Coast NEL: Julia Thompson

Julia Thompson has been the voluntary chair of Coast North East Lincolnshire since it was founded early in 2016 to grow the visitor economy on the coast by encouraging partnerships between the public and the private sector. The organisation could become crucial as Lincolnshire – which voted to Leave the EU – receives less funding for tourism from Europe.

Who are you and what do you do?
I chair CoastNEL. I am also a member of Visitor Economy and Services Retail, a community interest company in Lincolnshire that was formed to develop and grow the VESR sector across the region. Separately, I am director of my own business, East Coast Pictures.

I worked in London and Manchester for 20 years in television and was Director of Entertainment at Sony Pictures and a producer for Simon Cowell and ITV. I decided to move back to Cleethorpes in 2007 after I saw that everything was moving online and wanted to support my family more.

At East Coast Pictures, we produce videos for online and social media for businesses and organisations like Youngs Seafood, Phillips 66 and other small, local busineses. My employees use it as a launchpad into the TV industry. We’ve had crew go to join Simon Cowell, BBC and ITV.

What’s the point of Coast NEL?
The aim is to grow the visitor economy within North East Lincolnshire through a partnership of voluntary, private and public sector in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

How do you fit it in?
Juggling a lot! There are a lot of meetings involved. If I wasn’t running my own business it would be quite tricky to do, but it’s just committment and that mindset that if the area does well then as residents and businesses we all do well. I love my home. 

When you work away and see what other places have achieved you come back home you think: “We could do that here.”

What’s been your proudest moment?
Seeing the launch of Discover NEL in 2014, which is the brand that showcases the best of North East Lincolnshire. I’m proud of the impact that has had, helping change the way people perceive our area to be. It helps give people pride in the area.

What’s been the hardest moment?
You have to be quite a strong leader. You have people who are passionate about the local area in the room, and you have to keep everyone focussed on the big picture while balancing public and private sector mentalities. Business people work quickly and can make decisions independently, but in public work people go through a chain of command. There are strengths of both approaches and working in partnership can create something even better, it can work really well.

What keeps you going?
Chocolate! No, it’s the personalities, because there are some great, passionate characters here. Working in partnership you can speak honestly, without any fear of it being used against you. We have some very honest discussions within our meetings, because people know what they say stays in the room and they are able to voice their concerns and fears freely.

What’s next?
We’re just sitting here on the edge of our seat waiting for this Coastal Communities bid.

We put in a bid for £3.8 million from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund and we should find out mid to late March if we were successful. I had meetings today because we’re preparing for if we don’t get it and much as if we do. Whatever happens we want to move quickly.

Because it’s a new fund, there have been various conversations going through the finer detail of everything. The money sits with the local authorities, the legal person on the forms is the chief executive of the council because the money sits in the council’s bank account. There will be a formal procurement process that has to happen.

For events there will be a document written and businesses will come forward to bid for contracts but the council doesn’t decide that process on their own, it involves the CoastNEL partnership. That process of the council working in partnership with business people in the procurement process is new.

How did you vote in the EU referendum and why?
As a region we voted to leave, but I voted remain.

I voted remain because I am a great believer in partnerships. The world works better that way. With good relationships we can achieve more than standing on our own.

In the modern world we’re not an empire any more and it makes sense to keep that union, so I couldn’t believe when I saw the news. But now we’ve decided to go I think we should go for it. We’ve made up our minds, let’s get on with it.

How will the result impact what you do?
We’ll get less European funding and probably less public funding for the tourism sector. Public funding should be spent on child protection, families, that sort of thing.

From what I’ve seen, in tourism you can speak to your private sector partners to pick up some of the need, as you can with other industries like food processing.

Public resources should be used in core council services like supporting children and families and policing.

Councils are having to look towards partnerships with private sector because they don’t have the resources centrally any more they used to have.

What does community mean to you?
Everybody being on the same team and working together whatever age they are. Even getting teenagers involved. Everyone fighting for their own patch.

What would you say to someone looking to do what you do?
Change is good, strong relationships are good, being honest is good. Don’t be afraid to be honest within partnership working, you need trust between the public sector and the private sector. If you have those things, you can punch above your weight and bring the public, private and voluntary sector together. There is a lot of change that can happen without a big budget. Getting people to work together can make a difference. It doesn’t always need money.

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