We ran a feature on the impact of COVID-19 on Manchester’s hospitality sector in our February/March edition, featuring an interview with owners Mark and Elaine Wrigley, who were very pleased to once again to be hosting the region’s business community coming together at their venue. As well as offering over 540 Gin brands, the bar featured a fantastic area outside offering safe networking for 30 guests – a number still limited by government guidelines. GM Business Connect’s Jon Cheetham and Paul Mirage were in attendance, and Paul commented: “It was a great event, and the Atlas Bar did a tremendous job of offering us all a warm and safe welcome. Getting back to face-to-face networking is extremely important for a business like ourselves, and it’s events like these that will help kick-start the economy and ensure a sense of community is re-established – which will ultimately help support well-being within the entire business sector.”
On arrival, all attendees received a welcome drink with a fantastic selection of foods provided by the Atlas Bar. BITA President Paul Whitnell attended, and he was lost for words when he saw GM Business Connect’s new banner featuring him on a recent magazine cover. As BITA’s President, Paul welcomed all attendees with Tony Goodman MBE, Manchester Chair of BITA. A number of BITA board members were also in attendance making the event a good opportunity to catch up with old friends as well as getting to know new ones. True to many good old fashioned face-to-face networking events it went on well beyond the 8pm scheduled finish, and the observations from both members and guests was positive, with a number of prospective visitors signing up to BITA membership on the back of the event.
Manchester’s BITA Chapter is currently in the process of arranging a lunch event, as well as many more networking opportunities throughout 2021, especially as further lockdown measures are being relaxed across the UK.
GM Business Connect took the opportunity after the event to speak with Paul Whitnell. We asked Paul to describe how he thought this very first face to face BITA event went, and how successful was it in communicating the BITA message:
“The sentiment of any message is hard to relate both online and in email. Meeting someone face to face offers a different level of attraction in terms of business. When you’re speaking to someone, there are subtle ways to see if there is an instant reaction to whether they are agreeing with or averse to your concepts or thoughts. Even with online face to face meetings, much of the subtle reactionary nuances are difficult to see compared to live meetings. This is what we’ve lost by going online. We don’t get the same ability to gauge those feelings from people, and the sincerity of our messages are getting lost. People can also hide away to a certain extent from engaging fully in an online conversation. There would be plenty of nodding and general physical elements of someone being engaged in a conversation, but the physical evidence of someone being totally on board in what you are speaking about can be missing. So, when you come to a position of engaging and securing a business deal it is very difficult to replace the depth of communication and authenticity that is only experienced in a live face to face discussion.”
Apart from a range of subtleties lost on online meetings, are there any other aspects of face to face networking that are important?
“There is the sentiment of enjoying the act of getting out. Life has become very mundane in terms of work, and because we have been restricted and unable to enjoy the social element of spending time with people in different physical spaces, it seems we are working more and more than we have done previously. The danger of this and the impact on our mental wellness is that we don’t see we are sitting in an office from 7 in the morning to 7 at night, and sometimes later. We don’t stop, we don’t take breaks. When we were out and about there were natural breaks happening. There were the travel times between one event or meeting to another, where you would have to concentrate on the travelling rather than work. This time would also be spent in reviewing what had taken place in the previous event, and perhaps notes would be made and emails would be written. All too often we’d now jump virtually from one meeting to another without time to take breath.”
How have you viewed this event, which although was face to face, was still subject to us sitting at tables following COVID guidance?
“One thing that struck me was a sense of freedom. Even though we were restricted to sitting down with a small group or next to one other person in a personal face to face situation, we overcame the limitations by rotating tables ensuring everyone had the chance to chat with a good number of other attendees. This also resulted in a feeling of camaraderie, where people knew they were all working together to make the event a success. In fact, by everyone working together, those relationships that were established could then develop knowing the people involved were supportive of working together – a very basic but very important aspect of successfully choosing the right supplier or partnership in business.”
How successful was the event in sharing the BITA message?
“The main message we’d like to promote with BITA is the importance of working together. It’s that caring, sharing, generosity of spirit which is the central core of BITA, and what our organisation allows you to do is to practice these things and become a better person for it. By listening to others, sharing with others and helping others, you will inevitably get back the same from others within an environment such as ours. When you’re presented with a problem that seems impossible to solve, the best thing to do is to reach out to others. A problem shared is a problem halved is the old maxim. We like to create opportunities to do just that. When you’re surrounded by the right sort of people that are there for a genuine reason, as we are here in Manchester with a great group of people with a common goal of integrating themselves in a business community anchored on generosity and freedom of spirit, that’s where the magic happens. And that is what BITA is totally built on.”
The BITA motto is ‘the people who know people that help people’. Can you explain this in more detail?
“It’s a very straightforward statement to make. The important point though is being able to back it up, and we can do so with all the people in different BITA chapters around the UK and Ireland, and even further afield. We all have different ways of doing things, but the people that make up our collective have the ability to offer positive guidance, support and help through the community that is BITA. It is so important that we get back to face to face networking. This is best practice. I can guarantee that hiding behind a computer screen will inevitably result in whatever you intend to communicate be miscommunicated so quickly. We have got to accept the responsibility of standing in front of one another and of sharing and caring.”
What business related issues are most important to you?
“There are a number of concerns that I feel are crucially important. I believe manufacturing and self-sustainability are the way forward. Also of serious concern is our surrounding environment. Everything is inter-related, and one of the statements that BITA always refer to is ‘We cannot recycle our way out of this. Stopping use is the only way we will save our environment, and we haven’t got long.’ This is a very strong statement, and when you repeat that you realise that if we don’t make these changes in our lives we will be going down a rabbit hole.”
Finally, what are the type of businesses that you would like to see join BITA?
“We are very keen to bring on board businesses who share the same ethos as ourselves. Those people that are keen to increase their own prospects through sharing with and supporting other businesses in a positive manner. We are specifically looking for members who are decision makers in the field of Innovation, Manufacturing, Design, Training and Technology. Essentially businesses represented by people who know people that help people!”
Photography courtesy of Steve Potter: www.stevepotterphotography.co.uk 07890 490 851