Like fog, grey areas can be places where it is difficult to see what is going on and where sight of the bigger picture can be lost.

When technology and new concepts are involved, unless we make increasing efforts to explain things simply and manage expectations around purpose, we can easily wander from objectives and sometimes lose or exclude people from a potentially inclusive process.

It seems there is a lot of similar stuff going on in Leeds in the guise of innovation labs/service design/hacks, jams, habitats and maker days. There’s an overlapping fog of disruption forming. Whilst this is a good thing and I’m really not knocking the ambition and implementation, which has taken a while to get going since first mooted by the early adopters, I suppose I’m questioning the combined impact and if it might be confusing the people it is aimed at helping or involving.

And, at a time when there seems to be the need for more integrated ways of doing things, might we be fragmenting, and perhaps duplicating resources – both people and spaces? Could we be joining up? Alternatively, might all these things offer more opportunities for more folk to get involved? It’s just a thought; a challenge perhaps – I’d be interested in others views.

My role is to explain some of these projects; to make them make sense and connect folk up who appear to be working on the same things. This post is part of that work.

Working at the council, amongst the many initiatives, there are two challenging us to be more innovative and to focus on delivering objectives. Put them together and they offer a huge billowing grey area where, in the spirit of making progress, we can perhaps get away with stuff that in the past might have been frowned upon as not the done thing.

Firstly, we have what are called ‘breakthrough projects’ (pdf!, see page 7) which in summary are aimed at working across council departments and increasingly with partners and communities to achieve things that, to be blunt, should have probably happened well before now. They include ‘Making Leeds the best city in which to grow old’. Who wouldn’t want that? I do, now I’m the experienced side of 50.

We also have a leadership initiative about taking something you want to improve, then making the time to go back to basics or to try something different…and see what happens… as in a “lots of small changes can add up to something really big” approach. In the many, many hints provided to get people started, I noticed a ‘Bring a thing to work’ suggestion.

‘Bring a thing’ is a common activity when bringing people together to work on something new. It was used successfully by one of the Olympic delivery teams when they first met up. Apparently it’s been proved that we get along better in teams if we show our real selves. Encouraging team members to bring in an item important to them and explaining it will give people a novel way of getting to know one another, and make sure it’s not just the loud ones who get heard.

So, like you do, I put two and two together; decided five is much better than four and created myself some creative grey space to experiment in.

In my role in trying to explain the age friendly breakthrough project in a different way, I thought I’d also update people via my blog which is primarily about helping me and others to better understand work life balance and the benefits, or otherwise, of professional and personal life overlap.

My combined breakthrough/bring a thing solution;  I brought my mum and dad to work* – my personal and professional lives potentially colliding big time.


My parents came to #agecamp – an event that’s part of the ‘Making Leeds the best city to grow old in’ project. I’ll not explain the day in much detail as others have adequately done that; (Simon Wilson) here and (Michael Eades) here. and no doubt there will be more to come.


My folks took little persuading to attend and probably wouldn’t have filled out the Eventbrite registration, so I did that bit and somehow ended up getting myself retired too.


Explaining what an unconference or open session event was took a little time but they were still up for it and it appealed to them as it was different. My mum sorted the packed lunches and my dad planned the bus schedules; all the stuff that people who want to be well prepared do.

agecamp agenda

They had a good time, enjoyed the new experience, contributed to pitching and breakout sessions and have been keen to hear the feedback and what happens next – hi Mum and Dad! *waves*

Event feedback for attendees will be coming shortly.

Some comments from attendees on the most useful parts of the day;

“good to have discussions about public spaces and understanding the ageing population”

“nice to be at an event where people got to choose what was important to them”

For me what was a useful outcome was for the technologists, developers and care providers to get the opportunity to listen and interact with each other and especially older people and for them to break down preconceived mutual stereotypes. That has shown to be of benefit in a follow up event.

Some comments on the least useful parts of the day;

“not as organised as I’m used to”

“a lot of problem identification without solutions”

“too much jargon”

“a reminder that even when we have things in place, people don’t know about them”

All fair comment.

At the end of the day people came back together to reflect on the day and on what they wanted to see happen. This was captured below, will be worked up, fed back and some of the things will be developed by the technologists and developers into solutions that will then be tested.

agecamp feedback

After the event I walked to the bus stop with my parents. I asked them what their first thoughts were. My mum said it was different and she enjoyed it and dad said that following the opening session where Mick Ward had explained that by 2070 it would be common for people in Leeds to live to the age of 120, that he now had a different outlook on things he was thinking he might not be able to do in the next few years. Good for him.

Made me think too as I’m in the age bracket that might mean I’m one of those 120 year olds.

Age camp also marked the start of a programme of activities that will help us understand how the digital world might make the lives of older people better and which contribute to the World Health Organisation age friendly city ambitions. There will be a number of follow up sessions where solutions to some of the problems identified at the original Age Friendly event and age camp will be developed and tested. Watch this space as there will be an update on this shortly.

We will try and work with others doing similar stuff in and around Leeds in the spirit of standardising, simplifying and sharing.

I hope this was a different insight into my world of interpreting my work life balance and simplifying what we sometimes can make quite complicated.

*Just so you know, I do not see my parents as things.