Why Nottingham? Alex Shacklock, theGrogroup

Alex Shacklock, Director at theGrogroup, gives us his honest assessment of the city in our latest feature of “Why Nottingham”

1. What first attracted you to Nottingham? 

Meadow Lane and Goose Fair. I was brought up in Ravenshead, near Mansfield, and as a child, apart from occasional shopping trips to the city, my Nottingham ‘experiences’ were basically going to see Notts County with my dad and amazing nights at the fair. I lived in Sheffield for four years whilst at University and spent time away in London on work secondments, but the rest of my time I have been Nottingham based, living in Mapperley and now south of the river.

 2. When did you first start to work in the City? 

Being totally honest, I was trying to move away at the start of my career. London was first choice and I was also looking at opportunities in Canada and the USA, but for various reasons (and family influence) I started an Accountancy training contract with BDO in 1995. I really enjoyed working with a wide range of clients and a brilliant team, but soon realised that it was the coaching, mentoring and training of other people that gave me the biggest buzz. So in 2002, after Tenon had acquired the BDO Nottingham practice, I became National Training Manager, then Head of Learning and Development and eventually Director of Talent. Although these were national roles and I was heavily encouraged to move to firstly, Edinburgh and later London, I always remained in Nottingham. The transport links are good and I really do like my home city.

When I left to establish theGrogroup with Kate Hennig and an external consultant we rented an office in Stoney Street, right in the middle of the Creative Quarter, before relocating to West Bridgford.

3. How has it changed during your time here? 

It really has changed. On the negative side, during my late teens and early 20’s Nottingham was well known for brilliant independent shops, especially clothing. The city was full of people at weekends and I had friends who would travel up from London and Birmingham to shop at places like Culture Vulture, G-force and Cocky’s Shed. And, of course, Selectadisc! It’s actually heartbreaking to walk down Bridlesmith Gate and Hockley right now and see the empty shops. Like most cities, I do feel Nottingham has lost a little bit of its old identity with so many chains of shops, pubs and restaurants.

But there are a lot of positives. The infrastructure, look and feel of the city was a little rough and ready but the investment in the tram network, commercial property, parks and city design have made a real difference. I do think that effort has been made to better market and promote the heritage, history and culture and there has been real progress in attracting niche businesses to the city, particularly with the  support for the Creative Quarter, BioCity and MedCity. The Universities are now world class education centres with world class facilities. 

4. What is/are the biggest challenges we face as city compared to our rivals? 

Nationally, I think the biggest challenge is ensuring that the city is not left too far behind the bigger, ‘better branded’ cities. Clearly London dominates and Birmingham has sparked into life, but if I was to ask people across the country to think of other vibrant cities I am not sure Nottingham would be mentioned. Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool amongst others have made great strides in creating a clear identity and attracting investment and people – I think we can learn a lot from them. When I tell people I live and work in Nottingham, I no longer get comments associated with crime and the negative press of ten years or so ago, but the reaction is still fairly neutral. I would love people to say ‘oh, wow, Nottingham’.

Regionally, I really think the biggest challenge is working with other East Midlands cities, and possibly Sheffield, to promote this brilliant, but often overlooked, space between Birmingham and Leeds.  Instead of competing for investment, recognition and bragging rights the region should be coming together to pool ideas and resources, which I believe would be a win-win for all.

5. How long is your commute into the city and what is your method of transport?  

I usually get the bus and if I’m going into the city for meetings then it’s about a 25 minute trip, or a 15 minute trip into West Bridgford. I live in a country park so I usually walk to the bus stop which is about a 20 minute walk. It’s a lovely start to the day, I get the headphones in and listen to music or a podcast.

6. Where are your favourite places to eat and drink for business and leisure time? 

Great question – and I could go on for a long time here! Being honest, places I go to for business eats, drinks and coffees have more or less merged into the places I also go in leisure time. In the city I really like World Service, Laguna, Zap, Mowgli, Chino Latino and Sexy Momma Love Spaghetti and in Bridgford its Yumacha, Cuzina, and Escabeche. Being a big lover of brunch, I would also give a big shout out to Wired, Fox Café and Ayushi Indian Street Food.

I still really enjoy the bars around the Lace Market, and current favourites are Pepper Rocks and Lost Property, and still really enjoy Brass Monkey which has managed to stay ‘alive’ for a long time.

 7. Finally, if you had a blank canvas, what would you like to see happen in the next 12 months?

Obviously the main thing I would like to see happen will be the eradication of Covid-19. If this isn’t possible then for as many people to emerge from this period healthy and safe. I think we all know that the waters will be choppy for some time, especially economy wise. But I really do believe that the ‘forced changes’ as a result of the pandemic creates a real opportunity for Nottingham in the short and longer term. I believe that there will be less drive for many people to physically depart for opportunities in London and other cities. Remote working means that Nottingham businesses can better attract and compete for talent and from my conversations with people there is an issue with the perception of safety in the bigger crowds and transport systems in bigger cities. This gives smaller regional cities a clear opportunity.

I really would like to see the development of a bigger and better ‘Brand Nottingham’. This would mean clearly defining what the city is all about, what it stands for and where it is going and then being brave in taking the lead in pushing its message and opinion. It’s a great city, in a great region with great potential. Let’s get the message out there.