In praise of remarkable individuals
People are important. We know that. Or we think we do. But actually….
In the last few months, I’ve been struck by the number of times wise people have said “let’s depersonalise this” or “we should refer to job titles not people”. I get it. It’s a sensible way of taking personal feelings out of business decisions, to remain logical rather than being swayed by empathy.
I’m not so sure it is that wise though. Here’s why.
Today is the final day of Philippa’s time at Trowbridge Town Hall. She’s been remarkable for the organisation. I’ve had the privilege of working with her for the last handful of months but she’s been with us for a number of years, beginning curating visual art exhibitions and now manages pretty much everything that relates to the day-to-day running of the business. Clearly, for someone like me, she’s invaluable. She’s more than just her job title. And that’s why I’m so pleased she’s keen to stay involved with the organisation, working on the things that fulfil her personally – she’ll be curating the exhibition after next and selecting the visual art that will hang in our rentable spaces.
Another example. I asked three people to organise an event in October to celebrate a series of new projects. They are Jess, Katie and Leyla.
Jess is taking on some of Philippa’s responsibilities. She’s also remarkable, a young person with the wisdom of a village elder, calm and unflappable. She hides her passion for live music and fast cars behind a sober exterior.
Katie came to us to curate exhibitions and when I mentioned wanting a shop like that at Arnolfini she said “you can’t do that”. She explained “I’d spend all my money”. Obviously, I asked her if she’d like to run it and, three months later, that shop will open in the Town Hall on Monday.
Like Jess, Leyla is from Trowbridge. Similarly, she believes her town is more than the lazy, negative stereotypes expressed by outsiders. She wants to change the world and so naturally she’s chosen to open a Zero Waste shop. We hosted an Extinction Rebellion exhibition and, as part of this, Philippa showed me Leyla’s flyer. I sent her an e-mail and an hour later she was in our building. Now we’re a month from opening her shop in the Town Hall, 150 people having donated to make it a reality.
There are others too. There’s Pete, an experienced volunteer who spent an hour with me yesterday explaining internet connectivity and IT systems. There’s Fi, a brilliant financial mind, now taking on contracts and policies. Tessa, whose equally comfortable leading drama classes for adults with special educational needs as organising room bookings and volunteer schedules. There’s Robert, who arrives every Wednesday to share his love for the Town Hall with visitors. There’s our Chair Colin, who commits most hours of his life to supporting social organisations to improve their activity. There’s Tracy, whose passion for the arts led her to pour her soul into the Town Hall project. There’s Rosemary who knows more about the history of the Town Hall than anyone alive. There’s Angela and Bob who sit every Thursday to offer financial support through the Credit Union. There’s Kieran with his passion for live music, Giles with his passion for an independent market and Jen with her passion for artistic interventions.
There’s more, so many more. People who commit their lives to making things happen. A job title would harness these people, not enable them.
We have no business plan currently. When we do, I hope we’re brave enough to leave the space we need to enable the unexpected, to allow room for someone who wants to open a record shop, or make ice cream, or run workshops for those with fewer opportunities. For I’m increasingly convinced that it is by supporting individuals that we will allow society to progress. And that the social progression, tied to values of empathy and compassion, will make us live happier and fuller lives.