Even typing this question makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. It has negative connotations attached to it, however, it is not a bad thing to pause for a moment and ask yourself this.
In October, I attended the Digital Lancaster Reboot session hosted by Digital Lancashire. I’d been a supporter of Digital Lancashire since a random email landed in my inbox around 3 years ago inviting people to a meeting at the Toll House in Lancaster one Friday afternoon. At this point, I’d been self-employed for about a year supporting SMEs with their digital marketing and managing website projects, and wanted to meet people that shared a similar interest and could expand my mind. I found out about Digital Advantage through Digital Lancashire and for a short time supported them with some of their marketing activity.
I’ve always been fascinated by people, place and innovation.
If we rewind slightly to 2007/8, I was a Website Content Administrator at Ufindus which was bought out by BT towards the end of my placement year in 2008. It was actually a job I’d applied for that turned into my university placement.
The Marketing Management degree I was completing in Manchester barely touched upon the internet but during my time at Ufindus, I was responsible for creating basic RapidSites (two-page template websites) and writing search engine optimised content. We were a brand new team of 4 in Lancaster that had been hired to give small businesses across the UK an online presence for which they paid a monthly fee in return.
I really did revel in my year there, I learnt about people, processes and the value each different skill set can bring to a business.
I moved back to Manchester for my final year and went on to do my dissertation titled; “How can SMEs enhance their use of the internet and in turn stimulate growth?” (I actually found my bound copy during lockdown if anyone fancies a read!)
Returning from Manchester in 2009, I began a ‘digital’ role in a ‘non-digital business’. I was researching and writing content that was uploaded to the company website on a daily basis. As the company grew, my role expanded and when I left in 2016, I was managing a six-figure marketing budget, a marketing assistant and multiple digital agencies. This ‘non-digital’ business grew because it embraced digital technology throughout the business.
Between 2007 and 2017 I’d seen so many digital businesses start up that had links with the Ufindus office. Many of the Premium Design (PD) designers went on to work at Fat Media and NuBlue, the PD sales team started businesses of their own as did some of the Retention team. There are a lot of people in the Lancaster district that can reference Ufindus as a potential starting point, whether they think of it as a starting point or not.
The thing is Stuart and Mark were ‘local lads’, there didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about them. They have started multiple businesses and each time brought people with them. At one point there were Ufindus offices across the North West. They never pretended to know it all and found the people that knew the things they didn’t. There was an energy in the office, you were clear of your role and knew what was expected of you. There were processes and restrictions in place and they knew how to throw a party! I’m not sure I’d like to be in that environment now but as a 20 year old it suited me fine. I never really thought about the fact that there were only 3 women in the PD and Web roles with most other women working in sales, customer service or retention. We know there is an underrepresentation of women in the digital sector and although we like to think this is changing, the Digital Advantage groups I’ve worked alongside in schools and colleges are still about 80% male and 20% female.
So I go back to that question I started with, what’s in it for me?
Why do I want to be involved with Digital Lancaster and Digital Lancashire?
The Reboot series is exactly what it says, they want to reboot and grow their membership and engagement levels and potential members are probably asking the same question I am, whether it is from a business or personal perspective. There’s got to be a reason why someone wants to join or get involved with something and that’s not a bad thing. We’ve got to get something out of it else why are we spending our time, money, or energy there?
For me, I want to know what’s happening in digital and tech across the district because it excites me and makes me feel proud of where I’m from.
I know growing up here that I thought all the ‘exciting’ jobs and companies were somewhere else. They didn’t exist here and everything else was happening outside of this place, not in it.
I want people to see that there are ‘exciting’ jobs here as well as across other parts of the country and there are different ways of working now thanks to digital technology.
I want local people to have the opportunity to have a go at these ‘exciting’ jobs / digital roles and be able to meet someone who represents them and is doing the work locally.
I want people to choose to live here, not feel like they have to.
I want people to be supported when they choose to start a business here.
The list could go on and I’m sure I’ll add to it.
Everyone should be part of this digital journey because it is a tool that can be used to enhance all our lives.
Can Digital Lancashire hold the space to have these conversations? Are people listening? What’s in it for them?