As you almost certainly know by now, on December 6th 2013, dBx Acoustics Ltd was invited to Downing Street as part of our involvement with Small Business Saturday.
My plan to avoid nerves got off to a great start, as I went out with some old colleagues the night before. This meant I overslept and didn’t have time to be nervous…or straighten my hair, get stressy about which dress to wear, paint my nails, or consider the folly of wearing heels all day in London.
Someone had the very clever idea of setting up a LinkedIn group for the attendees, which meant that we had the chance to get to know each other a bit before the big day. Someone then had the even better idea of meeting in the pub beforehand, and it wasn’t hard to spot the equally nervous small biz owners when I walked in! The first person I talked to had travelled up from Cornwall that morning, and the next was from Manchester, so within minutes I felt at home.
We decided it was time to mount our assault on Downing Street, so left en-masse and approached the famous Downing Street gates. Passports out, and whispered jokes about not insulting the policemen. Clearly I have reached “that age” as there was a very young, sweet-faced officer on duty with a very large gun, giving the impression that he would apologise profusely before he shot you!
We were corralled into a small area to the side, gossiped with a less scary policeman for a few minutes, then a quick check of the list vs the ID, through airport style security, and we were IN!
At this point it became a little bit like giddy kids on a school trip – there we were in the middle of the street, no idea quite what we were meant to do but…well, you know, there was that door, and a photo opp. It had to be taken, didn’t it.
Downing Street is probably the only place in London where you can drop your handbag and coat on the pavement and be sure it will still be there when you get back. The policeman from the doorway stepped aside, guarded our stuff, and also took the time to point out the South African flag flying at half mast from the roof (this was the morning after Mandela’s death).
It was of course also necessary to take the opportunity to announce the dBx Acoustics budget (yes, it was getting very silly by now).
Fortunately at this point someone came out to get us and we were ushered into No 11 (we were too big a group for No 10, though we had a good gawk inside every time the door opened – it looked sumptuous). No 11 isn’t too shabby either – lovely red carpets, Georgian-style architecture, sweeping staircase with portraits of former Chancellors looking down on you. Mobile phones had to be left just inside the door, so sadly no photos from within (I also can’t publish my photos of “The Street” as apparently they include security features – we can only show you the doors).
Upstairs we were welcomed with soft drinks and various nibbles, including toasted sandwiches and sausage rolls – very down to earth. The view of the PM’s garden, and Horseguards Parade beyond, was impressive. Soon the circulating and mingling began – I met so many great people and interesting businesses that I won’t namecheck here for fear of leaving someone out, but it was a genuine pleasure to talk to all of them and hear their stories. Some were like me, newcomers to self employment, but others had been doing it for themselves for 20+ years, and hearing their stories and perspectives on the current climate was both fascinating and instructive.
We weren’t expecting any “celebrities”, but we were welcomed by Matthew Hancock MP, Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise. Eventually the SBS Bus arrived in Downing Street too, the room became much more crowded, and we also got to listen to and thank the organisers of Small Business Saturday for all their efforts. It sounds like they were only having a short break before getting on with planning the 2014 campaign, but I think they were as giddy and surprised as the rest of us to find themselves part of the day.
Just as we started to speculate on whether it was time to leave and how they would signal it, in swept George Osborne – immediately besieged by a host of small business owners wanting to get a photo, an endorsement, or a word in. Interestingly, the feeling in the room was very positive, although the social media response from my friends afterwards indicated that he’d have had a very different response if they had been present! And then the strategy for getting us out of the building was revealed…let’s all go outside for a photo! Smart. You’d think they do this sort of thing all the time.
As well as the group photo, I got my own moment with the Chancellor – and politics aside, I have to say he was very charming, and good natured, despite being effectively mugged by people. He even grabbed someone’s phone and took a selfie with them, and as you’ll see from the pictures below, I was “papped” during my own moment with him.
More photos, more running up and down the street like kids, and eventually we accepted that it was time to go…although as the policeman on the gate noted, “You two were the first ones in and the last ones out. I knew you’d be trouble”. Then to the pub for a bit of a recap and “I can’t believe we just did that” conversation. This was the point where I realised that heels had been a bad idea, and ended up walking through Trafalgar Square barefoot in search of a shoe shop. Unfortunately all I could find was an Ugg store, which I couldn’t afford (I’m self employed!), so I ended up getting some fluffy slippers in Accessorize instead. I’m sure nobody noticed on the tube…
All in all it was an amazing day and a great experience, one I won’t forget. I always told people I would get to Downing Street although I will confess this isn’t QUITE what I originally had in mind. The ambition for 2014 is to get to a garden party at Buck House.