Like the two-faced Roman god Janus, after whom the current month is named, now seems an appropriate time to look back at the previous year and forward to what lies ahead – or what we think lies ahead.
In modern times we tend to restrict Janus to New Year duties, but in fact he had more to do back in the day. Janus was the god of doors and gates, real and metaphorical. He’s the go-to god of transitions. Not that we’re quite at the exit door from the hell that was 2020 just yet, no matter what the calendar says. Our hand is on the disinfected door handle, but we’re not quite in a position to close it behind us, leaning our weight as if to keep the invisible monster from attacking us again.
What did we do in The Wisdom Factory CIC in 2020? Well, we survived, and that’s something, isn’t it? Nobody lost their job or their home or their health, mental or physical. We zoomed and WFH’d with the rest of you, and continue to do so.
In hard numeric terms the client base for our main product, BIDBase, stayed pretty much stable, unlike the steady growth of the previous three years. We lost a few, but we also gained a few. UK Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have had a torrid year, like the businesses they represent. Some had to go more-or-less into stasis as the heat of the pandemic scorched the business environment, slashing revenues and the ability for businesses to pay the levy that BIDs use to improved their districts. Some were able to rise to the occasion, setting up one-stop shops for COVID-19 related information for their businesses, keeping an eye on shuttered premises and preparing for periodic attempts at ‘re-opening’, only to close again within weeks. The difference was often nothing to do with BIDs themselves and could be simply a matter of timing of levy collection. From our perspective, it led to conversations with existing clients along the lines of “we can’t afford to keep BIDBase anymore” and new ones along the lines of “we really need something like BIDBase to manage and keep track of the good work we’re trying to do in our town.” The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
To those clients who stayed the course despite the grim times – thank you.
The timing of the first lockdown was never going to be good, but it worked particularly badly for many of the groups, social enterprises and charities that we support with micro-grants each year. Most had already planned their activities for summer 2020 – and their funding applications – before the wicked overlap of lockdown and our grant window became apparent. The outcome was that we were able to make grants to only two organisations in 2020, whose planned activities seemed to align with lockdown rules:
- St Mary’s Hospice: A previous grant recipient, they requested help toward procuring a new Emergency Nurse Call Alarm System.
- GINA: Again a previous grant recipient, they asked for support in producing a workbook aimed at survivors of sexual violence, which is now published.
We continued developing BIDBase 3.0 despite having no clear idea of when we would be best placed to launch it. We still don’t; ‘spring’ is my nonchalant reply if anyone asks me. Work on Factotum and Udaemon has progressed a little, but not enough for me to talk about either in public.
There is so much to do in this country to make life better, but, ever the optimist, I believe it is in our power to do it, with or without the help of the systems, institutions and governments that are supposed to be there for us. Work is needed on rebuilding the shattered economy, on making a fairer society, on mitigating climate change and on reducing the divisions among us that just serve to make us less effective – to name just four massive items in the national in-tray. Let’s get stuck in.