“Site-specific” pop-up films for Saltaire Arts Trail

[note: this piece was originally posted on 1st June but had to be taken down and and then restored for technical reasons. The text remains as was.]

It’s not every day you get to watch a film under water… But last weekend (May 27-28), that’s exactly what audiences were doing near the River Aire, west of Roberts Park…

We made a little pop-up cinema in the small passageway that runs underneath the Barden Aqueduct — the stone ‘beehive’ structure at the end of the Higher Coach Road flood plain — to screen the world premiere of Floody, a 9 minute movie masterpiece made with the Young Artists of Higher Coach Road…

This was the view from ‘backstage’ area, looking towards the river and the rest of the aqueduct — which for 150+ years has carried water supplies to Bradford, en route from the Yorkshire Dales. This passage under the pipe bridge was itself completely submerged during the major flood on Boxing Day 2015 — another reason why we dubbed this pop-up space “The Underwater Cinema”…

Here’s the entrance to the cinema (with a couple of lucky punters just entering!). It was identifiable mainly by the bit of black cloth hung across the entrance, to block out light, and the tell-tale sign of the hazard-taped extension cable carrying power to the projector from the nearest house… Audience capacity was limited, but at 9 minutes long we could restart the film regularly for the next group of passers-by, and we had a pretty steady stream of visitors, coming off the riverside path near the footbridge across the Aire…

As a film, Floody is very much the vision of the ‘Young Artists’ — a group of mostly primary-age children who have been meeting most Wednesday afternoons, for almost a year, for open air art workshops on the flood plain between the river and the Higher Coach Road estate. Indeed, the film features footage from one of these workshops, which have been run by the amazing Nicola Murray, of Spongetree arts in Baildon…

Facilitated in film-making workshops by Simon Kerrigan and Sian Williams (who also then edited the footage into its final form), the kids devised, acted, and shot a kind of horror thriller, in which a monster called Floody evolves from plastic bags abandoned in the river, and brings on an enormous storm, before being vanquished by the heroic children (who then remind us always to put our plastic bags in the recycling…). And if you think that sounds not-too-scary, well, there really is a moment in the film that made a lot of people jump… (As this hilarious bit of footage of “young artist” Leo demonstrates! Thanks Ruth Bartlett!)

The pop-up screening was arranged as an unofficial contribution to Saltaire Arts Trail, which runs every year on the last weekend of May. The “trail” is officially limited to a tour around Saltaire mill village itself: you get to nose around various people’s homes, which have been temporarily transformed into miniature art galleries displaying work from far and near. But we thought why not get people to “trail” out a little further along the river, and as some of the comments left in our feedback box showed, visitors to SAT were delighted to discover this added extra!

The ‘lure’ for visitors to walk out along the riverbank was another pop-up film installation in Roberts Park… (People who enjoyed this one were encouraged to venture out further for its companion piece.) The Salt Lions was set up in one of the park shelters (the one closest to the HCR estate), and attracted a consistent stream of visitors, who came off the sun-soaked park promenade to enjoyed the shade and a bit of a sit-down…

The Salt Lions is a 6-minute spin-off from the film project, which celebrates the Victorian bedtime tale of how the stone lions on Victoria Road  would leave their pedestals at night and wander down to the river to drink its waters. The kids responded to this by making a sepia-tinted silent movie, complete with captions, in which three of them hunt high and low around Saltaire for the “missing” lions…

Despite our best efforts with hessian hangings, it was difficult to mask the light out as much in the park shelter as under the aqueduct, so the film image was fainter and smaller (as the projector had to be placed fairly close to the screen). In a weird way, though, this complemented the silent movie “look” of the film, making it feel very old school indeed, like an old fairground cinematograph… And certainly audiences did not complain (kids of all ages, used to hi-tech digital gadgetry, watched this flickering image with rapt attention!). There was something about the film that just worked in this setting at the end of a Victorian park promenade… which of course was part of the intention.

This is Hannah, who features prominently in both our films – as she’s one a hard-core group of “young artists” who were ever present during the making of them. (Many more tended to come and go, depending on weather and mood…) Among the other stalwarts were Leo and Oliver – pictured below. These three not only hung out supporting the screenings at park and pipe bridge all day Sunday, they also showed up bright and early on the morning of bank holiday Monday having overnight prepared a new advertising hoarding for the park screening. Not only that… they had hand-signed whole fistfuls of autograph slips to hand out to their adoring public… (in their hands below)

The only problem was that by comparison with the sunny weekend, the Monday turned out to be cold and drizzly — with both park and flood plain thus largely deserted of passers-by (except for reluctant dog-walkers). We therefore took the collective decision not to try to remount our outdoor screenings — and instead got permission from Half Moon Cafe to set up indoors with them…

Having opted for a single location, we alternated screening both films for a few hours to customers coming into the cafe. I have to say that the atmosphere wasn’t quite the same: both films had worked particularly well in their sited settings (monster movie in the dark under the bridge; sepia cinema on the park promenade…) and the more neutral cafe setting didn’t have quite the same charge. But The Salt Lions could at least be seen better… Meanwhile, the kids themselves became the show, hiding behind the screen and popping out at the end (as if breaking out of the film!) to bow for applause and even take questions…

The Young Artists clearly took great pride in showing off what they had made to the public, and didn’t tire at all of watching the same short pieces over and over again with new audiences. And they handed out a lot of autographs… The project of working with these kids over the last year has been very beneficial for their personal confidence (a point marvelled at by some of their teachers, Nicola tells me), and in some ways it’s the environmental aspect of this that’s been most important. By that, I don’t just mean working with natural materials, which they have done a lot of in the art workshops. My point is that, because we had to work outside in the open air (because there is no obvious indoor space in which to congregate on the estate), the kids have always known they can walk away at any time… (and when it’s cold or wet, they’ve done just that!) Perhaps paradoxically, it’s that freedom to move in or out that has allowed them to commit… without ever feeling trapped in a room, or as if they were “at school”. The degree of dedication and buy-in which some of them have shown as a result is really striking… They didn’t have to be there, and so they chose to invest themselves. And we’re all really proud of the results…

Community Spirit beats Corporate Power? (Twice this week)

[note: this piece was originally posted on 12th May, but for technical reasons has had to be removed and reposted. The text remains as was.]

This blog post is about two seemingly unrelated events that have taken place within the last week:

  1. At the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Boat Festival, in Saltaire’s Roberts Park last Saturday 6th May, the HCR Dragons finished 7th out of the 41 competing crews.
  2. Yesterday, Bradford Council’s planning officerannounced publicly that the consortium proposing to build a University Innovation Centre on Green Belt land at Milner Farm, Bingley, had withdrawn its application. The public hearing about the plans scheduled for Monday 15th May will therefore not now take place.

Now you might think this is a rather gratuitous attempt to connect things that have nothing to do with each other, but bear with me. First off, here’s the top results of the boat race:

The eventual winners, Provi-ducks (up from third last year – well done them!), are presumably representatives of the Provident Building Society. You can’t always tell a lot from the names these crews choose to call themselves, but Dragon Boat Festivals are conventionally set up (this is true at the annual Leeds Waterfront Festival too) as opportunities for businesses to do a bit of “team building” among staff. For the privilege, they pay a hefty entry fee, which goes to the Lord Mayor’s charities and the organising company.

Last year, however, the newly set-up Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group argued the case for admission to the race as a community crew. They couldn’t necessarily raise the full entry fee, they acknowledged, but they would do their best to raise as much as they could through personal sponsorship. And the Lord Mayor, surely, ought to be allowing community groups to participate — not least a group representing Higher Coach Road estate, since it sits directly west of Roberts Park. The Dragon Boats race along a stretch of the Aire that is visible from some of the residents’ homes! In short, the argument was: it’s our river too.

Difficult to argue with, once the point is made. HCRRG’s case was accepted, and the “HCR Dragons” thus competed at last year’s races, finishing 16th out of 45 boats — as reported in this blog post from a year ago. But that was then. This year, the team had its own rendezvous tent, pictured above, at which they displayed the hand-painted T-shirts worn by last year’s team. A year on, the HCR team was bigger, more organised, more prepared, and better dressed:

Still, note that Jolly Roger flying on the HCR banner in the background… These guys still see themselves as the pirate team gatecrashing the corporate party, and they were justifiably proud of themselves for finishing right up in 7th this year (one place behind our friends at Saltaire Brewery…). As this year’s team organiser Vicky Christensen memorably remarked in a Facebook comment:

“just shows you don’t need corporate sponsorship or huge companies backing you….couldn’t afford training sessions for any of us but team spirit and a love of our area pulled us together! I’m so proud of HCRRG!”

 

And this is where I move seamlessly (?) on to the development application for Milner Farm — just west (upstream) of the Higher Coach Road estate. The Multi-Story Water team has a longstanding interest in this area: check out our downloadable audio guide Salt’s Waters — which takes listeners on a walking tour that literally loops all the way around Milner Farm (starting from Salts Mill, you go beside the Aire through Roberts Park and the HCR estate, before exploring the tributary streams Loadpit Beck and Little Beck, on a journey to the ruins of Titus Salt Junior’s Milner Field House… before heading down Primrose Lane to the canal and back east towards Saltaire…).

I wrote about the Milner Farm development plans in my last blog post, on the day that Bradford’s planning officer came out in opposition to the scheme. It seemed clear then that the writing was on the wall for the applicants — so it’s hardly surprising that they have indeed now withdrawn from the battle. Technically they could still resubmit a revised application, but after a public online consultation in which objectors outnumbered supporters of the proposals by 1370 to just 6, it seems likely that they will finally back down and walk away. The concerted opposition that has defeated the proposals was, I think, another local expression of what Vicky calls “team spirit and a love of our area.”

We shouldn’t under-estimate just how significant a victory this is. Because the applicants represented a consortium of quite powerful business interests. Powerful enough, at least, for them to presume that they could talk aggressively and dismissively about opposition to the plans when addressing Bradford Council’s executive officers. Just check out the wording, below, of an email written back on 17th March by David Halliday of Halliday Clark Architects — representing the applicants — to Julian Jackson, Bradford’s Assistant Director for Planning and Transport, and sits alongside key corporate partners on the Steering Group of the Bradford Property Forum):

“The applicants and the wider investment group are now extremely concerned at what appears to be . . . continual resistance to this planning application. . . . My Clients are finding it extremely frustrating that your Officers are stepping out of their remit as Statutory Consultees to question the financial stability, business acumen and business strategy with regard to the proposal for a Business & Innovation Centre on this site. The worldwide profile and status of the 3M Corporation is unquestionable as well as the support of Bradford University, Huddersfield University and the Hartley Property Group. We now believe that these U-turns and continual resistance to the application now need addressing at the most senior level with a meeting held between yourselves, the Case Officers, the Chief Executive of Bradford Council and the Leader of Bradford Council, together with representation from the Client Group and ourselves as Agent, to simply address the question as follows. ‘Do Bradford MDC encourage external investment in innovation and resultant job creation or not?'” 

The answer to this rhetorical question is of course intended to be “yes, obviously”. As far as the applicants are concerned, it should be self-evident that corporate investment needs to be gratefully welcomed by the local authorities. The council officers who are resistant are thus “stepping out of their remit” — so let’s go over their heads and talk to the headmaster! The arrogance here is self-evident. But it turns out that there is also a big fat fib in amongst the bluster. Dogged campaigner Les Brook went as far as contacting representatives of the 3M corporation, who confirmed that they had very little to do with the application and really shouldn’t be invoked as evidence of the consortium’s “business acumen”. As they explained: “3M has an indirect two per cent beneficial interest in the [Milner Field] project [but] is not involved in nor has any influence over day-to-day operations or decision making on this matter, and therefore our position on the proposal is one of neutrality.” Ouch.

The most spectacular case of the applicants shooting themselves in the foot, though, came with the small matter of Fisherman’s Bridge (and here’s my “water story” for today). Seen in the video pasted above, this is the single-lane bridge across the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, just west of Dowley Gap locks, at the bottom of Primrose Lane… Since the road entrance to Milner Farm is off Primrose Lane, just uphill from the canal, anyone trying to approach the farm from the south (i.e. from Bradford!) needs to cross the canal here. The new “Innovation Centre” development would, self-evidently, have added to the volume of traffic coming across this bridge (the name alone tells you that people would be coming and going a lot — researchers, inventors, investors, you name it…).

Now the developers, of course, tried to claim that the increase in traffic would only be minimal — a mere 3% increase on existing levels. It’s one of the many questionable claims of low-to-no environmental impact that they tried to put forward in defence of building on greenbelt land. But in support their own claims, they had a traffic consultancy (the beautifully named “Paragon Highways“) make a film of peak hour traffic flows across Fisherman’s Bridge. That’s the film pasted in above. And anyone viewing it objectively can immediately see just how potentially dangerous that bridge is! Droves of schoolchildren cross it, mere inches away from the traffic and with no elevated pavement to protect them… The fact that there have been no reported accidents on the bridge is surely more a matter of luck than judgement — it literally looks like an accident waiting to happen — and so Bradford’s Highways Officer opposed the Milner Farm plans simply on the grounds that the bridge is already dangerous enough. The consortium ignored that argument, with the Paragon report translating cars and pedestrians into a series of innocuous-sounding numbers and conveniently avoiding the glaring question of child safety on this bridge… Yet their own video is enough to set alarm bells ringing. In short, the applicants seem to have allowed personal business interests to blind them to the evidence of their own eyes…

The failure of the Milner Farm scheme is evidence, then, that concerted public action (driven by tireless campaigners such as Les Brook) really can make a difference in a world that so often seems to be dominated by an unholy alliance of political and business interests. And the success of this particular campaign, I think, lay in the fact that it drew together people from right across the political spectrum. The motives of the “no” campaign seem to have been many and various. Some wanted to support the interests of the Downs family — the working tenant farmers for whom Milner Farm is home. Some were concerned about conservation – in the small ‘c’ conservative sense of leaving the landscape exactly as we find it (an admirable position in some ways, but ultimately quite difficult to defend: for instance, the Higher Coach Road estate itself would never have been built if a concern to protect green fields was always the primary consideration in any planning decision). Others again simply distrusted the claims of the developers that their impact on the landscape would be minimal… and as an employee of a University I can certainly vouch for the fact that Universities will very rarely leave any land available to them untouched over the longer term…

In my own view, a development at Milner Farm could have been the thin end of a wedge that might ultimately have led to Coach Road itself being extended right through the farm’s landscape to connect up with Bingley … thereby bypassing the problem of Fisherman’s Bridge and creating another Aire valley road link of the sort the authorities so often seem to dream about… Bradford Council’s officers ultimately came out against the scheme on this occasion, but they were certainly encouraged to do so by the concerted public outcry.

It won’t have escaped your notice that Britain goes to the polls again in less than a month, for another general election. At times like this it’s as well to remember that — much as we might sometimes doubt it, we really can make a difference. Let’s all do our homework carefully, and — whichever way we vote — vote wisely…

Just Say “No” to the proposed Milner Farm development

[note: this piece was originally posted on 5th May, but for technical reasons has had to be removed and reposted. The text remains as was.]

Ten days from now — on May 15th, from 10am — the Regulatory and Appeals Committee of Bradford Council will hold a public hearing to discuss proposals for an “Innovation Centre” to be built on the footprint of the existing farm buildings of Milner Farm, Bingley. We are all invited to turn up and register our views on the planning application, whether pro- or con.

Here is a short, musical message for the Committee’s consideration, recorded the other weekend at the Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group’s “1950s picnic”, for Saltaire’s World Heritage Weekend:

The words to the song, in case you can’t make them out from the video, run as follows:

“Welcome to our Airedale home / We’re glad to see you all here,

We’ll go and put the kettle on / If you’ll just sit yersen in a chair

There’s allus a welcome around, IF / You leave the place as you found it

Cos we’ll not stand no muckin’ around with / Our ‘andsome Airedale ‘ome.”

And then there’s a verse, newly composed, which you can make out for yourself…

“Welcome to Our Airedale Home” was written by singer-songwriter Eddie Lawler, “the bard of Saltaire” (seen here on the far left of the frame) way back in the 1970s, as a contribution to the road protest movement against plans to drive a dual carriageway straight down the Aire valley. That plan, which would have been disastrous for the local environment, was fought off by concerted community activism (and some famous fisticuffs at Shipley Town Hall). Eddie dusted the song off this year in the hopes that this latest plan to mess with the greenbelt could also be sent packing…

The Higher Coach Road Residents Group is one of a number of local groups (including the single-interest Milnerfield Action Group) that have consistently opposed the redevelopment plans. Milner Farm lies directly to the west of the HCR estate, past Bradford Rowing Club. The farm’s fields come down a gently sloping hillside, and stop close to the banks of both the River Aire and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal (which cross over each other at the Seven Arches aqueduct).

This farmland, and the woodland to the north which contains the ruined remnants of Titus Salt Junior’s country mansion, Milner Field House, was once all owned by the Salt family. Today, it belongs to the Hartley Property Trust, which has entered into a consortium with partners including Bradford University, to propose a development that it claims will be a “beacon of excellence” for Bradford.

The public, however, is overwhelmingly underwhelmed by these claims. An online consultation which closed a couple of weeks ago attracted a grand total of 1355 statements of opposition to the plans, and only 6 in favour (a truly pitiful total by any standards – do the developers have no friends at all??). And just today, a statement released by Bradford’s Planning Officer indicates that the official recommendation to the councillors on the Committee will also be one of opposition — on the basis of harm to the greenbelt. The statement is as follows:

The committee is asked to consider a planning application, ref. 15/05538/MAF to develop an Innovation Centre (sui generis use) on the site of Milner Field Farm, Gilstead, involving the demolition of certain existing farm buildings, refurbishment and change of use of other existing farm buildings and construction of new innovation centre buildings, the formation of a new car park and the undertaking of ancillary landscaping, drainage and access works and landscaping works to the wider farmland to provide for enhanced public access, including to the remains of Milner Field House, and ecological enhancement. The application is an EIA application, within the meaning of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations and is accompanied by an Environmental Statement.

The proposed development is inappropriate development within the Green Belt. Although the development would be likely to result in significant economic benefits, and additionally some public and biodiversity benefits associated with proposed woodland planting and increasing public access to the site, including to the remains of Milner Field House, it is considered that these benefits do not clearly outweigh the harm the development would cause to the Green Belt.

The development would also cause other harm, in terms of substantial harm to the Saltaire World Heritage Site and erosion of its Outstanding Universal Value, harm to the historic landscape associated with Milner Field House, harm to the particular character of the local wooded incline landscape, potential harm to the integrity of the adjacent Trench Meadows SSSI and harm through a reduction in road safety at the canal bridge on Primrose Lane. When these other forms of harm are considered in combination with the harm the development would cause to the Green Belt it is considered that the benefits of the development/ other considerations put forward by the applicant clearly do not outweigh this cumulative harm.

Let’s hope the councillors feel inclined to listen to their officers and to the public.

Do no harm.

 

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…

This Island’s Mine – performing Dockfield

This was the scene just last night, in one of the flats at Amber Wharf. That’s the new-build properties next to the canal, in the Dockfield area of Shipley.

Sitting at the end of the table is Kat Martin, my co-performer in This Island’s Mine, the two-person play that we’ve devised and written about the history of Dockfield, and the close relationship that industry and residents have always had here with the River Aire, the Bradford Beck, and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. This was the latest in a series of performances we’ve been giving in homes and pubs/clubs over the last week or so.

The other folk in the picture are last night’s audience (who prefer not to be identified by name, but were happy for me to share this pic), and strewn across their kitchen table is the “stage” of our drama — a map of Dockfield built up during the course of the play, using ordinary household objects from Kat’s shopping bags. Meanwhile, this was the view out of the window…

This particular flat overlooks what was once the junction of the Leeds-Liverpool and Bradford Canals. That’s Junction Bridge, built in 1774 at the same time as these sections of the canal network, to allow horses to get across from one tow-path to the other. This junction features prominently in our story, during the play, and it’s been one of the fun things, in performing it, to be able to point directly to where we are “on the map” as we speak. We’re talking about places and things that our audiences know well, but bringing a different perspective to them. So far, the reactions have been great!

One of the key locations on our map is Saltaire Brewery, whose main buildings were built as an electricity works for Shipley Council at the beginning of the 20th Century (later nationalised under Yorkshire Electricity Board). We were privileged last week to present a public performance of the play in the beer yard outside the Brewery Tap — on a gorgeous April evening in the setting sun (which kept everyone just warm enough!).

The picture above was snapped early in the performance (at a historical moment when the fields of Dockfield-to-be are farmers’ fields, yet to be built on… hence the animals) by Janet Wojtkow, one of our spectators… Janet is the partner of Tony Gartland, the Brewery’s founder and owner, so she took particular pride in snapping this picture…

… at the moment when we talk about how the former electricity works (represented by the light bulbs) is now the Brewery (represented by the bottle of Blonde). I actually had to pause mid-performance for a moment while Janet took the picture — much to everyone’s amusement. But that’s one of the nice things about the informal, round-the-table set-up for this play… there is a script we’re following, but people can also interrupt, ask questions, make observations, and we try to improvise satisfactory responses. It gives the show a lovely sense of liveness and one-off-ness every time we do it.

This conversational approach is also designed to elicit further contributions from the audience after we complete our story. The talking continues… At the Brewery, for instance, Janet shared the full story of why Saltaire Brewery is not in fact located in Saltaire but in Dockfield (it would have been in Salts Mill, it seems, but for the untimely death of its owner Jonathan Silver – and the subsequent hesitations of the interim manager). And this was just one of the additional tales we’ve been told… Take Geoff Roberts, for instance, pictured here in blue just behind my head on the right of the picture…

Geoff worked for decades in water quality control — for Yorkshire Water and its predecessors — and following our tales of Dockfield’s sewage works and plumbing, he told us how his very first work assignment, as a new employee in 1973, was to visit the pumping station next to the footbridge at the bottom of Dock Lane (again – very much part of our map!) in order to remedy a fault. It was quite the trip down memory lane. This performance at Shipley’s Kirkgate Centre was also attended by some with even longer memories, who told tales of Shipley and Bradford in childhoods before World War II.

Our most responsive and vocal audience so far was at Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club last week, where our audience was almost entirely made up of people who grew up in Dockfield itself, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Since the characters that Kat and I play — Barbara and Danny — are amalgams based on interviews with a number of folk of this sort of age (and also a bit younger… we’re deliberately vague about exactly how old the characters are), the performance sparked especially vivid memories from those watching. In the picture below, on the right, Tony Brannon is offering an observation, mid-performance…

… and you can tell its mid performance because the objects on the table are different from those we end up with at the end (see below!). Truth to tell, Tony had been one of my interview sources, and he’s also a regular at the club, so for him the performance really was like an extension of our previous conversations. He and the others became as much a part of the show as we were — in fact our 30 minute running time stretched to more like an hour, with all the interjections, observations, and debates prompted by our script! Personally, I loved the way that the line between ‘play’ and ‘audience’ became almost indistinguishable…

… and for all that they corrected — or at least disputed — some of our “facts” (as Tony said, everyone remembers things differently anyway), this audience was also especially appreciative of what we’d made. Mary (in the foreground on the left in the picture above) was especially keen, after the play, to know why we’d chosen to focus on Dockfield. She seemed delighted by the thought that the place she grew up in — the landscape of her own childhood, if you like —  was being celebrated and remembered in  a play (however low-key and informal it might be as a play). I had the sense that her own sense of pride in the specialness of that place was somehow being confirmed by this outside intervention. And she had a few additional stories to tell of her own — like the way that the railings along Dockfield Terrace had been cut down during the war, to feed the urgent need for metal for the war effort…

What I’m really proud about with this play, so far, is that it seems to “work” in different ways for different audiences. For these people at Woodbottom Club, it provided an opportunity to look back and remember together — they carried on talking for hours (literally) after the performance, but were still thanking us for this “special evening” when they left. Conversely, our hosts last night at Amber Wharf are relatively new arrivals in Dockfield, and so the play helped to ground them in the history of the place and answer some of the questions they had about it. In the end, I suppose, that’s the great thing about storytelling… a story has a shape of its own, but it can mean different things to every spectator, depending on the interests and experiences they bring to it.

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Postscript. This was tonight’s performance — Wednesday April 19th — at Saltaire Brewery Tap. This week we came inside (no setting sun to warm us this time), and were joined by the biggest and most diverse audience we’ve had yet… Diverse in terms of both age and background. Gathered in two rows around our table, they included long-term Dockfield residents, more recent arrivals, and visitors from right out of town!

Indeed, among those present were a family from the Midlands… theatre and cinema enthusiasts who had come up to see the “magic lantern” collection at the Bradford Media Museum (an old-fashioned form of colour slide projection), only to discover that the collection has been shunted off down to London. They seemed delighted by our show, though (as if reassured that the North had managed to keep some culture of its own!). Despite knowing nothing about the Shipley area, they said that the history of industrialisation — that we tell through the microcosm of Dockfield’s story — was one they very much recognised from their own Black Country background.

“You’ve invented a new paradigm”, one of them told me afterwards. I confessed to not knowing what he meant. “A new model for doing plays,” he explained. “You could take this format and tell the story of anywhere.” And I suppose you could…  Personally, I wouldn’t claim to any enormous originality in the format of this piece: the component parts come from a range of theatre forms. But it’s true I haven’t seen them combined in quite this way before, or for quite this purpose (telling the up-close story of a place, through the use of characters, rather than the story of characters, that’s set in a place). As I say, though, what’s most special to me about this piece is the way that it seems to invite such spontaneous, conversational responses — even as we’re performing it.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks are due to Kat Martin, my wonderful co-performer in this piece, and to Simon Brewis – our director, who also guided us skilfully through the play’s development phase, from my initial draft script. Simon also took the pics of the Woodbottom performance. Thanks also Janet Wojtkow (whose pics I pinched off our Facebook feed, where she’d uploaded them), Paul Barrett (for the Kirkgate Centre pic), and Ruth Bartlett (for tonight’s Brewery pics).

River stewardship at Higher Coach Road

One of the things I was going to blog about before our site got hacked recently (all sorted now) was the events of Saturday 8th April, along the riverside near the Higher Coach Road estate (west of Roberts Park). Our friends from the Higher Coach Residents Group joined with an initiative led by the Aire Rivers Trust to help clean up and look after their stretch of the Aire.

Here’s Stewart Gledhill, who recently stepped down as Chair of the Residents Group, kitted out in hi-viz provided by the specialists from the River Stewardship Company. The RSC (no relation of the Royal Shakespeare Company…) are a Sheffield-based social enterprise specialising in river maintenance, brought in by the ART to help with work on the Aire. (You can find out more about the RSC in our film from 2013, City of Rivers, under the ‘films’ tab on this site.) These people really know what they’re doing, but they rely on local volunteers to get it done. Hence the importance of goodwill and community spirit…

Here’s one of the RSC staff identifying where volunteers need to get stuck in. Between 30 and 40 volunteers turned out during the course of the morning to help — a really good turnout from the RSC’s point of view. So well done HCRRG for getting word out, and also other local groups like the Friends of Bradfords’ Becks…

Here’s some kit being prepared by another RSC person, at the bottom of Bowland Avenue. The house in the background, complete with childrens’ art work on the fence, belongs to HCRRG stalwart Ruth Bartlett, who also took these pictures. (Thanks Ruth!)

And so people got stuck in along the riverbank, with gloves, litter-pickers and rubbish bags… And of course, because some of the debris being targeted was hanging in riverside trees (still there since the flood of Boxing Day 2015!), the RSC also needed to crack out the dinghies so that people could access the trees safely from the water. Looks like this was quite an adventure for at least one young member of the community!

Ruth kindly shared with me some bits of video of the work with boats — shot from the footbridge over the river. Not much is happening in this first one, to be honest, but I really like the general atmosphere — the sunshine, the birdsong, the sense of endeavour… and Ruth’s voice in the background, trying to decide what’s going on. 🙂

This second clip shows volunteers pulling a big rug or section of carpet out of the river… presumably either more flood debris, or something that some unhelpful person has simply fly-tipped. With all the water in it, it was incredibly heavy to move, although Stewart quipped that there was probably a body in there too. Some black humour on a sunny day…

Anyway, well done to everyone who turned out and pitched in. You picked a great day for it! Really brilliant to see HCRRG and friends taking care of their riverbank and having some fun doing it. “Stewardship” is an off-putting word, but what it really means is just looking after things that matter to us. Taking care. There’s not enough caring in the world these days, so every little counts.

Thanks for bearing with us…

If you’ve tried to look at our site in the last few days, you may have been warned off by virus detectors. We got hacked by someone in Bangalore who put malware on the site. (Aargh!)

We think this is fixed now, but please bear with us while we get things back up and running properly. There are a few blog posts we’ve meant to share in recent days, which we couldn’t because of these unwanted visitors…

If you’re interested in our short play about Dockfield, This Island’s Mine, we can confirm planned performances at:

Kirkgate Centre  – today, April 12th, 1pm

Saltaire Brewery Tap (Dockfield Road) – today, April 12th, 7pm

Saltaire Brewery Tap – Wednesday April 19th, 7pm

Fanny’s Ale House (Saltaire Rd) – Saturday April 22nd, 7pm    (to coincide with Saltaire’s World Heritage Weekend)

Further dates to be confirmed.

Please note: this is an intimate performance designed for small audiences. You are welcome to just turn up, but if you would like to ensure a spot for one of these performances, please call or text Steve at 07504 417323. Alternatively, we can arrange another time/date/place to suit you! We’re taking this as it comes and trying to respond to audience interest as it arises.

 

Telling the Story of Dockfield…

This Saturday, 1st April, at Saltaire Brewery – between 4pm and 8pm – we are proud to be co-hosting a special event for residents of the Dockfield area. It’s a chance to meet, chat, eat, sample the beer, and find out more about what’s going on in the area. There’ll be some acoustic music from Eddie Lawler, and a quick plug for This Island’s Mine — the short play we’ve made from our research into the area’s distinctive history and identity… Here’s the flyer!

Dockfield play flyer (1)As the flyer says, this is a piece that’s been especially made to take into people’s homes (although we’re also planning a few shows in the ‘Brewery Tap’ at Saltaire Brewery – details tbc). We wanted to make something that doesn’t have the formality of a ‘proper play’, and that feels relaxed and fun for everyone (kids as well as adults). We figured you’re most likely to feel relaxed at home — hence the idea of bringing it to you. It’s available on a range of dates in April, and it’s completely free of charge! Just call Lyze on 07713 357706 if you’d like to book us in for a visit.

The play features two actors (Steve Bottoms and Kat Martin) whose characters are fictionalised versions of some of the local residents we’ve met and interviewed. The title, This Island’s Mine, is inspired by one person who told us that – as a kid – he always thought of Dockfield as an island (because it’s bordered by the canal, the River Aire, and Bradford Beck). Perhaps you’ve never seen it that way – but in a way that’s the point… We’re hoping the play will spark reactions and further conversation… Maybe you’ll want to share a few memories or stories of your own in response? (or not – up to you!)

This is all part of an ongoing research project into some of the waterside communities in the Shipley area. We’re using various events, performances and conversations to share our findings with members of the community, to create a kind of ‘feedback loop’. Hopefully we all learn something that way, and have some fun doing it.

We’re really interested in your thoughts about Dockfield, and how life here could be further improved. Do join in the conversation!

 

 

Dockfield – going through Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

On Saturday 1st April, from 4pm-8pm, the Multi-Story Water project will be co-hosting a special event for residents of the Dockfield area at Saltaire Brewery – in conjunction with the Brewery and with Shipley’s Kirkgate Centre. It’s an opportunity for people in the neighbourhood to get together for a drink and a bite to eat — to celebrate Dockfield’s distinctive heritage and community — and to share some thoughts about what’s happening in the area now… Do come and join us!

IMG_2377Dockfield is in a state of transition today — just as it always has been. Residents and businesses come and go… buildings go up and come down. Right now, there’s a new residential building going up right at the junction of Dock Lane and Dockfield Road…

IMG_2378In this picture above, taken a couple of weeks ago, you can see the distinctive outline of the Amber Wharf flats — just across the canal from this construction site –about to be obscured by the rising walls of the new building. Of course, the previous building on this site was single-storeyed, but not this one…

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Not so long ago, the flats were still clearly visible across the site… And just last summer, the area was completely clear… just awaiting new development….

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The sense of ongoing change that, in many ways, defines Dockfield is perhaps summed up in the picture below… Here, on the other side of the Dock Lane junction, looking east, you can see a lump of old wood on top of a post… leftover from who knows what? … which currently serves as a makeshift sign for Saltaire Angling Association — warning away unlicensed fishermen…

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The sign makes a claim to private rights, but it’s clear from our interviews with local residents that the canal always used to be seen as a community asset. People fished in it, swam in it, you name it… One interviewee memorably referred to it as “the Leeds-Liverpool Lido”…

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The canal itself has been in a state of transition recently. Just last year, the Dock Lane swing bridge got a complete makeover… This followed on from the re-paving of the towpath the previous year – although the new surface only extends as far as the swing bridge (as you can see in the last but one picture, cyclists are then advised to switch over to the road from the rough track beside the canal).

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Here’s the lovely new, railinged platform area for the swing bridge operating panel. This has gone all high-tech and automated now, replacing the crank handle system that had been there for decades… It used to require 18 full turns, I’ve been told, to open or close the swing bridge… And if you didn’t do enough turns when closing it, then the bridge wouldn’t be lowered properly back into place, and there’d be a horrible banging noise any time a car drove across it… This would keep some nearby residents awake at night, so hopefully the new system is an improvement!

A continuing issue for residents, though, is the far more unsightly state of things directly across the swing bridge, where a big row of containers — effectively just skips full of weight to prevent them being moved — hugs the edge of Dock Lane…

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I’ve been told that the containers were put here some time ago to prevent travellers from moving onto the land just east of Dock Lane here, next to the canal… That land is still earmarked for new residential development, and the owners don’t want squatters.

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But I gather there are various complications for the site owners here — including a lack of existing service infrastructure (eg water and sewage pipes), as well as issues around financing etc. Whatever the reason, the site has remained empty since the last pre-fab industrial building was removed from it… leaving just an exposed concrete floor through which nature somehow finds its way…

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I must admit that the persistence of nature in this long-industrialised area is one of the things that appeals to me about Dockfield. There’s this rather lovely row of self-seeded birch trees, for example, which has grown up at the edge of what remains of the Bradford Canal (at its junction, here in Dockfield, with the Leeds-Liverpool…).

IMG_1406And then of course there are the local swans, much loved by the residents here, who have adopted the area and seem to be in no hurry to leave. For the last couple of years, they have nested right here, along the snicket alongside Junction Mill, that links from the towpath through to Dockfield Road…

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This picture is from last year… when the swans returned to nest in the same spot despite having been plagued by some unscrupulous egg-thieves the year before (or so I heard). I wonder if they’ll nest here again this year…? In the shadow of Junction Mill and the local razor-wire…

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Dockfield is a special place. An “island”, one resident told me, sandwiched between the river, the canal, Bradford Beck to the west, and – to the east – a road dead-ending in fields. It’s maybe not a place people come to visit, but it’s got a special history that we’ve been exploring through both interviews with residents and archival research. In April, we’ll be presenting the findings of this research in the form of a specially-written play, This Island’s Mine. We’re hoping to perform it (free of charge) in residents’ living rooms and kitchens, as a conversation starter… Just call us if you’d like to book us in! (Steve is on 07504 417323)

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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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