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A week in the life of me, by Ben Reynolds (aged 45 and almost a half)

A week in the life of me, by Ben Reynolds (aged 45 and almost a half)

Whilst I’m quite good at doing it for other people, I’ve never been a very good self-promoter, but that Lucy Beddall has told me I must talk more about what I and we do, especially after a particularly busy (and if we do say so ourselves successful) few weeks for me and the company. So, with a bit of prompting (note from Lucy: a lot of prompting), I’ve put together this diary piece to try and cover a few of the highlights.

Being a public speaker

It was lovely to be asked by University of Wales Trinity Saint David Swansea Provost Professor Ian Walsh to speak to a visiting delegation from Scottish Enterprise at the University’s IQ building in SA1. They were concluding a tour of the UK, and the focus was on Green Leadership for Low Carbon Business.

I was on straight after the Blue Eden guys (people behind the Lagoon) and Council Leader Rob Stewart, so I felt a bit like a street busker taking the stage just after Beyonce and Jay Z had finished their set.

The focus of my piece was to give a counter point to the mega regeneration projects, and to talk about the sorts of things we do – community youth projects, urban design to create people places in communities, street markets, pop up shops, social enterprise, and things like the Dylan Thomas Prize that we helped to create as one of our first ever projects.

Not that one is better than the other – rather that when doing regeneration, you need to consider both ends of the spectrum from the multi-billions down to the ones we sometimes do for a few hundred pounds (there’s even been some where the budget was zero and we had to work it out!).

Despite being the less sexy end of the spectrum at the event, it was lovely that so many of the visiting delegation (as well as a few people from the local area that I haven’t met previously) wanted to talk to me about our work and there were lots of LinkedIn requests afterwards, with some very interesting follow-up meetings and feedback since, so it was a great event to be involved with.

I’m ready for my close-up Mr DeMille

We’ve established Swansea Library of Things as part of our wider PopUp Wales project – the wider initiative is about bringing life to empty spaces through temporary uses, and it’s concluding its pilot in Swansea in June, with a second pilot that we’re delivering now underway in Bridgend.

For many of the spaces it’s just about us getting the keys and creating the opportunity for others to go in there. But we decided to do one or two of them ourselves to show what could be done – one was our new HQ Urban Kitchen venue, the other was the Swansea Library of Things.

A Library of Things is still a relative novelty in this country, but it’s more established in Europe. The idea is the same as a book library – you become a member and you can then hire items at low cost for a few days. But instead of it being a book, it might be a jet wash, or a tent, or a carpet cleaner – high cost items that are generally not used regularly.

It’s both about making things affordable as well as starting to think about us spending lots of energy and materials making stuff that sits in cupboards for most of its life. We’ve partnered with Swansea Council and Quadrant Shopping Centre to deliver it – the Council has a great Tip Treasures shop, which diverts items that are too good to throw away from landfill and this was a logical add on to that type of thinking. We had lots of great advice from Benthyg Cymru, who have pioneered the Library of Things approach in Wales and it has been supported by Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns funds.

The Swansea Library of Things has been really popular and with the cost of living crisis making the headlines, it’s grabbed the attention of the national media, so we’ve had pieces by BBC and S4C as well as print media through Wales/Swansea Online (SW Evening Post).

Going live on BBC Wales teatime news, was a bit nerve wracking but I think I got away with it. I have to say a big thank you to Bec Jones at Rethink Marketing for organising it and settling my nerves!

Entertaining a VIP

The Library of Things is part of a wider piece of work we’re doing with Quadrant Shopping Centre, who have been very supportive – we’re doing several popup spaces and activities with them as well as expanding that to the wider town centre. Our PopUp Wales project is supported by Swansea Council and has had funding from Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns funding. We were really pleased that Welsh Government Climate Change Minister Julie James MS called by to have a look at what we’re doing at Swansea Library of Things as well as calling into our other pop-up spaces in the Quadrant, including a quick hello to the volunteers running the Dementia Hwb, which has also been hugely popular.

We were also pleased to have UWTSD open their art show in one of the empty units in the Quadrant, and it was lovely to see people wandering from one site to the next to see the exhibitions on a warm summer’s evening. That’s how towns and cities should be – not just places for commerce, but places for culture and where the life of the city gets lived. For anyone wondering, that’s what my PhD was in and where the ‘Dr’ bit comes from. It’s always nice to do things in our work that reflect directly what I was writing about 18 years ago, even if I’d probably think differently about some of it now.

We’re also really pleased to now have an Employability Hub up and running in the fourth space within the Quadrant, again working with Swansea Council and several other partners, which is proving really popular and very successful.

Eating Greek food at our very own City Centre venue

When I first thought about what we could do with the old Tapestri venue in Orchard Street, the picture I had in my head was a high quality venue, with people sat outside on a warm summer’s evening, having good food and a glass of wine with some live music. It was great to have our first evening of the year at the newly open HQ Urban Kitchen where it was finally warm enough to do that for the first time and also to mark it with the return of a new version of Street Food Friday, following on from the success we had at the Unit Nineteen popup a few years back. We all enjoyed some Greek street food (Greek Flavours by Alexanter) and live music.

I feel very humbled and excited about all the projects and I’m grateful for all the support and positivity I have received, particularly after my 5 minutes of fame on the news! As with everything we do, it’s all very well my coming up with these various things, but they work because I have a great team of people helping me, so the above should all be seen in the context of the people who make it all happen and make me look good!

Lucy – is this enough? Please can I stop now?