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Liverpool ’08: Cultural Turn Or Cultural Tourism?

08.12.05 Architectural Association, Bedford Square, London The Architectural Association, London hosted a debate on Friday 5 December ’08 about Liverpool. Consequent upon the issue of Architectural Review earlier in the year about that city, the speakers at this seminar were asked by architect Brian Hatton, a staff lecturer at the AA, to consider whether Liverpool has experienced a Cultural Turn. The article which follows is a version of my contribution to this debate.
Just hours after I’d started serious work on this piece, the following announcement appeared in Liverpool newspapers: ‘Like many local councils,’ it said,’… we face [in 2009] a budget gap despite making efficiency savings of over £44 million in the last 3 years alone. As a council, we are committed to empowering residents [so…] we are asking local residents and our partners where they think we should prioritise our spending…’
Coming at the end of the extraordinary European Capital of Culture year in Liverpool’s already very one-off history, here is a conundrum indeed. What are we to make of a situation in which the money has run out – and, Oh My, in Liverpool how has it run out! – and yet only now are we being ‘empowered’ to say how to spend the pittance available for next year?
‘Empowering residents’ is a great idea. But in the contexts of discussion of Liverpool’s Cultural Turn, exploration of this sort of empowerment probably raises many more questions than, at least initially, it resolves.
Cultural turn as re-orientation
My position – as an enthusiast for both urban renaissance and the arts and culture, and as a long-time Liverpool resident – is this:
The context of cultural turn suggests a re-orientation. ‘Culture’ can mean either things artistic, or things which concern shared social constructions or understanding.
Either way, cultural shift supposes that an idea, situation or strategy has changed in some fundamental way: that there is a shift in emphasis towards a greater insight about what’s happening, or a refocus of emphasis so we begin to see things in a different light.
Has this happened in Liverpool as we approach the end of our Great Year? As things stand, I’m not sure that it has.
At best, the jury is still out. The things which that jury should be considering – and why – will comprise most of the rest of this paper.
The Leunig – Robertson ‘Future of Liverpool’ debate
A few weeks ago I attended the well publicised regeneration debate in Liverpool Cathedral, between Dr Tim Leunig and Prof. David Robertson.
Dr Leunig’s thesis, versions of which have caused considerable consternation in my part of the world, is, if I may parody a little, that bright and enterprising people should move down South. The South – and especially that hitech Golden Triangle of opportunity around London, Oxbridge and the M4/5 corridor– will then become so overheated that brave capitalists will wish once more to develop Oop North, perhaps almost from scratch.
As a strategy for attracting investment ‘in the regions’ this analysis has its drawbacks – not least that in the Leunig proposals local politicians would be expected to plan for population dispersal in way which would almost certainly lead to their summary dismissal by the electorate.
‘The market’ is not a given
And that’s before we even get to the critique, ably delivered by Professor Robertson and shared by many of us, that Tim Leunig’s analysis takes the invisible hand of the market as a given.
It seemed to us – despite his entreaty to planners across the nation to revisit housing plans and much else – that the UK economy had in the Leunig perception no central steer from government.
Where was the acknowledgement that all parts of the economy receive vast investment from public and other external funds – not to mention much in the way of legal and enabling frameworks?
Where was the reference to John Maynard Keynes and all who’ve followed him?
The past, as was said loud and clear during the Liverpool Cathedral debate, is not a reliable guide in rapidly changing times to the future.
Interventions occur, and opportunities emerge, in ways which few of us can predict – a fact on which Liverpool should perhaps reflect very carefully as we move to 2009.
All this was not however, for me at least, the most challenging part of the Liverpool economy debate.
Unpallatable home truths?
For me, the most critical issues were these:
Firstly, the Cathedral debate showed little disagreement between the protagonists on data.
In specifics, its scope and / or relevance was mildly contested, but the hard information was not what generated the heat in dialogue between the speakers, or indeed amongst the panel members who responded later.
Second, having briskly disposed of the weaknesses in his opponent’s position around government economic strategy, David Robertson took the opportunity to deliver some home truths about his city of residence.
Liverpool would not, he said – once more reflecting the view of many who have sat around the table debating these things – succeed as it might, even now, unless the local economic community moves on.
Self-delusion and self-aggrandisement are no longer options. We are no longer a truly premier, let alone a world-class, city.
And we cannot genuinely aspire for the future to be so, unless we first recognise this uncomfortable truth.
But my third observation is perhaps the most difficult.
True Scousers
The audience for the debate included many people I know well, hard working and very able professionals and community activists who have given much to their city and really want our renaissance to happen.
Several said later that they had been disappointed by the event.
And this was especially true of those who were born and bred in Liverpool, as opposed to the ‘newcomers’, who have lived and worked there for perhaps a mere thirty years.
None of us had wanted blood, but the True Scousers had hoped more by way of apology and remorse than Dr Leunig was able to offer. He had said he was genuinely sorry – and I believe him – that his version of the Truth had hurt and offended people.
But what most of his critics wanted, was that he fundamentally revise his views. And what they had also expected was a robust rebuttal by other speakers, with no caveats about how we could do better.
Liverpool as myth
This is where the Architectural Review’s special edition on Liverpool of earlier this year [2008] comes to bear.
In his contribution to this fascinating publication, Prof. David Dunster chose to consider ‘Liverpool’s powerful urban mythology and civic pride‘. He argues, as here we do also, that Liverpool seems unable to get productively real.
As a collective, Liverpudlians cling desperately to a ‘reality’ which we readily acknowledge is actually no such thing. We vest our heritage in a couple of Liver Birds.
Of course we recognise the error of our ornithological analysis, just as we know there are no pots of gold at the bottom of the rainbow. But on the other hand, we protest, too defensively, that Oh Yes There Are.
And some of us also protest, too defensively, that it’s only other people – on the right and on the left, anyone who offers a critique – who are wrong, that there’s nothing needs to change about Liverpool: it’s just such a shame, in this narrative, that the city has been so poorly perceived elsewhere.
But even if this defensiveness rings true, where does it get us?
Why should architects, or analysts of culture, intent on regeneration, worry about the Liver Birds? What does it have to do with the Cultural Turn?
My answer, reluctantly, is, all too much.
Turning to tourism
Liverpool’s current cultural strategy, and to an extent its whole economic rationale, is, and has for some long time been, directed at tourism.
The city has invested much strategic energy in hotels and talk of ‘destinations’, and in budgetary terms during 2008 it has emphasised above almost all else the importance of large-scale outside events.
This summary analysis is of course too simple; far more has come to pass than that; but the claim contains a germ of truth.
We can all understand why this has happened.
Liverpool, as Professors Dunster and Robertson, and indeed many others, have said, cannot rely for the future on industry – which, Dr Leunig’s longer-term analysis notwithstanding, is likely to stay largely elsewhere – or even on the sub-regional knowledge economy, should we actually manage to secure and develop this.
Nor can we rely any more than we already do on the public sector.
It may not, despite the commentary of many, be very much ‘too large’ for our demography; but we certainly won’t secure a sustainable future by developing it further.
So it follows that the economic activity which will most hold things together for Liverpool in the shorter term is the service sector.
And from that it also follows – because our own city region population has amongst the lowest per capita incomes in Britain – that we need tourists, preferably with quite a lot of money to spend.
Visitor attractions
So first we need to bang the drum, to light the fireworks, to deliver the spectaculars which catch the eye of those who have never before wanted to come and see us, let alone shower their hard-earned cash in our direction.
Hence, the position in which we now find ourselves.
There has been farce, there have been fantasticals, but somehow we’ve managed – and I speak as one in part on the inside looking out – largely to pull the Liverpool European Capital of Culture Year off.
Other cities are keen to learn what we have done. Promising Olympic opportunities seem likely for some of those at the centre of our current activities.
Degrees of success
Why then the hesitation? Why not just heave a collective sigh of relief, enjoy, and move on?
Well, to some extent we can do exactly that.
There are arts practitioners at all levels of engagement across the city who have discovered hitherto hidden inner strengths – some in the face of adversity, some because they were nurtured and supported. We have important buildings and facilities which were not there a year or two ago.
We have engaged, if not captured, the attention of a lot of people outside Liverpool.
‘Empowering’ residents?
But have we cracked it?
I fear that recent little ad in the local newspapers does not bode well.
We as residents weren’t much asked how we wanted 2008 to pan out, but now the money’s spent, our views are invited.
The current recession obviously doesn’t help, but I guess that post-2008 was always going to be difficult for Liverpool. Cultural strategies alone were never going to be a magic cure.
We’ve now been asked to become ‘partners’ in what will probably be a very challenging year ahead.
I suspect that it’s what we can now do without, not what we’d really like, which forms at base the forthcoming agenda.
If this is ‘empowering residents’, it leaves me rather cold.
Cultural change
Which takes me back again to the prognostications of the Liverpool Architectural Review, to the recent Cathedral debate, and to the issue which started all this – our discussion about whether Liverpool is experiencing a Cultural Turn.
The analytical framework developed by Charles Landry shows there are many places large and small which, by whatever criteria, and howsoever termed, have experienced cultural turn.
These range from the solid grandeur of Vienna and its Hundertwasserhaus, through the second-hand bookselling mecca of Hay-on-Wye, to the less dramatic but nonetheless locally very significant reinvention, as a cultural and knowledge quarter, of Liverpool’s Hope Street – a matter in which I myself have had a hand, and which continues to challenge me and various colleagues even now.
I mention Hope Street – which is the thoroughfare linking our city’s two cathedrals – specifically because it is a critically important part of Liverpool.
As the main cultural and knowledge quarter, it probably has the greatest potential for economic development of any part of the Merseyside Liverpool sub-region.
Yet somehow it remains a side-show. Of course everyone agrees our theatres and orchestra are important; of course our universities are critical; but…. In the discourse of the city, there’s always a ‘but’.
What sort of cultural turn?
So it all depends what ‘sort’ of cultural turn we’re looking for.
Landry takes ‘cultural turn’ to mean a situation –
‘where culture is moving centre-stage for another reason when even economics and politics are culturally driven in manifold ways’.
Another writer in Wikipedia refers to the cultural turn as major element of the discipline of Cultural Studies
developments in the humanities and social sciences brought about by various developments across the disciplines… it describes a shift in emphasis towards meaning and on culture rather than politics or economics… With the shift towards meaning, the importance of high arts and mass culture in cultural studies has declined. If culture was about things (a piece of art, a TV series), it is now more about processes and practices of meaning
and a different observer in Geocities links Market Society and the Cultural Turn
.. contemporary social theory has been increasingly concerned with the central role of cultural processes and institutions in organising and controlling the economic. This has been labelled by some the ‘cultural turn’ in social thought. The claim is that the economy itself, and the ‘things; which follow through it, is now largely constituted through informational and symbolic processes…. The very fact that markets are not natural events, but social ones implies that they are the results of meaningful human action, and employ cultural beliefs about human nature, social action and relationships. In this sense we need to think about economics and economic theory as culture….
And we can also find references which see it in different types of context, if we look to cultural turn in respect of the historical emergence of environmental issues and other matters.
It can be the ‘culture’ of a specific discipline or action set, as well as the ‘culture of culture’.
Economics, sustainability, knowledge, arts or people?
So are we thinking here about economics, about sustainability, about knowledge, about the arts, or about people?
To my mind the cultural turn which Liverpool now ‘needs’ must include all these dimensions.
What’s required of us as citizens of Liverpool is a deeply rooted change in our mindset about how things are going to work in the 21st century.
Culture as ‘culture’
We need to take on the ‘cultural’ meaning of cultural turn – to value arts and culture of themselves as well as for what they can bring.
This cultural turn would help to refocus in a way which liberates the imagination and helps us move from a fixation on sad football rivalries; and indeed which would help us also to review the fixation with our maritime history.
Football, like the ports and also The Beatles, has been hugely formative for Liverpool, but they’re not collectively the whole of our future.
Culture as economic context
So we also need to move beyond the cultural sense of cultural turn, to a change in our understanding of Liverpool’s economic situation and contexts.
Like it or not, Manchester is as important for our future as the Mersey.
Skills – and knowing how to use them – are as important as spectaculars; but a lot less easy to deliver.
This sort of change and reorientation, as we all know, requires firm, insightful and inspired civic leadership – a feature not much noted in the local politic of my city.
Consensus and leadership
Evidence of consensus about how to move ourselves off the ‘bottom of the list’ in so many ways is difficult to find.
Local debate still rages over a number of physical features and plans for Liverpool. We need look only to the issues around the Liverpool port terminals and the ‘rights’ which some local people continue to claim, in defiance of economic progress, to walk as they wish along the riverbank.
The same applies to the reconstruction of that major highway approach to the city, Edge Lane and to those who continue to oppose it; or to the future location of Liverpool’s two football clubs, or to many aspects of building conservation across Liverpool, that once-second city of the empire.
Sometimes justice, or at least logic, lies with one interest, sometimes with another.
Choices and consequences
But who is up there, spelling out choices and consequences in a voice which actually respects the concerns and commitment of local people, whilst also offering a wider view?
In other words, who is working to bring about the really essential sort of cultural turn?
Who is, to return to our little ad in the newspaper, ‘empowering residents’ in the true sense of providing a cultural climate in which the real options for our future can be debated constructively?
Sadly, almost no-one.
Supporting change for the better
True leadership is not passing the buck, or simply shouting from the front.
It is moving beyond defensiveness, and taking people with you on the basis of open discussion, after they have been helped to understand all the issues.
Getting people to see the bigger picture, and the options which arise from this, is probably the most important thing which Liverpool’s local leaders could do, if they truly want to secure Liverpool’s future for her citizens.
Looking at the detail
Specifics are however also important.
We have during 2008 moved a little way towards the ‘cultural’ ‘cultural turn’, in the sense described by Charles Landry.
The Liverpool Biennial and other events have sparked a greater interest in public space and what we should be doing in it.
The developments along Edge Lane, despite many delays, have encompassed a real physical base for information technology and other creative industries:
Liverpool is becoming a genuinely global hub for developing computer games.
To whatever extent, these developments as such (if not always their locations) are generally perceived as benign, or sometimes as really positive.
Dissenting as residents
But as Landry himself notes, there are other aspects of our city’s development which have been judged more harshly by its residents.
Liverpool’s Albert Dock renewal has at times been amongst these.
This facility, which includes museums and Tate Liverpool, has brought the historic docks back into use as a venue for tourists and cultural visitors.
It has more recently been connected to the city centre by the new and vastly ambitious Liverpool 1 retail, commercial and mixed use development, and it also now connects to the challenged ‘donut’ around the southern inner city, via the new Liverpool BT Conference Centre and the Liverpool Echo Arena.
But still it stands aside from the experience of many hardened locals, who may enjoy the odd spectacular in the Arena or on the waterside, but deep-down still see the area as ‘for tourists’, rather than as an opportunity for more local jobs.
The knowledge quarter
Similar considerations, in a different way, apply to Hope Street.
Liverpudlians one and all agree that Hope Street’s cultural offer is important, just as they agree the universities to each side of that street are critical.
But for the most part they also think that what goes on in these august institutions has little to do with them.
Perhaps there’s a touch less defensivenesss now, but still we hear murmurs in places which matter about ‘elitism’, when really we should be hearing about achievement and excellence.
Regenerational drivers
The Albert Dock and Hope Street are major regenerational drivers for the future, but they remain – both physically and metaphorically – at the margins of Liverpool’s ambitions to be reborn.
So at best, to date, there’s only mixed evidence of the sort of fundamental change in the city’s psyche which would empower Liverpool to face the twenty-first century with confidence.
Real plans and futures
In the recent Architectural Review of Liverpool, editor Paul Finch discusses the fiascos which arose from the genesis of what some now call the ‘fourth grace’, the museum currently being built, after fierce infighting and an abandoned architectural competition, on the water front.
Finch reminds us that competitions are [often] used as substitutes for real decision-making, which in turn derives from the absence of a coherent long-term proposition about Liverpool’s urban future.
Focussing likewise on developments during Liverpool’s tenure as European Capital of Culture, Brian Hatton reminds us in the Architectural Review that the EU surely invented as a way of enrolling provincial or failing cities [to the title]… by regeneration, which seems to mean making them conducive to ‘creative industries’ and attractive to the supposed tastes of top executives.
But as Hatton also remarks, this assumes that regional and sub-regional development can be a force for genuine progress – whilst the reality seems to be increasing concentration of power and resources at the centre.
Whatever, a city which over some forty years can’t even convince its residents of the need to fix its main access route to the centre, will have difficulty persuading others of its long-term focus and resolute determination to move forward.
Clarifying the issues
So where does this all take us?
A few things are, I believe, becoming clear.
First, Liverpool’s 2008 Capital of Culture year may claim some successes, but that alone will not take us far.
There is sparse evidence that real opportunities to empower and engage people at the genuinely local level have had much impact as yet; already, for instance, there is fear that 2009 will find local arts and cultural activities sorely tested.
The window for action is short; it will need to happen very quickly if we are to retain the claimed advantages of 2008.
But this follow-through from 2008 is only now being seriously considered, and impetus is almost certain to be lost.
Where has the leadership been, to embed and prepare for the next stage of Liverpool’s re-emergence as a force to be reckoned with?
Local perceptions
Second, where there is in fact now real focus, it remains effectively outside the perceptions of many local citizens.
Tourism and students, not local jobs and the knowledge economy, are for most city residents the defining elements of the Albert Dock and Hope Street.
Except during festivals, these two regenerationally critical locations are of little interest to many Liverpudlians; and even then the festivals are not devised to raise local aspirations.
Increasingly, even these festivals are purely commercial activities which (in the case of Hope Street at least) do not build on prevoius community engagement work.
This lack of overt coherence, the segmentation of approaches to regeneration, and the lack of embeddedness, will not help Liverpool’s progress.
The Cultural Turn as mythology?
And finally, the Cultural Turn in Liverpool is perhaps in part a new mythology, for us to put alongside the Liver Birds.
Look, we say, we’ve pulled off 2008, and now we have Tourists!
But all that says, if we are brutally honest, is that we have Cultural Tourism.
Genuine Cultural Turn, of the sort which I believe would enable Liverpool to construct a new, more sustainable and prosperous future, continues to elude us.
Perhaps we now have a greater emphasis on arts and culture, but we have yet to demonstrate how that can go forward to shape a new future.
Progress or pastiche?
Maybe this can be done where a city has great leadership and vision.
But in Liverpool I must conclude that, for now, the pastiche of Cultural Tourism has eclipsed any fundamental sense of Cultural Turn.
Read more about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and Cities in Transition; and see more of Hilary’s Publications.

PHSE Becomes Core Curriculum – At Last!

happy young people After much debate the Government has finally announced that Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE) will be compulsory in schools at a level appropriate to each child’s age. This decision has been widely welcomed – though strangely not quite by everyone. All children need to understand their own bodies and relationships. But only a few years ago some of us, as educators, were still battling to save this entitlement and embed it into the curriculum.
In 1990 the Cambridge University Press published a book entitled The New Social Curriculum. Edited by Barry Dufour, it was intended as a ‘guide to cross-curricular issues’, for teachers, parents and governors. I wrote the chapter on ‘Health Education: Education for Health?’.
How different things were such a relatively short time ago.
Quotes from another era
Even as recently as 1990 I find, looking back, that I was obliged to write as follows (please forgive the self-plagiarism.):
[My first thesis is] that health education is far too weighty a matter to be left to the varies of visiting speakers, odd sessions, leaflets, films, etc… and the whims of individual teaching staff…
[The second thesis is] that meaningful (or even plausible) Education for Health can only be achieved in institutions where the teaching staff as a whole have a competent grasp of [these] curricular issues and where the mores of host institutions themselves support an alert and sensitive response to the social and personal needs of learners. Isolated ‘lessons’ on the ‘nightmares of adults’ (to use Chris Brown‘s apt term) are unlikely to meet effectively the aims of an informed and humane programme of Education for Health [where] health can be viewed as a positive feeling of well-being….
Any institution which means what it says about Education for Health will recognise the necessity for:
1. a curriculum which acknowledges the overlap between different aspects of social and personal experience;
2. an adequate allocation of resources – financial and personnel – to develop and deliver such a curriculum;
3. careful attention to the dignity and welfare of all who are involved in work or study within it….
But the majority of developments in Health Education continue to occur outside the context of the mainstream curriculum, and certainly outside the professional remit of those who manage formal educational organisations [which..] may account for the lack of impact which many health messages appear to have on their intended recipients.

Contentious issues
It has to be remembered – or retrospectively understood – that this was written in the context of what amounted to moral panic and the Victoria Gillick campaign on the subject of ‘Sex Education‘, which had become the almost singular ‘topic’ focus of the then-Conservative Government’s educational legislation.
Teachers had to contend with, and at their peril remain within the requirements of, the Education Act (Number 2), 1986, the DES Circular 11:87, and, until it was clarified, Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 1988. All these legal frameworks had the effect of putting teachers of anything to do with sexual education, not to mention student counsellors dealing with issues such as homosexuality, at personal and professional serious risk.
A wait eventually worthwhile
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. In 1990 I ended my chapter by remarking that, whilst much good work was being undertaken, there was ‘as yet little evidence to encourage the hope that national educational structures, combining the experience of health promotion personnel, health educators and classroom teachers firmly within the context of the National Curriculum, will soon emerge to encompass and consolidate this good practice.
Now however the Government has at last announced that all pupils will Get Healthy Lifestyle Lessons, including age-appropriate information on sex and drugs, and a review by headteacher Sir Alasdair MacDonald will be carried out into the best way to shape and deliver this essential new core curriculum.
A positive step forward for children
This development, in the context of Every Child Matters, is enormously to be welcomed by anyone who wants every child to receive what is surely their basic entitlement – to understand, in ways suitable for their age and maturity, their own bodies and behaviour. How else can small people grow up to be sensible big people?
Across age, gender, social class and marital status, most adults have recently been found by a BBC survey to support this initiative. It’s been needed for a very long time and at last nearly everyone seems ready for it.
Read more about Education & Life-Long Learning.
See also: ‘Where do baby rabbits come from? Sex education to begin at five in all schools’ (Polly Curtis, The Guardian, 24 October 208).

From Regeneration To Sustainability: A Northern Take On Knowledge

Summary: This is a version of the Keynote Lecture I gave at the NUREC 2008 conference, in Liverpool on 28 July 08.
In it we explore the connections between Knowledge Economies and Ecologies, and Big Science and Regeneration, especially in regional and sub-regional settings, and in respect of issues around Sustainability.
My basic thesis is that Knowledge is not yet recognised for the fundamental resource it surely is.

A complete version of this paper can be found on Hilary’s professional website, here.

Older. Female. Blogger. But No Geek.

Hands on keyboard Who inhabits the cybervillage? Mostly it seems younger people, and, in the more technological parts of that so-called village, men. But there are a few self-proclaimed women ‘geeks’ of a certain age out there too; and some of them are claiming a cyber-space for their own ideas. I don’t profess to be a geek; but maybe I match the profile in other ways.
It’s interesting that, as we mark the eightieth anniversary in Britain of full female emancipation via the Equal Franchise Act (2 July 1928), the issue of ‘older female geeks’ seems to be coming to the fore.
In July 1928 women in the U.K. were awarded the vote on the same basis as men. And in the Summer of 2008 it looks like they are to be recognised as enfranchised also as legitimate inhabitants of the blogosphere.
Older female geeks who blog
As Natalie d’Arbeloff of Blaugustine says in her Guardian article of 13 June ’08, there aren’t many ‘older female geeks’ as yet, but this species does exist as a measurably sized group. She lists amongst their number Penelope Farmer of Rockpool in the Kitchen, Fran of Sacred Ordinary, Marja-Leena Rathje, Elizabeth Adams of The Cassandra Pages, Tamarika of Mining Nuggets and Rain of Rainy Day Thoughts.
Self-evidently sterling women, all of them; but am I correct in thinking that not one of these writer is actually British-born and still living in the UK? North America features highly in this list; though not Britain. I, being so domiciled, am pondering this….
Geeks or bloggers?
And are all bloggers geeks, I wonder? For me, the interest lies in the writing, in getting one’s head around particular or puzzling ‘facts’, experiences and perceptions, or perhaps placing an engaging (I hope) photograph in a pleasing or interesting way. The technicals are of significance only insofar as I have to do them to achieve what I want – just like driving my car.
The skill in designing my blog has been entirely Nick Prior‘s, not mine. My role as we develop the website has been merely to explain or think up what features I have a feeling would help, and Nick then interprets them, to deliver something real.
Claiming a blogosphere space
But being a geek (though I’m not even sure Nick’s one of those, he’s skilled and knowledgeable, not just an excellent technician) isn’t what matters. It’s surely the ideas which count?
Today I read another Guardian piece, by Cath Elliott, in which she discusses the use older women make of their blogs to look at experiences and perceptions which might otherwise remain unremarked.
Now that I find really fascinating. And I’d like to think in part it’s what I do right here.

Read more articles about Hilary’s Weblog.

Secondary Modern Schools

School children What are schools for? If they’re intended to give every child a good start in life, how can anyone defend the old-style Secondary Modern Schools? And how can the other side of this equation, Grammar Schools, be justified? These are institutions defined only by the fact that their students ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ an examination at age 11; and the children know it.
The Guardian has reported that there are still 170 Secondary Modern Schools in England, as also 164 Selective Grammar Schools remain, the last few institutions from the Tripartite System commonly employed by Education Authorities the UK between 1944 Butler Education Act and the Education Act of 1974. (This Act heralded the arrival of Comprehensive Schools – though effectively only in name if selective state education also continued in any given County.)
Ed Balls MP, the Government’s Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, does not like selection by testing at 11+, but has allocated substantial sums of money to help those ‘SecMods’ in need of extra support.
Selection and struggling students
Balls is right to do this, but it is right as well that the Guardian reminds us that the 14 County Councils which provide wholly selective state secondary education are also those with highest proportions of struggling schools.
Grammar Schools had their place in the post-WWII scenario of bringing forward the talents of children from less privileged backgrounds, at a time when there were few academically well-qualified and professionally trained teachers. The ‘Grammars’ were a well-intentioned strategy to nurture children deemed bright, and we knew far less then about how to teach and support children across the board to succeed.
Now, a school which does not support all its pupils or students is rightly judged inadequate; it is not the children who have ‘failed’, but the school. (What can I say about the school only a few miles from where I live, where just 1% of children gain five good GCSEs – the worst ‘results’ in the country? Despite its beautifully fitted-out new buildings, its results are simply an unbelievable disgrace.)
Failed students, or failed schools?
One of the reasons given for not closing dreadful schools – though that may happen – is that the children might think it’s they who have failed, not their school.
But with the 11+, where only a small percentage of children gain Grammar School places, that’s exactly what the message is: ‘You, personally, have already failed’.
How counter-productive and downright cruel is that?
Success despite rejection
I know people who ‘failed’ at age 11, but have gone on to achieve considerable success in their careers.
None of them attributes that success to their Secondary Modern School; and most of them still rue the day when, aged just 11, they were pronounced ‘failures’.
It hurts and damages for life.
Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning.

The British Sociological Association (BSA)

The British Sociological Association, founded in 1951, promotes the work of sociologists and social scientists as practitioners and scholars, in the UK and, through links, much further afield. Sociology offers an analysis which helps surprisingly large numbers of us make sense of what happens in our ever-changing world.
I recently re-joined the British Sociological Association, of which I was an Executive Committee member when I worked in further and higher education, much earlier in my career.
It’s fascinating to see how things have evolved since that time, back in the 1980s.
Battles now won
Then we were battling to ‘save’ the Personal, Social and Health curriculum, which Sir Keith Joseph, then Secretary of State for Education under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was keen to remove or at the very least side-line. History in schools was to stop at 1945, the end of the Second World War and before the arrival in 1948 of the National Health Service (NHS) and Welfare State; Section 11 legislation made it almost professional suicide to teach about HIV / AIDS; the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) had to be renamed the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) lest anyone should think that social research was scientific – in retrospect a far cry attitudinally from current demands for ‘evidence-based’ policy at the highest levels.
All this we addressed, through the Executives of the BSA and other professional associations, via FACTASS, The Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences, of which I was Convenor. Now there is no need for FACTASS. We managed to hang on in there, and it’s unlikely that any mainstream politician in any modern democratic country would want to see it otherwise; the PSHE curriculum and entitlement of children to understand their world is, along with positive resolution of the GCSEs-for-all debate, now established.
Fundamentals
But the fundamental emphases of the BSA on social equity; on understanding the interactive social constructions which give meaning to our daily lives, continue, developed and debated by people who have now spent a lifetime exploring how human societies and communities work and are understood by the people in them.
The ‘classics’ – gender, ‘race’ and ethnicity, age and life transitions, and social class – remain (alongside matters such as health and medicine, work and employment, and so forth) the fundamental building blocks of sociological analysis, keeping us constantly aware that big and sometimes invisible forces shape our day-to-day experience, even to the extent that they often determine our actual life expectancy.
New social analysis too
And beyond that, there is a new and critical emphasis on our physical world, on sustainability and green issues and how societies and communities will find themselves responding to the challenges we all face.
It may be too soon to say that Human Geographers and Sociologists have found completely common ground, but it looks as though a convergence may slowly be developing, after a decade or more when the gathering of empirical data on population change and socio-economic impacts was sometimes perceived to be enough to take governmental programmes and political policy forward.
Contextualising for the future
There is now a recognition that ‘social research‘ must inform, e.g., environmental as well as community, health and education policies. (I was recently a co-author of the Defra Science Advisory Council report on Social Research in Defra – a fascinating and I hope very fruitful experience.)
The BSA, I note, has a growing Section (interest) Group on Sociologists Outside Academia (SOAg). I intend to sign up for it.
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History Lessons Need More Than ‘Hitler And Henry’
Social Geographers Take The Lead In Social Policy

History Began In 2000

08.05.11  computer keyboard 156x112  001a.jpg When did the World Wide Web emerge for most people? Around the Millennium? Like most things technical, it took off first amongst young men who enjoy gadgets…. who happen also in general to be less concerned with what was going on previously. So does History now begin in 2000? Will western culture and destiny henceforth be shaped by what the second generation web tells us?
A hunch today saw me typing the words ‘cyber.history’ into the Google search engine. I suppose I was not surprised that there are almost 5000 entries listed for that exact phrase.
Developing the idea
One of the most interesting entries I looked at was John Stevenson’s cyber history collection and timeline, in which he cites commentary going back to 1945 (!) on what has become the world wide web. This fascinating list includes, of course, the ground-breaking insights of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, including his 1992 CERN paper on World-Wide Web: The Information Universe.
If you’re a historian or a social scientist (as I am) looking at the development of science and technology, this is a rich seam ; and one indeed in which, as second generation blogging develops, many of us play our own tiny micro-parts.
Generational and other divides?
Despite the rise of the silver surfer, non-technically-directed people with memories at least as long as mine still form a very small element within the www community.
For most young people the www is the first port of call when information and ideas are sought; and most easily accessible content on the www is probably posted by (relatively) young people. When put alongside the reality that the www became popularly available only in about 2000, it begins to look inevitable that the Millennium just past is where History starts.
An open network
As Tim Berners-Lee, who has steadfastly insisted the www should be an open network, said in 2006:
‘We’re not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do…..The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space.’
Lee-Berner’s remark was made in response to serious concerns that the internet might become an unpleasant place of anonymous rumour and malicious intent. And he is right to be so worried, before it really is too late.
Losing the past
I would add to that my own concern that the www has permitted us to forget how far western societies have come in the past few decades, let alone the past century. Right now, life truly is better for most of us in the developed democracies than it has ever been. But will this good fortune last? And can it be shared?
Losing our pre-Millennium reference points would also result in the loss, at a time when our culture is already very immediate, of our sense of what has worked to make the world better, and what perhaps has not. This loss would make it more difficult to sustain what’s good and to improve what’s not good or what looks worrying.
Learning for the future
Things reshape and evolve all the time. It’s now 40 years since the last time ‘history changed’, in that surreal summer of 1968. For some who witnessed it, what the lessons are remains a matter of debate.
I still hope the www will help more people of every sort of experience and background share what they know and have observed. We have only to look at the work of political scientists and historians such as Peter Laslett to realise what a better understanding, say, of pre-industrial society might have done for many current social concerns.
Contemporary sharing might encourage us all to reflect just sometimes on the historical medium and longer term, and on how we can learn from it to sustain what we optimistically call ‘progress’.
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Pre-History / Herstory (1950-)

Workable Regeneration: Acknowledging Difference To Achieve Social Equity (Equality And Diversity ‘Regeneration Rethink’)

Regeneration is a crowded field. It’s the market place to resolve the competing demands of social equity indicators as varied as joblessness, family health, carbon footprint, religious belief and housing. But it’s obvious something isn’t gelling in the way regeneration ‘works’. Could that something be the almost gratuitous neglect of experiential equality and diversity?
BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, is squaring up to this fundamental challenge.
Discuss equality and diversity issues with any group of regeneration practitioners, and just one of two responses is likely.
Some respond immediately: Yes, critical for everyone; what took you so long?
For others, the feeling seems to be more : Great idea, but not much to do with me.
So where’s the common ground?
Balancing strategy and everyday reality
How can we balance large-scale strategies for a sustainable economy with the immediate human reality that, as an example, women born in Pakistan now living in Britain have twice the U.K. average risk that their babies will die before age one?
The Board of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association, has during the past year thought hard about where in all this some commonality might lie, and what that means for the future. Whether as a practitioner, a client or recipient of regenerational endeavours, an agent for economic development, or a policy maker seeking sustainable futures for us all, questions of social equity matter a lot.
But the case for equality and diversity is easier for practitioners and decision-makers to see in some parts of regeneration than others.
Large-scale and micro impacts
No-one doubts, for instance, that new roads and other infrastructure can attract businesses and enhance employment opportunities for disadvantaged areas.
Some will acknowledge the physical isolation which new highways may impose on those without transport, now perhaps cut off from their families, friends and local amenities.
Almost no-one considers how regeneration might reduce the tragic personal realities behind high infant death rates in poor or ‘deprived’ communities.
Differential impacts
The point is that these impacts are differential. The elderly or disabled, mothers and young children, people of minority ethnic heritage: overall the experience of people in these groups is more community disadvantage and fewer formal resources to overcome this disadvantage.
But for each ‘group’, the tipping points are different.
The scope for examination of differential equality and diversity impacts – of infrastructural arrangements, of process, of capacity building and of everything else to do with regeneration – is enormous, and would go quite a way towards reducing unintended consequences and even greater serendipitous disadvantage for some people.
This work has hardly begun, but it is I believe a basic requirement and tool for making progress towards genuinely remediated and sustainable communities.
One size does not fit all
It is obvious that currently something isn’t gelling in the way that regeneration ‘works’. That something, to my mind, is the almost gratuitous neglect of difference. However one looks at it, one size simply does not fit all in the greater regenerational scheme of things.
But if you zoomed in from outer space, you’d be forced to the conclusion that one size does in fact fit almost all when it comes to senior decision-makers and influencers. There are amongst leaders in regeneration some women, a few non-white faces, and perhaps even smaller numbers of influencers with personal experience of, say, disability; but not many.
This self-evident fact has, of course, been a matter of deep concern to those in the regeneration sector over the past few months.
Meeting social equity requirements – or not
In the final three reports it published before its amalgamation last September into the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) demonstrated very clearly that regeneration bodies at every level, including 15 Whitehall departments, are failing to meet their race relations obligations. They also showed very compellingly that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, experience poor health, and encounter the criminal justice system.
Causal factors cited as underlying the CRE’s findings encompass most of what regeneration is supposed to do well. Failures of leadership, impact assessment, legal framework and recruitment are all lamented in the reports.
And we can add, alongside the CRE’s analysis, inequalities arising from gender, belief and other factors such as disability, as well as the wider issue of the invisibility and powerlessness of people of all kinds who are on low incomes – who, as it happens, are the main ‘recipients’ (perhaps we should call them ‘clients’?) of regeneration.
Evident disparities
There is a huge disparity here. Look round pretty well any significant regeneration-facing board room or policy think-tank, and it’s apparent that the majority of those wielding influence (on behalf, we should note, of people whose communities are to be ‘regenerated’) are comfortably-off, able bodied, white men.
In this respect, as everyone involved freely admits, the BURA Board fits the mould. Each BURA (elected) Director brings something special to the table; but few of them can offer at first hand a personal perspective divergent from the stereotype. We have therefore decided, unanimously, to address head-on this increasingly serious challenge to our capacity to deliver as leaders in regeneration.
Business benefits
But the BURA Board focus on equality and diversity, whilst driven primarily by the impetus to uphold best practice in regeneration, is not entirely altruistic. This is also good for business.
There is plenty of evidence from well-grounded research that sharing different understandings of any complex situation, right up to and including at Board level, brings benefit all round – including to the bottom line.
Our resolve to implement equality and diversity good practice throughout BURA has required that we look anew at how we function. The BURA Board recognises that we will need to be receptive to new ideas, willing to change things where needs be, and transparent in our own processes and activities.
The BURA programme for action
The BURA action plan, launched in Westminster on 20 February ’08, is therefore to:
· conduct an equality and diversity audit of all aspects (including Board membership) of our organisation’s structure and business, and to publish our outline findings and plan for action on our website;
· monitor and report on our progress towards equality and diversity;
· dedicate a part of the BURA website to offering up-to-date information on equality and diversity matters, in a format freely accessible to everyone;
· develop our (also open) Regeneration Equality and Diversity Network, launched in February this year (2008), to encourage very necessary debate and the exchange of good practice;
· appoint from amongst elected Non-Executive Directors a BURA Equality and Diversity Champion (me), to ensure a continued focus on the issues.
In all these ways – developing inclusive partnerships at every level from local to governmental to international, supporting new initiatives and research of all sorts, keeping the equality and diversity agenda in the spotlight – we hope to move regeneration beyond its current boundaries, towards a place from which we can begin to establish not ‘just’ remediation of poor physical and human environments, but rather true and responsive sustainability.
Regeneration is complex
Regeneration is more than construction, development or even planning; it has to address for instance the alarming recent finding by New Start that sometimes ‘race’ concerns are focused more on fear, than on entitlement or social equity.
Delivery of our ambition to achieve genuine best practice will require the courage to move beyond current and largely unperceived hierarchies of inequality and diversity – not ‘just’ race, but gender / sexuality too; not ‘just’ faith / belief, but also disability – towards a framework which encompasses the challenging complexities of the world as people actually experience it.
No comfort zones
There can be no comfort zones in this enterprise. Acknowledging stark contemporary truths and painful past failures is essential if we are to succeed.
The purpose of regeneration is not to make practitioners feel good, it is ultimately, rather, to do ourselves out of a job; to improve, sustainably, the lives of people who are often neither powerful nor visible in the existing wider scheme of things.
Moving from piecemeal regeneration to sustainable futures makes two demands of us: that we see clearly where we all are now; and that we ascertain properly where the people of all sorts on whose behalf we are delivering regeneration would wish to be.
Multiple aspects of diversity
When we can balance constructively, say, the carbon footprint concerns of a businessman in Cheltenham, and the ambition to influence childcare arrangements of an Asian heritage woman in Bury, we shall be getting somewhere.
Diversity in its many manifestations – age, belief, (dis)ability, gender, race or whatever – is part of the human condition.
Consistent focus on the many factors underpinning that condition would be a powerful impetus towards sustainability. It would also be also a huge professional challenge.
Taking the lead as regenerators
That’s why we as regeneration leaders and practitioners must make equality and diversity a critically central theme, both within our own organisations and in the services which we deliver.
And it’s why we must start to do this right now.
We hope you will want to join us on our journey.
A version of this article was published as Regeneration re-think in Public Service Review: Transport, Local Government and the Regions, issue 12, Spring 2008.
Hilary Burrage is a Director of BURA, the British Urban Regeneration Association.
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Social Inclusion & Diversity
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Communities And The Public Realm: Places For People

Roadworks & people 79x85 054a.jpg If anything belongs to ‘the people’, it is surely the streets where we live and work. Streets are usually owned by the public authorities who exist to serve our interests. But where are the civic procedures to reflect this common ownership in renewing or developing the public realm? And who and where are the ‘communities’ which must be consulted?
I recently contributed to a masterclass on community engagement in development of the public realm.
The scope for discussion was wide. ‘Public realm‘ can be streets, highways, open spaces, parks, brownfield sites and even waterways and ponds. Where does one start? And who is entitled to have a say?
Origins and ideas
Public realm works often start from a plan by the authorities to renew or regenerate an area of deprivation or poor housing, or perhaps because a new system of roads and highways is about to be constructed.
Sometimes, however, the initiative comes from a group of interested or concerned ‘community stakeholders’ – perhaps people who live or work in the area, or people who have a concern for the environment (in whatever guise) or, for instance, conservation and heritage.
Where are the place-makers?
All these are legitimate origins, but they are different. What happens next however tends to be more monochrome, more ‘standard issue’.
The idea of place-making seems over time to have been mislaid.
Legitimacy and control
If a proposal to improve the public realm is integral to a wider regeneration programme, the way ahead is clear: community consultation is the next step.
But who is held to comprise ‘the community’ will often be determined largely by those formally ‘in charge’ of the overall developments, rather than by that community (or communities?) itself.
Physical ownership or social stakehold?
The temptation to take the easy route, to see the public realm as simply physical space, is great. If it’s that, the relevant authorities can just get on with it, consulting along the way about how members of the public would like their pavements, bins or street lamps to look. (See e.g. an example of ‘another’ Liverpool, looking at another way to consider ‘place making’ and ‘liveability’.…)
But this is an dreadful waste of an opportunity for engagement between civic officials and those who pay them. How much better to work towards wide involvement of the people who live and work on those streets, even if this does take more time and effort.
‘Community’ voices
Communities do not comprise just one sort of person – there are many voices which must be heard – but if we want people to come together for the common good, developing a shared sense of place is an excellent starting point.
We need then to begin by recognising whilst physical location is a given, the variety of people and interests which comprise meaningful stakehold is large.
New skills for new challenges
Involving the general public as stakeholders in their localities is still an emerging art.
Those who currently have the knowledge and experience to implement improvements to the public realm are perhaps unlikely, without stepping outside their formal roles, or perhaps further training, to be the best people also to engage communities to the extent which is required.
‘Translating’ knowledge and skills
Here, yet again, is an instance of the need for ‘translation’ in delivery between professional knowledge and the skills required to reach deep into often – though not always – disadvantaged communities.
The public realm is exactly what it says it is – the place where, ideally, we all encounter each other, safely, comfortably and constructively.
Getting everyone involved
Perhaps the move towards Local / Multi Area Agreements (LAAs and MLAs) and regular Your Community Matters-style events will help to encourage meaningful engagement for the future.
Whatever, the challenge is to make the public realm everywhere a place where everyone really can feel they are a part of the action.
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Big Science In Regional Economic Context: Daresbury And ALICE

Daresbury Laboratory Tower  60x99 043a.jpg Investment in scientific programmes often has added socio-economic value. But there is little evidence that good indices are available to measure what this impact might be for large-scale scientific regionally-based development. Whilst private investors guard their capital with care, only rarely do the criteria for evaluation of Big Science proposals include adequate consideration of the wider impact of public funds invested.
The bovine foot and mouth pyres of a few years ago are testament to unintentional damage inflicted when strictly focused ‘science’ is applied crudely in wider socio-economic contexts.
Everyone wanted to do the right thing; but the upshot of scientific best advice was rural economic devastation.
What criteria?
The same scenario may be enacted again, if the judgement of a panel of leading scientists results in removal of the Alice (Accelerators and Lasers in Combined Experiments) programme at the Daresbury Laboratory in North-West England.
The science will carry on elsewhere, most probably in the USA, but the NW regional economy, which could have benefited hugely, will instead take a hammerblow.
Best value for government investment
Scientists quite rightly concentrate on what they understand – in this case physics, engineering and the like. I cannot comment on their scientific judgements about ALICE; though it is always open to their colleagues have views on this.
Whatever, the investment of significant government monies must also, as numbers of parliamentarians have argued, be about best value in socio-economic terms, as well as indicated by narrower scientific parameters; and the scientists would without doubt agree they are not best placed to adjudicate all this.
Socio-economic impact studies
If the relevant science councils have undertaken regional socio-economic impact studies on their proposed investments, these, like the scientific appraisals, must now be opened to public scrutiny.
If they have not, we must challenge the science councils to undertake these comparative impact studies immediately, before potentially devastating decisions are made.
Added value – or otherwise
Added value‘ (perhaps significantly, a term often used to evaluate the impact of educational initiatives) and ‘unintended consequences‘ (c.f. Robert Merton’s work) may be indices beyond the lexicon of physical science; but, as the rural economists acknowledged after foot and mouth disease, they can never be outside the remit of decisions about big investment, in the public interest, of taxpayers’ money.
A version of this article, entitled ‘Alice in economic context’, was published on the Letters page of Guardian Education on 15 April 2008.
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Science, Regeneration & Sustainability
Science & Politics

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