Saltaire Arts Trail and creative legacy of the Bradford mills

Today we went to the Saltaire Arts Trail. The arts trail is wonderful and captures the spirit of creativity and craft skills on which the city of Bradford was built. The houses are opened up as art galleries and organised as a trail. This event is deeply associated with the identity and history of Saltaire.

If you don’t know, Saltaire is in Bradford West Yorkshire and was a village built in the mid 1800s by Titus Salt. Around the mill he constructed housing for the mill workers along with a school, chapel and hospital. Salt took care of the needs of hundreds of workers and managers who were dedicated to the manufacture of textiles –  including a worker and poet named James Waddington. Titus Salt imposed strict moral standard in his domain including the prohibition of alcohol.

I really can’t imagine what life was like being so dependent on the vision and benevolence of a single mill owner but it does seem to follow a pattern of paternalistic landowners and industrialists who generated their wealth by owning the lives of the working class.

Up the road at Samuel Cunliffe-Lister’s mill there was a different approach. He was one of the richest people in England but had a reputation for treating his workforce poorly. Through a period of unrest at Lister’s mill the roots of the trades unions and labour party began to form – quite a legacy! My entire family history is tied up with this industry. My mother’s side is linked to the Lister empire and my dad’s dad was co-owner at Dean Clough mill in Halifax.  My great, great grandfather is on the far right of this photo, John Dean Waddington.


Talking about Talking

A day talking about talking. First of all in Keighley looking at how the town understands the difficult issue of sexual exploitation. This is a scourge that afflicts every community almost without exception. The consensus seems to be that this is something we must learn to talk about.

Discussing difficult issues is more that simply daring to speak. It is the very nature of the subject which holds us back from conversation not necessarily an unwillingness. As in many important areas of life we sometimes fail to find the language and the confidence to speak. In the case of sexual exploitation there is a fear of the facts, some of which are unclear and clouded by prejudice. We lack the confidence to speak because we worry about the consequences or the complexity of the issue and wonder if we have properly understood.

The second part of my day has been immersed in the discipline of Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry provides a framework for asking questions in a way that exposes the positive. Rather than asking about problems and weaknesses we ask what has been exceptional and  search for those golden nuggets which we can discover and refine. Apologies if this simplification betrays my inexperience of this.

The broader idea for today is that good dialogue requires space, framework, sensitivity. How we ask questions is as important as what we ask. The tools can seriously influence the answers you get.

Creating a safe and fair space for properly examining our work and issues is vital. We know from the General Elections that debate can be manipulated and steered in way that is outrageously manipulative. There were whole communities and issues that were not heard in the run up to the elections – and largely because some of them would have been problematic for any potential government.

To create a properly open space for conversation requires the courage to confront the answers you get. If we are being truly open then we have to set aside our inclination for confrontation and defensiveness. True dialogue will reveal that issues are often not as black and white as we might like to think – and that those we might condemn as being wrong may require understanding and accommodation.

A stimulating day.


Saltaire Conversazione – ideas for the future

On Saturday we nipped over to Saltaire  in Bradford to visit the Conversazione event held at Victoria Hall. The demonstration that caught my attention particularly was the 3D printer. I’d not seen one before but what an amazing thing! A 3D printer builds complex objects layer by layer in much the same way as a paper printer does but as functional objects.

3D printing is relatively new technology but, as the man said, it is a technology at the discovery stage. We don’t actually need 3D printers, but creative minds are now figuring out what to use them for. In due course there will be applications for 3D printers which will revolutionise the world in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

So here’s a point. Do we only invent things that solve today’s problems or do we take a risk for the sake of the future? To invest in new ideas sometimes means pursuing something which appears to have little practical business benefit – at the moment. Creating a tool, or a space, or a structure which is not yet strictly needed may be the requirement for future progress.

In my present role working with the Church of England of England we are discussing new ways of doing things in the West Yorkshire and Dales diocese. Whenever change is on the cards there is a temptation to evaluate the proposed changes on the basis of present needs. There is an old saying, “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it”. But inventing new technologies requires us to imagine that we can only grow and be transformed in the future if we take a step of faith today.

Creative thinking requires us to do things which may not seem rational – driven by play, instinct, experimentation. Once we have made something new there will be critics who can’t see the point of it. There will be others who are inspired to make something of it.

It may be good strategy to deliberately break what we are doing today in order to promote transformation in the future.


Hidden Keighley

This week I've been continuing the Creative Partnerships schools work. We're working on a series of films about Keighley.  There are six schools and the idea is that they each choose a person, event or place to focus their investigations. The subjects include the local cinema, a haunted pub, a bandstand, a mill, and a school. The films are to be shown at a big screen red carpet event at Keighley Picture House to about three hundred children from the six schools on the 8th of July. 

But the project is more that just film making. Each or the groups has to create a box of treasures which they are to hide in readiness for a hunt using hand held gps tracking devices and hidden clues. It will become a kind of Dan Brown quest to uncover hidden secrets in the landscape.

The ideas the children have come up with have been wonderful including a a talking photo album which tells the story of Braithwaite school, a box of industrial sounds, a life size model of a Victorian child who's revisiting the mills and a wall whose bricks come to life to tell their secrets. Keighley News

All the materials and videos from the project will go on display in a public installation at Cliffe Castle Museum.

This is an area I love. My roots are in industrial Bradford with connections to the mills on both sides of the family. My grandfather on my dad's side was a mill owner and on my mother's side I have an intriguing connection with Samuel Cunliffe-Lister which I'm trying to unravel. Samuel CL was an inventor who came up with a wool combing machine which transformed both his and Bradford's fortunes. My grandmother came from a relationship with one of occupants of Swinton Park – a place to which she was secretly taken to meet members of the family.

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Factory Street Studios Rock School

I've been back to the Factory Street Studios in Bradford to see their Rock School in action. Studios are owned and run by Alex and Amy Eden and come from a very brave and ambitious vision.  The whole complex is huge and as well as rehearsal rooms and a recording studio they are to be equipped with a very exciting performance space.  Alex and Amy see the studios as a lively community space occupied by people who have a passion for music at all levels.

The Rock School is run during the school holidays and is as much about offering fun and friendship as it is about music. The whole atmosphere was one of participation and creativity.  The kids had spent the whole week learning to play instruments together – and for some it was the first time.  Pressure and excitement were built around an impending live performance at the end of the week.

I was there to make a short promotional piece by getting the reaction of parents and children at the end of the performance. The video would be used to provide evidence of the value of the venture.  The parents certainly see this as more than an opportunity to keep their offspring occupied. The ones I spoke to say this as an opportunity to build confidence, learn skills and make friends. One dad believed the songwriting aspects would help his son's performance in English at school.

There's no doubt in my mind that if you can get a community of people together who have a shared passion, great things will happen. They can learn from each other, inspire each other and generally raise the creative bar.  I firmly believe that however creative you are, you need people around you to help you move forwards and upwards.

Factory Street is a great idea and goes beyond the functionality of making music.  It is being built as a community hub based on the shared love of music. I hope it does well.