Flood Response @ Armley Mills

It was a pleasure and a privilege this last Thursday evening, December 8th, to have the opportunity to perform Too Much of Water, my one-man show about the Shipley flood last Christmas, at Leeds Industrial Museum — aka Armley Mills. The occasion was the opening of a special exhibition titled Flood Response. A single room in the basement of the museum is jam-packed with varied, colourful, striking exhibits documenting the impact of the Boxing Day flood in (mostly) Leeds. As the title implies, the exhibition looks at how communities in Leeds, especially in Kirkstall and Armley (the mill itself was directly hit by flooding), responded to the flood, often by showing a surprisingly festive spirit of resilience and co-operation, and thereby turning a crisis into a form of community-building. In the same spirit, the exhibition itself is labelled a “community exhibition”, and as such is composed largely of material donated by members of the public, rather than being professionally produced or commissioned.


The curator of this rather remarkable display is Chris Sharp, pictured here on the right — his first big project for Leeds City Museums. He’s done a tremendous job (I really do recommend you visit). The exhibition was officially opened by Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, pictured below during her speech, during which she spoke with real passion about the city’s response to the flood crisis..

To Councillor Blake’s right here is Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, deputy leader of the council and (more to the point in this context) the ward representative for Kirkstall. As such, she was directly involved in the community response to the flooding along Kirkstall Road, and she really does seem to be one of those (rather too rare) politicians who inspires the confidence and affection of her local community. The exhibition opening itself was attended by quite a diverse crowd of invitees, enough to pack out the exhibition space, but here too the spirit of inclusion was apparent. This wasn’t just the predictable collection of luvvies and bigwigs you might expect to see at an exhibition opening, but a cross-section of people from the local community who had got involved in the flood response effort, in one way or another. (And here’s a few of them…)



I’m very pleased to say that Multi-Story Water’s own contribution to telling the story of the Leeds flood response is on display as part of the exhibit (which will run for six months). Our promenade performance After the Flood — devised for Leeds Waterfront Festival in June — is on display in a new film version. We completed editing just in time for the exhibition opening. And OK, yes, some kind of technical glitch meant that the film file wasn’t playing on the digital screen designated for it on Thursday (i.e. the one to the left of this chap’s head, in the picture on the left), so it had to be temporarily installed on  an alternative screen at ground level. This hiccup should be resolved soon, though. And in the meantime you can also view the film online… Just look for After the Flood under the “Films” tab on the menu bar above… 


This is actor Kat Martin — who you can just about see on the screen in the exhibition shot above — performing ‘live’ in After the Flood, as “Poppy”, a young woman whose family’s business on Kirkstall Road was badly affected by the flood. (The doll’s house represents the business, and the small figures are Poppy’s parents…) I’m really rather proud of this piece, made in collaboration with Simon Brewis’s Common Chorus Theatre, but on Thursday night, attendees at the opening were too busy milling and chatting to concentrate long on a video screen… Instead, after the speeches were over, they were invited upstairs to the museum’s cafe space for my live storytelling performance, Too Much of Water (both it and the ATF film were requested by Chris Sharp for the exhibition and opening – thanks for the opportunity, Chris).

Anyway, here I am, as pictured/tweeted by Geoff Roberts…


When I originally performed this piece in Roberts Park, for Saltaire Festival, it was mid-September and the Christmas tree and jumper seemed amusingly quirky. Since then, I have performed it around the country (Exeter, London, Cambridge, Manchester, Leeds), and I’m aware that by now — in December — I’m in danger of looking like I’m just trying too hard to be seasonal. Be that as it may, the performance was very well received by attendees at the opening, several of whom made a point of introducing themselves afterwards and thanking me personally (which was very nice – thankyou!).

What people find moving, I think, is the piece’s focus on some of the smaller, more human details of how people were affected by the flooding (the script draws from interviews with a number of people in the Shipley area, who are represented by the small wooden figures). I was especially flattered by the suggestion of one senior flood risk officer, who saw the piece on Thursday, that anybody who works with people affected by, or at risk of flooding (be it for the Environment Agency, local council, or whatever) ought to see this piece, because it will help them reflect on what it’s really like to be in those circumstances. High praise indeed.

On the other hand, I heard on Friday — from another friend who couldn’t attend the opening — that a couple of his colleagues at the Environment Agency, who had been at Armley Mills to represent on Thursday, had felt slightly uncomfortable watching the piece. They wondered if I was attacking the EA’s warning efforts in Shipley around the time of the flood. I’d just like to say, publicly, that I’m really sorry if they felt that way, because this was never my intention. Yes, certain details are documented in the show, as seen from the point of view of my interviewees, that might perhaps be seen as not reflecting all that well on the EA, but I was very careful in writing the piece not to make any comment either way — simply to represent the facts as best I could establish them, and let spectators draw their own conclusions. And I do make the point in the show that the Agency too, in its own way, was inundated on Boxing Day — struggling to keep up with the pace of events as the crisis unfolded in multiple towns, in multiple catchments, simultaneously. They, too, are only human.

With that in mind, I’ll close here by pasting in Scene 5 of our After the Flood film — “the Agency Man”. Hopefully this provides some sense of just how tricky the EA’s job is, in terms of Flood Response – often having to be all things to all people. In my (finite) experience, they usually do a great job, in often very difficult circumstances.

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.


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!



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…



“Week of Action” at Saltaire WI

This Thursday, I dusted off my one-man show Too Much of Water for the first time since Saltaire Festival last month, and presented it at St. Peter’s Church for the October meeting of the Saltaire Women’s Institute (WI)…. It was a very thoughtful, attentive crowd.


I’d been invited by Ruth Simpson, who is the “Climate Ambassador” for this WI branch — a title which she herself finds rather falsely grand, but which indicates the organisation’s commitment to working environmentally, and to do what it can to mitigate climate change. Ruth gave a short but moving talk at the beginning of the meeting, to provide context for my performance — explaining that this is the Climate Coalition‘s “Week of Action” on climate change. Apparently, the coalition — in which WI is an active partner nationally — used to be called “Stop Climate Chaos” (in fact it still has that name in Scotland and Wales) but was rebranded to de-emphasise the “fear factor” implicit in the word chaos. Instead of playing on fear, the policy now is to emphasise the need for collective action on behalf of the things people love. Ruth spoke about how her own sense of engagement with these issues is motivated by a concern for things she cares about personally — the local, natural environment being prominent among them.

This is where Too Much of Water seemed to fit in well, because the performance — in telling the story of how the Boxing Day floods affected a range of people locally in the Shipley area — emphasises the kind of simple, personal, domestic details that tend to get overlooked in mainstream media coverage of flooding. It also concludes with some verbatim comments from my interviewees detailing their own conversations about how the climate seems to have changed over the years (less snow in winter, more rain, less distinct seasons, etc.). There was audible agreement from the audience on these points during the performance — and afterwards I was told by several people that, although they wouldn’t consider themselves “eco-warriors”, the piece had really made them think about how local, personal experiences connect with the big picture of the need for action on what is happening globally with our climate. This was pleasing to hear, because Too Much of Water was written with these concerns very much in mind, but — because it was originally a festival piece for the park — I also didn’t want to bang people over the head with a “message”. I guess the aim is to gently invite people to think further, for themselves, about these issues.


Among the other people present on the evening were Elaine Gilligan, from Friends of the Earth, who briefly spoke to underline some of the points made by Ruth and myself, and engaged in conversation with members during the informal exchanges over refreshments that followed. I hadn’t met Elaine before, but we had a good chat ourselves, and she was very complimentary about the performance (always nice to hear!).

A number of WI members introduced themselves to me, including one young woman whose name I didn’t get, but who apparently reads this blog regularly! So hello, if you’re reading this — do make yourself known by leaving a comment below, if you like! And sorry I got distracted away from speaking to you properly.

I was distracted, I think, by Stewart and Pat Gledhill, of Higher Coach Road, who had been kindly and quietly helping to pack up my stuff, post-performance. Stewart made the wonderful little card models of local landmarks that form an important part of the performance, and since he and Pat had been unable to see the piece at the Festival (they were away in Scotland that weekend), I had invited them along to see it this evening.  I was very pleased to find that they liked the piece a lot! Stewart also took the pics included in this blog. Thanks Stewart and Pat, for everything!



Too Much of Water will appear again on December 6th, at Armley Mills Museum in Leeds, and December 7th, at the John Thaw Studio Theatre, University of Manchester. I also have gigs for it in Exeter and Cambridge in November, so the Shipley/Saltaire story is travelling afar… If you’re interested in bringing it back closer to home, just drop me a line (stephen.bottoms@manchester.ac.uk).

Flood memories at Saltaire Festival

Saltaire Festival 015

If you’re at Saltaire Festival this weekend, do check out The Power of Water — an exhibition specially created for the festival, and on show in an amazing attic level gallery at Salts Mill, which isn’t normally open to the public. The show’s title is intended to link together two significant historical landmarks — this year’s bicentenary celebrations for the completion of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, and the major floods that hit the Aire Valley on Boxing Day. The exhibition’s main emphasis is on photographs of the floods — mostly selected from entries sent in by local residents, accompanied by some professional material alongside them. These are given wider context and resonance by the carefully chosen quotes on banners like the ones shown above.

Saltaire Festival 014

The striking thing about the way that the exhibition has been hung is that the photographs are unframed… They’re simply affixed to a wooden runner down the length of the roof space. Presumably this simple, lo-fi approach reflects the limited funds available for the exhibition (Saltaire Festival is run entirely by volunteers, and it receives only very limited funding from external sources). But for me there’s also something really apt about this method of staging. Given that the homes of many of these affected by the floods had to be stripped back to bare brick (see for instance this previous blog post), the distressed, unplastered walls of the mill provide a really poignant backdrop for the pictures. The photos almost give the impression of having been salvaged from somewhere and put on display as forensic evidence… which, in a sense, they are.

IMG_1659Down at Roberts Park, there’s another blue banner advertising what’s on… I’m rather chuffed about the prominent place here for Too Much of Water, a one-man, half-hour storytelling performance written and performed by yours truly. The piece, which I presented in the park last weekend, is based on interviews with some of those in the Shipley area affected by the Boxing Day floods. It provided some further reflections on the overwhelming “power of water”, while also seeking to entertain a festival audience…. Not an easy balance to strike!

IMG_1628This is me in Roberts Park last Saturday, mid-performance — as snapped by Barney Lerner. All the pics in this blog were taken by audience members and posted to social media, where I grabbed them from. As you can see from this image, the audience consisted of both adults and children (there were a lot more adults standing behind the seated kids), and I’m personally really pleased that the show seemed to hold the attention of both older and younger spectators.


Irene Lofthouse: “A sensitive, thought-provoking piece that highlighted the tragedy of people’s experiences, but rippled with light humorous touches. The use of simple props (loved the Xmas jumper) and dolls made it accessible to all ages – and children at the performance I attended were as interested as the adults. Barbie and the Bard illustrating local people’s trauma was inspired.”

IMG_1630To capture a sense of what happened up and down Shipley ward — between Branksome Drive in the west and Lower Holme to the east — I used a bolt of blue cloth to stand in as the river (as seen here in close-up shots by Vanessa Hawkin), and miniature wooden figures to represent some of my interviewees. The resemblances weren’t great, because the figures were store-bought and I just had to arbitrarily assign identities! Much more recognisable were the landmark buildings represented by card models made by my good friend Stewart Gledhill (thanks Stewart!), the chairman of Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group (HCRRG).




IMG_1637In this shot above, that’s Baildon Bridge and Woodbottom club to the left (east), then the four houses of Aire Close, then New Mill, the Boathouse Inn and Roberts Park’s Half Moon Cafe and cricket pavilion, then Hirst Mill at the far end (a bit too close to Saltaire because [a] none of this was to scale, and [b] I messed up my placements a bit in this particular run of the show…


Graham P. Glover: “I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw there was going to be a theatrical/comedic event at the Saltaire Festival around the Boxing Day floods which touched so many people’s lives in this area. However I found the event very thought-provoking and poignant. Steve’s use of models and the fabric for the flowing and ever expanding river that day worked brilliantly. A very entertaining show with some audience participation – the Christmas jumper and waterproof trousers were just the ideal costume too.”  (I was sweating like a pig in those, truth be told, especially the Sunday…)

IMG_1638This picture from one of the performances on Sunday (as snapped by Nicola Murray). I’d had to reposition myself because the sun was so bright. On the Saturday I had my mini-Aire directly parallel with the real thing (and the real Boathouse behind me), but on Sunday the sun was burning right above the Boathouse and would have blinded people, so I shifted round so my back was to the path to the footbridge. Anyway, I’m just glad that — title or no title — we were not affected by rain.


IMG_1643Audience responses on both days were really positive, and I even had a few people asking where they could send donations to flood relief charities. (I recommend Yorkshire Voluntary Flood Support.) Some of my interviewees also turned out to see the show, and it was really great to see them — weird as it must have been for them to hear their personal stories recounted in this way. A huge thanks to all of them.

Thanks too to those people who have been interviewed by me this year, about the floods, but didn’t make it into the show at all. I had way too much material, and had to make some tough decisions about what to include and not. But who knows, maybe some of the other material will find its way into another show…

Thanks to everyone who came. It was great to see you all.










This weekend at Leeds Waterfront Festival!

The Multi-Story Water project moves downstream along the Aire a few miles this weekend — to present two special promenade performances for visitors to Leeds Waterfront Festival. Both are completely free of charge for spectators, so do come along!

After the Flood jpeg

There’s another chance to see Seven Bridges – a hit at last year’s Waterfront Festival. This playful walking tour of the Leeds waterfront between Clarence Dock and Granary Wharf features Steve Bottoms and David Calder as “Don and Ron” (two rather questionable executives, planning for future redevelopment) and guest stars Eddie Lawler, on guitar and lead vocals.

SevenBridges jpeg

We also feature a brand new, family-oriented piece, After the Floodcreated in collaboration with Leeds’ Common Chorus Theatre Company. During this unique, self-guided tour of the area around Granary Wharf and the Dark Arches, spectators meet a series of characters seeking to come to terms with the flooding that hit the Aire Valley on Boxing Day. Some have been directly affected, others are planning for future defences. It sounds serious, but there’s a theatrical, visual, and sometimes comic emphasis that should make it accessible and entertaining to all.

Director Simon Brewis has written this great blog post about the process of working on this new piece. Check it out.

We hope to see you there!

“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…


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.

Irene Lofthouse, Pat Gledhill, Lyze Dudley

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!


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…


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.


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!


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…



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.


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.


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.


Catching up with ourselves…


This was the scene in Roberts Park last month after the first performance of our Saltaire Festival walking tour commission, Pleasant Valley Saltaire. That’s me, Steve Bottoms, on the left with the ridiculous robes and water pistol (“Mad Professor”), and next to me my still-more-colourful collaborator, Irene Lofthouse (“Water Sprite”). The rest of these fine people are members of our audience, one of whom wanted a group photograph at the end of what had been an almost 2-hour performance… People still seem to be smiling so I guess it had gone well! A piece of anonymous feedback we received simply states: “Without a doubt one of the best walking tours we have been on. Informative and entertaining. Thankyou.”

I’m writing up this blog a month and a half later because we’ve been a little busy ever since. In particular, since my day job is indeed as a professor (mad or otherwise) I’ve been flat out with the start of the new teaching term in Manchester. I’m just now catching my tail. But there have been lots of other Multi-Story Water activities in the meantime — both in public and in private. So, to summarise in brief:

1. Irene and I presented two showings of Pleasant Valley Saltaire on September 12th and 13th. Full details and lots of pictures soon to be uploaded under the “Performances” tab above. Both tours were well attended, and featured local guests along the way — including this gentleman, Eddie Lawler, pictured with me in Saltaire’s Washhouse Garden…


2. On Tuesday 14th September, Eddie and I presented Salt’s Waters 2 at Half Moon Cafe in Roberts Park, again for Saltaire Festival. This was a second version of an evening we also presented last year — featuring stories and songs about the local waterways in a relaxed setting, and with Half Moon staff laying on a special tasting menu for the audience. This performance was a remix last year’s show, rather than a sequel, but it did feature new material from both of us – including the world premiere of Eddie’s new song “The Mermaid of Bradford Beck.”

3. A month later, on Tuesday 6th October, Eddie and I found ourselves presenting a third version of Salt’s Waters in Scotland! Comrie, Perthshire, to be exact. We were a little out of our way and somewhat out of our comfort zone, presenting such “site specific” material nowhere near Bradford. Hardly anybody in the audience knew the places we were talking about! But we’d been invited to the “Water Innovation Lab” being run by the Canadian organisation Waterlution (and funded by the Scottish Government) to present an alternative take on thinking about water — in terms of place, history, locality. Actually the performance seemed to go down really well. The audience connected with the water stuff more than the locality stuff, but the link was there nonetheless, and a powerpoint display of photo images gave them a sense of the places we were talking and singing about. This double act gets a little tighter every time!

4. A week after that, Wednesday 14th October, and Eddie and I met up again in Leeds… This time with my friend and colleague David Calder, to revive Seven Bridges — our walking tour of the Leeds waterfront between Clarence Dock and Granary Wharf.

DSC06070 Here’s the three of us, looking shifty (David and I play executives – Don and Ron). This picture was actually taken in June, before one of the Seven Bridges performances for Leeds Waterfront Festival. We revived it for this one night only in October at the behest of a friend at the Environment Agency, who felt it would make a useful discussion point among staff there. The EA are currently among the partners working on a massive Flood Alleviation Scheme (FAS) in central Leeds, and most of our audience was made up of flood risk specialists. Seven Bridges points out some of the FAS works along the route, but the performance is mostly about other things (the history, development and re-development of the waterfront). Apparently this did prove valuable for our spectators, in helping them think about their work from another angle. As one of them remarked, we all need to be encouraged to get out of “silo thinking” whenever we can — and look at how what we’re expert in links up with other concerns. I guess this was the appeal for Waterlution too…?

So that’s what we’ve been up to in terms of performances lately. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, my colleague Lyze has been very busy continuing to develop our community engagaement work in various Shipley area neighbourhoods — in collaboration with Kirkgate Centre. Just today, in fact, she helped lay on a boat ride on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal for some of the residents in the Dockfields area who have recently formed into a local action group. Hopefully we’ll have more on that, and other local matters, in future blog posts… and with a bit of luck the next one won’t be such a long time coming!

Join us at the Saltaire Festival this coming week…

So the annual Saltaire Festival is almost upon us, and this year the Multi–Story Water project has two contributions to the festivities — we hope you’ll be able to join us.


First up is Pleasant Valley Saltaire, on the opening weekend of the festival — Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th September. Billed as a “magical mystery tour”, this is a collaboration between MSW’s Steve Bottoms and local poet and storyteller Irene Lofthouse (Fresh Aire Productions). It also features various surprise guests along the way. Led by a mad professor and a water sprite, the performance maps out a gentle, circular walk through Saltaire village and out into some of the surrounding Aire valley neighbourhoods (Hirst Wood, Higher Coach Road). There’ll be some non-threatening audience participation, and some interventions both natural and supernatural! The journey starts at 2pm from outside Saltaire Visitor Information Centre. And it’s free! All welcome.

Then, on the evening of Tuesday 15th September, at Half Moon Cafe…

salts watersThis is a follow-up to a successful event with the same title that Eddie Lawler and I did for last year’s festival. We were asked to do it again, as an opportunity for Half Moon Cafe to again show off their tasting menu… We’ll be presenting some of our stories and songs from last year, and also some new material in a new “mix”. Please do join us for an intimate, atmospheric evening…


Meadows and Bridges (…Looking back on a very busy few weeks…)

The Multi-Story Water team have had an extremely busy few weeks, so this blog has got a little behind with updates… We’ve had two big weekends — this last one, July 11th-12th (of which more shortly), and a fortnight before that, June 26th-28th, we were involved with two simultaneous water-themed festivals — in Shipley and downstream in Leeds.

The Shipley Street Arts Festival, co-ordinated by our friends at Q20 Theatre on Dockfield Road, was an ambitious attempt to combine traditional street entertainments in Shipley’s town square (jugglers, stiltwalkers, and the like) with a thematic emphasis on the town’s rivers and canal… So a second ‘hub site’ for the festival was down on the canal towpath beside the Ibis Hotel. Here’s what it looked like with the big letters SHIPLEY on display…


Multi-Story Water was involved in various aspects of the festival — for example, there was a successful screening of our short film Wading to Shipley at the Ibis on the Sunday, and we’d also arranged with JBA Trust (based at Salts Mill) to display their water flume in the town square… It demonstrates different forms of water flow, when you place different kinds of constructions or obstacles in a channel. On one level quite technical, it’s actually really interesting to watch, and there was a lot of curiuos interest from passers-by…


Our main contribution to the festival, though, was an interactive performance piece called Seven Bridgeswhich used the Ibis as its starting point. Spectators (participants, is probably a better word) toured themselves east along the canal towpath towards Dockfields in groups of 4 or 5, and along the way they were given some game-like challenges to complete. They also would encounter various performers. Here’s David Smith, for example, as a heritage tour guide from three hundred years in the future (2315), dressed as an ordinary canal buff from 2015 (geddit?), and pontificating about the significance of the “art” (aka graffiti) on Otley Road Bridge:

Shipley Arts Festival. 28.06.15

And here’s Lynsey Jones, as a Victorian lock-keeper’s wife (who did all the work opening the locks…), talking to spectators on Junction Bridge…

Shipley Arts Festival. 28.06.15Participants would make their way as far as the old Bradford Canal pumphouse, on Dock Lane, where they would share what they had gathered en route, before returning the way they had come, accompanied by the performers…

Shipley Arts Festival. 28.06.15

There’s more pictures and documentation of Seven Bridges (Shipley) if you look under the “Performances” tab on our menu bar… But for now, let’s turn our attention to its partner piece, Seven Bridges (Leeds)which we presented on the same dates at the Leeds Waterfront Festival. The idea was to “bridge” the two festival locations, upstream and downstream, if only conceptually… Obviously the Leeds version was on a bigger scale, with bigger bridges, and this one took the form of a guided tour rather than a self-led journey… Here’s musician Eddie Lawler (on a day out from his home in Saltaire) kicking the piece off at Clarence Dock (with Crown Point Bridge in the background) with an old canal song about the founding of the Aire and Calder Navigation, which turned Leeds into a “seaport town” in 1700…


But Eddie was just the “local colour” wheeled in to warm the crowd up by Don Freshwater (played by Steve Bottoms, below in the suit)… Don is a both little sinister and a little nuts… he claims to be the CEO of something called the “Leeds Re-Development Corporation”… As Don explains below (in front of Knights Way Bridge and Clarence Dock on the far side) the audience has been gathered as “consultants” to help decide how to redevelop the waterfront… The “ordinary people of Leeds” were never consulted in the past about these matters, so Don wants to consult them now… except that he doesn’t really, because he likes the sound of his own voice too much.


Again, there’s more photos and more detail on this slightly barmy performance (with a serious edge to it) if you look under the “Performances” tab above. Both versions of Seven Bridges were very well received, and pointed us in some interesting directions for future work.

But in the interests of catching up with ourselves, let’s turn our attention now to this last weekend, spent in the flood plain meadow between the River Aire and the Higher Coach Road estate, west of Roberts Park (is it Saltaire, Shipley, Baildon..? you decide – there’s a case for all three). Preparations for the weekend began, in fact, a week earlier, when we sledgehammered a series of fence posts into the field in a rectangular pattern…


Three fenceposts in a row… that’s Steve’s hand in the foreground, Pat Gledhill with the second one, and Matt Blakeley with the third, obscured by Pat because our line was so straight! (well…)

Notice how much longer the grass is than even last month (see previous post, “Meadow Madness”, where it’s much shorter and greener, with more buttercups visible). Basically Bradford Council have said that – with austerity cuts and the resulting loss of manpower and mowers – they will not cut the grass in this field as often as they used to. They did, however, oblige us by at least sparing the time to cut a swathe around our staked-out rectangle, so that by this last weekend, it looked like this:

DSC_0043On Saturday afternoon (July 11th), in the cleared area on the outside of the staked-out rectangle, we held a community barbecue for residents on the estate – with conversation, games for the kids, etc…



This was part of our ongoing engagement with residents here, as we (and our colleagues at Kirkgate Centre) work with them on developing some plans for this riverside field… People would like to see a proper footpath, for instance, and other improvements, but the main focus today was the grass… Some residents, understandably, think it’s a disgrace that the grass has been left to grow this long — they feel it looks scruffy, and embarrasses the neighbourhood, and want us to pass on their anger about this to the Council. Others, though (perhaps a majority of those we spoke to this weekend?) seem to think that, if this is to be a meadow in future, then perhaps something more could be made of it — by planting colourful wildflowers, for example, and cutting at least some areas so that it all looks a bit more intentional and a bit less scruffy…

In an attempt to help focus this discussion, by drawing attention to what long grass is actually composed of up close, we created “A Meadow Meander” within the fenced off area. This is a mazy walk created by treading the grass down into a carefully planned set of looping pathways… So for example, in the picture below, you can make out a “Y” junction, where the “lie” of the grass could take you in one of two directions.


As this picture also starts to suggest, left to their own devices, there are a LOT of different kinds of grasses and other plants growing in the field, and they merit some close up attention… “A Meadow Meander” is the creation of artist Baz Kershaw, and his Earthrise Repair Shop. Baz has created similar installations in various other UK locations, and for this one he had placed a series of jars on small plinths, to be discovered as you move around the maze…Picture3

Each of the jars contains a secret to be puzzled out — just as the winding paths in the grass also follow a particular pattern that visitors are invited to guess at… Baz calls it an “open secret”, because if you’ve done the meander, he’ll happily tell you what the pattern represents… but sorry, if you’re just reading this blog, we’re not going to tell you! The only clue we’ll share is that it might have something to do with the way that long grass looks a little like waves when it is played with by the wind. The River Aire, alongside this meadow, is not the only reason why the meander was appropriate for “Multi-Story Water”…

DSC_0044A Meadow Meander was presented both on the Saturday, along with the barbecue, and on the Sunday, when we put the entrance on the other side of the rectangle, right next to the riverside path. This meant that, where on Saturday it was mainly residents in the meander, on Sunday it was mainly passers-by — walking between Roberts Park and Hirst Wood. We wanted to get their ideas too, on the great meadow debate…


A big thankyou to everyone who made the events described happen… and especially — on the Higher Coach Road estate — a huge thanks to Sarah Muller and to Stewart and Pat Gledhill for so enthusiastically helping to create (and indeed dismantle) the meadow meander… The fence posts are at Stewart and Pat’s as I write, and we have some future plans in store for them…

Pat Gledhill, with her Troutbeck Avenue neighbour Eric -- who kindly donated alcohol to the cause!

Pat Gledhill, with her Troutbeck Avenue neighbour Eric — who kindly donated alcohol to the cause!