July 2006 Archives

Hope Street Big Dig 06.3.4 006.jpg Liverpool's Hope Street Quarter has just been refurbished, with an exciting and imaginative scheme of new public realm work secured by genuinely 'bottom-up' community engagement and local stakeholder buy-in. But this is only a beginning, for what could be one of the most important arts and cultural quarters in Europe.

Hope Street (Suitcases, 'launch' etc Jim Gill 1)  06.7.28 006.jpg Louise (Hope Street  06.7.27 004.jpg Yesterday we celebrated the completion of the Public Realm renewal on Hope Street, Liverpool's prime cultural route. It was a very happy occasion, marking the culmination of some ten or fifteen years' lobbying by HOPES: The Hope Street Association to ensure that, at last, Hope Street Quarter looks like what it is - a truly significant cultural locus for Liverpool, Merseyside, the North West of England and even beyond. Here you see two of the main supporters of HOPES's campaign, Jim Gill, Chief Executive of Liverpool Vision, and Louise Ellman, Member of Parliament for Liverpool Riverside, which includes the Hope Street Quarter. Both Louise Ellman and Jim Gill worked with HOPES and Steven Broomhead, Chief Executive of the North West Development Agency, to secure the almost £3 million required so that the City of Liverpool would ensure that this important renaissance of Hope Street occurred.

Celebrating achievement
Hope Street (Suitcases, 'launch' etc)  06.7.28 001.jpg What struck me particularly about the celebration of our new public realm yesterday was how very much this event was in keeping with the way Hope Street is developing. As we stood waiting for our photographs to be taken, standing by John King's famous 'Suitcases' sculpture (also entitled A Case History), people were spilling out from nearby Philharmonic Hall, resplendent in best frocks and colourful gowns, celebrating that day's graduations. Every July and December students from all over the world emerge from the Phil Hall and from our two great cathedrals to take their first steps as graduates, on Hope Street, the 'home' in many different ways of the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool Hope University and, indeed, of that soon-to-be independent LJMU affiliate, Liverpool School for Performing Arts (LIPA). How many other city streets anywhere can claim such distinction in the knowledge economy?

Public realm for public arts
Hope Street (Brouhaha, RC Cathedral steps + lighting) 06.7.29 017.jpg That however was not the only cause for celebration on Hope Street yesterday. Later in the evening we returned to enjoy another happy event, the dress rehearsal of Brouhaha's open air event, Bollywood Steps, from the Nutkhut company of performers. Here was colour, energy and verve, presented on the newly installed steps of our great Catholic Cathedral, reaching down to Hope Street, towards the Anglican Cathedral, LIPA, and the 'Suitcases' sculpture at the top of Mount Street where we had been earlier in the day.

A continuing journey
These ceremonial and cultural events, all along the street as people celebrated achievement and energy, illustrate just how right it has been to focus on Hope Street; but our 'journey' must continue. We have now taken one enormous step forward - the completion of the public realm, hewn in granite and stone, which will remain with us to a large extent I'd guess for the next hundred years. But this is only a beginning. The next step is perhaps even more challenging for us all - to ensure that Hope Street delivers on its uniquely promising potential as an engine of regeneration for the whole of Liverpool and beyond.

Some people have said that Hope Street Quarter, stretching along the length of the city centre, far above the River Mersey, is Liverpool's Acropolis. There are many ways in which this analogy holds true, but it is not as yet universally accepted. When Hope Street is generally perceived to rival London's South Bank, or the Left Bank of Paris, we shall have achieved what we have set ourselves to do.

Read more about the Suitcases and about Hope Street Quarter.

Loganberries (small)  06.7.30 008.jpg Over the past century our connection with basic food production has largely been lost. But now there are urgent environmental as well as direct health reasons to ensure everyone understands how food is produced. People as consumers (in both senses) need to know about food miles, short produce supply chains, nutritional value and the annual cycle of food production through the changing seasons.
One obvious starting point for this crucial 'sustainability' message is schools; and another is allotments.

Apples 06.7.30 011.jpg The way that people find out about food seems to vary from generation to generation. This wasn't always the case. For millennia you ate what you could grow and, if you were lucky, also what you could swap of your surfeit for someone else's surfeit.

Then came the developing trade routes, some ancient and exotic (the Silk Road, also a route for spices and much else) and others, far more mundane to our modern minds, such as Salters Lane, the mediaeval travellers' way which appears in British towns and villages as widely spread as Hastings, Redditch, Tamworth, Chester and Stockton-on-Tees, along with other similar reminders of trade in by-gone eras.

Also within Europe, for instance, were the horrors of such deprivation as the Irish potato famine of 1845-9 and more recently, for some within living memory, informal and formal food rationing (the World Wars of 1914-19 and 1939-45) - a deprivation it is now often considered was more of the palate than of essential nutritional substance.

Different expectations, the same basic understanding
In all these cases, however, fabulous or tragic, ancient or contemporary, people understood something about the genesis of their food. It was either from plants or from animals, nurtured intentionally or garnered whence it appeared. If you wanted to eat, you had to engage in some way in the production or location of your meal.

This, it could be argued, is what is different in times past from how things are today. It can certainly be said that although people must still find their food somewhere, it tends to come pre-prepared, in labelled packets, frozen or perhaps in tins, but not self-evidently from plants and animals.

In much of the western or 'first' world the conscious link with what is rather romantically referred to as 'the soil' has quite largely been lost. Most people now expect to be able to eat anything they can afford and that they take a liking to, any time they choose.

The downside of choice
Nobody would disagree with the general idea that variety in our diets is a good thing. But in practice it doesn't seem to be like Strawberry pot 06.7.30 010.jpg that. Our food arrives on the shop shelves (the only place now where most of us hunt and gather) processed and packaged, and often laden with things we don't need as well as those we think we want....

For every interesting flavour and texture there are frequently too many empty calories, too much refined sugar and the 'wrong sort' of fats, if not always too few vitamins and minerals. (Contrary to popular belief, frozen and tinned food can, we are told, be as nutritious in these respects as the 'real thing'. Indeed, given that frozen and tinned foods are usually very fresh when they are processed, they may well have more nutritional value than the produce lying 'fresh' in the market.)

And herein lies the rub. There is a confusion in perceptions between 'fresh' and 'well-preserved' foods, between 'produce' and 'ready meals'. And most people have only the vaguest of ideas about the essential differences between, say, strawberries or carrots flown in 'fresh' from California or South Africa, and those grown in glasshouses close to the point where they are sold.... which in turn means we cannot fully appreciate concerns around 'food miles', local / short supply chains or, to return to our original theme, nutritional value-for-money.

Allotments (sheds & netting, Sudley) 06.7.15 003.jpgClose to the land, close to the retailer
At last some retailers (including some of the biggest) are beginning to acknowledge some of these issues. They boast that they have short supply chains, that their produce are prepared immediately after cropping, that they are willing to promote sustainable 'seasonal' products; and they even sometimes offer nutritious recipes to cook from basic (and less basic) ingredients which are fresh and wholesome.

Now it is up to everyone to make sure they understand what is meant by all this.

For not the first time in this debate, much of the answer has to lie in education, in encouraging children to nurture living things; in making sure children know that food does not grow on supermarket shelves, and that they understand how the seasons can be harnessed to ensure a supply a healthy and varied diet.

The other obvious approach is helping people, wherever they live, sustain their own communities, to visit farmers' markets, and grow at least some of their own food, in allotments or by sharing back garden space, or even just in pots.

From little acorns do great oak trees grow, just as from modest ideas about strawberry pots or rows of peas and potatoes can the notion of seasonal food once again take its place in our understanding of a sustainable world.

Dreamspace Private View (Met Cathedral)  Maurice Agis 06.6.16 020.jpg The Dreamspace concept has become a nightmare for those involved in the tragedy today, which is so far from the intended outcome of the people who created it and sought to bring us happiness and enlightenment.

Dreamspace Private View (Met Cathedral)  Maurice Agis 06.6.16 011.jpg Dreamspace Private View (Met Cathedral)  Maurice Agis 06.6.16 007.jpg
The news earlier today that two people have died whilst visiting the Dreamspace installation is almost unbearable for anyone who experienced it as intended. For those who grieve it will be far beyond that sentiment - as, in a different way, it will be for those who created the idea and brought it to fruition.

Here was a wonderful idea, intended to bring happiness and a sense of well-being to those who came to experience it. I saw it whilst it was installed in Liverpool, right on the first day, before the deep unpleasantness of the incident with the young men who sought to damage it. Dreamspace is a huge concept, intended to mix beautiful light with music in an ever-changing interconnection with visitors who enter it, robed and shoe-less to increase the sense of unity with the idea itself. It is horrific to think that such a gentle sculpture could become so easily and mistakenly a place of disaster.

Art can never take priority over health and safety. It can never have priority over basic requirements for well-being. And nothing can be said to relieve the heartbreak and nightmare that for some Dreamspace has so unintentionally become. Perhaps however in the midst of this tragedy we will still know that there are artists, those who created Dreamspace amongst them, who seek sincerely to bring happiness and enlightment in their various ways to as many people as possible.

Eco- Solar (& scrabbled electric wire sockets) 06.7.15 002.jpg The very high temperatures in the U.K. this week should give us all pause for thought about global warming. One idea which might come from that is a realisation that there are many small ways in which energy conservation could be 'designed in' to our every day lives. Perhaps we should even have citizens' competitions to see who can come up with the best ideas?

We're in the middle of a really big heat wave, and all of a sudden everyone is thinking about climate change and sustainable energy resourcing. Now, to mix our metaphors, is the time to strike on this one, whilst the iron is hot.

Eco- fan 06.7.15 004.jpg Not a few of us find it strange that we have to use energy to stay cool at the moment - rather the reverse of the usual problem; and the more curious of us have also begun to consider the mechanisms and costs of that commodity, still quite rare in domsetic buildings in the U.K., the air conditioning system. There is apparently a risk that more widespread adoption of this much vaunted facility could wipe out any gains in energy conservation which we in the U.K. are beginning to make. It can give a boost to the economies of very warm places, as it did in the USA, but at serious cost to the planet itself.

Ways to save energy
Eco- Scrabbled electric wire sockets & table 06.7.15 004.jpg Eco-light & sensor 06.7.15 002.jpg There are many ways that everyone can do their bit to save the planet, and these days most of us are aware of at least some of them. I wonder however whether we could do a little extra, by thinking more collectively about 'designing in' some of these strategies... could we have wall panels in easily reachable places displaying the switches for our televisons and the like (thus perhaps ensuring that the machines are fully actually turned off when not in use)? Why aren't down-pipes automatically equipped with waterbutt linkage? What about individually operated small fans fitted as standard in most rooms of our homes, rather than hankering after complete air conditioning? Why aren't gardens normally furnished with composting facilities? Where is the normal facility for low lighting (solar-boosted of course) via photo-sensors in our porches and other similar areas?

Gripping the public imagination
These are just a very few ideas, and doubtless they have all already been taken up somewhere. What would be good now, however, is if we made these suggestions central to our way of thinking; and what better time to start than when for just a few days we begin to realise what 'global warming' really means? Somehow, we need to get everyone's imaginations gomg on this one. How about some sort of national competition or suggestion box?

Innovation Rewarded

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Hope Street & Mount Pleasant - RC Cathedral & Science Centre 06.7.15 003.jpg The 2006 Merseyside Innovation Awards gave some fascinating insights into current eco-product, bio-tech and uninhabited air vehicle developments; and they also offered food for thought about how innovators actually come to be practising their craft.

Some events are well worth the effort of turning up. The 2006 Final of the Merseyside Innovation Awards this week (on Thursday 13 July) was one of them.

The event was buzzing, with expectations high that we would all learn something of interest. And so it was, with three shortlisted Finalists from very different parts of the emerging techno-science markets.

Ecological products for the future
Eco- Delphis Cleaner 06.7.15.jpg The first presentation was from Delphis Industries Limited, a local Liverpool company. They have identified a strong market niche for eco- cleaning products (for masonry, stone etc.) which will not harm people or the environment, and which will meet the increasingly specific requirements of new health and safety legislation.

The talent in this company is very much 'home grown' and the ideas arose in the serendipity way that sometimes happens when business associates or friends meet up. Here, for all to see, were a small team of people who had spotted an opportunity which arose out of the blue, and had gone for it, combining their enthusiasm for ethical and environmental products and their ability to see an emerging market when one appeared.

The big bio-tech development
Next to make their presentation were Genial Genetic Solutions Limited (GGS). This is a rapidly growing company, employing staff at graduate level and beyond and at the sharp end of cytogenetics and related disciplines. Amongst the applications of the technology which they are developing is a much speedier response to the analysis of, for instance, cancer cell samples, so that appropriate medical treatments can be delivered as soon as possible.

We were told that orders are already coming in for the newly developed equipment, small enough to be housed in a normal laboratory, which will enable genetic assessments to be conducted much more quickly than in the past. At about £100,000 each these items are serious investments in the future of medical technology, and that is the part of the market which GGS is looking to.

An 'uninhabited air vehicle' idea from the 1930s
The fianl presentation was by Hoverwing Ltd. This is a prototype small, lightweight flying machine whcih can carry a camera to places normal airborne vehicals can't even attempt to reach. Apparently the idea has arisen from the lightweigt one-person aircraft developed in the 1930s (which, in the words of our presenter, had a nasty habit of seeing off their pilots) with a double wing which allows the aircraft to fly very slowly or even almost not at all, simply hovering above its intended viewing point.

This time round, however, there is no risk to the operator - who is safely ground-based with just a box to 'steer' the machine by; and because there are no chopper blades or other big and dangerous parts the camera can be taken much nearer to the action - people, animals, unsafe sites, inaccessible routes, film sets etc - than could previous air cameras. The scope for this in the media industry alone is said to be enormous.

Success by a head for the high-tech, high investment people
Liverpool Science Park (name) 06.7.15 008.jpg Liverpool  Science Park (& RC Cathedral behind)  06.7.15 011.jpg Any of these three companies would have been a worthy winner, but the eventual outcome favoured Genial Genetic Solutions Limited. Both the judging panel (which included Dr Sarah Tasker, Chief Executive of the new Liverpool Science Park and Edge Lane facility) and the audience chose GGS to win the cash prize of £10,000, with another £4,000 worth of legal, business and other consultancy and support. In some respects this was the most advanced and complex of the proposals on offer - no-one could claim the science was simple - so it was good to see this complexity and excellence acknowledged so publicly.

And the other two Finalists also gained considerable encouragement and solace, with 30% each of the audience vote at least.

These were three great ideas, all delivered to the judges and audience with directness and enthusiasm. They each addressed real commercial opportunities, by developing cutting edge technology for general benefit alongside business aims. All had required perseverance and much investment on the part of everyone involved.

Some sound advice for innovators
To my mind, however, the last word must come from the presenter for Hoverwing. Do not, he advised, imagine, because an idea seems good, that 'they' have already tried and tested it and perhaps found it lacking. However long the idea may have been around, 'they' may not have done anything about it at all.

There often is no 'they', there may well be only 'you'. So just keep going....

Which in itself is not a bad idea to take away from an Innovation Award event.

Camera & stand 06.7.30 002.jpg This weblog has just become a photo blog. In the past week or so several of the postings have gained an extra full-colour visual dimension. It may take a while yet, but hopefully in due course your aspirant photoblogger will get around to visuals for most of these postings.

There has been something of a lull in up-front activity on this site for the past few days. Never fear, however, there is no lack of action behind the scenes.

Photographer photo'd (H) 06.7.12.jpg Truth is, I've been learning how to put photos on my website; and my excellent and long-suffering web designer, Nick Prior, has been doing his best to teach me by 'distance learning' (i.e. down a phone line..... ).

You, The Reader, and Nick can be the judges, but I think I've got the hang of it now - it's like weblinks only fancier, because you usually have to change the size of the photo too (otherwise anyone without good broadband would have to wait ages for the download).

My first photoblog efforts
So now we have quite a few articles / postings with their very own pictures. Please take a look at my photographic efforts to date (all my own shots). Themes covered in this first week include: Sefton Park birds, Sefton Park development plans, Wavertree Botanic Gardens, Big Science and the new localism, Minako and Ian's lovely 'international' wedding, and life with a violin and its owner.

There will, I hope, be more before too long. Your comments are welcome - and please watch this space....

Hope Street - Suitcases, Mark Simpson & Hilary 06.7.17 009.jpg Mark Simpson, BBC Young Musician of the Year, may be only seventeen but his musical achievements are breathtaking. Performer, composer and general enthusiast for all things musical, Mark demonstrates yet again that musical talent cannot be stereotyped. As ever, it will find its own way forward.

Mark Simpson 06.7.17 010.jpg It's always good to hear about the successes of local young people; and the musician Mark Simpson's recent very good news couldn't have happened to a nicer chap. We've known him for a few years now, as a young student clarinettist who plays in the annual HOTFOOT 'community festival' concert on Liverpool's Hope Street, and as a frequent visitor to the Philharmonic Hall. He has a ready smile and he's always willing just to get on making the music with everyone who wants to join him.

Imagine then how thrilled we were on 20 May, when Mark - to his surprise I suspect more than anyone else's - was announced by Marin Alsop on live television as BBC Young Musician of the Year. Here was a young performer from Liverpool who has grown up just like many other youngsters in the city, attending a local state school (King David's High, which nonetheless does offer a particular emphasis on music) and studying with local teachers - including of course Nicholas Cox, who is Principal Clarinet with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a tutor at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Multiple talent
Not content with his performance triumph, Mark has also recently gained attention as a genuinely talented composer, as one of the winners of the 2006 Guardian / BBC Proms Young Composers competition. Unsurprisingly, one of the ensembles he writes for is 10/10, the RLPO new music group led by his tutor, Nick Cox.

Here we have a blazing new talent, an 'ordinary' young person who has taken himself far away from the ordinary, raring to go on new works (he even wrote his own piece to perform in the semi-final of the BBC Young Musician contest) and enthusiastic for anything his musical future can throw at him: 'I'm not just a clarinettist. I'm a composer. I want to conduct. I want to write about music. I want to start orchestras.....' Wonderful, and no doubt in Mark's case achievable, ambitions for a cheery seventeen year old.

Where is 'classical' music taking us?
Mark has something else to add however. He says, 'It annoys me so much that classical music is pigeonholed as something aristcratic and uptight, snobby and above itself. Ultimately things will have to change, because once the current group of concertgoers are dead, no one will be listening.'

Hopefully in this he hits the spot less accurately. Mark's music and enthusiasm is patent; one would like to think it's catching. His concerns however are not entirely new. Great orchestras such as the RLPO have always had their share of young aspirant players, including numbers from the most 'ordinary' backgrounds imaginable. Some of these people have had to fight every inch of the way to achieve their ambition to become fine performers; and some despair of the fuddy-duddy, class-ridden ways of much 'classical' music. Often they are right to feel like this. Sometimes they leave and go off to alternative careers or to other areas of music because of it.

Many of the best musicians however, take the course which Mark has so far chosen - they appreciate for what it is the truly amazing opportunity, the 'licence', which their instrumental talent gives them to perform the great works of the classical orchestral repertoire (Mark is also a member of the National Youth Orchestra); and at the same time they seek other ways also to explore their gift.

Some 'classical' musicians compose, some teach, some create their own small ensembles and play music of their personal choosing across and within many genres, classical, western-european and otherwise. And in all these activities musicians of the highest calibre can reach their various audiences, nurturing young people into music as school children, coaching them as students, performing in community and local venues for those too busy, restricted, shy or elderly to attend the great concert halls - and then still demonstrating, in full-scale symphonic performances to all who want to hear and feel it, the might of a great 'classical' orchestra in its entirety.

A great history and a challenging future
In all these activities the life of a professional classical musician is not that different from his or her predecessors at any time from about Joseph Haydn or Mozart on, a quarter of a millennium ago.

One of the gifts of a classical training, wherever it takes you, is that it provides a rigour and capacity to learn, construct, and in turn to teach. The challenge for classical musicians in our own times is to adapt this capability in such a way as to capture the imagination of potential audiences, and to 'engage' people who demand an instant response and are often not prepared to tolerate things just because that's how they have been in the past.

The contexts are new, but in some ways it was ever thus. Music is not an easy profession. But talents such as Mark Simpson's, nurtured by outstanding artists like Nicholas Cox, make me hopeful that the future is in fact very bright.

See more articles on Music, Musicians & Orchestras.

CoC badge (Community) 06.7.39 004.jpg Robyn Archer's resignation, announced today, as artistic director of Liverpool's Culture Company leaves many questions about what the 2007 and 2008 celebrations are actually intended to achieve. Acknowledging this simple reality would help a great deal in making progress.

So the first question everyone's asking is, Why? Why has Robyn Archer, after in reality such a brief sojourn in Liverpool, decided that Liverpool's 2007 & 2008 events are not for her?

Only Ms Archer can answer that, of course, and she is unlikely to add much to her media statement that it's for 'personal reasons'. (Well, yes, but that could mean many things to many people.)

In the meantime, the question I would still really like to see a proper response to - and which I asked Robyn Archer directly on one of the very few occasions when I actually encountered her - is this:

By what criteria will we know that Liverpool's 2007 and 2008 celebrations have been a success?

The fundamental question for Capital of Culture
Hope Street Refurb end - notice 06.7.15 001.jpg There may well be more than one sensible response, but perhaps - who knows? - it was partly a lack of clarity in various quarters about this fundamental question which provoked the latest departure. (Some of us recall that the very first 2008 lead director also departed Liverpool, almost before he'd unpacked his bags.) Perhaps there are multiple possible answers - to renew and regenerate our city, to promote and celebrate communities, even, just maybe, to bolster 'cultural' activities as such - but no-one seems able to offer a definitive and widely agreed response.

Whether or not it bothered Robyn Archer, this question continues very much to worry me. There still seems to be a confusion in the minds of some local people about the difference between Excellence and Elitism, between the absolutely correct requirement that Liverpool's cultural celebrations include as many local citizens from as many different communities as possible, and the frankly silly idea that anything which is, as they say, 'artistically challenging' is also somehow inappropriate in this city.

The real cultural challenge
How are we as citizens together to grow in our understanding of art, music, dance, drama, or anything else, if we are afraid to take it to people who haven't encountered it much as yet?

Of course people should be offered and involved in artistic activities which engage them directly - 'community education' projects and so forth - but somehow we also have to encourage them to see that there is much more than that too.

The courage to offer leadership
At present, it feels as though those - and there certainly are several, on the Culture Company Board amongst other places - who are willing and able to promote the idea that we gain more from cultural experience when we permit it to challenge us - are being outnumbered by those who, to use the old metaphor, play to the gallery of small town politics.

The real issue is cultural and civic leadership. Liverpool will be a city fit for the 21st century when the local powers-that-be are ready to acknowledge not only how far we have already travelled, but also how much further there is to go before we can really call ourselves a Capital of Culture in the sense that most other European cities understand that term.

Then, perhaps, we won't have to rely on the wonderful goodwill of just those seasoned artistic directors who show a commitment to Liverpool well beyond the call of professional duty. Only then will the lure of Liverpool to the international cultural community be irresistible.