Tips for Running Difficult Meetings

Demo at NestaI have run lots of meetings. You can make them useful not angry. Easily. I learnt this stuff by being ambushed and working it out.

I was at a meeting tonight where it all went really wrong, really quickly.

Ideally – don’t have meetings, but do something together and talk as you do it. But when you do need a meeting, here are six steps for running one with a likely-to-be-angry group:

1. Welcome everyone with tea and coffee. Talk to them as they come in: they will be less angry if you’ve looked them in the eye, told them your name, said hello.

2. Don’t have a top table – if you do, it’s them and us. Use groups or lumps of chairs or a cabaret-style layout. Change the dynamic of the room with the furniture.

3. Make feedback mechanisms easy from the start: have tables with activities, or boards with Post-its. Let people unload some of their anger before the meeting starts – and start by saying ‘we’re listening to you’.

4. Give gifts. A badge, pencil, notebook or something small. It makes it an exchange. ‘Thank you for coming. In return for your valuable opinions, here’s something back.’

5. Give something extra, so that the people who’ve come are the special ones. George at Maybridge Boys Club used to drum into us children ‘you’re all VIPs’. Treat people like VIPs. Start with ‘here’s a tour of venue’ or ‘here’s a behind-scenes film that nobody else has seen’.

6. There will be questions and you will have to answer. Make the Q&A in groups, around tables or around interactive activity. Not you against the whole crowd.

 

I’ve written an apology for Sussex Police.

Sussex Police have been criticised after hooding and shackling an 11 year old child with a mental health condition. It’s truly barbaric behaviour. Their response is to say:

Temporary deputy chief constable Robin Smith said: “We take our responsibility for any use of force very seriously particularly when it involves young people or those who are vulnerable.

“We welcome the IPCC’s scrutiny and during its investigation the force has adopted many schemes to support vulnerable people and those with mental illness, learning disabilities and substance misuse issues.”

He added: “As a direct result of the investigation into this case, personal safety and first aid training, which all officers have to undertake, has been updated. This means officers have learned communication skills to help them be more effective when helping people with mental illness. In addition all officers have refreshed their knowledge in the use of spit guards.

“As a chief officer I have a duty to protect officers and the public when we are called on for help, whether the threat comes from a child or someone who is unwell. This is very often the case and it was on several occasions that the girl’s mother called for our help. The application of any type of restraint is considered only when the level of resistance causes concern for the safety of the detained person, the officer and other members of the public.”

Now, I know it’s hard to apologise, and that Sussex Police are busy with more serious things. So I thought I’d help out. Here’s how you apologise, Sussex Police:

We’re sorry. What we did was wrong, and we promise not to do it again. We apologise to the child, to her family, and to everyone else. We let a child down, and we let ourselves down.

I hate the non-apologies of people in power.

I’m releasing this under CC BY-ND 4.0 so Sussex Police can use it.

The Refugee Crisis – by Roger Gale MP

The global migration crisis has generated demands for “more European funding” for migrant communities while, in the UK and particularly in Kent, foster services face crisis point as illegal immigrants abandon children for Social Services to look after. A pack of “sniffer dogs” and some wire fencing is regarded, in Calais, as mere sticking plaster over an entrance to the Channel Tunnel that is besieged, nightly, by what the Prime Minister correctly but perhaps inelegantly described as “swarms” of would-be travellers. We are told that in fact seven out of ten, or some 900 illegal immigrants a month, of those seeking an economic future in Britain are currently eventually making it to Kent which, if you are a people-trafficker dealing in human misery, is a pretty helpful statistic to use in your promotional literature.

Unwise, perhaps, of politicians to suggest that we have “got a grip” of the issue.

Natascha Bouchart, Mayor of Calais, certainly still thinks that  there`s a lot more gripping to be done and, while ineffectually trying to deal with striking travaillistes clogging up the port of Calais with burning car tyres, would like the Royaume Unis to be sorting it. It is, you see, the prospect of “free education”, along with healthcare and benefits, that attracts people to the United Kingdom.

Others say that it is “British Anarchists” who are stirring up trouble in the Nord Pas de Calais. The Calais gendarmerie send out a call for reinforcements in the form of the British army.

UK Police, including some of Kent`s finest, will establish a “Command & Control” centre in Calais to `find and disrupt` the people traffickers while our County constabulary will also conduct a security audit on French soil. Call me sceptical if you will but I just have a hunch that commanding and controlling international criminals who are making shedloads of money out of white slave-trading in misery might just take a little more than a “`ello,`ello, `ello, what have we here?” to deter them.

Neither am I certain that telling working illegal migrants that they will face six months in gaol when apprehended is likely to prove much of a deterrent.  Very sadly, six months free board & lodging in a place of considerable security and safety might prove hugely attractive to those whose homes in their lands of origin lie in ruins beneath which are buried many of their relatives.

For the Tabloid Press all of this is, of course, great grist to the paper mills. A seamless tide of hyperbolic reporting during what otherwise might be a thin news month. Remember, though, that while a tsunami of xenophobia is whipped up in Northern Europe providing fertile ground for the recruiting sergeants of right-wing extremists on both sides of the Channel there is a tragedy developing in the underbelly of what passes for a “union” of European states. What is happening on the islands, and in Kos, has rightly been described as “a human time bomb”.

Already facing “a prolonged and severe depression” Greece is now having to cope with literally thousands of refugees fleeing from oppression in Syria and many places further to the East. These are not `economic migrants`. They are human beings, men, women and some very young children, many of them Christians, making the short but hazardous crossing from Turkey in rubber boats or whatever other form of transport is available and heading westwards towards Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom in search of sanctuary. In old money they are asylum seekers. And therein lies the rub. Nations that have hitherto honourably offered a safe haven for those in need now find themselves confronted with a toxic mix of desperation on the one hand and a reactionary resistance to all-comers on the other. The compassion brand has taken a severe pasting and, of course, we can guess with reasonable certainty that within the tide of genuine asylum seekers there are not only economic migrants but those who seek entry into the European Union to do us harm.

The graphic and tragic image of the body of a three year old boy washed ashore on a beach in Turkey is horrific but it should not blind us to what is a global circumstance under which thousands of such children are dying of sickness and starvation on a daily basis. Those who seek a knee- jerk response to this tragedy need to ask themselves honestly how many asylum seekers and then how many economic migrants they are prepared to see accommodated in North Thanet, in Kent, in the United Kingdom.

While responding to understandable public concern the Prime Minister is right to say the real solution has to be long- term and international and must address the real issues facing those who are leaving their homes. Unless we do that as an international community then the exodus and the tragic death toll will continue and anything else, while it might make us feel better, will be in vain.

Roger Gale MP

Sir Roger has asked constituents not to reply to the piece he’s written. I couldn’t not respond, though:

Thanks for your email, and I am sorry to have to ignore your request not to respond.

Firstly, you mix two things very carelessly – ‘economic migrants’ and refugees. You in fact combine the two in one sentence; ‘Neither am I certain that telling working illegal migrants that they will face six months in gaol when apprehended is likely to prove much of a deterrent. Very sadly, six months free board & lodging in a place of considerable security and safety might prove hugely attractive to those whose homes in their lands of origin lie in ruins beneath which are buried many of their relatives.’

I am sure that you’d agree that we should give shelter and support to those whose homes are destroyed and whose relatives have been killed, and accept that these are refugees, pure and simple?

We, as a country, have a long and good tradition of supporting refugees – the Huguenots, Russian Jews, Germans in the 1880s-90s, Spanish Civil War refugees, the Kindertransport, displaced Eastern Europeans in 1945, those fleeing the Hungary oppression, Ugandan Asians, and so on. They have come, contributed and made Britain a greater place, economically and culturally. I think Britain is a better place for the Freud family, Kazuo Ishiguro, Marks (of Marks and Spencer) and Marx, Anish Kapoor, the Duke of Wellington, Helen Mironoff (later Mirren), Alec Issigonis, Vidal Sassoon, Emma Watson and – with a good local connection – TS Eliot. There are countless others, of course.

You are of course a Member of Her Majesty’s Government; Her Majesty is from a German Royal family, joined by marriage to Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. You’re employed by immigrants!

Finally, I’m not sure where ‘British Anarchists’ fit into your story. Anarchists are interesting in organising and finding ways to make society better. The anarchists I know organise food and support for vulnerable people, pick up where council services are cut by organising things like litter picks and clean ups, and contribute to society in a hundred other ways, quietly and without the need to ask government for funding and support. Were you at your party’s conference in 2011? David Cameron praised anarchy in his Party Conference keynote in 2011, and said it provided the solution to the problems we collectively face today.

You can find the full text here: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/oct/05/david-cameron-conservative-party-speech

Sorry to have to bother you but I, like many of your other constituents, think this is a very important issue. I’m a little disappointed to see you take such an inflammatory stance, blurring the lines between refugees and economic migration, and throwing blame at random bogey men from history like anarchists.

I can confirm I’m happy to see Thanet helping refugees; and that I don’t have any great problem with economic migration either.

Gideon vs David, Thatcher vs Major refought

Remember the days of the Tony vs Gordon scraps? Tony Blair was all out for power, but Gordon had a genuine social purpose, to eradicate child poverty. It led to a conflict between the two which was hardly hidden. The people who came out of the fight the worst were, of course, us.

For the first five years of David Cameron’s premiership, we were told that the conflict in government was between the Conservatives and the moderating Liberal Democrat coalition partners. That the conflict was along party lines. It never seemed to make sense; why would a minor party in a partnership have so much influence, and why would the Conservatives accept that?

But a short time into an unexpected majority Conservative government, I think we need to look again at what we’ve had and what we’ve got. What if the conflict is actually David vs Gideon? David Cameron is often seen as a successor to Margaret Thatcher. But what if he’s not? If he is actually continuing the work of John Major, who recorded the highest popular vote ever recorded in a general election and who was behind a fundamental shift in government, from the Westminster centre to the citizen.

It’s easy to laugh at Major’s legacy as just the Cones Hotline, but actually his legacy is found in the Freedom of Information Act, which started with the Citizen’s Charter. This gave us, for the first time, access to information about how local authorities were performing, data about schools, NHS targets and set times for treatment, and a shift towards a more open, accountable democracy. It allowed us to compare and mark one authority or service against another. A Trip Advisor for democratic institutions.

Major also rebuilt a collapsed British economy, bringing down both borrowing and unemployment. And maybe Cameron was continuing that spirit, with the Big Society (still, at heart, a good idea) and Localism as the children of the Citizen’s Charter.

So where, if that’s the case, does the Nasty Party come from? Gideon ‘George’ Osborne, maybe, continuing the work of Thatcher. His economic policies have hit the poor hardest, derailed the Big Society project, and are very much in favour of big business, privatisation and a heavy handed state capitalism. Today, he announced automatic planning approval for development on brownfield sites, undoing five years work on Cameron’s Localism project in one move. Tens of thousands of hours spent by local people, developing plans, by local authorities, redrawing the planning system to give local people a louder voice. All undone.

If we reconsider what we’re seeing as a conflict between Cameron and Osborne, Major vs Thatcher, things look rather different. The coalition shifts now, with the Lib Dems and Cameron’s allies all moderating the harder policies of Osborne and co.

And the worrying thing is, Osborne clearly has the winning hand – he’s destroyed first the Big Society and now the whole philosophy of Localism. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a property developer’s workboot stamping on a human face – forever.

We Are The Resistance

It feels like a long time ago, that election. It was (here on the Isle of Thanet) a frantic, hard and furious time. Everyone was getting stuck in, on one side or the other. Insults were hurled and punches were thrown.
And coming out of it, I started thinking about what we do next. Yes, our democracy is well and truly buggered, but it’s the democracy we chose. We really can’t argue.

dotdotdotdash

So I called for a British Resistance. We’re in an occupied country, with a government most of us didn’t vote for, doing things most of us don’t agree with. The French Resistance knew what to do, a network of groups building systems that lived in but under a society occupied by the German Army. The Home Guard Auxiliary Units were ready to do the same.

Now it’s our turn. So we need to go underground in plain sight, get ready and support each other while we chalk V for Victory on walls. With the threats to free speech this government are proposing, chalk on walls might be all we have that’s safe, free and untapped. The morse for V is dot dot dot dash and the hashtag’s #dotdotdotdash. It’s the opening of beethoven’s Fifth, too, of course – ‘duh-duh-duh-duuur’. So use it as a reminder, use it as a shibboleth, use it as your red line (and what happened to all of them, now we have a Conservative majority government?).

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Find five, then ten, then twenty people you like and trust. Form a resistance cell. Share a pot of tea, break bread. Find small acts. Don’t blow up bridges, cut down telegraph wires, dynamite roads. Use that energy to build new things, new ways to help each other, new structures to support others. Communicate with other cells. Don’t be angry. We’re all in this together. We really are.

#dotdotdotdash or V chalked on walls is a visible sign that we’re here and fighting back. Underneath that public statement, though, we have big things to do. We need to house each other, feed each other, clothe each other, help each other wherever and however we can. Every little bit helps, to borrow a phrase from the occupiers.

I grew up on a council estate in Worthing. I wasn’t poor; we didn’t have a particularly tragic upbringing, even though my mum left and my dad brought us up. Single parent family. We had a council house, so my dad could save and eventually buy it. We went to a childminder, before and after school, so he could work as a schoolteacher, a step up from his earlier job as a record store manager. We had a holiday every year, with PGL, so got to experience amazing things in beautiful places. We didn’t have a car, but lived in a town that was flat and easy to move around, so by the age of 12 I was cycling freely. We had a playing field behind the house, and fields and streams nearby at the foot of the South Downs (now housing, and offices – Southern Water’s HQ is on the stream where I caught Sticklebacks).

And we had a sense of place. I lived on the Maybridge Estate and in many ways, still do. In a society still as class-based as ours, growing up on a council estate means you know your place. It was a mark; people from the posher parts of town very much looked down on it. But we lived together, and I still have friends who grew up on the estate. I’m oddly proud of the ones that went to John Selden School with me and did well. No crab bucket, Maybridge, but something else entirely.

Mr Woods lived over the road from us. He’s a millionaire now, I believe, an early Lottery winner. But I remember one act of his that I think the British Resistance can copy. He was a binman. He’d collect all the tokens from cereal boxes on his rounds, and send off for the free toys. Enough for all of us in the street. So let’s start there.

Let’s collect all the tokens from cereal boxes, send off for the free stuff, and give it to people who can use it.

Let’s buy Two-For-One whenever we can, and bag the spares for redistribution.

Let’s find little ways to redistribute the ample wealth our society has, and make that the first act of our resistance.

Let’s use the skills and the spaces we have for the common good. If you can sew; help people patch their clothes well. If you can grow; share your crops. If you can teach; share your knowledge. If you can act or sing or dance; help people to keep smiling.

That belief in kindness, sharing and helping others is the only reason that the Welfare State was built, and it came out of a long period of austerity. Real austerity, born of a need to fight fascism, an austerity that continued because we helped the countries devastated by war to rebuild. Austerity as a proper sacrifice, not just for our own nation but to help the world become a safer, better, kinder place.

That’s of course very different to the austerity being forced on us now at the rough end of 35 years of Thatcherite hatred of helping others (the whole of my conscious life lived under one political ideology!).

So resist, redistribute, remember, and write V on walls.

People I want to collaborate with

I’m looking ahead, from halfway through a year long residency in Stoke, and thinking ‘What’s next?’. I’ve always enjoyed collaboration and have been lucky enough to work with some cracking artists, makers and designers; I’d be far richer if I didn’t use the small budgets I get for projects to work with other people. So here are a few of the people who’ve been on my mind, that I’d like to collaborate with over the next couple of years8:

Lloyd DavisLloyd Davis is currently working with me on a project in Sittingbourne, Workshop 34. He’s a master of many things, carries a uke and makes me think and smile.

The Ossett Observer gang are dangerous, full-blown anarchists. They tend to have ukes too. And poetry. And pigeons.

Geek is a rather neat festival in Margate. Built around vintage gaming, it’s really about technology in East Kent. It was set up by Kate Kneale from HKD, and she also has some good ideas about pottery which ties in with my work in Stoke.

She Makes War is the musical project from Laura Kidd, who’s also a film-maker – she made the Pop Up People project much better than it would have been without her. I can’t play anything so don’t know what our collaboration would be… but hey.

I absolutely love The Shell Grotto. It’s got real English magic and mystery and it inspires me every time I visit. Run by great people, too.

Equally bonkers is the Powell-Cotton Museum. I was lucky enough to work with their education chap, Keith, earlier this year. I’ve spent a lot of time around museums, but he’s something special. Another project there would be great.

Company of Makers is the latest thing from Steve Bomford, who joined me on the Empty Shops Network tour a few years back. Top chap, top project.

Tom Swift, madman, That’s all.

P1120627Andy Lewis didn’t used to be nearly as cool as he is now, when I DJ’d with him at Blow Up. Ogh alright – he was always rather cool. But now he’s Paul Weller’s bass player too. Another musical collaboration.

I’m already collaborating, kind of, with Sarah Nadin, on #chumbrella. Lovely artist, cracking good ideas.

And further afield – Gap Filler in New Zealand, and Marcus Westbury and Simone Sheridan in Australia. But they take a bit more planning…

* (and no, it’s not an exhaustive list – it’s one thrown together quickly – so don’t worry if you’re not here. It’ll grow over the next few weeks.)

Swifty’s Sunday Social, 20 years ago

P1160328It’s odd, looking back and realising that the summer of 2014 was 20 years ago. We were just having fun in a battered seaside town and I don’t think any of us considered that what we were doing would have such an impact. We weren’t a gang, and never called ourselves Imaginists back then. What we were doing wasn’t a conscious attempt to shape the future, even if we did all secretly believe we could change the world. But Margate was burning bright in 2014. There had been months of great theatre, incredible art happenings, a buzz in the national media (newspapers, back then – newspapers!)

It really came together on a Sunday afternoon at the sleepy end of that summer; Swift hadn’t had even one platinum album then, there was little to suggest he’d win the Turner Prize twice, and the idea that there’d be a room dedicated to him in Margate’s Imaginist Centre was faintly ridiculous. He was Tom Swift, not Swift; he hadn’t become, like Madonna, somebody known by a single name. He was just oddball painter Tom Swift, a lanky, awkward character with an eye on the main chance, fingers in some odd pies, a hatful of ideas, a neat line in drippy paintings. And, in Caspar, a mentor.

Yes, that Caspar – he was charismatic even then, but we didn’t realise how dangerous his religious quackery would become. I’m not sure then he even believed in the Sacred Duck; it was just an in joke. I think after Apple introduced the smart drugs, they started to alter the world around him, and he believed the coincidences and chances meant something. If we had known how far he’d take it, well; we’d have pushed him off the harbour arm, the Thames Barrier wouldn’t have been damaged so badly by that ridiculous Rubber Duck, and London wouldn’t have flooded.

P1160550Anyway – together Swift and Caspar and me cooked up the plan for Swifty’s Sunday Social at the Black Cat Club. Not the one you can visit now, of course – that’s a shameless cash-in, a Disneyfied version of where we hung out. It’s not even in the same place. There never was a Black Cat at the Imaginist Centre on the seafront. Back then it was an art gallery called Turner Contemporary, and that summer it was exhibiting work by Jeremy Deller. Forgotten now, but back then he was the big star, not us. Today’s Black Cat at the Imaginist Centre is just an imitation, as authentic as The Cavern in Liverpool, but it’s made Keith Roberts rich and famous. When I watch him on the panel of England’s Got Talent, I can’t help but remember the Gabicci-wearing, quiffed, suited and booted wideboy he was back then. He hasn’t really changed much, has he?

Our Black Cat, back then, was across the road; it’s the toilets of Starbucks now – I know, tiny. It was a proper underground club, sweat dripping from the ceiling and the walls sticky. It was where Swifty’s Sunday Social started, and my own Face Up! too. That was just supposed to be a one-off night, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Mods vs Rockers battles in Margate in 1964. I never saw Face Up! becoming the brand it has become, and every one of our coffee shops around the world has a little bit of the Black Cat spirit, every item of clothing in our shops is inspired by what people were wearing in Margate back then, every disc and download in our record shops could have graced the turntables that year. But I digress; the first Swifty’s Sunday Social, all those Sundays ago, is what I’m writing about.

It was a good afternoon. There was a DJ, a local vicar called Emmet Keane (remember, there was still a Church of England back then!), playing reggae and dub; and Helen Seymour performed her poetry. She was an interesting character; slight and hauntingly beautiful, magic eyes, slightly awkward as we all were, slipping rhymes and interesting images into rambling stories. I saw the spark in her, but still can’t believe she’s the same person who wrote that poem for the old Queen’s funeral, let alone that her brief affair with a prince that started at the funeral could topple the monarchy.

P1160510And there was a Simon Williams film projected on the wall, too. I know, I know, it seems unlikely – a Turner Prize winner, the Poet Laureate, a ten-times Oscar winner, a TV superstar, the Prime Minister and me all in the one place, on one Sunday afternoon, but it’s true. It really happened. Simon’s film was a precursor to ‘365’, that won him that first Oscar. It was a black and white film (timelapse, of course, could it be anything else, from him?) shot from Arlington House, which wasn’t the swanky, gated place it’s become. Back then it was just a towerblock, Margate just a seaside town.

The crowd that Sunday afternoon was full of good, interesting people, too. Joe Brown was there; he was a shopkeeper, ran a junk shop with Kelly. He hadn’t become a politician then, had no ambitions to become Prime Minister. Really! Back then, people were career politicians, not people like Joe who just rose from nowhere. There were photographers, and writers, and painters, and dancers, and shopkeepers out that afternoon. The Breuer and Dawson boys, before they hosted their TV makeover series, before Breuer and Dawson was just a chain store. IndustroChic wasn’t a thing back then. A good crowd, for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but not as many people as have said they were there; we’d never have fitted everyone that said they were at the first one into that tiny room. I remember Simon saying we needed ten more people to make it feel busy; Caspar wanted fifty more. There was room for ten, room for fifty, and there weren’t queues around the block back then for anything Swift did.

I guess it’s that weekend that changed it all, really; that made it clear we had a scene. I know the Black Cat is compared to Warhol’s Factory, and while that’s a lazy comparison there’s something in it. The atmosphere maybe, that bottled sense of excitement, that belief that we could take on the world and win, that buttoned-down madness – but the impact of the Imaginists has been so much bigger, deeper, wider. It all started one Sunday, and nothing’s been quite the same since.

Margate, November 2034

Harvest celebration

P1140414Northdown Primary School in Margate is a good school in tough circumstances. It has 342 students (the national average is around 250) and 62.5% of them are eligible for free school meals – the average is below 30%. More than a quarter of students don’t speak English as their first language. The number of disabled students, and those with special educational needs, are both above the national averages, too.

And with all of that – it’s received a ‘Good’ in the latest Oftsed inspection, driven up from ‘Satisfactory’ by a new headteacher and academy status. I was worried about schools, moving to Margate; but I don’t think my children could be at a better school. It’s better than their previous schools in Worthing, and better than the schools my oldest went to there as well.

The day-to-day teaching is superb, the support we’ve received as parents new to the area exceptional and quite emotional, and the off-site trips (including a choir concert in St Paul’s Cathedral, a visit to a West End show and a trip to Hampton Court Palace) brilliant. While we appreciate those – the impact on some of the poorer children in the area must be incredible. At the St Paul’s concert, I met parents who’d never been to London before.

And now, it’s time for Harvest Festival,- a tradition that I remember from school as always being slightly meaningless. We took in donations of food, that were sent away, somewhere, for someone else. Well – Northdown Primary have closed that gap, in a tough area where over 32% of children are living in poverty. As usual, everyone will bring in donations of food and drink. These will be made up into eight hampers. And every child will receive a ticket, free of charge, for a raffle; with eight children getting to take home one of the hampers.

Such a neat idea; tough, practical, and teaching children about philanthropy at the same time. So – if anyone would like to make a donation, get in touch.

Worthing’s favourite developers

For some time, Worthing’s been singing to the tune of one local property developer. Roffey Homes are behind a number of developments in the town.

Established in 1960 as a building company, it’s since 2000 that the company has taken off; all the directors are members of the Cheal family, and presumably the change in direction came when the children took over their father’s business. All Roffey Homes work is carried out by Westbrooke Developments – registered at the same address and with the same set of company directors.

Everything Roffey Homes build is billed as ‘iconic’ but in fact, they’re all pretty bland regeneration-lite architecture. It’s all blocky, all crams as many ‘luxury flats’ into as small a site as possible, all degrades the public realm with poor integration with the street, and is all aimed not at local people who need homes, but at people who wanted a second home by the sea, or somewhere to commute from. In short; they’re not developments that are good for Worthing’s people.

Worthing Pier

They’re not the kind of buildings that are recognised as good planning anywhere (Jacobs, Mumford and Tibbalds are all turning in their graves), but in a town that’s been desperate for change (pre-Roffey, there have been no significant developments since the 1970s) and which has a large incoming population who don’t understand the grain of the town’s history, they’re big shiny signs that change is happening. Council officers can point and them and say ‘we’re delivering regeneration’ and councillors can say; ‘look what was built on my watch!’ It’s a great example of the Politician’s Syllogism:

We must do something, this is something, we must do this.

But actually the ‘something’ is doing huge damage, although it’ll probably be 20 years before the scale of that is understood. Remember that the Guildbourne Centre, and the Marks & Spencer site on the seafront, and even the old Aquarena were all seen as high-quality when they were built.

The first major Roffey development destroyed a lovely 1930s block, Roberts Marine Mansions. This building belonged to one of London’s trade guilds, and provided homes for retired tailors and haberdashers. It was built with care and class, full of beautiful period details, windows and railings and reliefs on the walls, and was knocked down in the late 1990s to build a pastiche Art Deco block where apartments sell for twice the local average home and 17 times the average local wage.

That’s a pattern they’ve continued on the site of the Warnes Hotel, Eardley Hotel and Beach Hotel, all landmark buildings demolished to build cheap pastiches full of luxury apartments.

And those three developments do further damage, removing any hopes of tourism growth in Worthing at a time when UK tourism is in growth. A recent report suggested that demand for affordable hotel and guesthouse accommodation is high, and the existing businesses turn away trade, and that there’s a local need for an ‘incremental growth in accommodation supply and a focus on high quality, modern accommodation offers that can generate new business.’ It says that Premier Inn are looking for an 80 rooms site locally, and there’s further potential to develop the market for accommodation from kite surfers and watersports markets.

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Even worse is the way that the developments are segregated from the town. The Warnes site and the neighbouring Eardley development are both at key points on Worthing seafront, providing the link between the town centre and pier, and the revamped East Beach, fast becoming the new centre of beach life in the town. But both developments are walled off, providing aggressive frontages and contributing nothing to the street. The Warnes building (pictured above) has a wall at street level. Neither building has entrances or windows at street level. They’re very carefully excluded from public life, and not for local people.

That goes against the successful regeneration of this area of Worthing, too, which has all been about fine grain, people-scaled urbanism. The success of Craft:Pegg’s public realm at Splash Point (pictured below), the East Beach Studios, even the new swimming pool itself, are because of their friendly scale.

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And incredibly – Roffey Homes latest plan is even worse. Worthing Borough Council spent over £17 million building a new swimming pool, to replace the larger 1960s Aquarena. To give you something to compare that to, it’s the same cost as Margate’s Turner Contemporary, which has attracted over 1.5 million visitors to the town and has generated acres of press coverage. To fund this expensive new pool, with a pirate ship inside named after local councillor Paul Yallop, the old Aquarena site would be sold for development. It’s a prime beachfront site, at the edge of Worthing’s string of Victorian parks and butting up against the new swimming pool’s expensive (and genuinely iconic) architecture.

Aquarena

Roffey’s proposal for this important spot? a twenty storey towerblock (taller than any other building in Worthing) providing more exclusive apartments. It’s clad in something white, has a poor rhythm of jumbled windows, and has a string of cheap balconies up the sea side, A cluttered jumble of low rise blocks and some privatised public space at the bottom complete the proposals. Is it good? No. It’s cheap architecture, it doesn’t relate in any way to the location, it contributes little to the expected future of this active beach and it crams homes into a small site, straining local infrastructure. Schools locally are full, the small grid of local roads often at gridlock and the next door pool often has long queues.

Residents already expressed their concerns, at a series of consultations in June; but the developers have ignored them and come back with a towerblock the same size.

And it’ll probably get permission, because Worthing Borough Council need to pay down their large debts on the neighbouring pool. Councillor Bryan Turner, in charge of regeneration, said before any plans were even drawn up that “I look forward to working with Roffey Homes, to bring another high quality development to Worthing.” When you have the council’s Cabinet Member as your cheerleader, you must feel pretty confident.

MP says ‘abolish the House of Commons’

Interesting stuff from our MP here in North Thanet, Sir Roger Gale:

“First, I welcome the fact that the Scots have rejected the separatists` cause. The break-up of the United Kingdom would have had disastrous consequences for Scotland and for the rest of the Union.

I am, though, concerned that we appear to be about to rush into legislation to honour commitments given on the hoof and without consultation with parliament during the campaign while leaving Wales, Northern Ireland and most particularly England trailing in Scotland`s “Home Rule” wake.

I have long advocated the abolition of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons and their replacement with four national parliaments, under First Ministers, dealing with all parochial issues and national taxation, together with a United Kingdom Senate (elected on a two member per UK County basis) under a Prime Minister that would deal with Defence, Foreign Policy and macro-taxation and which would perpetuate and maintain the Union..

Westminster should by now have received a loud and clear message that root-and-branch reform is long overdue. We have the opportunity, arising from the result of the referendum, to get to grips with the whole issue and we should seize that opportunity.”

Thanet Press plans refused

TP1It was a bit of an honour to be asked to speak at Thanet District Council’s planning committee last night. I was there on behalf of our local residents, asking the council to turn down plans for a large site on the road where I live. The former Thanet Press works is a lovely jumble of buildings from the earlier Bobby & Co, the first Victorian printers on the site, up to 1950s modernist blocks built when Thanet Press was part of the publisher Eyre & Spotiswoode. I’ve written about the history of the site previously. The plans are to replace this with two large blocks of flats, one storey higher than the surrounding terraces and over twice the height of any buildings currently on the site. The current facade, a pleasing jumble of buildings in different styles, would become one big, uniform building – a tower block laid on it’s side and dressed in an amateur dramatic company’s version of a Georgian costume.

Our ward councillor, Iris Johnston, had called for the plans to be seen by the full committee, after planning, traffic and conservation officers all recommended refusal. And Iris spoke on behalf of the developers last night, who she confirmed she’d had a number of meetings with. She reinforced her credentials as a supporter of the Armed Forces, and suggested that the 64 one and two bed flats to be crammed into the site might be ‘Homes For Heroes’ (there’s no evidence that this is the plan). Iris was taking a brave stand, speaking out against 34 of her constituents, the Resident’s Association in her ward, the town’s Conservation Area Advisory Group, and the council’s own officers, who’d all objected to the plans – not one local had written in support of them. Iris asked for any decision to be deferred, to allow a site visit to the collection of buildings which are just across the road from the council’s offices.

TP2Thankfully, councillors disagreed with her, with Cllr. Clive Hart pointing out that he’d walked past the site at least a thousand times. The plans were refused unanimously, fourteen committee votes against them.

Here’s what I said last night:

Good evening Chair and members; my name is Dan Thompson. I am a Union Crescent resident  and am speaking on behalf of the Hawley Square Residents Association.

We urge committee members to refuse this application for all the reasons raised by Planning Officers. Residents would like to draw attention to 4 points:

1. Density
Margate Central is already densely populated, and is one of the most deprived areas in the UK with a high concentration of small flats. Existing houses in Union Crescent are split into as many as six flats.
The small flats attract a transient population, which causes problems which the council’s planning department, the Margate Task Force and our ward councillor are aware of.

The housing strategy says we have too many small flats and not enough family houses – a fact highlighted when we moved here, from Worthing, and struggled to find a family home to rent. This scheme proposes 64, 1 and 2-bed flats. This is completely against policy. Instead of addressing a need, this development would make a problem situation, worse. Cllr Hayton spoke earlier about cramming – this is cramming on a massive scale.

2. Highways
These additional flats with 1 parking space will be harmful to the amenity of all neighbours, and is against policy D1.
The strain on street parking and pedestrian movement highlighted in the officer’s report is increased by large numbers driving in from elsewhere and using the mosque, churches and the Theatre Royal. And this in a road already busy with buses and delivery lorries. We are particularly concerned about the problem of crossing at the top of Pump Lane and note the Highways Officer’s concerns about crossings for those with impaired mobility.

3. Heritage
Union Crescent is in a Conservation area. It is lined with a variety of fine buildings, many grade II listed.
The collection of industrial buildings that form Thanet Press are unique and tell the story of earlier prinetsr on this site and of a nationally-important company, founded in 1770, printing everything from bibles to Royal Wedding invitations and exam papers. Policy says these buildings should be protected or enhanced. Wiping out this history would be harmful to the Conservation Area.

The massive block of flats proposed would be overbearing and even more harmful to Union Crescent,  Princes Street and its Listed neighbours.

Demolition and redevelopment is only permitted if it would enhance the Conservation area. This does not enhance the area, and should be refused because it is against national policy and local policy D1.

The existing buildings can adapted and re-used. Their heritage celebrated. Other developers do this –The Vinyl Factory in West London, Butler’s Wharf on the Thames and Circus Street Market in Brighton are all premium developments because of their history.

There is no evidence of any attempt to preserve these buildings and people like me, who’ve approached the agents, have never had a reply, or have been told the site is unavailable.

4. Employment
Which leads to my final point; employment. Thanet Press at one time provided employment for 300 people. While the economy has changed, there is still a need for employment in the area, which has above average unemployment.

At the same time, businesses like mine are unable to find suitable premises and creative studios and coworking spaces across the town – of which there are a remarkably high number – are all at capacity.
No other site in Margate lends itself so well to a mixed ecology of studios, offices, spaces for small-scale manufacture, live-work units – all with an excellent street-facing façade and just a minute from the old town which is also at full capacity. This is in line with both local and national policy.

Thanet Press boarded up is a problem; but opened up by good development and new use, this could be the biggest opportunity Margate has to embed the emerging creative economy in the town centre.

Thank you.

nb The above is taken from my notes and is not a transcript of what was said so may vary slightly from any recording.

Kafka, student loans and not being who I say I am

“You can’t go away when you’re under arrest.”

 

“That’s how it seems,” said K. “And why am I under arrest?” he then asked.

 

“That’s something we’re not allowed to tell you. Go into your room and wait there. Proceedings are underway and you’ll learn about everything all in good time. It’s not really part of my job to be friendly towards you like this,”

Franz Kafka had obviously had dealings with Student Finance England. That’s my conclusion, at the end of a day spent trying to sort out loans for our daughter to get to university.

Me and Mrs T been trying to speak to Student Finance England (SFE), but can’t access our details because we fail the security question asking for our address. We have given our current address, and just for luck, all our addresses for the past 15 years. None of these will allow us to access the account details – and SFE can’t check what the address they have is, because… we can’t pass the security question.

This all started in June; so as well as the calls, we have written, and have received a standard reply which says SFE will need our Customer Reference Number. To get that, we just need to access our account by calling, and answering the security questions. Er…

The supervisor slammed the box of matches down on the table. “You’re making a big mistake,” he said. “These gentlemen and I have got nothing to do with your business, in fact we know almost nothing about you. We could be wearing uniforms as proper and exact as you like and your situation wouldn’t be any the worse for it. As to whether you’re on a charge, I can’t give you any sort of clear answer to that, I don’t even know whether you are or not. You’re under arrest, you’re quite right about that, but I don’t know any more than that.

Student Finance England seems to be a trading names of the Student Loans Company, but, in conversations with the call centre staff, they have confirmed that they are not employed by SFE; they refused to give me details of who they were employed by.

So there’s certainly some minor bureaucratic incompetence, definitely a failure in the designs of SFE’s systems, probably our information being posted to somebody else’s address, and possibly a serious breach of data protection, as somebody may be fraudulently using our names and details registered to another address.

More importantly – we don’t know how we can secure the necessary finance to enable our daughter to take the place she has been offered at Northampton University. 

But whatever’s going on, SFE can’t tell us, because we may not be us. I’m going to re-read Kafka’s The Trial this evening, see if that can give me any advice. but from what I remember, it doesn’t end well.

An alternative to ‘gentrification’

 

The second theory proposed by London and Palen is based on a sociocultural explanation of gentrification. This theory argues that values, sentiments, attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and choices should be used to explain and predict human behavior, not demographics. (London and Palen, 1984). This analysis focuses on the changing attitudes, lifestyles, and values of the middle- and upper-middle-class of the 1970s. They were becoming more pro-urban than before, opting not to live in rural or even suburban areas anymore. These new pro-urban values were becoming more salient, and more and more people began moving into the cities. London and Palen refer to the first people to invade the cities as “urban pioneers.” These urban pioneers demonstrated that the inner-city was an “appropriate” and “viable” place to live, resulting in what is called “inner city chic” (London and Palen, 1984)Strutton Ground

We all want the places where we live to be better than they are; around the country, I meet and work with people who are trying to increase opportunities, raise aspirations and create more chances to do great things.

And it’s hard to argue against that. Who doesn’t want better parks, cleaner streets, nicer shops, friendlier cafes, more life in public spaces, a new swimming pool, locally-sourced food, good schools, the opportunity to enjoy the arts, for there to be a little more money in the council’s hands so they can provide more services locally?

The problem, of course, is gentrification – when those things come, the place becomes more desirable, new people want to move in, so the cost of living increases. Some thinkers would have you believe that this is something new, a problem created by a new class of white urban hipsters with beards and bobble hats. While they’re an easy target, it’s not their fault.Brighton

How did Brighton move from being a small fishing village with a huddle of squalid cottages around an open steyne to being the bustling bohemian city it is today? A wave of literal gentry-fication in the 1780s as Londoners bought cheap land, a railway boom in the 1840s which brought the town closer to London still, a decline as a seaside resort in the 1970s and a resurgence as the creative classes leaving London picked up cheap space from the 1970s to the 1990s. And today, property prices are high, living costs more than ever, the poor are struggling and the city has never looked better. There was no single act, no one decision to ‘gentrify’ the neighbourhood.

And we see the same in Brixton, too. Urban designers Spacemakers have been blamed for the gentrification of the neighbourhood. But look more closely, and we see, less the hand of gentrification, than the swirl of a busy, changing city. Yes, they’ve transformed the market in Granville Arcade by bringing in new traders, but that was never a static space. It was 50% empty when they took over, and the traders there were selling to a mix of different local populations. People remembered it as the centre of a vibrant West Indian community, but it hadn’t been that for a long time. Granville Arcade was built as a market for Eastern Eurpoean Jews. As that community left the area post-World War Two, it changed.

Oswald Denniston, passenger on the Empire Windrush, became the first African-Caribbean trader in the Granville Arcade (and, I’m certain that if you want to delve in dusty local paper archives, you’ll find angry stories about how the market is changing beyond recognition as these young, black men replace old Eastern European traders). From the 1960s to the 1980s, it became a market with one strong culture, but during the 1980s and 90s, it faded; a new community, formed around immigrants from the Indian sub-continent moved in. And in the 21st century, it shifted again, half empty until Spacemakers intervened, and the people priced out of Camden, Covent Garden and the East End moved their businesses in.Secondo

Gentrification isn’t the act of some person with authority; it’s not imposed on places by central decree; it’s not dictated. There aren’t property developers looking like people managing the Battle of Britain, a giant plan table with a map of the country, ‘move a squadron of performance artists there and a battalion of web designers here’. That’s not what’s happening.

And neither is it the grand task of local councils. Anyone who’s ever tried to work alongside one, tried to secure planning permission from one, ever worked for one will know that they’re simply not that clever. Yes, they’d like big, shiny developments – but largely, because the perpetual promise of a new swimming pool, ice rink or multiplex cinema keeps local residents passive.

In the last hundred years, we’ve all got better off. We all have a standard of living that would probably be unimaginable to my grandparents, to my great-grandad who was born in Brixton, my grandad who was bombed in Dulwich, my grandma who lived in a terraced house in Worthing and walked 2.4 miles before dawn every day to the house where she was in service.P1020273

And we all expect that to continue. We want that to be even better off; we all want cleaner neighbourhoods and nicer neighbours, better parks and bigger playgrounds, schools that do well and shops that sell good stuff. We want the buzz of the city, the background noise of art, culture and creativity, the diversity of experience, the vibrancy of the street, the taste of good food.

The value of places shifts, changes, moves – Covent Garden was cheap when people said ‘Rhubarb to the Covent Garden Plan’, Camden was affordable when people bought land from crate maker T E Dingwalls – it was the dirt, disease and degradation of boutique-central Seven Dials that inspired Charles Dickens.

So places will change, the richest will become the poorest, new people will move in and old ones will leave. If you’ve got a suggestion for a better way than gentrification, a way to make places better to live in without encouraging more people to want to move there, I’d love to hear it. But I suspect there isn’t one, and that what we’re seeing is part of the natural life of places.

 

The Future of the High Street (2009 version)

I was going through some archived stuff, and found this, written in 2009. Back then, the general consensus was that small shops had failed, and over the next couple of years Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey backed up that idea, producing reports that said the High Street was dead, and big supermarkets were the way forward. Now, Tesco is failing and has cancelled big store builds, the supermarkets are buying up pubs to open as smaller stores, and the latest report says that the High Street is backTea party at Workshop 24

 

It’s a recession, so we need to restore and revive the high street. But after that, it’s time to reinvent and reimagine our town centres as we try to find again the balance between business and community.

Let’s make town centres places for swapping and sharing, as well as spending.

Let’s fill them with debate and discussion. Let’s make town centres about ideas and inspiration, as well as just investment. Let’s make town centre’s friendly and flexible. Let’s make them public, not private. Let’s make town centres about local business and local distinctiveness, as well as big business and branding.

Let’s create spaces that are nests, so small businesses can learn to fly. Let’s make spaces that are social, so people can come together and find common ground. Let’s find ways for people of every age, every shape, every size and every budget to fit in our town centres.

Let’s explore spaces that are dead, and fill them with life.

Let’s do it ourselves.

Let’s get started right now.

 

 

Goodbye, Nick Hurd

I’ve been working in the arts, involved in the voluntary sector and tinkering with ideas of community organising for most of my life. I was brought up by parents who were active and involved in the community, and have been getting stuck in myself since the age of 13, when I got backstage at Worthing’s Connaught Theatre as part of their community arts programme.

While my stuff has always been about work at street level, about the simplest route to action, about doing things with the smallest resource, it’s been good in the last few years to know that what I was doing was appreciated at the other end of the scale.

14185543804_6bc4033f61_oNick Hurd MP was the Minister for Civil Society at the time of the August 2011 riots, and we first spoke on the day of #riotcleanup when he pledged his support and ensured the thousands of volunteers I’d mobilised had a free run at doing something good.

He became a great advocate for the work I was involved in. I heard him tell the story of #riotcleanup at events a few times; my broken Toshiba laptop, coffee delivered to the door, and my liking for takeaway food becoming slightly more exaggerated each time.

We’ve kept in touch since, and he helped me try and test ideas around using social media for social good with #wewillgather. He helped us launch the project and reach a much wider audience, ensuring that the ideas we put forward are still being discussed today.

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And Nick gave me the chance to push the government to bring their empty buildings into community use, setting up a meeting with Chloe Smith MP and the government’s empty property team.

Nick was a genuine enthusiast for the ideas behind the Big Society – finding new ways of volunteering, increasing people’s involvement in the places they live, shrinking bureaucracy, trying and testing and taking risks, developing a more people-based approach to taking action. Wherever you are, politically, those are good things.

As part of David Cameron’s recent reshuffle, Nick has resigned as the Minister for Civil Society. He said, ‘Thanks to so many friends and critics in our brilliant voluntary sector. You have often driven me nuts, but my respect and love are undimmed.’

Hard as it is to say this as an anarchist, I’m genuinely sorry to see a Conservative minister go. So goodbye, Nick Hurd, but I hope we can still drive you nuts occasionally.

Some personal thoughts on #wewillgather

I’ve never wanted permanence. I’ve never wanted to stay in control of things I’ve started. I’ve never worried about letting go.

Demo at NestaSo I’m not sad about closing down the #wewillgather website. It was a good idea, it delivered on the investment Nesta made in it, it inspired lots of people to do good things. It was built by Revolutionary Arts, the tiny business I’ve run since 2001, and our technical partners were Fresh Egg. They were from our hometown – it felt good to put a good contract in local hands. We never made #wewillgather into another organisation – it was always just a project, a bunch of freelancers working together. mainly, me and Lloyd (when I say ‘we’ that’s who I’m thinking of).

#wewillgather has helped lots of bigger organisations look at how they can mobilise volunteers, too. I’m talking to a group of National Trust managers this month about how they can encourage small-scale volunteering- even the establishment are interested. It’s a pity we didn’t get one big adopt – the national beach cleans, say, or a major campaign by a big charity. That would have pushed the site over the top in a way we never quite managed. But over the next few years, some of the organisations we met and evangelised to will adopt similar ways of working to the one we championed with #wewillgather. Volunteering is on the rise. Our type of volunteering especially so.

We were able to talk to politicians too, across the party lines, about the stuff we loved – social media, organising without organisations and taking local action. We showed them a smaller, street-level world outside the big, monolithic charities that usually lobby them.

#wewillgather parliamentary launchWe were open, and egalitarian. I’m proud of that. Like Tim said at the London 2012 opening Ceremony, ‘This is for everyone’. In 21 months, #wewillgather was used by town centre managers, Rotary Clubs, independent shops, national cleanup campaigns, anarchists, the RSPB, small charities, happiness campaigners and most often, by committed local citizens. It showed them they could organise for themselves. It helped people take a first step towards gathering their own tribe around them.

Nobody got rich quick, and nobody lost a fortune either. But it was good to have a budget for once, that covered a proper website build, and the time and resources needed to make things happen. That’s rare, and a privilege, so thank you to Alice Casey and the team at Nesta for allowing it to happen that way.

BBC LondonIt wasn’t an easy project at the very start. I wrestled with a technical partner, much bigger than our team, who never really got our ideas about being Open Source and thinking Agile. They were into building big, shiny things for clients, not working collaboratively. With hindsight (and with more confidence – I have that now) I’d have done things differently there. But we built it, on time, on budget, it worked and people loved the neat Twitter integration. Did you miss that? You could start a page on the website from a Tweet. Dead cool.

But I’m taking it back to where we started – Twitter and Facebook. We started good things, and the ideas we pushed will continue to inspire people to start their own good things. We’ll keep the community that’s grown up on Facebook and Twitter talking about similar ideas, new ways of working, good tools for getting people together.

I’m looking forward to what’s next – fresh conversations and new collaborations.

End the expenses scandal

Peel PrecinctWe can end the expenses scandal which, thanks to Maria Miller’s bungling and threats, is back in the papers again.

It needs some spending up front, but we’ll be better off for years to come.

1. Buy accomodation for MPs in London. They need a small flat each, somewhere to stay overnight when there’s a late sitting at the House or they need to be in town. One big block, or a converted housing estate, ideally on the Westminster Line to get them to work easily.  Add a canteen, so that – when they’re working really hard – food’s available. So – no London housing costs, no food expenses allowed. Where they choose to live in their cosntituency is their business, and they can pay for it themselves – just like every other hardworking person.

2. They need an office – well, they already have one in London. Give them all the same stationery – no expenses allowed for that stuff. Bulk buying paper, laptops, pens and everything else that’s needed will ensure a good price, too.

3. And buy a shop in the High Street in every constituency. This is used by the sitting MP, regardless of party, as their office and it gives them a public face. No need for them to find and rent their own office, or to pay rent from the public purse to their own constituency party for the use of their buildings. Again, that office gets a set amount of equipment and a set amount of stationery – no extra allowances there.

4. The big one is staff, of course. So all MPs get two, somebody to man their constituency office, someone to act as their London assistant. These are proper jobs, paid the Living Wage, but no more. And they’re all appointed through one central government office – not given to family members or old friends.

This not only ends the expenses scandal – it puts all MPs on a level, with equal resources to do their jobs. If they want extra – they have to work to find the resources themselves.

 

In the future, everyone will be an expert for 15 minutes

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes

The trouble with experts these days is that as soon as they’ve said something, it’s been made irrelevant by something changing. We are living in times when things change so quickly the experts can’t keep up. What are the experts in Jacquard Looms, typewriting, Morse Code, the ARPANET, BBC Microcomputers, Ceefax, Friends Reunited and MySpace doing now?

And things aren’t going to slow down; each new piece of technology shortens the time that it takes to make the next new piece of technology. Literally – 3D printers are being used to print bigger, better 3D printers. It’s getting faster, and you’re getting slower. This applies to the way that social media has changed the music industry, to the physical bricks and mortar of our town centres, to the way we teach our children. Everything is changing, here comes everybody, and everybody is an expert.

We can still be experts, but it’s not a badge for life. Learn something, learn it well, but be willing to be overtaken by technology and another expert quite quickly. Being good at something doesn’t make you a master, not any more. We’re going to have to learn to take turns at being experts.

So here’s Thompson’s Tenet: In the future, everyone will be an expert for 15 minutes.

Getting a school place in Kent

It shouldn’t be hard to get your children into the school round the corner.

In Sussex, the county council have an admissions office. Parents apply once, and are allocated a school, whether it’s their first, second or third choice. There’s a process that puts the child at the centre.

In Kent, we have found since moving to Margate, they do things differently. You have to apply to each individual school directly. You can’t apply in August (a popular time for families to move) because the schools are closed. So at the start of September, already busy school offices are made busier by a queue of parents making applications. Every parent, applying to every possible school.

So of course, every school office is dealing with applications that will never be taken up, because another school, a preferred choice, is saying yes. Schools are dealing with incomplete data – they don’t know who’s staying on their roll, who’s moved away, and who’s being added.

Meanwhile, children (quite possibly, new to  an area) have to live with uncertainty, and will miss the first two weeks of term. That’s how long it will take schools to establish who is on their roll, and who has moved, and who will take up their offered places. The two weeks when friendships, are made and routines are learnt, are lost.

It would hardly be possible to create a more inefficient, wasteful system. Or one which cared less about the children it’s supposed to be for.

There’s a fine of up to £120 if a parent fails to ensure their child attends school. There’s no penalty for schools that can’t accept children that live in the next street.

We’re home educating, because we don’t want our children – enthusiastic learners – to miss out. Without a school, what else can we do?

For the 99 percent

Yip Harburg, lyricist of The Wizard of Oz film, would have been amused that “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” rose to the top of the charts when Margaret Thatcher died. WS Gilbert and George Bernard Shaw taught Yip Harburg, democratic socialist, sworn challenger of all tyranny against the people, that “humor is an act of courage” and dissent.

Those who sang the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” in the film The Wizard of Oz celebrated the end of tyranny at the hands of the Wicked Witch of the East. That celebration was not in L. Frank Baum’s book. Yip’s artistic leadership put it into the film. (Yip also brought the rainbow, also not in the book, into the film.)

Yip said, “Humor is the antidote to tyranny” and, “Show me a place without humor and I’ll show you a disaster area.” Yip believed tyranny is caused by the policies of austerity, imperialism, theocracy and class supremacy, which deny most people human rights and economic freedom from poverty and want. A song — music and lyrics — allows singers and audiences to “feel the thought” of the lyric. “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” is a universal cry against the cruelty of tyrants and a protest against the ban on laughter at that cruelty. For the 99 percent, laughing and joy are required at the funeral of a tyrant. According to Yip, humor gives us hope in hard times.

Ernie Harburg, son of the lyricist and senior reasearch scientist at the University of Michigan, quoted in the New York Time blogs.

#factscleanup (Or – Did Mrs Thatcher really save Britain?)

BrightonWelfare spending for 2011-12 shows that the benefits paid to people who are jobless are just a tiny percentage, 3% of the overall bill.

There’s housing benefit that goes to landlords, state pension for everyone, and lots of support for people who work hard but get low wages. We need this support because, since 1979, the country’s got further and further into trouble.

Selling council houses and reducing mortage red tape has fuelled a rise in house prices. A house that cost £83,000 in 1979 would cost £163,000 now – and there are now 1.8 million people waiting for council houses, up from 1 million in 1979. In the past five years the number of families with children having to rent private accommodation has soared by 86%.

There were 1.4 million jobless in 1979, 5.3% of the workforce. That figure peaked at more than 3 million in 1986. Currently it is 2.52 million, or 7.8%.

Sorry, you said somebody saved Britain, Mr Cameron?

Sources; The Independent for comparisons between 1979-2013, The Observer for the rise in rented accomodation, this chart for the percentages spent. Thanks to Loudmouthman for the hashtag.

#riotcleanup

Picture1I was talking to an artist today, who’s doing some work inspired by #riotcleanup. I recently got access to my Twitter archives and it’s quite interesting reading back the Tweets from the first night of #riotcleanup, and seeing how it pulled people together, organising without an organisation.

This isn’t comprehensive; by the nature of Twitter, there’s a lot of repetition and side-channel chat (I’d be happy to let somebody better with spreadsheets than me pull out all the relevant Tweets). But this sequence of Tweets shows how #riotcleanup unfolded:

2011-08-08 15:27 Sounds like London has decided riots are inevitable tonight; watching Tweets from all over about shops shutting up, Police lining up ready

2011-08-08 17:42 RT @loudmouthman: what if everyone ;  the adults, the responsible, the true protesters for peace swarmed the streets and blocked the rio …

2011-08-08 17:50 @loudmouthman @masakepic We need ‘we’re for peace’ hi-vi jackets – or UN-blue hats

2011-08-08 18:27 Police have obviously lost control of Peckham; my grandad’s home turf

2011-08-08 18:58 Scares me more than anything yet RT @spider0246: Plz Mr prime minister send in 3 sqn RAF Regiment and the Para? (cont) http://deck.ly/~Bz87A

2011-08-08 19:23 Police reporting spectators getting in the way; Twitter showing lots of people struggling to get home after work. Maybe not spectators.

2011-08-08 20:10 Police have lost control of London. There don’t seem to be that many rioters. What’s gone wrong?

2011-08-08 20:24 Time to recall Parliament. Cameron coming back is a start; we need govt to show it’s in control

2011-08-08 22:12 Tomorrow we need to work out how to help independent retailers who’ve had businesses destroyed in all this. A minor thing, but must happen.

2011-08-08 22:46 @james_eggers Insurance will take weeks or months; small business will need help from tomorrow

2011-08-08 23:11 Empty Shops Network Facebook group; can we mobilise volunteers to help small business tomorrow? http://tinyurl.com/dm54dc

2011-08-08 23:13 Can we volunteer to help local shops tidy up, clean up in the morning? Can we help find #popupshop premises? http://tinyurl.com/dm54dc

2011-08-08 23:24 @CamdenTownUnltd think we can mobilise volunteers to help shops clean up; can you and your shops use them?

2011-08-08 23:34 @forgetcape I’m trying to match volunteers with local shops – would love your help

2011-08-08 23:35 Looking for volunteers to help clean up and support local shops in the morning in Hackney #londonriots

2011-08-08 23:36 @madeinhackney Thanks – will try and send people your way. Maybe we should just ask volunteers to meet at a certain time, certain place?

011-08-08 23:41 @Avery_Delany If you can, that would be fantastic – hope to find a volunteer to co-ordinate in each area affected

2011-08-08 23:48 Can anyone around Camden help me manage volunteers there, if we can get any?

2011-08-08 23:54 We have a hashtag – thanks to @commonacademy for #riotcleanup

2011-08-09 00:09 Getting the clean up together – Meet outside Tackle Shop, Roman Road, hackney 9am in the morning to help local shops clean up.  #riotcleanup

2011-08-09 00:10 Second clean up is at Camden; meet outside Camden tube 11am to help local shops, follow @jinacreighton @CamdenTownUnltd for more

2011-08-09 00:35 #riotcleanup Tackle Shop, Roman Rd, Hackney 9am; Chalk farm Tube10am, Camden Tube 11am; take bin bags, brooms, whatever you can #londonriots

2011-08-09 00:36 #riotcleanup Peckham, meet outside library at 8am. take bin bags, brooms etc. Follow @phoeberoberts for updates #londonriots

2011-08-09 00:42 #riotcleanup Clapham – meet outside the Falcon pub, 9am. Follow @silv3r for updates

2011-08-09 00:58 Clapham – #riotcleanup starts at 9am outside the Falcon pub. bring gloves, black sacks, brooms

2011-08-09 01:08 Croydon #riotcleanup – meet East Croydon Station, 10am – thanks @lucyorlulu for this one, follow her

2011-08-09 01:10 Lewisham #riotcleanup at 9am – meet outside Lewisham Shopping Centre – follow @drwhofreak for details

2011-08-09 01:17 Camberwell #riotcleanup starts 10am, corner of Walworth Rd/ East St with @darwinslibrary

2011-08-09 01:19 @Tonsko thank you – if you can take times/ locations from my feed that would be great – really appreciated

On Margaret Thatcher

P1000141I can’t add very much to what’s been written in the last 24 hours about Margaret Thatcher. She tried to define the country I grew up, but so many of the things she hated – the NHS, free education, public libraries, council housing, a benefit system to support you when you’re down, different cultures and ways of living, the arts and creativity – they’re all still here. She fought hard but she lost. The British love those things too much.

This blog explains better than I can the reason we must keep talking, critically, about her:

… history is currently being re-written.  Throughout the day, right-wing commentators have been acclaiming Thatcher as one of our great Prime Ministers.  Not only acclaiming her, but demanding that opponents keep quiet as a mark of respect for her passing.  Of course, this was not about a mark of respect, but presenting the right with an opportunity to whitewash her record and present her as a modern-day Churchill.

And while we’re being shouted at on social media to not speak ill of the dead and respect her family’s grief* here’s a good explanation of why that ‘we mustn’t speak ill of the dead’ idea is dangerous:

those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren’t silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person’s death to create hagiography

Let’s not forget about Margaret Thatcher, but let’s not celebrate her as a great British woman, as if that rise to power in a male-dominated culture excuse everything else. Compared to the Sufragettes, Nancy Astor MP, Edith Summerskill, the Land Army, Anita Roddick, Lilian Baylis, Amy Johnson, Nancy Mitford, Sue Ryder, Kate Sharpley, Mary Wolstonecraft, Edith Cavell, Elizabeth Fry, Mo Mowlem – and to our own schoolteachers, nurses, lollypop ladies, mums, nans and aunts – she wasn’t a high achiever at all.

*They weren’t at her side when she died. She died in the luxury of a hotel, with just her paid staff in attendance.