I was in Scotland last week, which is never a chore. I had been invited to chair the Annual Schools Debate hosted by the Europe Direct in Aberdeen. 8 teams of 13 and 14-year-olds debated whether the EU should make more use of social media to engage with young people and then the final was whether school mobility programmes should be compulsory. Congratulations to the team from Robert Gordon School who won, with a very impassioned performance. It was a competition, so someone won, but really it was about so much more. All the students displayed such poise and confidence in their debating, attributes I’m certain I didn’t possess in that quantity at their age. It was a real pleasure to be part of it. They were so polite, too: at least two teams came up afterwards to thank us for the event. So when people start going on about the youth of today, I have some really good examples to give.
After Aberdeen I went to Edinburgh, where I took part in a working group meeting of the Scottish European Resources Network. I was interested in what they do as I’m trying to think about how/whether to do something for the whole UK EU information scene. To please fill out/pass on the survey on this, if you haven’t already.
Sat here at an event about the European Regional Development Fund in London, almost a month into the new job, and looking at my Twitter feed, it occurs to me that there are so many people in the UK who are working on letting people know about opportunities in Europe. Some are very local, some national, some sector specific, some very general. I wonder, though, whether they all know about each other. I had a call from someone in the European Movement the other day who wanted to find out what a Europe Direct Centre was. So I thought it could be an idea to get them all together in one place, get them to talk to each other, maybe develop new partnerships. Any thoughts?
I spent several days last week out of the office, which is going to be the great bit about the new job (getting out there and meeting real people, that is, rather than not being in the office…!)
I started in Durham, speaking at an event on Europe in My Region, hosted by the Europe Direct there. It was very interesting talking to people who are actually implementing programmes using EU funds, mainly from the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund, though also the Science and Research Framework Programme and the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme. The problems seem to be (unsurprisingly) finding the match funding, especially as potential government programmes that could provide match funding have different entry criteria. One woman even raised a problem I had never heard – that big companies were having trouble accessing ERDF funds. In all the years I’ve worked with EU funding programmes, I have never heard any complaint about big companies!
The next day I was in Leeds visiting our Europe Direct Centre there, as I am now responsible for the overall management of the Europe Direct Centres in the UK. It was a real eye-opener. I have been in touch with them quite a bit as they’re very up on the whole social media thing. But I was really impressed with how integrated they are with the general Leeds Library Service and how they have managed to create a lot of demand for their services, through roadshows in branch libraries, connections with schools and getting out and about at public events. I also met the guy dealing with volunteering at the City Council and the head of the Volunteer Centre Leeds, as they have done loads of work around the European Year of Volunteering. It’s good news that they are hoping to be in London for the European Year of Volunteering Tour later in the year.
The final stop on my trip was Coventry, to speak at an event on Zero Waste. Do you have any idea how interesting waste policy is? And how important? The event went from the political/administrative, like Caroline Spelman and to a much lesser extent me, the people dealing with it, such as Biffa, EOn and Severn Trent Water and then zero waste campaigners. I went to the workshop on local authorities and it was impressive how passionate people get about their local waste policy. A real learning process – and I’ll be much more careful with my household waste as a result!