‘Hydro-Citizens’ visit Shipley

DSC_0049Taken yesterday: an evocative shot of Salts Mill and New Mill from the deck of the Lady Jane… a working boat run by the JAMES project. At the front, you see one of the crew members with a barge pole attempting to break up the surprisingly thick ice that had formed on the surface of the canal as we made our way west.

DSC_0020In the shot below, a beer bottle just out of the ice at a jaunty angle – not quote sure of the physics there (how did the water freeze around it with most of the weight of the bottle above the surface?) – but I guess that’s the laws of nature (and litter) for you…

DSC_0042The occasion for this chilly but stunningly beautiful boat ride (perfect blue sky, crisp air, stunning light) was the visit of the full national team of the ‘Towards HydroCitizenship’ project — the three-year research project around water, communities and arts practice for which Multi-Story Water in Shipley is one of four, regional case studies (the others are in Mid-Wales, Bristol, and London). The team convened for two days of discussion and provocation, sharing what we’ve been doing so far and looking at future plans (the project kicked off last year but we’re still mostly in the developmental stages, starting to decide of activities and events). On Day 1 (Thursday 5th) we met at Yorkshire Water’s complex in Esholt … which took some of us quite a while to find (!) … where we heard from some YW staff about various innovative initiatives, before moving into our own project discussions. Then that evening, after dinner at the Waterside restaurant on Shipley Wharf (to keep with the theme…) we headed down to Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club — on the banks of the Aire — where club secretary Philip Moncaster hosted a pub quiz event, for ‘our university friends’ and some regulars too. Teams of four, and some utterly random questions generated by the quiz machine that the club has apparently had for years but never used. Philip, it turns out, is a skilled host/DJ and it was great to see him perform. Much fun had by all (thanks Philip!) and I won’t gloat too much in mentioning that my team won…

Tom Payne and Sara Penrhyn Jones (both Aberystwyth University) share a pint with Anthony Lyons (Bristol-based artist) at Baildon Woodbottom

Tom Payne and Sara Penrhyn Jones (both Aberystwyth University) share a pint with Anthony Lyons (Bristol-based artist) at Baildon Woodbottom, prior to their failure to win the quiz.

The next morning we were up bright and early and back across the other side of the river, where the owner and developer of the Victoria Mills residential complex, Andrew Mason, talked us through the complexities of building luxury apartments in a flood zone.

DSC_0010Here is Andrew, central, entertaining Ozlem Edizel (Middlesex University) and – to the left, Peter Coates (Bristol University). (The red-head is our own Lyze Dudley, who co-ordinated the programme for the two days with great aplomb.) It was somewhat surreal for me to see Andrew telling us about the Victoria Mills site, given that in 2012 and 2013, for our Multi-Story Water performance tours of the area, two different actors performed asĀ Andrew — using edited, verbatim transcriptions from an interview I had conducted with him indoors. So to see him now acting the role himself (and repeating some very similar lines – he clearly has a good ‘spiel’ worked out) was, at least for me, a little bizarre as well as thoroughly entertaining. Even the most sceptical of our visitors was won over by Andrew’s obvious passion for the site, and his extraordinary grasp of detail in discussing every aspect of its construction. (His formidable powers of memory were also apparent when he instantly recognised and greeted me – even though we’ve only actually met once, in 2012, when I interview him…)

Anyway, after the Victoria Mills visit we reconvened at Kirkgate Centre in the centre of Shipley for more conferencing discussions about various aspects of the ongoing project. Overall I think we struck a pretty good balance this kind of broad, conceptual stuff and the more locally-specific events showing our visitors something of the water locality. The last of these was of course our boat trip on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, yesterday afternoon (Friday 6th). The JAMES project, based at Shipley wharf, generously offered two boats to carry the assembled Hydro Citizens — and like myself, these brave gentlemen (below) chose the Lady Jane, on the grounds that an open working boat might give us better views as we travelled, even if we got a little chilly on the way…

DSC_0017Here are Peter Coates again, Simon Read (Middlesex University) and Iain Biggs (Bristol-based artist/researcher), as we’re about to set out from Shipley Wharf. Note how low in the water the boat sits — only our upper bodies were above water level. Meanwhile, another group of us travelled on the larger “Two Shires” boat, which had a lovely warm stove going inside, to compensate for having less all-round views! The Two Shires actually ended up taking over from the Lady Jane as lead ‘ice-breaker’, since its greater width and more powerful engine meant that it could get through more easily. Anyway, here is the Two Shires coming into Hirst Lock, at the end of our upstream journey…

DSC_0056We had come to visit the site immediately adjacent (and south) of the lock, where Hirst Wood Regeneration Group is transforming a neglected piece of marshy land into a nature reserve complete with bird hide and pond. Here’s the site viewed from the top end, looking east back towards Saltaire. Lyze (again viewed from behind!) is here seen walking down with Pauline, the secretary of Hirst Wood Regeneration Group, and Jason (?) from the JAMES boat crew…

DSC_0058Pauline is a really remarkable woman, the driving force behind a number of transformational projects in this area. I’d heard a lot about her but never actually met her before: before we left I arranged to come back and talk with her in more detail about the group’s work, as part of our research. Pauline gave a great introduction to the nature reserve project from the warmth of the Two Shires, before we went for this reccy.

DSC_0070Here’s a closer-up shot of the viewing platform for the pond area, which as you can see is still under construction! (The platform is necessary because this area is essentially wetland, and gets very marshy underfoot in wet weather.) I’m looking forward to seeing how this project develops… Speaking of construction, here’s a shot I snapped on the way back down the canal of the Italianate tower of New Mill, partially covered in scaffolding. Presumably some kind of restoration/maintenance work going on – but I was primarily struck by the light, the shadows, and the colours of sky and stone. Quite pleased with this shot…

DSC_0080As the light began to die, we made our way back towards Shipley Wharf, at the end of a memorable couple of days. Our visitors all professed to have enjoyed their trip very much – Shipley has much to be proud of! Next time we all meet, it’ll be Wales, in the summer…

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A Day Out in London…

Last week three members of the Shipley Multi-Story Water team — Trevor Roberts, Lyze Dudley, and myself (Steve Bottoms) took a trip to London. Here’s the view from where we ended up having dinner that evening…

phone pics 462The Olympic Stadium has cranes up around it again as they’re still in the process of dismantling the top level of seating from events two years ago (in preparation for handing it over to West Ham F.C., who presumably won’t need so many seats…). Anyway, as this image suggests, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is surrounded by waterways – this bit being a navigable section of the River Lea…

phone pics 465The view above was taken from a floating restaurant platform that’s part of the Stour Space artists’ studios. Here’s some of the dinner party (left) including, in the foreground, Owain Jones – a geographer from Bath Spa University – who is the ‘principal investigator’ in the new 3-year, AHRC-funded project, “Towards Hydro-Citizenship”. We’re still not quite sure what hydro-citizenship is (or might be), but the point is that the MSW project in Shipley is now being continued as one of four UK-wide partner projects under the Hydro-Citizenship umbrella. In all four case study contexts, we’re exploring connections between communities, water, and the arts (and heritage), with a view to doing something useful…

phone pics 468The Lea Valley, which the Olympic Park lies towards the downstream end of (the Lea flows down from Hertfordshire and meets the Thames in east London) is one of the other case study areas… The other two are in Bristol and mid-Wales, so this blog might feature further ‘away day’ missives from time to time, when all the wider project’s team members collectively go to visit these other sites. But for now, what follows are a few personal reflections on the London site and how much it differs from Shipley. I was pleased to see, though, that some of the locals have a blunt line in graffiti wit that might go down well in Yorkshire. If you can make it out in the darkening image above, there’s the word “UGLY” painted on the waterside with a big arrow pointing at the Stadium…

phone pics 478This daytime shot shows a different but similar setting, with a restaurant on the right (west) bank looking towards the various stadia (the grey block to the left is the Copper Box Arena, which hosted such memorable events as handball, modern pentathlon and goalball during the 2012 games). What’s really striking is how the waterways function as borders for the whole site. So on one side of the water you have London’s east end, with lots of features you might expect to find in a post-industrial landscape (empty warehouses and factories, some now housing artists’ studios; run-down council housing, etc.), and on the other side of the water you have this spanking, shiny new artificial landscape of parkland and stadia. Here’s Trevor Roberts talking to Bristol-based arts consultant Iain Biggs, standing on the same bridge the shot above was taken from. Here we’re looking back at the Park…

phone pics 482This gives you an idea just how plastic-looking the new landscape is. One colleague described it as looking exactly like an architects’ computer plan for a green space, where they’ve just plonked identical avatars of bushes and trees onto a flat green background. And indeed that’s probably exactly what happened here: the park is a simulation of a computer model, rather than the other way around… It reminded me strongly of the cuddly astroturf home of the Teletubbies, only without the pleasingly rounded mound… (it’s flat flat flat, except where the ground slopes down to the waterways)

phone pics 476And perhaps the weirdest thing of all is how empty the whole place looks… I mean OK the shots above were taken early afternoon on a weekday, so lots of people were at work, but how often do you really see parks this empty? The place is like a kind of ghost town, a giant white elephant built at mind-bending expense to service a few weeks of sport two years ago, and now completely unsure of what its role is. Certainly there is little sense of it being embraced much by the communities lying just beyond its watery perimeters — in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney… The whole place is like a giant corporate spaceship (complete with the inevitable mega-mall between Stratford tube station and the park itself), that has plonked itself down in the midst of some of London’s more deprived neighbourhoods. In fact Zaha Hadid’s swimming pool complex really does look like a spaceship (I kind of like the design of this one, actually!). Here are its insides, lit up at night like a forlorn ghost even as the Commonwealth Games were raging in Glasgow…

phone pics 473I really don’t envy the role of those people charged with making sense of the “legacy” of all this for east London. Nor do I particularly envy my colleagues working on the London case study for the Hydro-Citizenship project. How to engage local people with waterways that are mostly ill-maintained (full of duckweed that must be stifling whatever life there still is in the water), and that function as social barriers more than as community resources…? Admittedly, to some extent, that last comment is true of the waterways in Shipley too, but for all the sense of disconnectedness between different neighbourhoods in Shipley, the area as a whole at least makes a kind of sense. It’s a post-industrial landscape in which the local industrial heritage is genuinely valued (Saltaire being the most obvious evidence of this), and in which new developments have to respect that heritage and seek in some way to harmonise with it. And in which local people have persistently and famously fought against developments (such as new trunk roads) that were not in the town’s interests. Here in the east end of London, though, they’ve just razed whatever was there before and built this largely soulless mega-park, whether or not local people wanted it to begin with. How do you make sense of that? Maybe in time it will start to blend in with its surroundings a little more, but it looks like that might take a while…