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Feature on Alan Smith, owner of award-winning publisher, Global Mapping.

Meet Alan Smith who set up his mapping and publishing company, Global Mapping, not long after moving to Brackley from Oxford around 25 years ago. Alan wears several hats, as we’ll come on to explain, and if anyone should be praised for putting Brackley on the map – metaphorically as well as literally – it’s Alan (with a little help from his wife Tracy and daughter Chloe).

But first the mapping. Alan has spent his whole career as a cartographer, firstly working for other publishers and then establishing his own company in Brackley. The business is approaching its 20th anniversary – something Alan is immensely proud of, though it’s a much- changed business he explained.

For many years the data on which UK maps were based was very much the property of the Ordnance Survey organization who licensed publishers like Alan and businesses such as the AA, A-Z Maps, Philips and Collins Maps to use and retail the data for the production of maps.  It was a hugely productive industry. However, several things conspired to reduce demand for publisher-produced maps: one of the final acts of the last Labour Government was to liberalise the OS data monopoly making it free to access by anybody. On top of this the advent of Sat Nav and travel apps on smartphones has significantly reduced the need for printed maps from the travelling public – which used to be the bread and butter part of the business.

Alan has adapted his business to meet the changed circumstances and he remains upbeat about his company’s prospects. ‘We used to have a pretty busy shop in the centre of town but closed this once footfall slackened and set up our plotter machine at home to save massively on overheads and are judicious in contracting out our printing requirements. We also created a website/digital sales channel at www.mapstop and set up an online catalogue/cart for people to order our regular products as they would any online service. We supplemented this with dedicated tools to enable people and businesses to build their own maps from the old OS data we have digitised and this has proven to be very popular. We’ve also established a raft of corporate clients, several of whom are overseas based, who continue to order our products in large numbers’.

Finally, Alan has found a niche by focusing on the area he knows best – the town of Brackley and the wider South Northants area. ‘We have produced 1000’s of items like Town Guides, Walking Guides and Heritage Trails with lots of help from SN Council and to some extent from Brackley Town Council. When you think about it, even with ongoing development, the basic structure of towns and villages and the wider countryside remains basically unaltered over time and we can overlay all manner of features onto a basic plan.  So, we can tailor products to meet specific user needs eg we can superimpose and highlight cycling paths, nature trails, children’s walks, health walks etc etc onto the core town/countryside data whilst removing any unnecessary features (e.g. maps aimed at children wouldn’t show public houses etc.) We currently have two maps in development which I think will be hugely popular; the first is a long distance walking map across the South Northants region and the second is a plan of the proposed HS2 route across our region to enable people, whether they be advocates or critics of the project, to follow it more closely’ .

We have just published a new map – a long distance walking map across the South Northants region which apart from a set of 3 circular walks across the district also has loads of information for both visitors and residents.  The Historical detail is fascinating with things such as dismantled railways, disused canals, ancient hunting forests and much more highlighted.

Now Alan is a man we greatly admire. Rather than bemoaning his luck he has responded to changes in the public’s buying habits, technological advancements, political developments and the recession with fortitude and creativity, adapting his business to survive and thrive. It’s something he/we should be proud of especially as there are many big-name brands who refused to change or didn’t change quickly enough and are now as extinct as the dodo. This talent for smart thinking has led to many accolades over the years. He has recently been recognized for delivering a spectacular 4m high upside-down globe outside the London School of Economics which is intended to shift perceptions.

In earlier times his Earth Atlas, the world’s largest, was featured on Blue Peter and he has remained a friend to foreword writer David Bellamy ever since.

More about the Alan and the community found on www.livinginbrackley.co.uk