October 2005 Archives

Orchestral performers standing on stage (small) 70x73.jpg British Orchestras are under severe financial threat because of new tax rules. The likelihood is that this threat will somehow be resolved. But will most orchestra performers still find, skilled as they are, that their own professional position remains precarious?

Here we go again. Another story about British Orchestras and their financially parlous states; and as usual, the story is true.

Good funding, bad rules
It was reassuring to hear the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) view earlier today, that the government has indeed invested a lot of money in our orchestras over the past few years, to very good effect. British Orchestras are widely regarded as amongst the best in the world, and this government-led funding has, says the ABO, genuinely helped to keep them so.

But then someone somewhere makes a ruling which throws the whole lot into confusion, and potentially into financial chaos and maybe worse. As any professional classical musician will tell you, there's a huge difference between the work patterns of a freelance musician and that of an (often 'resting'?) actor... but they've been booted into the same category for national insurance payments. Both 'entertainers', whatever these might be.

Real jobs?
Of course, no real surprise here. The professional life of classical musicians remains a total mystery to nearly everyone. We all have vague some notion of what actors might do, but orchestral musicians...?

'What do you do for your REAL job?' is a question asked all too frequently, followed closely by 'But it's only part-time, isn't it?' and, a little down the line (I'm not making this up, it actually does sometimes happen when tickets for a professional concert in, say, a hired venue like a church, are being offered for sale), 'Who are you going to donate the money to?'.

Given this state of affairs, it's not surprising that financial rules about insurance aren't fit for purpose when it comes to musicians, even if, following representations from Equity (the actors' union), they were introduced with the best will in the world, to help resting thesps.

The underlying issues
Let's hope this gets sorted out pronto. Then perhaps someone can turn to the underlying problem facing people in this very unusual profession.

Truth is, it's extraordinarily difficult to get work as a player in major orchestras, and even if you manage that, the likelihood of making this your lifetime profession is remote. Most orchestral performers (though of course not all) will depart long before they can claim a retirement pension, a sizeable proportion of them because of ill-health, stress or playing problems. Plus, as the Musicians' Union never tires of pointing out, the pay is awful - often less than the national average wage, in a profession which requires many years of university-level study.

Myth of musicians' professional progression
For most classical musicians there is also little professional progression.

Players often claim the work's become a 'trade', rather than a 'profession', in at least the sense that the job may well expand to include teaching, school 'residencies' etc - but it doesn't usually offer much personal artistic development and advancement.

On the brink or on the blink?
With a bit of luck, British Orchestras will be able to pull away from the latest risk of going over the Brink; any other resolution of this latest fiasco is unthinkable.

Resolution of this problem [Post-script: Which was eventually achieved] will not however mean that many of those who play in our orchestras feel more secure that they personally won't end up on the Blink.

See also: Orchestral Salaries In The U.K.

Life In A Professional Orchestra: A Sustainable Career?

The Healthy Orchestra Challenge

Musicians in Many Guises

Where's The Classical Music In The Summer? An Idea...

Social policy implementation 'on the ground' is challenging - though it may also be exciting and certainly well worthwhile. We can all learn from comparing our expectations with the reality which follows......

I start a new assignment today. It involves working with a public service multi-disciplinary team in a socio-economically 'challenged' environment, as they take forward a programme of services to meet local need. And, whilst they do this, the team have been told they must adapt and develop the nature of the programme itself so that, in accordance with new government policy, it becomes a more integrated and seamless provision.

That's the way with nationally led programmes these days; and probably all for the better. But it does give rise to questions:

* How much development against how much change?

* How much adaptation of actual practice against just presentational adjustment to ensure that the service is used more effectively?

* How well equipped and resourced (professionally and materially) are those who must take forward the change?

* And.... will the intended recipients of the new, developed service find it helpful? How will we know if we're providing the best we can?

I'm really looking forward to joining the team. They're experienced and committed and will I know do everything they can to help me settle in and make progress. Agreeing what 'making progress' really means will I hope be an adventure in which we can all move forward together.

I shall in all probabality return on this website to specific policy issues at some point in the future, but for now I will make a few very cautious predictions about how I will learn from (and hopefully contribute to) the work in hand......

The first element of joining a team is the mapping - I'll spend a while finding out in a bit more detail who's who and what they do. Usually this begins to happen quite naturally in the course of actually finding out where things (the various venues? a desk? a phone?) are located. The practicals seem to take one also to the people.

Then there's the analysis phase; are we all agreed that we have what we need? Who or what can plug the gaps - and to what extent? I know the team manager has already sorted the programme as it stands in considerable detail, but it will be interesting to swap notes with him and our colleagues about outstanding requirements for the anticipated changes ahead.

I'd guess the next stage after this will be consulting with others outside the immediate team; local authority decision-makers, other service providers, and of course with those who will be at the receiving end of the service. This is all so inter-related that it's very difficult to predict how it will end up. But the main thing is to be clear about agreed objectives. Problems can usually be overcome if people know and are comfortable with what they're aiming at.

And finally there's implementation. At the moment details of what will be required of us all are still very outline; hopefully the government will give us rather more specific information and guidelines very shortly. It's difficult for colleagues when they aren't sure what's expected, so that needs to be sorted a.s.a.p. (I'm never really certain those at the very top appreciate how difficult uncertainty can be for workers at the delivery face. Challenge is fine; destabilisation and all that follows from it may not be, from anyone's persepctive.)

So there we go. A few predictions and comments for starters. I will of course steer quite clear of talking about details - that's just for us as a team - but I'll maybe return some time to say whether my expectations of process were on the ball..... Change is the order of the day, but it's a relatively uncharted course in the practical sense for many who have to adapt to, and indeed deliver, it.

One of the best ways to learn is to test reality and the art of the possible against the expectational theory.

But whatever the shape of what we eventually come up with, I know that everyone on the project I'm joining for a while wants the best; and that's a very good start.

This proposal, on the theme of Liverpool 2007: Enterprise City of the Future, was first circulated publicly (and very widely) in December 2001, It concerns the need for Liverpool to be forward-looking and engaging as the city progresses through the key years towards 2007 and 2008.

We can – and do! – all hope that Liverpool will become European Capital of Culture in 2008; we can with justification expect that the Manchester-led Commonwealth games in 2002 will benefit everyone in the North West; but of one thing we can be absolutely certain - that in 2007 the City of Liverpool will celebrate its 800th anniversary. No crystal-gazing required there.

So what are we all doing about this? Perhaps not too much yet; but we need to get going.

The lessons of the Millennium are there for all to see: aim high, plan early, and stick at it. In Liverpool even such relatively modest projects as the Hope Street Millennium Festival were first mooted some four or five years before they actually took place.

And another lesson which experience offers, unsurprisingly, is that clear objectives and step-by-step planning lead to success.

Objectives first: What can we celebrate especially in Liverpool’s 800th year? I’d suggest four ‘strands’ to start with: Liverpool’s rich history of international and inter-continental links; its undisputed inventiveness (from George Stephenson onwards); its tradition of grand architecture, landscaping and culture; and its diversity and creativeness, in bad times and good.

Sounds familiar? Perhaps you’re thinking of the admirable themes behind Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture bid. But that, we all hope, will happen the year after the Big Birthday; and plans for it have to be developed in the knowledge that, despite the strengths of Liverpool’s bid, this wonderful European accolade could in the end go to anywhere in the UK.

2007 by contrast is definitely Liverpool’s for the taking. One of the UK’s premier cities – ours – already has 2007 in the bag; so now let’s make sure everyone knows about it.

Back then to objectives. Surely a theme which arises from all the ‘strands’ mentioned is ENTERPRISE? Liverpudlians, through thick and thin, are inventive. They innovate, they find ways round; they are, in short, entrepreneurial. And more and more, they are becoming entrepreneurial in the ways their businesses are developing – big businesses or small, social or straight commercial, imagination and innovation abound.

So I’d say, let’s make 2007 the year to promote LIVERPOOL: ENTERPRISE CITY OF THE FUTURE. Let’s celebrate the past and present, achievements by our diverse communities of every sort, but let’s also determinedly set our sights on the future and what we must make it hold for ourselves and generations to come.

Which takes us back to the need for a step-by-step approach. We must see 2007 as ‘lift-off’ for our futures, not an end point, and we must build up to it carefully, perhaps via annual milestones.

The year 2002 sees not only the NW Commonwealth games, but the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – many will remember the 17,000 children who celebrated with music and drama when Her Majesty visited Hope Street in 1977; perhaps we can celebrate our communities in this way again next year. Then, 2004 is the centenary of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. And so we could continue. Already, I know many will be thinking, ‘Yes, my organisation has something big to celebrate in the years 2002-2007’.

And all these anniversaries have arisen because people in this amazing city of ours Did Something Special. They built a cathedral (or two); they formed a football club (or two); they founded a university (or two or three); they founded many businesses; they developed rich and diverse communities; they built theatres and organised festivals; they achieved things at the very frontiers of science and knowledge.

By all means let’s work hard, very hard, to make Liverpool European Capital of Culture in 2008; but let’s do it in the context of what we already know without a shadow of a doubt will be ours in 2007. And let’s take this wonderful opportunity to celebrate and show-case all that is most exciting and entrepreneurial in our very own Pool of Life.

Here’s a unique opportunity for lift-off, for communities and businesses to come together to make Liverpool’s future. Perhaps, in fact, this is an opportunity which can only be led from the front, by Liverpool’s entrepreneurs of all sorts, to make a better future for everyone. Informal discussions suggest that people from the arts, business, communities, education and science are all incredibly keen to move our city on. Who, I wonder, will join in taking the first steps forward to 2007, to make Liverpool Eight Hundred and vibrantly Enterprising?

And then we really would have something extra which is Liverpool’s alone to add to our European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008.

This proposal, written by Hilary Burrage, was first circulated on 6 December 2001.

Why is commissioned art in hospitals such a problem for some? The evidence suggests that, just as much as in other public and work places, art can help people to be comfortable and positive.

There they are, the arbiters of 'value', getting very upset about money which has been spent in one or two hospitals on 'art'. It's a waste, they declare. We could be buying more drugs or equipment, but we're squandering the readies on something that you just.... look at!

Well, perhaps these joyless folk haven't grasped the concept of added value. Perhaps the evidence, from a variety of sources, that being happy (or at least, happier than before) helps you to get better has passed them by. If you can see green vistas, or pleasant pictures and images, you will relax more easily, and you may even be able to leave hospital a day or so earlier than if you're stuck in a grey and souless place.

There are not that many ways in which service providers can actually save on overall budget and, at the same time, increase effectiveness and make people happier - but this is indeed one of them!

No-one seems to be saying that art is going to replace medical treatments. Proper consideration of clinical diagnosis and treatment must always be absolutely paramount. Medicine will however always be an art as well as a science.

If people in hospital have pleasant things to see and think about, if they can look at artefacts which help them to feel they are still connected with their wider comminuties and interests, if there are nice things to talk about with fellow patients, that makes a difference.

But 'nice things to look at' don't just appear; they have to be created. I remember Adrian Henri, who painted murals for the operating theatre suite at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, recounting how much research he was obliged to do before he so much as lifted a brush. He had to ensure his images gave no unwitting offence or alarm to patients from many different faiths and cultures as they entered a place none of volunters to visit.

Perhaps those who choose to take such a high-handed and cold view of what's appropriate for people in hospitals should remember that the evidence also points compellingly to the idea that pleasant workplaces are good... and that applies whether you work in a commercial office or a medical context. We all benefit from environments which make us comfortable and positive. And the evidence is there to show this benefit can be measured in outcomes even accountants would acknowledge.

Within sensible reason, let's agree that there's always a place, when were thinking about real people, for soul as well as science. Who knows when any of us might be in hospital and glad of a little visual cheer?

The 5+ Cs of Chairing

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Control and Command, or Communicate, Consult and Collaborate? There are other 'Cs of Chairing' too, but what do all these terms tell us about how modern organisations and people see the world?

It used to be quite easy. If you were Chair(man - most of them were male) of a meeting or organisation, you sat there and issued directions and edicts as prescribed.

That role of course still exists, especially in legal some other formal contexts. But these days there tends to be a lot more to it than that.

People in general are not so willing to go along with being told what to do. They question things. As a Chair you have to establish your authority in more ways than simply being appointed or elected: you have to show others that you know what you're doing, and why.

This applies particularly in political and community contexts. Chairs may well need to use a Command and Control style in the military or a legal situation, but they will need to show leadership of another kind if they want to take things forward successfully in situations where those involved are not obliged to be there.

Communicate, Consult and Collaborate may well be a more effective method than Command and Control to make progress, when individuals in a group can opt out at least as easily as they opt in.

There are of course snags in this newer approach: how can you be sure to get things done? But on the whole Command and Control probably in reality also produced only a fraction of the effect that ideally orders might have - if people want to be difficult, they will always find ways to be so.

I suspect nonetheless that the issue of what people actually expect from a Chair has become more critical in relatively recent times, having particular impact for, say, voluntary organisations or political parties. 'The troops' still need, from the organisation's perspective, to be put in place at strategic points in time, and they need to be marshalled in sufficient numbers to have impact. In order to achieve this, should the Contemporary Chair issue Orders, or would it be better to Coax and Cajole?

Resolution of this dilemma can present a challenge, unless sufficient preparatory work has been done. A Chair (whether of a small voluntary group or of a massive national organisation) who understands that individual members need consistently to be valued and informed, is more likely when the crunch comes to be effective than one who has forgotten these fundamentals.

There's a whole lot of difference between Telling someone and Engaging them; but folk will generally accept the the former if the latter happened first. (Of course there are also exceptional issues around every individual's responsibility for their own actions, regardless of if and when they receive encouragement - voting, for instance, 'should' be a civic duty, not an action predicated on being 'asked' to vote.)

A rule of thumb for Contemporary Chairs could be: Lead from the front, but Listen at the back. Communicate before you Command.

I don't think people have abandoned the idea of organisational leadership. Sometimes, especially when the stakes are high, they positively demand it. But they also expect those who direct them to acknowledge, very actively, that the prerogative of Command has to be given, accorded by Collective Consent, and not imposed.

Facilitation & Leadership

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Leaders offer direction; Facilitors generally should not. But how fluid is this distinction, and to what effect?

Do Leaders emerge or are they made? Are some Facilitators also Leaders? Or is the role of a Faciltator to bring about change through the agency of others - perhaps those who already have the mantle of Leadership, or perhaps others who will come to the fore via the process being facilitated?

The answer is probably that both these models apply in different circumstances.

A professional Facilitator (whether paid or not) is someone whose task is to bring forward responses from a group which has already asked for this to happen, maybe via an already established Leader.

On the other hand an informal Facilitator (usually a volunteer) may be someone who wants to get a group or interest established as an entity in itself. Such a person may well emerge from that group as a Leader.

And why are these distinctions important?

Again, the answers vary. Sometimes for instance informal facilitation is a route to significant developments which can be harnessed by, say, regeneration or other 'official' bodies to bring forward spokespeople for given interests. Conversely, on occasion it has been known for formal Facilitators to take upon themselves a leadership role acceptable by those who engaged them, but perhaps not by those whom they are facilitating.

The more the variables are considered, the more likely it is that the role claimed, Facilitator or Leader?, is that which is in fact being enacted.

Different communities and groups frequently have different understandings of why 'change' occurs and how 'progress' is achieved. Leadership and initiatives in such circumstances can be very challenging. Nobody's interested in Policy Pilots. They want Results.

It's always puzzled me, and the more I think about it, the more so.....

We all know that
(a) we live in times of rapid change,
(b) the variables in the changes are uncountable, and
(c) to whatever extent, change has to be eternally managed.

In other words, we are solidly aware that the whole process is unpredictable and subject to serendipity at every stage of the game. Plus, there's never an end. Change is a dialectic as compelling as Time itself.

Why is 'change' a worry?
So why do so many people spend so much time criticising 'Change', and apparently so little time in general public discourse considering 'Since Something Is Going To Happen Anyway, What Shall We All Do To Make It A Bit Better?'

Clearly, the myriad of forces which impel change as such also apply to the motivators and causal factors behind any individual's reaction to that change. There are psychological ones, socio-political ones, geo-economic ones... The list could go on.

There is also however a general cultural factor which probably applies diffierently at different times and in different places, whether we are thinking about huge historical eras or micro-contexts like single workplaces.

Here are some possible scenarios to which one might be able to apply specific examples.. just fill in with your own!

The cultural backdrop
In some cultural understandings - and again these may be micro as well as macro - there is a sense simply that Things Happen. This probably includes amongst other 'Things' people who are outside the group, who are perceived with whatever degree of acceptance or resistance to be the agents of the change.... No good communicating with them, because 'We' won't make any impact, so just wait and see, and then judge the outcome.

Then there are other cultural understandings which may suggest that, whilst 'We' are aware of what's going on, the option of complaint later is preferable to taking early responsibility for what arises. The Comfort Zone is visible, but is safer than expending the time and energy which a pro-active response would require.

And finally there are cultural understandings which just fail to appreciate the fluid nature of the process of developing ideas. In this case, people do know how to interrogate proposals and they may well have strong views, but they see every decision and outcome as cast in stone.

This last is a particularly difficult position to address, but one familiar to many of us who attempt to initiate Managed Change.

Vague ideas which leave things hanging...
You perhaps go into a situation with a remit to support constructive developments, and you ask those concerned what they think. Their response is, 'Well, what do you want?'......

But you know that, come the time when plans crystallise into actions, there will be plenty of advice on What You Should Have Done.

The dialectic of such development is challenging. Not everyone sees any difference between Change and 'Consensual Progress'; nor does everyone want to. If you as an initiator emphasise the plasticity of outcomes, you are accused of not knowing your stuff; but if you offer directional leadership (is there any other sort?) you are of course autocratic.

It's all a matter of perspective, as any politician or organisational head attempting to pilot his or her favourite policy will tell you.

Empowering people and communities to believe that things can usually change consensually for the better - that only very rarely is there no space for adjustment - is one of the most difficult aspects of community leadership, whatever the 'community'.

Perhaps one of the first steps in this direction is the acknowledgement that we all, You, Me, Them, make mistakes; and that it IS possible to learn from and act on these, positively.

Crowd young people (small) 100x93.jpgIn every era of history young men have demonstrated hotheaded and sometimes unacceptable behaviour. Recent violence in our inner cities is nonetheless hugely worrying, especially in contemporary contexts of instant communications and global politics. Intervention to change this behaviour must come from many different angles. One way is collaboration between youth service and school professionals to help alientated and challenged young people develop skills to help themselves.

Groups of young men (and just occasionally now young women) who rove the streets perhaps not averse to a fight, or perhaps even a riot, are nothing new. In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare wrote about the mediaeval tragedy of the Montagues and Capulets; and Mods and Rockers in the nineteen fifties were the basis of Graham Green's novel Brighton Rock.

But that this happened in the past doesn't in any way mean that it's not of deep concern now. Indeed, with global communication many might argue that, when hotheaded youth meets fundamental conviction, the problem for us all is if anything more serious than before.

The issue in a generally tolerant society is obviously very testing. How can we tell young people meaningfully that we value them, and everyone else, as individuals, whilst also making it crystal clear that we do not, and cannot in any circumstance, tolerate the belief of a minority that violence is sometimes justifiable?

Starting early
The answer lies in part with how we provide for young people and children, in schools, youth groups, in their communities (howsoever defined - which can be a big question...). And we have to start early.

Quite recently I was the evaluator in a project which involved close collaboration between the youth service and two schools in a hugely disadvantaged part of a northern city.

Multiple challenges
The object of this pilot collaboration was to see how intervention by the youth service could support children in secondary education who faced multiple challenges. Some of them were
very low achievers, some had personal problems, some were asylum seekers (who often didn't speak much English). The majority were boys.

What became very clear to us all, teachers, youth workers and others, was that these children needed to develop confidence and communication skills, and that was best done in very small groups using youth work techniques rather than the conventional classroom approach. However kind and caring the teachers, in their usual classes the children felt swamped and unable to contribute - with the inevitable consequences.

Managing anger in testing circumstances
What was also very clear was that for some children from ethnic minority communities racism was a daily experience; and one they often couldn't cope with. Anger management for all the children, whatever their community background or colour of skin, was also therefore an essential element in their skills development.

The aim was to help all the children walk away from trouble, full stop.

Continuity is the key
On the whole, this approach was actually beginning to work by the time the pilot project came to an end. The lessons we as professionals learned from this pilot collaborative project were many, but one of the most striking was, you can't start too early - and you can't just cut off because a young person has a birthday.

Schools may be structured to impose enormous transitions at eleven and sixteen; but children sometimes remain children in their perspectives and behaviours in ways which may relate little to their chronological age - especially if they have had a pretty rough time of it to date.

A multi-disciplinary approach
Another lesson we learned was that multiply challenged children do indeed need multiple approaches to their problems - teachers, youth workers, health and social care professionals, all have a part to play; and they have to do this together, understanding what each professional approach has to offer the children.

Nobody is suggesting that youth service-school collaboration will bring an immediate end to very serious current concerns around the behaviours of some young people; but it does seem that investing in more of this work is also investing very positively in our futures.

Peer support
The more extreme and unacceptable beliefs of the small minority of angry young men are best challenged by their peers, as well as just by 'outsiders'.

If we can somehow give some of these peers the support and skills they need to be able to stand up for good sense and our common humanity, we will have achieved something really worthwhile which offers hope for everyone.

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Already, some people in Liverpool believe the 2012 Olympics will be 'bad' for Merseyside. Having already won the accolade of 2008 European Capital of Culture, - and bearing in mind also the City's 800th Anniversary in 2007 - surely we in Liverpool are actually very well placed to benefit greatly from the 2012 Olympics, if we start to plan now? The glass is decidedly half full, not half empty. The next challenge for Liverpool is to recognise this and act on it.

The news on Merseyside today is that a survey shows more local business people think the 2012 Olympics will be bad for the Liverpool area than good for it.

They argue that benefit will probably be directly in relation to proximity to London; and indeed that finance for the Olympics will take any available monies, leaving not much for the rest of us.

This is a particularly puzzling view in Merseyside, where we are about to benefit from our 800th Anniversary in 2007, and then the 2008 European Capital of Culture - events brim-full of business opportunities and visitors, alongside the city's current enthusiasm for regeneration.

Call me naive, but I see here a chance to build on whatever success we in Liverpool can make of our 2007 / 2008 events. The city's leaders have consistently said they want the celebrations and developments kicked-started by the 2008 Culture Year (and the city's 2007 800th Anniversary celebrations) to continue longer term, with a programme which has horizons well beyond those dates.

These forthcoming events are surely the way to make sure we're on the ball for the Olympics, a position which is unique to Liverpool in the UK . By 2012 we will have put in place all the infrastructure and tourism facilities you could possibly wish for, and we will have learned a lot during our 2007/8 years in the limelight.

It's up to all of us outside the capital to make sure that our Olympics 'offer' for 2012 is up to scratch. I don't want to ask people now if they are worried about 2012. I'd prefer to ask how, already, they are engaging their imaginations to make 2012 a year when the whole country makes the most of chances to work together to show what we can do.

This is definitely one scenario where the glass is not half empty, but already half full - especially for Liverpool, 2008 European Capital of Culture. Let's make sure the 2012 opportunity is relished, not rejected.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is warning us that posssible energy shortages mean a winter of discontent awaits. This is a matter of concern for everyone. When energy is taken by the banks and business as seriously in terms of analysis as finance, the notion of 'Futures' may help us to understand 'Options' in a whole new way.

My grasp of 'Futures', in the financial sense of the word, is slight; but I gather it's all to do with large-scale 'Options' on investing by banks to produce decent returns later on. So far, so simple.

But isn't this what we need to think about with energy futures, as well as financial ones? The CBI - an organisation which I would imagine knows a bit about futures and banks - has just said they have serious concerns about energy provision this winter. A long hard snap and we'll be in for a winter of discontent the likes of which only those of us long in the tooth can recall.

Strangely, the forward thinking which is routinely made for financial futures doesn't seem to feature when businesses consider energy futures. Some of us would argue, however, that energy is where it's really all at.

What's the 'gold' of the future?
Hasn't it been said that the gold of the future is oil? Or maybe these days renewables?

Recent days have seen high-level hints that more nuclear power is on the cards for the UK. Conservationists and eco-people will be horrified by this. Industrial contractors and perhaps some regeneration specialists may see it as a promising way forward.

The real question must surely be, how much thought have we all put into ways of providing energy for the future? And how much have we also thought about the levels of energy we really need, as opposed to the levels we all currently expend?

Conflicting demands
Leaders in different parts of these fields seem to be looking several ways at once.

Businesses want cheap energy in abundant supply (though some of them do of course make efforts to conserve it as well).

The politicians are trying to do two things: encourage us on the one hand to save energy, and on the other to consider forms of energy production which may or may not be sustainable and long-term safe.

And the scientists are telling us that the technologies for energy conservation and production have not all been explored to the same level. We aren't as yet in a position to evaluate fully the relative effectiveness and risk of all the possible ways forward; but we do know how to produce shorter-term big science solutions.

'Options' in energy
Back then to the 'futures' idea. We have graduate physicists and others who, it is reported, have too little to do. (An irony, in my experience, is that many good physicists end up working as analysts in banks, not laboratories.) And we have businessess which are worried about energy. Why not put things together and start to take the 'options' on energy as seriously as those on finance?

This isn't just an issue for people who have lots of money to spend, it's an issue for us all. Without energy, at suitable levels of availability and sustainability, there could be no banks or businesses anyway.

Newsham Park in Liverpool is a Listed Historic Park; yet it has on its perimeter distressingly neglected vintage houses owned, it is said, by the City Council and local Housing Associations. Some concerned locals want the City of Liverpool to take action against itself on this matter. This situation, as some residents understand it, hardly suggests positive re-inforcement of active citizenship in one of the most deprived inner-city localities of the UK.

The very first place we ever lived in Liverpool was, literally, a garret in Fairfield Crescent, off Newsham Park. Still a student, I thought this quite exotic, a place of our own even though the downside was three very steep flights of stairs.

Since my time there many years ago Newsham Park has suffered considerable neglect. The local bank has disappeared, many more people seem to be unemployed, and despite some new retail outlets and the efforts of Kensington New Deal there is widespread visible decay in some parts of the area.

Nonetheless the area is blessed with numbers of residents who are fighting energetically for their patch. Newsham Park is in its design an elegant green space surrounded by large Vistorian houses and wide carriage ways. It was, and still has the potential to be, an urban gem for those who live in the north of the city.

It is shocking therefore to hear that some of the most delapidated housing around Newsham Park is actually owned by the City Council and local Housing Associations. And this, in a Listed Historic Park and within a Conservation Area.

The news is apparently that Newsham Park residents have decided to ask the City to take enforcement action against the owners - sometimes one gathers themselves - of the most neglected properties. Whether this comes about, and what the official response might be, we shall see.

But it does leave us to wonder exactly how one of the most deprived localities of the UK can bring about much needed change for the better, if those who live in and care about it it apparently have to ask their own city to remedy disgraceful neglect on their very doorsteps.

Should it transpire that the City Council, as an example and encouragement to concerned local people, can't find ways to look after its own property, what hope is there for the rest?

Increasing life expectancy offers many new opportunities to us all, but it brings problems too. Amongst these is how working families can also care for elderly parent/s, who often live many miles away. One possible solution which could also help others living alone might be to re-think the mix of housing required when building homes, whether in rural areas, in terraced streets or in the suburbs.

It's an issue we almost all have to face at some point: what do you do when old age or dependency catches up, and entirely independent living begins to be a worry?

For some of us, this occurs when our elderly parent/s or other ralatives begin to need support; for others it may perhaps only arise when we ourselves find that getting around is not as easy as it was. Sadly for a smaller number the issue arises because they have dependent adult children who will always require care. But there are few people for whom it's never at any stage a worry.

It's even more difficult of course if the increasingly fragile person lives at a significant distance from anyone who could 'keep an eye' and offer support. Many of us find ourselves at some point dashing off at any available opportunity to visit elderly parent/s or other lonely or dependent relatives. The problem is, there's no room, or it wouldn't work, for them to live with you; but on the other hand they live too far away for easy access.

And this issue isn't going to go away. We should all be delighted to acknowledge that people live longer now. For probably the first time in history most of us can now expect to get into our eighties in relative good health.

In other words, the 'dependency ratio' - the ratio of people in work to those not working - is shifting towards fewer working people and more elderly, retired folk. So here is a matter requiring social adjustment and new policies for a whole range of services and facilities.

Would it be sensible to suggest that a policy of accommodating older people within reach of their nearest and dearest is essential wherever possible? The classic response is the personal arrangement of building or altering accommodation as a 'Granex', somewhere in or by the family home where a single older person can live independently but alongside their adult offspring.

But perhaps now is the time also to recognise there is a new commercial construction opportunity here, a development which would facilitate family contact but at the same time help older people to maintain their personal autonomy within the wider community.

We already have groups of small housing units which, although all separate and private, have shared wardens and services. These tend however to be in short supply; as indeed do privately owned bungalows suitable for less mobile seniors.

When housing estates (either private or for rent) are built, or when streets are renovated in the inner city or wherever, perhaps there could be a requirement that a given percentage of the development is very small clusters of accommodation suitable for elderly single people?

There could, for instance, be a recommendation that every fifteenth - or other appropriate number - plot be not, say, two conjoined semis, but rather five smaller flats, each with easy 'disabled access' and with a common lift, garden space etc. These small unit blocks, scattered around local communities, would provide homes to be sold or rented in exactly the same way as any other accommodation. The only difference would be that they might offer special ease of access and, through some shared amentity, an opportunity for the residents if they wish to maintain or develop a community of personal contacts and to keep an eye on each other.

If there were enough of these small unit blocks scattered around our communities, a real need could be met. Many adult children who wish to have their elderly and dependent members nearby but not for whatever reason actually in the family home could do so, using the normal mechanisms of the market. And this could also offer mutual support for others who are alone but don't choose to live in larger blocks of flats.

Not everyone who lives alone can afford, say, suburban accommodation intended for two or more people, but there is no logical reason why smaller single living units can't be developed in areas usually associated with the semi, as well as in the city centre. Similar arrangements could also apply, to use the other extreme, in rural villages, where affordable housing is becoming a major headache for people on lower incomes.

The evidence seems to be that mixed housing is a step in the right direction for stable and comfortable communities. General incorporation of single / small units of accommodation into 'semi-land' and terraced streets could increase choice for single people and help families to keep in touch with elderly members in a more routine and relaxed way.

Given the acknowledged inevitability in the UK of increased single living and also of elderly dependency, there really is a need to think about housing in new ways.

Nasty bug 06.7.30 118x102 014aaa.jpg MRSA, nasty flu bugs and so on are not simply random events. People can help themselves. Public health and health education knowledge is never more important than when people are alarmed about health scare stories or the threat of epidemics.

It's probably the years I spent battling as a teacher for proper Health Education in schools, but I'm always puzzled by the view that serious contagious illness 'just happens'. It doesn't. Believing that, say, MRSA or really nasty strains of flu are things we can do nothing about is a big mistake.

Of course anyone can be unlucky with any sort of ill-health. It would be very wrong indeed to suggest that we can all remain healthy by doing / eating / thinking the right things. If only..... But that doesn't mean we have to be victims in our minds all the time.

Simple procedures, excellent results
MRSA, the super-bug found in hospitals, is a good example. When everyone remembers to keep things really clean, and to wash their hands every time they should, its prevalence falls significantly. The same applies to other infections.

Some maladies are caused by bacteria, and others by viruses. The ways they spread depend on whether they are passed from person to person by touching, coughing, just lying in wait, or whatever. But all these modes of transmission can be contained to greater or lesser degrees by good hygiene.

Which takes me back to my first point.

Education for health starts young
People currently enjoy on average longer and healthier lives than at any other time in history. But there was a period in the 1980s / 90s where public health, and related individual health matters, were very low on the agenda. Because of this there was very little interest in school health education.

Things have improved a lot in the past few years - Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE) is now firmly embedded in the school curriculum. But one thing we all need to know, children, teenagers or adults of any age, is how to avoid unnecessary infections and, crucially, why these measures work. If we understand, we are more likely to stick to what we need to do. This means a working knowledge of healthy eating, exercise, good hygiene and immunisation routines, the lot.

A measure of reassurance and control
When we understand there are things which can be done as individuals to keep the bugs at least in part at bay, we are more likely to take a balanced view on the risks. Alarm and panic rarely help anyone to cope. A grasp of the facts, and feeling we have some measure of control, often does.

Farmers' Markets have a special place in city life. They encourage us to feel part of a community, yet when we go to these markets we also feel that as individuals we are attending to our health and leisure needs. Farmers' Markets may indeed sometimes in reality be big business, but they fill a gap in our fragmented urban lives.

Farmers' Markets seem to be all the rage in Liverpool at the moment. They started in the ciy centre (by the Victoria Monument), and recently sprouted up in Lark Lane to the South of the city. Now, this Sunday, there is at last to be one in Hope Street, the cultural quarter. All the recent evidence suggests that, weather permitting, this too will be a big success.

So why is everyone in the city so enthusiastic about Farmers' Markets? Several possible answers to this question come to mind:

Farmers' Markets make us feel healthy. Whether the produce is actually fresher and more nutritious (or beneficial in other ways, if not edible) than produce we can buy in supermarkets, we willingly go along with the idea that it must be.

Farmers' Markets make us feel part of a community; we throng around, perhaps sharing comments with perfect strangers about what's on offer, and aware of the shared purpose in our being there. Yet we also feel like individuals - not for us the pre-packaged routinised stuff of the big stores. We are making a positive, personal choice to buy, or perhaps just to consider buying, produce which feels, against supermarket standards, just a bit exotic.

Farmers' Markets take us back in time. We imagine, more or less accurately, that this until quite recently is how people have always conducted their financial transactions. There's a rusticness about what we're doing which harks back to a supposed golden age which is in contemporary times usually only seen on Christmas cards.

Farmers' Markets are ecological. If we can, we walk to them (or at least park the car a distance away), clutching cane baskets and imagining, correctly or otherwise, that what we intend to buy is organic.

Farmers' Markets let us feel authentic. We can actually talk, and maybe even negotiate our purchase, with the people who are seling their own goods - which we naturally suppose they have also themselves carefully crafted. The goods are authentic. The person-to-person transaction is authentic. We must be authentic.

And Farmers' Markets are interesting. We are often not sure what we'll find when we get there. Who will turn up this time? What will they have to sell? We attend trustingly, purses speculatively at the ready in our pockets; not for us on this occasion the usual boring shopping list!

It might be surmised from this list that I have a problem with Farmers' Markets. Not so at all. They have a real part to play in the lives of many city people, just as they always have had in more rural contexts.

It's the function these markets perform in our splintered urban communities which fascinates me. They may in fact sometimes be the visible parts of very large business operations, but they are perceived as 'small', micro-enterprises undertaken by real people. They make us feel special, they spark our imaginations and they activiate our interest in important aspects of health and community.

Don't miss the next Liverpool Farmers' Markets. Be sure to be in Lark Lane on Saturday, or in Hope Street on Sunday!

The returns on Merseyside Special Investment Fund investments are under scrutiny in a particularly challenging local economy. But do we know whether MSIF, or any other public investment bodies, are actually doing a good job? The answer is probably, 'Pass....'. Unless there is directly comparable information about enterprise programmes where funding was unasked or declined, there is actually nothing meaningful against which to make evaluations of the adequacy of the funding decision-making process for programmes which do receive public investment.

The debate about whether MSIF (Merseyside Special Investment Fund) is effective continues. Their performance in the past year is for some unconvincing - today's Daily Post Business Week reports an MSIF £10m venture fund, of which £9.6m has been written off. There is discussion about whether such funding is given in the right sort of way - it's 'given' as loans at strictly commercial rates - and whether it's an appropriate form of investment at all in a challenging economy such as Merseyside's, which is indeed a fair question.

Similar discussion of course is frequently heard about other funding and loans. Is the type right for the need? Why is there so much apparent failure?

There is however a question which is rarely if ever asked, but which could tell us a lot: How do the enterrpises (of whatever sort, commercial or social) which are refused support actually fare, compared to those that receive it?

This would be a basic question in any respectable 'proper reseach' programme, whatever the subject under scrutiny. There has to be information against which to evaluate the outcomes of intervention.

For instance, if we were conducting clinical research we might expect a 'double-blind trial'; in other disciplines the 'null hypothesis' might be involved - essentially the assumption that there is no difference or effect until one is clearly demonstrated. But no equivalent comparator information seems to be forthcoming when the subject is the use of the public purse for enterprise investment.

Probably this is because business investors tend only to look at their own and similar portfolios; and most senior people involved in funding enterprise have in their previous lives been business investors. Not many social science or economic researchers are directly engaged at operational level in decisions about the distribution of large investment cheques from the public purse.

Perhaps investment specialists are better at business advice than they are likely to be at research? Probably so; but we don't actually know, because we don't have the comparative data by which to tell if their advice and guidance, or indeed their cheques, are effective: Few (if any) public funding bodies provide comparator information about investment proposals which were developed without public funding, or were turned down when they asked.

It may seem a strange idea; but there could be a case for obligatory induction courses in research methods for investment bankers who see a future for themselves in expending public monies on enterprise on our behalf. Perhaps it's time to re-write the job spec?

Or maybe the real issue is, do those who scrutinise public investments of this sort understand the difference between Outcomes (what happens at the end of the process) and Evaluation (whether specific outcomes have actually been changed - and, if so how? - by the intervention/s)?

If the difference between outcome and evaluation is understood, it's only a short step to seeing that what public investment programmes really need is benchmarking by external research, to show whether funding intervention really does in general improve outcome. Then we'll know whether they're value for money - which by common agreement must in the end be what it's all about.

Liverpool's Big Dig is supposed to be the way forward for investment in the city centre. In theory this is great. In practice the abject failure to insist on '24 hour' operation is a serious threat even to those businesses (and workers) already here. Edict No.1 in the 'Regeneration Rulebook' must surely be: when effecting to make progress, don't put at unnecessary risk what you've already got.

'How else is Liverpool going to resume its rightful place as a city meaning business?', asks Matt Johnson in today's Business Post of the city centre's Big Dig.

Well, the Big Dig is supposed to be a route to increased business in the city centre; and at the moment it's exactly the opposite.

Clearly, the intended outcome is that there should be more commercial and other enterprise activity within the city, but they're going about it a very strange way. If we're not very careful, there will in fact be less such economic activity in the immediate follow-on from the Big Dig, not more. Footfall is already dropping alarmingly, and not all the cries of 'Wolf!' from traders are sham - as of course Matt Johnson readily confirms.

Yesterday I was in the city centre mid-morning and later in the afternoon. On both occasions diversion signs and cones out-numbered visible Big Dig workers by a huge ratio. Not much sign of urgent activity to be seen even in the middle of the working day - and of course none at all that I have observed in the evening or during the night.

The City Council may be saving money for itself (and thus it would argue for its rate payers) by not engaging people to work at night - or even it appears particulary energetically during the day - but this will cost us all dear.

Reduced trading will mean fewer jobs; so some people will go out of work as a result of this - hardly a cost saving for them as individuals.

The whole Big Dig strategy, from what I can see, has developed without appreciating the most fundamental - and most unobserved - regeneration rule of all...... Don't damage (more than absolutely essentially) what you already have in the attempt to 'improve' things for the future.

If the city powers-that-be can require commercial deliveries to be made in the centre outside business hours, why can't they apply the same logic, only more so, to the diligence with which they deliver the Big Dig? Come on chaps, this is supposed to be a 24 hour city!

Yet again, we must ask: Who's in charge? and who is answerable to the citizens and businesses of Liverpool and their by now doubtless deeply puzzled potential future investors?

PFI contracts are again in the news, as the London Underground Northern line grinds to a halt and no-one knows who to hold accountable. But what does this also tell us about private (and social entreprise) service provision which is bought in by NHS and Foundation Health Trusts? Private sector buy-in contracts need careful thought if they are to deliver what is expected, no more, no less. So who is going to provide this legal scrutiny?

''No-one, it seems, is in charge.... London Underground needs a simple line of control and responsibility and does not have it.... In truth the problem is not the involvement of profit-making companies in the underground, but the terms on which they are involved and at present these are failing badly.' Thus runs the Guardian's second editorial today.

Just two days ago (this website, NHS Contracts and Foundation Hospitals: Who has the Legal Expertise?) I predicted that issues around PFI would continue to run, and that the problems which have plagued PFI contracts would in all probablity also plague new Health Service arrangements. It didn't take long to see that unfortunately there is indeed mileage in this prediction.

The NHS is now taking financial management very serously indeed. How long will it be before there is similar attention to matters contractual? Significant external commercial partnerships are a fairly new development in the NHS, which has almost always previously provided its own in-house services.

Much has been made of the political implications of private service providers being involved in the NHS, but I wonder whether the same reservations would be applied to social enterprise involvement? If the answer is No, social entreprise involvement is alright, but private sector provision is not, then perhaps we have our eyes at least partly on the wrong ball if we simply dismiss the idea of buy-in as such?

Given the complexities of modern technolgies and economies, does it matter where the service comes from, as long as it's good, in budget, well-delivered and properly accountable and managed?

It's the management and accountability issues which are critical - and it's here that NHS and Foundation Trusts need to think very carefully. They are accountable, and they need to manage.

There are an awful lot of smart city lawyers out there. We must be sure some of them are on the public service side when it comes to negotiating health provision contractual arrangements.

Sefton Park Bare cherry trees  (small) 75x99.jpg Liverpool's Sefton Park has beautiful cherry trees, at present under contentious threat of being demolished. Why not, instead, use this situation as a way to engage local people, especially children, in ownership of their local (and often greatly under-appreciated) green space, and of the natural cycles which must always occur?

Sefton Park Cherry Trees 06.4.29 011.jpg Unsurprisingly, there's much consternation in Liverpool at present about the fate of the cherry trees around Sefton Park's middle lake. For some, they look like worn out relics of their former glory, due for the chop. To others (me included!), they are still wonderful, showering their landscape with gorgeous pink blossom for those special few weeks in the Spring.

But all things do come to an end, so ultimately the trees will have to go. The question is, when? Why can't new trees be planted and allowed to blossom forth before the 'old' ones at last become wood chip?

An under-valued community resource
Sefton Park is situated in what is genuinely the inner city 'donut'. It is surrounded on most sides by areas which include many children who lack first hand knowledge not only of parks, but also even of how things grow. It is also a hugely under-valued urban resource; a situation which hopefully will be much improved by the new, long overdue, proposals to revamp the park as a whole.

It's not an especially original thought, but is there some way that the new trees could be 'owned' by children in different school classes or clubs? Or indeed from different surrounding streets?

Recycling trees and art?
Then, when the new trees have grown, the ones they are replacing could finally become part of the recycling process, with all this entails being explained in due course to their replacements' 'owners'.

Perhaps, even, some of the 'old' trees can be carved or otherwise used to represent aspects of our local lives? (So many trees are already being cut down, doubtless for good reason; but where are the sculptors and artists who can put their remnants to good publicly visible use? - and cherry wood, I understand, is particularly fine for this, when eventually it comes to it!)

Engaging people in change
People find it hard to accept change. Here, if there's someone or some organisation willing to deliver it, is a way to help local folk engage positively. Why have a fight about something as beautiful as cherry trees, when so much else should be taking up our energies?

See also: Sefton Park's Grebes And Swans

Liverpool's Sefton Park, Swans, Herons And Grebes

Sefton Park, Liverpool: Winter Solstice 2006

Cherry Blossom For May Day In Sefton Park, Liverpool
What Now For Liverpool's Sefton Park?

Liverpool's Sefton Park Trees Under Threat - Unnecessarily?

Solar Lighting Could Solve The Parks Problem

Friends Of Sefton Park

Is it actually the contracting out to private (or indeed social enterprise) suppliers for some NHS services which should be of most concern? Or is it the exact nature of the contracts agreed between NHS Trust Boards etc and their suppliers which requires the most scrutiny? There may be details here which make all the difference to what happens in the future....

Foundation Hospitals present us with a bewildering array of issues, on which much time and energy has been expended. There is one aspect of this development, and of the 'contracting out' of services in other NHS Trusts (to private suppliers, or indeed to social enterprises) which apparently perplexes me more than it does many others.

I don't necessarily have a problem with 'buying in' at least some services, which for whatever reason an NHS Trust may not be able to provide; but there could be a problem if control of the service somehow thereafter eluded the Management of that Trust. Is this a medical or, rather, a legal matter?

How much training and expertise do public sector managers have in developing contracts with private companies? Is this a field in which most public sector staff could - or indeed until till now should? - have significant experience?

If a private contractor provides satisfactorily exactly the service which has been agreed, in the way and for the price agreed, perhaps there is no real problem; but is there a risk that sometimes this may not occur and either
(a) there will be no legal redress, or
(b) there could be loopholes which might enable the private contractor to have a hold on service provision which is greater than that envisaged?

In either of these cases there is the risk of compromise of the basic tenets of the NHS. Perhaps therefore it would be more useful to examine precisely what NHS Trusts and private suppliers agree, than to make a big thing of the idea of contracting out for specialist (or whatever) services as such. Some have suggested that these details were at base the 'real' problems with PFI. It is to be hoped, if so, that they are not repeated in the implementation of current proposals.

The devil, I suggest, is in the detail rather than in the ideas themselves. It will be interesting to see what specific expertise NHS managers acquire (or have already acquired) in these legal matters, as we move ahead. There is no doubt a tale or two as yet to be told about these complex propositions.

One of Liverpool's most respected classical music critics has just resigned because of changes in a Liverpool newspaper's policy on arts coverage - there is to be considerably less of it. This does not reflect well on how Liverpool values the Arts, surely an essential part of the 'offer' in any great city.

Hardly have we been told that Liverpool's leading 'serious' newspaper is drastically to reduce its arts coverage, than we lose one of its leading music reviewers. Glyn Mon Hughes, himself a highly qualified musician, has decided that he cannot continue. He cites the newspaper's 'recent savage cuts in arts coverage' as his primary reason.

Commenting on the build-up to Liverpool's European City of Culture year, in 2008, Glyn Mon Hughes says, "This month's moves do not exactly bloster confidence [in assurances that arts coverage will increase] but I sincerely hope it will happen."

It is doubtful in the extreme that dedicated Sports coverage will decline in the foreseeable future. The same confidence is less secure when it comes to the Arts.

So thanks and 'bye for now, Glyn. Let's hope your work with Classical Music magazine and other national publications will keep the flag flying for Liverpool's arts scene. Let's hope, too, that enough people demonstrate their continuing interest in 'serious' arts and music in the city, to ensure that our European City of Culture year will not become a celebration only of 'accessible' culture - if that's the right term. Both 'serious' and 'accessible' culture are essential in any city worth its salt.

Universities in the USA are increasingly funded by private interests. This has already raised curriculum concerns, especially for instance about ideas such as 'Intelligent Design'. Anything which is at base an attack on scientific method and, indeed, rationality, should be watched very carefully indeed.

Public funding of universities in the USA has fallen further since 2001 than at any other time in the past two decades, according to the New York Times today (74% in 1991, 64% in 2004). Some university presidents are therefore becoming vocal in their concerns about 'public higher education's slow slide toward privatisation'.

The concern is in part that private funders set an agenda not always in tune with public universities' wishes. These centre on teaching, autonomy in research and time spent securing private funding.

Could this be a particular problem in the context of so-called Intelligent Design? This is the notion, akin to 'creationism', that somehow the human race has emerged in just a few thousand years, after being 'designed' by... who? Yet this unlikely thesis - with absolutely no credible basis in evidence or scientific theory - is increasingly being pressed upon American schools, for inclusion in their curricula. Apparently this is to 'balance' Darwinian theories of evolution.

Buying beliefs?
So what is the link with university funding? Well, presumably not all funders are scientifically well informed; such knowledge is by no means a necessary prerequisite of huge wealth or of a desire to influence what others know and learn.

Some observers of American science have wondered why more outstanding scientists do not speak out loud and clear about this attack - for such it is - on scientific method and, indeed, rationality. But the reason why seems clear: they don't want to rock the boat when it comes to funding.

The price of academic autonomy
Never has there been a clearer case for academic autonomy, away from the beliefs of those who do not appreciate what sturdy, contestable peer review is all about. Peer scrutiny is not perfect - one is reminded of the slogan (was it Joseph Schumpeter's?), 'Two Cheers for Democracy!' - but it is the best we can currently come up with, and all genuine universities need to continue to keep as far as possible from undue influence.

In the modern world of macro-economics not every bit of science can be influence-free. Creeping privatisation of public higher education is, however, one area where extreme caution is required.

Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool has now formally announced that it may leave the city for Widnes, because of a local reluctance to supoprt plans for necessary expansion. Widnes doubtless has many attractions, but it cannot claim proximity to other internationally claimed medical institutions amongst them. Liverpool's decision makers must wake up very soon indeed to the need to understand the critical importance of Big Science - which includes leading hospitals - to their local economy.

It's now official: Liverpool's Alder Hey Hospital, world leader in paediatric medicine, may have to move from Liverpool to Widnes because of local resistance to their plans to expand on the current site - even though there is a clear undertaking by the hospital to provide a well-planned and maintained 'children's health park' within the extension proposals.

Let's be clear. Alder Hey is NOT proposing that all the trees be cut down, and that they ruin a beautiful piece of parkland. The current park is truly nothing to be proud of; but the proposed new children's health park would surely be. Indeed, it could, like its organisational base, be a shining example of how health, environment and education can come together.

Full marks to Widnes for spotting an opportunity which it seems has passed Liverpool by; but even Widnes itself presumably does not list amongst its attractions proximity to a world-class Medical School and the Royal Liverpool Teaching Hospital (see article on this website, 12 October).

Is Big Science also the last Big Secret, an invisible commodity which decision makers and planners at the local level just don't see for what it is? Put together the budgets of the Royal, Alder Hey, the Medical School and, e.g., the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and you have a sum larger than that of many medium-sized towns - and an employment requirement which is hugely important to any local economy.

Let's by all means assure local residents that they will get their trees back. (Maybe we also have to persuade the Council for the Protection of Rural England, who perhaps have a particular take here?) But let's also show a bit of grown-up leadership.

Widnes can of course have its fair share of the deal - Alder Hey already has proposals for a number of service delivery sites around its area, called 'Alder Hey at...'. Patient access is always a prime consideration; but that doesn't just apply to Widnes.

In the end it's in no-one's interest to break up the personal and professional connections which have over the last several decades been carefully established by the practitioners working in Liverpool's great hospitals and university.

It looks at present as though there is a lack of 'scientific literacy' of a very basic sort in the considerations of local decision makers. They don't actually have to understand the science itself, but they certainly need to try very conscientiously to grasp the simple facts of scientific life: at base, there's no synergy without connectivity - which includes opportunities on a day-to-day basis for outstanding medical scientists and practitioners to get together.

And, if this isn't enough of an argument, who's going to accept responsibility for the hundreds of less skilled hospital jobs which will go elsewhere, in one of the most disadvantaged parts of an already economically challenged city, when and if this absolutely unnecessary dispersal of international expertise occurs?

Fruits & flowers (calendula, small) 06.7.30 012.jpg There are many unattended back gardens in cities; but there are also many people who would like to have allotments. Could these two observations be brought together to provide a sense of place and an opportunity for city children to learn more about things that grow?

Aapple blossom 06.4.27 005.jpg If, like me, you travel on trains quite a lot, you also see quite a lot of back gardens. Some are beautiful; some are not. One striking thing however is that the beautifully kept gardens seem to be contagious - on each side there are usually tidy gardens, gradually petering out to the less tidy, and then to the frankly unkempt. I have always been fascinated about how this happens. Perhaps visible example enables achievement, just as in any other area of human experience?

It has to be said, however, that quite a lot of the unkempt back gardens tend to be inner-city. Yet at the same time there are reports in some places that waiting lists for allotments are at an all-time high. Can't these back gardens become 'allotments'? And maybe 'parks', too?

Are there areas where people might be pleased to get rid of their battered fences, at least at a given distance from their actual houses, and turn these into pleasant shared ground? Alleygating of terraced housing has in general proved to be popular. If alleyways can be shared to advantage, how about gardens?

Promoting environmental awareness through gardening
Allotments (painted sheds, Sudley) 06.7.15 001.jpg Maybe there are people who would like to have their allotment as an extended patch behind where they live, as long as they don't mind sharing.

Are there any organisations which might encourage this sort of collective gardening activity? Could there be educational as well as community benefits? Maybe that way fewer city children would believe that peas are manufactured in tins. And maybe also those in a given 'garden community' who wanted to move beyond their immediate backyard into shared garden space might have a safer place than the street to meet as neighbours.

This idea naturally begs a lot of questions, and there are multiple reasons why it might not work, but perhaps there are also some why it might.

New technology, particularly email and the worldwide web, has many benefits to offer almost everyone. But it fails to reach many who would find it useful, principally because of its complexities and unfamiliar style. Perhaps we need to think about a 'Library of the Web' as a way of offering a level of guarantee of acceptability in terms of content, and to adopt a Plain English Campaign-style approach to e-tech presentation.

There is plenty of evidence that the worldwide web has helped people to make contact across huge divides; but the debate continues (see Guardian letters today) about whether on overall balance it contributes, or does not contribute, to social inclusion.

Essentially, the most serious techno-divide seems not to be between people of different ages or of, e.g., different genders, but between those who are willing and able to get to grips with new technology and those who are not.

Email can be a great boon for people who are housebound, as well as home-workers and of course those in employment. Websites can provide the most amazing information. In every case however there has to be a facility in both the physical and the attitudinal senses.

We can make simple e-tech equipment for young children; why not also for people (some of them older, some with physical difficulties, or whatever) who have difficulties or concerns about using it?

We can ensure that what children read is acceptable and generally valid information. Can this not be done on some level, in terms of public information for everyone, about how to check what you are reading has some substance? Libraries on the whole manage to do this for the books they stock. What about a 'Library on the Web' of some sort, maybe at varying levels of provision?

Employment opportunities and training are quite rightly becoming much more accessible on line; so should opportunities for people to seek help with their health concerns, citizenship concerns and much else. These things do exist, but by no means as accessibly as many of us would like.

There is a widespread need to engage people who DON'T understand new technology in its production, when this is for general use, and especially when it's intended as a public service. (We all pay for public service information; and there is anyway an irrefutable case for making sure we can all, or as many as will benefit from it, have genuine access to it.)

Much of e-tech is produced by people who find it difficult to see how perplexed many of the rest of us are by their language and modes of communication. The real challenge which faces them is to use their skills, at least for pubic domain e-content, to achieve the same level of presentational simplicity as that required, say, to operate domestic appliances or read a popular newspaper.

Social inclusion and entitlement continue to be pressing issues as the internet grows apace. Where is the equivalent of the Plain English Campaign, when it comes to the new technology?

Liverpool's leading morning newspaper is reported as intending to cut back significantly on its Arts coverage, which will it is claimed no longer only be 'ghettoised' on one page. How does this fit with Liverpool's forthcoming status as European Capital of Culture 2008? And will the same rationale now be made for rescuing Sport from 'ghettoisation'?

It seems that Liverpool is about to reduce its newspaper Arts coverage substantially. A report in the UK Press Gazette on Thursday (13 October) suggests that daily coverage in the city's leading 'serious' paper is to be reduced from five to two days a week, the Friday art supplement is to be eight, not sixteen pages, and three paid columnists will be axed. The rationale is apparently that the Arts will no longer be 'ghettoised on a specific page each day'.

There also seems to be a suggestion that this change is somehow linked with increased sales and prices.

Confusion exists about exactly how this reduction in specific coverage will be aligned alongside the claim of all concerned to be supporting Liverpool's European Capital of Culture Year in 2008. If reporting and reviews of cultural events are cut, this must inevitably have an effect on readers' awareness of cultural activities in and around the city - which includes a readership area reaching out to Chester, North Wales and parts of Lancashire.

It is likely that, in the possible absence of expert opinion on arts topics, only a small part of Liverpool's cultural offering could be covered; and almost certainly those organisations which stand to lose out the most (alongside their patrons) are the smaller, specialist arts organisations.

When we also read that Sport is not to be 'ghettoised' on particular pages, perhaps the case for rescuing the Arts from such a fate will be more convincing.

Liverpool's leading university hospitals are at risk of physical dispersal at exactly the same time that eight top universities across the North of England are trying to find ways to build their scientific synergies. The implications for Liverpool of the threat of dispersal seem so far not to be appreciated.

The news today is patchy. On one hand, we learn that the Northern Way has appointed an eminent cancer specialist to lead the N8 consortium, a scientific collaboration led by the University of Liverpool between eight universities from the North of England.

Called the Northern Research Partnership, the N8 consortium is a collaboration between Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York, which between them generate more than £620m per annum in research grants. N8 is concrete evidence that the three regional development agencies in the North of England are now actively getting their scientific act together.

Yet also today we read in the local paper that plans to expand the Royal Liverpool University Hospital on its present site - a project which has secured £500m of funding - may not be going ahead because the will is may not be there to find another way to take forward the local council's £12m Hall Lane bypass scheme, which is part of the intended improvements to the City-M62 link route.

Add to this the apparent reluctance to secure huge improvements on their current site to Alder Hey Children's Hospital, and you do begin to wonder if the city understands that these hospitals are places of learning at the cutting edge of international research, as well of course as places where people can receive first class medical care.

It's far less important for the future to allocate responsibility for who said what about these proposals, and when, than it is to find a way forward.

These hospitals need to be linked closely with the university and the Medical School; they need to nurture their community of practitioners; the 'common room / photocopier' effect is crucial here. If people at the cutting edge are dispersed, there is a danger that their impact will be likewise weakened; and there are also enormous implications here for investment and big business in Liverpool.

If eight universities across the whole of the North of England can recognise the benefits of getting together, surely there is a way, before it's too late, that two hugely important Liverpool hospitals and a Medical School can be enabled in a much more intimate physical setting to do the same?

Orchestral performers standing on stage (small) 70x73.jpg Amateurs by definition are able to produce cultural events more inexpensively than professionals; yet both sorts of performers / promoters are necessary for community cultural (and wider) development. How can these conflicting interests be resolved?

There are inherent tensions in bringing together the ‘community’ and professional artists and performers.

Whilst community engagement is literally bread and butter for some professional arts practitioners (and must be warmly welcomed as such), parallel free / amateur performances may reduce the likelihood of support from audiences for professional performances - which of necessity have much higher overheads. But both are surely needed.

A conundrum
The very activities which give some professional artists a measure of income when they work with amateurs, and which give a first taste of the arts to some members of a community, are also likely to be in direct competition with fully professional performances in that same location / part of town.

Audience time expenditure
It may be worth looking at this issue in terms of time-expenditure on the part of potential audience, and of grant / investment in respect of funders. An example is recitals of classical music by fully professional musicians working in non-conventional locations.

Many more people who are unfamiliar with 'live' classical music are willing to give their time to try 'classical' concerts if complimentary tickets are available, than if they are asked to pay. And if costs are kept very low, they are likely to want to come again.

This behaviour on the part of audiences may seem unsurprising, yet still funding bodies insist that professionals build large box office income into their bid budgets . Indeed, if the performing group is a 'business', it is often not even eligible for grant aid.

Different rules for amateurs?
But the rules are different for amateur / community-led productions. This makes for a very up-hill and unrewarding experience for community-inclined professionals, and is almost a total disincentive to cultural entrepreneurship on the part of these performers.

How can professionals compete against the subsidy available to community groups, especially if they wish to serve the same less-advantaged communities? It's a challenge, yet public service arts officers still insist they want professionals to work harder at audience-building.

Professional quality, community investment and capacity-building
There are often claims that high quality arts increases the likelihood of inward investment to an area. but this is rarely part of the equation when funding for professional arts groups is considered. How should we build genuine partnerships between the professional cultural community and any given local area?

Qualitative differences
The issues need to be examined carefully in terms of the micro-economics of expenditure of time (professionals' and amateurs') and resources (private and / or public investment). What are the best ways for cultural events 'in the community'' to be supported, managed and presented?

This is an issue of investment in the arts, and in communities. It's about how long-term sustainable community-embedded arts can be, if the professional practitioners are not supported realistically, and are effectively set in competition 'against' much less costly amateur activities.

Aspiration and achievement
The arts offer one of the few examples of 'visible' aspirational routes for anyone with talent, but who in a community would aspire to a professional level of skill if it's quite evident that doing so is not the way to earn a living?

Both are very valuable, but amateur artistic activities are qualitatively different from those of professionals. For the sake of communities and practitioners, the ways in which they are supported need also to be much more clearly differentiated and defined.

In some circles it is a given that High Culture is 'inappropriate' for 'local people'. This is patronising. It dismisses the enjoyment the arts can bring to everyone, and ignores opportunities which the arts - as particularly visible public activities - can give for people to develop skills and even careers. Legitimation of ambition, in the arts or any other challenging positive activity, is important, regardless of where you live.

In a city such as Liverpool, there is for some a major issue about entitlement and appropriateness in respect of culture. It has on occasion been suggested that ‘high culture’ is not what should be on offer to local people, because they don’t / wouldn’t enjoy it.

This approach surely misses the point. Art must always be inclusive, but like many other activities, getting well acquainted requires patience and perseverance. All cities, and many smaller localities, need to offer every level and type of culture – and here is a challenge for developers as much as for community leaders and politicians – if they are to be true cultural centres, convincing and alive.

The case for a broad sweep in cultural provision is convincing. The argument that ‘high’ art is unnecessary because ‘people don’t want it’ is at best patronising, and at worst insulting, both to providers of that art and to its potential recipients. There must be opportunities for artists to offer their skills at the highest levels of achievement, alongside programmes which afford people engagement in the arts at lesser formal levels of skill (whether this be performing themselves, or listening / watching / looking at the work of others).

One of the challenges in this for regeneration is to find out how to knit together these opportunities, sometimes using the same human and cultural resources, and sometimes different ones, in a way which moves forward for all concerned. When this happens there will be more positive ‘artistic’ and professional role models for others in a given community to follow, which would help to ensure that local aspirations are high and that people from less-advantaged communities are not just left expecting the low-paid jobs.

Put another way, community perception of the art of the possible – expectations for the future – must include legitimation of the ambitious.

In the light of these considerations, perhaps there should be a re-emphasis within the questions above, at least to include these questions:

* How can decision-makers and leaders nurture formal arts and culture in places with limited understanding or appreciation of these?

* How would this impact in terms of enhancing engagement and opportunities for both arts practitioners and their ‘audiences’ / local people?

* What would be the cultural, social and economic synergies which follow from such enhancement and engagement?

Such questions in no way imply that everyone has to appreciate ‘high art’. What they might do is bring us to a greater consideration of the value of art and artists ‘for themselves’ as well as for what they can deliver in the normal sense of regeneration.

Regeneration plans must include artists directly, alongside all other partners. In including them directly we might even discover a new narrative to describe the meanings of 'high art', and what can come from it…

Gentrification as a result of 'cultural development' is often perceived by locals as unwelcome; but does it have to be that way? It may well be possible to cash in on the newly acquired wealth of an area, to bring decent jobs and opportunities to local people, including the 'creative community' whose work may have brought about that very gentrification. There is a clear role here for entrepreneurs, social and otherwise, and for proactive planning and training.

‘Gentrification’ as a result of cultural innovation is a complex process which carries with it a whole range of processes and concepts not often examined. 'Gentrification' is seen as a pejorative term in some quarters and this does not recognise the fluid nature, over time, of development in its wider sense (including economic and physical renewal). History tells us that areas within towns and cities change use, shape and value over time. It would be more sensible to regard cultural matters within this context.

Whilst artists, musicians etc are certainly a ‘creative class’, unless perhaps they are in niche design, they are also often far from wealthy. This is the converse side of the complaint that gentrification makes it impossible for artists to stay in an area. So do consistently low wages, which are a deflator of the local economy.

There is a risk in looking only at direct socio-economic outcomes that we will forget highly skilled artists can, like other professionals, become part of the ‘brain drain’ which some parts of the UK still experience.

So whilst artists’ ‘creative’ needs may be being addressed, along with those of the wider community, it is often the case that their normal economic ones are not. On a wider scale, this sort of economic marginalisation can have serious implications for the cultural development of an area. Like other working professionals, artists and performers may choose to move away, to locations and jobs where it is easier to raise a family and plan for a comfortable future – resulting in the opposite of gentrification for a given place. Similar outcomes may occur if there is no feeling in a given ‘community’ that art and culture are significant. It is not only expensive accommodation which may drive creatives away from particular locations.

It will be important in the future to bear in mind that those who lead culture are themselves, as people, part of the equation, and probably have the same basic aspirations as other diverse partners in the exercise. Gentrification or its opposite doesn’t just happen; it’s predicated on the actions of individuals, some of whom will be artists…. Culture is never passive!

Nor are artists necessarily advantaged in their original backgrounds and education. Many fine artists and performers have experienced serious hardship on their way to a professional standing in their field.

Gentrification doesn't necessarily mean that people who have previously lived in an area will have to leave it entirely. The situation can be handled proactively, not passively, as an opportunity to set up services of all sorts which cater for the requirements of the newly gentrified, through commercial, social and cultural enterprises. There has to be an 'art of the possible' in terms of building up expertise and knowledge to deliver businesses and facilities which offer employment at decent rates to the newly gentrified; and this in turn can offer decent work to local people. But whose responsibility is it to plan for this?

'Culture' often appears to be the optional add-on in regeneration. There may however be ways in which the arts and cultural community could do more to ensure that the benefits of embedding culture into regeneration are understood by those who lead development.

Is it important to encourage developers and planners to include culture in regeneration strategies and programmes?

Much of the physical context of regeneration and development is on or surrounded by publicly owned space. This leaves an important opportunity for local councils to insist from the outset on engagement with developers about the possibilities for public art. Perhaps more could be done to ensure that this engagement is assured, through training and awareness-raising of local government officials and elected representatives.

Awareness of the need to include ‘cultural space’ (flexible small theatre / gallery space, etc) in community regeneration programmes, e.g., alongside provision for / within the plans for schools and other essential public service buildings is also important. Are public guideline on these requirements and on their technical aspects easily available? Are they now part of planners' and architects' training? (The specific technical requirements of ‘arts space’ are rarely articulated or understood in dialogue about regeneration.)

On another level, what is being done to ensure that ‘culture’ is actually understood – or indeed appreciated – by developers and planners? It may be difficult to insist formally that private developers are acquainted with what culture has on offer (though project specs could include this), but at least it could be required that planners involved in cultural decisions actually attended or observed the sorts of ‘cultural’ phenomena under debate, before decisions are made….. The National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) recently pointed out that invitations to 'new' Councillors to attend cultural events tend to have a very positive impact on their thinking. Can arts and cultural institutions put their hands on their hearts and say they issue regular invitations to Councillors, planners and other decision makers to come and see what's on offer?

And, once developments have been identified, what about encouraging local artists (performers, community activists, whatever…), equipped with appropriate info and guidelines, to become part of planning teams and community consultation processes, perhaps ‘adopting’ particular programmes of development? There is nothing like a real physically present person who represents a particular ‘take’ on a project, for ensuring that this aspect of the whole development is acknowledged.

This does not however mean that artists, unlike other professionals, should simply ‘give’ their time. Lead bodies could set up an identified fund to support artists of all sorts who are willing to give thought and expertise to ensuring 'culture' plays an active part in the thinking of regeneration decision makers.

People 'in the community' often seem to have a problem with proposals for iconic cultural buildings. Could this be because they only become involved ('consulted') after, rather than before, ideas of this sort have been floated? Would things be different if Artists in Residence were truly just that? And would this help 'capacity building' for the arts, as well as physical regeneration?

What impact and 'meaning' should iconic cultural buildings seek to achieve in terms of cultural excellence and relevance to their local communities? And could permanently established Artists in Residences have a role in working with local people to produce iconic developments which everyone values?

Issues such as this have been much discussed in cities like Liverpool in the past few years; and if anything the debate (e.g. about Liverpool's proposed ‘Fourth Grace’, a notion initially imposed ‘top down’ and now abandoned, which did not derive from locals and cost much in terms of time, energy and other resources) seems to be becoming more rather than less heated. Local people often do not, at least initially, like change, or ‘iconic’ buildings which may appear to be strange, or which do not appear to have a clear purpose. Yet the wider future-facing view is that regeneration and cultural development must move forward and that special / cultural buildings must be ‘different’, excellent in modern terms, if they are to be effective in their own terms.

This hiatus of understanding will not be resolved just by 'locals' taking a few trips to see examples of innovative iconic development elsewhere. Perhaps only a serious willingness (and ability) on the part of decision-makers, to examine what local people understand their contexts and requirements to be, will enable genuine and constructive dialogue about the future to develop.

Such a willingness and ability would require a re-emphasis even before the initial stages of proposals, away from technical considerations to a long-term commitment to the community on the part of the professionals seeking to develop landmark buildings; and it would probably therefore also require a new approach to staff training and professional skills, or possibly a new type of role, as yet undefined, for some regeneration and cultural professionals... perhaps the ideal opportunity for Artists in Residence with a broad knowledge of the issues and excellent communication skills?

Local people may find change and cultural re-emphasis more acceptable, and better understood, when there is genuine embedded involvement by regeneration leaders in community development over time. The need, for instance, to build a new concert hall or gallery will be more easily appreciated – if re / new build is genuinely a better option that the less glamorous choice of refurbishment - where there have been efforts to establish to most local people’s satisfaction that such innovation is actually necessary or practically desirable for discernable reasons. And there is always the possibility that locals might in fact have views and opinions which could actually improve what is finally proposed for development.

Cultural and regeneration professionals need to to identify and value, on an equal basis, locally-based people who are already in a position to act as ‘translators’ or go-betweens in the necessary dialogue. To have significant impact, this would require that the roles and training of those engaged to lead development be revisited, so that (a) they are more easily able to identify appropriate local people, and (b) they become comfortable in valuing what locally-based opinion leaders offer, without any feeling on the part of the developers that they are thereby under threat from others, locals in the informal setting, who also have communication and developmental skills.

Iconic choices are not just a matter of local dignitaries’ civic pride, but mean that community dialogue must actually precede proposals, not simply emerge from them. At present this rarely happens, not least because regeneration officials are frequently only brought in as the proposals begin to take shape, and much of their initial briefing will be by those who already desire the changes proposed. There are obviously cost implications, but if a more genuine engagement is to be achieved these may be inevitable.

There is a strong case for capacity / audience building for artistic and other cultural activities, which is both a necessary pre-requisite and a desired (though unfortunately not an inevitable) outcome of landmark and iconic cultural building. It would be interesting to interrogate the extent to which capacity building is influenced by physical development, and how much this is true the other way around, as well as evaluating the synergistic impact each has on the other.

In cultural contexts, the desirability of long-term on-going dialogue with local communities is yet another reason for cultural organisations in any given location to develop genuine, deep-rooted (and preferably conjoined) community programmes. As with regeneration professionals, this would require considerable training and re-emphasis of role within cultural institutions if it were to have substantial and sustainable impact. The nature of the work which needs to be done is probably at present not fully appreciated.

Monday Women(small) 80x94.jpg Monday Women is an entirely free-to-join group of women who meet together and also have an e-group. It promotes the sharing of news, views and ideas and is also a sounding board for the friendly sharing of matters of interest and concern. As such, it is a social enterprise which manages without formality or funding.

Monday Women is a social enterprise of the simplest sort. It's free and open to all women, both as an e-group and as a meeting point. (We meet 5.30 - 7-ish on the first Monday of every month, except if a Bank Holiday, in the Third Room of the Everyman Bistro, Liverpool.)

Setting up the Group was an experiment. At the beginning, on 3 March 2003, there were about thirty 'members', who already mostly knew each other. Now there are some hundreds of women who have been asociated with the Group, of whom about two hundred are currently 'members' of it. 'Applications' [*] to join the e-group arrive almost every week, and sometimes new 'members' simply arrive at meetings, having heard about the Group on the grapevine. The fact that there are no formal costs or structures means that the Group is sustainable in its own right, without funding or other constraints.

The issues which have arisen in Monday Women discussion and e-correspondence have been really varied, covering everything from parks policy and landscape gardening (the Sefton Park plans have attacted particular interest), to requests for domestic / personal support (including the loan fo a baby car seat for a visiting grandchild!), to enquiries from researchers about people's views on and experience of a range of things (The Mersey Partnership's 'Gender Agenda' has featured in several discussions, as has the ambitious cliam that Liverpool could become the most 'women-friendly city in Liverpool' by 2008).

The e-group has also become a 'notice board', with job vacancies, concert and theatre postings, information about outings and much else.

The e-group has hosted some vigorous debates on issues of equality, health, employment etc; some of these topics have also had a full airing at meetings, to which speakers are occasionally invited - though mostly people just bring with them topics they may wish to discuss.

And, importantly, the Group has been a source of new friends, pleasant company and sometimes positive support for women of many sorts and in many situations. Surely, then, an example of how e-technology can be adapted at almost no cost (except time) to serve a genuinely social function?

To join, please visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MondayWomen-Liverpool/, or contact the convenor, Hilary Burrage, direct. Or just come to a Monday Women meeting!

[*] To begin with there were some 'technical 'problems with the e-group, which appeared to be of interest to spammers. For this reason, and no other, the Group decided it would be necessary for 'members' to 'apply' through the website to join the e-group, rather than simply joining in. This necessary decision, whilst unfortunate, has removed the spam issue and made members of the Group more comfortable.

When and how does a Big Town become a City? And, just as importantly, how does a Great City ensure it will never seem to be just a Very Big Town? What part does cultural leadership and vision play in this transition? We take a look at Liverpool...

Imagine all the people – and all the things they’d do….

Cities are centres of communication, learning and complex commercial enterprises; …. they focus and condense physical, intellectual and creative energy. They are places of hugely diversified activities and functions: exhibitions and demonstrations, bars and cathedrals, shops and opera houses. I love their combination of ages, races, cultures and activities…
Richard Rogers Cities for a small planet (Faber, 1997, p.15)

When and how does a Big Town become a City? And, just as importantly, how does a Great City ensure it will never seem to be just a Very Big Town?

Doubtless we all have our first-off answers to this slightly strange question; but at base we would probably agree it’s not simply Size that matters. Quality rather than just Quantity is what counts in the metropolis status stakes.

So what does lie at the heart of a city, especially a great one such as Liverpool? What exactly does define its soul?

For me, and I suspect for many others as they ponder such questions at this pivotal point in Liverpool’s development, the critical aspect of our city’s renaissance must be a focus on what is most creative: both what we already have, and what we can forge for the future.

But this is in no way just a plea in disguise for ‘more arts funding’. Rather, I want to propose that Creativity in the City be seen as the critical factor which defines us and holds more promise than anything else for what Liverpool could become.

Thus, the real challenge is to shape and nurture a vision of our future which engages the entire creative process, the arts, the sciences, the full spectrum of the intellectual infrastructure and more…… For there is also a Plus Factor in all this to which we shall return and which we neglect at our peril.

What a modern, thriving, thrusting city needs more than almost anything else is continual recharging and renewal, a culture which challenges what is already known and done – however splendid that culture may be historically.

A city which delivers well the known and acknowledged needs of its citizens will also be one which looks to produce creative synergy with sometimes unanticipated outcomes. There can be no standing still in the search for excellence in the city.

So, to formalise the initial proposition, a Great City is one which

¨ does not just celebrate its past, but works hard to create it own future;
¨ does not simply curate its history and acknowledged culture, but seeks always to support the living arts and to ensure that benefit and creative process evolve from them;
¨ does not offer handed-down knowledge alone for its citizens, but strives ceaselessly to promote and engage the processes of learning and discovery which produce new understandings and insights across the spectrum of intellectual and creative endeavour.

Put thus, we see that Liverpool, more than many other cities, is well-blessed. We have in our heartlands an abundance of internationally recognised organisations and institutions which seek insofar as their resources and vision currently permit to deliver just the requirements listed above. The fight to ‘save’ our theatres and world-class symphony orchestra has been long and hard but, after almost decades of uncertainty, it seems we may indeed have won. Our universities and colleges permit comparison with many others, and are in significant respects outstanding. Our architecture and cathedrals are world renown.

But this inventory alone is not enough. The Great City demands more of itself than satisfactory audits of institutions, however important. Great Cities engage and nurture the best creative practitioners that can be had, put together in organisations which reciprocally appreciate and enhance the skills and traditions which are thereby brought together. Great cities value their indigenous artists and intellectuals but also welcome to their lead organisations both students and distinguished visiting practitioners who will inform and challenge current beliefs and thinking. And so through these same organisations Great Cities facilitate and even thrust upon us thriving collectives of artists, scientists, intellectuals, power elites of all sorts who can and will not accept on our behalf that which is routine or can be taken for granted.

A city’s creativity must not however remain solely civic. For it to mean anything it has also to be communal. The synergy of the city’s formal creative enclaves must be engaged and by mutual consent brought to bear on the lives of the people. This is the Plus Factor to which reference was made earlier.…..

And here lies the fundamental challenge for Liverpool at the beginning of the new Millennium.

Our city, Great City though it is already in many ways, is also a fragile, vulnerable city which is only now repositioning itself after many years of decline. The poverty of experience and expectation of many of those who have grown up and live in this city is part of the urban tragedy of our times. For too many here, Liverpool is the only place they know, the small-community-defined comfort zone from which they must collectively emerge if they are to demand the standards which those with wider and more privileged experience already expect. For too many of our citizens, impoverished both materially and ‘culturally’ through accident of time and place, the leap to acceptance and engagement in creativity in its fullest sense is a step to ‘high culture’ too far.

It would be very serious act of decontextualisation and of course entirely improper to suggest that perhaps there are communities in Liverpool ‘suffering’ from a ‘cultural deprivation’ which somehow diminishes civic pride or reduces the people’s determination to see their city great again. I hope therefore that I can avoid any charge of cultural / intellectual imperialism in pointing to a number of what I see as significant discongruities in the cultural fabric of this city – discongruities which I believe must be recognised and addressed by anyone who seeks to offer Liverpool civic (and therefore cultural) leadership.

But significant discongruities there are, disconnections of understanding between civic excellence in the cultural / intellectual infrastructure and socio-economic well-being, or between artistic / creative engagement and personal fulfilment. For instance, like parents everywhere, many here regardless of their own background would dearly wish for their own children to achieve success in the formal education system; yet these same people often express considerable antagonism towards the students who live in flats and bedsits in their midst and who thereby help to keep local shops and businesses viable – and who as graduates could with the right persuasion stay on in our city and help to revitalise it.

Likewise, many would see the flagship arts organisations of our city as indispensable elements of our civic identity – yet few expect to patronise these same bodies personally. And how many people in Liverpool know that the eponymous University has to its credit impressive numbers of Nobel Laureats? Indeed, how many people know anything much at all about what goes on in the research institutions of our city’s universities, or anything about the significance of this research in the regional economy or indeed on the world scene?

And so we could go on; for there are, to put it starkly, parts of our local communities where to ask even these questions would be to understate massively the alienation from mainstream understandings of culture and creativity. There is a palpable disinclination amongst too many of our young people beyond a certain age to lose their ‘cool’, to allow themselves to become engaged, let alone excited, by positive, imaginative and exciting ideas and activities. There is a fear by those in some parts of our communities that any bending towards the mainstream will result in cultural engulfment, that others do not respect or understand their particular traditions and beliefs. Above all, there is sometimes still apathy and an unwillingness to trust in a more accepting and better future.

This then is the true challenge which now faces the Great City of Liverpool.

Our civic leaders of the future will need as an urgent priority to deliver a cultural and creative concordat, a bringing together of traditions and modes of understanding which allow the many rather than just the few to translate hope into action – and this I believe can be achieved only through the pursuit of excellence, the engagement of the very best of what is creative in all the fields of endeavour we have considered.

We need architects and sculptors who regain the public sphere for community and performance; actors, artists and musicians who draw on their many cultural traditions to bring people together and enhance their lives; teachers who capture the imagination and ambition of their charges; community workers and volunteers whose enthusiasms, local knowledge and skills are welcomed and engaged by the civic authorities; research workers and academics who build on, and see the local economic benefits which may accrue from, the distinguished record of our institutions of higher learning.

It will be a task of breathtaking proportion to sustain in their own right, and simultaneously to bring together, the historically disempowered communities of our city and the hitherto so-called ‘elitist’ cultural institutions which history has endowed to us.

It cannot be said too clearly there are many already on all ‘sides’ who seek excellence without compromise or fear, who want and will for the city a common understanding alongside outstanding achievement across the spectrum of artistic and intellectual endeavour. But individuals of goodwill can reach only so far on their own. Cultural nostalgia, lack of resources (human, material and civic), entrenched, sometimes limited bureaucracies, the inertia of years of low expectations, cannot be overcome by individual goodwill alone. All these factors are real and enormous barriers to progress.

The challenge for Liverpool’s first Elected Mayor will be to achieve a very fine balance in pursuing world-class excellence for our city across the artistic / generically intellectual board, whilst also seeking to achieve maximum creative community synergy and engagement and maintaining personal political credibility – a tall order indeed, but one which I believe those in our amazing, deeply culturally blessed, Great City will support and embrace.

(Chapter in) Manifesto for a New Liverpool, 2000 (published by Aurora, The University of Liverpool and Space)
Hilary Burrage
Chair, HOPES: The Hope Street Association

At last the public realm works in Hope Street, Liverpool, are underway. This will make a huge difference to the Hope Street Quarter; but where do we go from here?

The Hope Street Quarter is at a critical stage in its development. With luck we shall soon see delivery of the Public Realm works which HOPES and, latterly, Liverpool Vision have sought for so long; and alongside that we can already perceive the evidence that the Quarter is at last becoming the vibrant destination it should always have been.

All this is excellent news, both for those directly involved, and for those whose future livelihoods may depend on such vibrancy and public visibility for the Quarter; but another aspect of these developments is the risks which, unless we are vigilant, they may bring.

The evidence that physical improvements, and even economic growth, may not be an unmixed blessing for everyone is now well-documented: we have only to look at areas such as London’s Hoxton, Newcastle, or indeed some parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh for instance, to see that ‘gentrification’ brings with it a challenge in terms of community and social sustainability. These issues were well recognised, as we know, at the recent ODPM conference, and must be core to how we see the future in taking HSQ forward.

It is a mistake (I would suggest) to suppose that inner-city areas do or should not change over time, or that somehow we should try to keep things as they are. We have, however, the advantage of hindsight in respect of other places, as we attempt to move forward in the Hope Street Quarter – like other parts of the inner city, a location with many people doing many things in many ways , but also a truly unique and very special place of itself.

This is not the time for a full analysis of all aspects of Hope Street Quarter’s past and future. But it may be helpful to list a few of the opportunities and issues which we face:

There are several ways in which an area such as HSQ needs to be sustained:
· it must be managed in a way which is environmentally sound;
· it needs to have a micro-economy which resonates with the larger context, but which also enables significantly accelerated growth in terms of the particular advantages of the Quarter – its creative and high-skills base, its historic attractions, and its hugely significant arts and cultural attributes, for instance; and
· it needs to have resonance with the majority, if not all, the people who live and work in HSQ and closeby.

Hilary Burrage
Hon. Chair, HOPES: The Hope Street Association

Meeting with Liverpool Vision and other partners, 24 June 2005

Arts-Based Community Development (ABCD) is the approach adopted by HOPES: The Hope Street Association, Liverpool, in working with partners to enhance the renaissance of this important cultural quarter. But how does this link with the more established approach of 'cultural tourism'?

The Mersey Partnership Cultural Impact Conference
Wednesday 31 July 2002, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

Cultural Tourism as a Catalyst for Renaissance

This brief presentation will look at some of the things which I hope perhaps represent best practice in local Arts-Based Community Action & Development (ABCA /D) and then examine a number of threads which may lead us to consider the challenges and opportunities of such activity.

Examples of HOPES’ community-based work¨
HOPES has organised midsummer events every year since 1996, including an annual concert at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall which includes adult amateur performers, young people / students, and schoolchildren, all working alongside professional musicians engaged from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

¨ In 2000 the year-long Hope Street Millennium Festival included almost 20 different events – concerts, exhibitions, drama, debates, a civic dinner, children’s banners and street activities – and was selected by the Millennium Commission from thousands of festivals across the country to be featured nationally.

¨ HOPES was invited to help initiate, and then provided behind-the-scenes administrative support for, the 1998 Liverpool BBC Windrush events which involved many groups from the communities of the inner-city. This was an extremely valuable opportunity to work with others to a common end, and has enabled the development of many enduring partnerships.

¨ HOPES has a Composer-in-Residence, Richard Gordon-Smith, whose large-scale orchestral work has been recorded by RLPO-Live for a commercial CD, with sponsorship, support and, in one instance, commissioning from HOPES.

¨ HOPES has organised and led a number of ‘expert’ conferences, to which local people were also invited, on subjects such as Art at the Heart: The Role of Cultural Quarters in City Renaissance and Nurturing the Best (on high-level graduate retention).

¨ HOPES sees ‘culture’ as being a broad concept, including all aspects of understandings and intellectual capital; we are very active in supporting the University of Liverpool and others in seeking to have a number of Big Science projects (eg: CASIM) located in the sub-region.

¨ HOPES has for some years supported the professional chamber ensemble Live-A-Music in its very accessible early evening concerts, and concurrent kids’ (free) workshops run by trained professional musicians, usually held in local churches and similar venues. (NB: Live-A-Music players also seek to locate, edit and perform ‘classical’ music by women and black composers as well as that by the renown ‘greats’ of the chamber music world.)

¨ HOPES seeks to involve young graduate trainees in all activities and we were able to support one such young person through a year at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in London, of which she is now a Fellow. Other past trainees now have very high-flying jobs.

¨ HOPES has gained formal recognition for Hope Street Quarter as a unique strategic area for engagement in Liverpool’s renaissance. We have held a large number of community meetings and consultations – eg: exhibiting models of possible ways forward at informal social events – and have been responsible for both the formal designation by the City Council of the Hope Street Quarter, and for the identification by the city centre partnership development company, Liverpool Vision, of Hope Street Quarter as a key development area.

¨ HOPES was central in supporting a group of Indian classical musicians who came together with RLPO musicians to form the Saurang Orchestra for a series of new-genre concerts in the Philharmonic Hall and other local venues.

¨ HOPES is very involved with others in the city in looking at ways to promote enterprise, conventional, cultural and social, as an aim for Liverpool’s 800th anniversary, in 2007.

¨ HOPES and Live-A-Music have just completed KOOL STREET, a six-month project supported by the National Foundation for Youth Music with Richard Gordon-Smith, resulting in a performance at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall by children from local secondary, special and primary schools of a five-part musical composition about their lives in Liverpool.

¨ HOPES has been at the forefront of local ventures such as the ‘reclaiming’ for the community and visitors of St James’ Garden and Cemetery alongside the Anglican Cathedral, in partnership with the Conservation Foundation, the City and others.

¨ Live-A-Music (with support from HOPES) also recently gave a free Midsummer Morning concert in aid of the Sefton Park Palm House appeal – to which 1,200 people turned up!.

¨ HOPES is a registered charity with a board of Trustees elected from an open membership, and much of our work is carried out as volunteers or as employment training opportunities for young graduates and others in the community.

Why mostly ARTS-based?
Liverpool is blessed with a large number of highly accomplished and significant arts organisations and artists. HOPES: The Hope Street Association (please see the HOPES Membership form attached for details) arose in the mid-1990s from CAMPAM, the Campaign to Promote the Arts in Merseyside (of which I was also Chair), a vocal lobby which worked hard to ensure that Liverpool’s outstanding performing arts organisations survived a very lean time. Our slogan then was ‘Once lost we will not get it back’.

The aim of HOPES is, however, more forward looking and pro-active now that our civic cultural assets have begun to be recognised for the ‘jewels in the crown’ which they are. HOPES acknowledges that cultural assets of all sorts – from architecture to world-class science and all things between – are critical for the successful renaissance of our city; and many of these rich assets lie and / or operate within the Hope Street Quarter.

We also believe that one way in which those who ‘have’ and those who perhaps have less can come together is through the arts, and especially the performing arts. Much of HOPES’ community-based activity is therefore predicated on bringing together members of the local community and artists of the highest calibre who have also come to live and work in the area.

Everyone can bring something to the arts
The parallels here with sport are evident, but should nonetheless be articulated: The arts and sport are visible and accessible to all. It may be difficult for a child in the inner-city to perceive what, say, lawyers or research scientists actually do; but everyone, given the opportunity, can observe and understand what musicians, gymnasts, painters, footballers or actors do. Indeed, Liverpool has many examples of arts and sports performers at the highest levels who came to their skills through being given opportunities to see (and / or hear) for themselves what is possible.

Likewise, in these activities everyone can become equal. HOPES seeks to involve its artist colleagues (especially musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, through Live-A-Music) in activities such as ‘community’ orchestras or small-scale concerts and children’s workshops in which everyone, adults and children, skilled and less skilled, is made welcome. For instance, all HOPES Festival Orchestra members wear special T-shirts (this year sponsored by The Mersey Partnership); and after both formal and community concerts everyone, performers, audience and children alike, is invited to stay for free light refreshments. We also host free celebratory events and entertainments to which everyone who has indicated an interest (people who work, study, live in or visit Hope Street Quarter) is invited, such as our post-New Year parties at the Everyman Bistro.

We aim to use the arts to involve and bring together people from across all the communities in and around our Quarter, and to benefit from the synergies which thereby arise.

Challenges and opportunities in Arts Based Community Action / Development

No-one has ‘all the answers’ to issues of this sort, but perhaps we can at least attempt to identify some of them and offer possible initial answers:

Question: How does ABCA/D link with conventional culture and tourism?
Possible Answer: It is the ‘continuity factor’ which allows large-scale and spectacular programmes to embed (and / or develop) over time in the local community. It also facilitates genuine and new local capacity building which will enhance any more formal programmes, offering a sort of ‘social glue’. It is essential to encourage the synergies between these two aspects of cultural innovation.

Q: What are the relative priorities for ABCD between excellence and accessibility?
PA: ‘Excellence’ and ‘elitism’ are sometimes confused in this debate. There is no evidence (is there?) that offering the best will somehow damage the mediocre. Which leads us to…

Q: How do high-level and formal artistic / formal skill translate into assets for a local community?
PA: There are always people, wherever they are, who can respond to the best on offer; what often helps here is to make the actual setting for events accessible, rather than compromising excellence. For instance, don’t assume that everyone is comfortable with normal box office arrangements (send them invitations!), make sure marketing, programmes etc explain what is happening (and for how long), be sure to avoid any hint of ‘them and us’ scenarios between artists and audience.

Q: How can such apparently free-flowing programmes engage in the formal bureaucratic set-up?
PA: With difficulty! But it has to be done… One way might be to move from the principle of local authority etc funding and official engagement for community-led action in specific projects, to that of core funding (which requires a degree of trust, but can still be entirely transparent), so that the base-line for committed community organisations is secure. This would allow them to put their energies into attracting external funding for ambitious / imaginative projects, rather than simply struggling to survive from one crisis to the next. Intellectual, structural and intuitive approaches are all required. The ‘trust solution’, of course, requires a degree of civic courage and serious leadership….

Q: How can ABCD be benchmarked / evaluated?
PA: Qualitative benchmarking is often more important for these activities than artificial quantification. The real challenge is to find appropriate indicators, including social audit factors, and to acknowledge fully their validity alongside the usual criteria or benchmarks (if and where even such exist).

Q: ABCD requires innovators. How can their work be sustained?
PA: There are innovators with commitment, and innovators who prefer to move on. Maybe one way to resolve the ‘sustainability problem’ is to have challenges in reserve for the committed innovators, and on the other hand to ensure that people who prefer routinisation are consistently drawn in – which is a good place anyway to start for many community involvement programmes.

Q: What is the ‘X-factor’ which gives any ABCD programme ‘charisma’?PA: You will only discover this by trial and error in a given situation! The important thing is to allow and positively support artists of all sorts who genuinely want to engage in their communities to do so. It is essential to have formal objectives and to track progress; but equally it is essential not to prescribe, and to encourage organic growth of community involvement. How can we know ‘what people want’ until they have had a real opportunity to try things for themselves? – Often artists are more intuitive about these things than their directors and managers! (This idea has the corollary that it is important that funded programmes have genuine artistic commitment and input from the start.)

If you don’t try, you will never know….

Hilary Burrage
Hon Chair, HOPES: The Hope Street Association

Hope Street, Liverpool, has an extraordinary range of special organisations and institutions along its kilometre length - including both of Liverpool's great Cathedrals. This brief paper, presented at the Northern European Cathedrals Conference in Liverpool on 26 January 2005, explores some of the work which HOPES and the Cathedrals undertake.

Northern European Cathedrals Conference, 26 January 2005
Talk given in Liverpool Cathedral

The Hope Street Quarter, Liverpool
(Cultural Tourism as a Catalyst for Renaissance)

HOPES: The Hope Street Association was formed in the early 1990s as a result of widening the work of the voluntary group CAMPAM, the Campaign to Promote the Arts on Merseyside. HOPES is a registered ‘arts, education and regeneration’ charity with about 150 paying members (almost 50 of them local institutions etc). We also have a large number of ‘associate’ partners who do not actually subscribe to HOPES; no-one is ignored and all are welcome. HOPES has no formal funding except for grant-aid to support some artistic activities, and the organisation is run by an elected honorary Executive Committee – on which representatives of both Cathedrals are ex-officio the two Vice-Chairs – and by young graduate and local community volunteers.

Since we began our work has been divided into a number of different themes ~

Community and Cultural involvement:
We provided the secretariat for the 1998 Liverpool Windrush celebrations; we arrange small-scale (often musical) events in community settings, as well as open-invitation (free) social gatherings such as the HOPES Not-New-Year Party; we hold occasional debates on arts and regeneration topics; and, every year, we bring together a wide range of people to share the HOTFOOT Midsummer Concert at Philharmonic Hall to which many people in our various communities are invited. HOPES was chosen in 2,000 by the Millennium Commission from events across the nation as its exemplar Community Festival, and we gave a presentation in London on our activities to the Commissioners and the Secretary of State.

An example of close liaison and involvement with faith communities would be the ‘Faith in One City’ concerts of music by composers of given religious affiliation which our partner organisation Ensemble Liverpool (a group of fully professional recital musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra) gave in both Cathedrals in 2004.

Renewal and Regeneration:
In the year 2,000 we published the Hope Street Papers, a dialogue on ‘Art at the Heart’ of inner-city regeneration. We have over the past ten years consistently lobbied, and indeed produced quite detailed plans, for the improvement of the public realm in our Quarter. The support of the Cathedrals in this process has been invaluable, and over time the City authorities have come to understand why such improvement is so important. We have now been told that work on these improvements will actually start in Spring 2005. HOPES is also leading the development of a public art route representing many interests in Hope Street.

Profile and Advocacy:
We have close links with many national organisations, such as the British Urban Regeneration Association, the Conservation Foundation, the National Campaign for the Arts and the St. William’s Foundation, as well as connections with government bodies such as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and regional and sub-regional groups like the North-West Business Leadership Forum, Liverpool Vision, ‘Stop the Rot’ and many others. We also work to nurture the knowledge economy in and around our Quarter, whether this be Big Science, large arts organisations, or smaller-scale bodies. This work is central to local economic growth and benefit.

Everything we do is focussed on building a genuinely inclusive and forward-looking sense of Community Spirit shared by all partners in the area between our two great Cathedrals!

Hilary Burrage,
Hon Chair, HOPES: The Hope Street Association

The Comfort Zone

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Everyone has Comfort Zones. But when do they help us and when do they hold us back?

We all live in Comfort Zones; and we all need them. But do we create them in ways which help or hinder? And, come to that, how do we create them? Who decides where our comfort zone boundaries lie? And can they profitably be expanded?

The very high skills Knowledge Economy is an international and expensive enterprise. Are high-level scientific skills enough to deliver complex science programmes? How do considerations of the knowledge economy fit into regional and sub-regional strategic planning? And who, on what basis, decides how and where to invest the very large funds required to deliver large-scale science and technology projects?

These notes are intended to invite discussion of current issues / praxis.
In a possibly reckless move, I have therefore summarised each point as a ‘Maxim’ – debate about these six Maxims will be welcome.

Which is the more challenging?

Is it to install, say, a number of large-scale commercial manufacturing units for similar but complex products in several sites across Europe? Or to bring to functionality, as other possible example, a particle accelerator (synchrotron) involving resources from many separate locations, but on one site?

And who, in each case, should lead the development of the programme?

Project management or scientific know-how?
Answers to these questions will depend on one’s previous experience and general perspective, but it might be supposed that generic project managers would be assigned to the first task, whilst there is a chance that senior scientists might be assigned to the second.

For some observers the first project has a mystique which is less pronounced than the second.

Almost certainly the first scenario will be led by straight business considerations, the bottom line, whilst the second might well be predicated upon general perceptions around the quality of the knowledge and skills which it is anticipated will result from, as well as contribute to, the development of the programme.

Complex risks and opportunities
But a sense of mystique around science will not always be appertain. A person taking the contrary view might argue that in both instances there are opportunities and risks which overall give these projects similar complexity.

This person might, for instance, be an experienced programme manager who recognises that even the most highly academically able people are essentially a resource which requires extremely skilled direction (for example, the hi-tech A380 airliner is designed and partially constructed across Europe and then assembled in Toulouse on a commercial basis)

New thinking and new funding?
Our experienced programme manager will also know that bringing together even an ambitious ‘normal business’ project is inevitably also a proposition which requires new thinking at some points.

But what may be less likely is that a person with this perspective is, at least historically, also one who decides how to invest very large amounts of public funding in taking forward Big Science projects.

Input or output?
Of course, these scenarios are parodies; but do they have a modicum of truth, alongside the stereotyping? Is managing science different?

Is there, or has there historically been, a largely unexamined general notion that the management where very high-level knowledge and skills is anticipated output should somehow be approached differently from that where these attributes are used mainly as input, usually for business / commercially-led objectives?

A look at the differential senior management of a range of public and private Very High Level Knowledge and Skills (henceforth VHLK&S) organisations suggests this assumption may indeed be the case; and history is littered with projects led by outstanding scientists, artists and academics which ended in disaster.

Maxim No. 1 is therefore:

VHLS&K project leadership and direction is not a badge of honour or a reward for diligence; it is a task and competence in its own right.

Appoint top people because of their proven project management training and skills, not because they are eminent in their own specialist field.

Contexts and frameworks
But we also need to ask how these possibly stereotyped (mis-)understandings about project leadership impinge when, to look at another scenario again, they relate to, say, public sector interests such as the nation’s health economy (i.e. to ‘health economies’ as under the aegis of strategic, regional and national formal Health Authorities).

What are the major frameworking elements when we consider delivery of VHLK&S in the overtly public and not-for-profit sectors? How can and should public funding be allocated?

Decisions with high impact
Such questions are not just of academic interest. Real decisions are constantly made about when, where and how to invest enormous amounts of money in widely varying projects which are recognised as involving visible VHLK&S.

Examples which come to mind of relatively recent practical decisions about U.K. investment in high skills and knowledge include:

· in the private sector, the funding of biotech, IT and major retail developments;
· in the higher education / business sectors, funding for physics, nanotechnologies, etc;
· in the public sector, funding for cancer research, the arts, tax and legal services – as well as, for instance, infrastructural developments in transport and other utilities.

Vacuum or special case?
In my experience these decisions have frequently been made in a vacuum from the contexts and impact they may have on local, regional and national economies; or, if a ‘special case’ for VHLK&S investment is made, it is predicated on ideas of less expenditure resulting in greater benefit in those locations (regions) where economies are most vulnerable.

Whilst it must be emphasised that VHLK&S is far more than ‘just’ science – it embraces, as we have seen, the whole gamut of economic and social activity, including business, the professions and the arts and culture, as well as more technological enterprises – a look at one important recent example of how decisions may have been made on very high Big Science funding illustrates this complexity.

Complex decisions: the Daresbury case
It is common knowledge that the campaign by the Daresbury Laboratory in the North West region of England to gain the DIAMOND synchrotron was not successful (it eventually went to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories in Oxford, despite agitated pleas from a number of quarters).

As one who was involved in the political campaigning, my own view is that:

· the significance of regional issues was ultimately grasped too late, especially by regeneration and national governmental agencies;

· most politicians (but certainly not all) at every level did not understand the potential regional impact of this ‘academic’ bid (which they saw as distant from their core interests and sphere of influence), nor did some lead scientists see that they would need to work with politicians;

· there was too little timely collaboration between different academic institutions and, especially, with those other agencies which are differently funded (such as those which are hospital / health-based, as opposed to research embedded in higher education institutions – there is very little collaboration between science research commissioners in respectively the Departments of Trade and Industry, and of Health; indeed, their respective criteria and processes for the evaluation of research proposals present very different emphases);

· there was an understanding that perhaps some aspects of the ‘world-class’ basis of the bid would be challenging – but no clear plan for how demonstrate that required improvements could and would be made to guarantee bid viability (nor, indeed, much understanding that this might be a valid, if unusual, position from which to make a case at least politically, if not elsewhere); and

· there was certainly little public acknowledgement of how difficult it is for particular university departments in science outside the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Oxbridge and London to maintain their hard-won recognition of excellence - which of itself has huge impact on the regional economy.

And, in part because these issues were not adequately addressed, a great opportunity for the North West of England was lost at that time. (Happily, however, lessons have also subsequently and fruitfully been learned.)

Science across the private to public spectrum
It is also however interesting to see more generally how various VHLK&S projects and programmes are originated, funded and developed. As we move through the spectrum outlined above we see that the bottom line and stakeholder profile also moves.

For the private sector the imperative is shareholder interests, but by the time we reach the public sector the major interest is generally far more political and location-embedded.

Locational costs and benefits
One aspect of this shift is that the additional benefit of developments in particular locations (e.g. regions of the U.K.) to the localities themselves does indeed become more critical when the project is public sector funded, but such beneficial positioning is not without cost.

For instance, it may be claimed it is ‘cheaper’ to take a science project away from the Golden Triangle of Oxbridge and London. Such notions need to be examined very carefully, and it is perhaps more realistic when evaluating proposals to look at longer-term benefit, rather than at how much less the project might cost initially.

Maxim No. 2 is:

Add-on local or regional benefit from VHLK&S development does not come cheap; to achieve optimal results requires appropriate additional investment.

If you expect to gain special benefit on the basis of a ‘cut-price’ bid against others more attractively positioned, you will probably ultimately be disappointed – something some funders need also to appreciate.

Sector distribution and services
Beyond this lies also the issue of sector distribution. Is it enough simply to buy in one or a few sectors of the VHLK&S economy, and hope that these will attract the rest?

Will a sub-region with, say, a decent university (or two), orchestra and museum be able to make best advantage from the addition of just a bio-tech development or science park? Even if we blithely assume that somehow these other given, essential (and, importantly, also VHLK&S) cultural amenities can exist whether or not they have adequate support, the answer is probably that it will not.

The critical role of other specialist professional services must also be recognised. (Who will advise on intellectual property rights, compulsory purchase orders or start-up funding arrangements?)

Maxim No. 3 is thus:

Optimal synergy at local and regional levels results from VHLS&K in critical mass; it does not occur in dilution.

Single sector development alone probably will not work.

Politics and perceptions of (dis)advantage
There is however a quasi-political problem in terms of delivery of critical mass VHLK&S in some regional locations. Several of the U.K.’s regions are areas where educational and vocational levels are relatively low, and where local people may have little truck with any development not addressing direct issues around ‘deprivation’ and / or basic community, work and educational requirements.

For people in areas of disadvantage ideas of excellence and elitism may have similar (and distant) irrelevance or non-resonance. Yet the same decision-makers who must choose whether to attract VHLK&S to their region have to answer to (and perhaps seek re-election by) the very people who hold no candle for such esoteric activities.

Perceived priorities in areas of deprivation
The most challenged local and regional areas therefore suffer the double disadvantage both of particular economic vulnerabilities, and of populations who may not see attracting VHLK&S as a priority.

In such a position local / regional politicians and leaders need to be especially deft and persuasive, for instance, by nurturing a sense of pride of place which encourages local people really to value and use their VHLK&S cultural amenities.

This is a challenging task – a venture, e.g., in which I have been much involved in Liverpool’s Hope Street Cultural Quarter – helping disadvantaged communities to understand that less overtly visible VHLK&S developments such as I.T. and bio-tech are also critical to their local economies and the future wealth of the area.

Maxim No. 4 must be:

Effective decisions about local and regional investment in, and development of, VHLK&S requires wide experience, energy, vision and leadership; it must be a team effort between the community and their decision-makers.

Making progress with VHLK&S requires re-location from one’s comfort zone – in taking things forward decision-makers must also take forward through transparency, example and dialogue the vision of the community at large.

Local talent and skills
These community contexts take us also, of course, to a special consideration – that of communities indigenous to a given location who have, or are acquiring, VHLS&K. Many of these will groups will include graduates from regional universities, or people who have migrated to the area because of particular employment opportunities.

This inward migration is especially likely to apply to people with skills of relevance to the public or not-for-profit sectors, such as health or the arts, where most professional salaries are relatively low.

Perceiving potential - or not?
Yet the significance of this pool of talent is frequently not appreciated by others in the locality; examples are often seen of parochial politicians who see students as a ‘nuisance’.

Then there are policy makers who believe that it is necessary only to track the entry point employment (‘destination’) for all graduates together, as if first degrees and Ph.D.’s were the same and can equally be retained by small-scale hothouses for ‘entrepreneurs’.

This is surely a vain hope in a context where the best way for the most highly trained and talented young people in the regions to double their incomes and gain high level experiences is simply to get a job in London.... and here we need to remember there is very little ‘balancing’ contra-flow of talent from the South East and M4/40 Corridors.

Maxim No. 5 is therefore:

Haemorrhage of VHLS&K from regional locations is a significant problem which must be adequately monitored and addressed; there is a likelihood that a ‘converse example’ may be set if serious and sustained efforts are not made to retain this talent across the board.

It is a serious mistake to imagine that a general regional policy of ‘keeping wages down’ to attract inward investment will not also result in the loss of many of the most talented to more lucrative and interesting employment elsewhere – with all the ‘messages’ this gives out to local people, whatever their levels of skill.

Sharing benefits
And this leads us to the final point in looking at the pay-off for regional investment in VHLK&S. The benefits of such investment must be shared by those who come with the required skills / knowledge, and those who are already indigenous to the location.

The responsibility for ensuring that this is so lies at every level of the local, regional and national body politic. Decent local amenities are a matter of local provision; sensible business and economic support services are often a (sub-)regional responsibility; and in the end serious infrastructural investment can only be made with the consent and facilitation of national government.

Aligning initiation and delivery
When all these elements (or planned future elements) are aligned everyone benefits. The evidence is that programmes of all sorts are more likely to succeed when initiation and delivery are seamless; and presumably this applies as much to regional renaissance through ac

Trying to disentangle 'Culture' and Regeneration is difficult, but the DCMS has published a Report which may help us to consider the issues more clearly.

Which comes first? Regeneration or ‘culture’?

The debate has now been going for some time, but a study by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) gives examples of how regeneration and culture interact from across the country - including several references to Liverpool as forthcoming European Capital of Culture, and to the experience of Glasgow, a previous Capital of Culture in 1990.

The study also tries to develop ways to measure the ‘real’ impact of culture on regeneration, and ‘to ensure that culture’s contribution to regeneration is maximised’.

Importantly, contributions to the debate have been invited not only from the experts, but also from others who are directly involved, whether they be arts practitioners or audiences, businesses big and small, or those living in communities in need of regeneration. Initial results of the consultation were published in early 2005.

The evidence currently available does not make it easy to demonstrate how far there are measurable direct effects on communities where cultural development and regeneration have occurred.

How can we measure the impact, positive or negative, of a development which raises expectations but in the end does not materialise? Does this promote interest in development anyway, or does it rather produce a cynical perception that everything is ‘hot air’? Is there a difference between Liverpool’s ill-fated Cloud, which will now not materialise, and the equally contentious Millennium Dome in London, which did? And how would we measure this?

Or how do we assess the long-term impact of an ‘artists’ quarter’, originally low-cost and ‘bohemian’, but now expensive to live in - and almost deserted because of this by the artists themselves, still surviving on low wages? Can we compare the experience of Islington-Hoxton in London, where this has already occurred, and, say, London Road in Liverpool, where it may yet happen?

And what about the impact of the arts on communities where there is little experience of formal culture as yet? Can visits by professional artists and performers - again as has happened alongside physical development such as the St Lukes Centre in London, and is now happening in for instance Liverpool’s Kensington area - help to raise the expectations of local children, and maybe also their elders? How would we tell?

Quality of life is not easily measured and answers to these questions are also not easy. But some pointers do exist.

When regeneration professionals and politicians talk about 'The Community' they usually mean people who live in that locality; when they talk about 'Stakeholders' they are often referring to a different, geographically disperse group of people who have significant financial or other interests in the area. But do the Community and the Stakeholders talk to each other?

Depending on who you talk to, regeneration is led (or at least informed) by Communities or Stakeholders.

Let us put aside for now whether either of these groups, if such they be, are in reality leaders of regeneration; what we first need to ask is, are Communities the same as Stakeholders? In my book the answer is, No.

Communities are generally held to be bound by fences, real or metaphorical. In terms of regeneration this usually means they have a geographical, if not always sociological, footprint or identity within the physical area being regenerated. Stakeholders however may be found anywhere.

Sometimes it's useful during the consultations which must precede major developments to seek the views of The Community. This means that a number of 'local' people are 'consulted', though perhaps on an agenda set by non-locals.

There again, Stakeholders may be consulted, often in a more formal way. These tend to be the people who have serious financial or other formal interests in the area under consideration. In the back of some parties' minds, Stakeholders are sometimes perceived as likely to be more formally articulate in their approach, and perhaps to have a wider view of the possibilities, challenges or whatever.

In both instances, those who conduct the consultation will probably be professionals from outside the area to be regenerated; and they will probably have expectations based around their own educational and social backgrounds about what Communities and Stakeholders respectively can realistically bring to the process. But the big question could be, have the Communities and the Stakeholders actually communicated with each other? Whose job is it to ensure this happens? And should (or could) those who conduct consultations on regeneration developments help here?

Grants & Investments

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Are there differences in the sorts of people who 'give' Grants, from those who 'make' Investments? Are these fundings for genuinely different types of activity? Or do we sometimes forget that all funding from the public purse has at base the same objectives of improving quality of life?

When is a Grant an Investment? This is probably only a meaningful question in the context of the public and not-for-profit sectors, either as recipients or as giver.

In private-sector-to-private-sector transactions everything is Investment; but when we go to other sectors, the likelihood that an Investment will become a Grant seems to increase with the supposed distance from hard commercial factors.

Thus, IT projects are likely to benefit from Investment, but Cultural ones receive Grants.

The implications of this for how we perceive these activities are significant. Yet, for instance, cultural activities can be both business-like and of benefit to their communities, as can technological ones. If we seriously believe that varied and high-skills activities of all kinds are necessary in a modern economy, it might help to recognise that Investment is what we do when we support activities of any sort which help to build that economy, by making jobs, engaging people and - whisper it - just generally improving quality of life.

But there again perhaps Investments are made by people who have experience of business, and Grants are made by those who usually don't. Whether this matters or not is an open question.

Leadership & Management

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Which needs to come first? Good Leadership or good Management? Can we have one without the other? And can they be done by the same people?

In the past couple of weeks I've received three notifications of different events about the development of Leadership - in the arts, education and regeneration. All look to be splendid conferences with excellent speakers.

It's often implied (as indeed is the case for some of the examples here) that Leaders are Bosses; but is this necessarily so? Does it depend on the role of the 'boss'? Are some bosses quite properly straighforward Managers or even 'just' administrators? At what point, or in what context, does a Manager become a Leader? Or are there occasions when a Leader may, or should, not be a Manager? (For example, is there a difference between leading by example, and managing people?)

Is this the connundrum which lies behind the desire of some excellent teachers, health workers and, say, artists and musicians, - or, come to that, salespersons or IT specialists - to perform at the highest level, but not to become Managers?

We often hear that successful organisations require flexibility and the capacity for responsive change; and this of course requires Leadership. But can an organisation offer top quality Leadership if it is not also providing good Management? And how would you tell?

What do the terms 'Conservation' and 'Sustainability' say about our attitudes to change? And can we apply them to the same sorts of things?

Can we conserve a building, area or whatever without making it sustainable? Does conservation always, or generally, have an impetus towards the status quo? And does sustainability generally suggest forward movement? Can we sustain without progressing? And, if so, is this conservation?

Is there some sort of inverse law which suggests that the rate of dis-integration (a sort-of 'half-life') of things we conserve is related to the strength of the bond we try to make with the status quo? Is the converse true of things we seek to sustain?

And, most importantly, how do we articulate (to ourselves and / or others) the inevitability of change when we use the word Conservation and the word Sustainability?

The Lexicon

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We all use words in a general way to indicate the areas we are thinking about; but sometimes it's interesting to search behind the vocabulary to see what we're really looking at. Some commonly used terms are examined in The Lexicon to see what they tell us, for instance, about areas of regeneration, culture and social change.

We all use words in a general way to indicate the areas we are thinking about; but sometimes it's interesting to search behind the vocabulary to see what we're really looking at.

Some commonly used terms are examined in The Lexicon to see what they tell us, for instance, about areas of regeneration, culture and social change.

About Hilary Burrage

Welcome to Hilary's professional website. Hilary is a consultant in strategic policy. Her interests range from the knowledge economy to what makes a good community engagement strategy, taking in eco-issues, sustainability, science, equality and diversity, and the arts and culture, along the way. Hilary's work is about communication, and the 'translation' of dialogue between different groups. She hopes you will join in this dialogue via the Comment sections of this site.

Hilary writes (on 1 January 2009):

I am an enthusiast who draws on wide practical experience to help and encourage people seeking to make things better.... the environment, renewal of our rural areas, towns and cities, social equity, and sustainable communities and economies are all a part of this.

Previously a Senior Lecturer in Health & Social Care, I have developed a fascinating new independent practitioner portfolio after the onset of my own mid-life health challenge. This led me, as I took control of the situation, to a different emphasis, on arts & culture, community engagement, regeneration, environmental issues and science / technology policy - a wholesale professional transition which, looking back, I have never regretted!

I am currently, or have recently been, a member of the Boards / Councils of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA), Defra Science Advisory Council, an NHS Ambulance Service (as a Non-Executive Director), Liverpool Chamber of Commerce (as chair of the Arts & Culture Comittee), a group advising government ministers on Asset Transfer to the Third Sector, and a Trustee of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, as well as the Equality and Diversity Champion for BURA, Founding Chair of HOPES: The Hope Street Association (Liverpool) and Vice-Chair of the NW Sustainable Development Group (which advises on / promotes S.D. in NW England). Details of these various roles are given below.

I also teach one of the new web-based Home and Communities Agency / Academy professional courses on Sustainable Development, and I am an Independent Consultant who advises Local Authorities and similar bodies on service and policy alignment to secure appropriate delivery for customers and the general public. Much of my work with local government has centred on services for the very early years (especially Sure Start and Children's Centres) and for young people, with a focus on health, employment and economic issues.

As an adjunct to my usual activities, I am manager of a number of small ensembles of classical musicians (my husband, the musical director, is a professional violinist) who perform interesting concerts at a range of levels of formality in community, educational and local venues. I am also promoter and producer of an annual community-based concert, HOTFOOT on Hope Street, at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. In all these activities we have a particular commitment to promote the music of Britain's foremost black classical composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. We also collaborate with classically trained Indian musicians.

In the course of this whole gamut of tasks and roles I have prepared and presented numerous papers and talks, and have led many workshops and debates.

I am a keen (published) writer, weblogger - www.hilaryburrage.com - and photographer, often combining these activities in my commentaries on Liverpool life and my visits to other European cities.

Originally a student of natural science (and a trained singer!), I have a first degree in Social Sciences, I am a qualified teacher, I have a Master of Science degree in the Sociology of Science and Technology and I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

A disciplined and focused researcher, speaker and teacher, I am always positive and enthusiatic about my work and interests, whilst also maintaining the experience-based realism required to deliver a balanced and pragmatic 'can do' approach to professional, policy and delivery issues. This focus on making things happen is my moving force, whether I am considering the knowledge economy, equality and diversity, regeneration and sustainability, science in government, life in Liverpool or how to put on a community concert!

I am consistently keen to promote discussion about how to engage people of all sorts more in the decisions which affect their lives. This relates both to community development and to wider issues around regeneration and sustainability at both local and national level. (I know that we all need to work harder to develop shared meanings in these matters; this is what makes it so interesting.)

I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for the arts, and especially music, as a means towards social cohesion, or what we might call 'social glue'....

My aim, whatever the topic and whoever the client or audience, is to get people to feel it matters, and to believe that they can (and indeed perhaps 'should') take a view for themselves.

Contact Hilary here

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Hilary's more recent Publications, Lectures and Talks
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Hilary's professional and honorary roles and interests include:

* Independent Consultant in Strategic Policy, Writer & Public Speaker; areas of interest are indicated on this website and include
~ a specialist focus on complex organisational or public sector transitions requiring a multi-disciplinary or cross-professional approach;
~ issues around regeneration, the knowledge economy (highly skilled activities in technical and / or cultural and artistic areas) and sustainability; and
~ diversity and community cohesion.

Current Appointments & Roles

* Independent Consultant in Strategic Policy, Writer & Public Speaker

* Member, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Science Advisory Council

* Vice-Chair, North West Regional Sustainable Development Group

* Hon. Director, British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA), with responsibility for BURA Education & Training, and as Diversity Champion

* Council Member, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry
(& Hon. Chair, LCCI Arts & Culture Committee)

* Member, Editorial Support Team, Neigbourhood: The International Journal of Neighbourhood Renewal

* Hon. Chair, HOPES: The Hope Street Association

* Member (previously Trustee), Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

* Member, North West Business Leadership Forum

* Founder / voluntary organiser of Monday Women

* Hon. Agent for Mrs Louise Ellman MP

* Manager-Producer of classical music ensembles (Ensemble Liverpool, Elegant Music and Live-A-Music)

Recent and Previous Appointments

* Non-Executive Director, Mersey Regional Ambulance Service NHS Trust

* Lay Partner & Lay Visitor, Health Professions Council

* Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Care, Wirral Metropolitan College

* Lecturer and Researcher, University of Liverpool and the Open University

* Hon. Chair, Liverpool Riverside Constituency Labour Party

* Vice-Chair, Liverpool Community Network Arts & Culture Steering Group

* Non-Executive Director, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society