October 24, 2016, by Charlotte Anscombe

Nottingham’s chance to wow the Westminster audience

When Nottingham takes over the Palace of Westminster next Tuesday it will be showtime: 45 events, 100 partner organisations, and a huge opportunity to wow the audience on Britain’s most influential political stage.

Showtime looms large in the life of Sarah Walker-Smith right now. If being Chief Operating Officer at Nottingham’s professional services crown jewel, Browne Jacobson, isn’t enough, outside work she has just written, directed and produced her first musical, The Legend of Lady Rock, at the Nottingham Contemporary.

Put that professional services ambition together with a keen eye for story-telling and you have someone who sees Nottingham in Parliament Day as a chance to create a compelling narrative about the city that has been Browne Jacobson’s home since 1832.

“Nottingham in Parliament Day matters not just because of the day itself – which is a massive opportunity to raise the city’s profile – but because it’s a result of cooperation between all the partners involved,” Sarah explained.

“We have seen the great and the good and a wide range of organisations come together for a common cause and the relationships that have been forged as a result must continue. If all the key players have a consistent message, we can go way beyond this. It’s the legacy I’m passionate about.”

Browne Jacobson’s involvement in Nottingham in Parliament Day stems from taking part in the Nottingham Post Great Debate earlier this year, an event which saw stakeholders discuss the city’s reputation and the need to give more opportunities to the talent it develops.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” Sarah says. “It was about a group of people coming together for the collective benefit of the city. That’s also the way I see Nottingham in Parliament Day.

“It isn’t just about adding our name to the event. We’ve been able to bring skills from our team in terms of organisation, project management and profile. We’ve been happy to throw our weight behind it and put some resources in. This is what the city has to do – demonstrate shared ambition.”

Westminster is a noisy, competitive environment with many people and places telling tales about ‘investability’. So how can Nottingham stand out?

“That’s easy,” says Sarah. “You can have your cake and eat it here! You can have a brilliant quality of life while still having a career in London if that’s what you’re looking for. So this can be the best of both worlds.

“I’m totally biased about Nottingham’s Creative Quarter because of my theatre. Look at the Contemporary and what it’s achieved, the whole relaunch of Hockley as something intimate and vibrant, two outstanding theatres, Lakeside, the literature festival…there is a real creative story to be told.

“Then there is the start-up culture. There are some fabulous SMEs in this city, and a steady stream of start-ups coming out of technology, lifesciences, digital and creative. You don’t need to name-drop the big names because it’s about that spirit of freedom and getting stuff done – there is an attitude here.”

At a time when the Brexit vote has posed questions about the UK’s place in the world and England’s regions are vying for greater powers, the timing of Nottingham in Parliament Day couldn’t be better, she suggests.

“If Westminster doesn’t hear Nottingham, then it is missing an opportunity,” she said. “This country isn’t all about London and Westminster. If we get all the economic centres driving growth it puts us in a far better position post-Brexit. The passion and energy that we have in Nottingham can help that enormously.

She added: “What this all tells you is that Nottingham is not a second choice – it is an intelligent choice.

“For Browne Jacobson, Nottingham is where our heart is – this is our spiritual home. We’ve seen a number of other businesses go down the same path of national expansion, but a few lose sight of their roots. We’ve stayed connected here and we’ve continued to invest substantially here because it’s a key part of who we are.

“Being from Nottingham is a part of our identity as a professional services firm. Clients find it refreshing because it cuts through the usual corporate gloss. They get the service, they get the quality, but they get a sense of fun and personality. To me, that is what Nottingham is about – we’ve got some real attitude here!”


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