November 2005 Archives

The messages of health promotion are universal; but are they coming over sufficiently effectively to the person in the street?

There are a number of things which anyone can do to enhance their chances of good health - don't smoke, don't drink too much, get some exercise and eat sensibly are the main bits of advice; and we could add to that, try to live in a physically healthy environment, make sure you have your immunisations, check ups and the like, and give your kids a good start in life (breastfeed, cuddle and talk to them, etc).

Not really rocket science, is it?

Why local priorities?
Given these universal priorities, the way healthy living is often promoted sometimes puzzles me. The messages are simple, and can I suspect be targeted quite straightforwardly where they have most effect. So why the huge plethora of leaflets, people and campaigns?

Of course some individuals will always want more than the generic message, and that's good - if they know, they'll probably tell others - but I suspect that the huge amount of 'individually packed' info which comes into play at the level of single primary care trusts is sometimes more confusing than helpful.

There are of course some priorities which apply more to certain places and people than others - smoking and unhealthy eating are two examples - but the wider the campaign, the more effect it will have.

Health promotion is often marketing
Perhaps I've got it wrong, but marketing is a specialist activity, and lots of health promotion boils down to marketing. And marketing often seems to work best when the message is simple.

By all means have more info ready in the wings, but perhaps more visible messages from the 'centre' would be helpful too. It's beginning to happen, but it's not yet connected for everyone.

Emotional literacy, which includes anger management, is a fundamental of civil society. Let's build very positively on the new acknowledgement that relational education can bring benefit to children who may be under stress and in need to support to make the most of their lives.

Good to see in today's media that Anger Management is to be included in the school curriculum, at least on a pilot basis in 50 schools.

To be honest, I'm surprised it's taken this long - but obviously pleased to see some recognition that this is necessary. As I know from work I've undertaken in the Youth Service, there is a real need to help young people see that sometimes 'just walk away, stay cool' is the very best response.

A skill for life, not just for school
But anger management, and its underlying corollary, emotional literacy, isn't just something people require when learning in schools.

This is a fundamental for civil society - our democratic tradition, our work styles, and especially our family and personal lives, all function at a much better level when we can 'read' and respond to others, and indeed understand ourselves, at suitable levels of insight.

I hope this formal acknowledgement of emotional literacy - an aspect of development which has been promoted by some for many years - will over time become fully embedded in our understanding of children's early years, in our parenting and educational skills and in our civic life. Some people already have it in spades; but everyone benefits when it's there for us all.

Sunday Opening Conundrums

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Sunday trading laws are antiquated in England, but surprisingly liberal in Scotland. Is there really any sensible rationale for stopping market forces from deciding when shops should be open and closed?

My computer decided to go on strike yesterday evening, so it was up and organised this morning to get down to PC World for a spot of techno-chat.... hardly my favourite way to start Sunday, but better than not getting on with it and thus risking an on-going problem during next week, when I'll have no time to visit computer megastores.

Anyway, there we were at just before 11 a.m.; and the car park was full, with huddles of folk (mostly chaps) no doubt swapping e-tech tales around the bolted entrance to the shop.

Strange, isn't it, that we in England are not allowed to do our own thing on the day which is for most of us likely to be free? We have but six hours on Sundays to get our groceries (unless we use the corner shop), go to the garden centre, buy the Christmas presents, or whatever else we fancy.

The Scottish way
But even stranger is that, in Scotland, that place of the Sabbath and the Puritan streak, shops can open whenever they please. None of this 'no garden centres open on Bank Holiday Sundays' and so forth. If the shop thinks it will get custom, it can be open as far as I can see.

So why the miserable hours on English Sundays?

One reason is undoubtedly that the Unions have been uncomfortable with Sunday opening. They fear it will intrude on family life and maybe on church attendance (it's apparently hard luck if your religious observance doesn't fall on Sundays) or whatever.

This general argument I have some limited sympathy with, but it could easily be addressed by a rule which allows employees currently in retail (but not those entering later on) to refuse to work on Sundays in the future, if it's so important. I'm not at all sure however that this caution is actually necessary; big stores have a large workforces to call on, and are usually quite flexible towards individual employee preferences for rotas etc.

The English idyll?
Maybe it's all part of the nostaligia which seems to afflict certain aspects of English life.... misty lanes, bicycles, autumn leaves and cream teas. Change is always threatening to some.

I don't know for sure that flexible, market-responsive Sunday opening would affect local businesses much one way or the other, but I do know that for lots of workers (health, law, entertainment, catering and much else) the choice to limit their own professional services on Sundays just isn't there anyway.

These workers apart, people generally have time on Sundays to go out as families, and to catch up on chores and so forth. Constraining unnecessarily ways in which most of us can spend our precious free day / weekend is pointless. If you can buy alcohol till all hours now, why not also bits of computer?

Sunday trading is one commercial area where the Market alone really should be allowed to set the pace.

Tony Blair has been unwavering in his determination to tackle low horizons head on. This challenge lies at the bottom of all his thinking on schools and how to improve them. But maybe the voluntary, faith and business groups the Prime Minister so wants to see become involved in schools should ask themselves first what they could do to raise ambition and opportunities for the wider families of the children who most need support.

Education, education, education.... and never conceding the politics of aspiration for all. The two things are, as Prime Minister Tony Blair rightly says in his Guardian article (18 November '05), intimately connected. For almost all of us, and never more so than for those around the centre-left, this truth is both self-evident and compelling.

Perhaps however the Prime Minister's idea that 'there is a huge untapped energy in the private, voluntary and charity sectors for partnerships to help state schools' is only part of the truth.

From where I look - in Merseyside, as someone who has seen quite a bit as a teacher, social worker, researcher, evaluator, entrepreneur and so on - I'm not sure this hits all the nails on the head. It may hit some; but not all.

The options for partnership action are wider
I'm still unconvinced that Tony Bair's wished-for partnerships are most urgently needed in schools as such. For me, working on the ground, the politics of ambition has to be much broader than 'just' schools - though this is a part of the equation.

Ambition simply inside the school gates is not going to take many children very far. I accept that the Prime Minister's idea of education-other sector partnerships is (at least for now) a matter of choice; but many of the least blessed parents who, like everyone else, want the best for their children, are less concerned with well-meaning voluntary and faith groups or businesses getting involved with their kids, than they are with getting themselves into work.

For lots of people on Merseyside the main objective is just to get a job - and preferably a decent one. If voluntary and business interests, for instance, want to support disenfranchised people, perhaps they could begin by finding ways to employ them.

There are plenty of currently almost-trained adults on Merseyside whose future trade registration depends on work experience which is very hard to find. (Small businesses say they can't afford to provide this for apprentices; and most of Merseyside's economy is small businesses....) So how about starting with opportunities for less privileged parents and carers to show their children what 'real work' is, by being able to actually do it, for pay?

Ambition is a cultural thing
I don't doubt for a minute that Tony Blair genuinely wants to see progress and improvements for our children and their futures. He's absolutely right to throw down the gauntlet to us all. If we, voluntary, faith, business and other communities, want the best for children, we do indeed need to think hard about where we can best support and encourage.

And we need, too, consistently to challenge complacency, incompetence and / or narrow comfort zones, whether in local communities, schools, hospitals, industry, churches or indeed politics itself. If there are employment, educational, medical or other practitioners who don't cut the mustard, they need to understand just why this is not acceptable - though not at the (perceived) expense of people 'at the coalface' who are in fact doing a good job.

I still wonder however whether we have the right 'mix' in all this, as yet. Tony Blair has identified and articulated an important, probably fundamental, problem, in that he sees (and always has seen) education and ambition as key elements of a successful future for everyone. But I'd like to think that all those sectors apparently so keen to go into partnership to support children can grasp the aspirational challenge outside the school gates, as well as inside.

The English language is surprisingly unhelpful when we consider the different ways in which enterprising people take on social and private businesses. Why is there no noun, other than 'entrepreneur', which reflects the variations between different ways of going about one's 'business'? And does this indefinite mode of 'naming' influence the way that some folk approach the business world?

I had a very interesting conversation today with a friend who works in suporting Liverpool businesses.

We were mulling over the issue of more public than private sector economic activity in Merseyside, and we got onto social enterprise. The reason there's so much social enterprise here, it seems, may be that most people who decide to set up their own business come from working in the public sector... so their previous professional experience was of being employed by the state or local government.

From this public sector background, the full-blown private sector can look pretty scary, a step too far. Social enterprise is perhaps seen as closer to the ethos of public service, and perhaps less daunting, than would be full private sector competition in all its glory.

Enterprising and self directed
In some sense the 'social' option permits one to develop one's skills in an enterprising way, without having to 'go for it' as would be necessary in a private business.

In my dictionary (Concise Oxford) enterprise is defined as '[an] undertaking, esp. bold or difficult one; business firm; courage, readiness, to engage in enterprises'. When defining the adjective, 'enterprising', the word 'imaginative' is added to this list.

In other words, people who are enterprising are willing to take on challenging and stretching tasks; but they may or may not aim to make financial profit as such. Mostly, it could be said of those who are enterprising that they like to choose their own way forward, and perhaps survive on their skills and wits, rather than that they are out for what they can get in the purely financial sense.

Entrepreneurial and in control
My dictiionary has a slightly different take on the meaning of 'entrepreneur'. It says of entrepreneurs that these are people 'in effective control of [a] commercial undertaking; [they] undertake a business or enterprise, with a chance of profit or loss...'.

So is the difference between someone who is 'enterprising' and someone who is 'entrepreneurial', that the latter are willing to drive forward - not simply direct - their activity in a way that exposes them to risk as well as profit?

Would social entrepreneurs agree?
It's probably unjust to suggest that some social entrepreneurs are unwilling to take risks; the best and most socially amibitious of them certainly do... though sometimes - not always - the 'risk' may be more to their standing and others' view of their skills and judgement, than directly to their pockets. (Social entrepreneurs, please do disagree, if you wish!)

Nonetheless, there may be something in this. We are many and varied in the way we see the world. Some of us value hard cash and all that goes with it; some of us put more store by value judgements of other kinds; and of course some of us try to bring these different, perhaps in part conflicting, elements of our lives together in what we set out to do. The world is a complex place.

Inadequate vocabulary
There's one thing that strikes me about all this, however: There simply isn't a separate noun in the English language which refers to people who are enterprising, rather than those, the 'entrepreneurs', who are entrepreneurial in the 'strong' sense.

When we talk about people setting up small businesses (even if they have absolutely no intention to become big ones), or social enterprises, we use the same word - entrepreneur - as when we discuss those who seek to take on huge financially make-or-break activities of the fundamentally 'red in tooth and claw' sort, in the private sector.

What's the best balance of enterprise to entrepreneurship?
Perhaps this lack of distinction in our naming of activities and roles goes a little way towards explaining the lack of 'ambition' in significant numbers of people, for instance, in Merseyside. Because they haven't actually rubbed shoulders with too many folk who really are 'full-blooded' entrepreneurs, they don't recognise there are two senses in which one can become enterprising and / or entrepreneurial.

Undoubtedly, many industrious business people, in both the social and the private sectors, would not want to be entrepreneurial in the strongest sense, even if they saw the opportunity. I'd be interested, nonetheless, to find out what general percentage of businesses in any locality is the best predictor of a healthy and reasonably stable economy. Does anybody know?

Merseyside's economy is often criticised for being too public-sector driven. And now the critque has extended to some sharp observations about the type of businesses which are here, as well as just how few of them there are. Maybe a bit of 'experience swap' would help us to get a wider picture?

There has been a lot of comment in recent years about the over-reliance of the Merseyside economy on the public sector, over the private one. It’s not so much, we are told, that there’s too much of the former, but rather that there’s not enough of the latter.

But now it seems even that defence is blown. At his quarterly report to the Liverpool Society of Chartered Accountants, corporate financier Steve Stuart has criticised Merseyside’s private sector for being ‘life-style’ at the expense of ‘value creation’.

This seems fair comment. Apparently, of 27,000 VAT-registered businesses in the area, 26,000 employed fewer than five people – and less than 700 had a turnover of more than £2m.

Too cosy or too costly?
The problem seems to be that most local businesses are averse to interference from outsiders, and like to do things their own way. This is a situation for which Mr Stuart holds local business advisers in part responsible.

Given the choice of external ‘interference’, or keeping things within the family, nearly all business people in these parts chooses to stay cosy. Not many want to take on the extra cost of private equity funding.

Well, I’m not surprised. Who around here has even heard of private equity funding? Of course, those in the world of banking are familiar on a day-to-day basis with this sort of arrangement; but you don’t bump into equity financiers on every corner in these parts.

This is, sadly, a part of the country where having A-levels is quite a considerable achievement for some folk… and where the difference between a pass degree and a doctorate is often seen – if it’s understood at all - as an irrelevant distinction. So not many of our home-grown entrepreneurs are bothered about the fancy stuff.

Who’s responsible for the Merseyside economy?
But before we ‘blame’ anyone too much for this unambitious state of affairs, for inhabiting such cosy comfort zones, it might be interesting to ask exactly who we think is ‘responsible’ for the health of our local economy. And my answer is, I’m not sure anyone really knows.

For my part, I regret that local people seem to need to be so cosy; but I don’t think it reasonable, given the claustrophobic and stultifying circumstances in which they survived until quite recently, to expect everyone in Merseyside who owns a business to want to go Big Time.

Before we see too much progress here I suspect we shall have to shake things up a bit – and one way might, dare I say it, be to bring in business ‘advisers’ from other parts of the country… and invite our home grown ones to work in differently-challenged business environments elsewhere, for the experience this would bring of other ways of doing things.

Then we’d all get a view of how green the grass is (or, depending, isn’t) on the other side of the fence. And that might really make some of us take ownership of pushing our local economy forward.

A new report says Physics is at risk of dying out in schools. However can this be, when Physics is one of the most intrguing and exciting stories on the block?

I have a real Thing about how invisible Science and Technology are. It's everywhere around us; yet most people seem simply not to see it.

Hw do we transact our communications? How do we take ourselves from A to B? How do we keep our food fresh and our homes warm... You get the picture.

But there's no Big Take on science. We imagine those who actually do it are 'Boffins' (whatever that may mean). And anyway it's all too hard with too many sums, so who cares?

The Missing Physicists
In the light of this general view (correct me if it's wrong), I'm hardly surprised to read today that there is a severe deficit of Physicists. Again, So what?, you may ask.

Well, it's like this: Physicists and those in closely related disciplines are the people who lead much of the high-spend and high-impact knowledge economy. They take our understanding of the world and how it is made to places people in previous generations never even dreamt of; and with their engineering colleagues they also lead much of our industrial innovation.

Plus, they are the people who teach the next generation about the nature of what at the most fundamental levels makes the world go round. Taught properly, this is one of the most exciting things anyone can ever learn.... I studied A-level Physics many years ago, and although I shall never make a Physicist, it hooked me. You see things in a very different, and quite amazing, light when you begin to learn what sub-atomic particles are all (or even a bit) about!

Why aren't there enough Physics teachers?
I'd guess there are a number of answers to the question of where all the Physics teachers have gone.

Firstly, good Physicists get snapped up in industry and finance, for large amounts of money. Not many others can manipulate and analyse figures like they can. Teachers' salaries are no match for what the city and the biggest industrial companies can offer.

Then there's the prospect of teaching itself. Teaching is difficult, it can be draining, a lot of children are - and always have been - resistant to the sort of complex studies required by well defined disciplines (in any academic field).

And finally, in my books, there's the question of 'relevance'. Because we hardly 'see' Science and Technology, we don't understand why it's relevant.. and you try teaching youngsters things which they believe have no relevance...

The excitement of Physics
But it's not even just that there are now fewer Physics teachers than before. A news story this week also tells us that the number of Physics teachers who are actually well qualified has dropped dramatically.

Would it be reasonable to suggest that some of this is because Science, and especially the hard physical sciences, are so invisible that we don't value it? If we did, of course, people would want to teach Physics, and even more importantly students would want to study it.

There's a big challenge here for the scientists themselves: Tell people, loudly and clearly, why Physics excites you! Show them why it's 'relevant'... and even maybe tell them that the best Physicists earn lots of money....

In other words, please try to understand that even the most challenging and abstract ideas in disciplines such as Physics can become interesting, when people know these ideas exist and perceive them as integral to our society and how it is moving forward, in so many ways.

There's a massive PR job to be done here. Investigating the very nature of matter is about as exciting as it gets. We all need to share in the excitement; but that can only happen when someone takes action to ensure we know about it.

Friends Of Sefton Park

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The Friends of Sefton Park (in Liverpool) have been making excellent progress in taking forward their work for the city....

The initative to promote Sefton Park seems to be going on apace.

The Friends of Sefton Park now have a new e-group which people associated with the Friends can join; and the plans for the future of the Park are developing and being debated quite rapidly. (Anyone who wants to join the Friends of Sefton Park Group could contact me directly via 'Email Hilary' on my home page, and I will send the expression of interest on to the Group.)

One thing which I find fascinating is how many of us with serious involvement in the environment are also e-contactable and so forth. Obviously, e-technology is a low-energy activity, once it's all set up - and we don't have to use petrol and paper to be in touch!

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?

Cherry Picking Liverpool's Sefton Park Agenda

Liverpool's Sefton Park Trees Under Threat - Unnecessarily?

Solar Lighting Could Solve The Parks Problem

Building sustainability into community life will take a real shift in how we do things; but, just like weight-loss diets, it will only work for most of us if it's something we find enjoyable and actually want to do.

It's been very interesting to see how everyone has responded (on- and off-line) to recent postings here on Eco issues.

I started with a piece on 'allotments for all', wandered through some thoughts on Tesco and the other superstores, and have so far ended up with ideas around building communities in which sustainable living becomes part of the common, shared experience. (All these postings are listed below, if you want to have another look.)

The theme which is emerging for me is that we (literally) can't afford to make sustainability into a 'do it because it's good for you' exercise. It's too important for that. And evidence elsewhere (e.g. with weight-loss diets) shows that people simply won't carry on doing what they should unless they really believe it's for the best and, critically, it fits into their pattern/s of living.

So, we can get a little way with house-to-house collections (Liverpool does these too; and it still has almost the lowest recycling turnover of any place around), and we can indeed troop up to Tesco or wherever with our recycle bags, when we go shopping (one lot of petrol, two missions). But some people don't have cars, though they may have babies, or no job, or boring, isolated days.....

Fitting the practice to the people
This is why the 'little but often' approach might work for certain folk. It's nice to have places to go, especially if in a good cause (i.e. recycling and community-building, in this case); and it's nice to have things to grow, as people would if they had back-yard allotments - which is of course also where the green waste would be composted.

I strongly suspect - though we'd need much more evidence to be sure - that giving people reasons to get out and about, even if only to recycle stuff and meet up with neighbours (see Eco-Inclusion), would help to develop local relationships, and thus the community as a whole. In some ways, it's like parents waiting at the school gates - but in this case it can be everyone, not just carers of small children.

And, if previous experience serves me right, meeting up informally but for a purpose also gives everyone in a locality reason to become more invoved in their community, and to make this more of a reality in terms of common interests and ambitions for the future.

A new sort of community?
Get people to relax and talk to each other, and you never know where it will take them (or you). Giving them an excellent reason to do this (recycling) adds impetus to the process.

I'm trying to think out new ways to connect, which also take account of eco-considerations - without adding further rules and constraints to people's everyday lives.

It would be impossible to persuade everyone to give up cars and all the other things we've grown to think of as essential for our lives; but adding a bit of community spirit might 'include in' more, and more varied, people of all kinds to the very necessary task of tryng to sustain the eco-communities in which we, everyone of us, have to live.

Straited 'plane sky (small).jpgYoung professionals have always wanted spread their wings. But why are some workers outside London more willing to up roots to Australia, than they are even to try life in their own U.K. metropolis - or, come to that, in Cornwall if they want surfing and sun or in the Higlands if they want space? The distant unknown, it seems, is a more attractive dream for the future than the anything closer to home.

Strange how people often feel 'safer' opting for the completely unknown, rather than for the semi-familiar. Two or three times this week I've been chatting to young public sector professionals and skilled trades people around my patch (northern England) who've announced they fancy a new life in Australia.

When quizzed a bit more, the reasons for this option usually run as

1. it's warmer and sunnier (indisputable, of course.... but it can be pretty humid too);

2. there are more 'opportunities' there (Yes, but that could be because loads of young Australian professionals are over here); and

3. it's 'boring' here in the U.K. (What, all of it?)

Now, far be it from me to talk anyone out of an adventure - I went to Arizona on an American Field Service International Scholarship, for a full year and all on my own, at the ripe old age of seventeen - but I'm still a bit puzzled.

Why not London?
If I further enquire (because I'm curious, not because I want to dissuade) why these young people don't want to try (say) London, I'm usually told it's because Londoners are unfriendly and it's a horrible, expensive, confusing place which you can't get out of.

Well, some of my best friends live in London, I quite often work there, and I graduated from a London university. On the whole, I enjoy being there. It is a collection of some of the most historic 'villages' in the world, it has culture, it has cutting edge knowledge, it has huge parks...

But others' hostile view of London does raise some interesting issues, such as: how do folk 'know' that a land they have never even visited isn't also confusing, unfriendly or expensive? How can they be so confident that it's a better place to be?

Or Cornwall or the Highlands?
Are these adventurers actually seeking a 'new' life when they leave the U.K., or, in fact, just a revamped version of the 'previous' one, with more excitement, freedom, challenges or whatever? And is this a realistic expectation in either event? Most people probably plan to take their current skills with them in their news lives, so they are in reality just trading locations (no harm in that).

If people want work and sunshine / space, why not Cornwall or the Highlands? Both are currently Objective One areas of the U.K., with plenty of incentives for skilled and entrepreneurial people, and both have space enough for everyone. They offer beaches, inexpensive housing, a more relaxed life-style; and they leave the option of experimentation without a huge commitment. In fact, on reflection, I'd probably suggest they be explored as 'practice runs' before taking the drastic step of crossing the equator for a permanent change of home.

It's all in the marketing
These ideas of London and Oz are probably both wide of the mark. People are people everywhere, and, even allowing for deep cultural differences, how you find them usually depends far more on your own personal approach than on any other factor.

Which brings us to marketing and image.... Australia is openly eager to draw some of our brightest and best to its shores; and no problem there - we do the same to them, and, perhaps sometimes less fairly, to other countries too. But whilst London seems to emphasise the requirements of the knowledge economy, Australia also overtly seeks to draw those with technical and applied skills.

London as a city rarely does anything about actively attracting young public sector professionals from other parts of the U.K. Yes, individual organisations do this, but not London as a city in
its own right. It doesn't really need to; but perhaps young people need it?

Conversely, the UK 'regions' all set themselves up in opposition to the metropolis. The very brightest of all already go to London in their droves (London has a far higher concentration of very highly qualified people than any other part of the U.K.); but little is done directly to encourage exchange and flow between different U.K. regions. And to us in the 'regions' London often looks like the Opposition.

Shared experience has value
It would be a very positive move if we encouraged young professionals to know their counterparts elsewhere in the U.K. Perhaps the problem here is that often only as they become more senior are they expected to attend conferences outside their own regional 'comfort zone', meeting other workers in more distant locations and learning how different people see the world. Indeed, for many that never happens, or else it's too late by then for them to develop a fresh perspective.

Until a couple of decades ago many undergraduates chose to study as far away from home as possible; but that was at a time when a far smaller percentage of our young people went on the higher education. The sheer numbers of students these days makes this option impossible to finance by state grants; there's been a relocation of post-school study to home ground as a trade-off for more people (of all ages) doing it.

So when are young people today getting their experience away from home territory? How can they come to see the opportunities across the U.K.? Maybe here's a theme to return to another day.

Add your comments below...

Eco-Inclusive?

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Why is recycling so often seen as something to be conducted only in grim carparks? Why can't it (at least in the case of small amounts of material) be viewed as an opportunity for people actually to get together in their communities?

There have been some very interesting debates buzzing around this week. Not only have we (some of us, anyway) been hearing about Enterprise in all its manifectations, social and otherwise, but there have been big debates about how we should get a grip on environmental issues such as emissions and sustainability.

Mulling these things over, I also happened to come across some stuff on how difficult things currently are for towns and ports dependent on farming and fisheries. It strikes me that's not really too much different from some of the issues in the disadvanatged areas I sometimes work in. They all need 'new' ways to build their economies, and to enhance their social and business connectivities.

Which led me to think more about the Eco- aspects of Enterprise.

Let me ask, why do we make our domestic recycling facilities so grim? Do they really all have to look like blots on the landscape? Isn't there some way that at least some local recycling facilities could be part of the community 'offer'?

The joined-up alternative
What would it look like if some recycling became a feature of community connection? Somewhere where people could pop in as they pass to the shops or park, and where you could at the same time join friends for a coffee, let the kids play, or visit the library?

In the past few years bookshops have at least twigged that people who buy books also like tea and cakes; it's proved to be good for custom. Why isn't the same applied to the idea of recycling? (I'm not talking here of the mega-visit with the car full of all sorts; that's still a superstore carpark job.)

If the theme were 'little and often', and the facilities alongside recycling permitted, recycling points could become community hubs which local people visited becaue it's a good place to go - recycling to one side (preferably covered), playspace and coffee shop / library / community facility / adult education venue of whatever sort at the other.... with the feelgood factor guaranteed, as we do our eco-duty.

The imaginative entrepreneur
Maybe the 'problem' is that eco- / recycling is perceived as a green wellie activity; not something for entrepreneurs, unless they're of the 'social' sort. Let's move from the vague notion that only Environmental Officers - who might be thought of (doubtless unfairly) as a pretty puritan lot - should have a remit for recycling.

Let's see if this whole activity can become a central part of community life. If it gives people with their small bags of recyclable material, their pushchairs and their shopping an opportunity to enjoy half an hour's chat, that would be really great.

Then maybe people can find out more about how they all connect and what in common they have or would like.... never underestimate the importance of actual person-to-person encounters when thinking about capacity building in communities!

And if local entrepreneurs can use any of this to develop or tempt business, that's better still.

Social Enterprise is a bit of a mystery to some people... so today is a chance to find out more.

Today is Social Enterprise Day. Perhaps you knew that already, or perhaps you didn't; but it's also Social Enterprise Week, focusing primarily on young people, so there is bound to be a bit of media activity.

So what is Social Enterprise?

The Government's definition of it is 'a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose inthe business or the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.'

In other words, social businesses are set up to 'make a difference' for society or the environment.

More of them than you think...
Recent research has shown that there are some 15,000 UK businesses which are social enterprises. That's about £18 billion per year generated in the economy, and around 475,000 jobs. This includes activities as varied as Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant, Cafedirect, and the Eden Project, or Liverpool's own Furniture Resource Centre.

You can find out more about all this from the Social Enterprise Coalition or from the Enterprise Week website.

Cars (small) 90x110.jpg There's a current proposal for legislation to reduce car speeds to protect the environment and our resources. Environmental impact assessments are also important. Perhaps publicly funded activities should be assessed in terms of their proximity to public transport hubs.

I admit it, I don't enjoy driving. If the trains behaved themselves, I'd always travel that way (though of course I can't and don't). But now I have a rationale for my preference: cars at speed are not only downright dangerous to those immediately around them, but they also cause even more damage to the environment than cars travelling less quickly. Official.

Next to the rail station?
So here's an idea: why not insist that ALL publicly funded bodies be required to transact their non-local meetings and other business within, say, a kilometer of a major railway station?

And require also that they have to give details of a wide range of public transport routes every time they call people together? (This needn't be as difficult and costly as it sounds... just post details permanently on the relevant website and refer people to it in their meeting papers, every time - with penalties if the info isn't up to date.)

Before anyone points it out, I'm perfectly aware that the chances of the first part of my idea happening are approximately nil.

'Environmental impact' aware
I can't see, however, why the second part should not be done. Let's at least insist that those who convene activities involving public expense of any kind become aware of the damage they may be doing, using that funding, to the environment and resources which we all have to share.

There are exciting things happening in Liverpool's Hope Street. After more than a decade of consistent lobbying by HOPES: The Hope Street Association, it looks as though real, beneficial change is about to occur....

The past few weeks have seen a lot of activity in the Hope Street community; and it's all good stuff.

We in HOPES: The Hope Street Association, a charity bringing together community and stakeholder interests, have been collaborating with Liverpool Vision and other partners for quite a while now to bring about improvements in the public realm - we recently obtained almost £3m. for this after a ten-year campaign!

Physical developments can lead economic ones
As I'd always believed would happen, evidence actually on the street of visible improvements has provided the impetus required to take forward the economic and business developments which the Hope Street Quarter so badly needs.

So today some of us sat down as representatives of the Hope Street Stakeholders and made plans which will have real impact on the Quarter and, with luck, well beyond. This has been HOPES' intention for some long while, and it's genuinely exciting to see it happening, with people from various organisations (arts, community, education and faith) and private enterprise sharing discussions to make substantive progress.

What happens next?
There are a few months to go before the public realm work will be completed and then we shall start to think about public art to 'represent' the communities of the Quarter, and so forth.

In the meantime, we've got the Hope Street Festivals group going with a view to next year, and now we're planning some public and private enterprise moves - more about which I hope to report later.

So, watch this space. In quite a short time we will I hope have proof positive that bottom-up campaigns to benefit quite varied communities really can produce results!

The Tesco Effect

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It may not be fashionable to say so, but maybe Tesco has a point when it says it can work to help develop local trading and communities. The evidence is not conclusive, but neither have all the arguments as yet been fully explored.

The debate about Tesco is all around us in Liverpool just now. There are strongly vocal groups, some of them just local people and traders, and some of them I suspect part of larger national campaigns, who are implacably opposed to any further development of Tesco anywhere near our patch.

Others, far more quietly, would actually rather like a bigger, brighter Tesco (or any other large supermarket) not far from home, where they can pop in, parking assured, 24 / 7.

It seems however that whilst one of Tesco's applications, to the north of the city, has now been approved, there will be a big fight over the south city bid. Officers have recommended agreement, politicians mostly oppose it; so who knows what will happen when it all goes to appeal?

Reasons for unease
As far as I can gather, opposition to Tesco and other supermarkest falls into some four categories:

1. we live nearby, and shoppers will block our street parking, and maybe make a noise;

2. green space is at risk;

3. local traders will suffer;

4. we are opposed to any big business which may be getting the upper hand.

Reasons for quietly hoping plans will go ahead, however, tend simply to be that it's convenient, open long hours and the range of merchandise is good.

Mixed messages
Maybe I've missed something, but it feels to me as if a number of mesages are coming over here, not very coherently.

Firstly, concerns about street parking are persuasive for local councillors dependent on electoral support - let the people park - but they are not otherwise very convincing. Mechanisms exist and are easily put in plaxce to prevent parking altogether, or allocate resients' priority, etc; and in any case most Tesco stores have quite adequate parking facilities of their own, if they are permitted to establish these.

The concern about green space of course follows from this - more Tesco space, less green space; but Section 106 arrangements (which basically require developers to 'give' something to the local community in return for 'taking' a local footprint) can be brought to bear by Council Officers, so that alternative facilities will be part of the package. Perhaps not everyone from the Council for the Protection of Rural England will be happy with the end result; but, to be frank, cities are not rural.

The argument that local traders will suffer is more difficult; the jury is still out on this, because the evidence is generally unconclusive. Organisations such as the New Economics Foundation suggest that the effect on local traders may be damaging; this is therefore an issue to be taken seriously. It is probably however less clear that at least some of these local traders would have done well even if the lcaol supermarket had not been built.

And finally, the question of market share needs to be considered. Tesco, for instance, has about 30% of this in Britain, almost twice as much as its nearest competitor. But whether Tesco should be constrained is a matter in the hands of the Office of Fair Trading, not something which can be resolved at local level in a narrow context.

The counter-argument
The issues so far discussed are perhaps only part of the story.

Let us put aside matters of investment, when building large supermarkets, in local infrastructure and construction and so forth. These are usually acknowledged at least in part at some level.

But only rarely is it also noted that Tesco, like its main competitors, offers well-defined and nationally led staff training and development; the pay to start with is not especially good, but the opportunity to move up the ladder (or across to another one) is certainly there. In some communities, there are few other opportunities of this sort; but where these opportunities are on offer, specially in otherwise less advantaged areas, they are surely of value.

And, finally, we have to ask ourselves why local traders, if they really do want to keep going, are not forming liaisons at the professional as well as the protectionist level. Are they sharing responsibilities such as staff training, local environmental improvements and the like? What, if anything, is the collective deal, with or without the supermarket in their midst?

Maybe Tesco is right to carry on growing, or just maybe it should be restrained; but the basis of the debate so far does not explore all the issues at stake. If the simple demand to 'stop!' were replaced by a dialogue on how to develop, with or without large supermarkets, local people and politicians might discover that there are more ways forward than they think.

Art and culture are often dismissed as peripheral to public life; but private investment in the arts is serious business. There is a strong case for the position that what's good enough for private investment, is also good enough for investment in the public sphere.

Looks like we're all a bit muddled about what the arts are 'for'.... Revent news stories have revealed that a Cheshire Member of Parliament is up in arms because the North West Development Agency has over the past few years spent a seven figure sum on (mostly very large-scale) public art; and there's another rumpus about money being 'wasted' on engaging professional artists to do work in hospitals (see Is Art good for your Health?); and the list could go on....

Conflicting perceptions
If ever there was confusion, you can find it when people debate the arts. That is, if they debate at all. For some, there's no need to debate, they just know - usually, that it's all a waste of time and money.

And, perhaps even more worryingly, often the arts are not even considered when people look at plans for the future. Arts and culture are add-ons which can happen later, if someone remembers to get around to it. Certainly no need to seek professional advice or make sure there's an outline arts strategy in place from the beginning.

Yet the same folk who berate public art often have no objection to the private sort. To parody, maybe a little unkindly, old masters in oak drawing (or international corporate board) rooms are one thing; vibrant work on accessible public display is another.

The cost factor
An underlying theme in this seems to be that arts and culture are O.K. as long as nobody publicly accountable has to shell out for them now. Perhaps this is why Museums seem to be able to make their case more easily than the Performing Arts - the less unrelentlessly labour intensive, and the more thematically linked to 'tourism', i.e. 'business', the better.

Ideally, we gather, the arts should be delivered by volunteers (amateurs) who 'give something back' - whatever that means - whilst people who are paid should concentrate on careers in the basics, treatments, training, tarmac, tills and the like; and of course everyone understands these are all essentials of modern living. But would that life were so simple.... though I wouldn't like it to be so boring.

Missing links
There are two immediate snags with the 'do arts for pleasure not pay' argument.

The first is that, if no-one takes a proefssional role in the arts, there will soon be no-one left to show the next generation how to do it. The arts demand high levels of skill which take a long time to acquire - if anyone is to invest this amount of energy and time, they need a reasonable assurance that there will be a professional pay-back later, whether this be as a painter, a performer or even, say, a public parks and open spaces artist and animateur.

Secondly, art in all its forms can be the 'glue' which attaches a community to its various and infomal formal structures. The arts offer opportunities for local pride (think of Newcastle's Angel in the North, or Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall), they can involve people directly (street theatre, music, film projects etc) and they provide 'real' reasons for communities at every level to come together and to share a common interest and identity.

Private or public?
Maybe the context/s of art and culture are what define how we perceive it all. Perhaps if we recognised the various posturings and positions from an underlying 'private vs. public' perspective we can begin to make sense of them. The confusion then drops away, for me at least. If art and culture are good enough for private settings, they are good enough for public contexts too.

A recent meeting of the North West Business Leadership Forum and The Mersey Partnership has focused minds on how to engage the Knowledge Economy at its highest levels. Reseach and Development are universally understood to enhance economies. The challenge now for Merseyside entrepreneurs and businesses is therefore to grasp the exciting opportunities emerging via our growing high-tech knowledge base.

On Thursday (10 November) this week I went to a joint North West Business Leadership Forum / Mersey Partnership forum in Liverpool. Attendance was high, this being the first opportunity for some of us to hear the views of Robert Crawford, the new Chief Executive of The Mersey Partnership.

Robert's analysis of where Merseyside 'is at' was of course worth hearing. In just six weeks he has obviously seen and digested a great deal, and he shared some of his initial thoughts with us during his talk. What particularly encouraged me, however, was his emphasis on the Knowledge Economy at the highest levels: his questions around retention of post-grads as well as first degree graduates, and his challenge to our three local universities to increase 'Reach In' - the term used by States-side colleges for close alignment with local businesses, especially at a time when private corporates have to some extent reduced their own in-house research and development.

Nations don't compete; businesses compete
Innovation, productivity and skills development, as MIT and other studies have told us, are globally the key to enterprise success. It follows therefore research and development are at least as important in Merseyside as anywhere else. Our sub-regional productivity is lower than elsewhere, but our higher education base is robust. The task is to bring the potential for R&D into play to increase productivity, as has happened dramatically in parts of China and elsewhere. Knowledge inevitably traverses continents freely, but it is up to businesses to engage it for their own use.

Places as far apart as Bangalore, North Carolina and Ireland have found ways to bolster their economies using very high skills. We in the North West of England now have the opportunity to do the same. Fortunately we have just secured a huge advantage via the new-found confidence in North West science at Daresbury and in Liverpool's own university science base. It needs to be said, however, that this work is in every sense regional and (inter)national, as well as sub-regional. Merseyside will get nowhere in this vast emerging network of science and technology without collaboration with our erstwhile city-region competitors. None of us is big enough to do it on our own.

Moving forward
For the Merseyside economy and its people to flourish in this new context, as Robert Crawford said in his address, we need mechanisms in place to define our own sub-regional partnerships, and to identify and remove local impediments to progress. For this to happen we also need to map our baseline/s and to have confidence that public sector intervention will be carefully considered, timely and appropriate.

One part of this positive partnership development will be the increasing involvement of high-achieving people who have links with our city and sub-region; they may not all live here, but there are many other ways in which win-win synergies can be developed.

Daresburry Lab. & Innovation Centre 001.jpg For me, such synergies clearly include the huge numbers of high-skills liaisons which occur virtually and person-to-person in the North West's world-class science programmes. But whilst there can be huge benefits for Merseyside which arise from these endeavours, we must never escape forget that the science itself is funded internationally, and its potential impact is global. Only if Merseyside's local entrepreneurs take the time to grasp the opportunities to hand will we benefit particularly. The next challenge is to persuade enough of them that such apparently esoteric activity actually has relevance for their bottom line.

The Philosophy Of Hedges

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flowering hedgerow Hedges are protective, productive and permeable. They offer haven but also permit the flow of light and air. They respond to change by organic adjustment and they can sustain themselves. They are a metaphor for healthy boundaries, rural or urban, able to adjust and yet still retain integrity.

hedge & snow Hedges have always fascinated me. As a small child I walked with my sister and father along country pathways between fields, my father, a rural science teacher, all the time pointing out the features of the hedges,and explaining how, as living things, these hedges had been both nurtured and shaped - sometimes for many centuries -whilst they in turn sustained life for other plants, and birds and animals.

The craft of the local hedger, the names of his tools and the names of all the bushes, grasses and wildflowers... details now elude me, but abidingly the ideas underpinning of the significance of hedges remain.

It is not therefore surprising that the gardens of my homes as an adult have always been enclosed by hedges. Some were there long before I arrived, but quite a few have been planted and grown by ourselves. I especially enojy it when I find a tiny shoot growing from a random seed or berry, and can plant it amongst the larger inhabitants of our urban hedgerow. Thus in the fullness of time have emerged quite a number of hollies, some buddleia and even a few rustic roses and hawthornes.

The urban meaning of hedges
small nest My professional life now is a thousand miles away from the innocent rural ambles of my childhood. Perhaps the contrast is almost Cider With Rosie vs. The City; but the significance of boundaries for me continues to be beyond doubt.

People still require boundaries, real and metaphorical, for their comfort and protection. Not many of us feel at ease in unmarked and uncharted territory. But, whether we consider and acknowledge it or not, a metaphorical 'brick wall' can be constraining in a way that a 'hedge' never is.

Hedges let us see the light next door, they permit the passage of air (but diminish the onslaught of the gale), they support life in a host of ways. Brick walls, on the other hand, block light and air, and do not offer sustenance and safe haven to small creatures. Hedges may take years to grow, but they adapt and respond organically to change. Brick walls are quickly constructed but come down only when they are dismantled - and then they are no more.

Protective, productive and permeable
hedge in bloom & nests The hedge as a boundary is a model for both rural and urban life. Hedges protect, but they don't constrain, they are productive but they are organic in their response to their environment, and they are permeable, enabling flow of light and air without any loss of their role in defining boundaries.

Rural fields and urban communities alike need to be marked out. But let's not forget that the marking of boundaries is best done in ways that respond to changing needs and opportunities over time, encouraging cross-over and the flow of the small ideas which may one day become big players on our territory. Hedges with their rich ever-changing diversity, the haven for a host of hidden small lives, serve us better than brick walls.

There are housing estates designed in such a way that it's almost to find a route in and out of them without a car. Many people on the edge of urban areas live in such places, cut off from others, in their own constrained 'comfort' zones. Whatever were the planners thinking of? And what can be done now to raise horizons and expectations?

I've recently been visiting a number of 'disadvantaged' communities, walking and driving around housing estates and out-of-town areas which many of us who don't live in them rarely see.

It's often quite a pleasant job. Most folk anywhere will make you feel welcome and at home. People in these areas as much as anywhere else will of course do their best to help, advise and engage with those who visit them, and there's always lots to learn.

But... but... whatever were the planners thinking of when they permitted these estates to be devised? Where are the centres, where are the decent shops, where's the clinic / surgery, where's the (secondary) school, where are the meeting places? And, oh so importantly, where on earth are the quick, safe links between the various localities?

For many of these areas, there are in effect only one or at best two roads in and out; plus, the linking footpaths, if they, are grim in every sense - not at all routes that most of us would care to take.

All this means that many more people than we might imagine live in 'closed' communities. Public transport is poor, cars few and far between; there is precious little chance of going outside one's immediate vicinity.

Here, then, is planned 'comfort zoning' of the worst sort. The big wide world may be out there, but it's almost inaccessible; and the small zone of personal experience which is easily navigable becomes far more enclosing than it decently should.

It must also be said, on the basis of my recent experience, that even when planners have included facilities within given areas, these facilities have sometimes been allowed to transmute from 'community' facilities to yet more housing - the shop or centre wasn't doing well; it closed; then it was acquired for private developers.... and now it's flats. So now there are even fewer 'facilities'. How do 'they' allow this to happen?

If the next generation is to see the world through more open eyes, the current one has to be able to take youngsters out and about. If adults in a community are to raise their expectations and amibitions, they have to be able to meet others and see things beyond their immdeiate experience.

Nowhere (except pubs?) to meet, and no way out of the estate, are not the best encouragements to the necessary wider agenda for progress. There's a job of work for infrastructure designers - get in there and open up the passages between areas; and there's an opportunity for entrepreneurs, public and private - start to add value to communities with meeting / leisure and proper retail facilities.

The enterprise is to some small extent beginning to happen, but how can it take off when communities remain isolated and the chances of increasing market size in an area are contrained quite simply by almost no ways in and out?

Liverpool has a number of fascinating green spaces, including Calderstones, Croxteth, Dovecot, Everton, Greenbank, Norris Green, Otterspool, Princes, Reynolds, St James', Sefton, Stanley and Wavertree Parks, as well as other Gardens and Churchyards.... The contribution which follows is a direct invitation to readers to comment on these vital 'lungs' in this historic city.

Liverpool has a number of fascinating green spaces, including Calderstones, Croxteth, Dovecot, Everton, Greenbank, Newsham, Norris Green, Otterspool, Princes, Reynolds, St James', Sefton, Stanley and Wavertree Parks, as well as other Gardens and Churchyards.... and no doubt others can add comment about, and more information immediately to, this list.

The City Council now has a draft strategy for developing some of these spaces, but there's still a place for people to befriend their favourite parks.

So please do let us know about your Parks and their Friends.* Let's make a list of the contacts for all these wonderful green spaces in our city.. Our parks and green spaces are important and people's views and ideas need to be shared. You can add your information and comments below, or, as others have done, in for instance the Sefton Park 'slot..

Friends' Groups so far of which I am aware are:
Croxteth Hall & Park
St James' Cemetery & Park
Newsham Park
Princes Park
Sefton Park


[*Note to contributors: You don't need to display any more of your details than you wish when you give your name. This website only asks for your email address, privately, so that we can ban spammers, not you!!]

Sefton Park06.7.30  (middle lake, small) 009.jpg Plans for Sefton Park are taking shape rapidly - as are ideas for several of Liverpool's other Parks. Monday Women decided to have a debate; points from our discussion follow. Your contributions on how Liverpool's Parks should be developed are also most welcome.

Sefton Park Cherry Trees 06.5.5 009.jpg Meeting up with other Monday Women this evening, one very hotly discussed topic of conversation was the merits or otherwise of plans for Sefton, Otterspool and Newsham Parks. Amongst the issues considered, of course, was the fate of the cherry trees by the middle lake.

It's actually very heartening that so many people wanted to talk about these plans in detail, and to continue the discussion elsewhere. We therefore came up with the idea of making this topic a 'main' item on my website.... so here it is!

I'll kick off with a few thoughts on plans for Sefton Park, in my own locality (years ago, this would have been Newsham Park, so I have something of a 'compare and contrast' perspective on developments).

The main issues in contention for Sefton Park currently seem to include:

Eco- Solar 06.7.15 031.jpg * Do we want lighting, or bats? (Maybe we want both; how about ground-level lighting of the southern, presently non-lit, paths.. which would also remove any concerns about strollers being well-lit, and supposed potential assailants lurking invisibly in bushes 'behind' the lights) How will we ensure that the vibrant wild and bird life of the park is nurtured?

* Why are the only toilets in the Park in the Central Kiosk? (The Palm House has some, of course, but they are not open to the public.)

Sefton Park 06.7.11&12 024 Waterway grot.jpg * Do people realise that the Park is far from 'natural'? (Conservation is a managed process; many trees, bushes and supplings have just grown as they will, and some of these probably do need to be removed.)

* How will the intended new waterways be designed? And how will they be kept clean and clear?

* Has anyone realised that, if the attached allotments (apparently controlled not by Parks & Gardens, but by Recreation & Leisure...) are drained to remove waterlogging, there is a fear that the water will cascade across the Park?

Sefton Park 06.5.25 Bandstand 024.jpg * What sorts of performance space/s are intended for the Park? Will these be all-weather, and who will manage them?

* Is there any scope for a pleasant meeting place / restaurant at the south end of the Park, and what will become of the Central Kiosk? Will there be any public art?

* Where will young people be able safely to congregate in the evening and at weekends, whilst younger children, families and older people can continue to enjoy the quieter aspects of the facility?

There are lots of questions, some of them quite fundamental, in the issues being raised, so it's good to be able to report that we can expect a Public Exhibition and Consultation on the Sefton Park proposals, cum December. Watch this space for details!

And, in the meantime, please do carry on the debate right here. (NB You don't have to publish your details; the only check we make on this website is that you are not a spammer!) We all look forward to hearing your views, below...

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

Cherry Picking Liverpool's Sefton Park Agenda

Liverpool's Sefton Park Trees Under Threat - Unnecessarily?

Solar Lighting Could Solve The Parks Problem

Friends Of Sefton Park

A very high global ranking in use of ICT, plus a report that Britain now has the best financial environment for entrepreneurs in the world, will be welcomed by many, but might seem more of a mixed blessing to a few. Combine this however with a UK Government paper showing how ICT can support even the most excluded, and perhaps everyone could agree that maybe we're on to something really promising?

The Economist doesn't always carry the cheeriest of good news for us Brits, but this week's edition does provide some interesting information.

The Milken Institute, a think-tank in California, has reported that Britain now has the best financial environment for entrepreneurs of the 121 countries (92% of the global market) it has ranked every year since 1998. The Institute looks at the breadth, depth and vitality of each country's capital markets - and has concluded that we are ahead even of Hong Kong, Singapore and the USA for the first time.

Then, also in the 5th November edition, the Economist tells us that the World Bank has rated Britain below only our competitors above, plus Denmark, in capacity to exploit information and communication technology (ICT). This index is based on the availability, quality, affordability, efficiency and adoption of ICT.

Perhaps for some these reports raise alarm rather than cheer, but there's another interesting piece of news too - the UK Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has just released a report, Digital Solutions to Social Exclusion, which suggests ICT may be of benefit even to the most excluded of our citizens. It is now being used to help homeless people to get jobs, maintain medical support, and much else.

Nobody's suggesting that everything in the garden is rosy; it never is. But here is evidence indeed that science and technology can, with the right push, work hand in hand with the market to enhance life chances for a whole lot of people.

CCLRC notice 113x91 007a.jpg The CCLRC is the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils of the UK. Its 2005 Annual Meeting was an amazing showcase of research at every level from the very tiniest scale imaginable (if indeed you can), to the most enormous. Here were world-class scientists and technologists, telling us what they do and why they are so incredibly enthusiastic about it.

Daresburry Lab. & Innovation Centre 007.jpg The CCLRC is not an organisation which often hits the front page of the papers; but, as we all know, some of the best things in life are the least paraded. So I want to spend a few minutes right now saying why I think it's a really exciting prospect.

First, though, the basics: the CCLRC is the UK's Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils. In other words, it's the top body in charge of (very) Big Science in the UK; and yesterday, 4 November, I was lucky enough to attend their national Annual Conference, at the Lowry Centre in Salford. I'm still buzzing!

The science budget is massive
Consider this: the CCLRC budget last year was nudging half a billion pounds, and it has oversight of some of the most prestigious and influential laboratories in the world, including the Daresbury and the Rutherford Appleton facilities in Warrington and Oxfordshire respectively.

Scientists and technologists in these laboratories, working alongside colleagues in numbers of our great universities, are exploring almost everything you can imagine about our world and our universe.

At the tiniest, nano, level these scientists are looking at how 'engines' at the atomic scale are 'driving' muscles; and they have developed a 'molecular flashgun' - the brightest beam of light ever created anywhere.

At the other extreme of size, CCLRC supported research is attempting to model global climate changes, and look at planets and space.

Science at the cutting edge
Much of this we were told about at the meeting yesterday, with fascinating presentations bringing together simple models and amazingly enthusiastic speakers, world authorities in their subjects.

And in between all this there are the pieces of work which will bring about cures for illnesses, new ways to produce manufactured goods, and greater understanding of genetics...

Then we were invited to look also into the future. Where will science and technology be taking us?

Futurology
This question is importantly about 'futurology', that informed guessing which tells us that exciting things, challenging things and sometimes really difficult to grasp things are about to emerge, all as a consequence of the extraordinary work which is being carried out in scientific communities around the world. To read about some of these anticipated developments, clearly explained and illustarted, just turn to the CCLRC's own website.

Daresburry Lab. & Innovation Centre 002.jpg As is quite apparent when one looks at these fascinating developments, no laboratory or university can now undertake Big Science in a vacuum from others. Collaboration is always the name of the game, across regions, nations and continents. And this brings us to another reason why the CCLRC and its huge expertise is so vital, to the UK as a nation and to the geographical areas in which it has a major presence.

Big money and big ideas
Investment at the level of the CCLRC is hard to secure. It doesn't think small. It brings the most able and influential scientists and technologists with it wherever it decides to blossom; and this, in turn, brings forth industrial and commercial investment, and employment opportunities at the highest level - in other words, it enables the sort of synergies between economic development and knowledge for which any area of the UK yearns.

Do not suppose for one moment that, because most of us would be very hard put even to explain what Einstein discovered about particle motion a century ago, this Big Science has nothing to do with us.

Big Science brings opportunities (and, indeed, challenges) of the highest order, it brings amazing collaborations between people of many regions and nations, and it brings as yet barely touched scope for economic synergies and development.

A pretty phenomenal return on investment of less than half a billion pounds, when you see it like that.

Ideally everyone would use public transport; but of course they don't. Perhaps however this is not simply because of the usual overt issues - cost, frequency, reliability etc - but also because of less easily measured human responses to uncomfortable contexts such as isolated platforms, cold and wet waiting areas and a general feeling on insecurity about the 'transport offer' overall.

Trains play quite a significant part in my life. Given the choice, I would always go for public transport; though often of course I can't.

But I do whenever possible choose to travel by train, both long distance and for commuting. This strategy is not however without snags. Whatever enthusiasts claim, train travel can sometimes feel uncomfortable or even unsafe.

When you're on the Intercity it's hard to realise how fast you're travelling through small stations; when you're commuting from one of these points, it's even harder to believe that trains - enormous vehicles by anyone's standards - are permitted to rush past where you standing on the platform at such breakneck speeds. It's like standing on the slipway of the motorway; and just as scary.

Then there's the lack of shelter and the isolation. Train stations on commuter routes, outside London at least, tend to be vast unpeopled wind-tunnels, away from the road and houses, which expose one to rain and cold, and, potentially, to being alone in very lonely places. No matter how many CCTVs, it can be unpleasant to realise you're the only one on the platform - at the moment. Add to this the rudimentary and sometimes solid brick, unwindowed, covered stands which may afford the only seating, and you begin to feel very vulnerable indeed.

My guess is that many people feel this environment hostile. Panic buttons, good lighting and visible CCTV can go a long way to sustaining the excellent safety record of most train stations; but it doesn't always come over that way. And when people don't feel safe, they find an alternative - for preference not noisy and jumbled up buses, but their warm, locked cars. (I checked in the office yesterday; every women there said her car was first choice for just these reasons.)

Thus perhaps do barriers to easy use of public transport in our non-capital cities arise; and this is before we even start to ask whether it's straightforward to buy tickets (not all systems have the equivalent of Transport for London's Oyster Cards), whether the signage is good (why do noticeboards ask 'Have you bought your tickets?', when they mean, 'Here is the machine, by the wall, which will sell you a ticket?'), and whether the train will actually turn up as promised, and is actually going where you planned to go.

In my more radical moments I am tempted to suggest that no public transport employee, in the public or private sector, should ever be permitted to claim a car allowance, though of course claims for use of public transport would always be allowed. This would apply even more to managers and planners than to everyday workers.

but this is obviously not going to happen, so maybe the next best thing would be to encourage transport companies to have 'exchange away days', where a member of staff from Company X is invited to travel difficult journeys around the area of Company Y, with nothing except a tenner, a notepad and pencil and a train timetable in his or her pocket.

What seems perfectly logical and simple to people who do use a trainline all the time, often seems far more problematic to someone new to the scene; does the tram have a special name? where's the ticket office (and are there different ones for different services)?; why is such and such a line cancelled with such regularity?; does this service feel equally safe for all types of passenger?; can you work out how the various routes interconnect?

Uncertainties arising from these sorts of questions probably go a long way to explaining why public transport is far from always the method of choice. Getting people out of their cars and onto the train or bus is a big priority environmentally, but for success it has to be done in ways which the punter finds comfortable.

And if comfortable and safe-feeling public transport doesn't happen, problems will also arise for wider regeneration and renewal, especially in areas without high car use to start with. The action of choice may be no action - just stay put and don't bother.

It would be interesting to know how much research has been undertaken into which aspects of comfort and safety most reassure travellers, and which of these are the most cost-effective, in all senses of that term. For many of us, how the train and other public transport systems are run is of only marginal interest; but how we feel about using the systems determines at a very fundamental level whether we actually choose to make use them.

This is Hilary's fiftieth contribution to her website. She discusses here how it came about, and how she would like to develop it, with you the reader, for the future.

No, it's not my birthday; that doesn't get mentioned much these days. But I am pleased to claim this contribution as my fiftieth piece for this weblog.

So what has been achieved? Nick Prior, my website designer, has already written something of where he thinks we're at (see his website, bottom of this page), and now it's my turn.

The website has been in planning for some months. Nick and I were introduced by a mutual friend, who knew I aspired to setting up a website, and that Nick, an expert in this field, aspired to developing a new mode for these. I felt I needed a virtual space to try out and share ideas, and Nick wanted to work with someone who was interested in his approach, but would engage as a relative newcomer to the medium; which certainly made me eligible for the collaboration, on the basis of knowing little about how to do websites!

After our initial discussions and work at the end of August, I took time out to think about everything, so nothing was put into the website until three weeks ago - which averages at over one piece per day. That has, on the whole, been easier than I'd anticipated; though of course it's for others to say whether what they read is of interest. Whatever, there are plenty of things which capture my imagination and on which, I have discovered, I have something to say.

The challenge seems to be articulating ideas in a concise and coherent way - and then to write a summary which introduces and enhances that 'message'. No doubt there's scope to work on this, but it's quite an interesting and different discipline for me as a writer.

What is also clear is that there's a lot of ideas out there to sort into something more coherent, presentationally. My instruction from Nick was just to write what came to me; we'd think about more consolidated Categories later. So that's what I've done, and to an extent the outcome has surprised me. (Try it for yourself sometime, it's quite an eye-opener in terms of what you think you're observing and considering! ).... And do please tell us if you have any particular views on how the Categories should be constructed.

I've also been attempting to bring some balance to these contributions. Some of them are about big, difficult or woolly issues, others are about my personal experiences and where I live. We all have a 'home' for our observations and ideas, and I've tried to reflect this in what I'm sharing.

How am I doing? People are quite frequently telling me that they enjoy 'popping in' to have a little read on the website, but not many of them so far have responded directly to my ideas.

Is your quietness because you agree, because you don't agree, because the technology seems more trouble than it's worth, or because you're shy? I'd be really interested to know, because Nick and I are hoping to make this a space where everyone who feels so inclined, can join in. This is perhaps the 'new e-age' mode for discussion, when people and communities are so far apart geographically and in other ways.

Thank you for your patience and interest thus far. Please keep visiting, and please do contribute if you'd like to. I look forward very much to hearing from you.
Hilary

HOPES: The Hope Street Association (Liverpool) was honoured by being invited in September 2000 to give the 'community festival' perspective at a national meeting in London attended by the Secretary of State for Culture, Chris Smith M.P., the Millennium Commissioners and their special guests. The paper which follows was presented on this occasion by HOPES Hon. Chair, Hilary Burrage.

HOPES: The Hope Street Association
Presentation to the Secretary of State for Culture, the Rt Hon Chris Smith MP, and the Millennium Commission
London, 22 September 2000

Maintaining the Momentum of Change: Making connections – building communities

THE HOPE STREET MILLENNIUM FESTIVAL (LIVERPOOL)
The Liverpool Hope Street Millennium Public Arts Route

Background
HOPES: The Hope Street Association came into being in 1994/5 as a result of the on-going campaign to support Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse Theatres and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, all of which were then under serious threat of financial calamity. Since 1991/2 The Campaign to Promote the Arts on Merseyside (CAMPAM – now amalgamated with HOPES) had proclaimed of these vital elements of Liverpool’s cultural life that ‘once lost, we will not get them back’.

The Hope Street Quarter is an area at the downtown edge of Liverpool City Centre which covers approximately a square kilometre. It is probably unique in the density of civic resources it offers, with an amazing number of cultural and educational institutions lined along and on either side of Hope Street itself. Almost all of these institutions are members or partners of HOPES, including both Cathedrals and both Universities, several colleges and training centres in the area, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Hall, and the Everyman and Unity Theatres. Other HOPES members importantly include local traders, professional businesses, residents and private individuals.

HOPES' Aims
From the very beginning, HOPES had a number of stated aims:

- to establish the area around Hope Street as a formal Quarter, thereby gaining for it and its constituent parts serious recognition as a springboard for appropriate, managed development;

- to establish formal liaison with decision-makers in the City of Liverpool in order to promote and develop the many aspects of Hope Street Quarter which put together would offer a striking synergy for renaissance of the area and the city as a whole;

- to establish a special identity as a not-for-profit body with links with national and other local bodies involved in regeneration and social entrepreneurship;

- to gain Millennium Commission recognition and support, especially for celebratory activities which brought together members of the local community and a wide range of artists and other professionals in the area.

It can be said in general terms that the year 2000 has seen a significant measure of success in all four of these objectives, and not least, in the first three cases, because of the impetus which Festival support from the Millennium Commission has provided.

Moving towards the Hope Street Millennium Festival
Hope Street’s Festival has been focused, although not exclusively, on the Midsummer period. We began earlier in the year with some ‘taster’ small concerts and children’s workshops in local community venues, and we will continue with these, and with other educational and arts projects, until the end of the year, and beyond. But the main focus has been Midsummer, following from a practice of running Midsummer Festivals which began in 1977, with the celebration of HM Queen’s Silver Jubilee and a pageant on Hope Street arising from Malcolm Arnold’s work, The Valley and the Hill. On that first occasion some 17,000 school children were involved, but from this grew a number of other Hope Street Midsummer Festivals which might be compared with, say, early Three Choirs Festivals in terms of content and delivery.

By the mid-1980s, however, this series of festivals had come to an end, and the first, tentative, festival of the current series was organised by the Hope Street Association in 1996. This first, modest venture was over one weekend only, but, encouraged by the interest it engendered, we have since developed annual programmes over longer periods, with the Millennium Midsummer Festival extending over the entire month of June.

Preparations for the Hope Street Millennium Festival have their roots in the very first decisions made by HOPES. We agreed at a well-attended public meeting to make an application to the Millennium Commission for a significant capital award to support the physical regeneration of the Hope Street Quarter - a bid, put together entirely on a volunteer / pro-bono basis, which was unsuccessful but which also drew considerable attention to the Quarter at a time when we were also seeking (ultimately successfully) to have the Quarter so designated by the city authorities. Several early rejections of economic development and arts-related bids, however, left us if anything more determined to succeed in a significant bid which would highlight the unique and exciting features of our Quarter. And so further work and public consultation led to the successful Millennium Festival Award which has now been delivered and employed with very real effect.

Facing the challenges
The Hope Street Association has however been seriously challenged in delivering such a festival. HOPES has almost no direct income (other than modest membership fees and occasional individual donations); but it does receive significant in-kind support from many sources, the most sustained of which has been provision of an office and facilities by the Liverpool Business School and, latterly, by the Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust. This generous support is matched by ‘staff’ who are young graduates on management-training placements from our Universities (mostly the Language Learning Centre of the University of Liverpool). These young people are mentored and supervised by HOPES’s Chair, a semi-retired lecturer who has hands-on involvement in the day-to-day running of the organisation. Without the enthusiasm and energy of HOPES’s ‘staff’ trainees the close community links and many activities of the Association and its Festival would not be possible – young people bring their own very valuable momentum to events!

Participating in the Hope Street Millennium Festival
A key aim of HOPES’ approach to the Millennium Festival has been community participation at every level. Our objective has been to deliver artistic and educational activities using highly-skilled professionals working with local people who have a close knowledge of the community – thereby, we hope, breaking down possible psychological and other barriers to collaboration in the renaissance of the Hope Street Quarter and helping where we can to bring about also the longed-for renaissance of Liverpool.

Over many months the following outline programme for the Hope Street Millennium Festival developed and has now been delivered:

Involvement of Merseyside schools in the Festival,, especially through

- an extended Banners project led by an Egyptian teacher, Nivien Mahmoud, who has come with her family to Liverpool whilst her husband studies at the University

- invitations to schools to involve their students in the now-established annual Hotfoot on Hope Street Midsummer concert at Philharmonic Hall

- poetry and arts / science ‘creativity’ projects led by HOPES graduate trainee Development Officer, Jo Doyle, with volunteer expert advice and support

Involvement of top-level artists and educationalists such as players from the Royal Liverpool Orchestra in a number of activities such as

- the Gala Midsummer Hotfoot on Hope Street concert at Philharmonic Hall, in which talented young amateur instrumentalists and singers performed music ranging from Peter and the Wolf to Beatles arrangements alongside players RLPO professionals

- informal chamber concerts by Live-A-Music, a group of RLPO players, at venues like St Bride’s Church, Toxteth (at the invitation of the Vicar) and Liverpool Town Hall (at the invitation, on BBC Music Live Day, of the Lord Mayor)

- music workshops for children (and their parents) run alongside these concerts by another Live-A-Music / RLPO player, Richard Gordon-Smith (also HOPES’ Composer-in-Residence) at community venues such as St Bride’s and The Blackie

- an emphasis on music by ‘minority’ composers and performers, eg: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (researched by Live-A-Music’s Director, Martin Anthony (Tony) Burrage) and the Saurang Orchestra, initiated by Surinder Sandhu, which brings together professional players from the Indian, Western and Jazz traditions – and which this time included performance of the international Ode to Joy, supported by Liverpool City Council Arts Unit and David Ellwand of Summer Music

- the creation overall of 60+ engagements in the city for professional performers, as well as encouragement for new composers via a competition offering opportunities for winning entries to be performed by a professional group of musicians

Involvement of the wider local and Merseyside community through

- widespread media coverage, local leafleting / newsletters, consultation meetings etc

- a longer-term commitment to establish a Hope Street Millennium Public Arts Route celebrating the activities of all who have been involved in our Millennium Festival

- maintaining contacts in local communities through friends and colleagues made whilst HOPES provided administrative support for the 1998 Liverpool Windrush activities (at the initial suggestion of Jeffrey Morris of BBC Television)

- development of an on-going website (which now averages 25 ‘hits’ per day)

- a dazzling pre-Launch performance at the Metropolitan (RC) Cathedral by Sicilian flag-throwers, arranged by Mrs Nunzia Bertali, Italian consul for Merseyside

- engagement of local people to provide voluntary advice and assistance in the development, marketing and promotion of all the Festival activities, through an informal network of Festival Committee members and helpers – including Arthur Bowling, a Millennium Fellow who was introduced to HOPES by the Commission


- concerts and free workshops over several months which had marketing campaigns targeted particularly at local communities around Hope Street, for which, in addition to wider promotional support from the RLPS, we delivered leaflets door-to-door

- producing and displaying the HOPES Banners all along Hope Street for the Midsummer weekend, in a collaboration with schools, Liverpool University Student Guild and their Organiser Emily Coombes, the Youth Service, the Probation Service (who provided community service probationers to actually mount the banners) – and, crucially, the owners of all the stretches of iron railing along the street

- a ‘Family Fun Day’ on Sunday 18 June, when we collaborated with the Dingle SALE (Southern Area Local Enterprise), the Police, Liverpool John Moores University and other authorities to close a stretch of Hope Street and offer free family entertainment (Brownies and local dance groups, young popular musicians, balloons, craft and activity stalls in the John Moores University car park on the corner of Hope Street, etc.) which many people enjoyed - in brilliant sunshine!

Involvement of HOPES members, regeneration professionals and other interested practitioners, students and citizens through

- displays, newspaper articles and radio / TV interviews about the Festival and regeneration of the Quarter

- a formal Festival Launch when Angela Heslop, Arts Editor of Radio Merseyside, gave the Annual HOPES State of the Arts on Merseyside address

- displays, newspaper articles and radio / TV interviews about the Festival etc

- a HOPES Millennium Gala Dinner, attended by Guests of Honour The Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Mrs Louise Ellman MP for Liverpool Riverside, Councillor Mike Storey as Leader of Liverpool City Council, and David Scougall, a Director of the British Urban Regeneration Association, as speaker, with many other significant figures in Liverpool’s regeneration alongside other members and supporters of HOPES

- liaison with bodies such as the Musicians’ Union and others, in an informal network

- a National Conference, Art at the Heart: The Role of Established Cultural Quarters in City Renaissance, which had as Keynote Speaker Chris Brown of the Urban Task Force, as well as a wide range of other development practitioners and academics

- production after this conference of a publication, The Hope Street Papers, which contains professional presentations from actual speakers and others, as well as responses from members of the public who attended the conference as participants

HOPES’ current position
Whilst HOPES remains an organisation dependent almost entirely on volunteer activity and support, with many professionals and members of the community giving their services freely, our position has shifted very positively during our Millennium Festival year. Significant factors in this change include

- strengthening of community links, eg, through collaboration with Dingle SALE, the St Bride’s (Canning / Toxteth) community and the University of Liverpool Students’ Guild community volunteers

- greater involvement with the Universities and Colleges (eg: invitations to work with fifth year Architecture students at Liverpool and LJMU, to perform a community chamber concert at Liverpool Art School, to collaborate with the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Institute for Performing Art in a science theatre proposal, and to collaborate with music students at Liverpool Hope University College)

- agreement from the Charity Commission that HOPES can register in the near future as an arts, educational and conservation etc charity, expressly to benefit the City of Liverpool and the local community

- much strengthened links with the British Urban Regeneration Association, the North-West Regional Development Agency, the NW Arts Board, the Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust , Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Local Agenda 21, Aurora, the Musicians’ Union and other significant organisations

- establishing working contact with the London-based School for Social Entrepreneurs, especially since this year our graduate trainee Development Officer, Jo Doyle, has at HOPES’ initial suggestion been studying there; she is currently developing a HOPES programme which will bring together professional musicians (eg: from the RLPO / Live-A-Music) and community-based practitioners to engage young popular musicians in a New Deal scheme addressing social exclusion

- development of a formal relationship with the City of Liverpool’s Youth (Life Long Learning) Service, which has agreed to offer financial support for Jo Doyle’s project

- making professional musical connections with the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society (based in Croydon, where he lived) and members of the Saurang Orchestra (who visit Liverpool to play in it from India and the United States) – so providing proof positive that ‘classical’ music is not the preserve simply of a certain type of person

- increasingly strong connections with the innovative public-private partnership city-centre development agency, Liverpool Vision, and with the City of Liverpool’s new Regeneration Directorate (who very helpfully introduced us to the Youth Service)

- establishing as a priority consideration of mechanisms for graduate retention in Liverpool, beyond simply the post-graduate management training phase

- achieving the prime objective of the Association, which is to establish the need for acknowledgement and renaissance of the Hope Street Quarter – this was recently accomplished after submissions to and high-level discussions with the City’s Unitary Development Plan office and then with the new City Centre Development Company, Liverpool Vision, which in July revised its strategy to include Hope Street Quarter as a primary location for attention, having initially not done so at all

The advantage of Millennium Funding
For all these developments the advantage of Festival funding from the Millennium Commission has been enormous. It allowed us to plan a Festival in confidence, knowing that we could pay at least essential bills; and, most importantly, it gave us credibility and a new and higher profile. That's worth more than almost anything else.

Frog pond 104x86 06.7.30 009a.jpg The pressing environmental issues of the day can be addressed in many ways. Everyone has their own take on eco-matters. None of these different understandings offers complete answers to very complex questions, but all who ask them do us a service insofar as they keep the issues at the forefront of debate.

Does Prince Charles have a point? You probably don't have to be a royalist to think perhaps he does, environmentally at least. Few can be unaware that conservation and sustainability are important to him.

In that concern of course our future monarch is not alone. Turn the pages of publications as diverse as The Guardian and The Economist, The New Economics Foundation (nef) and The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), and you will find the same themes: energy and sustainability are the debates of the day.

Similarly with our politicians and policy makers, national and local. Whole departments are dedicated at every level to finding ways forward. Nuclear, oil, solar, wind, tide or biomass? Green bins for garden waste, purple for paper.... Our leaders are certainly onto a winner when they share their thoughts on recycling and energy. Everyone is worried, though not everyone will follow through to action.

The 'action' is however where it has to be. Nothing will be achieved by being worried - though there is undoubtedly consensus that we all should be. And it's here things sometimes start to go fluffy.

There are logics which arise from environmental concerns.

If you believe that things need to stay as they are (or, better still, were), you'll probably take the view that progress is not to be encouraged. What we 'should' do is stick with what we know, but maybe regulate it rather more, so that things don't change.

But if you generally welcome initiative and challnge, you'll want to find new ways to meet the problems which everyone agrees are there, and you may even believe that Science in all its glory has the answers.

The third way, of course, is to try to think out of the box. Should we use so much energy? Are there modes of operation which meet needs in far-distant places as well as our own? What mix of provision and production of enery, food, whatever, will best reduce risk of under- or over-reliance for ourselves and others? Does nuclear increase or decrease the risks in energy? Does GM help to feed people or do we risk damaging them? Should we increase our consumption of vegetables and reduce that of meat? Is intercontinental travel 'bad' because it harms the physical environment or 'good' because it increases human understanding? The questions could go on...

Essentially, the issues relate to human activity - after all, it's largely what we as individual human beings choose to do which has brought about these conumdrums, so presumably it's up to us as socio-political beings to sort it out.

Here then is the rub: Conservation on its own is probably impossible. Science and technology alone probably can't solve the problems. Everything which looks like it might have positive effect is but one part of the total scenario; but the incremental, balanced approach lacks appeal because of its very caution and good sense.

It's much harder to have impact with the slogan, say, '10% this sort of energy, 25% that sort, 5% of something else' (etc), than it is to go for the grand gesture.

The politics and the practicalities often don't stack up when people realise it's they, personally, who will have to make adjustments, not them, unknown folk somewhere else.

Full marks then to those across the entire conservation-progress spectrum, Economist, nef and Prince Charles alike, who keep the debate going. Sustaining public interest (and thereby enabling complex issues to be addressed even when it costs) is a crucial element in the environmental equation. Perhaps different people are asking different questions, but it's a lot better than asking none at all.

LSTM (logo) 06.7.30 015.jpg The Bill and Melinda Gates award to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is testimony to the excellence of that institution; and it is also a huge endorsement of investment in the future of science in the North of England and beyond.

Congratulations to Professor Janet Hemingway and her team on their award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!

LSTM (i2006) 06.7.30 004.jpg LSTM (new build) 06.7.30 007.jpg As a Member (and previously a Trustee) of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine I have watched over the past three or four years as the School's ambitious plans have progressed from the drawing board to the Gates Foundation Boardroom. Everyone has been very focused on success, and building the 'package' which has brought this about was painstaking work. It has involved careful co-ordination between governmental funders, national and local politicians, academics at the highest level, and many others.

People like Bill Gates don't give their money unless they are convinced it will be well matched by other funds, and will be extremely well spent.

This is extremely good news not only for the LSTM and the University of Liverpool, but also for the city and the Northwest of England - not to mention for the prestige of British science itself. The research is of the highest standard and the outcome, in terms of impact on people at risk of malaria, will be massive.

Regional synergies
LSTM (inc kids' pics) 06.7.30 009.jpg Slowly but surely the connections between science institutions in the North of England are being made. The synergies of collaboration are beginning to be visible beyond the largely ignored ivory towers.

If these new developments are genuinely welcomed and nurtured by our city and regional leaders for what they can bring, the impact on parts of the UK could be almost as significant, in their own way, as the impact of the research in the locations where the medical risks being studied are to be found.