Exploring the UK on meeting-free Fridays

Accrington, Lancashire

Exploring the UK on meeting-free Fridays

During the summer as meetings reduced we decided to use the quieter weeks to get out and about. Calling it meeting-free Fridays we managed to keep to it over five weeks during the summer, moving existing meetings to phone calls or keeping the day clear. The plan was to visit places we had been meaning to go to but instead found ourselves in online meetings without a clear day to get there either in the north west or London.

Week 1, we headed to East Lancashire – Burnley, Blackburn and Accrington (main image) are all on the same train line and have markets. Blackburn was looking smart with a large cathedral square, offices and F&B opposite the station and the town celebrating its maker heritage with activities in the market and banners around the town related to the British Textile Biennial and Festival of Making while Burnley’s main street was showcasing its historic buildings as a result of HAZ funding and had created a Budding Burnley area with allotments, a sensory walkway and a ‘happy to chat’ bench. Finally, Accrington was very grand and looked more European in context with (what looked to be recent) restoration of the town hall, market and town square.

Week 2 took us to Manchester to see National Trust’s Castlefield Viaduct which has been such a success in terms of visitors that it’s been hard to book a (free) ticket. It very much conveys Manchester’s industrial heritage located beside Deansgate with the network of canals, tram and rail lines around it and a view of a newer Manchester. It was interesting to hear how the project was developed and how local groups continues to be involved with four dedicated spaces managed by different ones. The view from the event space really shows the potential for how it might be extended in the future.

Week 3 led us to Elephant & Castle in south London. First to Walworth Road which is a functional high street serving long established communities in a dense, residential area. The street was busy and many of the businesses we spoke to during the project were still there and they had been joined by newer ones. Next, we  went to explore Elephant Park and the wider development around Elephant & Castle train station and former shopping centre. There has been much written about the relocation of the Latin American businesses based in the area who are now scattered across railway arches, the new development and Elephant Arcade.

Week 4 we were back in Lancashire with a to Lytham and St Annes-on-Sea. St Anne’s is on the coast and has a beach (with donkeys), a pier and gardens and offers a traditional seaside day out. Away from the seafront, the high street has many interesting, old buildings and plenty of hospitality venues while Lytham is a more affluent town famous for its windmill on the green overlooking the River Ribble.

Week 5 we were back in London and this the last meeting-free Friday of the summer was a short one pre-bank holiday and took us to Chingford Mount in east London. The high street is bookended by Memorial Park and Chingford Mount Ceremony with a long stretch of shops and hospitality businesses. A window trail has been developed across 18 businesses on the high street from a coffee shop and juice bar to funeral directors and florists so it was great to see the diversity of the businesses taking part and it really adds interest and colour to the high street.

What we learnt

  • A change of scene sparks new ideas and ways of working, without it needing to be a long holiday
  • It’s not about how far we went or how big the budget for redevelopment was in the places we visited. Sometimes, the (on the surface) non-exciting places can have things they have done well that might work somewhere else or aspects which have failed which can serve as learning for others
  • The more places you see the wider the context you can bring to projects, despite the similarities sometimes being in very different places
  • Having a day clear of meetings provides more space for thinking or writing (or getting out) 
  • We should keep this up! A monthly day out might be more achievable as we go back into a busy time of year