
  • Hasanul Hoque – Operations Director, Camden Town Unlimited & Euston Town BIDs, Camden Collective & Alternative Camden Innovation District
  • Anouk Khan – COO, RE:Women
  • Diane Lightfoot – CEO, Business Disability Forum
  • Leona Menville – Director, Customers & Communities, Inquilab; Co-Chair, Unify (BAME) Network
  • Charlotte Morphet – Principal Planner, LB Waltham Forest; Co-Chair, Women in Planning; Chair, POS NOVUS
  • Onyeka Onyekwelu – Strategic Engagement Manager, London Office of Technology & Innovation (LOTI)
  • Jahanara Rajkoomar – Director of Community Investment, Metropolitan Thames Valley; Leadership 2025
  • Marina Robertson – Senior Director, NPS Group
  • Akil & Seth Scafe-Smith – Co-founders, RESOLVE Collective
  • Anita Singh – Programme Manager, Turner & Townsend & Member, GM Future Leaders
  • Neil Smith – Inclusive Design Lead, HS2
  • Vicky Thompson – Director of HR, Montagu Evans
  • Becky Utuka – Director, Development & Sales, Gateway Housing; Leadership 2025

City Bites: Online engagement finds its way

City Bites Podcast: ‘Connections’ Ep. 2

“If you had said in March that we were going to plan for a mass digitisation of consultation and that London’s public sector was going to lead that charge, you’d have been thinking it’s a two- to three-year programme, it’s unlimited public funds, there’ll be a couple of catastrophes along the way, but, no, it’s taken everyone maybe six weeks to adapt…It’s a fluid situation but I have been hugely impressed.” – Jenna Goldberg

Local authorities have done a brilliant – some say surprising – job moving community engagement online on the heels of lifesaving health, food and contact support. To find out what’s working, what isn’t, and what may survive the Covid era, Coherent Cities director Lisa Taylor interviewed three people working on different aspects of online engagement:

  • Jenna Goldberg – Director, London Communications Agency
  • Jamal Miah – Community Liaison Advisor, LB Camden (West Kentish Town Estate)
  • Sib Trigg – Architect & Community Organiser, People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH)

All agreed that online consultation on its own is just a substitute for live events, but the debate they had about how it is opening doors v. limiting on-the-day engagement is bound to unfold as we emerge from lockdown.

Listen to the podcast to hear from them directly, and/or visit the Future of London City Bites episode page for tips & resources.

Curb Appeal: Managing Covid-19’s impact on public-private space

Social distancing has been key to reducing Covid-19 transmission, but it’s also been hugely disruptive. As loosening restrictions jostle with public confidence and business risk, what are the implications for urban design and movement, and for business and landlord viability? And can we flex enough to navigate a second wave?

Watch this lively webinar, hosted by RE:Women, to find out:

  • What councils, landlords and planners can do to make the space outside shops & restaurants a pleasant ‘waiting room’
  • What impact retail and F&B occupiers expect on operations and revenue, and what they’re doing about it
  • How area-aware station design for Crossrail and other projects could be impacted – and can help with local recovery.


  • Harbinder Birdi – Senior Partner, Hawkins\Brown
  • Jacqueline Bleicher – Founder/Director, Global Urban Design
  • Ally Reid – Investment Manager, LandSec
  • Lisa Taylor – Director, Coherent Cities (session producer & moderator)

Learning From Crisis: Immediate Economic Response

How can we, as individuals and organisations, support vulnerable groups now to collectively pull out of this “V- or W-shaped” economic dive? How can we start to deliver the re-imagined town centres and local economies we want and not leave people behind?

In the first of a three-part series exploring the local economic response to the Covid-19 crisis, this Future of London webinar invited effective operators leading the Covid response daily to share their experience and perspectives on communities, the creative industries, small business and rough sleepers – vulnerable groups, where the pandemic or the slump to come could be the blow that knocks them down.

FoL Executive Director and Coherent Cities Director Lisa Taylor hosted three great speakers:

  • Nabeel Khan, Director of Enterprise, Jobs & Skills at LB Lambeth, providing insight into the council’s economic scenario planning and priorities;
  • GLA Rough Sleeping Lead David Eastwood, outlining GLA and partner efforts to bring in and care for rough sleepers and the work underway to keep supporting them;
  • Aida Esposito, Tottenham Creative Enterprise Zone co-director and Founder/Director of Creative Thinking, on the pandemic’s threat to the creative sector and on tapping the potential of creative businesses and workers to adapt.

Check out the Future of London post for full resources and other Learning from Crisis events and write-ups.

City Bites: What’s at risk in recovery? Tony Travers & Barbara Brownlee on government roles in economic recovery

City Bites podcast: ‘Connections’ Ep. 2

How can UK government tiers interact usefully for economic recovery, especially in contentious cities like London? What support do local authorities need from national government to adapt to the new normal? And what might out city centres look like when the dust settles?

I asked Barbara Brownlee, City of Westminster Executive Director of Growth, Planning & Housing and LSE Professor Tony Travers for their perspectives in this compelling – and sometimes surprising – first episode of the City Bites “Connections” series with Future f London.


  • Treasury needs councils to avoid financial crisis, partly for economic recovery but also because local authorities are best placed for testing and managing all aspects of Covid response and relationships on the ground. Further, as Brownlee pointed out, being forced into a Section 114 budget-balancing exercise by these extraordinary Covid-19 costs would mean harsh cuts and no room for flexibility or collaboration. Despite increasing bluster, Travers believes we can expect MHCLG to do its best to help keep boroughs afloat.
  • Watch for councils, property companies and partners to start referring to all that vacant office space as “new” commercial or mixed-use space (Travers credits Arup’s Alex Jan with this reframing). Where landlords are amenable and planning authorities can flex, this could be a great way to bring fresh energy to town and city centres as smaller/ newer/ consortium organisations start to afford cheaper floor space.
  • Brownlee does represent a central London authority, but both make the case for not abandoning central cities (in the UK or elsewhere) in favour of sprawl. They also point out that large, historic landlords in city centres, like London’s Great Estates, have the patience – and patient capital – to make sound decisions, “viewing this as a 200-year thing, rather than a 20-month thing”.
  • In economic terms, both are particularly worried about the huge hole in Transport for London and commuter rail revenues – and the impact of that on investment – and about the terrible losses in the cultural sector, for livelihoods, businesses, footfall and export value.
  • Local authorities have limited powers to take direct action like policing risky queues or offering business rates relief, but they do have unique leveraging powers; watch for – or seek – more of this from them.
  • Both are convinced we will never go back to business as usual in terms of how we work, with Brownlee citing much more direct working on rough sleeping issues, and “100%” certainty that council staff and committees will stay at least partly remote and be as or more efficient than in the past.

Catch all City Bites episodes here.

Culture Swap? Public-Private lessons from Covid-19

Through the pandemic, the NHS and parts of government have become incredibly effective, cutting through bureaucracy and calling on partners to care for people fast. Corporate directors have taken pay cuts, shared furlough equitably, and rethought flex-working and wellbeing. Could these – possibly stereotypical – cultural shifts be here to stay?

Speakers were cross-sector senior executives and next-gen leaders from Future of London’s Leaders Plus courses in Manchester and London. This was the first of two (or more!) joint events with RE:Women, and part of FoL’s #LeadingThroughCrisis programme. We explored these questions:

  1. How have public sector leaders managed to cut through the noise to deliver? Can they keep doing it?
  2. What’s been driving private-sector thinking, and can they sustain this more ‘public sector’ culture?
  3. What and how can public and private sector leaders learn from each other?

Concept, co-production & promotion, chairing – Lisa Taylor

Culture Swap? Public/Private Sector Learning from Crisis