#chumbrella

The problem of how to create social spaces in public places is a well-known one, and there’s lots of attempts at regeneration that fail to make public spaces work.

At a recent workshop in Stoke, artists tried to wrestle with this problem. Sarah Nadin was one of half-a-dozen artists I worked with, and her solution was #chumbrella. Perhaps best known for her sculpture remembering Stoke’s connections with Lidice, which she produced as half of Dashyline, #chumbrella is a more light, agile and nimble approach to creating art in public places.

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Inspired by the act of sharing an umbrella with a stranger the day before, Sarah imagined a place where a distinctive hashtagged umbrella was a sign that the person was willing to share it with a stranger.

During the workshop, Sarah created a black-and-white prototype and took to the streets. It started conversations and got people’s interest.

So when I was looking at my own London Road project in Stoke, I could see a natural fit. London Road is one and a half miles long, but – and despite being plentiful in parks, gardens and green spaces – it’s not a very social place. People in shops stop and talk, but the street is all about bustle as you’d expect on the main road in and out of the city.

So as part of the London Road project, with funding from Appetite, I asked Sarah to move #chumbrella from prototype into production. She created a yellow and white design, the umbrella split in half rather than the more conventional segments, and had a first batch manufactured. It’s a move from big sculpture to being a social artist, so I feel like the investment is in the artist as much as the artwork. And if this idea spreads, she’ll be creating literal pop up social spaces in streets across the country.

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The first public outing for #chumbrella was a walk along London Road. Half a dozen artists agreed to be the first to carry #chumbrella, and they started a dozen conversations, as well as making lots of people smile as they walked from Campbell Place to The Boulevard and back again.

#chumbrella will be back on London Road in September, and I’ll be carrying one as a useful tool in my work there. But the aim is also to see how far it can be rolled out, creating a simple How To guide and distributing the first batch of #chumbrellas to people around the country who can use them. Open source, freely available public art? The medium is, as they say, the message.

Endnotes; The Canal, London Road

Sadly, the document I’ve been working on has been corrupted by a virus, so all that remains of this chapter of the London Road book I’m writing are the endnotes. I hope you can reconstruct the chapter from them.

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1. About halfway between Manchester and Birmingham.
2. The same latitude as Bremen in Germany, Petropavlovsk in Russia and Venison Tickle on the east coast of Canada.
3. 3 miles, or 4.82 kilometres.
4. In 1795, after an Act of Parliament made it possible, giving permission for ‘the making and maintaining of a navigable canal from and out of the Navigation for the Trent to the Mersey’.
5. Which had the only licence to carry coal.
6. Incidentally, completely unrelated to his namesake whose Flying Scotsman was the first steam train to travel at over 100 mph in passenger service, and whose A4 Mallard is still the fastest steam train in the world.
7. It can be found in early Stone Age pottery, making it more resistant to thermal shock.
8. Nicknamed The Knotty.
9. Over 130 miles or 209 kilometres of canals, waterways and the Rudyard Lake, named after a local man reputed to have killed Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
10. They liked it so much, they named their son after it.
11. In 1921.
12. By now, completely abandoned. Elsewhere this year, Alcoholics Anonymous is founded in Akron, Ohio, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill On Sea opens and the world’s first parking meters are installed in Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler starts the rearmament of Germany.
13. Although there as late as 1971, these sidings have been removed.
14. A dry section remains at Oakhill behind the Cottage Pub.
15. Although the exact location is unclear, it seems the far end of this tunnel was near the Spode Factory site.
16. Near Glebe Street, where it joined the Trent and Mersey Canal. A stretch here remained and was used as moorings by the Stoke Boat Club until the 1970s.
17. Local councillor Andy Platt believes that springs running from the top of the hill adjacent to London Road mean that water was an important part of life here for a much earlier community, too.
18. Jumping from his footplate and over iron railings to reach her.
19. “Barathea is a noble cloth – a dense and heavy cloth of deepest navy blue
It has clad with distinction policemen and figures of authority for decades
And Timothy Trow is proud to wear his uniform
But barathea is a great soaker-up of water
And Timothy’s coat of office has now become a sodden coat of lead”
Ray Johnson, ‘Ode To London Road’
20. “It was lucky for the girl that the tram had stopped. In those times the engine was powered by steam and it would have been extremely noisy,” local historian Simon Birks suggests.
21. Although known by this name locally, it is officially called Coronation Gardens, and was opened in 1953.
22. Known as ‘The Boothen Boat’.
23. Although he was then a community artist, he is now the Cultural Development Officer at Stoke-on-Trent City Council. He trained as an artist in Coventry, around the same time that the 2 Tone scene was emerging there.
24. Ordinary terraced houses, except that each has two lines of glazed tiles running above and below the upper windows, each tile having the words ‘Gold Coin’ on them.
25. Francis Michael Moran, from the 1st Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment. Formed as the 64th Regiment of Foot in 1758, this regiment’s soldiers served across the British Empire. The 1st Battalion served in France from 1914-1918, and Moran saw action during the Battle of the Somme, the assault on Messines Ridge and the Third Battle of Ypres.
26. Built in 1920, this was the tyre company’s first factory in the UK. It was designed by Peter Lind and Co, who had offices in Central London and in Spalding, Lincolnshire. The company also built Waterloo Bridge and lter, the iconic BT Tower in London.
27. It reopened in 1987, housing Sir Terence Conran’s Bibendum Restaurant & Oyster Bar.
28. Originally known as the ‘X Tyre’, it was designed with the Citroen 2CV in mind.
29. He argues that post-industrial decline happened later in Stoke than elsewhere in the UK.
30. In fact, there are still more than 20 active potteries in the city. With names like Wedgwood, Moorcroft, Dudson, Emma Bridgewater, Portmeirion, Spode, Royal Doulton, and Royal Stafford still in the city, Stoke is still a major centre for pottery.