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.
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.