An Alternative Take on World Heritage Weekend

It’s been a crazy busy week, so I’m only just now catching up on here on the blog — to say a few words about last weekend’s events in the Saltaire area. It was the Annual World Heritage Weekend celebrations for Titus Salt’s Victorian mill village — part of a worldwide celebration of UNESCO-designated heritage sites. Saltaire has been participating for 5 years now, but this was the first year when the Higher Coach Road estate was officially ‘on the map’ for the Heritage celebrations (as you can see from this map, from the WHW leaflet)…

Higher Coach Road falls comfortably within the “buffer zone” which restricts planning within sight of Saltaire (subject to UNESCO approval), and of course the whole area that the estate is built on once belonged to Sir Titus Salt. But the residents chose to mark the occasion by celebrating their own “heritage” as a post-war council estate by hosting a 1950s picnic … for themselves, and anyone else who wanted to join in….

The 1950s picnic was initially the brainchild of resident Ruth Bartlett, pictured below in this rather curious picture that appeared in the online version of theTelegraph and Argus

Ruth is pictured here having (no) tea poured for her by myself, Steve Bottoms. The T&A photographer, having turned up at the very beginning of the 12-4 slot during which we’d said the picnic events would occur, found that not that many people were there yet (because, seriously dude, who turns up at a party in the first minute?), and so asked those of us who’d dressed up to pose with embarrassed grins for the camera…

Ruth and I are seated here in the “outdoor living room” that was Multi-Story Water’s contribution to the festivities. Cleverly assembled by Anna Parker from visits to a string of charity shops, this installation of 50s furniture and nick-nacks was well populated over the course of the afternoon, as people came and sat down on the surprisingly comfortable furniture to enjoy the sunshine. (it was behind a cloud when the photographer came, naturally…)  That blue folder poking out from under the coffee table contained a selection of stories I had prepared about the area and its community and watery histories. I read these on request, in response to people picking titles from a menu we provided… such as “The Malicious Mr. Pickles”, “Higher Coach Road in the Ice Age” and “Ten Minutes of Madness (The Derwent Avenue Murderer)”. This was our “streaming service” for an age when most people didn’t have television yet… and it seemed to go down remarkably well! Some of the stories prompted considerable discussion. One resident, for example, shared her memories of working at Salts Mill in the 1970s — because she remembered as a co-worker the victim of the murder in my “ten minutes of madness” story (a black tale for a sunny day – it proved an unexpectedly popular choice!).

Ruth and I had also collaborated on writing this leaflet, launched on this occasion as a joint effort of MSW and HCR Residents Group (the image shows the inside of the ‘gatefold’). In this slightly-tongue-in-cheek “heritage” leaflet, which will also be available from Saltaire Visitor Information Centre, we wanted to make the case for this estate as “Saltaire’s Other Model Village” — a development planned to blend in with its green and pleasant environment, which residents still take great pride in.

Here’s another of the shots from the T&A, with Saltaire’s towers visible in the background. Dressed in their versions of the 1950s are the current and recent chairs of the Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group — Pam Ruppe and Stewart Gledhill — who are flanked on either side by Kat Martin (left) and Lyze Dudley (right), both part of the Multi-Story Water team who dressed up for the day.

Now, it does rather look from these pictures as if nobody else was there… which is not in the least bit true. (I’ll shortly be uploading lots of shots taken by our own photographer for the afternoon — just got a technical access issue to be resolved so I can see them!) It was a perfect day for sitting out in the sun, for a chat with neighbours — whether enjoying food from the sandwich and cake stall masterminded by Irene Townend and other HCRRG members, or a little storytelling, or listening to music. We had “the bard of Saltaire”, Eddie Lawler, playing live on his acoustic guitar, and also a collection of old 78 rpm records from the 1950s that we played on the little machine pictured below (with which I was asked to pose for the most embarrassing photo op of the afternoon…). The most popular tunes turned out to be Cliff Richard‘s “Please Don’t Tease” and Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (which several picnickers seemed to know word for word by heart, and sang along…). Admittedly both those tunes were actually released in 1960, but what’s a year between friends? This is when a lot of people would have been moving onto the estate anyway: construction began in 1957, but continued until the early 60s.

After the picnic wound down, and we’d packed up the outdoor living room, Kat and I made our way to Fanny’s Ale House, for the first of three Saltaire-area performances this weekend of This Island’s Mine — the short play celebrating the history of Dockfield, which I discussed in detail in my last blog post. Again, it was nice to be complicating the “official” heritage story of World Heritage Weekend, by drawing attention to another, less celebrated Shipley neighbourhood. (In Dockfield’s case, the major developments occurred not in the Victorian or post-WWII periods, but at the beginning of the 20th century, when Shipley Council built Dockfield Road, Dockfield Terrace, and local works for gas, electricity and sewage). And on Sunday afternoon, in the bar of Salts Sports Association (just across the river from the Coach Road estate), it was a particular pleasure to perform the play for an audience made up of members of the Higher Coach Road Residents Group…

This Island’s Mine ends with a speech from Kat (based on interviews with Dockfield residents) about how, for all the improvements in living conditions we have nowadays, we’ve perhaps lost something of the sense of close community that was experienced by many local residents growing up (in the years when this was still very much an industrial town). This was a sentiment that I recall being expressed particularly clearly to me by some of the people sitting at this table — Stewart and Pat, Irene and Barry — when I first met and interviewed them back in 2012. So it was a particular delight, with Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group having become such a dynamic source of community identity over the last couple of years, to be sharing this story with them. It turns out that, just because something seems to have been lost, doesn’t mean it can’t be rediscovered with a little goodwill and ingenuity — because that sense of community may well still be there, lying dormant, and ready to sprout again…

That’s Barry in the middle of the shot above. He grew up in Dockfield, and has lived on Higher Coach Road since the 60s. He contributed some great new additions to the collection of memories we’ve been gathering around this little play. And on the right in the image below is Steve, one of the most active current members of HCRRG, who went straight off from Salts to visit one of the older residents on the estate — as part of a “befriending” scheme that the group has started, to tackle the problem of isolation experienced by some. HCRRG is doing some amazing work now… I salute you all.

And so, back to Fanny’s Ale House, and the last of our scheduled performances of This Island’s Mine this weekend. For an audience that included Rob Martin and Molly Kenyon, the dynamic Saltaire duo who really got the World Heritage Weekend celebrations established as an annual thing these past five years (this year they’ve finally been able to step back a bit and let others take the lead). So it was great to share this with them too! That’s Rob’s knees in the bottom right of the shot below — after Kat had managed to attack them by accidentally knocking Rob’s pint off the table with one of her props… The perils of live theatre! Fortunately nobody was hurt, and the show continued once the glass was swept up by Fanny’s quick-reacting staff…

A particular highlight for me of this last performance was the way that the audience took it upon themselves to animate some of our table props… Below is one spectator’s interpretation of a story Kat tells, at the end of the piece, about canoeists being attacked by swans on the canal outside the Amber Wharf flats… So OK, it’s geese not swans, and a skateboarding lego man not a canoeist, but that is the spirit of improvisation!

Happy World Heritage Weekend everyone. A great celebration of past, present, and – perhaps – future…

Spared by Storm Doris

This was the slightly scary-looking state of Saltaire weir, three nights ago on Thursday 23rd February, after the country had been battered by Storm Doris…

16865113_10211387956322079_5698127446383449307_nOnly this morning, Ireland was hit by the next alphabetically-named storm coming off the Atlantic this winter — Storm Ewan. (Previously we’ve had Angus, Barbara and Conor. Sounds more like a sitcom than extreme weather, but whatever…) Thankfully, there’s been nothing like last winter’s “E” storm — Eva — which brought the chaos of the Boxing Day floods. But as these images show, the Aire was again perilously close to breaking its banks on Thursday…

16649155_10211387956882093_8829426053666866144_nThese pictures were taken by Higher Coach Road resident Syra Lax, who posted them on the HCR Residents’ Group facebook page (from where I have pinched them, with her kind permission). That page is becoming a really valuable source of local news, debate and eyewitness observation. Since it is intended for “Higher Coach Road Residents Group and Friends”, I recommend getting yourself added as a friend, even if you don’t live on the estate.

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A Bridge Over Troubled Waters?

panoramaLike many people, I’ve spent a lot of time this week trying to make sense of the chaotic whirlwind that has been President Donald Trump’s first week in office. Events in Washington don’t normally have much to do with the waterways and communities of Shipley (this blog’s usual subject matter), but there was something about the Women’s March held last Saturday in Shipley town centre — in protest at Trump’s inauguration — that resonated deeply for me. Let me try to explain why.

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The march in Shipley was, of course, one of many held all around the world. But unlike most of the other places where this happened, Shipley is not a major city. It’s not London or Manchester or Glasgow or even Leeds. It’s a small, former mill town, and the decision of some of its citizens to march was curious enough to attract journalistic comment as far away as India. The specific, local incentive for the action was a kind of subsidiary protest against the local Conservative MP, Philip Davies, who has stated that he would have voted for Donald Trump “in a heartbeat”. But it’s not just his liking for Trump that has antagonised Shipley’s self-proclaimed “Feminist Zealots” (their name is an ironic dig at Davies’s derogatory terminology); it’s their sense that he seems similarly reluctant to treat women as equals. Davies may not have been recorded boasting about grabbing small felines, but his membership of Parliament’s Equalities and Diversity Committee is — as even he would likely admit — about as natural a fit as asking Nigel Farage to join the European Commission.

women and placardsI will nail my colours to the mast and say that I whole-heartedly support the Feminist Zealots of Shipley — from whose previously ‘secret’ Facebook feed I have nicked these pictures of the march (with apologies to the photographers). But I also think it’s important to say that Philip Davies is not a man simply to be rubbished and ridiculed (despite the best efforts of, say, comedian Russell Howard). Whatever one thinks of his politics, it’s hard to deny that he is also a hard-working constituency MP who is quite remarkably responsive to the needs of constituents, regardless of who they vote for, or indeed what sex they are. I’ve lost track of the number of stories I’ve heard from local people of how he has helped them out with pressing problems to do with housing, local services, etc. Davies has earned the gratitude and respect of many, which is no doubt a big part of the reason he gets re-elected. So it was great to see that even the protest against him was voiced in a creative, generous spirit, rather than in the kind of divisive, aggressive language that Donald Trump himself has become known for:

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This slogan — “Bridges Not Walls” — recurred on a number of placards on the march, and exemplified the spirit of wanting to build and heal, rather than divide and antagonise. It’s also a gift to your local water-blogger, because of course Shipley has no shortage of bridges. Off the top of my head, I count seven road and footbridges across the canal between Dockfield and Hirst Wood (not including the lock gates, which you can also walk across), and a further four across the River Aire. (Of course the canal even takes a bridge of its own over Bradford Beck at one point, just to underline my point…) In short, in the Shipley area, we’re pretty good at finding our way over sometimes troubled waters. So maybe there are even bridges to be built between Philip Davies and his opponents? Before that begins to sound tritely optimistic, let’s take a closer look at one particular bridge…

IMG_2374This is Victoria Street in the foreground, ramping up to the left of the picture as it starts to bridge the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in central Shipley. (The distinctive chimney of Salts Mill is in the distance, to the west.) One the right of the image, standing to one side of the canal, is the headquarters of In Communities, Bradford’s social housing authority. (I’ll come back to them in a minute.) On the left of the picture — and directly across the canal — is the distinctive red-brick structure of the former Leeds-Liverpool Canal Company warehouse. This pairing of buildings, old and new, facing each other across the water, sums up quite a lot about the state of modern Shipley. Let’s look first at the warehouse…

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If you were looking to find local examples of what President Trump was speaking about in his ominous inauguration speech — those “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” — well, this would be as good a place as any to start. Sure, it’s a warehouse, not a factory, but this rather beautiful edifice (which my friend Eddie Lawler has playfully earmarked as the HQ for his imaginary “University of Saltaire”) has been left to go to rack and ruin in recent decades. It’s one of many sadly neglected canalside structures, which has never been retrieved and repurposed for any “post-industrial” service industry. But the question is, what would a Trump (what would a Davies?) propose to do to remedy the situation?

The answer promoted by most mainstream politicians, of either hue, in the UK and US over the last 30 years has been to trust the market. Private enterprise, we are told, will deliver improvements to all our lives… Well, perhaps it will in some places, but the canal company building is still there, crumbling, and last month it was raided by police officers charged with shutting down an unregulated private enterprise…

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As reported by the Telegraph and Argus , this was not the first time that the building has been squatted for the purpose of growing industrial quantities of cannabis…

Shipley Ashley Lane cannabis farm.jpg.galleryThe spirit of free enterprise has always been about serving yourself first, even if that involves stretching the law. It’s useful for some things, but it’s not going to save the crumbling infrastructure of Yorkshire’s former mill towns, let alone the American “rustbelt” states that swung victory for Trump. And the new President, who knows a thing or two about free enterprise, knows there’s no business incentive for rebuilding in depressed areas. (Where’s the profit in that?) So instead, he is promising the biggest federal infrastructure programme since FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s. Donald the Builder wants to make more than his signature golden towers. His plans will, he promises, put thousands of ordinary Americans back in work, and it’s these promises that got him the votes he needed in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to win the election.

The question is, who is going to pay for all this? Because much as we’ve all got tired of mainstream politicians who seem only to represent vested interests (hence the Trump rallying cry to “drain the swamp!”), we’ve also got used to not having to pay too much in taxes. Hence Trump’s determination to make Mexicans, not Americans, pay for his most controversial infrastructure project — the mooted wall on America’s southern border (which, of course, the “Bridges Not Walls” slogan refers to). Well, good luck with that, Donald. So far the Mexicans don’t seem too impressed by your negotiation tactics.

But enough about America. Let’s get back to Shipley. Where the appeal of Philip Davies to local voters is perhaps not dissimilar to the appeal of Donald Trump. His slogan is “Your Interests, Not Self Interest”. And as I mentioned, Mr. Davies does seem to do a fair job of helping people out with their immediate difficulties, by banging heads together where he can. And yet… in this era of small-ish government and low-ish taxes, there’s little prospect of the local infrastructure being rebuilt any time soon.

For me, this realisation has become particularly apparent this last month thanks to some striking bits of local history. Paul Barrett at Kirkgate Centre recently circulated this link to Operation Progress — a 1957 documentary film, on the British Film Institute’s web player, which shows the demolition of some of Shipley’s insanitary old back-to-back houses, and the building of the spanking new council housing estates along Coach Road. You get an amazing sense, watching this film, of just how exciting and progressive it seemed at the time to build these solid new homes in green spaces on the Baildon side of the river — transplanting people from the dark, crowded streets so many had been living in before. This was “operation progress”, and it was masterminded not by private enterprise or indeed by central government, but by Shipley Urban District Council. They had a masterplan, and they carried it out, and in many ways we’re still living with the landscape they created in the 1950s. Partly because there’s been no comparable attempt at regeneration since…

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I’ve also been actively researching the history of Shipley’s Dockfield area this month (see also my last blog), and one of the striking things I’ve discovered is that here, too, it was Shipley Urban District Council that made all the difference. Not in the 1950s, but half a century earlier, when SUDC had a masterplan called the “Shipley Improvement Act of 1901”.

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Up til then, Dockfield had basically been the wild west (or rather east) — an area dominated by a few largely unregulated textile mills, with the only road access going under the railway via Dock Lane. The lane was in a shocking state of disrepair because the mill owners didn’t want the responsibility or cost of maintaining it. But then SUDC built Dockfield Road as a modern road link from the main Otley Road. And alongside Dockfield Road, SUDC built the row of terraced housing that still stand there. And at right angles to Dockfield Road, they also built the homes along Dockfield Terrace. Council houses all. And they made them solidly, from stone, with then-state-of-the-art plumbing and heating systems.

And at the same time they built a water treatment works in Dockfield, as the outfall to a brand new sewage main running west to east, the length of Shipley. Because decent sanitation is a basic health requirement. But left to its own devices, free enterprise was never going to provide it.

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All of which brings me back to In Communities. Remember them? Opposite the weed warehouse? It oversees what’s left of Shipley’s council housing stock. Of course, ever since Mrs. Thatcher introduced the right to buy in the 1980s, most council housing in the area — whether along Coach Road (c.1957) or in Dockfield (c.1908) has been sold into private ownership. There’s not much stock left, because there’s been no new drive for social house-building. Because — we’re always told — we can’t afford it. And to judge from the Comments on the InCommunities facebook page (where the average ‘star grading’ out of 5 is 2.2), the condition of much of the remaining stock is poor, and too little care is being taken about the welfare of those people having to live in them. In fact, I even made a film about this recently. But that’s another story.

My point is, if you look around Shipley, it’s easy to see why people here might — given the opportunity — vote for Donald Trump. Whether “in a heartbeat”, or just in the forlorn hope that it might change something. But my point is also that what we really need is properly resourced, properly led local government, with a new vision for the town’s future.

Is it too much to hope that we might build a bridge, on this basis, between Philip Davies and his detractors?

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This is Dockfield’s Junction Bridge. Built in 1774 to allow horses to cross from the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal to the connecting towpath of the Bradford Canal. This is the junction – and the bridge – at the heart of Bradford’s early industrial expansion. Behind the bridge, Junction House — also built in 1774 — continues to fall into chronic disrepair…

 

Last Christmas: a view from the air

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Tomorrow, Sunday 18th December 2016, we’re holding a Christmas party at Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club for the Higher Coach Road Residents Group — and other invited members of the local community. We held a similar event around this time last year, shortly before the club was devastated by flooding on Boxing Day. That’s the club’s buildings, there, on the lower right of the photo above. The ‘proper’ river is to its right, and the lake that was Woodbottom cricket pitch is to the left. This was 27th December 2015, as the flood water was starting to recede.

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Here’s a closer view of the club and adjacent caravan park… And below, another view as the aerial drone camera turns clockwise to show the rest of the club and the upstream area.

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Below, moving further upstream but looking back — a higher and wider shot of the whole area. Here, the main course of the river is much clearer, just off to right of centre. The club is in the middle towards the back of the shot, and in the foreground, Baildon Rec and the local Sea Cadets hall.

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Then, below… just a little further upstream still, and turning clockwise again to look west, we have the four houses of Aire Close — right next to the river — and the Victoria Mills complex on the opposite “bank”. In the distance, to the west, is Saltaire. Notice the visible watermark on the buildings in this shot, since the water is already well down on where it had been the previous day:

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0009.JPGI’m very grateful to Brian Tuxford, of Northway Vehicle Sales (on Baildon Bridge) for sharing these images with me and allowing me to put them up on the blog. I featured Brian a few weeks ago, in this blog post, but it’s taken me a while to get these images up (because the CD he gave me had got corrupted somehow, and I had to get technical support to recover the photo files). Anyway, it seems appropriate to share them at Christmas — one year on.

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Above, we see the view from just downstream of Baildon Bridge, looking west. The cricket pitch etc are to the back of the shot now, and in the foreground we see the retail area east of the bridge, off Otley Road… United Carpets, and in the bottom right, the garden centre section of B&M. The river channel proper is to the left. The collection  of white vans in the middle of the shot is part of the Northway Vehicles fleet — the part that hadn’t been swept away by the flood — and you can see here just why Northway’s compound was in exactly the worst place as far as the flood was concerned… right in harm’s way as the water diverted across the cricket pitch tries to find its way back into the main channel. Below we see the same scene in reverse (i.e. the other side of United Carpets is now to the left; the river is to the right), and here you can get a very clear sense of the trajectory that would have been taken by the 37 vehicles swept downstream off the Northway lot…

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The shot below gives some sense of how bright and sunny it was, on the day after the storm. Again we’re looking west, with the club to the left and the Rec in the centre of the shot. In the lower foreground is Otley Road, coming away from Baildon Bridge…

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If you compare the shot above with the shot below — which seems to have been taken later in the day, when the water level had further receded — you can see how more of the road is now visible. And how the worst flooded part of it is actually around the junction with Green Lane… The bridge itself, to the left, and everso slightly raised to cross the river, is by this point comparatively dry. Which may be why the vehicle trying to ford through the flood water had thought it safe to ignore the road closure signs at the other side…

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Particularly clear from this photo above is the way that the main river channel goes through a noticeable curve or bend as it comes under the bridge. Hardly surprising, then, that in high water — and with the channel under the bridge itself partially blocked by debris — the river diverts itself straight across this area, in a sort of “short cut.”

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Finally, then, back to the club. And the vapour trails in the sky, reflecting in the standing water on the cricket pitch. And one, stranded blue car, which is not going anywhere fast.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

 

There’s Yorkshire Life in Salt’s Waters…

It’s almost the end of October, so this is a bit slow off the mark, but I’m belatedly proud to say that the Multi-Story Water project was featured in a two-page colour spread in this month’s edition of Yorkshire Life magazine.

IMG_1993There’s a nice overview of the project here, but the piece is specifically supposed to be flagging the launch of our downloadable audio guide, Salt’s Waters, which you can find in various digital formats at this web address. You can pick up a printed leaflet with map from Salts Mill (second floor, leaflet stand by window), from Saltaire Visitor Information Centre, or from Kirkgate Centre in Shipley (or you can print your own off via the website). Frankly we haven’t done enough of a job of advertising this sound project on this blog — but Yorkshire Life can explain a little more for you…Larger versions of the text on these pages are pasted in below.

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Salt’s Waters is intended as an alternative heritage guide to the Saltaire area — which gets visitors out beyond the immediate confines of the mill village, and exploring the area to the Northwest via river, canal, tributary becks and numerous other water features. The circular tour takes you from the bottom of Victoria Road, up to the ruins of Titus Salt Junior’s ill-fated Milner Field mansion, and back to Saltaire via Dowley Gap. Along the way there’s narration, voices from the archive, sound effects, and original music by Eddie Lawler — including “The Ballad of Little Beck”, written especially for this Salt’s Waters (Little Beck is the stream dammed as a boating lake at Milner Field).

The guide is also intended to tell some of the less well-known “heritage” stories of the area. For example, on Track 4, as walkers head west from Roberts Park through the Higher Coach Road estate, the story turns to the building of the estate in the 1950s — showing how significant this area too is, in its own right, and how connected it is to the Saltaire story. This is a connection Multi-Story Water first explored in our “Green Route” performance tour back in 2012, so it’s nice to get it on the “permanent record”, so to speak…

You can of course choose to listen to the audio simply as a podcast, without doing the walk, but Salt’s Waters is very much designed to be experienced in situ — with your eyes providing the “live movie” to accompany the soundtrack… Do give it a try some autumn weekend, and let us know what you make of it… Thanks!

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There’s also a side-bar that they’ve added about our short film Wading to Shipley, which has been available online for 3 years now (see under the “Films” tab above), but which the writer for Yorkshire Life seems to have taken a shine to…

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Balsam-bashing, art-making, football-playing HCRRG!

Tis the season to be bashing. Or so I’m told. To be specific, that’s bashing Himalayan balsam – the invasive plant species that spreads like wildfire along riverbanks and tends to grow high and smother other vegetation as it goes… As this helpful guide from the Canal and River Trust explains, you have to do what you can to root it out annually, before the plant’s seed pods develop and further spread themselves along our waterways.

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Here’s one bit of balsam, with those pretty purple flowers, located right on the banks of the Aire along the ‘Higher Coach Road’ stretch west of Saltaire. (That’s the Graincliffe aqueduct, carrying Shipley’s water supply across, er, water, in the background.) This particular piece of balsam is no longer in situ, because I pulled it up myself — working alongside Ruth Bartlett of HCRRG (Higher Coach Road Residents Group) one night last week. Ruth had taken it upon herself to organise and advertise nightly balsam- bashing sessions (just one of a number of community initiatives she has been involved with getting started), and every evening from 8 she was joined by different assortments of friends and community members to work along this stretch of the river.

There’s something peculiarly satisfying about pulling up balsam. And actually pulling it up, rather than ‘bashing’, slashing, or strimming is really the best way to deal with it when it is mixed in among native plant species — as it certainly is along the Aire. At this point in the year it has grown to the point where the balsam’s stalks are easily identifiable and very graspable — resembling some sort of cross between rhubarb and celery — so you just grab it as close to the roots as you can and yank it out of the ground (while trying not to get stung by nearby nettles or spiked by thorns). It comes up really easily, although as Ruth pointed out, that’s partly because the roots have already partially disintegrated the soil they’re growing in (another reason why this is really bad to have along riverbanks, because it contributes to erosion). And then you just leave the stuff to rot down, safely neutralised…

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Ruth’s balsam bashing initiative is just one of the recent activities undertaken along the riverbank and flood plain by HCRRG. Though still quite a new group (which, I’m proud to say, the Multi-Story Water project had a hand in getting going), they’re learning fast. Actually this balsam bashing has been a good example of ‘learning’. Ruth initially advertised on Facebook for volunteers to help clear both the balsam and some of the nettles by the riverbank — her thinking being that clearing some nettles would help us get closer to the balsam! But she immediately got a number of replies urging that the nettles be left alone, both for ecological reasons (they’re really an important part of the native riverbank ecosystem) and for community safety reasons — i.e. they help to keep local children away from the riverbank when they’re playing unsupervised (since the bank is slippy and steep in places, and prone to erosion – as noted above). Ruth duly amended her posts.

IMG_1248The wider flood plain area along the HCR estate continues to be a point of discussion and some contention this summer, with the Council mowers again refraining from cutting the grass on a regular basis. The evolving controversy between those residents who wanted a closely-cropped lawn and those who liked the wildlife opportunities created by the longer grass (e.g. watching birds dive-bombing for insects) was the subject of a number of posts on this blog last year — and the focus of our community-focused ‘Meadow Meander’ event. This year, as you can see from the image above, the grass hasn’t grown nearly as high as last year — another consequence of the flooding at Christmas and the fact that the ground remained completely waterlogged until well into the spring. But as a result of the discussions last year, HCRRG was able to establish a direct line of communication with the local parks manager who is responsible for the mowing on this stretch (John Dembycki [sp.?], based up at Northcliffe Park). And one consequence of this is that the estate now has its own football field!

IMG_1246This shot is looking back towards Roberts Park and Saltaire (see mill and church in background). Older residents recall that this relatively flat end of the field was used for local football matches in years gone by, but the ground had long since become too bumpy and boggy for that. But this year the mowers have made a point of cutting the grass at regular intervals on this patch, so that the ground was flattened and prepared for the installation of the goalposts that went in just a couple of weeks ago, along with the chalk perimeter lines. Local kids are, needless to say, already making good use of the pitch. This area of the field is immediately downhill of the area where children often tend to gather anyway, so it’s worked really well.

And so too has the recent introduction of weekly art-making workshops for the children, run by Spongetree’s Nicola Murray — pictured below with the enthusiastic Oliver…

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Nicola lives down Green Lane, within walking distance of the estate, so it’s been simple for her to get along on a Wednesday afternoon in the after-school hours to work with kids on various arts and crafts activities — including here making fish sculptures from willow sticks and ribbon (all very appropriate to the riverside environment). Involving Spongetree in this way was again an initiative of HCRRG — with local kids often literally asking Ruth and others for “stuff to do” — and Multi-Story Water has been involved in supporting this activity too. We initially asked parents to sign their kids up to an organised series of workshops, but this seems to have been off-puttingly formal for most, so we abandoned that approach and decided to pursue the idea more organically… with Nicola simply rocking up each week and involving whichever children turned up in the activities on offer (and yes, she is thoroughly DBS-checked). That approach has proved popular, with numbers of kids in attendance growing steadily over the first few weeks. We’re planning to continue this part-way into the summer holidays, and see what the kids can create. They are also starting to articulate their own requests for things to do — den-making is the next big thing for them, it seems, although that might require a little more in the way of resources. Let’s see what evolves…

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HCR Dragons take on Bradford!

I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t been keeping the blog up to date much, but it would be remiss not to give a (belated) salute to all the good folk who participated in the Lord Mayor of Bradford’s annual Dragon Boat races last Saturday, May 7th. (apparently the biggest such mayor’s race in the country) The event took place on the River Aire beside Roberts Park, on the stretch of the river coming down from Hirst Mill. Here you can see some of the action on the riverbank in the park (looking across to the Boathouse and Salts Mill…).IMG_0880

This year, for the first time, there was a “home team” fielded by residents on the Higher Coach Road estate — which part of the course passes beside on its way to the park. The appearance of the “HCR Dragons” was thanks to the dogged determination of resident Ruth Bartlett (aka Eliza Ronksley), who persuaded the race organisers that there should be a place for a community group boat alongside all the boats from local businesses and others who had the money to pay the sizeable up front entry fee. She worked out a special arrangement that can hopefully set a precedent in future. IMG_0879

Here’s Ruth plotting race strategy with the HCR Dragons’ secret weapon, Mark Edwards — who like a few others in the boat is a “friend” to the HCR residents rather than actual resident himself. Mark lives up on Hirst Mill Crescent, and is a rowing coach with the Bradford Rowing Club. So he knows a few things about boat races, though he’s more used to travelling backwards than forwards… Note the team’s choice of colourful headgear to mark them out from the rest of the crowd…

IMG_0883And here they are getting ready to race! Love that headgear…

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The race is on, coming round the bend by the cricket pavilion!

IMG_0885Here come those Dragons!

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Nearly there!

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The team gets its breath back after the mad paddling! There’s Ruth in the red life jacket, perhaps wondering why she started all this! But well done the Dragons.

IMG_0888For a team of almost complete novices, most of whom had never got in a boat like this before the day of the races, they did really well! The final scoreboard puts them 16th out of 45, a very respectable showing! And more to the point, everyone had fun…

IMG_0889Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there on the day myself — a shame because I was hoping to do a bit of paddling myself. But it sounds like everyone had a blast. The photos above were all taken by John Milner and posted to the HCR Residents’ Group Facebook page — I hope he doesn’t mind me pirating them for this post. Well done everyone and onwards to next year! And hats off – especially – to Eliza Ronksley.

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“Working with nature” on Higher Coach Road


This was the scene in Roberts Park, yesterday, as members of the Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group contributed to Saltaire’s World Heritage Weekend with a demonstration of the traditional skill of wood turning…

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That’s Craig at the pole lathe, which is powered entirely by manpower (he’s working a pedal that pulls down a carefully sprung wood branch — in shot here — to turn the pole back and forth rapidly. Behind Craig is Stewart (HCRRG’s Chairman) who spent the afternoon at the “bodger’s bench” (see below), rough-cutting sections of wood for Craig to work on the lathe. That rather refined looking chair leg had started out earlier as a rough lump of wood retrieved from leftover timbers. (Also in shot above is Rob Martin, of Saltaire Stories — one of the organisers of World Heritage Weekend.)

IMG_0815Here Stewart and Craig are observed by Paul (Kirkgate Centre) and Steve (also from the residents group). Located alongside the Canal and River Trust’s display of dummy mooring posts (for practising roping off), the wood-turning demo attracted a steady stream of interested passers-by during the afternoon.

Untitled from Steve Bottoms on Vimeo.

IMG_0833The idea here was to showcase an older piece of local “heritage” than is normally on display at the Heritage Weekend (which is, quite rightly, dominated by Saltaire’s Victorian-era legacy). As Stewart says, skills of this sort would have been used in the Aire valley for many centuries, as people worked with the available resources — wood, water, and so forth. Complementing the craft display, local storyteller Irene Lofthouse (on the left below) presented some traditional myths and legends for an audience of intrigued children – and some of their parents – while musician Eddie Lawler and I worked up verses to a song that only had a chorus (“Welcome to Our Airedale Home”) by asking passers-by for ideas.

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Irene Lofthouse, Pat Gledhill, Lyze Dudley

As you can see from Irene’s face, we also had face painters on hand for the kids – specialising in designs on the theme of woodland and water… Steph and Lu, friends of HCRRG’s Facebook page convenor Ruth, have just started up in the face-painting business, and they certainly had plenty of custom yesterday!

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Meanwhile, some of the children from the Higher Coach Road estate were also represented by a display of anti-litter posters they had designed for a competition arranged by Ruth. Since the posters featured both artwork and words, they were judged by Irene (a published poet) and Saltaire artist David Starley, who was also on hand. Amelia’s entry, below, was my personal favourite…

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Later in the afternoon, when we had packed up in the park, I took a stroll west along the flood plain area next to the park — and adjacent to the Higher Coach Road estate — where some intriguing changes have been taking place lately.

At the behest of the HCR Residents Group, horticulture students from Shipley College (course leader, John Baker) came in to work on an overgrown mass of riverside willow – near the footbridge – that had been left to its own devices for years. Under the supervision of Samantha Yates, the students neatly coppiced sections of the undergrowth, and cut and cleared others.

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There’s quite a lot of wood debris to be cleared away, but John Dembecki (Bradford Council parks service) has apparently promised that it will be gone by next week. In the meantime, it sits on the grass as evidence of just how much work needed to be done here!

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Intriguingly, though, this is not just a story of overgrown willow being cut back. With advice from Graham, of Hirst Wood Regeneration Group, members of HCRRG have taken saplings from amongst the cleared wood, and planted them in the flood plain area itself, in a series of neatly grouped areas…

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Admittedly, these newly planted trees don’t look like much just yet, but they will — because it’s clear that a good many of them have “taken” in the soft ground, and are already starting to bud.

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The idea here is not only to add a new visual feature to the grassy flood plain, but to bring a little further assistance to the ground’s water retention. Until very recently, the muddy area you see in the picture above was still a giant puddle, retaining water that had built up during the exceptionally wet weather of November and December (the puddle was there before the Boxing Day flood, and long-outlasted it!). But tree roots will help to soak up some of the moisture, and hopefully to further stabilise the ground.

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Yet another “new” feature along this riverside stretch is the “host of golden daffodils” that have sprung up this spring, along the banks of the Aire itself. These were not planted by HCRRG, but appear to have grown up from dormant bulbs that must have been in the ground for years. The reason they have come up now appears to be that the Boxing Day flood swept away a large amount of dead brushwood from the riverbank, leaving the ground clear for new growth.

I joked to Pam Ruppe (HCRRG’s treasurer – pictured below in the park) that nature seemed to be lending a hand with the work that the group has been doing recently. “Well,” she responded, “you could say that we’re working with nature.” And indeed you could — whether it be coppicing, willow-planting or Craig and Stewart’s “sustainable” woodworking, this does seem to be the theme to a lot in a lot of the group’s activities. Although less than a year old, Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group has already established a clear sense of purpose and identity.

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“It was a beautiful day…”

We’re two months on from the post-Christmas flood, and in 3 weeks time (20th March) the Multi-Story Water team will be hosting a special event called After the Flood at Kirkgate Centre, Shipley… a community conversation to discuss what happened on Boxing Day and what has happened since in terms of the very positive public response. Official details are in the previous post to this one… But this blog reflects a little on the theme of after the flood, by presenting some images taken on the day after Boxing Day — December 27th….

IMG_4531The pictures here were all taken by Martin Spiers, who lives on Bowland Avenue – on the Higher Coach Road estate – and are shared with his permission. The shot above shows the riverside trees along that stretch, suddenly standing in the middle of a much wider river. And the shot below looks back to the row of houses where Martin lives…

IMG_4492As in the shot of the trees, the blue sky, sunshine and reflections in the now-calm water make for quite a beautiful picture. Discussions about the flood have – quite rightly, focused on the miserable conditions in the days and weeks leading up to it – but it is worth remembering, too, that on December 27th the weather was stunning. I’m reminded of a lyric in U2’s song “Beautiful Day” (with its glancing reference to the story of Noah’s Ark): “See the bird with the leaf in her mouth / After the flood, all the colours came out…”

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(This shot is the reverse view to the one above, looking east towards Saltaire….)

Let’s not underestimate just how much difficulty the flood caused for some. But it is worth remembering, too, how “the colours came out” — not just literally but metaphorically, as local people showed their best colours, and voluntary flood support groups spontaneously organised themselves through social media, both in Shipley/Baildon and just upstream in Bingley…

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This was the view downstream in Saltaire, looking out over the Roberts Park cricket pitch. Rather wonderfully, there was even a strategically placed sign, stating the obvious… But I choose to read this is as further evidence of that general urge people had to help and inform each other…

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Below is another, oddly romantic view across the cricket pitch, this time taken from the other side of the river, looking over towards Half Moon Cafe (which the day before had been several feet under).

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Further along on the south side of the river, heading back west, the Salts Sports cricket pitch was also still under water on December 27th…

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… But notice the debris that had collected on the railings to the right of the picture above… Martin also snapped the fantastic picture below, of one particular railing where the an almost human figure seems to have been created by the flood. Let’s call it Denis… (the Water-man)

IMG_4543Maybe the flood has made us all water-people. If you believe the scientific predictions for climate change, this kind of thing is going to happen more frequently in future. The question is how we respond… And in many ways the public response since the flood has been amazing — in the way people have volunteered not just to help the people worst affected by the flooding, but to pitched in with clean-ups of the debris left by the water. Can this kind of energy and enthusiasm be sustained in positive ways into the future?

“It was a beautiful day… Don’t let it get away…”

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Hirst Weir and Debris Removal Initiative: updates

A short-ish post this, to keep the blog up to date on some recent developments… Further to my post about Hirst Weir a couple of weeks back, work is now well underway on repairing the breach, as this photo nabbed from a recent Telegraph and Argus story shows…

Hirst Weir repairs wAnd as you can see, the heavy machinery is in, er, full flow. In my previous post on this, I erroneously suggested that — because the breach in the weir is out in the middle — it was too far out for excavators to get to, and that the repairs would have to be handled manually. But the repair scheme is (of course) much cleverer than that. As Geoff Roberts, of the Aire Rivers Trust, explained to me a couple of days ago, the approach being adopted involves gradually working the machinery out into the river by laying big rocks ahead of it, onto which it can then move. They are constructing a massive “rock ramp” (with massive rocks) downstream of the weir, a full-river-width extension of the temporary repairs carried out on the Baildon side in 2012. This means that the river will flow more gradually downhill after coming over the weir lip, rather than crashing down on the river bottom. By building the rock ramp first, the contractors can then get themselves in a position to fill the actual breach in the weir itself as the final stage of the repair (using a more nuanced version of the same “stick in some rocks” strategy).

Geoff and the Aire Rivers Trust have been working over recent weeks with Bradford Rowing Club, which owns the weir, on two key things:

(1) to raise the money as quickly as possible to carry out the repairs. Between them, they raised the shortfall of £30,000 in two weeks flat, partly through crowd-sourcing. Amazing!

(2) ensuring that the new rock ramp weir will be laid so as to allow fish to travel upstream by slipping between the rocks. This is instead of a more heavily engineered fish pass solution, but is also much cheaper and, arguably, more “natural”. Geoff told me that the Rowing Club’s much more expensive plans for a permanent design solution to the weir, for which they were raising money last year (target: £600,000) have basically been shelved and superceded by these emergency repairs, but he seems confident that the new solution might even work out better in the long run.

Geoff also mentioned that Buntons, the contractors carrying out the work on the weir (who also did the 2012 repairs), are doing so on a costs-only, not-for-profit basis. This is just one more example of the amazing spirit of generosity and community co-operation that has characterised so much of the public response to the recent flooding. Speaking of which…

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This was the sight last Sunday, January 31st, on the Higher Coach Road stretch of the Aire riverbank (downstream of Hirst Weir). Thanks to the tireless cajoling and publicising of Mat Holloway and his Aire Debris Removal Initiative (ADRI), around 75 people from all around the district turned out on a damp morning and — starting from the cricket pitch at Roberts Park — worked their way west for two hours with litter pickers and rubbish bags supplied by the Council…

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These pictures are taken from ADRI’s Facebook page, which is very active and full of images and news updates (I can’t keep up with them!). And there are new connections forming too, between different groups… Pictured below is Stewart Gledhill, chairman of the recently-established Higher Coach Road Residents Group, plucking a particularly large piece of plastic debris from the riverside trees…

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In a matter of just over a couple of hours, the Debris Removal task force collected over 100 bags of debris! Here’s a bunch of it left for collection at the Roberts Park end…

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And here’s a bunch more left for collection at the far end of the Salts Sports site, by the footbridge across the Aire…

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All of the bags were then swiftly collected by the Council trucks, and a job had been well done! Well done to everyone involved (I’m just sorry I couldn’t be there myself), and good luck to Mat and ADRI in organising further clear-ups. Unfortunately, the session scheduled for today, Sunday 7th June, down in the Buck Wood area near Denso Marstons Nature Reserve has been cancelled as a precaution, due to the persistent rain this weekend making the ground soft and treacherous underfoot. But hopefully the momentum can nonetheless be maintained into future weeks…