Impressed by new businesses

Is it easier to find employment or to start a business in the current economic climate?

Last Friday I attended the Grand Final of the Wiltshire New Business of the Year Competition. Almost every town in Wiltshire, including Corsham, had a good handful of entries, and the winner from each town reached the final and won several thousand pounds and other goodies. The entrant who impressed me most (but did not win) was a nineteen year old from a local town who was fed up with being unemployed. She decided to set up her own dress shop because she saw there was no other shop in the town selling the kind of clothes she wanted to wear.

I hear people complaining about the lack of help for job seekers; I see the government seeking to help new businesses through Business Link and other schemes. I find myself wondering whether it is easier to set up a (successful) business than it is to find a job at the moment.

Technology – master or servant?

I had a great evening yesterday, in the company of twenty or so colleagues (is that the right word – see previous article!) from the Institute of Business Consulting of which I am a member because of my coaching and consultancy business. The occasion was the annual Chairman's Networking Dinner impressively hosted at Casani's French Bistro in Bath by our illustrious regional chairman, David Rigby, who has a real gift for these things. The enjoyable meal was interspersed by ten-minute speakers and there was the opportunity for much idle or deep and meaningful conversation.

I found myself talking to two people who, like me, have a significant background in Information Technology. The conversation with the person on my left was all about the problems of using computers today. This ranged from the way in which computer media or files from a decade or so ago cannot be read by today's computers, to how we are losing historical records because inks used for printing documents (and photographs) do not last well. I still intend to print out a lot of my digital photos to add to my traditional album – that may be necessary if my p.c. is wiped out by EMP or plagued by future incompatibility; but what is the point if the prints will not last? My conversationalist is still using a 35mm camera with traditional film.

After the main course I chatted to the person opposite me. Her work as a consultant focuses on helping teams of people in remote places to communicate with one another. She encourages the embracing of modern technology, taking people beyond mere web-conferencing to the on-line virtual world of Second Life. She sees such use of technology as essential in today's environmental crisis. She is the first person to have offered to help me sort out the wardrobe for my avatar. I have not accepted yet!

I am struck by the contrast between these two conversations.

I am very aware that as a personal and business coach I value working with people face to face: yet I use e-mail to arrange the appointments, and I am typing this on a computer now. It alarms me when I visit offices and see people glued unergonomically to their computer screens even to the exclusion of a lunch break.

It seems to me that in today's society we risk being turned into machines by the machines, that is to say we become dehumanised. What it means to be fully human is a bigger topic than I allow for in this one article however, as I attempt to think through the extent to which I should use automated e-mail newsletters (etc.) to promote my business, I feel that I first need to envision the way in which a healthy society makes use of technology, and be faithful to my vision. A challenge in Finding True North!

“Technology is a great servant, but a poor master.” In times of technological change, and when “the market” wants us to adopt new technology for its profit, what values do we need to hold on to use technology to grow in our humanity rather than to be dehumanised?


I suspect that people have been asking similar questions since before the Atom Bomb, and maybe not enough during the Industrial Revolution. Paul Vallely impresses me with his writing, and I note his article in the Church Times of 6th November 2009. He comments on the row over the sacking of government scientific adviser David Nutt and concludes that the problem is not our contempt for science, but that scientists condescendingly do not (always) see that “science must be subjected to social values not be a substitute for them.”

Friend, or not?

At a recent work-related gathering a friend(?) of mine made a comment along the lines that he knows who are his friends because they are the people with whom he socialises. By implication, people he works with are unlikely to be friends.

This set me thinking (yes, maybe I do too much of that!). Perhaps partly because of my ersthile by local role as a vicar, most of the people that I know, and may think of a friends, I have got to know through “work,” or perhaps through a local club related to one of my hobbies, or some course of study. If I were to define my friends as only those I (just) socialise with (and what does that mean?) it would be a small bunch indeed.

I find myself wondering how technological and other changes have affected what it means to be a friend. A century or so ago, before the easy transport that we take for granted today, most people's friendship group would have been those in their local neighbourhood, and they would have got to know one another through living near to one another and attending the local school together. At the other extreme, today, a friend is someone I am unwilling to refuse access to my Facebook profile.

Changes in technology, transport, and access to university education, all make it easier to build geographically wider communities – of friends or at least acquaintances. The technology ranges from the telephone to e-mail to Second Life.

I could define friends as people who enjoy one another's company, without seeking gain from that. I could recognise friends as those who are there for me when I am in need, and I for them (yes, I recongise the Biblical alusions). So how important to friendship is physical presence (touch, or literally a shoulder to cry on)? Is the nature of friendship changing? If so, is that for better or for worse?

Answers and insights welcome…

Remembrance Sunday

Following the retirement of our Team Rector, I find myself readjusting to leading church services, starting with the Remembrance Sunday service at St Bartholomew's Church today. This was a well attended service as usual, with plenty of military uniforms in sight, and Padre Andrew Cooper preached an impressive sermon. It was moving to see the number of wreaths laid at the war memorial by various local groups.

One of my daily readings this morning (from Celtic Daily Prayer) coincidentally spoke of the “worst curse” in some cultures of not being remembered, of having one's name struck out. This reinforced for me the importance of just the act of remembering, whatever else may take place.

On the other hand I'm interested in the construction of the word remember. Member. I think of this as a word for parts of the body. Re-member. Remembering must have something to do with putting things back together. What action flows from our acts of remembering? I'm reminded that in the Old Testament when God “remembers” this is not a reference to some thoughts He has, but a reference to action that He takes.

Green Cone

We've been working hard this weekend digging a hole for our new Green Cone, subsidised by Wiltshire Council. It does not look much, but much of it is buried underground: we had to dig a hole over 2 feet deep and about 3 feet in diameter.

We can put food scraps in the Green Cone, which will “digest” them and create just water which will drain into the soil. Impressive, huh? This saves filling our dustbin and landfill sites with food waste. We'll see how well it works.

We considered doing composting, which we did in our last house, but don't have a large garden and the composter equivalent to the green cone (the Green Johanna) requires balanced quantities of food waste and garden waste all year round, which would be a challenge.

Roger Clifton retires

Roger Clifton, Team Rector for Corsham and neighbouring parishes, held his last services in St Bartholomew's Church today.

The church was full for the main service at 10:00 this morning. The uplifiting worship for the festival of All Saints, with an excellent choice of music and hymns and a great sermon by Roger, was followed by refreshments and speeches in the Town Hall.

A moving morning. We wish him well, and shall miss him.


Here's some challenging quotes that I like


All man's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.

Blaise Pascal,  French mathematician (1623-1662), Penseés <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


The man to whom little is not enough will not benefit from more.

Columbanus (7th century monk)