steve dimmick, problem solver

August 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

© Tim Whalley

“We are a media company and have a vacancy for an accountant.  If you can’t handle the odd mickey take and the majority of the office turning up drunk on a Friday, then please don’t apply for this job”.  Now that’s not the type of thing you’d expect to read in your average job advert.  But that’s exactly what Steve Dimmick wants to encourage (the honesty; not the drunkenness).

Steve owns and runs dimmicks.co.uk.  The way it works is very simple.  A recruiting manager makes a video job ad explaining their vacancy, how the company works but most importantly about the office culture and the types of people that would best fit in.  “I thought back to some of the problems I faced in London (working for Dome Recruitment) and realised that the whole recruitment process is geared one way and there is a serious lack of information for job seekers to make a proper judgment on whether a company is right for them or not”.   Given we spend so much of our waking time at work it’s a decision we need to get right.

“It’s a great chance for the company to market themselves and the feedback from people going for interviews is very positive; they’re going in feeling so much more comfortable, like they already know the place; how the people talk and so on, which makes for more confident interviews.  And we’re filling vacancies, which is the important thing”.   I think it’s a great idea and I hope it catches on.  One thing’s for sure, if I was an accountant I’d definitely be applying for that role!

I respect anyone who takes the plunge and starts their own business but I especially love Steve’s attitude. “Starting my own company was completely scary, particularly with two kids and a big mortgage, but the best thing about it was that I suddenly had more choice over when I worked, which opened a lot of doors for doing lots of other interesting things”.  And Steve hasn’t just opened those doors; he’s burst straight through them.

In addition to running his own business he is involved in numerous paid and unpaid projects to satisfy his love of “creative things, creative people and technology”.  He has just completed an 18-month project as a consultant for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh-language national theatre of Wales, helping them with their online marketing and social media and is also an active member of Cardiff Start, the community hub for technology start-ups or “a group of entrepreneurs, startup founders, creatives, students, and investors who believe that Cardiff is a brilliant place to work and live”.  If you haven’t heard about Cardiff Start then do check it out.  It’s proper exciting and could really put Cardiff on the global map (albeit a slightly techy, geeky map perhaps).  Watch it grow.

His unpaid roles, or “good for nothing” projects as he calls them, include curating the online photography community, Intagramers Cardiff with the help of Ben Cook, and co-running Cardiff Read, “Cardiff’s most popular book club”, with Jessica Best.  “We meet every month in Chapter Arts Centre and get roughly 15-30 people each time and a great cross section of society.  It’s great because we read lots of different things, not just the bestsellers but also biographies and old classics.  I didn’t read much in school or university, and I really felt I missed out and I’m sure lots of other people feel the same way. Reading just wasn’t cool when I was growing up, especially for men.” Agreed.

Steve also organises Ignite Cardiff, the public speaking event with a difference, after taking the reigns alongside Ed Barnett from Neil Cocker and Claire Scantlebury.  People give 5 minute presentations on a topic of their choice with no videos or audio (only text and images) with slides changing every 15 seconds.   “I attended the second event, spoke at the third and have compered since.  I love the idea.  It’s a place where those people who are comfortable talking in public aren’t necessarily the best speakers on the night, it’s the quieter ones who’ve practised and practised talking with the slides changing every 15 seconds that really nail it. I like going to the pub or the cinema but it’s all a bit predictable.  Ignite is so unpredictable.  We’ve had speakers on nemonics, keeping chickens, what to do if zombies invade Cardiff and infinity (the number) all on the same night”.    Everyone is welcome and for a taster here’s the playlist from the last event.

Steve is a very proud Welshman and a passion for rugby naturally courses through his veins, but growing up in Blaina meant he never really spoke the mother tongue.  But with the help of his wife and kids (and a lot of hard graft too I suspect) he now speaks Welsh pretty much fluently (his vocab put mine to shame that’s for sure).  This has naturally opened even more doors for him, such as the Theatre Genedlaethol project.

What I like most about Steve is his passion for helping people do what they want to do.  “If you love something, do more of it and share it with others” he says.  “Things are much better if you share the experience and enjoyment with other people”.  I couldn’t agree more.  Diolch Steve!

Steve Dimmick lives in Cardiff with his wife and two kids.  He runs Dimmicks.co.uk and offers social marketing consultancy via stevedimmick.co.uk.   Outside of work he runs a number of projects including Cardiff Start, CardiffReadIgnite Cardiff and igerscardiff.

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Michele Fitzsimmons, growing ideas

May 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

Edible Landscaping

Michele Fitzimmons © gwionthorpe

Ask anyone who loves Cardiff to give you three reasons why it’s such an ace city and I bet you most of them will name one of our beautiful parks. Big slices of lush greenery right smack bang in the middle of the urban sprawl.  We’re so lucky to have them.  But one remarkable lady isn’t content with a few public parks, she is on a mission to green, grow and feed our city.

“Everywhere you go in Cardiff there are bits of land where there is the potential to grow some food.  It could be a small area at the end of your street where there might be room for a nut tree, it could be a brownfield site where you think raised beds with vegetables could work, it could be a community centre where you would like to join with others in creating a community garden”.

Michele Fitzsimmons is a permaculture designer and educator who, since the mid 1990s has been developing her Edible Landscaping ethos.  Having completed a permaculture design course, Michele decided to turn her hand to creating edible and wildlife gardens to benefit her local community.  “I’ve designed quite small gardens for places like Adamsdown Community Garden, South Riverside Development Centre and areas in Roath, to slightly bigger plots like Chapter Arts Community Garden in Canton.  I’m particularly proud of the design I created at Edwardsville Primary School in Merthyr Tydfil”.  This latter design included the school buildings and grounds and helped the School win the Wales Eco-Primary School of the Year award in 2008.

Michele’s latest project, part of the Transition Cardiff movement, is Farm Cardiff.  It hopes to inspire individuals and groups to identify areas in their neighbourhood where there is food growing potential and then feed the info back to a group of committed volunteers who will place it on an online map available to everyone. “One way of thinking about it is to see Cardiff as a farm, with the potential to produce much more of its own food.  Farm Cardiff is an open, informal group with a range of skills but above all enthusiasm and commitment to get things done”.

Michele is from Australia and her love of nature started from an early age. “I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember. I had a really idyllic childhood.  We had this big garden and beyond that was acres of bush land, which was my own private playground. I used to run around in the bush, jump over snakes, go down to the waterhole, sit on top of the waterfall, hide in the caves and that was my normal playtime. I just loved being out with nature. It was heaven.”

Michele’s philosophy is matching what people want to do in their garden with some practical ideas and design. “I think we should all have an investment in our own individual food security, but I realise that most people are really busy so it’s a matter of making it easier for more people to grow their own food, even if it’s a couple of pot plants”.  She runs numerous short courses for individuals right through to full landscape design and consultancy services.  “I teach anything from ‘how to grow vegetables’ right through to ‘edible forest gardening’ and anything in between.  It’s literally horses for courses”.

The word ‘permaculture’ comes from ‘permanent agriculture‘ and is about living lightly on the planet and in harmony with nature to make sure that we can sustain our activities for many generations to come.  Or as Michele puts it, “It’s not rocket science.  It’s a way of working with nature to create a really productive, nature-friendly garden and it can be achieved in all sorts of spaces”.

Over the past few months, Michele and her colleagues from Cardiff Transition have been tackling the question ‘can Cardiff feed itself?’  “Of course, it’s ridiculous to think that Cardiff could feed itself, it’s got hardly any agricultural land and over 340 thousand people, but it’s a question that raises some significant issues. A better question, and one we need to tackle, is ‘can Wales feed Cardiff and itself?’ Because yes is the answer to that…almost”.  Based on research by Amber Wheeler into how many hectares are needed per person to eat a healthy diet, Wales is short by some 80,000 hectares of suitable land.  “Theoretically it is possible, but it relies on a number of factors, which are quite complex. But a really simple step is to get more people interested in growing their own food.  We’ve run out of agricultural land, so we need to start looking at people’s gardens, parks, industrial estates, verges, flat roves. We need to start thinking of as many opportunities as possible to grow food”.  Enter Farm Cardiff.

Whilst the focus of Michele’s work is on Cardiff and Wales, the motivation is global. “There are lots of really hungry people in this World and yet they’re growing cash crops for us Westerners.  Why?  Why shouldn’t they grow food for themselves? And why should we depend on them for our food? Why aren’t we pulling out all the stops? I just think it’s our responsibility to grow more of our own food.  So my motivation is to bring about ideas of how we can do that and get more people involved in the idea of growing food for themselves.”

But don’t think Michele is standing on any kind of soapbox.  She is very much a roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty kind of lady.  More practical than political. “I see my role as being more pro-active at the grass roots level. Engaging and enthusing people about nature and gardening. I don’t really want to go to meetings and talk about it.  I need to stick to what I know and I know how to grow food”.

Michele Fitzsimmons is a permaculture designer and educator and runs Edible Landscaping, an education and design business specialising in edible gardens, organic fruit and vegetable growing and permaculture.  She works with individuals, businesses and communities to help them realise their aspirations with their food-growing project www.ediblelandscaping.co.uk

Neil Cocker, the lucky man

June 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

“At the age of fifteen I thought I was going to be a Marketing Manager for some big organisation, work my way up the ladder and by the time I was forty do some sort of senior management buy-out, have a top of the range Volvo and 2.4 children”.  Not what most teenagers dream about perhaps, but thankfully, things didn’t quite work out that way for Neil Cocker.

Neil’s first business was Plastic Raygun records, set up with friends soon after graduating. He spent the next few years travelling the world as one half of Phantom Beats. “I finished University and went and did what everyone else did and got a job in a call centre. But at the same time I was doing some DJing and making a few beats with friends and the next thing you know I’m waking up in a jacuzzi in Miami, playing gigs all over the World, and getting a phone call saying we’ve got a top ten hit”. Bonkers.

Neil never really earned any money from his time in the music industry but, more importantly perhaps, he realised what he wanted out of life. “That was my driver. To do more of that. To get that sense of achievement, do exciting stuff and meet interesting people. I also knew that I couldn’t go back to a desk job”.  And boy has he stuck true to that.

In 2007, after a rather depressing experience in a business network meeting, Neil founded NOCCI – a global network of creative, entrepreneurial people. “I was in this room with lots of white, middle aged men in suits thrusting business cards at each other and I thought there has got to be a better way to do this?  So, he set up a Facebook group and within two days had over 150 people queuing up to be involved. “Things like Facebook events make it easy to dip your toe in the water without making an arse of yourself”.

Alongside Claire Scantlebury, Neil also runs Ignite Cardiff, “a regular informal community event that encourages people to share their ideas, passions and thoughts in five minute rapid-fire talks”. They also jointly-run TEDxCardiff, an event that brings world-class speakers to Cardiff in order to “inspire, inform and entertain”. Both events are free and are organised voluntarily.  “I like bringing creative people together from lots of different disciplines. It’s a well-proven psychological phenomenon that the decision-making ability of a group is in direct relation to its diversity. So, give a bunch of 35-year old ad executives a problem and they’ll crack on and solve it. But put a truck driver, an old woman, my girlfriend and a school kid together and they’ll come up with better, quicker or more interesting solutions. It’s all about different perspectives”.

Neil is also a “creative industries consultant”, working with lots of organisations, including the Welsh Assembly Government, helping them engage with creative people, and he also sits on the board of directors for the Welsh Music Foundation, “helping it represent, support and develop the commercially viable music sector in Wales”.  But Neil’s big project is Dizzyjam. A brand new merchandising service for the independent music industry. It is essentially a t-shirt printing company that works with bands to create merchandise to sell to their fans. “It allows bands to have their own online merchandise store that doesn’t require any outlay. This makes it easy for them to sell their stuff without having to spend loads of cash up front”.

You could be tempted to describe Neil as a bit of an ideas man, but he doesn’t share that view. “The reason I’ve ended up having a reasonably creative, entrepreneurial career is by accident rather than design. I don’t believe in that strict sectioning off of people who are ideas people or doing people. I genuinely believe that everyone can do it. It’s just the way you’re bred to think. I wasn’t one of those people selling sweets in the schoolyard at the age of seven or earning £400 from my paper round. It has been a natural mix of luck and talent of the people involved”.

However he got to where he is, he is satisfied with how things are turning out. “I enjoy what I do to make money. For me, entrepreneurship has never been about great wealth. I’ve never really wanted the mansion, the yacht or the pool or whatever. I would quite like an Aston Martin but that would be the bonus. For me, it’s about waking up on Monday morning and going ‘yes, I love what I do’. I don’t want to die having not had an amazing time and having done interesting stuff”.

During our conversation, Neil kept using one word time and again – lucky.  I think Neil’s success is down to a lot more than luck though. He’s definitely earned his success. He is clearly very talented, very hard working and is interested in everything and everyone. He is easily one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He may not have been born here but Neil calls Cardiff home. I think we should count ourselves lucky to have him.

Neil is an entrepreneur, creative industries consultant, and music industry survivor.  After many successful years in the music industry, Neil founded the creative industries network NOCCI, set up Dizzyjam.com, and is the co-founder of TEDxCardiff and Ignite Cardiff. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Welsh Music Foundation and is currently training for his first triathlon.  You can contact him via neilcocker.com

Amy Davies, queen of shops

March 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

Cardiff Arcades Project

Amy Davies © gwionthorpe

Amy Davies is the perfect person to kick off this blog.  She sums up exactly what it’s all about – she had an idea and acted on it.  Simple.   She has started the Cardiff Arcades Project, which aims to “document the Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades in Cardiff, home to some of the quirkiest, individual and independent retailers in the city”. It’s an idea that has really captured people’s attention and Amy has been “overwhelmed by the positive response (she has) received so far”.  It basically involves Amy going in to the shops, taking photos and chatting to the owners and recording it all on her website.  Again, it sounds simple but it just hasn’t been done before and that’s what makes it so bloody good.

The idea came on her way home from work one evening. “I was wandering through Morgan Arcade, taking a few snaps for my Project 365 and on a whim I thought, maybe I should do a project on the Arcades, that would be pretty cool”.  With the help of a few tweets “the project went from a thought to a full-blown project in about 12 hours”.

What started out as photography project, however, has become so much more than that.  “One of the main reasons for doing the project was to take more portrait photos but I found that all sort of stories naturally come out through talking to people.  The photos may be good but they’re made even better by knowing a bit about the person behind the face – the story adds to it”.

Although she clearly loves the arcades, Amy is keen to point out that she is no activist and doesn’t want the project to be seen as anti-big brands. “This project is meant to be something positive, about celebrating the arcades not focusing on the negative impact of St. David’s 2”.  She has nothing against the big stores – “everyone needs an H&M, we can’t all be independent, but it’s important people know they’ve got the option. It’s about having the choice”.  Amy is from Birmingham and compares St. David’s 2 to The Bullring and similarly the Trafford Centre in Manchester.  “It’s nice to have your big John Lewis and other big brands, but when you stand in St. David’s you could be in any big City in the UK.  But when you shop in the old arcades you could only be in one place: Cardiff.  They are such a big attraction; I don’t understand why we aren’t screaming about them?”

I have a feeling that Amy’s project will go a long way to restoring people’s interest (and spending) in the Arcades and raise their profile once again, although Amy is quick to play this down, “maybe a few people have found out about them through my blog, I don’t know.  I have had a few messages from people who hadn’t discovered or heard about a particular shop before. That makes me feel really happy.  It’s also nice to know that people are actually reading my blog and that it may be having a positive effect on people”.  You can say that again.

After spending some time with Amy it is quite obvious that the project is also having a very positive impact on her too.  “I’m quite a shy person but this project has made me so much less shy. I’ve met so many fantastic people, done so many things and had an unbelievable time in just a few short weeks”.  She is now making new friends, good contacts and even gaining some paid work from the people she’s meeting in the arcades.  How cool is that?

I really enjoyed meeting Amy (in New York Deli, High St arcade by the way).  I’m really chuffed that she had the guts to turn her idea into reality and I’m sure there are a lot of shopkeepers who’d agree with me!  Check out her website and, more importantly, check out the shops and the arcades – they’re wicked.

Amy Davies is a journalist and photographer living in Cardiff.  Having moved to Cardiff 5-and-a-bit years ago for University, and never having the decency to leave, she now calls it home.  During the day she boards the train for her daily commute to Bath working on a photography website, and most of the rest of the time she’s either taking photos, writing things, baking cakes or a combination of all three.

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