As part of our Basing Folk campaign and to celebrate International Men's Day, we spoke to influential men from around Basingstoke Town Centre. One of these was Neil Churchill, Centre Director at Festival Place.
What is your current role?
Centre Director at Festival Place.
What’s the most interesting part of your role?
I suppose it would be working with lots of different people in differing positions. My role is to oversee the entire management of Festival Place from a marketing, operational, investment point of view. We get to work with a myriad of people, and we also get to engage with the public. I think my favourite element is engaging with the public. They are the people that support us, who use us on a day to day basis. If it wasn’t for the public and our businesses Festival Place wouldn’t exist. That kind of level of engagement with our customers, understanding what their needs are and them bring elements of their life to Festival Place is an integral and enjoyable part to what we do.
What’s your most vivid memory of working in Basingstoke?
I actually went to BCOT (Basingstoke College of Technology), so I’ve had an association with Basingstoke since I was 16. My dad worked for I.B.M, and my mum worked for Marks and Spencer. I remember my dad picking up my mum after work and parking on Church Street, waiting for mum to come out the backdoors. I have very vivid memories of the town back then, going to the cinema and hanging out with friends. It was a very different time but an enjoyable time. Now I’ve been back in Basingstoke for a year or so, and the town is a very different place. My most recent vivid memory would have to be my first day back in the town. I’d forgotten what an amazing place Basingstoke is, how diverse it is, how prosperous it is. I got such a warm welcome from the team here and the various organisations that help make the town what it is.
What are the challenges for a man in your role?
I feel quite privileged that I don’t have too many challenges. I feel that in general men have fewer challenges than women, there is an imbalance there that needs to be addressed. I think a general challenge for guys is a misunderstanding of the vulnerabilities a man might be going through. The perception that as a man your strong and capable, but deep down, are we? We’re all human, on the surface it may all look great, but inside people might be struggling. Men and women both experience this level of vulnerability; it comes down to mental health and well-being. We ensure everyone has that opportunity to openly speak, share and talk about any concerns they have. For me, I’m in a position where I wonder who do I talk to? I’m in quite a senior role, so my challenge would be if I’m feeling like that, who’s the person that I can speak to? I think in a way, hagiarchy shouldn’t matter. I should be able to talk to anyone, and anyone should be able to talk to me. That’s what we are encouraging here, we look at it as peer to peer. There’s a challenge for everyone in feeling assured enough to talk to someone, and not feeling like you’ll be judged. I think we still have some way to go with this. There’s still a concern that as soon as you share something or your feelings, you may be seen as weak. We need to overcome that need to feel your always strong and capable when the reality is you’re not always.
What advice would you give young men starting their careers?
Follow your passion and dreams. Life is really short, if you have a passion or desire to do something, try and achieve it. I’ve got some regrets in life, I’ve always wanted to climb Mount Everest! I know I’m never going to accomplish that, however, I have managed to climb many metaphorical mountains instead! They might not be Everest but just as rewarding. So, follow your passion and never have any regrets. Before you jump into a career that will tie you down, get as much experience as possible. Whether it’s life experience or work experience, try it all before you commit. I went the long route through my education, I’ve never believed education was an essential aspect. I think it’s having the will and the desire. For me, people can always be trained and taught, but attitude is a huge part of it. If you have the right combination of those, training and education can come second. For me, that was definitely the case. I qualified as a chartered surveyor while I was working because at the time. I didn’t feel I had the mental maturity to go to University. I needed to be working and keeping active. When I realised that to move forward, I needed to demonstrate that competence and professionalism, it was a matter of saying how do I go about that. I had a very supportive employer. That’s the thing, you do your best in your role and you will get rewarded. It can be through support, further education and training. For a young man in this day and age, bearing in mind I’m nearly 50, I would say don’t pin yourself down to quickly. Give yourself lots of options and follow your dreams.