I’m Mel, the new joint Project Coordinator at Localise West Midlands. I joined at the end of February and I’ve had a busy month!

In my first week I attended the launch of the NPI report looking at economic justice in Birmingham and the Black Country. I was struck by the variety seen across geographic areas, and particularly by fact that more than 50% of 25-29 year olds in the Black Country don’t have a qualification higher than NVQ 2 (5 GCSEs). With their research showing only 20% of current jobs (and who knows what the automated future will bring) available to those without a good general education, it looks like it could be hard for firms to find local people with the qualifications they require, and local people could find themselves unable to find good quality work. This was pretty shocking to me, and I’m looking forward to considering how LWM might weave this into our localisation thinking.

I also had my first board meeting where I met some of the board members and started understanding priorities for the organisation. I’ve subsequently met with a couple of board members one-on-one to thrash out ideas too, particularly around strategy and income generation. The key question at the moment is: where do we want to be next summer, and what will it take to get us there? It’s never a more interesting time to get involved in a project than when it’s in a state of change and you get to help shape it.

Part of what I’ve looked into so far has been in exploring whether we could set up or support a repair cafe that creates part of the circular economy in Birmingham, chatting to great projects like Eco Birmingham and finding out about Neighbourhood News. I’ve been out and about meeting other interesting projects too: Credex, social enterprises at Impact Hub, some of the creative industries at Be More Birmingham. Here I met lots of freelancers and small companies saying they struggle to compete against larger companies shipped in from London whenever there’s an opportunity for filming in the West Midlands. Andy Street confirmed that every lesson from the Channel 4 bid would be learnt to create a glowing West Midlands industry – so this could be a really interesting place for us to look at localisation challenges in a growing sector.

I’ve also been preparing for more defined future work: I’ve written a proposal to do some research on the 2018 Birmingham floods, and one for funding for some SME training. I’m attending a fundraising/revenue generation strategy course next week in London, where I’m hoping to soak up information to make this process more targeted too.

So that’s a whirlwind tour of my first month. There’s lots of differences from my previous government jobs where I was an extremely small part of a very large picture, and I’m enjoying getting stuck into detail and strategy all at the same time. You don’t always get the chance to get stuck into so many big issues, and are not always able to meet with so many interesting people, within the first weeks of a new role. I’m loving it!

Reflecting on localisation, I think I’m finding that the West Midlands is a varied and complicated place, and I have so much to learn. You may have guessed, I’m new to Brum as well as the job and I’m still finding my way around and new places though my Independent Birmingham card, and eating my way though the Real Junk Food Project’s freegan boxes. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people with such deep connections within the West Midlands, but I hope I’m able to make some contribution by asking questions that others no longer see, and making connections with some of the industries I’ve got more experience. Connecting #OpenData and localisation: I’ve been mulling over the challenges brought out in ODI Leed’s Bad Birmingham Buses talk this week.

I’m excited to see what month 2 brings! If you have ideas of what LWM/I should be doing, feel free to get in touch. I’m very much open to exploring new avenues and appreciate any suggestions of where LWM work could be most impactful.