Author Archives: Ben Cross

My Year of Running

Running has taken over my life this year. From taking part in 10 races in 2018, including the Liverpool Half-Marathon, Southport 10k, Run for Rhys 5k and the Liverpool Santa Dash, I have lost over 2 stone in weight since January. In addition, my year in running has given me some proud memories, which I would like to share with you as 2018 draws to a close.

It was back in January when I set myself the goal of running the BTR Liverpool Half-Marathon. By running that race for the first time ever, I was out of my comfort zone, but at the same time relishing and energised by the challenge of pushing myself. Looking back, it was a proud and rewarding experience for me, even if I had to perform through the pain barrier, and I would gladly repeat the experience again. I say this because crossing that finishing line in under 3 hours was a great feeling, and I am convinced this was when I knew I had caught the running bug.

Another pleasure was the opportunity of experiencing such delightful scenery. This is because running has allowed me to take in some picturesque views of the River Mersey, the lush outdoors of Croxteth Park, and the Three Graces of Liverpool. As I have pounded the pavements and off-road tracks, seeing such fine sights through my own eyes has been a lovely treat.

Through the races and training, I have also learned about running in different weather conditions. This year, I have run in conditions where the weather has been either very hot or cold. When I ran the Southport 10k in July, the weather was very hot, meaning I had to adjust my running style to suit the conditions, by pacing myself and keeping hydrated.

In comparison, the Run for Rhys 5k was on a day of torrential rain and winds. This meant the course in Croxteth Park was full of mud, fallen leaves and big puddles, making it extremely difficult. On reflection, I was glad to have done the run, if only to experience the feeling of running when it is very wet and windy.

In addition to the races, I have done plenty of running in the countryside as part of my training, which has been extremely enjoyable. An example was back in October, when I ran 7 miles from Ormskirk all the way back to my house. This was on a cool Saturday morning, and my route took me past Edge Hill University, through the village of Bickerstaffe, and all the way back home. I also vividly remember being surrounded by blue skies, hanging clouds and being surrounded by peaceful countryside. Running along the pavements and open roads surrounded by silence, I can honestly say it was pure bliss!

There has been plenty that I have learned from my year of running. I have learned that anything is possible when you put your mind to something you want to achieve. Secondly I have also learned that training and preparation is important, and that you need to be courageous and willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Finally I have also learned is that running is not just good for losing weight, but it is useful for relieving stress. This is because after a hectic day, I enjoy going for a quick run, as it helps me to mentally clear my head of stress and doubts, and allows me to calmly think more clearly with perspective, and it makes me feel good about myself. I also find running outdoors to be rather meditative.

And that’s all I have to say about my year of running. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experiences and also what I have learned from them. Rest assured that I will be keeping up the habit, and will be looking forward to more running exploits in 2019.

In the meantime, I would like to wish all you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Thanks for reading!

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Weightmans Wednesday – ABS Solutions

Health and fitness is important to everyone. There are so many gyms and other fitness establishments that offer services to customers looking to exercise for various reasons, which is why the fitness industry is currently booming. Like any other business however, fitness establishments need to have their individual style or brand to attract customers.

At last month’s Weightmans Wednesday bi-monthly event, I was delighted to listen to Connor O’Brien the founder of Absolute Body Solutions (ABS), talk about the story of his business. It was a very good story too, from opening the first gym in Speke, to the latest gyms in Liverpool City Centre, and also recently in Manchester. In addition, Connor also talked about the rigorous attention to detail involved with ensuring the business performs and delivers the highest quality personal fitness training to customers. Listening to Connor speak, I recognised the crucial qualities of relentless hard-work, a strong emphasis of quality and consistency of performance when delivering services to customers, as well as Connor’s own passion for fitness.

For myself, I had a particular interest in this event, and of what I could learn from it. The result from listening to Connor’s story, was that I learned of the difficulties of being a good personal trainer and business person, because there are so many responsibilities involved with running both the front and back-end functions of the business. From the personal training of clients, to looking after the finance, marketing, as well monitoring the performance and continual development of the 19 personal trainers employed by ABS, I can only imagine and admire the tremendous work and dedication of everyone involved, that goes into making the business successful. This is why a key takeaway for any business owner is to surround themselves with the right people.

Connor also talked about how the fitness industry is changing. This involved the growth of online platforms such as YouTube to deliver personal training online to a wider audience. In the long term, I believe it will be interesting to see how gyms and personal trainers make use of online platforms. However technology will need to be tailored to suit the needs of gyms, personal trainers and their clients.

Overall it was a very good event, with plenty for me to take away and ponder for myself. This is because I came away thinking about my own self-improvement in my work and personal life, learning new methods and consistently applying them to develop as a person and as a professional.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Connor for sharing his story, and also to everyone at Weightmans for coming together, to organise and deliver an interesting evening.

Ignite Liverpool 19th September – A Review

Liverpool is a city bursting with creativity. With storytellers of innovative and many creative minds, full of stories and interesting projects, there is so much Liverpool has to offer. Some local gems however lie beneath the surface like hidden treasure just waiting to be discovered.

I am saying this because I would like to share with you my thoughts on last month’s Ignite Liverpool event at Leaf on Bold Street, which I attended for the very first time. Similar to TED Talks, Ignite Liverpool is a bi-monthly event that allows creators, innovators, shakers, thinkers, dreamers, and other storytellers and doers, a five minute opportunity each to speak about a subject they are passionate about. As somebody who enjoys listening to stories, I was only too delighted to listen, and I was not disappointed by the content.

What impressed me greatly was the wide and eclectic mix of people who spoke about various subjects. Each talk was different and interesting, with topics ranging from the Kalman Filter, the Wapentake of Wirral, the hidden history of the Argentine Tango, and the connection between the 3’Ps (Palm Oil, Peanut Butter and Peat) and the loss of habitat for orangutans in the Tropics. Looking back, I found these to be enlightening and interesting enough to give me food for thought for some creative ideas, that I may even consider writing or talking about in the future.

I can honestly say that attending Ignite Liverpool was a worthwhile experience, which I gladly recommend to anyone. Just to hear so many stories from members of the community from all walks of life, who spoke about their subjects with passion and also emotion at times, is a wonderful reminder of why I love the city of Liverpool.

To conclude, I shall say that if you love watching TED Talks and being inspired by new ideas, then Ignite Liverpool is too good an opportunity to miss. For me personally, I am looking forward to attending more of these events, and to be creatively inspired.

You can even view a recording of the event on Ignite Liverpool’s official YouTube channel.

Enjoy and be inspired!

Liverpool Tester Gathering – Featuring Lisa Crispin

Having enjoyed and learned plenty about testing from the previous Liverpool Tester Gathering event, I was delighted to attend last week’s event at Avenue HQ. The featured speaker was Lisa Crispin, a well known and famous tester, in the world of agile testing.

Since 1982, Lisa has worked extensively as a programmer, analyst, engineer and tester, with many organisations. Therefore with such experience gained from an incredible journey, I was intrigued to learn more and I was not disappointed.liverpool_tester_gathering_sept2018_3

The event began with a lively and welcoming introduction by Leigh Rathbone from Liverpool Tester Gathering. I was greatly impressed with how Leigh introduced the evening with warmth, humour and a vibrant enthusiasm, creating an atmosphere of positive energy that swamped and caught the audience’s attention. Such an introduction certainly helped to set the feel good tone for the evening.

Listening to Lisa share her testing knowledge and experiences, there was plenty that I learned about testing simply from listening to her stories. What I learned was testing is more than just using technical tools, as it is also about human interaction, through the power of collaborative working. This is because agile testing of applications is paramount, and affects everybody who interacts with them, meaning that testing requires teamwork, collaboration and winning the hearts and minds of people. Therefore testing is the responsibility of everyone!

I also learned that testing requires the following:

  1. The courage to experiment, keep learning and push yourself.
  2. Willingness to use your beginners mind and curiosity to ask questions.
  3. Acknowledging and learning from your team and other people.
  4. Knowing when to stop testing.
  5. Understanding skills and knowledge can be transferred by asking questions, writing documentation, team activities, switching roles, video blogging and shadowing colleagues.
  6. Learning through self education including meetups, round table sessions, online courses, digital content, social media and peer learning.

Audience members also had the opportunity to take part in a lightning talk. This was a three minute slot where volunteers could talk about any subject they feel passionate about, so I took the opportunity to talk about blogging to share stories aliverpool_tester_gathering_sept2018_4nd knowledge with others. I admit I felt the nerves beforehand as giving an unscripted three-minute talk was daunting, but I kept calm and spoke clearly and to the point with confidence. It seemed to go down very well, as I received applause from the audience, and also a person asked me afterwards for advice on blogging, of which I was happy to help.

There were other volunteers who took part in the lightning talks. One talked about the importance of caring and sharing knowledge and expertise, and another talked about the importance of sharing domain business knowledge with colleagues. Such talks encapsulated the whole theme of the evening and spoke volumes of the Liverpool Tester Gathering community.

I would like to thank Leigh Rathbone, Duncan Nisbet, Chris Thacker and Philip Hughes from Liverpool Tester Gathering, for organising the event. In addition, my thanks also go to Lisa Crispin for sharing her testing expertise and knowledge, Stephen Johnson of ROQ for sponsoring the event, and to American Pizza Slice for providing such incredibly delicious pizza!

If you are interested in testing, technology or digital, I recommend these events wholeheartedly, and you can follow Liverpool Tester Gathering on Twitter and YouTube.

BTR Liverpool Run for Rhys 5k – My Recollections

Last month over the Bank Holiday weekend, I took part in the BTR Liverpool Run for Rhys 5k event. Held in the lush surroundings of Croxteth Park, the purpose of this was to support the Rhys Jones Community Centre in Croxteth, setup to celebrate and honour Rhys’s memory after his tragic murder eleven years ago, which shocked Liverpool and the whole nation.

This was the first time I had taken part in the run, and I enjoyed it despite the heavy rainfall. Arriving at the start outside Croxteth Hall, there was a good crowd of runners taking part, along with representatives from Merseyside Police, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service, Radio City, and Everton in the Community, all giving their support. The weather certainly didn’t affect the positivity and feel good atmosphere, although there were a good number huddling inside the hall foyer to keep dry before the start. Who could blame them?

For me personally, the run was memorable for several reasons. From standing in the pouring rain in a sea of blue at the start, passing a loud mooing cow (no seriously!), stepping in a big puddle twice, to crossing the finishing line, my memories of the day were plentiful. In addition, I also remember the course being tougher then I anticipated, due to the rain, wind, mud, puddles and leaf stained track making this 5k run, the toughest I have ever done. This is because I had to concentrate and stay mentally sharp throughout, which as a runner was a useful and valuable experience.

Previously I had never completed a run in such conditions, so this was a new challenge I faced head-on. I was never dazed by this, and I managed to overcome the difficulties posed by the weather and complete the run in 34 minutes, which I was delighted to challenge and conquer. Despite being completely soaked to the skin, I really enjoyed the run, with the warm support and camaraderie among the runners and local crowds certainly gaving a warm buzz, to a wet Sunday morning in Croxteth. I would certainly do it all again whatever the weather brings.

I would like to thank BTR Liverpool, Rhys Jones Community Centre, Croxteth Park and to everyone else involved, including to Rhys’s family for organising and supporting the event. It was a very special day for the city of Liverpool, in not only supporting the centre, but also to honour and celebrate Rhys’s life.

Maghull Young Adults Social Club – Serving the Community

Volunteers are vital to the local community. Those who willingly volunteer for a noble cause to help and benefit local people are real heroes, who deserve to be recognised for their worthy deeds.

The reason why I say this, is that I am writing about the wonderful work of Michael and Viv Penn. Since 2002, they have run Maghull Young Adults Social Club (MYASC), which provides a monthly Friday night disco for young adults with learning disabilities in Maghull and the surrounding area. This club allows young adults to make new friends, socialize, take part in prize giving raffles, and to generally have fun in a nice and safe environment. Having been a member for over 15 years, the club has not only helped and transformed the lives and confidence of many people including myself, but I have also seen through my own eyes, how it has helped change the lives of others.

At last month’s club night in Maghull British Legion, Michael and Viv received a surprise presentation from the local branch of the Rotary Club. The presentation was the Paul Harris Fellowship award from the Rotary Foundation, for their tireless work in running MYASC, which was a lovely moment to witness, and I was delighted for them both. As I watched, I felt their immense pride by seeing them with their lovely medals, and of the delight of their son Jonathon. It was truly a wonderful and deserved achievement.maghull_young_adults

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Michael and Viv’s wonderful work with MYASC. Indeed two years ago, I was delighted to help repay this by taking part in the Scouse 5k run in Liverpool, where I raised £980 for MYASC. Even today, I still look forward to attending the club and catching up with my friends, and also enjoying a social chat with Michael, Viv and other volunteers.

To conclude, I would like to personally thank Michael and Viv for all they have done for me and the other MYASC members, past, present and future, and also for their well deserved achievement.

After Hours – Co-op Digital

Working in technology, I enjoy listening to the experiences of other professionals. These occasions allow me to learn from the experiences of others in technology, before applying them to my own work and sharing with others.

Recently I attended the first ever After Hours event at Avenue HQ, which was organised by Oh This Way (OH). This featured Gail Mellows and Matt Tyas of Co-op Digital, who talked about their experiences and how they have used the skills learned on their digital journey, to benefit Co-op Digital and their clients.

Listening to Gail and Matt speak, I picked up on several reoccurring themes. These included collaboration, experimentation, quality of content, and working with other people. These are very important themes required in every single industry, as well as in everyday life.

In addition, there were other useful pieces of advice, that l learned from the event. These correspond to the themes that I have already mentioned, and in the spirit of learning and sharing, I have included some of these below.

  1. Never assume what your customers want.
  2. Experiment with different ways of working.
  3. Use your skills from childhood (e.g. drawing, sketching with colours, or using Lego), to get your ideas across.
  4. Prototyping is the start of collaboration between designers, developers and customers.
  5. Duplication needs to be reduced as it causes inefficiency, is unfair on colleagues, and is ultimately bad for customers.
  6. Important to research thoroughly and involve everyone.
  7. Prototyping allows you to make mistakes safely, quickly and cheaply.
  8. Give teams the right tools to do their job.
  9. Content needs to be designed so that it is legible, readable and accessible to all.
  10. Content and customer needs dictate the design outcome.
  11. Good design should go unnoticed.
  12. Quality of content is perceived by how a customer interacts with it.
  13. What you leave out is as important as what you include.
  14. Use the right words and not more words.
  15. Learn from what succeeded and failed.

To summarise what I have learned, content needs to meet the requirements stated by the customer. This is achieved by using different working methods, techniques and the right tools, to constantly experiment with various scenarios, before creating content that meets the required outcomes. As well as the above, content needs to meet quality standards, be accessible to everyone, is user-friendly, and based on strong foundations of thorough research and robust testing, from all relevant parties.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Robyn Dooley and Victoria Murray of OH for organising the event. My thanks also go to Gail and Matt from Co-op Digital for sharing their experiences, and also to Avenue HQ for hosting the event. This was an interesting and very useful discussion for me, and I am looking forward to the next After Hours event.

You can find out more about Co-op Digital’s work by looking at their blog.