Can we make Dorset the happiest place to work in the UK?

Can we make Dorset the happiest place to work in the UK?

Wellbeing isn’t just a passing fad or the latest media watchword. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been measuring the UK population’s personal wellbeing since 2012, with latest data showing that Dorset sits ahead of the national average in life satisfaction and happiness, while anxiety levels are just below the average reported across the country.

As I’ve lived and worked in Dorset for 30 years, you don’t have to convince me that it’s a wonderful place.  Our challenge as business leaders is how to showcase what we can offer to attract the best emerging talent, safeguarding the future of our economy.

In April, I was elected as Chair of the South West and Wales Regional Assembly of Chambers.  Even in these early stages it’s clear that the region shares many of the same challenges, such as infrastructure, digital connectivity and attracting talent. There are important conversations to be had with our neighbours across those county lines to develop a joined-up approach to tackling as many of these obstacles as possible. In the meantime, what can we do on an individual basis to maximise the potential of our businesses?

In my last column I wrote about the impact of stress in the workplace and how we should be fostering a more open, inclusive approach to discussing wellness. Long hours in the office and a ‘nose to the grindstone’ approach is no longer seen as the route to success. Like me, you may have seen media coverage of the extreme daily schedule of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey;  a cold bath followed by a five mile jog to work , with nothing to eat until 6.30pm. Similarly, Tesla supremo Elon Musk reportedly works a regular 85 to 100 hours a week. Fifteen years ago, these would be upheld as examples of how hard work pays dividends. Today, the media is discussing how these punishing schedules will be impacting upon their personal stress levels, leading to potential burnout. It’s truly a sign of the times.

This major cultural shift, recognising that flexible working and wellness in the workplace aids staff morale and productivity, is also recognised by the medical sector. For example, Nuffield Health Bournemouth Hospital offers an Emotional Wellbeing Clinic with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and online therapy for ailments such as anxiety and depression, supporting patients with issues at work as well as at home.

I believe that this new cultural environment plays firmly into the hands of our businesses. The health benefits of a coastal or rural lifestyle are free assets available to us all which urban hubs just can’t compete with. Our businesses may not be in the position to adopt the much-debated four day working week, but as research has shown that three quarters of employees favour jobs which offer flexible working, it simply makes good commercial sense. But we must never forget that cultural change comes from the top, and so management must be seen to adopt wellbeing policies, too.

Wellness in the workplace shouldn’t be seen as something just for big businesses.  Smaller firms are more close-knit and entrepreneurial and therefore flexible by nature.  Here at Liz Lean PR, we are incredibly fortunate to be just a few steps away from the golden sands of Sandbanks Beach, which makes lunchtime walks one of the highlights of the day. When the weather suits, it’s not uncommon to find me conducting informal meetings outside; if you’re planning to make a visit, make sure you bring appropriate footwear!

Of course, we need to offer more than pleasant places to work if we are to attract the best and brightest talent; job satisfaction, progression prospects and competitive salaries all need to be in place, together with amenities, housing and infrastructure to support a growing workforce.

As Bristol was recently named as the happiest city in the UK, it’s clear that a thriving economy really can go hand in hand with a contented workforce.  So let’s share our ideas on how we tempt Bristol-bound talent to turn left off the M4, because I think you’ll agree that what we have to offer is just as appealing.


(First appeared in Capital Magazine,  2019)

Dorset LEP Local Industrial Strategy – “a chance to build on our strengths and opportunities”

Dorset LEP Local Industrial Strategy – “a chance to build on our strengths and opportunities”

Liz Willingham, President of the Dorset Chamber of Commerce, works closely with the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership. Here Liz sets out the key priorities of the Dorset Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) based on their members feedback and the work of the Dorset Chamber.

“In my role as President of Dorset Chamber, I frequently speak to our members about trading conditions, the issues they face, both the opportunities and barriers for businesses and of course the economy in general. Dorset Chamber has also been working closely with Dorset LEP in the Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) consultation and helping facilitate discussions.

All LEPs have been tasked with pulling together local industrial strategies, plans that will support economic growth in their respective geographical areas. This represents a great opportunity to see how we can both build on our strengths and opportunities but also seek to address barriers to growth and challenges for businesses in Dorset. It’s been a challenging time; we’ve seen growth in the economy at a national level grind to a virtual halt whilst at the same time are experiencing record employment. Businesses have also been trying to navigate their way around Brexit and in our view, are totally exasperated by the current situation. On a local level, it’s difficult to draw a clear line in the sand on how businesses are doing; some businesses will tell you trade has never been stronger, others report the climate to be challenging. However it is clear that Dorset businesses are resilient, innovative and adaptable.

Thanks to our members’ feedback and the on the ground insight of Ian Girling, Chief Executive of Dorset Chamber, and the hard working chamber team, we would see the issues below as important within the development of the LIS for Dorset.

The promotion and emphasis of the natural assets of Dorset in both the rural and urban parts of the county, has to be a priority. The quality of life and environment is highly valued within the business community in Dorset just as it is being recognised globally as important in supporting work/life balance and the wellbeing scenario. Dorset is both a fantastic place to work and live. Interestingly the importance of the value of our natural environment came through very strongly at a recent LIS consultation meeting in a school, where the young people felt it was extremely important to protect the environment and this should not be eroded by over-development.

Probably the number one issue that businesses raise is their challenges in finding staff. With unemployment at its lowest for 45 years, it’s a candidates’ marketplace. This applies to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled roles. Employers repeatedly tell us they cannot fill vacancies. This is often referred to as a skills shortage. I think it’s also a shortage of people given we have virtually full employment. This means businesses need to work harder to attract and retain good people; this is through pay, terms and conditions, their values as a business and the benefits they offer.

The cost and availability of housing is an important issue within this. Surveys by Dorset Chamber regularly identify that up to 30% of employers state that the cost of housing is a barrier to business growth. Businesses need the staff to move in to Dorset to help their businesses grow – and high housing costs are a barrier to this. The LIS needs a clear focus on affordable housing solutions.

Alongside this there is a widespread concern that we lose many of our talented young people to other areas. Graduate retention is a real problem and young people leave the area when their studies are complete and move to places they may see as more vibrant such as Manchester, Bristol and London. We need to have a clear focus on strategies to keep these talented young people in the area. A point that has been strongly made within this is the need for improved and exciting cultural activities and leisure attractions, making the area more desirable for young people as opposed to just families and the older generation.

Access to finance is often reported as a concern for businesses seeking investment to grow. Businesses that are often sizeable and established with strong credit ratings can often struggle with access to finance through the traditional routes. Whilst the banks will all tell us they are lending, they can be very averse to certain sectors. We aren’t talking about access to finance for a business in financial difficulty; access to finance is often a real challenge for businesses seeking finance to invest in growth, improve capacity, employ more people and improve productivity. There needs to be better financial support for those businesses seeking to drive growth, productivity and employment.

Following this, many businesses in Dorset would benefit from increased support for businesseswith real growth potential; support around areas such as strategies for growth, planning, new technologies and access to finance as mentioned. A funded high-growth support service, focusing on those businesses that have the potential to increase their GVA and increase employment would benefit many businesses in Dorset. A great deal of focus is placed on start-ups and smaller businesses and we would like to see greater emphasis on support for those high-growth potential businesses.

Finally, a major focus within the LIS needs to be around sustainable transport solutions for the conurbation. Our road infrastructure is at breaking point and extremely fragile. One accident or roadworks cause incredible congestion making travel, particularly during peak times, a huge problem for employees and business owners alike. It’s difficult to see a real solution to this in terms of the infrastructure. Of course, we need investment in the road network but also in air and rail. We also need to encourage employers to take innovative steps where possible to reduce traffic levels with measures such as home working/ better use of technology and staggered start and finish times. Broadband strength and the application of digitally innovative ways of working should be positioned as a priority to try and counter the castrating road network issues we face.

The Local Industrial Strategy offers us a tremendous opportunity to develop a plan for Dorset that has a focus on addressing these issues, that build on our strengths and offers innovative ideas for addressing our challenges. Dorset Chamber is supporting Dorset LEP with this consultation and we would encourage all business owners to get involved. Your feedback and ideas around solutions is vital. The next generation of business leaders and their teams will thank us for it.”

For further details on the Dorset LEP Local Industrial Strategy consultation please click here.


This post first appeared on the LEP network website.



How on earth did we get to half way through the year?

How on earth did we get to half way through the year?

Time is racing by yet somehow politically it feels a little like groundhog day when it comes to the subject of Brexit. The local elections certainly reflected the national frustration with our country’s politics. Disillusionment with the major political parties has led to a reduced number of votes overall, the switch of popularity to a broader spectrum of candidates and, at the time of writing, we have a ‘technicoloured dreamcoat’ of representation. Here in the conurbation, the uncertainty of what administration is going to be leading our newly created BCP Council will be generating even more concern amongst businesses who simply don’t know how decisions will be made in the months to come.

I really hope a positive, collaborative approach will evolve and our newly-established councils across the county will take progressive steps to fulfil the potential we have here.


Change is definitely in the air. And it is something to be embraced not feared. Our businesses need to move forward, not stand still, to allow this racing time to sustain our success. I attended an industry conference recently, which is something I haven’t done for some time. It’s easy to rule this sort of thing out – ‘I haven’t got the time, clients need attention, deadlines are looming’ – but I am really glad I dedicated that precious time.


The PR and communications industry has seen enormous change, as many others have in the past 10 years – the way we work, and have to think, has evolved beyond recognition to my early days of Liz Lean PR in the late 90’s. It was reassuring to be in the room with the big hitting London PR agencies and in-house corporate teams mirroring our own experiences and challenges and seeing how they are adapting. It’s a good feeling to know you’re not doing too badly; we are ahead of the curve in many areas!


Our client work takes us into a hugely diverse media domain as we navigate national, regional as well as local journalists on a daily basis. We seek awareness for our clients from the big national newspapers, to high following social influencers and rely on relationships and goodwill with our media contacts to share our stories with the world. But the media is moving and in many areas shrinking with the array of digital choices now available to readers and consumers.


Ironically as new generations absorb news and information very differently, there remains a huge appetite for young people to enter the world of journalism – albeit they are heading into diverse branches of the digital arena. Their media landscape will be a whole new world to what we have known, and I’m personally excited about that. Change is good as long as it’s embraced.


As part of this big picture the view of the world through the eyes of our young people needs to be understood and accommodated – without judgement – to get the best from them. High on our agenda at LLPR, but also well debated at the conference, was how as employers we need to adjust to young team members who simply think differently. Having a multi generational team myself it is fascinating to see what switches one individual on really does nothing for another. Young people have less fear in sharing their feelings and opinions, they insist on a broader mindset from management to allow them to succeed. And when they feel nourished in the right environment evolved for them, they seriously fly. Our Gen Z and Millennials can be seriously misunderstood and, therefore, we have seen a great response to our youth insight service, Digipigz – a glimpse into the mind of 16-24 year olds to help brands develop, whether that be creating authentic and effective campaigns, understanding their lingo or adapting workplace culture to attract and retain young, ambitious talent. Clients have been surprised at how wrong their predictions of what would resonate with a young person in 2019 could be!


To sign off I want to mention how great it was to see Chambers of Commerce represented on a dynamic stage at the PR conference. It was a pleasure to meet and listen to Charandeep Singh, who is deputy chief executive and head of external relations at Scotland Chambers of Commerce. They are a great example – as I believe we are at Dorset Chamber – of a progressive and punchy business support network that really kicks back at that ‘old school, boys club’ perception. I, for one, am very proud to be a part of the new chapter….


Enjoy the long, and hopefully balmy days.

Until the next edition….



Will, the office manager at Liz Lean PR, gives his thoughts on the BCP Cultural Enquiry and his attendance at the first public meeting.

Will, the office manager at Liz Lean PR, gives his thoughts on the BCP Cultural Enquiry and his attendance at the first public meeting.

The journey has started… so don’t miss the bus, train or Uber (we can but wish!)

There’s a buzz in the air, and it’s not just the early arrival of bees! The areas of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole are entering into one of the most impactful eras of recent history, and we all have the opportunity to help steer the direction this goes. Sounds good right? Real democracy in the making!! Thankfully Liz Lean had been made aware of the imminent enquiry, but why hadn’t we, the people ‘on the Clapham omnibus’ not heard more about this before? While the major figures in the AUB, Lighthouse, Arts Council England and many other cultural bodies in the area have had this close to their hearts lately, the message to the masses has been a bit slow to get out there. Until now!

With the setting up of the Cultural Enquiry website for BCP ( and the Twitter hashtag #culturalenquiry2019, the word is starting to spread, but it needs to pick up pace if it is really going to make the sort of dent on the cultural and social issues that bubble up time and time again – how we engage with culture over such a widespread area – where that information is shared (hopefully before the event actually takes place) and how we get there to enjoy it.

The first enquiry event, hosted at the Pavilion in Bournemouth on Tuesday February 26th, showed there is real drive to ‘grab the bull by the horns’ and ensure we make the most of this amazing opportunity – the chance to guide how the area under BCP will keep, attract, showcase, nurture and present a viable and accessible spectrum of culture. Yet how do we move beyond the ‘1951 view’ (as one of the attendees politely put it) of the area as being ONLY about tourism and the summer surge of people flocking to our sandy shores??

The ‘newly-wed and nearly dead’ negative catchphrase that I had been fed about the Bournemouth and Poole area before I moved here from London a few months ago, sadly still in the air, was alluded to during the two hour meeting, but with a nod to how the younger population need to be central in the conversation about cultural engagement. But how best to do this? That’s the pivotal dilemma surrounding this entire process – until the room is full of people who are under 30, who will be here to enjoy the full benefits from this massive opportunity, there is an element of frustration.

On a more positive note, and something that gave much inspiration during the meeting, was the huge strength of belief in the entire area (and the population here) to provide the perfect backdrop for a ‘St Tropez- style lifestyle’ on our own coast. One attendee asked why we are not already doing this. The answer? The conversation that needs to bring together those who own and run the shorefront and those who wish to develop the pop-up food and drink culture and the beach front bars, actually on the sand, need to be brought up again – with a view to offering a more established and year-round place to enjoy great food and wine with the amazing backdrop we are lucky to enjoy. As this is a big change from the status quo, all parties need to discuss this and reach an accord that offers both progress and stability.

Café Culture, pop-up eateries, evening dining by the sea and small shacks serving quality food and drinks are sure to be used by locals more and more, all year round, as well as the summer surge of visitors to the area. How great would it be to be able to head to the shore, enjoy a snack and drink (I resist calling it aperitivo, for now!) and soaking up the amazing coastline that we all love? And what if there was an easy way to get there and back that didn’t cost the earth? – we all know how expensive travel can be, with parking costs being prohibitive for some or having to get a bus or two hardly fills us with joy! – so encouraging travel options like Uber could be a great way to tie together the spread out nature of the towns, points of interest and new ventures that will come from this cultural enquiry.

What if there was a centralised place to find out what was going on there and then benefits of such loyalty…. An app? A website? Podcasts? Community engagement? Or all of the above? This would certainly help ensure the vast wealth of cultural events that we have now, and those that thrive under the new joint councils, are well advertised and, as a result, well attended. A great result for everybody!

We all hear about how the local area suffers from an employment draw to London or Bristol, but how do we change this? What is key in attracting skilled workers and families to Bristol and London? What does this area not offer, or not appear to offer, those people who leave? The salary? Some say that’s money is the deciding factor, but I disagree! Having actively chosen to travel the other direction and set up life in the Poole area, I can say that it is only a part of the equation. Of course the cinemas, theatre, restaurants, events, community and diversity are all huge factors in the decision-making process for those heading to the bright lights of London or Bristol, but we have that here too – just not yet as cohesive and apparent – but we can all bring this together and make it gel.

So if we can really get this right, and now, we can not only reverse that ‘magnetic pull’, we can attract and, more importantly, keep a population that will enjoy the diverse and culturally-rich heritage we have here and they can build upon it to make the St Tropez lifestyle real, and on our doorstep.

The overall picture is that we are missing the comprehensive tools to engage the wider area, geographically and in terms of demographic – and this is essential if we are going to make this work now, in the future and forever! NOW is the time to get on board and really make a change, you have a voice, so let’s use it to make a real difference.

Visit to book your tickets and have your say in your future. It is democracy in the making and you can make a positive impact on this area, the future and the outcome.


2019 – Liz’s Outlook

2019 – Liz’s Outlook

With our local authorities merging this spring, the Brexit deadline imminent (whatever shape or form that ends up being) and DCCI’s 70th anniversary, there is a lot going on during my presidential year!

I have been quite outspoken about the issues which concern me and the areas where I feel passionate about trying to make a difference. Dorset is a fantastic place to do business, and it has certainly served us at Liz Lean PR well, but we are often not credited as the vibrant place to live and work which it deserves. I am fortunate to have grown up in Cornwall which has so many creative and positive associations; I would love nothing more for Dorset to have its own identity which positions it clearly on a global map.

As a result I am seriously excited to hear about the Cultural Enquiry for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, aimed to shape a new creative future by looking at the role culture plays in people’s lives. A long-term vision for Culture is aimed to be at the heart of the UK’s newest City Region. Supported by Arts Council England, it is a high level, heavyweight exploration and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it.  But this needs all our input – use the opportunity to look it up and contribute where you can. We have a serious skills shortage; the creative industries need to attract talent from other major parts of the UK. We are not going to do that if we do not have an appealing, cutting edge and stimulating environment to offer them. I have strongly believed for a long time that to attract and retain talent, which fuels our economy and reputation as a region, we have to get our cultural approach right. I am hoping this might get us on track to enhance the wonderful assets we already have to really create something special.

Another aspect I have been vocal about is the need to address wellbeing and stress in the workplace. I have been overwhelmed with the response, particularly to this issue across the business community. It is obviously something very close to people’s hearts and we need to discuss it more openly and make changes in our personal and professional lives to manage it.

I have my own experiences which I am quite open about. And I witnessed from a very early age the impact that stress in business has; watching my dad flying in and out of our home running his business whilst sitting on all sorts of boards and committees. He enjoyed a position of steer and leadership for years, and ironically was also Chairman of Truro City Chamber of Commerce for some time. Sadly his business partnership became challenged when I was 10 years old and I believe it is no coincidence that he developed angina and died, pretty much in my arms in our back garden on Good Friday, of a fatal heart attack within two years of that. These experiences shape us, give us drive to succeed, and you could say happen for a reason. We need to learn from them. Managing stress and admitting defeat from time to time does not make you a failure or ineffective leader or team member. If you lose your mojo, it’s OK. It’s normal. And we should feel empowered to ask for help. I endear us all to do a sense check for burn out and do something fast to manage it.

I look forward to writing more in Capital about my year as it evolves and to meeting more of the business community in the process. Come and find me, there’s always lots to talk about, collaborate on and experiences to share!





(Copy first appeared in Capital Magazine, January 2019)