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Moving Into the North

February 22, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, Wondrous Cities

This is Make Your Own Liverpool, a very short film that Sam Meech, who is working on the Wondrous Place theatre production, made with a group of migrant children who had only recently arrived in the city.

The film embodies a great, simple process of drawing out how the city looks when it’s new.

The whole of the Wondrous Place blog has been that process, of seeing places again for the first time, or seeing new layers, like Hayley Flynn’s buildings that were never built. (read more here )

The guides through that process have sometimes been people who have lived there their whole lives.

Others have been people who have moved to cities in the North and stayed, going through a process of becoming from that place. That process led to Chrissy Brand finding the Manchester Businesswoman of the Year 1773, the story of the Working Class Movement Library and the man of a thousand gigs. (read more here )

Blackberry Buns Resize

It led to Natalie Bradbury’s recipes for vegetarian Eccles cakes and urban blackberry picking. (read more here )

And Degna Stone describing passing through, falling in love, and staying. (read more here )

“It isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together”. That’s a quote from Bashir Ahmad, a Scottish National Party politician who was born in Amritsar and moved to Glasgow when he was 21.

And there is a nice phrase that people in Madrid use: “If you are in Madrid you are from Madrid.”

We could recylce that and make it our own, I’m sure Madrid won’t mind.

If you’re in the North, you are from the North.

Avatar of Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson has been using mobile phones for creative participation for more than 10 years, and his work includes the Guardian’s SMS poetry competition; City Poems in Leeds and Antwerp, commended in the British Interactive Media Awards, and Free All Monsters! a game for children, families and even grown ups, using a Monstervision Machine, a monster spotter’s guide and the Fluffy Orange Pencil Case.

How do new buildings get to be old?

February 14, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, Wondrous Cities

The north of England isn’t short of fantastic 19th and early 20th century architecture.

Some of it is grand civic buildings like St Georges Hall in Liverpool.

A photo of St Georges Hall

St Georges Hall

Others are the abandoned industrial buildings which have become a sort of new natural resource in the northern landscape like water power or coal.

These old buildings can be re-purposed into loft apartments or cheap space for new kinds of business, for example Bates Mill in Huddersfield, still run by the same family who owned it as a woollen mill.

We look at the grand civic buildings and think “no one would ever knock them down.” But of course some were, for example Huddersfield’s Piece Hall. If only it had been kept, like the one in neighbouring Halifax, it might also be getting a £7 million grant.

Over the last ten or twelve years there has been a boom in new civic and commercial buildings, such as the Sage in Newcastle. These have often been built as part of a regeneration strategy, following the model of the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

photo of the Sage, Gateshead

The Sage is fantastic, and it will never be knocked down, but has the regeneration of northern city centres cost us some new favourite buildings that might have grown to a noble and well-loved old age?

In Sheffield, Missy Tassles wrote about the “hole in the road”, a subway below a roundabout that had a fish tank in the wall. It’s hard to think of anything more wondrous than than that.

The Hole In The Road

The Hole In The Road

Maybe subways could never escape from their sinister feel of 1970′s horror films, but Wondrous Place posts from Missy, Dan Feeney and Sid Fletcher, about Park Hill flats and Castle Market, gave such a strong feeling that the people who built the best things in the second half of the 20th century really did try and do justice to the history, geography and people of Sheffield.

I can’t wait to go to Sheffield again, and I’ll walk round it with different eyes. With so much care going into some new buildings of the last 50 years, would it be a shame if they weren’t around long enough to become old ones.


Photo credits: uknow-uk and Alexi Parkin on Flickr

Avatar of Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson has been using mobile phones for creative participation for more than 10 years, and his work includes the Guardian’s SMS poetry competition; City Poems in Leeds and Antwerp, commended in the British Interactive Media Awards, and Free All Monsters! a game for children, families and even grown ups, using a Monstervision Machine, a monster spotter’s guide and the Fluffy Orange Pencil Case.

The Answer Is Cities

September 1, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process


“We get smarter by being around smart people. Cities make that happen.” – ‘Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier’ by Edward Glaeser.

Glaeser’s big question is, “How do we come up with the new, new thing?” The answer is that we do what we did in Newcastle at Northern Stage – people who have different skills and interests share some of what they know, and fingers crossed something new comes out of it. What Glaeser would add is that where-as we were convened, cities are a technology that makes this knowledge exchange and invention happen serendipitously, just by jamming a lot of people together in a small area. He uses the arts as an example of how this happens. Perspective in painting was invented in Florence, but it wasn’t invented by a person so much as being a product of the city itself. This is something that people in the arts can recognise quite readily, that a “scene” is useful. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is a good example – that was a product of the musicians, the producer, the record label and the designer, none of whom planned to work together on what they worked on, plus countless hours spent listening to and watching other music. Plus something intangible which is “f*ck it lets just get on with it”. The technology that made those connections and knowledge exchange possible was Manchester, its sewers and bus stops just as much as its music venues (without bus stops people can’t get to see bands, and without sewers they die of cholera on the way).This might be one way in which the arts can contribute to the viability of places in the north – by making the process of creating a “new, new thing” visible – the Industrial Revolution was the new, new thing once, in fact Manchester itself was the new, new thing – and by asking whether the city-regions in the north have what they need to work as technologies for invention

There is a podcast recording of Glaeser giving a talk in itunes if you search for “CNU 19 Glaeser” then find “Strong towns CNU 19…” The audio quality is bad but it’s a good quick introduction.
Image: ‘Tuned Suburb’, copyright Ron Herron, Archigram.

‘My Mother On A Seat Outside…’

July 22, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process



My cultural touchstone is My Mother on a Seat Outside a Hospital by Peter Sansom. It’s a poem that tells the story of the death after an accident of Peter’s mother’s first husband, the man she was  married to before Peter’s father. After the accident it takes the man “days to die” in hospital, but on the last day, prompted by a “sixth sense”, Peter’s mother and her sister, who are “young women, girls they call themselves”, get up too early for the bus and walk for twelve miles to the hospital to visit him outside the normal visiting hours, setting off in the dark and arriving in the daylight. When they get to the hospital though it is still very early and Peter’s mother and her sister are too shy (“young women, girls they call themselves”), despite being grown women with children, to cause a fuss, or ask for special treatment by “bothering anyone so early.” So instead they sit and wait on a bench outside, while inside:

her husband

dies on a ward already awake

that she might have visited after all.

It’s a great poem, and my favourite poem. Every time I read it I find something new both in how it is written and what it means and connects to. But what I think connects it to the north is literal. It was written by Peter Sansom, who lives and works in the north. Peter has been writing, editing and publishing poetry in Huddersfield and Sheffield for more than 25 years, and he is the editor of a poetry magazine called ‘The North’ , which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. ‘The North’ isn’t about The North though, it is about whatever is printed on its pages, poems written in and about anywhere in Britain, and the world. But Peter’s skill, energy, learning and generosity created a centre of poetry reading, writing and publishing in England that was located first in Huddersfield then Sheffield. His skill and generosity as an editor and creative writing teacher has probably helped thousands of new writers to find their voice over the last 25 years, not least Simon Armitage, who learned how to write, and wrote much of his fantastic first book ‘Zoom!’ in creative writing workshops run by Peter. I don’t know if those thousands of writers share a northern voice – I can see that  they might do, drawing on common experience – but I do know that having a centre like that in the north was a lot more convenient to get to on the train. Peter would have created ‘The North’ if he’d lived in Southampton. I just thank my lucky stars he went to Huddersfield Poly and stayed in the town for the next 20 years.

Whether we have one or many centres is something that maps directly onto the political, economic, social and cultural geography of Britain, and that question connects My Mother on a Seat Outside a Hospital with what I almost chose as my cultural touchstone, which is Access Space’s graphic novel Grow Your Own Media Lab . Access Space is a media lab in the centre of Sheffield that re-uses second hand computers, along with open source software, to make a welcoming space for sharing knowledge and skills, and for using technology creatively: “networked technologies only truly empower when they enable people to create. To do this without boundaries people may need to repair, re-engineer and re-imagine technology”.

Grow Your Own Media Lab is the story of a place, and a way of working, and it has influenced people in the UK and worldwide, not least Brazil, to set up their own media labs following the same principles. It only takes half an hour to read, cover to cover, and even if you aren’t planning to open a media lab, it’s a great introduction to technology as a space for what Lisa Roberts from We Love Technology  calls “creative misuse”, a space that anyone can play around in. Once you’ve read it, even the copyright notice at the start will be a revelation, and how many books can you say that about? Grow Your Own Media Lab, like My Mother on a Seat Outside a Hospital, says that we can have as many centres as we want, we just need to make them.