How I Did It Session 1 - Piali Das Gupta

'I enjoyed how the session felt like a conversation instead of a talk'

Piali take 2

Last Wednesday evening, the first 'How I Did It' session took place, at Birmingham Hippodrome, with Piali Das Gupta talking to the ASTONish cohorts about her own leadership journey. The 'How I Did It' sessions are open and honest discussions with experts in their fields and it can't be emphasised enough how valuable these sessions are to giving the cohorts real insight into so many aspects of leadership and the contexts leaders across different sectors work in . The nature of the sessions allows the experts to really share the things that are helpful to others.

Piali Das Gupta is the Assistant Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council and we really appreciate her finding the time to come and talk to us. 

We spoke to some of the cohorts after the session to find out how it had been helpful and here are some of the responses;

'There has been lots of information. I'm looking at how to connect the information given to how it is relevant to me and how I can apply it'

'It's an eye opener. There's so much politics involved. Learning this helps me understand how I can navigate around and through it. If I understand it then I can really know how to think outside the box.'

'It reminded me to be active as a citizen, how important it is to vote. Also the importance of being creative with partnerships and funding. I enjoyed how the session felt like a conversation instead of a talk. It was interesting to find out the facts and have some myths busted.'


ASTONish EMERGE - The Journey Has Begun

Last Wednesday, the EMERGE cohort had their first sessions - "Getting Started".  

The first EMERGE session

The first EMERGE session

The session is all about new starts: it's the beginning of the training (formal) element of the programme, the first time the group have met as an EMERGE cohort and the content of the day focuses on where to start in building your creative business.

Where we start is vision.  Business vision, creative vision and artistic vision. When you go on a journey, you pick a destination, a place to aim for. If you just leave with no destination you're simply wandering like a nomad, you're not on a journey.

EMERGE Cohort Allison and Dean

Image credit Inès Elsa Dalal


Another feature of EMERGE sessions is that each week we hear from people in the creative and cultural industries. They share their insights on the theme of the day: it's probably one of the most valuable parts of the day.

In this session we heard from Allison Sadler for the People Shop and visual artist Dean Melbourne (who is co-facilitator on EMERGE). Here's some key points from their talks.

Allison Sadler -

Allison Sadler

Image credit Inès Elsa Dalal


  • She started to use social media to share some of the great work she was up to and give her more of a profile.
  • She shares in an authentic, genuine way and people respond to that - as her profile grew she got more offers - projects, commissions and magazine work.
  • Social media has its downsides too - don't let it consume or take over your life - take time away from it and find a balance that works for you and your business.


Dean Melbourne -

Dean Melbourne

Image credit Inès Elsa Dalal


  • When Dean went on a course in 2008 (that was the equivalent to EMERGE) he was related to as someone who had talent and was capable of success.  This was new.  It's much more empowering than being related to as someone who might (or would) fail.
  • His definition of success is "being in the right race" - that is to say if you have created a life that means you are participating in the thing that makes your heart sing, you are a success.
  • One of the best things that you can do for your community is to exceed expectations.  Being successful inspires young people and gives everyone something to be proud of.


The next session is about "Planning for Business" - from planning your time and projects to considerations of the bigger forces at play that may shape your future.


Assessing ASTONish

Photo Credit: Joshua Swetnam

Photo Credit: Joshua Swetnam

Last year Dr Annette Naudin from BCU led the assessment for our pilot initiative RE:Present which sought to transform the diversity of Birmingham's cultural leadership. This year she is joining us again to evaluate ASTONish. This will help us to see how the project is being effective in our aim of developing a diverse group of cultural and creative leaders and entrepreneurs who will be able to create high quality art within their community creating both high quality cultural experiences for audiences but equally to create a cultural ecology within Aston and Newtown 

We are delighted that BCU are working with us again to assess the project! 

Annette has recently written about this experience and her hopes for the new project here -

Welcome to ASTONish

Helga Henry welcomes the cohorts to ASTONish

Helga Henry welcomes the cohorts to ASTONish

ASTONish has officially begun! Last Wednesday the team and the cohorts met at Birmingham Hippodrome for an orientation evening. This was an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and for all the elements of the programme to be explained in more detail.

The evening began with introductions from Helga Henry, Lara Ratnaraja, Rebbecca Hemmings and Shekayla Maragh, the core ASTONish team.

This was followed by an icebreaker activity. Everyone was asked to introduce themselves and tell us which fictional or historical character they would be, and what brought them to the ASTONish programme. It was fascinating to hear who everybody would be, Cleopatra, David Bowie, Dora The Explorer to name a few, but on talking about why people had chosen to be part of the programme, it became very clear how passionate the cohorts are and how exciting this programme is going to be.  Many spoke about a desire to create a hub and community in Aston that goes out and collaborates with the rest of Birmingham, and also about creating social change in the community.

Helga Henry, Lara Ratnaraja and Fiona Allan

Helga Henry, Lara Ratnaraja and Fiona Allan

Fiona Allan, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Birmingham Hippodrome, spoke to the room about her own leadership journey, her vision for the theatre and her commitment to building diversity and creating change in the cultural landscape of the city. It was wonderful to hear her talk about making Birmingham Hippodrome a place where the brand value ‘Everyone’s Welcome’ really means that. She mentioned that ASTONish is one of the most exciting programmes at Birmingham Hippodrome right now!

Dr.  Annette Naudin and Millicent Chapanda spoke about how they will be evaluating the ASTONish programme, how they will be gaining insights along the way at different stages.

The room was buzzing by the end of the evening, this is the beginning of a journey and we can’t wait to see what ripples it creates.