Places of Welcome in Bradford

POW-smallAs part of my job I am working towards setting up a number of places of welcome across Bradford. Places of Welcome is a specific idea pioneered out of a city wide consultation in Birmingham about what makes a city welcoming. The Diocese of Birmingham then set up the Places of Welcome network.

A Place of Welcome has a sign outside a building saying come on in. Places of welcome is not a new idea but what I like about this version of it is that it’s a very clear and simple proposition based on five principles; It has a very clear set of values and an ethos to which supporters can readily subscribe. Continue reading “Places of Welcome in Bradford”

Why Yorkshire was the best place to bring the Tour de France.

I think Yorkshire was the best place to bring the Tour de France not just because it is spectacularly beautiful. Yorkshire is a county where the people share a powerful connection with each other. The identity of Yorkshire is not just shaped by breathtaking landscapes but about a pride of belonging which is hard to match anywhere else. It is the people who have made this event such a success.

For sure, in cities like Liverpool, Newcastle and others there are strong connections felt between people who belong to those cities, but there is something different about Yorkshire. Yorkshire, it seems to me, is as much about the county as any particular city. There is a very strong identity associated with Yorkshire as a whole. Perhaps for this reason Yorkshire was a good place to bring the Tour De France because the cities, towns and villages all have a natural connection with each other though the commonality of the Yorkshire identity. More than ant other county I believe Yorkshire was able to behave and act as one community.

For me personally the excitement of this weekend has a lot to do with my own identity. Any reflection or celebration of a landscape has an impact on me directly. To say that Yorkshire is a place of spectacular beauty and creativity is a joyous reflection on me because it is the place that has shaped who I am. If Yorkshire had been the most ugly and uninteresting place in the world I would still belong here and what people say about Yorkshire they say about me, inevitably. Yorkshire, indeed, has a mixed image with the label “grim” difficult to shake off, but thanks to the tour, grim I hope will be replaced more appropriately by the word grand, “the grand north” I hope.

It’s difficult to imagine a more exciting summer weekend with the Tour de France reinforcing the pride and pleasure that already exists in this county. So this is not just about cycling but a coming together of so many good instincts which exist here; Demonstrating the need to belong and community, the desire to give, the celebration of talent all come together in an amazing mix.

I belong to West Yorkshire and that’s why I live here. I was born in Bradford and even now I feel a strong emotional attachment to a city which was once grand and prosperous. I have explored practically every corner of the Yorkshire Dales and and it thrills me to see the cities, towns and villages looking so beautiful.

Like so many people here I have taken the Tour de France personally and feel much better for it.


Tour de France, more than a Pope’s Toilet.

There’s a very tragic film called The Popes Toilet. The film is about a small community which is preparing for a visit by the Pope. The whole town starts to come up with creative ideas about making money and welcoming visitors. One bright spark thinks that the thousands of pilgrims will all need a loo at some point and will be willing to pay. Other people are putting on entertainment and feasts knowing there will be massive crowds. At the last minute the Pope cancels the visit and the community is plunged back into into poverty and despair.

Of course the Tour de France is quite a different proposition but the energy for making the most of its arrival here is impressive. All Saints Church Ilkley is pulling out all the stops this week for the Tour’s arrival next Saturday.

This promises to be a huge event as we all know and the church has live sports screens, grandstand seating, a sports cafe and all sorts of other attractions. The publicity machine has been working overtime with a page on our newly re-branded website and a page of information. See it here

But it’s not just All Saints, the whole town is finding a reason to work together to make the most of this great event. I know the Ilkley Business Forum and other groups are working really hard to come up with creative ideas.

In the next valley the schools in Keighley have been building all sorts of community orientated activities for children. There are artists creating vast pieces in the landscape in a project called Fields of Vision. The Worth Valley Young Farmers have come up with this one.  The intention is that these artworks will be visible from the helicopter shots of the Tour de France. Some of the schools have also been creating huge messages which will be visible in their playing fields.

Of course this is a big marketing and commercial opportunity for Yorkshire as we’re being told, but I’d like to note that it is more than a money making opportunity. The legacy I hope will include enhanced pride in the place we live and a stronger inclination to work together.

Connecting people through big exciting ideas and working together. Great stuff.



identity and voice

I had a lovely conversation with two girls at Our Lady of Victories Primary schools today. The girls where visiting from the nearby Holy Family secondary school. They asked me where I came from because they said I didn’t have an accent. I said I was born in Bradford but have spent a long time in London. One of the girls had an Irish background and the other a Welsh family, both of them regretted now having Keighley accents.

“How do you get an accent” one of them wondered and we discussed that it was about your immediate family, the people you spent time with and the community you belonged to. Accents change as people move from place to place and for many children their voice is a blend of Pakistani and Bradfordian.

I found myself explaining that when I was at school a northern accent was considered a disability and was something to be corrected. I had corrective elocution lessons. When I joined the BBC presentation team a northern accent was even then treated as an undesirable trait. The fact that I had a bit of a ‘twang’ was considered a brave departure at the time – even the fact that I came from the north at all was unsettling.

Our identity is expressed in many ways and the way we speak tells a story about who we are. I had the enormous pleasure of attending a poetry writing workshop with Simon Armitage last weekend and his northern voice is superb, infusing the way he speaks and writes.

I think we have to really celebrate and hold on to the things that make us distinctive and are expressions of who we are and where we have come from.

Thanks to the two girls.

CofE communications. Why are we doing it?

Just has a couple of days talking about communications in the new CofE diocese and separately at the Woodhouse Community Centre in Leeds.  Here I’m capturing a few personal thought about the value of telling stories within an organisational structure and how important it is to work with traditional media.

At the CofE I was encouraged that we very quickly got onto the question of desired impact of our communications. If we are evaluating a piece of creative communication the big question is always who is it aimed at and what do you want the impact be? What change in the way the audience thinks or behaves do we want to see? That is the real point and power of communications. Unless something changes as a result of our communication then what’s the point? Bound up in this question of impact is a question about the overall purpose of the communication effort.

Is there one big, huge, hairy reason we want to do this communications thing?

For me, the Church of England is in an extraordinary position regarding communications, like no other organisation I know of. The fact that every square inch of the country is in a parish, and therefore within this great network presents mind blowing opportunity. More than any other organisation it is in a position to understand the realities of life in our communities and to witness the impact of Christian faith in people’s experience.

I have worked in newsrooms at the BBC and the organisation is rightly proud of its commitment to regional news. The BBC has reporters who mostly live within a couple of hours journey of where a story might break. They will not only deliver headlines on a daily basis but will also follow stories over extended periods offering analysis and understanding. But there is a real anxiety about resourcing. Where do stories come from, who processes them and what is their relationship with the consumers?

When you think about it the traditional media is at risk of becoming isolated and disconnected from the world they are trying to report. I met a camera crew recently doing a piece about a project in a poor part of Leeds, Woodhouse in fact. The crew turned up in an expensive black Audi car and they all wore lovely Berghaus ski jackets. The news presenter was tanned and wore a long black executive coat and was fiddling with an iPad. I didn’t feel comfortable.

In another situation I spoke to one senior correspondent who was saddened that he was servicing so many outlets that he didn’t have time to find out what was going on! The script was written in London and then read out by him in Brussels, so the concept of “being there” wasn’t fully realised.

Journalists would reasonably argue that their professional skills are essential if the integrity of reporting is to be maintained. This is true of course but the integrity of the reporting is also put at risk if there are stories and voices that go unheard. Over time imbalances in our ability to access stories can lead to a screwed view of the world which becomes self fulfilling.

The church, far from being other worldly, has a membership which if joined together and with their communities can be rooted in big reality. There are very few places where people of different backgrounds and generations can come together in the way they do in the Church of England. My own church in affluent Ilkley has a real mix of people from homeless to filthy rich, there are all ages and at least a tiny amount ethnic diversity.

But hold on, let me take my tinted spectacles off and start again. The church, I confess, has a long way to go to get real diversity into many if its congregations but there are signs of hope. If we can show the church as it could be as well as how it is now we may have a vision that can take off. It could be brilliant.

Bringing people together, using the diocese to encourage people to visit different parts of the region, sharing resources and ideas across social boundaries is exciting. Most of all I would like to see parishioners participating in telling stories, particularly those stories that the press and media will find difficult to break into.

If the church diocese can design a communications network that encourages people to tell stories and, importantly, can share those stories and invite reflection and analysis then I think it will be very powerful. This is not about the Church of England competing with the traditional media but it is an opportunity for the media to gain better access to community life. There is a huge and important role for professional journalists to process, analyse and comment but they do need the full array of raw materials.

My vision for the Church of England comms team (and those of some of our community centres like Woodhouse), would be about giving a voice to those who are falling through the communication cracks.  We would preach less and listen more.

The church should not just be an organisation that does communication but be, quite fundamentally, a communications organisation – bringing people together in relationship with each other and with God. Isn’t that the highest act of communication we could imagine?

small details – harewood house gardens

We went to Harewoood House yesterday. Harewood is a stately home on the outskirts of leeds that had become a kind of a public park. There’re always things going on over the summer and the gardens around the lake are terrific. I particularly like the woodland walks.

Growing up I was never that keen on stately homes, certainly the inside of them, but I’m growing to like the cultivated nature around them. Done properly the paths and borders don’t need to be showcases of control and formality but a kind of conversation with nature. The gardeners here seem to have achieved wonders in allowing the plants some freedom.

It must be age but we are starting to put much more effort into our own garden and looking at ways of making small spaces to relax and enjoy the small details of nature. It’s the detail that makes a difference I think.

Children have a wonderful way of being engrossed in detail – the cracks in the pavement, an interesting piece of rock or a stick,  (maybe I was strange in that respect). As we get older maybe we begin to notice more of the detail under our noses. No bad thing.

You can find out more about Harewood House here

Christ Church Gate – black and white


I do love black and white – or should I say monochrome.  There’s something honest about it. What you are looking at is actually there (more or less) –  the form and tones, the subject.  This is a little gate at Christ Church in Ilkley.  Actually it’s the one Deborah and I went through 22 years ago when we were married.