November 2006 Archives

Laptop (small).jpgThere are now two hundred 'article' postings on this website. Over the past year the style has changed and so has the emphasis. Are we, as Tim Berners-Lee has said, at the beginning of the 'second generation' of web-logging - perhaps a phase in which not only the technicals but also the social networks will change fundamentally? This journey takes us from CERN all the way to Six Apart.

It's always difficult to recall what things looked like when one's been involved in them for a while; and for me, this weblog is no exception to the rule. There are some two hundred posted blogs on this website now, and the terrain has changed.

Certainly, we can all see that the 'product' is now sometimes crisper and often more colourful (in the literal sense..) than the original, but that's different from remembering what it felt like when I embarked on this adventure.

Perhaps on reflection what intuitively attracted me to web-logging is the idea of universal space which, as long as we remember the 'rules' of sensible evidence and behaviour, we can all share and use together.

Anyway, I'm glad that I decided to go ahead with my weblog / journal.

Thinking things through
I've mentioned before how I feel that writing about things in this quite abbreviated (for me) way is helpful in getting my thoughts together, and how I enjoy taking the photographs and finding appropriate books to illustrate and animate my text. This, to my mind, is much more interesting than just a quick blast at something and a half-finished comment without back-up.

And now, fifteen years after Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web (WWW), I am reading that others too are getting into web-logging in a more formal way. It seems that a lot of web-writers (if that's what we are) are beginning to acknowledge that there's something to be said, as Berners-Lee also emphasises, for using weblogs to make the 'argument' as well as just the odd comment.

More structured debate
Good. I always hoped that weblogs like mine could become the focus of debate amongst people who have thoughtful things to say. I don't mind at all if someone disagrees with what I say, as long as they can back up their argument with reasons, and can also recognise why I / others have adopted whatever position is in dispute. That's how we all learn.

It would be a disaster if the WWW became, as its inventor and many others fear, a place simply of scurrilous half-truths or worse - though I recognise of course that sometimes news and views have to emerge in roundabout ways, and the WWW is ideal for this strategy where it's needed.

But in the end, something which can't be substantiated is often of less value than something that can. That's why in academia we have peer-review, referees and gatekeepers, to ensure the quality of published work. (Yes, I know that process sometimes backfires, but reasoned and / or evidence-based debate is fundamentally still a good, positive way to proceed.)

Everyone can have a say
So now we have Wikipedia ('What I Know Is...'), first launched in the original English version on 15 January 2001, and other recent e-inventions which allow everyone a say - on the condition that they don't mind being challenged or put right if someone else thinks that should happen. The pros and cons of how successful Wikipedia can be remain to be seen, but the admirable concept behind the idea is now established.

This is knowledge democracy in action, open to all. In a way it's the dialectic of learning by discussing - a method previously available to those of us who went on to higher education, but less so to everyone else. Now virtually everyone who wants to can find out about things and join in the discussion. How much better is that?

Business, commercial and community, too
Nor ultimately does it matter that interactive blogging is becoming a business and commercial activity, as well as a voluntary one; either way, people are connecting. The massive market leaders, companies like YouTube, MySpace and Flickr, have their part to play in the engagement process, as do the newly e-friendly business interests which now offer interactive websites - BT amongst them.

Of course there are issues around the strategies used for 'fooling' the search engines, so that certain names and topics rise to the top of the list; but that probably applies as much, say, to film and book sales as to the web itself. (My own website designer, Nick Prior, offers a valuable insight into how search engine interest can be attracted legitimately.)

And now we have an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) report telling us that smaller community groups should do the same. I think they're right. The more ideas are shared, the better. Being on the WWW doesn't, after all, preclude also being on the radar of the local newspaper or even just the local gossip.

But still there are people, such those discussed in Mike Ion's blog, who doubt the web has relevance to the lives of others 'in the community'.

'Good' weblogs vs 'bad' ones
The race is now on between those who could damage the good intent of Tim Berners-Lee, who gave us all the WWW for free because he believed it should be available to everyone, and the rest of us, who admire this generosity and vision.

Very few can achieve a great impact in going for a positive future for the WWW, but it's nonetheless an ambition for many of us in our own small, often minutely small, ways to do what we can. The more people 'connect' in this activity, the better, as far as I can see. And don't just ask me. Look at the way innovations like Mena Trott's Six Apart (which 'owns' the Moveable Type facility which I'm using here) are developing....

Agree only this...
This is just the beginning of what could be a very long debate. Being 'accessible' may not mean being 'free at the point of delivery'; that could even become impossible if there is to be any proper regulation of quality - without which access is in any case of little value. Nor does a new emphasis on social connection eclipse the technical aspects of the semantic web and e-intelligence. These are critically important matters for future consideration.

For now the only thing we have to agree to agree about as a general principle is, as Berners-Lee says, that "We're not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do.....The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space."

Hope Street Farmers' Market 06.11.19 (small).jpgThe regular calendar of Farmers' Markets in Hope Street has at last begun. From now on the third Sunday every month is scheduled as Market Day for Hope Street Quarter. Farmers' Markets are something different to look forward to: a great day out for adults and children alike, with fun opportunities to learn where our food comes from and who grows it.

H.St. Farmers Market 2.jpgAfter a false start in October, yesterday was the long-awaited commencement of the regular calendar [see schedule at the end of this article] of Hope Street Farmers' Markets. At last, with luck, we have lift-off, and not a moment too soon.

And we were incredibly lucky with the weather, brilliant sunshine for the duration, not even really cold. The atmosphere of the event was cheerful and relaxed, just the right ambiance for a happy family Sunday outing - though I have to say I was surprised just how few children were actually around....

It's really good to see the grown-ups enjoying themselves in such a time-honoured and positive way, but are we missing a bit of a trick here if we don't bring the kids? Perhaps someone will begin now to think how this could be an occasion for them as well. It's not often the opportunity arises naturally in the city centre for youngsters to meet people who have themselves grown the food and prepared the produce displayed before us.

Varied and fresh
H.St.Farmers Market 7 (veg).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 8 (cheese).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 10 (romanesca cauliflower).jpgHaving said that, here was produce for everyone. Vegetable and fruit - including a variety of cauliflower (romanesca, a brassica with stunning tiny, spiral green florets) that I'd never seen before - plus cheeses, food of all sorts to eat right now, and much else, including candles and preserves for the coming festive season. Judging from the public response, everyone loves this sort of browsing and shopping.

One of the many attractions of farmers' markets is that much of this produce had been grown or made by the actual people who were selling it - not a connection which is often so direct these days, when much of what we buy comes shrink-wrapped and complete with a fair number of attached food miles.

H.St.Farmers Market 4 (.Xmas).jpgH.St.Farmers Market 5 (preserves).jpgThis was an opportunity for locally-based people to purvey their wares; hand-made goods and food which may well still have been in the field a few hours before.

Trading busily
H.St.Farmers Market 6 (Farmers).jpgThe people running the stalls were pleased to be there, trade was brisk. I suspect that over time the current size of the market will grow considerably, if the regulations allow - already it stretches all the way along the Hope Street wall of Blackburne House.

We know of course that, locals though some of the growers and sellers may be, Geraud Markets, the organisation behind the venture, is big business; but someone has to organise all the detailed arrangements which these events entail. It seems Geraud now have a contract with Liverpool Council to do just that on several sites around the city.

Knowing more and feeling good
That however is only part of the story. This is the sort of enjoyable meeting-friends event that offers, especially, young people in the city a chance to see that fruit and vegetables don't of necessity arrive covered in plastic.H.St. Farmers Market 14 (Minako).jpg

It gives us a feel, too, for seasonal food. It reminds us, walking out in the open air as we make our purchases, that there is a cycle to things; we can eat for a whole year without bringing produce from across the world, should we decide to do avoid doing so. We can be 'eco-', and enjoy, at the same time.

The market reminds us about nutritional quality - seeing produce presented so directly perhaps also helps us to think more carefully about what we are actually eating. Of course, food sold in supermarkets can also be fresh and nutritious - canned can be as good as 'fresh' - but the connection with its production is less overt.

Encouraging a healthy life-style
H.St. Farmers Market 15 (children).jpgBy a strange co-incidence, just today there have been articles in the local Daily Post about vegetables and health -the local Primary Care Trust has a Taste for Health campaign -and The Guardian, which offers thoughts by Zoe Williams on 'Vegetables and how to survive them').

Liverpool people have the worst health in England and we owe it to our children to make sure their diet is as good as it can possibly be, encouraging them to understand the connection between what they eat and where it comes from. How better could we do it than by bringing them to a farmers' market where they can see for themselves what it's all about?

Liverpool City Council have contracted with Geraud to provide farmers' markets. Perhaps they can now follow the example of the authorities in continental Europe (where Geraud began) such as Valencia and Aix-en-Provence, where, as I have seen for myself, the local markets make children really welcome?

It would do us all good, in every sense of the word.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Calendar of Geraud Farmers' Markets in Liverpool [subject to change, please contact to check as below]:
Monument Place Farmers' Market (Lord Street) ~ Every 1st & 3rd Saturday of the month
Lark Lane Farmers' Market ~ Every 4th Saturday of the month
Hope Street Farmers' Market (Blackburne House end) ~ Every 3rd Sunday of the month

Other Geraud Markets in Liverpool
Broadway (Indoor) Monday ~ Saturday
Garston ~ Friday
Great Homer Street ~ Saturday
Monument Place ~ Thursday, Friday & Saturday
Speke ~ Thursday
St Johns' (Indoor) Monday ~ Saturday
Tuebrook ~ Thursday & Saturday
Toxteth ~ Tuesday
For more information contact: 0151 233 2165 /

Garston Camel 06 (small) 70x124.jpg Garston is rather unfashionable part of Liverpool's hinterland - which hasn't stopped Alex Corina and others from campaigning for an arts village, complete with massive festive camel designed by local schoolchildren.

The Garston Christmas Camel 2006 480x378.jpg

Liverpool behind Bold Street (small).jpg A conference supported with public money on the sustainable development of a city region is obviously a matter of considerable public interest. It needs, therefore, also to be a conference in which deliberative democracy plays a part, and in which the diversity of all those ultimately involved is acknowledged. It also needs to support easy accessibility in terms of attendance and recorded output.
A Conference Diversity Index is being developed on this website to see how well these requirements are met by conferences such as this.

I have already written on this weblog (and in New Start magazine) about my intention to develop a Conference Diversity Index. I have also shared my concern on this site about how Liverpool, perhaps even more than other places, is a location where local women in visibly influential positions are not the norm.

How can organisations, conferences, presentations which concern public life and which involve public money (for instance, public sector attendance or speakers) offer maximum value when those actually involved do not at all reflect the composition of the population they seek to consider?

Is diversity essential for policy-making?
* How can genuinely wider engagement occur at a meaningful level when those most visible all reflect the power and influence of only one part of the population?

* How can the understandings and experience of everyone be seen to be respected in such circumstances?

* How can we be at all sure that the decisions taken in the wake of these events offer best value for money when only small parts of the diversity even those well qualified to speak whose lives will be affected have been visibly involved?

What follows is a first attempt at a case study to arrive at possible answers to some of these questions. In it I have tried to establish the extent to which the conference addresses matters of public interest, and compared that with the extent to which it acknowledges issues of diversity of experience and accessibility of outcomes, awarding up to five 'stars' for good value.

Conference themes
The Sustainable Development of the Liverpool City Region event is a one-day 'strategic' conference organised by the Waterfront Conference Company of London, at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Liverpool on 5th December 2006.

The conference concerns 'how Liverpool and Merseyside can develop sustainability', discussing strategic development issues, removing the barriers to development, gateways to Liverpool and Merseyside and transport links, and getting the most from leadership structures.

>> Merseyside remains an area where there is considerable poverty, where fewer women , working class males and people from ethnic minorities have high educational qualifications and / or well-paid employment, where public transport is a critical issue (fewer car-owning families), where health is a challenging issue, where there are very few women at the most senior levels of local public life and decision-making.

>> Diversity of experience and role models is therefore a central concern.

Score for relevance to public issues: ***** [5 stars out of a possible maximum of 5]

13 speakers, all well-known in their fields, are listed in the brochure. 12 of them are male. Liverpool is not the professional base of the only female speaker.

>> This gender distribution does not remotely reflect the distribution on men and women living and working in the 'Liverpool City Region' - or, indeed, the country as a whole. Nor does the list of speakers reflect any evident ethnic or community diversity.

>> Discussions of sustainable futures, encouraging businesses, transport, environmental 'friendliness', 'barriers to development' and the like are all issues concerning everyone. These are not issues which can only be addressed at high levels by white males, however impressive their particular expertise.

>> The list of speakers (as opposed one hopes to the content of the speakers' talks) offers no positive role model, or encouragement, for most people in Liverpool, to the view that their experience and opinions count.

Score for diversity of speakers: - [No stars out of a maximum of 5: fewer than 20% of the speakers are not white males.]

Attendees and fees
Those who 'should' attend include private investors, local authority, regional and national public servants through to 'environmental and other pressure groups'. Fees for these various categories are respectively £468.83, £351.33 and £233.83. It is however possible to purchase the CD-Rom of the conference papers alone for £179.19.

>> Large numbers of those attending can be expected to be public officials, or involved in financial dealings in the public domain. They must pay quite a lot of money frm the public purse to attend (and to be paid their publicly-funded salaries for their day's work as attenders).

>> The reduced rate is too high for most local and community bodies to become involved; and the cost of the CD-Rom is, frankly, exhorbitant.

Score for accessibility: ** [2 stars out of a maximum of 5 : There is a reduced rate for voluntary bodies, and at least a CD-Rom is available, and therefore potentially accessible somehow.]

Overall score
We have seen that this conference is about issues of central importance to Liverpool and Merseyside. It addresses matters which concern everyone. Yet it offers no acknowledgement of diversity of experience, and little in the way of accessibility in respect of outcomes. Significant opportunities to lead by engagement and personal example have here been lost.

I therefore award this conference an overall diversity value score of ONE STAR out of a possible five.

Martin Anthony Burrage

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Martin Anthony (Tony) Burrage Martin Anthony Burrage ('Tony') is a classically trained violinist, pianist, teacher and music animateur. After graduation from the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Training Orchestra, in 1971 he joined the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he remains a proud member. Founder and Director of Ensemble Liverpool, Live-A-Music and Elegant Music, Tony is a keen chamber musician, especially committed to engaging audiences and to the work of black British composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor.

Martin Anthony Burrage LRAM, GRSM, ARAM, known to his friends and colleagues as 'Tony', is director of the Liverpool-based music groups Elegant Music, Ensemble Liverpool and Live-A-Music, which he founded in 1993. Live-A-Music (chronologically the first of this trio of flexibly instrumented ensembles) is a not-for-profit group dedicated to musical activities in the community, often in schools and other venues such as local churches and halls.

Chamber music and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Ensemble Liverpool arose later, from the work of Live-A-Music, and is a more formal group which performs full 'classical' recitals, again often in informal settings. Some of these recitals include music by composers such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose Piano Quintet Opus 1 Tony realised for performance in 2001 from a copy of the original handwritten full score which he had located after much enquiry in the library of the Royal College of Music, in London. This intention to establish Coleridge-Taylor's reputation is on-going.

The first-ever known recording of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Piano Quintet, using Tony's realisation of the original score, was made from a performance, probably also the first in living memory, by his chamber group Ensemble Liverpool (then known as Live-A-Music) in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall at a public recital on 7 November 2001. The artists for this concert were Andrew Berridge (violin), Martin Anthony Burrage (violin), Joanna Lacey (viola), Michael Parrott ('cello) and John Peace (piano).

Tony has also continued his work exploring the chamber music of lesser-known English speaking composers, e.g. in the 2002 Three Choirs Festival Fringe recitals entitled Across the Divide (music by Amy Beach, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, William Hurlstone, Dame Ethel Smyth and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford) and more recently as short interludes in HOTFOOT concert programmes. His interest in these musicians can be traced back to his study at the Academy of the Elgar Violin Concerto and his induction into orchestral life by that luminary of English music, Sir Charles Groves, who himself appointed Tony (then aged just 23) to his position in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Elegant Music, Tony's other group, is a micro-business with only fully professional performers, delivering high quality music for entertainment and relaxed enjoyment at social and corporate functions and other celebratory events.

Teaching and music in the community
Tony as worked with many youth music ensembles, including early experience as a Royal Academy of Music Junior Exhibitioners coach, and later as Senior String Tutor and Conductor of the Liverpool Youth Orchestra. In 1973 he attended the first Suzuki Violin Workshops in Britain, given by Dr Shinicki Suzuki himself.

Now, alongside his performing duties, a busy member of the RLPO Education and Participation team, Tony is the Phil's 'adopted musician' in a local Liverpool school. He has also worked for the Phil in a variety of community settings, including Sure Start, with very young children - one of whom, not having previously enountered many bearded men, decided he was Father Christmas...

Tony is also Director for HOPES: The Hope Street Association of the HOPES Festival Orchestra, which he founded and which, with his colleague Richard Gordon-Smith, he has developed to perform annually in the HOTFOOT on Hope Street concert in Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall.

Tony's involvement in working 'in the community' and with children stems back to his days in the 1960s as an undergraduate tutor for Junior Exhibitioners at the Royal Academy of Music, and even before then. He says:

I feel I can identify with some of the children I teach in Liverpool's inner-city schools.

At a time in my own childhood when my family's circumstances were extremely testing, my parents - neither of them with any musical training - made heroic efforts to ensure I had the opportunity to learn the violin and piano.

I grew up in the 1950s, in a Midlands new town post-war council estate, and I didn't go to the grammar school. But when I was about eleven a group of instrumentalists from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) came to play to us, and I knew immediately that being an orchestral musician was what I wanted to do. I can still remember telling my startled mother about this ambition, when I got home from school!

My musical education, until I reached my ultimate dream of the Royal Academy of Music, was thanks to the Worcestershire County Schools Music Service, Bromsgrove Technical College (to which I bicycled ten miles every weekday for two years) and the determination of my mother that I should have the instrumental lessons I so wanted.

I learned way back then from my own personal experience that classical music can be for everyone who is given the opportunity to enjoy it.

Married since they were both students in London, Tony and his wife Hilary have subsequently been active in the cultural life of Liverpool for many years. They have a daughter, Anna, who herself now lives with her own family in London.

Working with professional colleagues
Tony has a long-time interest in world music, and has performed regularly with jazz / crossover musicians such as Surinder Sandhu (with whom he and others formed the celebrated Saurang Orchestra) and with classical Indian vocalist Sumitra Guha.

Amongst his other music profession related roles, Tony has been Chair of the NW Region of the Musicians' Union; he has a strong on-going interest in the health of performing artists.

Tony has performed across the length and breadth of the UK - from London's South Bank and the Royal Albert Hall to the Usher Hall in Edinburgh - and also in many others of the world's great concert halls, including the Vienna Musikverein, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Dvorak and Smetana Halls in Prague, in most central and southern European capital city concert halls, and in major concert halls in the Far East.

Tony estimates that he has over his career so far spent about 90,000 hours playing the violin, and has been an artist in some 300 radio, TV, film, LP and CD recordings. His television appearances include many BBC Proms, as well as the Christmas 2007 BBC live broadcast of the Liverpool Nativity, in which Tony was an on-stage performer. Film credits, also in his violin playing role, include Hilary and Jackie (1998, with screen play Frank Cottrell Boyce - the tragic story of cellist Jacqueline du Pre, some of it filmed in Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall) and the similarly acclaimed film, Chariots of Fire (1981, written by Colin Welland, about the true story of British athletes in the 1924 Olympics) for which the ballroom scene was shot in Liverpool Town Hall.

Tony's concert violin - a beautiful reddish varnished instrument, made in Paris in 1895 by H.C. Silvestre - has been his constant companion since college days. He studied the piano (joint first study with the violin) at the Royal Academy of Music with Joan Last, and his violin teachers over the years have included Molly Mack, Leonard Hirsch, Emanuel Hurwitz, Frederick Grinke, Peter Mountain and Leland Chen.

Tony's first string quartet, formed whilst at the BBC Training Orchestra in Bristol, was tutored by members of the Amadeus String Quartet.

In 2001 Tony was honoured to be made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, the first such award to be granted by the RAM for contributions to music in the community.

Contact emails: Martin Anthony (Tony) Burrage; Ensemble Liverpool; Elegant Music; Live-A-Music.

Read more articles about The Music and about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Impressions Of Prague

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Prague arch (small).jpgPrague is much more than a 'great city'; it is testament to a people who have within easy living memory overcome enormous odds. When this is combined with the depth of history and the spectacular cultural vistas of the city, Prague becomes irresistible. Yet, to thrive in the twenty-first century Prague must also take in its stride challenges of a very contemporary kind - the influx of a myriad visitors and of modern investment capital. Perhaps lessons might be learnt from experience elsewhere.

I've been to Prague quite a few times in the past decade or so.

Prague Our Lady of Tyn.jpgMy first few visits were in the company of musicians in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, who have a very real relationship with that city - the Orchestra's Conductor Laureate is Libor Pesek KBE, the feted international maestro who over the years has done such great things with his Liverpool colleagues. The RLPO, with Pesek, was the first-ever non-Czech orchestra to open the famous Prague Spring Festival.

And then, more recently, I have visited Prague on my own as part of my work with European Renaissance, which of course brought a whole new perspective to my experience. So I've now seen a little of Prague through the eyes both of artists and of business people. What good fortune.

So much to see and learn
Prague at night 28.9-3.10.2005 012.jpgThis is a city I could never tire of. As I've learned to navigate Prague's historic heart I've realised you could explore forever - always the mark of a great capital city. First, one finds the physical place, where things lie; and then the depth of history and culture starts slowly to unfold. Why is that statue there? Why did that building survive, but not the one next to it? What's the story behind this type of trade or that kind of cultural offering?

There are things which will always stay in one's mind: The enormity of Staromestske Nam, the beautiful cobbled old town square, which has seen such extrordinary events over the centruries. The dramatic beauty of adjoining Tynsky Chram, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, backed by its intimate piazza cafes and boutiques. The fact that Vaclavske Namesti, Wencelas Square, scene of the Velvet Revolution, is in reality a central shopping boulevard with Narodni Muzeum, the striking National Museum, towering above that boulevard at its furthest point from the river.

Then there's the majesty of Katedrala Sv. Vita, St. Vitus' Cathedral, and the attached area of Prazsky Hrad, the Castle, approached from the old town via the Vltava River (Moldau) over Karlov Most, Charles Bridge. How could one not be eternally taken with all this?

Living heritage
Prague Dvorak Hall.jpgAll these splendours unfold before you even get to the ancient Josafov (Jewish Quarter), huddled, heart-achingly small, down near the river and the Rudulfinum with its Dvorakova Sin, the Dvorak Concert Hall, home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Nor, on this 'virtual tour', have you yet seen the great triangular Obecni Dum (Municipal House, with its concert halls, including the Smetana Hall, home of the Prague Symphony Orchestra), at the other end of the historic quarter.

Nor indeed, until you have crossed back across Charles Bridge with its painters and jewellers, then travelling on high up to the Castle once more, have you viewed the contrast from the mighty symphonic halls which is found in the tiny, ancient, craft workshops of Zlata Ulicka (Golden Lane).

All these venues are alive with artists and artisans exercising their skills much as they might have done some centuries ago.

Big changes
Prague street art - ceramic.jpgPrague street art - horses.jpgPrague is nonetheless a modern city, changing all the time. It has lost its grey, concrete sadness, imposed for so long by the Soviet authorities, in favour of a cosmopolitan , almost festive, demeanour. Now the city centre is bedecked by art works of all sorts, some of them huge and eye-catching if not always demure.

Nothing illustrates these changes better than Duta Hlava, the Architects' Club situated by Betlemska Kaple in Betlemska Nam (Bethlehem Chapel and Square) in the Stare Mesto, the Old Town. The first time I encountered this underground cafe-restaurant was a decade or more ago; the best way to descibe it then would have been 'bohemian'.

When we last dined there, fairly recently, it could have been described, instead, as suffering from its own success: it was much smarter, heaving with well-heeled people (the students seemed to have migrated elsewehere) and the serving staff were stretched to the limit.

Commercial vs. nostalgia?
And much the same applies to the commecial and retail centre of Prague, based around Wenceslas Square. More cyncially savvy commentators may deplore the arrival in the Czech Republic of Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and Tesco, but these surely are seen by others as indicators of the business coming-of-age of this extraordinary country.

To compete and develop in the international market Prague needs these stores, as indeed they need Prague. There is no doubt that the citizens of Prague will need to keep their wits about them as they emerge even more into the gaze of international capital and all that comes with it. But the costs of not doing so, especially in a state where until so recently the autonomy of the market did not (officially) exist, would be unthinkable to most.

Here is a city on the move but with its heritage very largely still intact. Long may it stay so.

Challenges and opportunities
Prague cranes.jpgMuch of what Prague offers is priceless. With care, even more of it could be. As in other cities - Liverpool in the U.K. amongst them - there are opportunities which as yet have not been fully grasped. These include a reliably consistent level of delivery, especially in some public services.

But Prague has the huge advantage of having seen how other European cities have dealt (or not) with such challenges. No two situations are identical, but there is enough commonality in the scenarios to learn the lessons, one city from another.

The uniqueness of Prague lies elsewhere, in the very heart of this capital city. That is what Prague must defend and develop for itself.

This article is also published (as 'Prague: The Must-See Western European City') on the European Renaissance website.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Free Enterprise Moves East: Doing Business from Prague to Vladivostok

Hope Street Liverpool (RC Catholic) Cathedral spires Sometimes the sun seems to beam right along Liverpool's Hope Street as though it had a special route to the heart of the city. When dark clouds lie behind the Cathedral, the effect of this noonday shaft of light is dazzling.

06.11.09 Liverpool Metropolitan (RC  Catholic) Cathedral of Christ the King

See more photos of Liverpool's Cathedrals and celebrating communities on Hope Street href="">here [Liverpool's Two Cathedrals] and below....

Read more about Hope Street Quarter.

Information on Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral is available here.

Hope Street & Liverpool Metropolitan (RC Catholic) Cathedral 06.10.01

Hope Street (Brouhaha dance performance, Liverpool Metropolitan (RC Catholic) Cathedral steps & lighting) 06.07.28

Hope Street 'Suitcase' steps LIPA, to Liverpool (RC Catholic) Cathedral 06.10.01

HOPES: The Hope Street Association ~ Millennium Festival Launch Italian Flagthrowers on steps of Liverpool Metropolitan (RC Catholic) Cathedral 2000.06.09

See also photgraphs at Calendar & Camera and Liverpool (Anglican) Cathedral.

Liverpool%20ferris%20wheel%20%26%20tower%20%28small%29.jpgLiverpool is excitedly preparing for its big years in 2007 (the city's 800th anniversary) and 2008 (the European Capital of Culture year). With such a long and dramatic history of diaspora, who knows what the city will be like by the end of the celebrations? The scope for enterprise - both in Liverpool and by other cities and regions - to build relationships across Europe and beyond is enormous.

Liverpool%20FACT.jpgBBC Radio 3 hosted a fascinating Free Thinking event in Liverpool's FACT building last weekend, with presentations, discussions and performances by an impressively eclectic array of debaters and artists. And, perhaps appositely, the very next day the City launched its initial plans for the 2008 European Capital of Culture year.

One of the sessions at the BBC event focussed on the question, ‘Is Liverpool an English city?’. ‘Everyone in the country knows Liverpool is special – and unique,’ says the blurb, ‘but do they secretly mean it’s “unenglish"?'

Sadly, I couldn’t be at the debate, but it’s an interesting question – and one that, although I’ve lived in Liverpool for over three decades, I’d find difficult to answer. All of us have only one shot at life, so comparisons are difficult, but is it usual for people who have been resident in a place for over a third of a century still to be asked where they ‘come from’?

Ports are meeting places for the world
Working up the hill, away from the ports in the education and cultural sectors, it actually took me a while to realise that for some of my fellow citizens, Liverpool’s maritime history is the city’s autograph feature. Indeed, until the Heseltine interventions in the 1980s it was not even possible really to see much of that history. At least the reclamation of the southern docks for retail and leisure use (the Tate Gallery and Maritime Museum are situated there) helped us to see what an important port Liverpool was – and in fact still is, for freight rather than passengers.

So Liverpool is cosmopolitan in a particular way. In the mid-eighteenth century that one port was involved with 40% of the world’s trade. Liverpool is therefore home to many whose predecessors reached the city by sea, or who in some cases had intended to travel onwards, but halted when they got this far.

We have communities of several generations from the Caribbean and parts of Africa, from China (Liverpool’s China town is a large and important feature of the city) and the Indian sub-continent, who travelled from the West; and, from Eastern and Central Europe, reached us from the East. With these historic influxes has come of plethora of religious and cultural understandings – Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Orthodox and many others.

Ireland and Continental Western Europe
What is less evident in our overt cultural mix is the direct influence of Southern Europe – though it is certainly there, especially in the sometimes overarching ethos of Roman Catholicism and Southern Ireland (Eire). And then there is the strongly Protestant Orange Order influence of Northern Ireland (Ulster), whose descendants in Liverpool, like their southern counterparts, have traditionally lived siloed in tight-knit communities with little knowledge or tolerance of other ways of seeing the world.

As is well known, the clash of Southern and Northern Irish influences (Catholics ‘versus’ Protestants) was only be resolved when, in the 1980s and ‘90s, the leaders of Liverpool’s two great cathedrals (Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock) by their personal example called time on this damaging friction.

Liverpool 2007 – 800 years and proud of it
Liverpool%20cranes%209.6.06%20004.jpgGiven the particular diasporas from which Liverpool has benefited historically, it will be fascinating to see what the city can make of its opportunity to shine on the world and European stage in 2007 and 2008. There are a number of factors here, even apart from the celebrations as such, which should enhance the opportunities for Liverpool at this time - amongst them, the massive privately funded Grosvenor 'Liverpool 1' commercial development (at £950 million reputedly the largest project of this kind in Europe) which is currently taking root in the heart of the city centre.

The 2007 event will celebrate Liverpool’s 800th Anniversary. (The city’s charter was signed in 1207.) This surely is the opportunity of a lifetime to acknowledge and embrace the rich and diverse cultures and traditions of the city, to look back at our past but also forward - not only to what follows in 2008, but also much further into the future.

This is in a very real sense ‘Liverpool’s year’, a ‘birthday’ (as the locals insist on calling it) worthy of pulling out the stops. 800 years as a city, even if others can also claim it (Leeds’ charter is also dated 1207), is an important milestone.

The birthday party will be for the people of Liverpool. Others will be very welcome to join us – what’s a party without honoured guests? - but the style, the scene itself, needs to be determined by those, the citizens of Liverpool, whose 'birthday' it is.

Liverpool 2008 – European Capital of Culture
But what does Liverpool’s history mean for its year as European Capital of Culture? It has consistently been said that it was ‘the people’, Liverpudlians themselves, who won this award. Is there a danger that 2008 could be ‘more of the same’, an extension of the scenario for 2007?

If we return to our first question, is Liverpool “unenglish”?, we need to note that, so it is said, some 60% of Liverpudlians have never even been to London (and I’d guess that maybe 90% of people living in England outside the North West have as yet never been to Liverpool).

Given this situation, we must ask how many of the citizens of Liverpool so far have a real knowledge of Europe outside the influences we have already noted? How many are fluent in other European languages? How many have business or other formal connections across Europe? The answer is surely that here is a city at the start in every way of its journey into the twenty-first century.

Unique opportunity
Liverpool%20St%20George%27s%20Hall%20front.jpgLiverpool 2007 / 8 offers a unique opportunity to establish two-way connections with the city. The very next day after the BBC debate on Liverpool’s ‘englishness’ or otherwise, the city launched its initial programme for the 2008 year with a grand civic event in St. George’s Hall, and another one in London for the wider world. 2007 is for Liverpool; 2008 is intended for the world,

2008 offers business and cultural entrepreneurs from around Europe and beyond a real chance to establish themselves in the city, whilst Liverpool’s eyes are firmly fixed on the global stage – and, we hope, theirs on us.

The full extent of the outward-facing Liverpool ‘offer’ for 2007 and especially 2008 remains to be seen - there is increasing confidence that something interesting and worthwhile will be made of these unique opportunities.

The scope for inward investment, connection and synergy with elsewhere is however already established as truly enormous.

Here is a city ripe for growth of every kind, and increasingly ready to jump at the chance. This is a virtuous circle for anyone enterprising enough to recognise it.

Global players
Liverpool%20Dale%20Street%20sunlit.jpgWhether Liverpool is “unenglish” we must leave the BBC debaters to determine. Whether that same city is now positioned once again to take its place as a major player at the European and global levels we can answer for ourselves.

The answer is Yes.

And, in contrast to the last time Liverpool was a great trading city, when the odds were stacked against ‘outsiders’, this time Liverpool will be trading on an even playing field with its external partners.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This article is also published (as Liverpool: Ripe For Growth in 2007 And 2008) on the European Renaissance website.

Diversity Watch Widens

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Diversion sign (small).jpgIt's not just public conferences which often fail on diversity. The Bank of Scotland Corporate's advertisement today in Merseyside's Businessweek shows the distance still to go before the chaps grasp what diversity might be about - and why everyone, from banks to sub-regions like Merseyside, needs to implement it.

We have already established the Conference Diversity Index on this website. Now it seems we need to widen the scope of Diversity Watch, to encompass other aspects of public presentation.

On the day when The Guardian carries an article by Jill Treanor entitled 'No room at the top - fewer women reaching boards of Britain's top firms', the weekly supplement of my other morning newspaper, Liverpool's Daily Post Businessweek supplement provides plenty of evidence of how this comes about.

The Daily Post has today a Special Supplement on 'Business Success:' with a ' Focus on corporate growth on Merseyside', in which the lead feature considers 'Nurturing seeds of growth'.

My precision with titles here is because what follows further into the Supplement demonstrates very clearly why everyone needs to be very worried, both about gender (and other) equality in business and, more specifically, about the Merseyside economy.

More of the same
The Post Supplement carries a full page advertisement for the sponsors, Bank of Scotland Corporate, featuring twenty eight photographs of staff, no doubt all fine folk, who offer Merseyside a service which the Bank of Scotland says is 'Commercial. Efficient. Entrepreneurial'.

Of these personnel just ONE is a woman. And you have to look very hard to find her. Her photograph is in the very bottom corner of the page, the last of the twenty eight people displayed.

Could it be that Merseyside, to refer back to the lead article above, is 'nurturing' the opportunities or 'seeds of (corporate) growth' for chaps rather more than for non-chaps?

It beggars belief that anyone could find this acceptable; but presumably they do. Discrimination legislation aside (and that must surely be where they have put it), how can there be any confidence in an organisation which so unashamedly flaunts its lack of awareness of, or perhaps respect for, the issues?

You would have thought that at the very least the Bank of Scotland Commercial might have decided against photoraphs to advertise their diversity deficit.

Missing the point
Diversity is critical both to basic notions of fairness and, from the hard business perspective, to economic success. Obviously to some people the status quo must still be more acceptable (very acceptable?) than looking to see how to better the Commercial. Positive. Entrepreneurial aspects of the enterprise, whether it's a bank or the whole of Merseyside we're thinknig about.

And here's the final irony: the strapline for the Bank of Scotland Commercial advertisement is 'Look at things differently'.

The BURA ‘Futures’ Debate

Tall buildings (small).jpg The 2006 British Urban Regeneration Conference (BURA) conference ‘Futures’ Debate raised many important issues. Critical to all these, if regeneration is ultimately to be effective, will be increasing focus on (1) the implications of global warming and sustainability, and (2) the challenging task of mutual ‘translation’ between the many stakeholders in any developing programme, to ensure that understandings and ideas are shared and can evolve.

I went to the ‘Futures’ Debate at the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) Annual Conference in Milton Keynes, on October 11th. The debate was a vigorous affair, chaired and led by BURA Director Jackie Sadek, a woman who knows how to keep the exchange of ideas flowing.

The format comprised an introductory address by Government Minister Richard Caborn, two minute slots each for six leading regeneration practitioners, and responses from a ‘jury’ of expert witnesses. Then the discussion was opened to the floor – more than a hundred practitioners and attendant media representatives from around the country and beyond.

The central issue under debate was how we all perceived the future agenda of regeneration in the U.K.

The event was, as Jackie Sadek herself said, a ‘rollercoaster’ of deeply informed give-and-take, covering matters from the micro and to the massively macro. No single brief report could do it justice, but I will try here to give a feel for the ideas which in retrospect caught my attention, at least.

Keeping the Government’s attention
Leadership and ‘guidance’ from on high were felt by several speakers to be missing from the regeneration agenda. There’s plenty of regulation – to judge from comments, some of it outdated – but too little real enablement. Some said that governmental attention spans are too short; regeneration is a long-term proposition. Others criticised the ‘constant’ changes which they saw in regulation and funding, and wished for more attention to large-scale infrastructure.

No-one, however, suggested that the government is not committed to regeneration as a seriously long-term venture; and most speakers thought it can be demonstrated by ‘real’ examples that regeneration does work. There’s scope here for dialogue at the highest levels, if common positions between protagonist practitioners can be elucidated.

Silos and scale
Regeneration still is not joined up, if we are to believe the comments of many speakers. We continue to operate in silos (including fiscally; no

Regen model (small) CIMG0606.JPG Are 'regeneration', 'renewal' and 'renaissance' different? Perhaps they are. Regeneration is predominantly a physical thing, whilst 'renewal' and 'renaissance' are increasingly about the real meaning, the 'soul' of the regenerational process. The journey from one to the other is a transition from the literal to the artistic and cultural. But how best to get there?

How can regeneration work so that it is in the end more than just developing markets for investors, important though that financial interface is?

Experience of regeneration and renewal in the UK tells us that it is a mixture of positive and negative. As numerous reports (including Lord Rogers') have shown, there are things which have been done well, and things which have had seriously unfortunate outcomes. Both sorts of experience need to be recognised for the valuable lessons they offer.

The different 'voices' of regeneration, renewal and renaissance
There are several perspectives here: those of the community activist, the politician, the business operator, the planner, the economic strategist. Only rarely however is the voice of the artist heard; and this is where it may be possible to make a difference. Arts and culture, 'high' or less so, can give people common cause, something in which, if presented positively, they can all share and become involved.

Hope Street kids! 06.9.17 254.jpg From that can arise also a common sense of purpose and direction. People who feel involved feel a stakehold and ownership. This is what makes regeneration into renewal, and then into renaissance. This is the essence of the journey from bricks and mortar to genuine community.

Hope Street Liverpool
An example of this approach is the renaissance of Liverpool's Hope Street. This process, over more than a decade, evolved from a deeply held 'grass-roots' conviction that Hope Street deserved the very best of public realms, to give everyone a sense of pride in what was slowly estabished as the Hope Street Quarter. Hope Street is home of the city's two great cathedrals, two universities and of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Everyman Theatre, not to mention the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), Blackburne House and much, much more.

Yet on first acquaintance Hope Street looked tired, dirty and possibly unsafe. Hardly an appropriate ambience for world-class cultural institutions which are found from one end to the other of this historic thoroughfare. HOPES: The Hope Street Association, a voluntary 'arts and regeneration' charity, was therefore formed to change this sad state of affairs.

Nonetheless, it took enormous focus and years of hard work by volunteers to move the authorities (and even some of the major institutions) to perceive what was evident to those with eyes to see: Hope Street is a place with soul, a place for creative and exciting people with ideas. In other words, it was and is the ideal place from which to nurture renaissance and renewal, to the benefit of both local people (more visitors and customers, more jobs, more fun, more sense of community...) and the city's wider economy.

The soul of renewal
Biennial lights CIMG0557.JPG There has to be a way to get to the ‘soul’ of renewal, to its ownership by people in a way that enables economic benefit but does not preclude the human reality which lies behind the more formal contexts of the action.

Again, Hope Street offers a (cautionary) example. The Summer of 2006 at last saw the completion of the long-sought £3 m. public realm works programme. Everyone was delighted and, after delays on the part of some authorities, eventually there was the opportunity to celebrate in the biggest street festival since the Silver Jubilee visit of H.M. the Queen in 1977. But at the very same time those who had worked so hard as volunteers to bring the transformation about found they had in many ways been displaced by new commercial and corporate interests who now at last saw the potential of the Hope Street Quarter.

The immediate parallel which springs to mind here is with Hoxton and Shoreditch in London, where many creative people say they have been driven out, 'displaced' by high prices. The parallel, though valid, is not however exact. In this instance it is those who who give their activities voluntarily who are at risk of displacement, perhaps at least as much as individual artists and non-corporate creative professionals.

Regeneration for whom?
The jury remains out on the extent to which those grass-roots visionaries who dreamed of a great future for Hope Street Quarter will continue to be central to the area's destiny. What sort of 'community' involvement there will be in years to come remains to be seen.

How often do regeneration proposals move beyond the physically visible in any real way, to what it actually means to everyone concerned - whether those who live in the area, those who work or visit there, those who invest there, or those who are concerned for its conservation, historically or environmentally?

And, if the claim is made that getting to the real soul of renewal does happen, why are the people entrusted to do it so often the same team who draw up the physical plans? This is a hugely different task.

Is it business-like?
But the question of soul alone is not enough. It is also necessary to demonstrate actually to those who invest large amounts in regeneration (a) that 'soul' is critical to meaningful renewal, (b) that it makes business sense in the best meaning of the term, and (c) that it is of itself business-like, that it can create value for the people who talk about 'soul', as well as for others.

Without evidence of these things, it is difficult to ensure this deeper aspect of renewal will ever happen at all.

For this is a far cry from the way that most regeneration and renewal is conducted, and it requires a constructively critical approach of a kind only rarely encountered, the courage to articulate vision and show leadership in facing up to difficulties and opportunities openly.

Case studies, honesty and imagination
One challenge for those who believe in this wider vision, collaboratively, is to find a way to nurture such a new emphasis, probably through a combination of case studies, disarming honesty and imaginative leaps. Perhaps this is most importantly where that artistic voice is needed.

HopeStreetHeritageWalk8.9.05%20006.jpgWhat certainly won’t work on its own in sharing this 'message' is the conventional conference, addressing the usual suspects…. But neither perhaps would suddenly challenging everyone’s expectations in too dramatic a way.

The next question is therefore, what balance in the greater scheme of things can be made between strictly 'regenerational' activities and more meaningful, longer term, 'renewal and renaissance' ones?

And should we expect that balance to change over time?

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This article is also published (as Regeneration, Renewal And Renaissance: Where's The Soul Of The Enterprise?), with Jim Greenhalf's response, on the European Renaissance website.