#PeoplePlacePlay – Community Prototyping in #Leeds

It all started with an invitation from Playful Leeds to join a group of like-minded folk.

sharing stories, open space workshops and practical prototyping in a day

On a slightly gray day in April, we converged on ODI Leeds and turned our minds to play to get the creative juices going. We made our own badges because:

We heard from some folks who are doing great things in their communities and around the world:

And we made some prototypes:

We had a brilliant time!

Now we’re taking it forward with more meets, more prototypes and reusable recipe cards.

Hungry for more?

Talks: Agile, Remote Team Work – Without Losing Your Marbles!

The future of work for remote teams, especially in technical and creative fields is remote working. Remote working let’s you hire or collaborate with talented people from all over the world, or just in your country, without the overheads of relocating. It also saves you from filtering out great fits because they don’t happen to be in a certain location.

That’s why on a chilly spring day in March, I presented a talk on agile remote team work – without losing your marbles at Agile in Leeds. The venue was packed, the audience were amazing and I can’t thank Emily Webber enough for ably running the show.

Here’s my 3 steps to working productively as a team when you don’t all work from the same space.

Step 1: Hire the right people

Q: You wouldn’t hire just anyone to (fur) baby sit, what do you look for in a potential sitter?

  • Responsible adults – People who do, are trustworthy and are independent.
  • Smart creatives – People who can highlight problems *and* bring solutions to the table.
  • Right mindset for remote work – People who don’t need the office environment (or are happy to recreate it through other means like co-working).

Step 2: In the right environment

Q: Have you ever brought home some supermarket herbs that didn’t thrive?

  • Be adult about dealing with problems – don’t let things fester, healthy group dynamics are at the heart of successful remote working.
  • Mind the micromanaging – this goes back to trust and productivity, focus on what people are producing not on ensuring you wring 8 hours out of them.
  • Remove barriers to productivity – environment (encourage coworking if needed and good working spaces), clear leadership (be a good scrum master, remove barriers and have clarity about task allocation or selection), staff wellbeing (make sure work life balance is retained and have good employee resources to manage stress), regular face to face (meet regularly to co-work together and bond).

Step 3: With the right tools

Q: Have you ever watched a professional at work?

  • Develop good processes around key needs (especially documents, tools, HR, health & safety).
  • Streamline your tools (find what works well for your team, mix it up, but don’t go mad).
  • Eat the elephant (Understand that this is a continuous group effort and take small steps).

These approaches have kept us at Open Data Services on the straight and narrow (today is our 1st anniversary!) and we review these as we grow our team (from 7 to 9 soon). Find out what works best for you and remember, keep working at it.

Health Innovation Lab – Innovating Type-2 Diabetes

On Saturday 27.02.16, I volunteered at the Leeds Student Data Labs health hack – innovating around type 2 diabetes using open data. We were inspired by DJ Patil and his approach to data science.

It was a long but productive day, with students from multiple disciplines and all over Yorkshire. Here’s how it went: health innovation lab storify.

Meetup: Agile, Remote Team Work – Without losing your marbles!

Remote work is growing – be that full-time remote staff, collaborating with freelancers, consultants and offshore teams or working from home every now and again.

Working well as a remote team, especially one that embraces agile principles means understanding and supporting how individuals and the team works as well as using the right digital tools. It’s tough but rewarding and when well managed, can lead to a productive, integrated team where everyone gets a good work-life balance.

At Open Data Services, a digital worker’s co-operative, we are a completely distributed team with no offices. At the Agile Leeds meetup on 21.03.2016, I will explore how we make our team work and what we’ve learned along the way.

Leeds Data Map: Leeds Most Influential Data Players

Leeds is the city of data and here are the top accounts to follow on social media by popularity, influence and how well they engage and share.

Twitter’s top 5 most influential Leeds data accounts (powered by SocialBro):

Visualising Data – Andy Kirk
Data visualisation specialist


National health and social care information provider


Bloom Agency
Data insight & analytics, creative & digital agency


Leanne Buchan
Leeds Data Mill partnerships lead and freelance consultant


Call Credit
Experts in managing consumer data


Twitter isn’t the only social media platform in town. For business, there’s LinkedIn, “the world’s largest professional network”.

LinkedIn’s top 5 most followed data companies:

Prozone Sports
Pioneering performance analysis in sport.


Call Credit
Experts in managing consumer data


National health and social care information provider


CAP Automotive
Experts in the automotive industry


Innovative healthcare


The ones to watch:

Ssentif Intelligence
web-based data benchmarking and performance management system

83 followers (Twitter)

When I interviewed Judy Aldred of Ssentif last year, I was blown away by their benchmarking and performance tools. Run by a small team in north Leeds, this company is making waves with open data products for local government, hospitals and more.

Data Marketing – data-guided business strategy improvement

72 followers (Twitter)

I stumbled across this company recently, which offers to improve business strategy through data cleansing, B2B data management, and customer relationship management, all tying into improved business strategy.

What to do next:

How I made this list:

The Twitter list is powered by SocialBro, using Kred scores (a measure of influence). The LinkedIn search is powered by LinkedIn’s company search filtered for 1-5000 and 5000+ followers for companies in Leeds. I’ve focused on people heavily involved in data and companies that have strong data or analytics products.

image: Social by JD Hancock

The Missing Guide to Leeds Business Rates Open Data

Help! by GotCredit (flickr)
Help! by GotCredit (flickr)

Leeds city council makes information about business rates freely available on the Leeds data mill. This is a forward thinking approach to reducing freedom of information requests. By publishing open data, the council saves money, gives the public much needed transparency, and provides a wealth of information to businesses investing in Leeds.

But what’s included and how can you create value with it? This is the missing guide to using the business rates open data.

Let’s see what’s included.

Since April 2014, Leeds city council has published spreadsheets, roughly every 2 months, to the business rates page.

What’s in

Every rateable premises in Leeds including: the address, what the premises is used for, who’s responsible for paying the rate, the rateable value and a selection of relevant discounts (relief) given. It also tells you if a property is empty (as far as the council knows).

What’s not

Any premises that are actually home addresses. So breathe easy. If you’ve registered your business premises at home, you won’t be on this list. However, mistakes do happen, so contact the business rates team to correct them.

How good is the information?

Pretty good! I looked through the latest file published on the 2nd of March 2015. I found a couple of problems with postcodes, which I emailed to the open data team. They’ll be fixed in the next release. That’s one great thing about the Leeds data mill, they listen and respond promptly to feedback.

When it comes to discounts however, treat them with a pinch of salt. Not everything is included and it would be hellishly complex if it were. There is enough information for most uses, but use the discounts as ball-park figures.

Another thing to note: the Retail Relief information mixes retail and other forms of relief. Retail relief is capped at £1,500.

Read on for an in-depth examination.


This is the organisation “entitled to possession”. In other words, the occupier, leaseholder or owner of the premises, depending on if it’s empty or not. Remember: Individuals are usually excluded from this open data publication to protect their privacy.

Billing Authority Reference

This is gold! This number is the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) billing authority reference number. It’s unique to each premises which makes it an authoritative reference number. Think of this as an iron clad way of making sure you aren’t mixing up premises. You can use this number to find out everything you wanted to know about the premises, using the VOA’s “find my property valuation”.

Liable From

The date the current ratepayer was charged from.

Rateable Value

The current value as rated by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). It’s the maximum amount to pay but can be reduced by applying for one or more discounts.

Mandatory relief (%)

This is a discount that is always applied for certain types of organisations like registered charities, including colleges and public schools, at 80%. There’s a 50% rural relief available for businesses in rural areas with a low population. Find out more about: relief from business rates.

Discretionary relief (%)

The council can, at it’s discretion, use this rate to top up the mandatory relief, sometimes up to 100%. This is mostly approved for sports clubs, the arts, social enterprises, and not for profit organisations like hospices.

Small Business Rate Relief (%)

This is another form of relief for small businesses. The criteria is a little more complex, but in a nutshell: it’s for businesses occupying a single premises with a rateable value less than £12,000. (There is some leeway in 2014/15 for taking on an additional premises or occupying multiple premises within certain rateable values). Legislation was changed in 2010, temporarily, to raise the discount up to 100% from 50%. Quirkily, this temporary (vote winning?) raise has been been renewed every year. Find out more about: small business rate relief (Leeds city council) and small business rate relief (gov.uk).

Retail Relief

Retail relief is another form of mandatory relief for businesses occupying a retail premises, with a rateable value less than £50,000 (Eligibility criteria may apply). The relief is a fixed sum, rather than a discount (up to £1,000, £1,500 in 2015/16). Despite the name, other reliefs are included here, for example, enterprise zones like Aire Valley, but these are a tiny number over £1,500. Find out more about: relief from business rates and retail relief.


The address of the premises, this is good quality information! There are four lines of address available, handily named Address, Address 2, Address 3 and Address 4.


The postcode at the premises and also good quality information. There were a couple of oddities and incorrect postcodes putting the premises outside Leeds. These will be resolved in the next publication.

Empty Property

This flags up empty properties (as far as the council is aware): Yes means empty, V means empty and rate payer is unknown. Remember: There are additional temporary reliefs for long term empty retail premises, up to 50%.

Empty From

The date when the premises became empty (as far as the council is aware). This is not available in a small number of cases but is still a good way of working out roughly how long a property has been empty for.

Empty Exemption Flag

Certain properties, like listed buildings, have a permanent 100% exemption. This flags up why the property or premises is exempt. Another reason for exemption includes action by crown (i.e. compulsory purchases which are exempt until the purchase is complete). Land or car parks are exempt if they’re unused. Finally, premises with a low rateable value (under £2,600) are exempt. Where occupation is prohibited by law (usually derelict properties with asbestos contamination), these may appear as exempt, however derelict properties are removed from ratings list. Find out more about: empty property rates.

Property Description Code

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) code groups premises by how they’re used. Unless it can’t.  Then it uses MX (miscellanous) for premises that don’t quite fit neatly into existing categories.

Property Description

The council provides additional information about the property, sometimes adding context, like describing the condition (derelict) or numbers (25 car parking spaces, for example).

Handy tip: I’ve made these definitions available to download as a spreadsheet.

What else?

A couple of things to take into account. If you add up all the reliefs, you’ll get more than 100%. This is a quirk due to legislative shenanigans that I won’t go into here. Also, reliefs are applied in a certain order: Mandatory first, then Small Business then Discretionary including Retail Relief.

What next?

Now you understand how the business rates were put together (the model), you can do something with it.

  • Find out the rate payer’s company number which opens up a wealth of corporate information. I reconciled nearly 75% of ratepayers to companies and got back their SIC codes – useful for grouping companies by what they do or investigating corporate networks.
  • Explore areas of Leeds by putting premises on a map, something like this map of empty commercial properties in Leeds South Bank I made earlier.
  • Work out the best place to put your next business venture, something Local Data offers as a commercial product.
  • Work out if your organisation isn’t claiming entitled reliefs or find other companies that aren’t.

What would you use this information for?

Get in touch to discuss creating value with business rates or other business information.

My usual disclaimer applies: Provided without charge or warranty. Please verify facts independently.