I’m a member of Enterprise Nation, a fantastic organisation that helps tens of thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Over the last year, I’ve attended many of their monthly meetups and weekly online masterclasses, listened to their member podcast series, attended several of their meet the buyer/expert events, and even travelled to Paris with them on an export trade mission. Plus they’ve become one of my customers, buying my coffee for one of their own events. So when I received an email from them inviting me to Number 10 (Downing Street, that is), I was genuinely thrilled at the opportunity.
Of course my first thought was about the PR opportunity. Could I get the Prime Minister to try my coffee? Could I get a photo opportunity in front of that iconic door? But as I continued to read the email, I realised this wasn’t just going to be a tourist trip. We were to meet the prime minister's business adviser, Jimmy McLoughlin, to share our views on the UK enterprise environment. Great! So what views did I have about the UK’s enterprise environment? It’s too early days for me to be complaining about business taxes, or export duties, or even the impact of Brexit. In fact, I’ve been really impressed with the level of support available to new businesses. Whether from local government or government supported organisations, there’s loads of help out there and perhaps my only gripe would be making it easier to know what’s available.
So as the day approached, I made my way to London and to a hotel lobby around the corner from Downing Street, to meet the other 15 business owners from the South West who would also be sharing their views. We introduced ourselves, chatted for a bit and then Enterprise Nation founder, Emma Jones (MBE no less), led us excitedly towards Downing Street. We reached the main gate, ready for our security checks and this is where it all started to feel a bit surreal for me.
The heavily armed policeman checking our ID was such a friendly chap, enquiring where we were from and chatting away. Not that he shouldn’t have been friendly of course but perhaps was in stark contrast to the weaponry he was carrying and the ‘plebgate’ controversy a few years back. We then proceeded to what can only be described as a small hut for security screening – just like airport security. Then, and this was the most surreal bit, as we filed out of the security hut one after another, I found myself walking up Downing Street, completely alone, with only the obligatory policeman standing outside of the Number 10 door. Having seen that street and that door on TV countless times, I was now in the middle of it, alone, surrounded by an eerie silence. Weird!
As I approached ‘the door’ it magically opened and I could see some of my fellow Enterprise Nation members inside, checking in their laptops and phones. The entrance hall wasn’t overly grand, actually quite homely, and once we had relieved ourselves of any electronic devices we were led by one of Downing Street’s staff to where we were due to meet. And here came another surprise…Number 10 is a maze of corridors. hidden away tiny staircases and multiple offices for government staff . We twisted and turned and climbed the odd step or two until we arrived in a wood panelled room filled with a large table able to seat about 30 people. We later found out that the room we were due to meet in was busy so they put us in the State Dining Room instead! Complete with chandelier and silverware (which we weren’t allowed to touch!). I could only imagine which politicians, heads of state and other personalities had sat in the same place I now was.
Surrealness aside, we were there to meet the prime minister's business adviser, Jimmy McLoughlin, who promptly arrived with his special advisor. Both completely normal chaps, I’m guessing in their late 30s/early 40s, doing probably quite difficult jobs; being in the middle of receiving feedback from the UK’s business leaders and trying to influence politicians to act on that feedback. After an introduction from Jimmy and a round of introductions from all of the Enterprise Nation members, Emma cleverly facilitated feedback from the members about a range of subjects; from local business support, to supply chain challenges, to apprenticeships and Brexit, of course. Jimmy was there to listen, so there were no revelations (certainly not about Brexit) and after just over an hour the meeting was brought to a close and we started to venture back through the maze.
We took a different route back to the front door and impressively, went down the Grand Staircase, where the walls are lined with portraits of every British Prime Minister in chronological order. On reappearing back at the entrance hall to collect our gadgets, we were prevented from leaving via the front door as a petition was being delivered to the Prime Minister (she wasn’t actually there). So we were led to another exit, which turned out to be the front door of Number 11 Downing Street – the buildings are connected by the maze of corridors and staircases so feels like a bit of a Tardis on the inside.
So that was my curious visit to Number 10. Of course I got the PR shot I was after of me and my coffee in front of that famous door. Plus I left some coffee for the PM but am still waiting for her to tweet about it!
Where has your most curious visit been?
Jason Nichols, Founder, New Kings Coffee