‘Work rest and play’? Looking ahead as we progress through the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In the fourth of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, Jenny Hasenfuss reflects on the rapid blend of technologies and innovation placing us in the midst of the fourth Industrial Revolution, and she asks how universities might conceive of three of life’s fundamentals; work, rest and play in this context.

Figurines on keyboard

Figurines on keyboard

The starting point for this blog is the recent “Future of Work” stimulus event at Newcastle University held in the Urban Sciences building on the Newcastle Helix site close to the city centre. The event was coordinated by Naomi Oosman Watts and the NU Careers Service and hosted by Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Julie Sanders and featured presentations and provocations from a wide range of speakers.

Work

The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics predicts that by 2030 millennials generation will make up 75% of the workforce. This demographic grouping is synonymous with technology, are typically always “connected” and are used to social media and expect flexibility. What can be done to consider education and learning in regard to this? Professor Sugata Mitra ,Newcastle University, gave an absorbing presentation of his Self-Organised Learning Environments and the propensity for groups of children to understand huge questions through self-learning with technology allied with the support and energy of the group. He posited that we need to be ready to consider bold approaches to learning through digital literacy and move towards gathering knowledge ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’.

And what opportunities are presented for employers and for the workplace? Digital technology is having an impact upon business models, institutions, organisations systems and upon processes. Newcastle University Business School David Goldman Visiting Professor Alison Shaw and founder of the North East Futures UTC was compelling in her vision of innovative frameworks for education which must include an interdisciplinary emphasis and embedding of skills. She called for a ‘fluency of ideas’ and recognition of the importance of collaboration in higher education. By reminding the audience that work has social and cultural value as well as economic she set out an exciting agenda for higher education where we need to explore how we prepare for, experience and reward work in society and especially for our students.

Rest

The ‘work’ and ‘rest’ meaning and balance are changing, partly influenced by technology and the constant background hum of social media and round the clock news. And new business arrangements for working such as the “gig economy” and zero hours contracts are blurring lines for home and work.

RAND Europe has researched the importance of sleep for our health (physical and mental) and in turn actually for productivity. Their research in 2016 Why Sleep Matters: Quantifying the Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep Economic modelling of data from five OECD countries (including the UK) found that individuals who sleep fewer than six hours a night on average have a 13 per cent higher mortality risk than people who sleep at least seven hours. This is a stark reminder for individuals and for employers about the importance of rest for so many valuable reasons.

Play

In this digital and networked age how do we conceive of wellbeing and how do we find space for fun and to enjoy ourselves? How do we balance individual activities and those that are collective or communal? What is a ‘good society’? And what role do university staff, academics and students play in being part of and adding to a good society?

By 2030, the consumer class is expected to reach 5 billion people. This means 2 billion more people with increased purchasing power than today. Most of this growth is predicted in Asia: by 2030, China and India together will represent 66% of the global middle-class population and 59% of middle-class consumption. Population and climate effects are presenting water and pollution challenges. How can we best develop and nourish wellbeing of ourselves and others and of the earth’s finite resources in a commercial, often materialistic setting? Can we reconsider our ‘leisure’ time and how we ‘play’ and what can the social sciences and arts and humanities tell us about the value of ‘play’?

Where next?

At the ‘Future of Work’ stimulus event, Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Sanders encouraged us with a forward looking address drawing on the sincere and hopeful vision of Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum We can use the Fourth Industrial Revolution to lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny”.  In our roles in higher education with students, academic colleagues, staff and collaborators from beyond the University, let us go to work on this and be sure to contribute to this new collective.

 

Jenny Hasenfuss, Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal

Jenny Hasenfuss is Institute Administrator at Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and her role involves supporting societal engagement with research and coordinating strategic projects. An experienced knowledge exchange professional and project manager, Jenny has worked in Higher Education for the past ten years and is passionate about developing impactful societally relevant research

Realising social innovation – reflections on NCCPE ‘Social Innovation Skills Share’ workshop

In the third of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, Jenny Hasenfuss explores the practice of social innovation and what it means for universities.

This blog will focus upon the recent Social Innovation Skills Share’ workshop which took place last week coordinated by the NCCPE (National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement) and was held at the National at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations building in central London. The workshop was an opportunity to build upon the HEFCE funded “Social Innovation” pilot 2016-17 which funded six social innovation projects, and presented a great opportunity to hear about recent practice in community-university partnerships, emergent ways of working and frameworks to support high quality engagement and research outputs.

It was a richly packed day with six case studies shared and four workshops and it was extremely well facilitated by NCCPE Director Paul Manners and NCCPE Project Manager Maddy Foard from the NCCPE. The breadth of subject areas was impressive. But was even more exciting was to see and hear about the positive impact these projects are creating with external stakeholders beyond the Academy, and indeed back into the Academy.

Together we create

Graffiti image “Together we create”

Social innovation in action

Les Levidow, Open University, talked captivatingly about inter-generational community activism in London community based food growing initiatives, including Granville Community Kitchen . Having worked alongside community members at the Community Kitchen in a knowledge co-production process and funded by HEFCE, Les reflected in his humbling and inspiring talk about the ability of community groups to redefine societal problems, to work and develop collectively, and to devise inventive responses to those problems.

The ‘Parenting Science Gang’ project shared with us by Tamasin Greenough is involving parents (and mums in particular are really really engaging in this) in conversations about what research they need as new parents. This heartening and wide ranging project is empowering parents using a blend of online live Q&A with experts, events, the opportunity to get involved in studies and is now driving new research questions for academic researchers.

Another fascinating approach was shared by CUSE (Coventry University Social Enterprise CIC) who support University staff, students and local community members with their social enterprise ideas, training and business development and have helped to create more than 50 social enterprises in the last four years.

One project which particularly stood out for its aims and its ethos was the MoneyLab initiative designed by Ravensbourne and funded by the Money Advice Service. This project is being co-created with students from Ravensbourne and seeks to explore and understand students’ knowledge and experiences of money to develop a “more student-led approach to financial management, awareness and advice”. At the workshop session on this initiative Paul Sternberg, Head of Design at Ravensbourne and his colleague Simon Gough drew out the really sensitive considerations being undertaken within this project, elucidating the (often rarely spoken) social and emotional aspects of money and what it means for students (and indeed what the lack of money means for students). Through a thoughtful and reflective process the team are working with students. The positive intent of the team to be ready to step back from the project process was impressive as was their recognition of the subtleties involved in creating authentic ways of communicating with and listening to students. In this way Ravensbourne were engagingly honest about the challenges of co-design approaches but equally extremely positive about the real enduring quality of what can be achieved in collaboration.

The value of social innovation

At this point it is prescient to consider the provocations raised by eminent Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, who in ‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Sandel, 2013, Penguin) wrote “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society”. Sandel articulates that the challenges of a market orientated society [which appears to provide a ‘neutral’ analysis of economic value of goods] are especially acute when some aspects of modern society (for example, fertility, value of teaching and learning, care for vulnerable groups, pollution reduction ‘quotas’), are condensed into a reductive market economy framework. Sandel argues that we need to be cautionary in our adoption of market principles to set value (and therefore meaning) on aspects of society, and thus we need to engage with a broader debate and paradigm to harness and celebrate value for the public good.

A common thread throughout the Social Innovation skills share day came to be the critical importance of an authentic sense of purpose, and the wider ideologies of social innovation as a practice in order to generate genuine benefit for the public good. The potential for social innovation to share knowledge and develop new insights. The potential for social innovation to be an important aspect of fulfilling the social and civic responsibilities of universities. The potential for social innovation to bring multiple benefits to multiple stakeholders.

Here in the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal we champion co-produced research and support colleagues to undertake this with a funding call, tailored support, best practice resources and events and workshops. We have supported more than 30 co-produced research projects and have worked with 73 external partners from across the Quadruple Helix; Voluntary and community and social enterprises; Local authorities, Schools and Colleges and Businesses. Within our current European Horizon 2020 funded project ACCOMPLISSH, in the Institute for Social Renewal in partnership with University of Zagreb we have developed a set of principles and processes to underpin the co-creation research design and communication process in order to support effective partnerships and deliver mutually beneficial research.

To undertake authentic co-produced research one must utilise key principles to ensure quality and integrity of the process, being aware of power balances and the importance of creating trust. The exciting potential for co-created research is the development of university-stakeholder partnerships enabling academics to work with partners to exchange knowledge, create meaningful value and in turn nurture the potential for future impacts with and for society.

 

Jenny Hasenfuss

Institute for Social Renewal

Jenny Hasenfuss is the Institute Administrator at Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and her role involves supporting societal engagement with research and coordinating strategic projects. An experienced knowledge exchange professional and project manager, Jenny has worked in Higher Education for the past ten years and is passionate about developing impactful societally relevant research.

 

 

 

 

 

From ‘words to action’

In the second of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, one of our key regional partners talks about how any research ecosystem can only flourish when it includes representation, opinions and ideas from all sectors.

Simon Hanson, North East Development Manager, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

To badly paraphrase John Donne, no business is an island. The stress on small businesses to be more productive and innovative has resulted in greater expectations of the role universities can play in supporting their local enterprise ecosystem. This local ecosystem is not restricted to academia and business but also includes government and civic society.

Every region has some societal and urban challenges that holds back its potential. Rather than see this as a problem we need to start seeing it as an opportunity. An opportunity for all parts of the community to address in partnership.

This is the ethos that drives the ACCOMPLISSH www.accomplissh.eu project funded through the Horizon 2020 programme. In trying to address our collective challenges we need to look beyond our localities and see what has worked well elsewhere. Being nosey and curious doesn’t show up on any output targets through funded programmes like ACCOMPLISSH and remains an undervalued asset.

The theme of the most recent ACCOMPLISSH conference hosted in Tallinn, Estonia was from ‘words to action’. A great opportunity to develop those nosiness and curiosity skills. Here we would hear how other partners in the programme from across the EU had tackled some of these challenges, created partnerships between all sectors and allowed universities to break the shackles of the ivory tower.

That was the hope anyway.

There were some great presentations on the work that Tallinn University has done in a short space of time to achieve the theme of the conference and the potential that participatory budgeting has in helping local communities address the challenges they face.

In dancing parlance it takes two to tango and four to make a barbershop quartet. What felt like an academic conference was confirmed in the lack of attendees from at least two parts of the quadruple helix: the business community and civic society. Whilst all of the 14 universities involved had been encouraged to invite their quadruple helix partners, few attended the 2 day conference.

If we are to achieve a shift from ‘words to action’ speaking in an echo chamber won’t achieve our collective ambitions.

If we are truly to address the challenges and exploit the opportunities it will depend on people working together. No one community has the answers to addressing societal challenges and we need all the voices in the room. As Saul D. Alinsky said “If you want to know how the shoe fits, ask the person who is wearing it, not the one who made it.”

Small businesses are the backbone of every community across the globe. Helping them achieve their ambitions will address some of the biggest societal challenges that we collectively face.

Utilising opportunities like those presented by ACCOMPLISSH will hopefully go some way to achieve this.

Simon Hanson is the North East Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). For the past ten years Simon has developed the FSB to be the leading voice of small businesses across the region. The FSB in the North East of England represent the interests of approximately 4,000 small businesses from across the region. To do this Simon has led the FSB work has undertaken in campaigning, lobbying, media relations, stakeholder engagement and partnership-building across the region.

The Federation of Small Businesses is working with Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and other external partners to jointly deliver the ACCOMPLISSH project. The ACCOMPLISSH project explores how partnership working and Quadruple Helix collaborations and knowledge exchange can enhance the impact of research and achieve meaningful change for society.

Rural England after Brexit – a moment of opportunity?

Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE, Newcastle University

Brexit will have significant effects on rural areas of the UK, but the challenges and opportunities these bring for rural economies and societies have been little discussed beyond farming impacts. Leaving the EU will require new thinking in relation to agricultural and environmental policy but also for rural businesses, communities and services. What national policies for each of the devolved territories should replace these after Brexit? Could this offer an opportunity to introduce better rural policies, suited to 21st Century rural potentials and challenges?

Rural policies in England, in particular, have been ripe for reform for many years[i]. Brexit could offer an unforeseen opportunity to rethink policy approaches. The Common Agricultural Policy will no longer apply, the Single Farm Payment and rural development funding such as LEADER will be swept away. Much is yet uncertain. Questions must be posed about what should replace the CAP, and much effort is being devoted to developing scenarios and alternative proposals for farm support and agri-environmental policy. But these questions should extend beyond agriculture, important though that is, because farming is now only a small part of the rural economy. And while most are no longer land-based, rural businesses make a substantial contribution to the national economy (19% of the country’s output comes from rural businesses). How then should rural businesses and rural communities be supported to give them the best chance of thriving and playing their full part in the future of the UK after we leave the EU? To help with this question let us consider two scenarios.

What could rural areas look like after Brexit?

2025 Scenario 1

Small businesses across rural England are struggling to survive as a result of what they describe as the ‘triple whammy’ of loss of markets due to export tariffs, skills shortages, and the closure of support schemes formerly funded by the EU’s regional policy and rural development policy. Farm families are hard hit, especially in upland areas such as our national parks and AONBs, by the loss of export markets and EU subsidies and by a reduction in opportunities to earn off-farm incomes. District, County and Unitary Councils lose funding as they are now reliant on Business Rates and Council Tax – services suffer. Environmental groups are concerned that land abandonment is damaging landscapes and habitats – tourism businesses suffer. Rural communities complain that the lengthy economic downturn and public spending cutbacks together with a failure to rural-proof national policies, are leading to losses of essential services, such as aspects of social care, health care, schools, leisure opportunities, shops and transport, with many voluntary and community organisations also having to close their services. Young people and older people requiring care face particular hardships. MPs representing rural constituencies are forming an all-party parliamentary group to promote the need for a coherent rural policy.

2025 Scenario 2

Small rural businesses are leading the economic recovery from the initial economic shock of leaving the EU. Aided by a national rural industrial strategy which recognises the economic potential of rural innovation and enterprise (including tourism and culture) and builds on lessons from the rural growth pilots, rural businesses are outperforming those in most cities. Farmers are adapting to the new trade deal with the EU and to new national support schemes which are better targeted toward provision of public goods such as landscape, wildlife, flood prevention and carbon sinks, and to diversifying income sources. Rural communities are thriving due to the growth in employment opportunities, renewed investment in affordable rural housing, and effective joint working between better-resourced and less financially challenged unitary, county, district and parish/town councils and community and voluntary organisations. These are all part of a new coherent rural strategy, agreed between central and local government and other key stakeholders, which is encouraging and enabling innovations in service and infrastructure provision, in planning and place-shaping, and in skills provision and business support. The OECD is sending a team of experts to study this successful approach so that other countries can learn from our experience.

What might be the elements of a successful, coherent rural strategy post-Brexit[ii]?

An asset-based, locally-led approach: In such an approach, place-based strategies are developed by local people collectively working with local councils as democratically elected, community leaders and deliverers of essential services but also involve external partners and networks. Primarily based on local assets and local knowledge, local groups also learn from one another through national and transnational networks, sharing ideas and know-how; and the necessary contribution of an enabling state in partnering, capacity-building and setting an enabling framework is also recognised[iii]. Without this, inequalities will grow between places – a recipe for a two-speed countryside.

A Rural Industrial Strategy: A crucial part of the enabling framework for rural entrepreneurial potential[iv] to be fulfilled, contributing to national productivity, growth and innovation, is an Industrial Strategy that encourages rural businesses and builds on learning from the rural growth networks. This does not just mean rural-proofing the recently proposed Industrial Strategy, vital though that is, but the adoption of an approach which has rural circumstances at its heart – a Rural Industrial Strategy. This would reflect the characteristics and contexts faced by rural businesses (typically microbusinesses, often home-based), addressing skills and training, business support, infrastructure, planning and finance – taking ideas both from the Rural Productivity Plan 2015 and from EU schemes such as the RDPE, LEADER and Objective 1 and 5b. Each LEP would be required to address rural issues through properly funded Rural Action Plans, informed by this Strategy.

A Rural Communities Strategy: Rural life opportunities and thriving communities are also core elements in such a vision. DEFRA Ministers have spoken of their determination to “keep our villages thriving and growing” and to ensure “people living in our market towns and villages have the same life opportunities as those who live in our cities” – something which is a statutory right in Norway[v] but is lacking in rural Britain[vi]. Rural citizens should expect a fair deal for rural communities – i.e. fair outcomes including access to services which meet needs; transparent decisions based on evidence; equal opportunities to participate in society; and a fair hearing and an effective voice in decision-making. The government’s allocation of resources to local authorities and other providers should reflect the additional costs of delivering services in rural areas and the extra time and cost for citizens of reaching distant, centralised services. This requires investment and innovation in the provision of affordable housing[vii], public spaces, connectivity, social care, health care and schools, among other essential services – often in partnership between public, private and VCSE sectors. There is much innovative practice to draw on[viii] but this is hampered by underfunding.

These two strategies could be underpinned by a Rural Social Innovation Fund, recapturing the creativity and capacity-building of early LEADER programmes, administered through local partnerships of councils and RCCs. The purpose would be to build capacity through animation, facilitation and knowledge exchange and to promote social innovation in service provision and social enterprise.  Social innovation is increasingly recognised as a vital ingredient of dynamic economies and as a means of addressing the challenges of service provision in rural areas. In urban policy social innovation is well established in terms of a ‘quadruple helix’ of open cooperation and interaction between public authorities, private businesses, universities and citizens towards smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. International research[ix] suggests that rural regions may benefit even more from such models of open innovation. These would require a new social partnership operating transparently at multiple scales between public authorities, private businesses, universities and the citizens and voluntary and community organisations of rural areas.

Affordable rural housing: There is recognition at last of the urgency of addressing housing issues nationally, but in rural areas homes are even less affordable and there is much less social housing to rent[x], such that housing opportunities for even middle income households are very restricted. The Government’s affordable rural housing target should be reinstated with necessary budget and cross-subsidy provisions, alongside incentives to landowners to release exception sites, accompanied by powers for councils and housing associations to build small rural schemes exempt from the right to buy. The right to buy, mandatory or voluntary, should not apply in rural areas where unmet demand and need exceeds supply over the medium to long term.

Public goods and market failure: The British countryside contains iconic landscapes, precious habitats, flora and fauna, beloved cultural legacies – indeed a wealth of natural and cultural assets which depend on land management often without any market revenue. These public goods are highly valued by millions of people, as well as helping to support a low carbon future and green economy[xi]. Prince Charles, among others, has argued that the countryside is like a delicately woven tapestry, where land, farmers and communities are inextricably intertwined and may easily unravel. Their stewardship therefore requires targeted incentives and rewards for appropriate land management (within the constraints of WTO rules) alongside sustainable rural communities.

Coherent rural policy and implementation: Rural policy in each of the devolved nations necessarily reaches across the portfolios of many government departments, creating challenges of co-ordination, responsibility and accountability. None of the ten actions in the Treasury/DEFRA  Rural Productivity Plan[xii] were DEFRA responsibilities, for example, although rural policy is scrutinised by the EFRA Select Committee which expressed its misgivings about the lack of co-ordination of rural policy in its report Rural Communities (2013).  Since then the post of Rural Advocate and DEFRA’s Rural Community Policy Unit have been abolished, although a DEFRA Minister has the title of Rural Ambassador. Each of the devolved nations has developed their own approach to rural-proofing[xiii], but research suggests that a prerequisite for effective rural proofing is a coherent national rural policy which extends across all the departments of Government[xiv] .

The question remains of how best to ensure rural policy co-ordination:

  • Across central government departments (leadership; rural-proofing[xv])
  • Partnerships between local and central government (an England-wide ‘rural deal’?)
  • At local level (subsidiarity and partnership with VCSEs)

Above all a New Coherent Rural Vision and Strategy is essential, agreed between all departments of central government, local government and other key stakeholders. This should enable realisation of the latent potential of rural economies and a fair deal for rural communities. It would include coherent leadership from within central government alongside an England-wide “rural deal” which shares power, resources and responsibility with local government and communities through a framework of devolution and capacity building.

 

[i] http://www.ippr.org/files/uploadedFiles/ipprnorth/events/rural_agenda_-_exec_summary.pdf

[ii] See also CRE (2017) After Brexit: 10 key questions for rural policy. http://www.ncl.ac.uk/media/wwwnclacuk/centreforruraleconomy/files/CRE_10_Key_Questions_final.pdf

[iii] Shucksmith (2012) Future Directions in Rural Development, Carnegie UK Trust.

[iv] Phillipson et al (2017) Small rural firms in English regions: analysis of UK longitudinal business survey, CRE

[v] Shortall S and Alston M (2016) To Rural Proof or Not to Rural Proof? A Comparative Analysis, Politics and Policy, 44, 1, 35-55

[vi] Social Mobility in Great Britain, 2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/662744/State_of_the_Nation_2017_-_Social_Mobility_in_Great_Britain.pdf

[vii] Rural Housing Policy Review, 2015.

[viii] CRE (2015) Reimagining the rural: What’s missing in rural policy? CRE

[ix] Kolehmainen et el (2015); Nordberg 2013)

[x] ACRE Rural Housing Position Paper, 2017 http://www.acre.org.uk/cms/resources/policy-papers/housing-position-paper-final-a4-pages.pdf

[xi] Commission for Rural Communities (2010) High Ground, High Potential, CRC.

[xii] HM Treasury/DEFRA Rural Productivity Plan, 2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/454866/10-point-plan-rural-productivity-pb14335.pdf

[xiii] Shortall (2017) Rural-proofing: magic bullet or rural vote catcher? Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/nisr/rural-proofing-magic-bullet-or-rural-vote-catcher/

[xiv] Shortall S and Alston M (2016) To Rural Proof or Not to Rural Proof? A Comparative Analysis, Politics and Policy, 44, 1, 35-55

[xv] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rural-proofing

Diverse Voices? Curating a National History of Children’s Books

On Friday 24th November, Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books co-hosted Diverse Voices? Curating a National History of Children’s Books. This one-day symposium, supported by Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal explored how Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices are represented in our national story of children’s literature. In this blog post, which originally appeared on The Race to Read blog, symposium co-convenor Professor Karen Sands O’Connor of SUNY Buffalo State reflects on the events.

In the foreword to the recently-published anthology of fiction and poetry for young adults, A Change is Gonna Come (Stripes, 2017), philosopher Darren Chetty writes, “We can think of change as the space between who we are and who we want to be—between being and becoming—as individuals and as communities” (7-8).

The brilliant and optimistic collection from Stripes includes writing from Diverse Voices? participants Darren Chetty, Patrice Lawrence and Catherine Johnson.The brilliant and optimistic collection from Stripes includes writing from Diverse Voices? participants Darren Chetty, Patrice Lawrence and Catherine Johnson.

This sentiment entirely encapsulates the motivation behind the Diverse Voices? symposium I helped to organize with Seven Stories, the UK’s National Centre for Children’s Books, and Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal, a symposium where Chetty was a participant. During my year as Leverhulme Visiting Professor (2015-16), I formed a relationship with the people at Seven Stories Collections – archivists, curators, and librarians – that was both personal and professional.  They were supportive of (and occasionally amused by my revolutionary passion for) my project to make Black British literature a more “normalized” part of British children’s literature. As I put it in the book that resulted from that year at Seven Stories, “The face of Britain might have changed after World War II, but not necessarily the hearts and minds of white British people. This is partly because the Blackness of Black Britons was made manifestly obvious and continually depicted as Other; but the whiteness of white British society has remained largely invisible” (Children’s Publishing and Black Britain 5).

The Diverse Voices? symposium, held at Seven Stories, allowed some of the brightest thinkers in writing, publishing, librarianship and academia to come together and think about ways to ensure that real change would finally come to the UK’s children’s literature. This blog highlights some of the thoughts (both from the event, and from their more public commentary) of the main speakers of the day.

Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence and Darren Chetty in conversation. Image: Newcastle University
Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence and Darren Chetty in conversation. Image: Newcastle University

Catherine Johnson encapsulates the idea of Britishness/whiteness in her short story from A Change is Gonna Come, “Astounding Talent! Unequalled Performances!” In this story, the young protagonist is told to, “Fight the world . . . You are a black man in a white world. A foreigner” (69). When the main character protests that he was born in Norwich, the man responds, “I doubt if anyone else sees it that way” (70).

Although I was familiar with this attitude, that if you are Black, Britishness is out of reach, I knew that Seven Stories did not want to mirror this sentiment in their museum or archives. Collections and Exhibitions Director Sarah Lawrance pointed out on Friday that, “We have a longstanding commitment to collecting diverse authors and materials” at Seven Stories, but it has not always been an easy task for them.

Part of my remit during my Leverhulme year was to provide some recommendations for expanding the collection, but I was very conscious of the fact that I – like most of the Seven Stories staff – was white and middle-class, and an American to boot: the very picture of privilege. What is the point of a person who has always been privileged enough to raise her voice (in revolution or otherwise) speaking on behalf of those whose voices have been historically side-lined? I did not want to replicate old histories. I suggested we bring some intellectuals – writers, editors, librarians, publishers, academics, book people – from historically-marginalized groups to Seven Stories to hear from them directly. Sarah agreed – as did so many of the great names that we invited.

Seven Stories' Collections Officer Paula Wride discusses items from the Collection with Diverse Voices? participants.
Seven Stories’ Collections Officer Paula Wride discusses items from the Collection with Diverse Voices? participants.  Image: Newcastle University

We called the symposium “Diverse Voices?” because it reflected Seven Stories’ previous Diverse Voices initiatives and left open the question of whose voices were heard and where those voices were welcome. It became part of Newcastle’s Freedom City 2017 project, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Newcastle University’s granting an honorary doctorate to Martin Luther King, Jr. The themes of Freedom City 2017 were those that King mentioned in his speech at the ceremony: the effects of war, poverty and racism on society. King had come to Newcastle from my current hometown of Buffalo, where he argued that these problems affected young people the most because “the best in these minds cannot come out” when they have to worry about their education, their housing, their ability to make their voices count.

I was lucky enough to discuss these ideas with author Alex Wheatle MBE in our Into Crongton with Alex Wheatle event on Thursday 23rd November 2017, who said that the characters in his Crongton series were affected by all of these issues – from World War II, which brought so many of their parents and grandparents to Britain, to the day-to-day poverty that prevents them from reaching their goals, to the institutional racism that keeps them “in their place”. All of Wheatle’s young adult characters in his Crongton series have creative and artistic dreams, but there remains a question over whether they will be able to achieve them. As he said at the symposium when talking about how whiteness influences prize-giving, “Otherness wasn’t quite adjudicated for.”

Alex Wheatle MBE in conversation with Professor Karen Sands O'Connor at the Into Crongton with Alex Wheatle event.
Alex Wheatle MBE in conversation with Professor Karen Sands O’Connor at the Into Crongton with Alex Wheatle event.  Image: Newcastle University

Otherness, or rather being othered, was something that had affected many of the speakers at the symposium. Filipino writer Candy Gourlay mentioned that her work had been translated to television with her main characters depicted as white because there was always “the assumption that if I had a hero, my hero would be white”. SF Said wondered if by only listing his initials on his books, he had created the same assumption: “The minute I took away the obvious ‘difference’ of my name, doors opened for me.”

Some of the participants mentioned historical moments when those doors were opened because of cultural change; author Beverley Naidoo talked about how “There were really close connections between anti-apartheid movements and what was going on in the UK” in the 1970s and 1980s. And librarian Jake Hope reminded the audience of the “radical roots” that led librarians (Black and white) to demand changes in publishing during that same time period. This sense of history was underscored by author Patrice Lawrence, who highlighted the importance of the historical record: “The joy of looking at archives,” she said, is that “you come to understand how we got to where we are.” And archivist and author S. I. Martin pointed out that archives could teach more than just adults: “Archives are a world that kids can write themselves into.”

Jake Hope speaking about children's literature prizes, chaired by Dr Lucy Pearson.
Jake Hope speaking about children’s literature prizes, chaired by Dr Lucy Pearson. Image: Newcastle University

There was at times a rumbling undercurrent of concern that the symposium was a good start whose promise might never be fulfilled. Author Ifeoma Onyefulu spoke those concerns out loud when she said, “It’s good to talk, but where’s the action?”

Many of the symposium participants found the pace of historical change too slow, and did not wait for a space to be made for them. Verna Wilkins, the founder of Tamarind and then of Firetree Books, talked about how her life’s work was “an attempt to redress the balance” in the world of publishing. The illustrator Yu Rong spoke about seeing a hole in the publishing world: “There is very little about China and Chinese people in UK children’s books” and so Rong has done her best to fill up that hole, at least a little bit.

Verna Wilkins talks about setting up Tamarind Books at Diverse Voices? Image: Newcastle University.
Verna Wilkins talks about setting up Tamarind Books at Diverse Voices? Image: Newcastle University.

But for almost everyone at the symposium, action by one group of people was not enough to bring real change for everyone. Instead, it will take hard work and difficult discussions to change children’s literature in the UK if we are going to make every child feel a sense of belonging in the world of books. We must read differently – think differently – speak differently. We must cross the barriers that keep us apart by any means necessary.

In Sita Brahmachari’s recent book for the publisher Barrington Stoke, Worry Angels (2017), she writes about the difficulty and necessity of communication:

“If someone doesn’t speak the same language as you . . . when you want them to understand not just the words that you say, but what you feel, then you try to speak in any way that you can . . . with your hands, with your eyes, with pictures in the sand . . . You act things out . . . you let the feeling show in your whole body . . . whatever way you can to show them you want to be your friend” (71).

It is this kind of communication we need to keep up between us all, even when it is hard. When it goes wrong – as it will – we must keep on trying. This is the only way to ensure that the change we want will come in British children’s books – for all kids.

– Professor Karen Sands O’Connor

Part of Freedom City 2017, the Diverse Voices? symposium and associated events were supported by Newcastle University’s Institute for Social Renewal, the Catherine Cookson Foundation, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England.

Should social scientists get out more?

In the first of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, one of our regional stakeholders talks about their appetite for academic research to make a difference.

Jeremy Cripps, Chief Executive, Children North East

I am recently returned from a conference in Tallinn, Estonia involving social researchers from 16 universities in EU countries. I went with Karen Laing and Jenny Hasenfuss from the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and Simon Hanson from the Federation of Small Businesses in the North East. This was part of the EU Horizon 2020 ACCOMPLISSH project that encourages academic social researchers to have more impact through collaboration with government, business and the civil society sector – my sector, I am Chief Executive of Children North East a large local charity.

Reproduced by kind permission of ACCOMPLISSH team. Illustration produced by Siiri Taimla

There were a lot of academics at the European conference but not a lot of people from government, business or the third sector. The project has been running for over a year and the theme of this conference was ‘from words to action’ so you would have thought there would be more of a mix. Between the four of us from Newcastle we gave two presentations about joint work we have done, both of which were well received. It felt good to be ‘on message’, but we were the exception; no other universities ran workshops about their collaborations. Why?

Most of us in the charity world are practical, ‘can-do’ sorts, if there’s a social problem to be addressed or an injustice to be challenged we just get on with it and do what we can. I suspect it’s much the same in the business world – lots of action. I am not a university researcher so forgive me if a caricature but I wonder if some of our EU colleagues are a bit stuck in ivory towers? I did feel there were quite a lot of people a bit like that at the conference.

That is a shame because although the charity world is full of good intentions sometimes our efforts are wasted. For example we are good at responding to needs but not at tackling underlying structural causes; we don’t always ask whether there is a better way to respond; and we aren’t good at learning from other places. Social scientists could help us with those questions and together we could do more good and make more impact on policy.

I am certain there are questions and issues social scientists know of and want to explore or have an impact on, I always find it stimulating when an academic approaches us with an idea, but the best projects are those that blend research and delivery – and I don’t just mean ‘evaluation’. One recent example was a large holiday project last summer – the researchers (from Northumbria University) wanted a large-scale research project that would demonstrate the importance of holiday projects to tackle holiday hunger and Children North East wanted to alleviate the suffering of poor children during the long summer holiday. The different aims converged and we were able to jointly plan and deliver a successful project.

So let’s have more collaborations like that. Here’s an open invitation to social science researchers everywhere – please get in touch and talk to us about your aspirations – they may well converge with ours.

Jeremy Cripps, Chief Executive, Children North East

Jeremy Cripps is Chief Executive of Children North East, a charity based in Newcastle upon Tyne which transforms the lives of disadvantaged children by working with them in their families, schools and communities. The charity employs 65 staff and 90 volunteers who work in projects across the north east region of England. By profession Jeremy is a children’s social worker and has worked in local authorities and children’s charities as a practitioner, manager and senior manager. In a long career he says there has never been a dull moment!

A New Era for Towns?

Reposted from Carnegie UK Trust

Peter Hetherington chaired the joint Carnegie UK Trust and Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal event in North Shields on 11 July 2017, the discussions of which are summarised below. Peter is past chair of the TCPA, was a member of the government’s urban sounding board and a board member of the former Academy for Sustainable Communities. He is also a former regional affairs editor of The Guardian.


I grew up, and started work, in a smallish city. It was surrounded by a clutch of even smaller towns. What’s surprising is that, throughout my formative years – the 1960s into the early 70s – they were (in the case of the city) largely self-governing, a ‘county borough’ in the officialise of the time.

Throughout over half of the last century, a small city was a big democratic player – for a period providing electricity, gas, water, public transport and, of course, education and social care. These institutions civilised Britain long before a national government developed any social agenda. And that went for small towns too. Just look around England, Scotland and Wales and you’ll still see remnants of truly local democracy: town halls, often sadly neglected and partly abandoned, that once provided a focus of local action and service delivery. Think royal burghs (in the case of Scotland) and town councils in England (which still sometimes exist as glorified parish councils).

But from the 1970s onwards, through rounds of local government ‘reorganisation’, these small councils were swallowed up by larger authorities. Local identity – that essential element of pride, belonging, a sense of place – went out of the stained glass windows which sometimes adorned these fine sandstone buildings. As countless citizens will attest – me included – bigger hasn’t always been better.

So what to do? If we can’t turn back the clock, we can at least – as Carnegie UK Trust’s ‘Time for Towns’ project emphasises – consider how towns might have a greater say over decision making as part of a continuing policy debate surrounding community empowerment and ‘devolution’. In English terms, that latter noun briefly meant devolving some power to five ‘city regions’, such as Greater Manchester, in mayoral elections earlier this year. The initiative was meant to be rolled out elsewhere. But it’s stalled. The government seems to have gone cool on the idea.

In its limited form, however, this initiative did tell us something about a national policy mindset which sees big cities, and surrounding conurbations, as the drivers of a regional economy – in much the same way as London is seen as a motor of the national economy.

It’s time to challenge these assumptions. As Carnegie UK Trust’s recent ‘Turnaround Towns’ report emphasises, millions of us don’t live in big cities but, rather, in small and medium-sized towns – some thriving, some coasting, many struggling.

I was lucky enough to chair a joint Carnegie UK Trust and Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal seminar in North Shields in July designed to address the turnaround issue, with case studies from eight places: the USA to Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Finland.

North Shields? Still partly a fishing port, it’s at the mouth of the River Tyne, and now – courtesy of local government reorganisation in 1973 – forms part of the North Tyneside metropolitan borough, which also embraces the neighbouring coastal towns of Tynemouth and Whitley Bay. North Tyneside, in many ways, is typical of much of Britain: poverty and plenty cheek-by-jowl. North Shields, perhaps seen as a poor economic relation, has a spectacular quayside, trendy bars, up-market flats and a poorer housing estate which has had its troubles in the past.

The mayor of North Tyneside, Norma Redfern, a retired primary head teacher, who opened the event, spoke passionately about the importance of community, belonging and partnership in the quest of ‘turning towns around’. Above all, she said, councils must put residents first. This was no synthetic comment. As the only elected executive mayor in the Tyne and Wear conurbation, she heads an excellent authority which boasts high-ranking schools and considerable ambition, often directed to turning round its most challenging areas.

As the past chair of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), Britain’s oldest housing and planning charity, I am helping lead a project which specifically addresses those forgotten parts of England – for instance, former industrial towns and villages – which time, and government, seems to have forgotten.

In England particularly, there’s a policy vacuum, an asymmetric system which places, and sometimes rewards, big cities and conurbations, while forgetting outlying areas which contain the bulk of the country’s population. The tide has to turn. Let’s cooperate in driving forward a common agenda. A new era for towns? Why not?

Peter Hetherington

Reposted with kind permission from Carnegie UK Trust

Ethiopian Connections: Community Engagement through Creative Arts

Dr Peter Kellett is an architect and social anthropologist and Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture Planning and Landscape. In 2013 he went to Ethiopia as a VSO volunteer working as Visiting Professor at Addis Ababa University on a capacity building programme. He returned in 2015 to continue work on collaborative research projects with his Ethiopian colleagues.  Whilst in the country he collected numerous objects and images which form the basis of a series of exhibitions. Here he writes about the current exhibition in Bath which is supported by a grant from the Newcastle Institute of Social Renewal.

made-in-ethiopia-1

Fairfield House is a well-proportioned, Italianate mid-nineteenth century house on the outskirts of the genteel and historic city of Bath – and a long way from Africa. However for 5 years (1936-1941) it was the home of the Ethiopian Emperor, King of Kings, Conquering Lion of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I.  Ethiopia was the only country in Africa country not to be colonised by the European powers and remained a proudly independent state – until Mussolini’s troops invaded in 1935.  Haile Selassie, his family and his court managed to escape into exile – and ended up in Fairfield House.  On his return to Ethiopia he gifted the house to the city of Bath, and it is now a multi-cultural centre and the base of numerous black and ethnic minority groups, including Ethiopian, African-Caribbean and Rastafari communities in the South West.

 The window of Haile Selassie’s former bedroom is transformed into the Ethiopian flag assembled from hundreds of children’s sandals.


The window of Haile Selassie’s former bedroom is transformed into the Ethiopian flag assembled from hundreds of children’s sandals.

Given its rich history and ongoing links with Africa, Fairfield House is the perfect place for this exhibition which highlights processes of rapid socio-economic change and modernization in Ethiopia. Many aspects of these changes can be observed in the ordinary objects which people use in their everyday lives and which are visible and tangible manifestations of the move from handmade, locally-sourced, natural materials – towards machine-made, high energy, imported materials. These changes are impacting on how people live and work, as well as on the values which underpin the society.

The exhibition examines these changes through a focus on material culture. Objects are good for telling stories and focusing ideas.  Drawing on contemporary art techniques, I created a series of assemblages of objects which present stories of celebration, optimism and creativity alongside development dilemmas and challenges.  The installations are complemented by colourful video images on large monitors which show the objects in context.  The key themes are food security, water, childhood, maternal health, language and religious traditions.

The exhibition commenced in March with a wonderful opening evening which drew people from numerous community, charity and religious groups from the South West. In addition to a few speeches, we enjoyed music played by an Ethiopian cellist and drank cups of traditional Ethiopian coffee poured from elegant ceramic coffee pots and listened to inspirational Rastafarian poetry.

Last weekend I returned to Fairfield as the house and exhibition were included in the Bath Newbridge Arts Trail. Over two days close to 150 people from many walks of life came to see the exhibition – and it was encouraging to see visitors attracted and curious about the vibrant displays which in turn prompted discussions and an interest in learning more about the issues presented.

On Saturday evening the house reverberated with the hypnotic rhythms of Rastafari drumming and chanting. The Rastafari meet regularly in Fairfield to celebrate the Sabbath and this was a special occasion to mark the anniversary of Haile Selassie’s triumphant return to Addis Ababa in May 1941 – to continue ruling as the last monarch of the 3,000 year old Solomonic dynasty which began with the union of King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba (ancient Ethiopia and Yemen).  The Rastafari take their name from Haile Selassie’s pre-coronation name of Ras (Prince) Tafari, and for them he is much more than a king – he is regarded as God (Jah) and the messiah who came to liberate black people throughout the world.  For them to spend time in his former house is highly significant.

The exhibition provides a focus for related workshops and participatory events to engage wider audiences. Starting with a lively session with the black and ethnic minority senior citizen group which meets regularly in Fairfield, we are now organising activities with the local community as well as visits of local schoolchildren and African refugees.  These events will encourage creative activities around development themes with the aim of fostering understanding and dialogue between different social and ethnic groups and thereby contribute to community cohesion and social renewal.

Dr Peter Kellett

Are There Lessons from Turnout at the Local Elections?

Dr. Alistair Clark is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Newcastle University. He has written widely on political parties and elections, and has covered Scottish local elections since 2003. His current research includes electoral integrity and parliamentary standards. This blog was originally published on the Centre for Constitutional Change website.

Amid all the spin and recriminations about the results of the Scottish local elections, one story has barely been touched upon. This is that despite all the pessimism about participation, turnout for the council contest was up significantly to 46.9% from 39.6% in 2012. This was the highest turnout for standalone Scottish council elections for several decades. By contrast, the turnout for the six new Metro Mayors elected in England was poor for such a flagship piece of the UK government’s devolution agenda in England. Tees Valley recorded a turnout rate of only 21%, the West of England and Greater Manchester contests achieved 29% and only 27% of voters went to the polls in the West Midlands.

There had been concern about turnout amongst Scottish policymakers prior to the elections. Local elections are low participation and low information second order contests. In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee held an enquiry into low turnout, among other things (which, for disclosure, the present author gave two rounds of evidence to). This exercise was recently repeated with the Committee hosting a roundtable debate on turnout prior to the 2017 contests. Many would have been pushed to know there was an election on however. Most Scottish councils actually go so far as to ban campaign posters on council property (i.e. lampposts), which hardly help underline the importance of local issues.

edinburgh

In the event, turnout was high for local elections at 46.9%. Nine of Scotland’s 32 councils actually broke the 50% benchmark, with East Renfrewshire performing best at 57.8% (+9.4%), and Edinburgh Council just getting over that hurdle at 50.5% (+7.9%). There were some significant rises, with Aberdeen, East Dunbartonshire, and Scottish Borders all recording an increase of 10% or more, and eight others recording between 8-10% rises. In only three councils did turnout fall. Argyll and Bute recorded a 1.7% drop, while Orkney fell by 7.4% and, most strikingly, Shetland Islands declined by 13.5% to 41.2%. Only one council, Glasgow, at 39%, recorded turnout below 40%, although this was still up by 6.8% on 2012.

These figures are impressive for local elections, given that they were being held as standalone contests not combined with election to any other level of government. Equivalent local contests in England are often lucky to achieve around a third of the vote if held alone. It raises a number of questions however. Firstly, why did turnout rise? There are three likely reasons. It is a legacy of the high levels of registration and participation seen in the Indyref in 2014. A general election in June called by a pro-Brexit Prime Minister has undoubtedly heightened the political atmosphere, as has Nicola Sturgeon’s push for a second Independence referendum. Consequently, it is also likely to be a reflection of the polarisation between the SNP and ongoing revival of the Scottish Conservatives over the constitutional issue. The council elections were a proxy for this. Motivated voters turnout, and voters have undoubtedly been motivated by this question. Give voters something important to vote for and many will do so, even if this is not necessarily directly related to the issue at hand – running local services in this case.

Secondly, what does this mean for the general election in June? In particular, which party is likely to get its vote out on the day more efficiently? Differential turnout will be key. Former Scottish government Minister Marco Biagi suggested in a Tweet over the weekend that the pro-Independence parties (SNP and Greens) did less well at getting their vote out than the Unionist parties. More research needs done into this, but that Yes-voting Glasgow’s turnout was so low, and the formerly, and now once again, Conservative voting areas of Aberdeenshire, Perth and Kinross and the Borders recorded between 9 and 10% rises suggests there may be something to this. Higher turnout did seem to benefit the Conservatives, primarily at Labour’s expense, even in Glasgow.

Given the threat from the Conservative Party that has been talked up recently, the SNP will no doubt want to ensure that, if this explanation is correct, their sizeable army of activists is motivated for a considerable get out the vote (GOTV) operation and that they do so effectively. The local elections will act as a wake-up call for them. The Conservatives do not have the same number of activists but they will be well resourced, motivated and will likely target seriously narrowly a small number of potentially winnable constituencies since there are no prizes for coming second under first past the post.

Thirdly, why was turnout higher in Scotland than in what were also constitutionally important elections to the Metro Mayors in England? I have argued elsewhere that the UK government needed to do much more to engage the public with these new positions. As we have seen in places such as Hartlepool and Stoke on Trent, both of which had elected Mayors but voted to give them up, the devolution agenda can go into reverse if the public are not suitably engaged with important positions with significant powers. The broader lesson from Scotland is that engaging voters can work.

Rather than having election fatigue, Scotland’s political engagement seems to remain high in the run up to the general election, as demonstrated by turnout in the 2017 council elections. If people had been fed up of elections, participation would have been lower. The results will motivate both the SNP and the Conservatives, the SNP because they are defending so many seats, the Conservatives because there would be considerable pride in becoming Scotland’s second party at Westminster and taking the shine off the SNP’s dominance. Turnout will certainly be higher in the general election, although whether it hits 71% as it did in 2015 remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is just who that higher turnout will benefit.

This blog originally appeared on the Centre for Constitutional Change website.

Brexit Looms: what about rural policy?

Sally Shortall and Mark Shucksmith

Brexit will have significant effects on rural areas of the UK – the loss of EU funds will not only require new thinking in relation to agricultural and environmental policy but also for broader rural businesses, communities and services. What national policies for each of the devolved territories should replace these after Brexit? Could this offer an opportunity to introduce better rural policies, suited to 21st Century rural potentials and challenges?

Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy recently launched its report ‘After Brexit: 10 key questions for rural policy’ in Westminster on April 27th, 2017. CRE’s research addresses many aspects of rural economies and societies; food, farming, housing, poverty, gender, employment, the environment, rural community development, rural businesses and services. Our staff seek to inform policy and practice relating to all aspects of rural life. So far, public debate about Brexit has tended to focus primarily on issues relating to agriculture and the environment, however, neglecting these other elements of rural economies and societies.

sheep-grazingRural policies in England have been ripe for reform for many years. Brexit could offer an unforeseen opportunity to rethink policy approaches.  The Common Agricultural Policy will no longer apply, the Single Farm Payment and rural development funding such as LEADER will be swept away.  Much is yet uncertain.  Questions must be posed about what should replace the CAP.  But these questions should extend beyond agriculture to consider how the needs of rural communities should be supported in order to give them the best chance of thriving and playing their full part in the future of the UK.  Here are some examples of the key questions we raise in our paper:

  • How can we draw on our experience of European programmes and the successes of the Local Enterprise Partnerships and Rural Growth Networks, and on the valuable evidence we already have (including evaluations of Defra’s Rural Development Programme for England) to inform immediate actions in the wake of Brexit?
  • Is it more beneficial to embed rural policymaking across all government departments or are rural interests met more effectively when a single department is tasked with leading on this?
  • Does Brexit offer an opportunity to be more experimental in supporting different, more wide-ranging partnerships that could drive rural development?
  • What part could neighbourhood plans play in identifying potential sites for affordable housing and should landowners be incentivised to release land for this purpose?

At the event, an invited panel of people made short presentations, followed by a lively and informative debate with an extremely knowledgeable audience. The CRE’s Fran Rowe presented some aspects of our paper, emphasising the potential of the rural economy. Richard Quallington offered insights from ACRE’s perspective, focusing in particular on rural housing and the contribution of voluntary and community organisations. He proposed five priorities for post-Brexit rural policy: reinstatement of a rural housing target; recognition of a rural premium; investment in connectivity; support for rural businesses; and investment in VCSEs. Martin Worner spoke from his experience as a successful rural entrepreneur, highlighting issues of people, premises and training. John Varley also discussed business and give some examples from his work with Clinton Devon Estates of successful strategies for the rural economy to thrive. Tamara Hooper offered a RICS perspective on what should be priorities for negotiations around the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

view-over-fields-rural

The ensuing discussion was lively, well-informed and good humoured. People wondered about the governance of rural policy going forward at both national and local levels, and how these might be integrated vertically and horizontally. Who should be in charge of rural policy? Questions were asked too about what would replace LEADER and what should it look like. The argument was cogently made that some of the earlier LEADER programmes that focused on capacity building were very creative and in many countries helped all rural communities to take advantage of economic and social opportunities. Without this focus on capacity building, we run the risk of increasing inequalities between and within rural communities. Questions were also asked about the trade aspects of Brexit and, in the event of ‘no deal’ with the EU what would be the effects of tariffs not only on farms but on rural businesses in general?

The future is uncertain. Newcastle University and the Centre for Rural Economy take seriously our responsibility to inform public debate. We work closely with stakeholder groups, policy makers, and business, to provide independent analysis and always try to ensure that our research is accessible to those who need it. In this era of fake news and post truths, it is particularly important to remember our public responsibility as academics. We hope that with our short report and this event in Westminster we have helped to start an informed public debate about post-Brexit rural policy which others will now continue. As John Varley said, Brexit could be a disaster or an opportunity for rural areas: we must do our best to ensure it is an opportunity for rural economies and societies to thrive in these turbulent times.

CRE’s report referred to above can be downloaded here: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/media/wwwnclacuk/centreforruraleconomy/files/CRE_10_Key_Questions_final.pdf

Sally Shortall is the Duke of Northumberland Chair of Rural Economy

Mark Shucksmith is the Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and a Centre for Rural Economy Associate