Develop strong local networks

There are great advantages to using local resources – and not just in terms of environmental impact. Cris Beswick urges us to work with what’s around us

Like many, I’ve worked up and down the UK and across Europe, stretching into further continents for particular clients. But more than ever, I’m aware of the importance, environmental significance and pleasure of working locally.

Being based in Luton, I’ve been well-placed for commercial hotspots such as Milton Keynes, but I’ve also been close to some more individual shopping environments, such as Woburn, and helped to encourage development in areas with independent potential, such as Bletchley.

As the focus shifts back on to local, and with a greater awareness of consumption, waste and carbon footprint, we’ve watched the design focus become more about personal service, experience and difference. A greater sense of locality and community needs to be reflected, as customers want the ‘local’ put back into their high streets.

Even some of the more savvy chainstores are responding to the desire for difference, making individual stores more in line with the local surroundings. The retail design market always needs to respond faster. But it’s not just about jumping on a bandwagon – it makes sense, in every respect, to make the most of local.

When a Savile Row tailor wanted to relocate a branch of his family business into a town in Buckinghamshire, I was lucky that he had a strong local mentality, seeking to support local businesses and invest the revenue locally. Sourcing all his suppliers accordingly, he wanted a design consultancy that understood the area and people, and which would create a bespoke environment that fitted in with the heritage of the town and the 300-year-old building that was his new site.

Having established numerous local links previously, I was able to swiftly recommend and deliver the design and project management required. Indeed, many local suppliers have inside knowledge of their home area and are more passionate about delivering excellence to improve their community.

With a local carpenter, electricians and builders working together and sharing local knowledge and resources, not only was the project prompt and successful, but the bringing together of local businesses has led to further collaborations.

It also helped us with contacts and referrals. Indeed, being able to give potential clients convenient and discreet opportunities to pop by and scrutinise previous projects has been highly fruitful.

I’ve been to networking groups and events in the past, and these have always been a bit forced, with slightly vacuous references given for their own sake. In contrast, bringing local businesses in on a live project is a great opportunity to build prosperous partnerships.

Being involved and known in the local markets, we were asked to create the interiors for a major child fitness and entertainment project, Kidsports. Located on the doorstep of a project and with an aggressive timetable, we were there in person constantly over the four months, able to maximise the efficiency of the project, which made it easier to work smarter rather than harder. This allowed us to develop a great relationship with the client, and gave us considerable creative freedom and the personal benefits of watching the project transform on a day-to-day basis.

As designers, we understand how fast tastes evolve and the importance of enabling clients to respond to this cost-effectively. This has only become more important with growing sensitivity to sustainability and waste. It’s crucial to build in flexibility and ‘future-proof’ our work, allowing clients to adapt as easily as possible and with maximum effect, but minimum impact – financially, in time and to the environment.

You still have to measure local suppliers with the same criteria you would use nationally or internationally, but I believe that being local should carry more weight. You might find a cheaper supplier further afield, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the benefits add up – convenience, faster response times for services, lower carriage costs and environmental impact, and a chance to build ongoing relationships in your local community.

It isn’t always possible to source options locally, but showing local awareness offers differentiation and personalisation, not to mention rewarding work parameters – time and budget.

Cris Beswick is founder of Beswick Design

TIPS FOR WORKING LOCALLY
• Use projects as an opportunity for local networking and partnership-building
• Don’t underestimate the personal pleasures of being closely involved in all stages of an unfolding local project
• Scratch the surface and place more weight on the value of locality

Latest articles

Remembering Jon Daniel: 1966-2017

We look back on the life and work of the Design Week columnist, independent creative director and social activist “who helped put black participation on the political map”.