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!