Why Paint the Town Grey needs a pilot study

Why Paint the Town Grey needs a Pilot Study


Before we at Paint the Town Grey embark on a full blown project, I think it is essential that we embark on a pilot study beforehand.

Proposed name: Cobalt Studios


Stockton High Street; as with the rest of the project, we need a location that is as high profile as possible, maximum footfall and visibility in order to establish the brand as quickly and as efficiently as possible.


Small empty shop, enough for one artist and/or one settee and one desk for volunteer i.e. me, to use while the studio is open. It would be better if the location was two storey’s as this would allow us to have an open public gallery downstairs and an artist area upstairs until the artist is comfortable enough to work while being watched.

Preferred locations

The shops next to Cooplands on the corner of Prince Regent Street or the shop formerly known as Neil Sinclair’s are small enough and well located but I recommend a visit with the estate agents would help.

Advantages of a pilot study.

A pilot study will allow us to see if the project is actually viable before we spend hours and hours and hours on the drawing board. Learning to ride a bike or drive a car is done in the car, on the bike, not with pads and paper.

It will be easier to set up, there will be less red tape involved and much less planning

As this is a new venture it is much easier to raise a small amount of grant money for a pilot study than waiting for months for a huge grant to be approved.

People, the general public are more likely to donate a small amount in the first instance and then return with a greater amount once we have some figures to show that (if) the pilot study is successful.

A pilot study will be far quicker to set up and get started.

If we go ‘big’ too quickly we have far more ‘egg on our faces’ than if we start small and build. I envisage that Paint the Town Grey will offers space to house five or six artists within the first year, so why not trial it with one or two artists? I hope that we grow to at least 20 artists and service users within three year, there is no way we can start this size. If we call it stage 1, stage 2, etc we can build, if we go this is the finished article and it goes wrong we have nowhere to go.

We will be able to use ‘trial and error’ to finely tune the product and approach we use, we will be able to learn from our mistakes, see Marks and Spencer’s who started in Teesside.

I would personally refer to let down 2 artists with mental health issues than ten artists.

There is no way we can possibly deliver a ‘finished’ project from a plan.

A pilot study will give us some idea of costs involved. Currently we have no idea what to include in our grant application as we have no idea how much anything will cost, utilities. There are an awful lot of ‘hidden’ costs and I don’t want to have to close a successful project because we fail to recognise a cost that only becomes apparent once we are up and running.

A pilot study will get the brand out into the public domain. None of us have enough social media followers to do an effective market research study. From my Lean Start up course asking friend and family is not an accurate indication of whether the idea will work.

A pilot study will get the brand of PTTG known to artists within the Stockton area.

A pilot study will get the brand of PTTG known to people with mental health issues (MHI) within the Stockton area.

Could encourage people with mental health issues to begin to meet at Cobalt Studio’s. Currently a whole range of activities and groups for people with MHI occur at other places in Stockton.  By setting up with a pilot study we could start to draw people away from  other establishments and into using Cobalt Studios.

A pilot study will allow us to start raising funds. Currently, I do not have a location to start to make crowd funding videos. A small shop with an upstairs room will allow me to invite artists in to video them without the pressure of being watched by members of the public.

Using a small establishment in Stockton will give us a stock of materials to sell. Currently we have no stock to put on the walls. If we suddenly open and expect artists to slave away to donate this is not as good as starting small and building.

If we rent a small building for a few weeks or a month we will have a building where the trustees can have adhoc meetings. I spent £10 at the last meeting on coffee and drinks and Suzie wasn’t even there, a small building can be negotiated by Hammonds for approximately double that figure every week. We would be able to collect donations from a box, safely placed inside the door or in a locked cupboard, (banked regularly) to cover rent and materials.

When talking to Vicky of Navigator North, they started by organising a few short residencies in various locations before they established Navigator North.

If we rent a building for a month, we will (hopefully) get a reference from a landlord to use to move to bigger premises.

A pilot study will allow us to begin to recruit volunteers to work within the ‘Cobalt Studios’ and it is easier to start with one or two volunteers than find that we need ten to find and train.

People with MHI, especially ones with anxiety, are more likely to ‘come on board’ to a project that is already up and running and has a base to start from than one that relies on untested hypothesis.

When I was doing business start-up with Five lamps they had lots of stories of people getting lumbered with huge expenses that took years to pay off. I know it is slightly different but a small scale practice run has so many benefits.

I will hopefully get a significant percentage towards a pilot study from Stockton Soup whereas maybe £50 won’t contribute anything towards a full-blown enterprise.

Letting down two or three artists with MHI who have been promised a studio for a month than letting ten artists down who have been promised a studio for a year.

Major film companies do small pilot studies of film endings before releasing the film to a huge audience to make sure they get the most popular ending.

Shoe companies make a prototype and test it to the limit rather than simply launching a finished product. As do many, many other manufacturers.

Shops sell a product in a few selected shops before rolling it out to the whole country.

The best jobs, and the jobs I was happiest in, have all been where I worked as a volunteer first so I knew what to expect. Also if the job is not to your liking you can stop before you commit to a contract.

Durham worked as a volunteer first – great job

Middlesbrough – straight in and hated it

North Eastern Rubbish – got told after 2 weeks, “you do realise you’ve probably made the biggest mistake of your life working here”

York – moved my family and hated it.

Macmillan, voluntary – great

Evode – worked on a temporary contract so could walk out at any time, great job started for 2 weeks lasted for 9 months, very happy with very little pressure, I worked better because I was happier.

The pressure to make a small scale pilot study work will be miniscule compared to a project where we launch to a fanfare and announce ‘this is it folks’ and don’t forget I have anxiety issues and mental health problems so a pilot study and a much lower ‘cost’ to it not working is preferable to a ‘this is it, we have to make it work’ pressure.

I think we’d be mad not to consider a pilot study, especially when working with people with mental health issues.

I attach some links for you to read.

The power of the ‘pilot’ – 3 reasons why you should test your new business before launch





Paint the Town Grey – needs the High Street

Paint the Town Grey

Why positioning is so important

This article is about why I think Paint the Town Greys’ first project, Cobalt Studios needs to be situated in Stockton Town centre.

I studied for a B/TEC HND in Business and Finance at North Staffs Polytechnic between 1985 and 1987, oh good god that is about like a hundred years ago, the poly is now Staffordshire University.

During one of the lectures I was given one of my favourite marketing anecdotes, not Bill Hicks’ “If you are in marketing, kill yourself” but almost.

Burger King were looking to establish their first restaurant in Germany, probably West Germany (remember that) they put various marketeers in various locations around the city of Berlin looking at footfall, how many people walked past an empty space to you and I.

Eventually they decided on a part of Berlin to start. They built the restaurant, employed and trained managers, employed and trained staff, stocked the restaurant and waited. Now for a site with remarkably high footfall the taking were disappointingly low.

Burger king then did a little further digging and found that it’s new all singing and all dancing restaurant, it’s first in Germany, was in fact next to…


A brothel. Oh dear, big fail.


I received further advice on investigating where you place your company while getting excellent business start-up training from Five Lamps in Thornaby.

From my own experiences, both quite recently, my belief that Paint the Town Grey must have a presence in Stockton in order to start strong has been reinforced. I volunteer for Macmillan ‘Art for You’ project on a Saturday. This group caters for people who have recently had cancer and who like art; it is also very geared towards the social side of the sessions.

In order to protect service users’ identity the sessions are closed, referral only, also the sessions take place at MIMA on the second floor in the education room on a Saturday. We are struggling to get new referrals for service users. The art group is out of sight, tucked away.

We even did eight days of stall work at James Cook Hospital and got one new referral. We talk to medical staff in the cancer wards and clinics at James Cook, but so do a lot of other people, but numbers are so difficult to attract without a public face so to speak.

The other example comes from an art exhibition for artists with mental health issues. This took place at the Arc in Stockton. The exhibition was on the second floor. It was a huge space, very generous however; when I went I was the only person there. There were no artists to talk to people viewing the art. As far as I could see there was nothing downstairs in the café area of the Arc to tell me there was an art display and I was actually looking for it. I knew about the exhibition through word of mouth.

In order for Paint the Town Grey to start and start strongly we need a very prominent position within Stockton High Street. PTTG is going to be reliant on public support and donations to start off with. We need the locals of Stockton-On-Tees to know we are in existence.

One of our main targets and goals is to challenge the stigma of mental health, if we are tucked away in a building in a quiet part of town, a sports hall, a small row of shops or a back street the start becomes so much more difficult.

I am sure that we can attract some publicity through radio, local papers and talking to members of the public but we do need to be fairly visible in order to start well.






Paint the Town Grey – the Start

Hello and thank you so much for finding your way to Paint the Town Grey. As this is the first page of the website, you will probably need a quick resume of what on earth Paint the Town Grey is, unless you have been badgered, bullied or blackmailed by Peter Conlin to visit this site.

I have had to live with mental health issues, namely depression, most of my life and basically it sucks, it is also greatly misunderstood by most people.

One thing about mental health issues is that it can be incredibly debilitating, it can be so intense as to virtually make you a zombie (*),. My father, who struggled with depression and anxiety, regularly said that he did not live life he merely existed. I myself have felt that that on many occasions, but I do have periods of incredible motivation. In May 2016 I met an incredibly talent artist at a mental health group. At the end of the session she told me that she had not done any art for three years.

The problem, as it often is with mental health issues, cyclical.

  • She was too ill to do any work/art

  • This made her feel miserable, a waste, a drain on society, depressed

  • As a result she became less likely to do any art.

I decided, there and then, that I wanted to help that lady. I already had my own studio in Thornaby, thanks to the very wonderful and brilliant Navigator North, and I started to think about a similar project but for artists with mental health issues. And so my friends, the idea for Paint the Town Grey was born.

It was spurred on when I became friends with another artist,  she had all her art equipment at her home but did not have a clear space to work in. She would look at the equipment and again because of the negative cycle similar to above would become lower and lower in mood and less and less likely to produce any art.

At about the same time, I planned to start writing the ‘Brief history of Smogsville-on-Teas’’. I am embarrassed to say (actually no I’m not) but my intention was to take the urine out of Stockton-on-Tees. I started to research the history of this awful, unexciting, drab, concrete monstrosity, or a town in the North of England, a town that did not even have a decent record shop during much of my teens (records look it up kids) and seemed to have yet another shop go into liquidation every month or two.

I was aware of some of the history, the friction match (John Walker), the Stockton to Darlington Railway and I was impressed, yeah for about a minute. However, when you go into this town’s history fully, you read about the castle, the riots of 1933, the famous people, Ivy Close, Will Hay, Ridley and Tony Scott and you look at pictures of the amazing buildings that used to live on the High Street before the disaster that is the Castle Gate Centre, the Empire Theatre, the Victoria Building, you may suddenly be gripped with a small feeling called ‘pride’

These two aspects combined made me want to start a mini revolution, a resolution in Stockton-on-Tees. To take one of the empty buildings and develop studio space for artists with mental health issues, now wouldn’t that be worth something.