New beginnings? (Crosley Woods, Shipley Connected, etc)

This week felt like “new beginnings” in all sorts of ways. For a start, it was a week of (mostly) gorgeous spring sunshine, so bright that it almost bleached out some of the snapshots pasted below — such a wonderful pleasure and relief after the relentless battering of rain that we all got during what was “the wettest winter since records began”… In a previous blog posted just over a year ago, reflecting on “the wettest year on record” (2012) I made the point that it’s been tricky to ascribe any individual weather event or phenonenon to “man-made climate change”, but this winter’s events have been so extreme that the argument is now extremely difficult to refute. Just take a look at this:

The footage in this video of the Aberystwyth glaciologist was shot by my friend and colleague Sara Penrhyn Jones, who is based at Aberystwyth University (where students were repeatedly evacuated from sea-front halls of residence during January). She also took this rather extraordinary shot of a wave hitting the town’s promenade during the storms:

massive waveI mention Sara in part because she’s now also a project partner. This year we’ll be beginning a new period of AHRC-funded research as part of a 3-year project titled “Towards Hydro-Citizenship”, with four case study areas: Shipley is one (carrying on where we left off last year), the area north of Aberystywith (Borth and Tal y Bont) is another, as are the Brislington area of Bristol and the Lee Valley in East London. More on all this another time – suffice for now to say that in Shipley, we’ll be keeping the Multi-Story Water (MSW) name going because it has some local recognition.

Anyway, getting back to the spring sunshine! This last Monday, March 3rd, I went for a little walk along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, crossing the imaginary jurisdictional boundary between Shipley ward and Bingley ward in order to get to this spot just east of the Dowley Gap “Seven Arches” aqueduct…

ireland to crosley woods 203Just visible in this shot, competing a bit with the sunshine, is the easternmost tower of the Crosley Woods social housing development. Crosley Woods is right next to the canal, but on the “wrong side” for access to the towpath. To access the canal, residents have to walk down through a muddy field (there’s no footpath, but two – er – bathtubs) and exit through a gate with a sign explicitly reminding everyone that this isn’t a public right of way and that permission even to walk through the field could be withdrawn at any time by our friends at Bradford Council… Here are Maya Williams and Paul Barrett, of Kirkgate Community Centre, about to go through said gate (Paul is helpfully pointing our way up through the field to the estate).

ireland to crosley woods 204I was on a wee scouting trip with Paul and Maya, because Kirkgate Centre have been doing some community development work at Crosley Woods over the last year or so (although it’s technically in Bingley, not Shipley, it falls within the parliamentary constituency and thus falls within their remit). Initial survey work indicated that very few people had anything good to say about living in Crosley Woods, since (like many high-rise estates of this type across the country) there are significant problems with social deprivation, drug abuse, and so on.  However, the one good thing that people highlighted was the proximity of the canal – a fact which prompted Paul to ask whether the definition of “Shipley” might be stretched to include Crosley Woods as we plan the next stage of our water-focused activities. The MSW project will be working directly in collaboration with Kirkgate Centre over the next 3 years, so we’re looking at points of common interest and concern… hence this week’s visit.

ireland to crosley woods 207Here are the three towers of Crosley Woods, looking not unpleasant in the sunshine, even if there are no trees in leaf yet. You can see how the almost rural location has some benefits for residents. (Here we’re looking west, with the canal off down to the left.) But in this next shot, taken looking back at the estate from the Bingley side, it’s also clear how the canal (now on the right) is inaccessible from the estate itself, because of a steep drop heavily planted with trees…

ireland to crosley woods 210The situation is even clearer in this next shot, a little further on towards Bingley…

ireland to crosley woods 211And a little further on again, we cross a bridge over the canal and suddenly the water and the landscape become beautifully visible…

ireland to crosley woods 214Some immediate questions arise, that we don’t yet have any simple answers for… Residents here at Crosley Woods value the canal, but how might a community engagement process or event best utilise its presence to help build community (as per Kirkgate’s brief), given that its accessibility is such an issue? Initial thoughts involve boats, but we’re at the very early stages with this as yet…

Meanwhile, back at Kirkgate Centre, this hand-drawn map of Shipley ward (no Crosley Woods…) is hanging on the wall. It’s the most prominent visual record of the “Shipley Connected” community planning day that Paul, Maya and co ran on January 25th at the Exhibition Building of Shipley College…

2014-02-17 14.04.31Shipley Connected was a successful event, attracting around 100 local residents who engaged in some quite animated debate around ways to improve and develop the area and community relations. I chaired an hour-long discussion about the local waterways, and also prepared the hand-drawn map as a way for people to playfully engage with the discussion by sticking on post-it notes about places they felt strongly about…

2014-01-25 14.25.19Here’s the map on the day, on the floor in a corner of the Exhibition hall… it had people crawling all over it on hands and knees to stick their post-its down, which was great to see! (As a theatre-maker, I always see it as a form of participatory theatre when you get people crawling around on the floor… 😉

Although Shipley Connected was conceived and run by Kirkgate with no directly intended link to the MSW project, it was great to get involved by way of further developing an emerging relationship that we all hope will be productive in the coming years. As Paul notes, many of the neighbourhoods in Shipley that need particular attention in terms of community development are also proximal to the river or canal, so it’s a natural fit to think in terms of using water as a kind of creative theme to hinge future work around.

For the record, the issues highlighted by the Shipley Connected “waterways” discussion were as follows (in no particular order):

Possibilities for improving riverside footpath access. The recent work to improve the stretch between Saltaire and Baildon Bridge (including the addition of the Aire Sculpture Trail), but there was discussion of opening up more of a continuous riverside “corridor” for walking… not least because the number of bikes on the canal path can sometimes make it perilous for pedestrians!  e.g. a better path from Roberts Park towards Hirst Wood (already mooted by residents on the Higher Coach Road estate); e.g. the public riverside footpath east of Baildon Bridge (linking to Denso Marston’s Nature Reserve) is in a very poor state of repair and needs improvement. The issue of responsibility for footpath maintenance was also raised…

Litter is an ongoing issue – not least the kind of stuff that gets wrapped around trees after high water and is left looking very unsightly. This is something that would take concerted effort from local volunteers to take care of, if the Council doesn’t take responsibility.

Future of local weirs. The argument about the potential Saltaire Hydro was referenced but nobody really wanted to get into it (old news?). There was discussion though about the costs or benefits of weir removal… One person raised concerns about the silting up of the river at Roberts Park, and wondered whether the presence of the weir was in part to blame for this (sediment building up on the upstream side). There was also some discussion of taking out the weir by Baildon Bridge (see this blog for fuller discussion).  It probably wouldn’t greatly improve the health of the river or access upstream for fish (since there are two more weirs just upstream), but there is also the flood risk argument.

Boats on river? There was discussion by some of those with longer memories about the days when boats could be hired at the Boathouse and rowed recreationally between the two weirs at Saltaire and Hirst Wood. Is there value in campaigning to get this back up and running?

Develop Bradford Beck recreationally. This is of course very much a priority for the Friends of Bradford Beck (whose chairman Barney Lerner was present for the discussion), and everyone agreed on the value of trying to make the Beck more accessible… development of cycle path and footpath, clean-up, etc.

Japanese Knotweed and other non-native plant species. These troublesome riverside invaders were raised by one participant, and Barney spoke very encouragingly about FoBB’s plans to train up some volunteers in the art of injecting weedkiller into the roots of invasives… The plan is to tackle this problem along the open-air sections of Bradford Beck, but also at trouble spots on the Aire (such as the area upstream of Baildon Bridge).

I think those were the main points people raised. (Interestingly, nobody really had any issues with the canal.) It was great to have Barney and other BB “friends” present, and I’m hoping MSW will also be able to work in an active, complementary way with them in the next few years. They’re doing great work!

And finally, an anecdotal aside looping us back to where I began this post… One of those present for the Shipley Connected discussion was Rosa Foster, a local resident, member of FoBB, and (in her day job) Environment Agency employee. She brought along her mum, Georgina Winkley, who was visiting from her home in Aberystwyth. When Georgina saw an item about the new “Hydro-Citizenship” project in her local paper the following week, she dropped an email to introduce herself to Sara (mentioned in the paper as the local contact name) and ask if there was any connection to the Shipley Connected event she’d attended… Sara said she didn’t think so, but copied me in… I said yes there was. Meanwhile, it turns out Georgina and Sara live on the same street. It is indeed a very small world…

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