March 2009 Archives

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: 'Poster Day is a rainforest of research diversity' The University of Liverpool has one Graduate School for all disciplines. The School's annual Poster Day (27 March, in 2009) enables all these fields to be showcased together. I had the happy task with a few other 'external' judges of selecting the first-ever prizewinner for the new 'North West Hub' award, to emphasise links between academia and the wider world.

Education & Life-Long Learning and Knowledge Economy.

The exemplary aims of Poster Day are to offer graduate students practice in the skills required to communicate to a degree educated public, and to provide an opportunity for them to learn more about research being undertaken in other parts of the University.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: exhibiting in Mountford Hall

The University of Liverpool Graduate School Poster Day exhibition was fascinating; the cross-faculty range of work under one roof would surely have taken months to get fully to grips with, but we had just a couple of hours. I used the time to talk to some very interesting people, all passionate about their work and the reasons they were doing it.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 307 ~ Woolly Welfare? Reliably Counting Lame Sheep

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 270 ~ An Empirical Investigation of the Libyan Audit Market & No. 272 ~ Corporate Governance and Firm Value

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 31 ~ Achaemenid Egypt: 130 years of Mystery

The involvement of 'external' visitors was a new step introduced this year. Here we see some of the Graduate School Team, including Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with my fellow judges:

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with the Graduate School Team & Poster Day external judges (NW Hub)

But in the end we had to make a decision, spoilt for choice though we certainly were.

The general criteria for the North West Hub overall prize included visual impact, organisation of the material, the accessibility of and rationale for the research, and, last but not least, the enthusiasm and clarity of the researcher him or herself. It seems very fitting that the award was after much discussion made to Andrew Lee-Mortimer for his engineering research project around Design for Sustainability.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post- Poster Day: No. 85 ~ Andrew Lee-Mortimer: Design for Sustainability (NW Hub prizewinner)


Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning and about the Knowledge Economy.

Small children playing Professor John Bynner's piece in today's Guardian concerns the need for a 'science of the family' - the need to recognise how families large and small work, and to debate how those who seek to support children and their parent/s should best interface on the basis of that knowledge. Of course this is essential; but then we need also a mechanism for sharing these ideas. My own work with Sure Start suggests it's all those little, day-to-day, conversations between colleagues as they explore common understandings, which may best deliver this.

Early Years & Sure Start.

I'd agree strongly with John Bynner - who has followed closely the national Sure Start evaluation (NESS) programmes - that an applied 'science of the family', frameworked around the emerging shape of Sure Start Children's Centres, is now critical to prospects for longer-term success.

In summary Bynner's message is that involving parents and studying projects which work is crucial to improving children's wellbeing.

The transition to Sure Start Children's Centres
I have undertaken quite a lot of work with Sure Start programmes, as they make the transition, within various Local Authorities settings, to Children's Centres. This is a vitally important programme, and there's a pressing need for even more research into how best, in the interests of everyone, we should support children and their parents in the task of ensuring a happy childhood and positive ways of achieving adulthood.

The Sure Start evaluation programme has already indicated many ways this could happen; now we must equip more professionals and other practitioners working with children and their parents, to make these examples of good practice the norm.

From pilot programmes to good practice
But we have to remember that Sure Start programmes began at the turn of the Millennium as individual, isolated, almost silo-ed, initiatives, trying to find their way in uncharted waters.

Studies such as those of NESS have helped everyone to move towards a more coherent whole; but the emphases within Sure Start programmes in different places are often still different, within the overall requirements, because people working on the programmes come from different practitioner backgrounds.

As one example, early years and health practitioners are not often geared towards the more formal end of adult basic education and employment skills training - which is in many cases the key to unlocking doors to the future for those who have, so far, had not a lot.

Commonalities between professional disciplines
Despite the increasingly clear insistence from government on joined up frameworks to support children and their families, not enough senior people 'on the ground' are as yet willing to concede that this really must happen in meaningful ways.

This change in perspective would require further revisiting professional / practitioner silos; GPs, teachers, social workers and so on are not always good at that sort of thing. But early years practitioners, midwives, community volunteers etc have essential understandings to offer in cross-disciplinary terms, if they can be put in a position (and fully supported in these extra intra-professional skills?) to do so.

There's a need for substantial elements of advocacy and aspiration in all this. 'Good' parenting and happy childhoods don't just happen; they occur when the context is right. This is where Sure Start can help.

Working together
We need to find ways to encourage all concerned to work closely together; and that has to start with valuing and learning from a million small and positive conversations between practitioners of all sorts, to help us focus on delivering our aspiration of every child being a happy child.

My own experience tells me we need to keep translating these perspectives between those on the ground and the decision-makers, so as to realign and focus collaboratively, in our different ways, on supporting the people, individuals, families and communities, whom we are in the business of helping.

A million small conversations
It's the 'million small conversations' - hopefully based on everyone, not just the powers-that-be, knowing the fundamentals of good practice and what the research tells us - which make this transition.

Practitioners talk all the time to individuals in families and local communities; their wisdom is essential; they are trusted by clients where others may not be.

But the flow of information has to be two-way. The decision-makers know the outcomes of wider research on 'what works', for instance, and they need to share that much more proactively than they often currently do.

Learning from each other
Talking with those who are on the ground day-by-day isn't an optional extra here; it's how we all learn. And this these conversations are what, in my opinion, are most often lacking so far.... which perhaps is also why progress to enabling those who experience disadvantage is so painfully slow.

I've started several explorations of how to align different disciplines towards the overarching Sure Start objective, only to be told by those working in the service that they 'haven't got time' to meet me as a group to examine what's happening.

Before we finish, the reverse is always true: these practitioners and professionals have by then become autonomous in their desire to keep in touch and share good practice. Change can happen, albeit not always as we expect.

In the end this becomes a virtuous circle; we really do need to value the currency of relaxed inter-disciplinary discussion, forgetting the hierarchies and valuing the common goals.

Different approaches, different outcomes
It's been instructive to see how the structures of programmes such as Sure Start may and / or may not help to raise the aspirations of local people; and that's no criticism of people who have chosen as best they can one set of ways over another to try to support those who are less fortunate.

But the disconjunctions of different practitioner perspectives need to be acknowledged as a challenge, to get this enabling of aspirations on the agenda.

I've started projects which focused on health in early years, and ended up with serious discussions also about local economic strategies and adult ed.

There wasn't in the end a problem here, it was just that the economic and education people felt as unknowledgeable about early years, as the early years practitioners did about them.

How do families 'work'?
To return to the theme of John Bynner's piece, we don't as yet have very complete knowledge of how families (whether of two or ten...) work, especially when it comes to positive service delivery.

And we can add to that that the community volunteers and mums and dads had never been asked till then what they thought either about the 'education and training' side of things. What sort of local enterprises would they like? (The answer was often healthy local food....) What sort of education and training is best? (Answer, usually: the sort you can get near home, with childcare...)

Once again, the way forward was to get those small conversations going....

Synergies to reduce disadvantage
The goodwill is certainly there; it's the synergies that need to be nurtured until they can stand up for themselves.

There has to be a better model for reducing disadvantage. I seriously propose that part of it is to embrace the idea of everyone (clients, where they wish to, practitioners on the ground, and decision-makers) talking to each other, as equals, in those million small conversations.


Read more about Early Years & Sure Start.

Ha'penny coin The Economist magazine has had an online debate on the proposition that 'We're all Keynesians now'. The outcome was not encouraging. By two-to-one that proposition was rejected in favour of a free-market position. Perhaps some economists have yet to learn that the current day physical realities of the context itself keep shifting, and that the science of human behaviour is in the end an art, with outcomes that depend on how we handle the interaction between fact and feeling.

Economics Observed.

In 1936 the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) pointed out that in a downturn the economy is operating below its potential, so expanding demand can create supply, which will in turn give people jobs and more prosperity, thus creating (to quote the view in 2009 of the US economist James Furman) an economic 'virtuous circle'.

That, says Furman (along with many others) is 'the paradox of economics in a downturn. Normally, the only way to grow the economy is the old-fashioned way: delaying gratification through reduced deficits and increased savings to encourage more investment. But in a downturn, these steps would just compound the problem and worsen the vicious circle of rising unemployment, underutilized capacity and falling consumption.'

We can argue the toss about how much economic 'growth' we should pursue in a world which already uses far, far more than it should of environmental resources, but intentionally causing devastating poverty by restricting government and other large-scale spending - the preference of the free-marketeers and monetarists - won't help.

Socio-economic expectations and sustainability
Sustainable futures depend not only on what will in theory happen next, but what's happening now.

There is a cost attached to severe recession: the people whom it hurts on a daily living basis get very upset. And upset people become disenfrachised and disaffected - which is in no-one's interest.

Those of us engaged in regeneration and renewal know only too well, despite the apparent logic of the free market position, that this cannot be the way forward.

The Economist debate
The Economist debate on the theme that 'We're all Keynesians now' is therefore timely; but disappointingly it transpired to be very largely a discussion - or so it seemed - between a cohort of people who work in the financial sector, mostly in the USA.... and who also therefore have huge influence on the lives of us all.

Doing his best for the Keynesians we had Prof. Brad DeLong, professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and in the Clinton administration a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Those opposing the Keynesian position were led by Prof. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, co-author of Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, acclaimed as "one of the most powerful defenses of the free market ever written", and co-creator of the Financial Trust Index, an indicator of the level of trust Americans have in financial markets. Prof. Zingales' position was to defend the idea of the Free Market.

Money or men and women?
There was little discussion in the Economist debate of people as people, and almost none about the extraordinarily complex issues we now face in our global physical environment.

Money and Monetarism or at least the Free Market (themes favoured by the Chicago School of economics) were the positions which, from my reading of the proceedings, ruled the day.

But when we start to disaggregate socio-economic outcomes and impacts in respect of the diverse downturn experiences of different people (gender, age, physical state, cultural background and other factors) it is very hard - in both the intellectual and the affective sense - not to go for Keynesianism.

Haves and Have Nots
Other, more austere, approaches may seem attractive in the long-run to people who won't in the interim really go without; but surely even they recognise that the legacy of a deeply disenfranchised social hinterland - under-educated and sick children, depressed and impoverished families without focus, and all the rest - will not be an advantage in times to come?

We have to keep people in work as far as possible (preferably eco- and socially sustainable schemes), or we risk more than we may gain. It's how the Keynesian approach is handled that really matters.

Sustainability is no longer a given
Yet most commentators continued to debate as though everything 'except' the economy will stay the same. It won't; and the versatility of neo-Keynesianism surely helps us here more than the strictures of the Chicago School .

Gas /oil, carbon, water... one or more of these will become the major financial 'currency/ies' of the future; and my guess is that the new gold-standard currency will soon be simply knowledge.

If economics can't take account of these factors in meaningful, rather than soul-less, ways, we're in for a rougher ride even than needs be already.

Keynes was creative
Nor did I see much about John Maynard Keynes the person in this debate.

Wasn't Keynes a man with a wide range of interests, a member of the Bloomsbury Group (that intellectual and progressive force in the London of the 1930s), married to the 'Bloomsbury Ballerina' Lydia Lopokova, a talented Russian ballet dancer?

Wouldn't Keynes have been worried to read about the sterile dehumanised theoretical models which continue to be proposed by the Monetarists and Free Marketeers? What if anything, he might have asked, has been learnt in the past eighty years?

Imagination in the face of multiple challenges
Only Keynesian-style approaches accommodate the changing realities of life across the globe for millions upon millions of different people (men and women in many diverse cultures, all cruelly hit by the credit crunch) who simply can't live without jobs of some sort, because they have no resource other than their daily labour.

Surely Keynes would have urged us to use imagination as well as mathematical models, to try to resolve the dilemmas we now face.

How can we cope, all at the same time, with economic crises, climate change, famine and much else, unless we seek the application of intentionally humane and decent economic frameworks?

Decision-makers and destinies
It's worrying that so few of the Economist's debaters looked outside their models to the contexts in which we actually live. They are after all also generally the people in the private sector (and in right wing governments) who decide what to do with 'their' economies.

The Free Market folk undoubtedly believe they have incorporated human motivation and behaviours into their models. The problem seems to be that - the behaviour perhaps of economists themselves apart? - rationality has little to do with behaviour in reality; and in any case the language of the Chicago School does belies an understanding of the human condition for 'ordinary' people.

Perhaps - could it have been said before? - such people simply don't count in the face of the Free Market?

Humanity and economics are inseparable
Recent experience in developing sustainable communities has seen those in regeneration forced to understand it's not just logic which influences how people behave; we ignore their humanity and need for stakeholding and inclusion at our peril.

The same applies in the face of terrifying outcomes if we get the economics wrong. A lot more insight into the day to day realities of the human condition is required.


Read more articles about Economics Observed.

Wigan Pier canal historic statue of woman miller It's International Women's Day, an occasion for looking both back and forward. We have here some photos and text reminding us gently how grim life was for working class women and children in the mills (and often for their mining menfolk too) a mere century ago. Happily, Wigan Pier and the canals are now a tourist destination alongside a modern Investment Centre; but around 1910 a different story - not least about the uses of water - was being told. The challenge remains to secure the same progress as we've seen here, in ensuring healthy and constructive lives for women and their families everywhere, in the UK and across the globe.

Gender & Women, Sustainability As If People Mattered and Water.

Wigan Pier canal Trencherfield Mill historic notice

Here's the text of this notice, displayed by the towpath at Wigan Pier:

TRENCHERFIELD MILL
When cotton was king
as told by a cotton worker circa 1910

It's hot int' mill wi' lots o' noise. On a nice day, we'll take our lunch ont' towpath an' eat snaps* from't snaps tins.
It's a 5-and-a-half day week for us cotton workers, that's 12 hours a day and half a day on Saturday.
We've all got nimble fingers , especially the Piecers'. They're mainly children, who nip under the spinning machines to tie the broken cotton back together again.
Some of us work on the spinning machines and some on the carding machines. The mill takes a raw bale of cotton, cleans it, twists it and spins it into fine yarn.
The humidity in the mill keeps the cotton damp so it's easier to spin without snapping.
There are five floors of machinery - all powered by the Trencherfield Mill Engine.
The noise is deafening - we stuff cotton from the floor in our ears to protect them. We communicate using 'Me-Mawing' - a mixture of sign language and lip reading.
We work in our bare feet because our clogs could spark on the concrete floor and set the cotton bales alight.
We wake early doors to the sound of the Trencherfield steam whistle summonin' us t'mill for another day. But as they say - England's bread hangs on Lancashire's thread.

[* a snack favoured also by the men of Wigan, many of them miners, usually bread-and-dripping, with cold tea, carried in a flat tin called a snap-can - see George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier]

And here is the towpath which a century ago provided fresh air and respite for those mill workers as they ate their lunch-time snaps:

09.03.06 Wigan Pier canal & towpath

Wigan Pier Quarter & canals notice
[Public display boards by Wigan Heritage Services]

The power of water
And so, strangely, we come full-circle.

Water - the canals, the steam - was the power behind the early production of textiles, employing many women and children in horrendous conditions, as the full logic of the Industrial Revolution took its vice-like grip on the emerging economies of what we have come to know as the 'developed world'; but even now in other parts of the globe water remains both a critical force potentially for good, and often an almost unattainable resource.

Women as water workers
Vast numbers of women and children in the developing world continue to toil many hours a day just to obtain water to sustain their very existence.

Life in places like Wigan was harsh and short for women and men, alike, a century ago. It remains, as Oxfam tells us in the topical context of International Women's Day, particularly harsh even now for women in places such as Iraq, where water continues to be inaccessible for many.

The gendered meanings of sustainability
This is where we begin to understand what 'sustainability' is really about.... the just and equitable distribution of basic physical resources and accessible socio-economic opportunities, for everyone, women as much as men, the world over.

In terms of future global sustainability and equity, as the Gender and Water Alliance also reminds us, water remains a critically gendered issue.


Read more about Gender & Women and about Sustainability As If People Mattered and Water; and see more photographs of around Liverpool & Merseyside.

Josephine Butler House Liverpool, ruined Josephine Butler House in Liverpool's Hope Street Quarter is named for the famous social reformer, and the site of the first UK Radium Institute. Latterly an elegant adjunct to Myrtle Street's The Symphony apartments, it sits opposite the Philharmonic Hall. But the intended ambiance has been ruined by a dismal failure and omission on the part of Liverpool City Council, who have permitted Josephine Butler House to be grimly defaced with little prospect of anything better, or even just intact, taking its place.

Liverpool & Merseyside, The Future Of Liverpool and Regeneration.

The Symphony, previously part of the City of Liverpool College of Further Education portfolio (and before that, the Liverpool Eye, Ear & Throat Infirmary), is a newly restored apartment block immediately opposite Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall. It is elegantly refurbished by Downing Developments and adds an attractive dimension to city centre living in Liverpool's historic Hope Street Quarter.

View of The Symphony from Liverpool Philharmonic Hall,  Myrtle Street Liverpool

But just a year ago this weekend (i.e. in the first few days of March 2008) residents of those apartments saw tarpaulin raised around their neighbouring building, the historic Josephine Butler House, home to the UK's first Radium Institute (which is celebrated in the Liverpool 'Suitcases' Hope Street / Mount Street sculptures) and named after the social pioneer whom Millicent Fawcett described as “the most distinguished woman of the Nineteenth Century".

Josephine Butler (1828 -1906) was an extraordinarily accomplished British social reformer, who had a major role in improving conditions for women in education and public health. She moved to Liverpool in 1866, when her husband, the academic George Butler, became headmaster of Liverpool College. Much of her work derived its inspiration from the death of their young daughter, and she has a national library, a collection at Liverpool University, an educational institution and a charitable trust named for her. Her life and work is also celebrated locally in the Suitcases ('A Case Study') public art installation a block up the road on the Hope Street / Mount Street junction in Liverpool.

Josephine Butler House with tarpaulin

So what followed after the Josephine Butler House was swathed in tarpaulin was almost beyond belief - with just days to go before a formal enquiry, Maghull Developments, who had recently acquired Josephine Butler House in partnership with the previous owners, Liverpool John Moores University, took hammers to its entire street-facing facade.

Josephine Butler House, Liverpool , Myrtle Street facing facade ruined

Josephine Butler House, Liverpool, Hope Street facing wall ruined

The Liverpool Daily Post reported Maghull Developments in March 2008 as saying, nonetheless, that the work under wraps on the frontage was “specialist restoration work to the stone facade” - a claim which is difficult to reconcile with the still intact stonework of the Stowell Street side of the building, unblemished to this day:

Josephine Butler House Liverpool, Stowell Street side wall, intact

But if the City Council had amended their omission, as many times requested, to include this corner of Hope Street in the Conservation Area, they could have protected the entire historic location at a stroke.

The plans for the Josephine Butler House site had been in considerable contention even before these extraordinary events. There were public meetings and demands that proposals be returned to the drawing board because they were adjudged inappropriate for Hope Street Quarter - Liverpool's cultural quarter, the home of the city's two cathedrals, its two largest universities, its internationally recognised orchestra and several theatres, and a critically important gateway into the city centre.

Josephine Butler House, Liverpool, ruined ; next door to The Symphony

A comment, at the time of the 'specialist restoration', from Liverpool City Council's elected environment portfolio holder, says it all:

Why would they restore the stone facade when they are planning to knock the building down? Don’t treat us like we are dim.
The building is an intrinsic part of what makes Hope Street so special, but there’s very little the council can do short of me sleeping under the scaffolding.

So much for the 'legacy' of Liverpool's status as 2008 European Capital of Culture.

What worries some of us is not even just that the Josephine Butler scaffolding has now long disappeared and the damage surely done.

It's that, in brutal fact, the prospect of any action on the Josephine Butler site - beyond perhaps demolition to become a car park? - looks itself from where we sit to be exceedingly dim; and that the whole City Council seems still to be asleep on the job.

Josephine Butler House Car Park Liverpool (corner of Hope Street & Myrtle Street)

Josephine Butler House, Liverpool defaced


[PS This sad saga was taken up by Ed Vulliamy in The Observer of 20 March 2009, in an article entitled How dare they do this to my Liverpool.. There is also a prolonged debate about Josephine Butler House on the website SkyscraperCity.

An updated version of this article (here) was published on the Liverpool Confidential website, on 22 April 2009.]

See more photographs of Liverpool & Merseyside and read more about The Future Of Liverpool and Regeneration.