Voice 08: initial thoughts

Am out of office tomorrow, so thought I’d try and capture some initial brief thoughts on the last day and a half at Voice 08 up in Liverpool.

The reception in the evening was great networking, and was fantastic to arrive and see our Liverpool SSE cohort mingling with more familiar and established names and faces. Feedback on Young Voice, which had been happening during the day, was mixed….on the positive side, the sense of dynamism and energy was definitely there (of which more later), and several people I spoke to enjoyed the interaction and chance to engage with a younger audience. On the negative, several people said it lacked a bit of direction, and had occassional mismatches of tone (legal structures and returns on investment to 14 year-olds etc). The Liverpool SSE lot, in their inspirational igloo, were generally positive, and felt it was an innovation definitely worth pursuing.

Gossip from the reception? Two well-known chief executives in the sector asked me to work out the restaurant bill, as they were slightly tipsy (they’ve obviously progressed through delegation); our hotel bar was still packed at 2.30am, few of whom noticed the earthquake beneath their feet; oh and, of course, all the best conversations and deals took place.


On the morning, there was a fairly uninspiring plenary session; standout was the video from the Scojo Foundation (genuinely amazing), and possibly Hazel Blears’ revelation that she’d serviced a Volvo recently (and signed it off: government accountability and transparency in action); by the magic of video, Gordon Brown announced an extra £27 million to the existing £73 million social investment in health fund and the £10 million risk capital fund that’s been bubbling under for a while. The cavernous venue seemed to slightly suck the life out of everyone, and there were also the first teething problems with sound as a squall of feedback punctuated a missive from Baroness Glenys Thornton (outgoing SEC chair).

Things improved for me with a walk around the open exhibition area, visiting the ‘igloos’ (more igloo-like than I suspected) and stands, and chatting to people from all around the country.  I then listened in on a debate about a social stock exchange which was entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking; having Rod Schwartz (who once stood as an MP) and Jamie Hartzell (who once came 2nd in a debating competition) involved certainly made for good arguments….

Lunch was fine, and more good conversations round the tables: SImon Taylor from Nottinghamshire, Rosemary Kay, who’d been so helpful in setting up the Liverpool SSE, Nigel Lowthrop from Hill Holt Wood and Craig Dearden-Phillips who was pushing his forthcoming book with an admirable gusto and persistence.

Having skipped the next plenary (Francis Maude, Conservative MP + Reed Paget of Belu Water, the only comment about which I heard was that they’d wished they’d heard more from the latter than the former…), I carried on my merry way round the stalls, took part in a laughter workshop at the SSE igloo (which was, as you’d hope, very funny) and avoided the fishing rod flying past my ear. I liked the open-planness of this area, although the venue is so huge, as to overwhelm slightly all the activity, which included a fashion show and musical slots. Some innovations worked particularly well: the grab a placard, call a meeting seemed to be responsible for some of the more vibrant get-togethers (and possibly also for the lower attendance in some of the agenda-d breakout sessions).

Last plenary (a q&a) which I was particularly looking forward to, was again plagued by persistent sound problems….which became incredibly frustrating, not least for the speakers involved. But there was an interesting cross-section of speakers from across the movement, and some encouraging (if beamed-in) words from Phil Hope, Minister for the Third Sector.


More soon, and links and reaction to coverage elsewhere, but it did feel like a different event to previous years in many ways (in a good way): real efforts to innovate and promote interaction. But some of this was either hamstrung by sound problems, or overwhelmed by the hugeness of the venue: the dynamism on display at some of the stands and sessions seemed, therefore, like occasional sparks, rather than an event taking light.

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