Yesterday our whole UK Public Sector team (which is now about 140 people) travelled up to Dudley in the Black Country for the kick-off meeting for our new financial year (FY) which started on 1st July.

Why Dudley, you may be asking?

Well we decided to go to Dudley as part of our relationship with the Black Country Consortium - which I mentioned briefly in one of our earliest postings. 

The meeting included our usual review of the last FY, however during the morning we also heard from 2 very inspirational external speakers.

First of all we heard from Nick Page, Service Transformation Director at Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, about the radical approach they are taking to dramatically change their community through their approach to the Building Schools for the Future programme. Nick's passion for this project shone through and his determination to help improve the opportunities open to people in Knowsley was remarkable.  The statistics he shared with us about the current levels of educational attainment in Knowsley were an eye-opener to many of us.

Then Sarah Middleton, Chief Executive of the Black Country Consortium, spoke to us about the 30 year regeneration plan that her organisation has developed with the councils of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.  And again we found her personal commitment to this exciting project to be very inspiring.

In the afternoon we all split up into various groups and went out to various places across the Black Country to learn more about the area and to get involved in a few community projects with local people. Most of these projects were based around supporting the Black Country's bid to establish an Urban Park.   My group did a Healthy Walk along the canal next to Aldersley Leisure Village to help promote the Dudley Walkzone project. This was a real treat, the canal was hidden away behind all the houses and was very peaceful and attractive. We saw some canal boats and a few moorhen chicks.

At the end of the afternoon we all met up in Grange Park where one group had been working with local children to clear up part of the park and clean up an old Bandstand. The grand finale was a presentation, in the newly-painted Bandstand, of a play that another group worked on with more local children.

We all had a great afternoon and really enjoyed it - luckily the weather was very kind to us and we even got a bit of sunshine!  

Hopefully our involvement will help publicise the great work that Sarah and her team and all the council staff and local people are doing and will help get even more support for their plan. I know that our involvement yesterday will have only scratched the surface of all the work there is to be done in the Black Country over the next 30 years and that there will be a few cynics who think we only do this sort of stuff for the publicity we get from it and I won't deny that Microsoft, like all large companies, wants to be seen as a good corporate citizen.  However I'm glad that we do actually bother to do stuff like this and that I had a chance to do a little bit myself and meet and hear from these amazing people.

Posted by Ellen