Connecting The Dots

red balloon in Milton Keynes

Connecting The Dots

I remember the conversation with my wife well. I interrupted her latest television thriller/drama with ‘can you just pause this for a moment?’ and then I unleashed my five minute verbal storm upon her and my plans for 2018. Sorry Robyn.

Some background information first. I’m a Milton Keynes kinda guy. I’m 37 years old and Milton Keynes has been my home for 37 years. I’ve seen it develop, stumble, be ridiculed then rise again. It’s also been very kind to me. It educated me through its schools and it educated me as an individual too. It’s very easy to follow the cliché opinions about Milton Keynes. Scratch the surface though and you’ll realise there is something quite remarkable about the place. It’s a town, yet we residents call it a city. Why? Let’s just say we’re forward thinking and we have an unquestioned belief in where we’re heading as a community. But, I digress.

I always said, that if westfourstreet became sustainable as a business then I would give as much back as possible. Yes, it’s another cliché – but understand this, I’ve been here all my life, I’m raising two children here too and I’ve been been a witness to how a grand idea in 1967 has become a subject of much debate but you can’t question how successful the ‘new city’ has become.

We’re not perfect. Far from it. The homelessness issue is actually quite startling and it must be fixed. But rather than brush it under the rug, it’s a subject matter which continues to gain traction. Local radio station MKFM are pushing this subject matter hard too and it’s vitally important that a support strategy is devised, not only in the short term but in the long term too. Third largest growth ‘city’ in the country? – Come on, we should be doing better.

Community

Oddly enough, many years ago I would say that Milton Keynes had no heart and lacked soul. That’s changed. I’m proud of how we adapt and how we adopt change. From robots on wheels delivering food right through to driverless pods. But that’s just superficial. Milton Keynes is still a teenager if you compare it to the other towns and cities in the United Kingdom. As a teenager, we’re still finding our feet, but we have a long term plan which will adapt accordingly to the economic as well as the cultural climate.

I will make no apologies for my love of my home town/city. None at all. At the age of 21 I was diagnosed with anxiety & depression. It took me 9 years to get to a point where I could manage it. Then I formed westfourstreet. Somehow I’ve found strength in pursuing my career ambitions. So with that, let’s switch straight over to the ‘business’ community here in MK.

I personally struggled to meet my wife’s friends for the first time over dinner. It was not a zone I was comfortable in. Then I decided to start a business – madness. I’d have to spend the majority of my time with strangers, convincing them that I was the guy for the job. Somehow, it all worked out and it was the turning point.

I’m an absolute believer in ‘surround yourself with the right people’. This is where the community comes back into play. The business community here in Milton Keynes is truly remarkable. I’ve never witnessed ‘competition’. I’ve only ever witnessed support and encouragement. I personally think that speaks volumes. Milton Keynes is the entrepreneurial dream. Let’s not forget, Milton Keynes is a city (sorry town – meh!) which was built on outlandish ideas. It would sometimes come close to breaking point, but it would persevere. The very characteristics of a determined entrepreneur.

Nearly eight years on, westfourstreet is healthy. I’m pleased and I’m still hungry. I still have overreaching ambitions, but I need to. The comfort zone will bring on decline. So 2018 is the year that I can start paying back my debt to the city that provided me with the opportunity to overreach, stumble and then succeed but also makes me believe that it could all fail but I could always start again.

Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.

This is why I made the very conscious decision to support the organisations that meant the most to me. In early 2018, westfourstreet became a corporate member of the Milton Keynes Community Foundation. An organisation who continue to fund local charities, businesses and community events. The MK Arts Gateway were then provided with our support. Shortly after we announced MK Snap as our ‘Charity of the Year’. Last week, we pledged our support to the MK Dons SET charity. A charity who in their own words best describe what they provide – ‘The SET is a dynamic and progressive organisation that is committed to promoting a healthy and active lifestyle in MK and beyond’.

Time holds more value than money, so it was important to me that rather than just hand over a cheque to the above organisations we would also be very much ‘hands-on’ with our support. This could be in the form of fundraising, helping out at events or offering our creative services as a donation.

Education

I was far from a model student. Like many youngsters, it took me a long while to figure things out. Milton Keynes College made westfourstreet an official partner this year. I’ll admit, that news far exceeded any award the business has won or has been nominated for. The longevity of the Milton Keynes business community depends heavily on nurturing young talent and encouraging those on the downside of luck to keep on pushing. We’re now working closely with the college to provide every possible opportunity to students to experience first hand the life of a creative agency and just how much fun hard work can be.

The past three months have been the most rewarding three months of my career. My business has received two MKBAA award nominations, followed by two SME Buckinghamshire Award nominations. That feels great. It really does. But it really is in no comparison to the people I’ve met locally who run these charities and organisations and the individuals they support. I’m forever rooting for the underdog. That will never change. I’m beginning to connect the dots and the shape it’s creating is becoming picture perfect. It’s making sense to put something back into this ‘concrete city’ which effectively provided me the solid platform to shake myself out of apathy.

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Thanks for that, Steve.