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BCO conference: Guy Verhofstadt inspires

BCO-conference-2016BCO 2016: Undecided. That is the word that best captured the mood at this year’s BCO conference.

Whether it was on the subject of Brexit, open plan offices or WELL certifications, the overriding sentiment was tentative. All a bit: “Hmm. We are just not sure.”

Ultimately it seemed that for many at this year’s event in Amsterdam, the direction of things to come is still not clear. And not due to a bout of collective befuddlement induced by a mist of local haze.

Perhaps it is only to be expected at a conference where the theme is “challenge everything”. By its very nature, it suggests change, crossroads and disruption. All things that take time to come around to.

I should say, of course, that this vibe was not the case across the board. Many delegates knew exactly where they stood on the EU debate and there they stayed.

Others spoke passionately, and categorically, about the need to embrace wellness with open arms: “Imagine if you could leave your office feeling better, happier, healthier?” said workplace expert Despina Katsikakis. “And imagine the impact on your life, your family? It’s a game-changer.”

But for others, the jury was still out. On the latter issues of wellness, delegates swung from being extremely pro to thinking the whole concept is “a terrible idea” with multiple shades of grey in between. Proof perhaps that more information, education and explanation is needed.

And then there was the  EU referendum debate. Are we bored of it yet? Certainly not after the session many hailed “a privilege to witness”.

At the start, plenty of hands went up when the room of 600 was asked who was still undecided as to which way they would vote on June 23. And as someone pointed out later in the day, “I suspect that was only a fraction and lots of other people kept quiet.”

And if they were on the fence before, then who knows how they felt following the anarchy in the EU plenary. Like an episode of Have I Got News For You, The Spectator’s business editor and the chief political commentator of the Independent (brilliant as they both were) could really only hold their own against the unofficial star of the BCO show.

Former Belgium prime minister Guy Verhofstadt was a revelation, a conference-wide uniting force of common sense, witty articulation and passion. Every beautifully crafted, rousing argument he made was met with rapturous applause – no mean feat in a room full of property professionals, particularly given his stance saw him tear into the EU, branding it “a joke”.

If there had been undecided people in the room before, I would bet there were more by the time Verhofstadt had finished. As one delegate put to him during questions: “The idea of a federalised Europe is, quite frankly, abhorrent to me. But somehow I am compelled by your argument for one.”

“He should be in the UK. Making those speeches, delivering those thoughts and changing the world,” said another delegate after the session.

“He really should,” said another. “Can you imagine what a difference he could make? He could change everything. People would listen. And care.”

Well then. It’s decided.

Click here for the latest news from this year’s BCO conference.

• To send feedback, email emily.wright@estatesgazette.com or tweet @EmilyW_9 or @estatesgazette

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