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Liverpool Bombed Church & Chinese New Year 170x126 027b.jpg Next week sees the launch in Westminster, London of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework.
The BURA Board has unanimously resolved to try honestly to do what regeneration is supposed to do - reduce inequality and discrimination through the creation of environments where people can lead sustainable, happy and fulfilling lives.

From the regeneration perspective, equality and diversity are difficult things to get one’s head around. There are so many variables.

I tend therefore to approach these issues from the ‘other end’, and to ask myself the Big Question: what might a community look like when we’ve finished ‘regenerating’ it?

Put that way, things begin to fall into place.

Two futures
Two outlooks are possible for a place or community which has received the full attention of the regeneration professionals.

Either it will thrive, moving forward to a happier future, where people feel fulfilled and their needs are met in a much more embedded way than before; or it will in time lose its expensive new patina and sink into a deeper, sadder, less secure state even than before.

These different outcomes depend largely on the extent to which that community has been enabled to achieve sustainability.

Three aspects to sustainability
Sustainability has three major aspectss: physical (‘environmental’), economic and social. None of these can be achieved longer term without the others.

Sustainability is impossible without equality and diversity; so regeneration too is underpinned by them.

A stark truth
The Commission for Racial Equality’s final blast at the regeneration business, when in late 2007 that organisation became a part of the new Equality and Human Rights Commission, was well placed. It demonstrated, starkly, that ‘race’ issues remain desperately under-addressed in regeneration.

And it certainly made the Board of the British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) sit up. Already painfully aware of a lack of diversity at the top table, now we had undeniable evidence about one critically core aspect of disadvantage.

Many realities, many ways forward
The more we looked at disadvantage – whether resulting from age, religion and belief, disability, gender, race or sexual orientation - the more it seemed to stem from the same issues; issues most often around opportunities and resources which people feel they have been denied.

The multiple realities of ‘ordinary’ people’s lives are what define our communities and how they interface with the wider society. This then, surely, is what regeneration is all about?

Where to begin?
So here is BURA’s starting point.

As leading players in regeneration, BURA’s Board has resolved to try honestly to do what regeneration is supposed to do – which is to reduce inequality and discrimination through the creation of environments where people can lead happy and fulfilling lives.

To do this we will look carefully and immediately at how we can put our own house in order; we will listen to and liaise with as many other interested parties as we can; we will seek out, and where necessary and possible commission, research which informs our ambition; and we will take the message wherever it needs to go.

We introduced the BURA Regeneration Equality and Diversity Framework concept at our 2008 annual conference, in January. We shall launch it formally at our London event on 20 February; and we will monitor our progress thoroughly as we move forward.

We hope you too will want to be part of this journey.

Hilary Burrage is a member of the BURA Board, and BURA Equality and Diversity Champion. (hilary@bura.org.uk)


The BURA Equality and Diversity campaign is supported by New Start and Ecotec.

This article is a version of the piece published in New Start, 15 February 2008.
See also: New Start survey reveals doubts over cohesion and New Start Editorial of 13 February 2008.

Tutorial (small) 90x120.jpg This website seems to be used as a learning resource, as well as by a more general readership. Teachers and students refer to it for a range of reasons; and amongst these is the opportunity for people whose first language is not English to read short articles linked to other websites on the same topics. So, how do / could you use this site as an educational resource?

Your views and advice, as teachers and as students or general readers, about how this 'learning resource' facility might be extended, would be most welcome. As myself a qualified teacher who worked in education for many years, I am always enthusiastic about the development of new learning materials and ways of teaching. If only the internet had been available when education was my day job.....

I look forward to your ideas and contributions on this topic.

Thank you!

Pianos For Peace

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Piano keyboard (small) 70x83.jpg Rarely are artistic installations truly inspirational, but the use by George Michael and Kenny Goss of John Lennon's piano, on which Lennon composed the song Imagine, is one such example. This travelling piano scenario is art, goodwill and common humanity all rolled into one.

George Michael is taking John Lennon's piano on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Or that, at least to my eyes, seems to be what's happening.

Singer-songwriter Michael acquired Lennon's piano, on which the song Imagine was written, at the turn of the Millennium, and he and his partner Dallas art gallery owner Kenny Goss have now resolved the question of what special use to put it to: It has been given the central role in the world-tour Imagine Piano Peace Project.

Genuinely inspired art
It is a stroke of genius to take that humble piano to troubled places - sites of gruesome events such as assassinations, state-sanctioned executions, bombings, multiple murders and the like. The piano and its associations bring to these grimly horrible and almost unthinkable acts a sort of dignity and calm.

The piano itself cannot and need not speak. It shows and incites no fear. All it has to do is occupy these sites as physical spaces. We can, each of us, work out the rest for ourselves.

John Lennon started life an unremarked child, attending our local school in Liverpool. He ended it a tragic victim of sudden very public violence in New York. As he himself might also have said of his travelling piano, just "Let it be."



Women at market (small) 70x71.jpg Today (8 March) is International Women's Day, when women are celebrated in many parts of the world. But after more than a century of campaigning, women and men remain unequal in wealth and power. It's time for an overtly feminist, gendered approach to economics, examining the differential impacts and advantages of economic activity on women and men.

The campaign for 'women's rights' has been going for a very long time now.

One of the original texts about women's rights, The Subjection of Women, was written in1869 by the Scottish radical philosopher John Stuart Mill. That's almost a century and a half ago. And so very much more has been written, said and done about this issue since then.

The question is, therefore: despite worthy events such as International Women's Day, why is there still such a long way to go?

Convenient inertia
'Convenient' is probably too kind a word to describe the collective failure to see the negative experience of most women in regard to economics, employment, public life and business. Nonetheless, the word convenience points us in the right direction if we want to explain the stifling inertia many women experience in their quest simply for equality.

There are many fair-minded and decent men, but there are also large numbers who would rather see inequality and exploitation anywhere except on their own doorstep. And since men still have more power and influence than women, it's often their perspectives which have the most weight. 'Women's equality' may not be a taboo subject, but it is certainly a sidelined one.

There's always something more urgent and important to address...

Economic analysis
So let's start to approach this, seriously, another way. Let's look routinely and quite expressly at how women and men fare in the economy and the corridors of power.

In other words, let's have an Economics which uses gender as an analytical tool in the same way that other Social Science analysis does. Only once the unspoken taboo had been broken did social scientists begin to perceive the realities of gender impact, direct and indirect, on society itself.

Moves in the right direction
Big steps are being made, with the introduction of equality standards for all English local authorities.

As part of these standards, Gender Impact Assessments, required from April 2007, are to be the vehicle through which the Women and Equality Unit and the Department for Trade and Industry is bringing into sharp focus the issue of gender in relation to the Government's Public Service Reform.

Start them young
Government policy, excellent in intention though it may be, is one thing. Taking matters seriously in wider society, even if there are sanctions for not doing so, is sometimes another.

The next steps are to ensure that Business / Enterprise Studies and Economics embed gender differentials into their curriculum from the very start. This should be as much a part of the Economics (and other) GCSE curricula as it already is the Social Science one. Early on is the best place to start.

And at the other end of the scale corporates at every level should be required to give much more 'gendered' (and other diversity-linked) information in their annual reports. Business moves where its pocket takes it, and the bottom line here is exactly that, the visible bottom line. At a time of claimed skills shortages, becoming gender conscious is good for business, as well as good for people.

Progress?
There are small initiatives such as the idea of the Conference Diversity Index, and also some much larger pointers to the future which thread through this train of thought.

In 2006 the London Business School launched the Lehman Brothers Business Centre for Women, with the intention of providing solutions for the challenges that businesses face in attracting and retaining talented women.

Signs of success
But alongside the urgent necessity to get more women to the very 'top' we need to ensure that most of them don't stay much nearer the bottom.

The costs of gender inequality impinge on us all. There are a few thinkers and scholars who have established a baseline here, but only when gender is a clearly articulated part of mainstream public consciousness, politics and business will we really be getting somewhere.

A shorter version of this article was published as a letter in The Guardian on 8 March 2007.

Women (small) 70x54.jpg International Women's Day is coming up on 8 March. It's an event celebrating more than half the human population but it has a perennially low profile - often like the gender it celebrates. What's International Women's Day for, and how 'should' it be celebrated?

International Women's Day is once more almost upon us.

Big events take a lot of organising, but, despite the IWD announcements, as in other years scarcely anyone is talking about how to celebrate this particular event. Of course there will be a scattering of (very welcome) arts happenings, and a conference or two, but... excitement in the air, there is not.

Celebration or frustration?
Perhaps the low-key approach to International Women's Day is because many of us, women increasingly long in the tooth and short on patience, wonder if we will ever have an equitable stakehold in what's on offer. Or else, still young and hopeful, perhaps we don't yet think much about these matters.

Whatever, who wants to invest a lot of time and money in celebrating 'women's issues'?

One day a year is women's notional allocation of celebratory time, and that's not far off the proportion of wealth and top-level influence which women have, either. (I exaggerate and overstate the case a little, but not much.)

For those of us who, as women, value what we are and what we actually do, 'progress' does indeed seem to be very slow.

The dilemma: What does it take?
Our dilemma is this: Intuitively, we seek to celebrate, not stipulate. But celebration could be perceived as a very weak response to the multiple 'challenges' and deprivations which, globally, are still the lot of many more women than men.

Perhaps we should be marching in the streets, not sending out yet another lot of (idealised?) sisterly love, solidarity and affirmation.

Marching on the streets has however been done before, with sometimes important but generally only limited success - and often with fierce downsides for particular individuals.

And if we take just the harsher route of campaign, never celebration, we become very much like those whose behaviour, stereotypically, we may not always wish to emulate.

Solutions?
So is International Women's Day worth celebrating?

I'd say, Yes - both because it focuses on issues which have particular resonance for many women of all ages and statuses, and because it reminds us of women elsewhere (than in the modern, western world) who should not be forgotten.

My 'answer', however, takes us almost nowhere in terms of how we should actually conduct our celebration.

Does anyone have any ideas?

Read the discussion of this article which follows the book E-store, and share your thoughts on the meaning of International Women's Day, and how it could or should be 'celebrated'.

Graduation (small) 06.7.6-9 066.jpgThe place where non-state, non-business public activities challenge the assumptions of wealthy organisations and the ruling classes or prevailing consensus is often referred to as ‘civil society’. A proposal that this place have its own university in the U.K., to scrutinise and develop the core skills and specialist knowledge base of the ‘third sector’ of the economy, is now being taken seriously.

PrimeTimers is a London-based social enterprise promoting cross-sector transfers of people, ideas and methods. In Autumn 2005 they held a conference, Agenda for Change, from which emerged the idea of a 'Civil Society University’. This idea is also a response to the UK Government's review of the Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration.

A key concept underlying the idea is that third sector values and practices should be submitted to rigorous testing in terms of intellectual integrity, reasoned debate and scientific research. Such an approach has welcome and important implications for how civil society might develop over the next few decades and beyond.

Multiple conceptualisation, multiple benefits
Like many other good ideas, the Civil Society University concept has also emerged in other places – for instance, at a Council of Europe conference in September 2005 and in a submission dated December 2005 to the Organisation of American States from the Permanent Forum of Civil Society Organisations.

Civil society is the arena where the right of free speech and association is exercised to promote many and diverse causes for what their proponents believe to be the greater good. Often these beliefs challenge the prevailing or most powerful consensus; yet rarely is attention given to the skills and knowledge which could best support such a challenge.

The benefits which might accrue from rigorous scrutiny by the academy, by those who practise their skills in higher education, are what make the idea of a Civil Society University appeal to many involved in widely diverse parts of the third sector.

Education, not 'just' training
There is a real need for parts of the third sector to move away from its historic philanthropic roots towards a sharper professional focus. Volunteers (nonetheless, preferably trained) will always be at the heart of at least some third sector activities; but they usually cannot provide the hard headedness which is required in running large-scale or complex modern organisations.

Indeed, thus far it would be difficult even to estimate what added value (or not?) would derive from a more fully functioning and defined third sector key skills 'toolbox'. And the same applies to issues around third sector career structure and professional development. This is where the Civil Society University fits in.

Challenge and opportunity
For some the proposal to subject the third sector and its operation could pose a perceived threat, but that does not do the idea justice.

Those who share a concern to 'make things better' will more likely welcome the chance to support a move to do exactly that, to 'make good things more effective still'.

What could be better than to subject our ideas and practices to a form of scrutiny - always itself open to scrutiny and challenge - intended to make the very best of the resources, people and commitment available to effect a more equitable and civil society?




Contacts

The Civil Society University is proposed by Professor Martin Albrow, Dr Mary Chadwick and Brent Thomas, all of PrimeTimers.

They can be contacted at info@primetimers.org.uk.



Musicians (small).bmpIt's surprising that so little music happens in most European cities in August. Obviously some musicians take their holidays then, but others might be pleased to work during the holiday period. The scope for entertaining and engaging tourists and visitors during the high summer season is probably quite significant.

Whether one is in the U.K. or most other European cities, there are very few concerts - classical or indeed of other genres - in August. Yet the holiday high season is when most people have the time and inclination to relax and enjoy music.

How about forming groups of (willing) musicians from the major orchestras and ensembles - no need to audition, they're already in top bands! - and touring with them to bring good music of many sorts to people, young and older, in different and exciting contexts during the summer season?

Would it work? Would the idea get the sort of support from financiers and audiences alike that it would need? Would it reach people who might not otherwise attend such performances?

Tell us what you think, in the Comments box below...

See also: Orchestral Salaries In The U.K.

Life In A Professional Orchestra: A Sustainable Career?

The Healthy Orchestra Challenge

Musicians in Many Guises

British Orchestras On The Brink

Sundrops (small) 60x64.jpgThe cynics will always be with us ;and they have a point. Nonetheless, for many people things are as good as, if not better than, they have ever been. We can - and should - take a responsible view of events, but without denying that in many ways 2007 could be very positive for almost all of us. Here are some reasons to be optimistic as we enter the new year.

The media, as ever, is full of reasons to be gloomy as we enter 2007. But in reality we all know that looking on the bright side at least some of the time is good for us.

So here are some reasons to be optimistic in 2007:

1. The Environment
Global warming and climate change are at last receiving the attention they should - and most commentators still reckon we have a good chance of doing something about it if we all make the effort, right now. [And in the meantime, the weather in Britain is being very kind at a time of year when freezing fog - 'pea-soupers', remember them? - used to be the norm.]

2. Health
Life expectancy (in the U.K.) is the highest it has ever been, and people are healthier than ever before. 60 is the new 40, so it is said; and you won't have to retire at a set age any more if you don't want to. [But if you do retire early, you'll still have lots to do, now that expectations have risen so much.]

3. The Economy
Inflation and interest rates are still relatively low (remember 18% mortgages?) and employment is still high, after a long period before the Millennium of horrendous worklessness for millions. [And wages are going up, or have been levelled out more fairly, for many 'ordinary' worlers now.]

4. Life-long Learning
Opportunities for education and training for everyone have never been more wide-open and accessible. [You may need to take a student loan, but in many countries that's how it's always been - and the loan interest rate is amazingly low, plus you don't have to pay at all if you don't earn a reasonable wage; and for many vocational courses there are no fees - so everyone can benefit.]

5. Housing
Houses are warmer, more energy-efficient and better designed than at any previous time. [And more people in the UK own their own homes than ever before.]

6. Open Society
If you need to find something out, the chances of doing so have improved greatly with Freedom of Information. [And the internet gives you a view of the world which can open doors on cultures, knowledge and ideas which previous generations couldn't even dare to dream about.]

7. Laughter
At long last, it is being recognised that it's OK to enjoy yourself - laughter and fun are now officially good for you!

The glass is half full
Yes, I know each of these points has downsides, and it's always easier (and less effort) to see the glass as half empty rather than half full. But I bet there are few people who recall life as it was many years ago who would actually choose to turn the clock back on a lot of things. And there remain, sadly, many people in other parts of the world than the West to whom our way of life seems to be unimaginably privileged.

Let's make 2007 a year when we explore how much better still things can be if we perceive what's good about our lives, as well as what's in need of improvement. Why not 'count our blessings', if we're lucky enough to be able to? Then we can concentrate on helping to make things good for other people too.

Maybe it's time to be brave, to stop the criticism from the sidelines and to start having the courage to take active responsibility for at least some of what happens. Let's try being positive, and see where it takes us.

Xmas presents (small).jpgChristmas is a time for giving. But what, and to whom? Many would like Christmas to be less commercial, whilst helping those not as fortunate as themselves. Doing this in a way which shows fondness for family, friends and colleagues but also benefits others can sometimes be a difficult balance to achieve.

The Christmas charity gift brochures these days often start to arrive with the August Bank Holiday. We therefore have plenty of time to ponder the dilemmas which then arise:

(a) Do I buy gifts from these brochures, actual items, to give directly to friends and family? or
(b) Do I buy 'gifts' which are actually donations towards items required by needy people elsewhere, often in the developing world - and give my own folk tokens which say that's what I've done, of my own volition, on their behalf? or
(c) Do I give gifts which I have chosen elsewhere and then think about the charitable giving at some other point?

Not comfortable options
Most of these options leave me, at least, feeling rather uncomfortable. Buying charity Christmas cards (or some direct gifts, if genuinely appropriate) is one thing; the recipents still receive the original item. Buying charitable items which are not intended for the 'recipient', but for someone who for us is without a name, living elsewhere, is another thing altogether. The big question is, is it alright to give to charity on another's behalf, without seeing if that's what they wanted?

And, indeed, is it even OK to ask them if it is actually what they'd like to do? Perhaps, they're doing it already? Or even, uneasy thought, perhaps they wouldn't choose to give to the charity we've chosen on their unwitting behalf?

Of course, the precise intention of the charities who mail us is to encourage 'giving' - and few would deny that such giving is needed.

I do not subscribe to the idea that there is no point; I'm quite sure much of the money raised does indeed go to very good causes.

Nonetheless, is it OK to 'give' in the name of someone else? Should we give only what we own ourselves? Is it right to divert gifts from people one knows personally, to people one does not know, whilst also proclaiming a good deed on their behalf?

Another way?
Many would agree that there is a real sense in which charitable giving does reflect the 'meaning' of Christmas. The question then is, how can we do it without seeming to give what is not exactly ours - in other words the gift we would 'give' to our nearest and dearest?

I'm beginning to think there may be a way. This 'solution' depends on the amount of cash available and the sort of personal contacts one has; it's not really appropriate, say, for hard-pressed families with children where money is scarce. But for the rest of us it might work.

Christmas consortia
How about an agreement that, special exceptions apart, we all give direct personal gifts costing no more than an agreed sum - but at the same time we get together to 'buy' that much-needed donkey, tree, kids' trip, hoe, emergency kit or whatever?

It would take someone to make the initial arrangements and act as 'treasurer', and maybe each year a different member of the group might undertake that task. But it's a project which would enable us all to choose something personal for those we know and love, whilst also sharing a goal in a positive group activity, be it as colleagues, family or friends. How much each person can give would be confidential between themselves and the 'treasurer' only, but all would have contributed.

Maybe 2006 is the year to set up the rota, even if there's no time now to try the idea out fully before the festivities begin? And here are some of the many links which will take you to see what's on offer:
Charity Christmas Gift brochures.jpg
Concern Worldwide
gifts4life
Oxfam Unwrapped
Wish List (Save the Children)

Has anyone tried this way? Does it work? Maybe you could let us know in the Comments box below?

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."

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