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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Salmon fishing on the Tweed: reflecting on a process of citizen story-telling

Two years ago Newcastle University Institute of Social Renewal sponsored a series of citizen-led story-telling events in the North East border town of Berwick upon Tweed. Our ‘listening project’ coincided with the town celebrating 900 years of history: it focussed on the traditional livelihood of ‘net and coble’ salmon fishing and how it contributed to a local sense of identity and belonging.

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Local citizens, whose voices are rarely heard in major decision-making, were asked to share their personal impressions of this once thriving local industry. At the time it was feared that the last commercial fishing station would remain closed forever. As well as collecting personal impressions we wanted to stimulate a wider-ranging conversation about the potential to revive and sustain net fishing activities on the Tweed. Since the industry contracted rapidly in the 1980s, Berwick has lost net fishing jobs and income and the further risk is of losing ‘intangible heritage’ associated with net fishing traditions. We heard different views about what is valued, such as a living river, and how to keep knowledge alive that is embodied and rarely written down.souvenir-book-cover

From the stories we gathered for a final souvenir publication we found a clear ambition in Berwick to preserve an active, fully functioning fishery, rather than to celebrate deep rooted fishing heritage only as a chapter of Berwick’s past. This ambition echoes a growing trend for the English regions and small towns in particular that seek to retain artisan products and keep craft skills alive. This is evident in Slow Food and Cittaslow quality of life initiatives that help to define Berwick through popular food, drink, civic arts and heritage festivals.

Engagement, impact and renewal

Mid-way through listening to local concerns we published a blog in July 2015. At the end we pondered the impact that public dialogue might have in reviving the last remaining fishing stations; one at Paxton (catching and releasing fish for scientific purposes only) and one at Gardo (perched alongside the iconic 17th century Old Bridge at the very heart of Berwick). Back then it was difficult to imagine what a positive impact of social renewal might bring about. So it is hugely satisfying today to be standing on the Old Bridge with a crowd of visitors watching the net fishing at Gardo (these images taken 21st April 2017). Visitors have always gathered in large numbers to watch the fishing by net from a wooden coble – and now they can do so again.

Crowd on Old Bridge

Commercial fishing continues on a modest scale due to the inspirational commitment of Michael Hindhaugh, who set up the River Tweed Wild Salmon Company as a social enterprise in 2015, and groups of volunteers, such as the Berwick Town Team, eager to ensure the continuation of the traditional net and coble fishing method. The River Tweed Wild Salmon Company makes available the only legal way to purchase Tweed wild salmon as it is illegal to sell rod-caught salmon. The Company also caters for corporate team-building and groups of family and friends to participate in the authentic net fishing experience. Michael is the first to acknowledge that the Company can never operate as a conventional business, based on salmon sales alone:

“I’d not make it on The Apprentice! We just about broke even last year. As a social enterprise it’s not about making a living but keeping the practice alive here on the Tweed. My team are all retired fishermen, plus a couple of students taking on seasonal work. The B&B businesses really appreciate us fishing, even on a short season, because it’s a huge spectacle that never fails to draw a crowd”.

This resonates with arguments for agricultural subsidies in some rural economies which are not competitive when priced purely on a single product. A wider view of rural services would take account of the contribution artisan fishing makes to a locally distinct landscape and quality of life.

Net fishing on the TweedCitizen-led archives

Many people who came along to our story-telling events in 2015 brought with them family photographs, news cuttings, artefacts and documents to show their personal connections to the netting industry. These citizen-led archives continue to grow as part of a continuing conversation on the significance of net fishing and the river to Berwick. This is evident in a recent Berwick Town Team exhibition which attracted close to one thousand visitors over a fortnight. Visitors were invited to add comments and names to the many photographs assembled, to increase the richness of the local salmon fishing story.

Slow qualities of life

Watching the net fishing up close it’s easy to be drawn into its rhythmic qualities: the coble rowed out, paying out the net in a semi-circular ‘shot’, outlined by floats, encircling any passing fish in the decreasing draw of the net, the coble rowed back to land and the net winched in. These ‘slow’ qualities of life have widespread appeal, as evident in the success of ‘slow TV’ and ‘slow radio’ broadcasting leisurely canal journeys, glassblowing and sounds of the summer. Why not net fishing? Nothing much happens but the tempo is therapeutic, focusing in on what appears to matter, not, ironically, whether a fish is caught rather something altogether more pastoral. It is about giving rural activities the time that they take, valuing particular skills rather than only caring about the final product. These observations and the impact our project has had links to ongoing research advancing new paradigms of sustainable de-growth.

Dr Helen Jarvis is a reader in social geography from Newcastle University School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. Working jointly with Tessa Holland, doctoral candidate, the project “Salmon Fishing on the Tweed” was awarded a Social Renewal grant in Spring 2015.

Newcastle City Futures: Thinking Canny for the Toon

Newcastle City Futures is the story of how one great city is rethinking the way we rebuild local democracy and public trust to manage future change.

Newcastle City Futures (NCF), led by Newcastle University, was formed in 2014 with the opening of a three-week long pop-up exhibition on Newcastle past, present and future at the Guildhall on the Quayside that attracted 2400 visitors and led to a call to establish a place where people could create their own ideas for the future of Tyneside. In 2015 NCF published the Newcastle City Futures 2065 research report to look at long-term trends and create an intelligence base of what’s happening in the city.

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Since May 2016, Newcastle City Futures has partnered 70 organisations, welcomed 35 businesses, facilitated 30 new innovative projects across the city, generated £1.5m to fund partner projects and submitted £15m in research bids, organised mashups with 150 people, had over 100 individual meetings, engaged 600 schoolchildren in digital ideas, received feedback from 3000 citizens, filmed 10 videos, won 3 prestigious research awards, changed the governance processes of 2 local authorities, showcased our work to 18 overseas countries and 13 UK Cities, participated in 20 high profile events, and featured in 20 media reports. And although these are unique achievements in a short space of time, they do not benefit the university directly.

The question most people ask then is, why on earth does the university get involved?What does the university get out of it? NCF is one of five pilot initiatives funded by the UK Research Councils and Innovate UK to encourage higher education to ‘give something back’ to the places in which the universities are located, by brokering new collaborations, linking research to practice, and encouraging citizens and businesses to talk to each other. In our case, we cover both Newcastle and Gateshead.

Essentially we are an ideas factory, generating unique partnerships to shape innovative solutions. Among the 30 projects developed over the last 12 months are: Metro Futures, creating a digital engagement platform to allow the public to design the new fleet of metro trains to achieve inclusive mobility; Future Homes, to create digitally enabled sustainable homes for an ageing society; the application of blue and green infrastructure and digital retailing in city centre shopping areas; the Big Draw, encouraging children to design their own future city; and a proposal to regenerate riverside walks and parks to encourage health and wellbeing.

Aspirations are raised by the brokerage, and the idea is always paramount, first and foremost, not a funding application. That means the innovation and partnership can endure around the idea even if funding is uncertain to deliver the project. But the continual generation of ideas borne from these collaborations also explains why bigger corporate players are now eager to be involved – NCF has moved from 22 partners in June 2016 to over 70 now; it’s a growing story.

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Digital and citizen engagement are cross cutting themes in every single project but we avoid saying we are a ‘smart city’; we are smart and we are socially inclusive, so let’s say we are ‘canny’. Each project has to have reps from public, private, voluntary and academic sectors involved. Each project links needs to business opportunities through a proof of concept approach, underpinned by the university’s R&D. And each project in its own way supports the delivery of public services in new and dynamic ways, while reinvigorating local democracy in more direct and transparent approaches.

NCF has led to the establishment of a new governance process in Newcastle City Council with the formation of the City Futures Development Group, a special purpose local authority committee that brings researchers and policy makers together to discuss the long term needs of the City.

Our work has also been endorsed four times by government in the Future of Cities foresight report (May 2016), in the Future Cities Catapult digital and planning reports (December 2016 and March 2017), and in the House of Lords Built Environment Select Committee report (February 2016), while the Federation of Small Businesses article in the Chronicle (January 2017) was a good endorsement for us by the business community. Our work also featured in an Innovate UK blog (July 2016).

We have been featured in 20 regional newspaper reports on urban change in the city using archival imagery and quotations. We were featured prominently in South East Asia media outlets in 2015-16, with a Channel News Asia Perspectives programme and accompanying broad sheet coverage.

We have the backing of major companies like IBM (who awarded NCF a small grant) and we have signed an MoU with Engie on future Connected Cities; we also have Siemens, Buro Happold, Arup, Northumbrian Water and BT Strategy on board.dscf9698-2

Nationally we are part of the RCUK Urban Living Partnership Network of five cities and we have an international approach with university partners in two distinct networks that we also lead: the Foresight Future of Cities International Research Network, and the European Accomplissh Network, covering 16 countries combined to date.

The Combined Authority have now asked us to support their transport strategy preparation, including ideas for metro expansion and a freight distribution centre for Tyneside; this follows our involvement in the NE LEP new economic strategy and the city council’s Working City document.

We have also been given public platforms nationally and in the region through the Daily Telegraph Smart Cities event (2016), the Bristol Festival of the Future City (2017), the Pint of Science Festival (2017), Freedom City (2017), and we hope to play a prominent role in the Great Exhibition of the North (2018).

As our work goes forward, I am quite happy describing NCF as a mechanism of convenience: it’s not the politicians’ or the university’s, it’s there for everyone in the city to use and to get involved with.

We live in challenging times but we can still have big plans to make a difference to the place and its citizens.

If all we do is raise ambitions, get people taking about the city they love, and demonstrate the potential of this great place, we achieved some modest outcomes. But for a city like The Toon, I know that that’s just not going to be enough. We must engage, inspire and Innovate.

Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones

Director, Newcastle City Futures, Newcastle University.

 

Rural proofing: magic bullet or rural vote-catcher?

We all know that living in the countryside may mean having to travel further to access shops, schools, GP surgeries and hospitals, while some services available in urban areas are simply unobtainable. Communities may complain that they are overlooked and individuals sometimes feel isolated.  Rural proofing is intended to address these kinds of inequalities but is it really the magic bullet that will solve everyone’s problems?

The UK Government defines the process thus: “Rural proofing is integral to the policy making cycle. It requires us to make sure that the needs and interests of rural people, communities and businesses in England are properly considered. This applies to the development and implementation of all policies and programmes. For central government, rural proofing means assessing policy options to be sure we get the fairest solutions in rural areas.”

rural-england-housingWhat could be better or more desirable than ensuring fairness all round when you are designing policies? But like most things in life, the reality is much more complicated.  The questions we should be asking seem simple: what is rural, who is disadvantaged and what are the problems policies need to address?  Unfortunately this is seldom the starting point for policymaking.

In my career as a social scientist working in rural studies I have spent a lot of time looking at the ways in which governments try to design and implement policies that are “fair” to both urban and rural communities. It is a challenge that faces governments worldwide and rural proofing seems to offer a useful tool.  But too easily it becomes an all-purpose mallet to be applied without precision across cultures and circumstances.  In some instances it seems to miss the mark completely.

In 2015 I was able to spend a month in Monash University in Melbourne to do research on rural proofing there and to have discussions and to provide a briefing paper and presentations about it for policy makers. I quickly realised that their thinking about “rural” focused on what the Australians refer to as “the country”.  It is a term that has a pleasant old world sound to it, a nod to European roots.  But it fails to take into account the truly remote outback which is home to indigenous Australians or to consider the very real disadvantages they experience.  In Australia – as in the UK – how you define “rural” is highly politicised.

Rural proofing as a concept originated with the English Rural White Paper in 2000. My colleagues here in the Centre for Rural Economy have long been concerned with rural proofing, and Jane Atterton wrote in 2008 that the concept needed to be reviewed. Since then more critical questions have been asked, by the House of Commons in 2009 and the OECD in 2011. It is an English concept, and applying it more widely is always destined to be problematic.   But even in England such a blanket approach often feels inappropriate.  In a recent Lords debate Lord Beith (formerly an MP for a rural constituency himself) argued in favour of rural proofing and observed “Surely we cannot allow ourselves to stumble into a situation where you have to be well off to live in the countryside”. Given the discrepancy between house prices in city and countryside, living in a rural area in England is already well beyond the pockets of many people.  Indeed, England is an anomaly in having a countryside that represents aspiration more often than it does deprivation.  Of course you will find some disadvantaged communities and individuals there, but can rural proofing address such specific needs?  Can it truly ensure that elusive “fairness”?

Scotland has always been more wary of rural proofing, arguing for a much more targeted approach via its Highland and Islands Council. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, is currently developing a guidance framework for rural proofing, very much following the English model, but related to its own Rural Needs Act.  In work I am carrying out with colleagues at the Northern Ireland Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, we have highlighted concerns that such a blanket approach could result in unrealistic wish lists, regardless of practical and resource constraints. Providing “equitable” services cannot mean providing the same services in town and country.  A small rural school or health provider may be popular locally but provide a poor service when measured against what is available in urban areas.  If this is the case, local facilities should not automatically be protected via rural proofing, rather than being amalgamated in order to achieve improved services.

Rural areas are different from towns and cities and the needs of their residents are often different. But relying on rural proofing to address every rural problem will not ensure fairness.  All too often it is a process implemented as a rural vote-catcher by governments as they approach election time.  A more useful strategy would be to identify specific problems then design the policy to address those.  If you do not know what needs fixing, how can you target an effective solution?

Sally Shortall is the Duke of Northumberland Professor of Rural Economy, in Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy

 

Might Canada be a good model for Scottish cultural policy post-Brexit?

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Dr Simon McKerrell, Newcastle University, January 2017

An effective cultural policy should do many things, but one thing that we could do better is policy for the arts. Good arts policy depends upon a range of artists, deep communities of practice, some public support and private success, amongst many other things. But the most important bit which sometimes gets lost, especially in amongst the razzmatazz of Celtic Connections or the Edinburgh Festivals in the summer is aesthetically (or artistically) transformational experiences for the Scottish public. Art has many values from the personal to the public, but changing the way we see, feel and hear the world through artistic experience is one of the most vital. One way in which this actually happens is when cultural policy connects the local to the global, and we might be able to learn a few lessons from other countries post-Brexit about this, particularly Canada.

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The decade 2010-2020 in the UK has, and will show a continuous retreat and downsizing of the state in relation to cultural and arts policy and financial support. This is a real, live problem in Scotland and across the UK because Local Authorities are still the largest funders of arts in the UK. In England for instance (where we have figures) we know that since 2010, local authority spending on the arts has declined by 17% (£236m). In Scotland there is a similar picture. Much intellectual energy and scholarly discourse has been devoted to national cultural policy structures for the arts in the UK and elsewhere over the last twenty years. This has involved large and intensive debates about complex transdisciplinary areas such as: the social impact of the arts; the regenerative agency of creative place-making; cultural capital; the equitable distribution of state funding to different genres and regions of the UK, and; the relationship(s) between the intrinsic and instrumental value of the arts. All against a public background and political narrative of austerity. We know from much of the research that has emerged that the arts can have a transformative positive effect on individuals and communities given the right conditions, but this often happens at the personal and/or very local level.

In amongst all the macro debates about UK cultural policy, not much attention has been paid to those smaller, local communities of artistic practice, that carry on their production and consumption of culture beyond the reach of the state or its quangos. The continuing delivery of arts projects in Scotland and elsewhere across the UK mostly happens at the local level, even when it is supported through national or local authority arts funding. Increasingly, studies of globalization and culture have pointed out that the local and global are interdependent upon each other, and that most forms of belonging are inherently local, but increasingly mediatized through global means such as social media, websites, fora, and online news and television. It is the local arena then, where local artistic practice across musical, narrative, dance, visual or even gastronomic traditions are actually practised. Indeed, when one remembers that in Scotland, the most popular cultural attendance context is a visit to the local library (more than cinema or live music) one of the obvious post-Brexit answers for cultural policy is staring us in the face.

Moreover, in Scotland, the Scottish Government now has recently moved into a third successive term of SNP administration, which continues to explicitly develop ‘The Scottish Approach’ to delivering policy and to devolving decision making ‘with’ the community. In a number of non-UK contexts, local government has been, and continues to be, key stakeholders in the development of musical communities. Recent shifts in government policy in both in the UK (instrumentalization of the arts under New Labour) and particularly in Scotland (widening of the wellbeing and health policy agenda to include prevention) now mean that participation is viewed as a contributing factor across a number of domains beyond the artistic. The arts are now present in various social cohesion, health, wellbeing, economic growth and sustainability strategies across the UK and much of this work is being carried out via non-arts and non-cultural policy officers within local authorities.

These reasons amongst others, underscore the importance of understanding how local participation and delivery of arts projects across varied urban and rural landscapes in Scotland relate to cultural policy in a rapidly changing context. Too much has been made of professional ‘high quality’ arts in Scotland. Local, and less glamorous activities across the nation give much more bang for the Scottish buck in terms of transformational artistic experience: The retirees choir rehearsing their ‘Passion’; the rural fiddle group meeting weekly on a Thursday night to exchange tunes and fun; the urban dramatic society bringing together the generations for a performance of Noel Coward’s ‘Blythe Spirit’ for a week in December, or; the central belt pipe band preparing boys and girls for the competition season in the summer.

woman-on-violin

These local groups are not in direct competition with the professional artists, but in many ways a pound spent there goes further and longer than a pound spent on the next elite performer’s tour, or orchestral production. A lot of this money comes from local authorities, and these local authorities have less to give but they already have a vast network of libraries where much cultural activity takes place. Could we not in a post-Brexit world set aside some money perhaps via ringfenced or Edinburgh distributed cultural funding, so that libraries could extend and reinvent their role in the local community as the arts hub? Public libraries are the natural home for local arts in the globalized Scottish 21st century. They do it elsewhere and we could learn from them in a post-Brexit, or even post-UK context.

Canadians borrow from their public libraries twice as many books as they buy each year and 85% of their local communities have a Community Trust which acts as a focal point for local arts philanthropy and community engagement—local people coordinating and deciding how to pay for local arts from local money. In fact, libraries account for about 40% of provincial cultural spending by government in Canada, and they even have a publicly funded national encyclopaedia available digitally at their libraries (pretty good for tourism their too). At the federal level, the Canadian government is even spending $210 million dollars in 2017 alone on cultural heritage to celebrate their 150th anniversary—a fraction of this spending on our Scottish cultural heritage at the local level would be hugely positive in Scotland. As it happens, neither the UK (including Scotland) or Canada have signed the UNESCO 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage and are unlikely to do so. They spend ringfenced money from central government on their traditional music, drama and dance; ours go into the general competition on artistic merit up against every other art form. Traditional arts could see a post-Brexit boom if we adopted a more Canadian approach. We spend a lot of money on the arts on national ‘glorious megafauna’. Even if we set aside £500K for each of the 32 Scottish local authorities ringfenced specifically for local arts, that would represent half of the annual budget we spend on the five national performing companies (RSNO, Scottish Ballet, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Opera and The National Theatre of Scotland). Yes, £16 million for arts in Scottish libraries for a new Scottish communities arts trust in 2017 would be a good place to start (and would represent about seven times as much as the CS Cashback for Creativity initiative has invested back into local arts in the last several years). In Scotland we spent last year a ‘whopping’ £250K via the Public Library Improvement Fund—and guess what—this piddling amount was only accessible through competitive tendering into a central pot.

Internationally, the United Kingdom has a comparatively weak local authority provision for the arts within an EU context, and both cultural growth of ominorousness and the continuing reduction in funding for local authorities makes investigating novel and innovative methods of community funding and sustainability for arts more urgent. Indeed, one of the explicit aims of a newly reframed post-Brexit cultural policy would be to tackle more effectively the question of how local communities of geography and practice can themselves sustainably support their arts activities beyond any whims of local or national government. There could be a test artistic sustainability; at the most basic level we could ask Creative Scotland and/or local authorities to tell us how effective the money they spend is. Similarly, within the arts world, there’s still too much of a banal position that posits capitalism in simple opposition to the flourishing of an idealized, community-based, egalitarian performing arts. When one examines the realities of artists’ lives, one can see that many of the disciplines, and to a certain extent the grey literature of cultural policy itself, have broadly taken a moral position that represents an idealized arts ecosystem that is somewhat adjacent to reality. Beginning by linking the Scottish Household Survey on arts participation to actual cultural policy might be a good place to start in Scotland post-Brexit. Going further than this and learning from elsewhere, we could adopt more innovative funding models: Canada, in addition to having funding for just about everything to do with the arts also has changed the tax laws via The Investment Canada Act which requires that foreign investments result in a net benefit to Canada and are compatible with national cultural policy objectives. We could do that in Scotland. Maybe the new ‘Creative Industries Advisory Group’ announced this month could do something like that. We could also ask artists to take government backed loans instead of grants putting more onus on commercial success—they also do that in Canada. It’s not just a good idea because we believe in libraries and artistic notions of the public good; many many jobs in a post-Brexit Scotland whether independent or not, will depend upon the creative industries. We should get a head start this year with some radical cultural policies that support the local and encourage the commercial.

Dr Simon McKerrell is Head of Music at the International Centre for Music Studies at Newcastle University, in the School of Arts and Cultures. He’s also the Social Renewal Theme Champion for Arts and Culture in Social Renewal. Simon is interested in the social impact of music across three research topics: cultural heritage; sectarianism; and multimodal communication, and how these relate to policy.

21st Century Rural Development – learning from Scotland

Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE’s Closing Keynote Speech at Scottish Rural Parliament 2016

The Scottish Hebrides

What does successful, community-led rural development look like in the globalised, networked world of the 21st Century? This question faces rural communities and governments I meet around the world and I often respond with the suggestion that they look to learn from Scotland.

In the 1960s, in the early days of the Highlands & Islands Development Board (HIDB), the model of growth centres was in vogue – an aluminium smelter here, a pulp mill or a nuclear power station there, all part of a plan devised and imposed top-down. The strategy failed, largely because control lay far away, with too little input from those who lived in and knew these areas. Later, as a reaction to such failures, this was superseded in many countries by a model of “bottom-up” rural development (development from within), based on local assets, local knowledge and local action. The EU LEADER programme was seen as emblematic of such an approach, and this was more successful. However there were a number of issues even with the “bottom-up” approach.

One issue was that it proved hard to find examples of truly bottom-up development: usually initiatives, even if locally led, relied on external funding or networks. LEADER areas and groups, for example, were selected and approved by governments and disbursed EU funding according to EU budgetary rules and strategies in Brussels-approved business plans. Moreover they learned from one another through national and transnational networks, sharing external ideas and know-how.

Another problem was that inequality was built in, and in two respects. Localities whose capacity to act was greater, or where capacity had been built through earlier interventions, were better able to mobilise and capture further funding leading to a very uneven geography of development. And within localities it tended to be those already with capital and power who captured the lion’s share of the available funding – especially when these were in the form of capital grants. Then, as the world moved into an era of neoliberalism and rolling back of the state, it was all too easy for bottom-up development models to become ‘self-help’ remedies which allowed the state to withdraw.

Taking these issues on board, and also reflecting the transition to the ‘network society’ of the 21st Century, a more helpful model is now that of “networked rural development.” In this approach, place-based strategies are led by local people but are acknowledged to involve external partners too. Moreover this approach draws not only on local assets and local knowledge but also makes use of external assets and knowledge to augment what is available locally. Most notably this recognises the necessary contribution of an enabling state (rather than an absent state leaving it to self-help), as well as the contributions of links with other rural communities, activists and researchers.

Scotland already exemplifies this approach. Take community land ownership, as one example, led and controlled by local communities of place, but helped and enabled by the state through land reform legislation, a community land fund and the community land unit, as well as activists and supporters with useful skills and contacts, and of course the mutual support and shared learning now offered through Community Land Scotland.

mark-at-scottish-rural-parliament-2016

The Scottish Rural Parliament also exemplifies this approach. The idea came through learning from the experience of other countries (notably Sweden), facilitated by externally-funded studies and disseminated through various networks. Now the SRP functions at one level as a means for the people of rural Scotland to collectively articulate and present their manifesto to government and other authorities, calling for the state to play its part in enabling a better future for all parts of rural Scotland. At the same time, the SRP is a network for sharing and celebrating ideas and experience, which local people can then take back to their own communities to consider and to weave into their own strategies and actions.

Around the world many people in rural areas are interested in these ideas and Scottish experiences of networked rural development, and they draw strength and inspiration from them. But this is more than bottom-up rural development or self-help. A successful approach requires an enabling state, not an absent state leaving each community to sink or swim in a neoliberal world which would inevitably lead to widening inequalities and a two-speed countryside. Scotland is fortunate in having had successive governments which recognise that they must play their part. In addition this approach requires rural communities to think not only of the assets and knowledge within their locality and of building their capacity to mobilise for action; they must also consider their network resources, and how these can be used to draw in assets and knowledge from elsewhere and from one another as they seek to thrive in the networked world on the 21st Century.

These lessons are especially important during the turbulent times ahead. In fashioning future rural policies outside the EU, both farming interests and environmental interests have powerful and effective lobbying capabilities which could easily crowd out rural development and rural community interests – along with many of the elements of the rural manifesto just agreed by the Scottish Rural Parliament. It is vital that the rural communities’ voices are also heard and that post-Brexit policies are informed by these lessons from Scottish experiences of rural development.

Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE is Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal. He was formerly Co-Director of the Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research at Aberdeen University. The ideas in this blog are elaborated in his report for the Carnegie UK Trust, Future Directions in Rural Development. http://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/future-directions-in-rural-development-full-report/

You can also watch a video recording of Mark’s speech at the Scottish Rural Parliament.

Creativity and Education: Rethinking the EBacc

On 14 July 2016, the Prime Minister Theresa May announced her new Cabinet, following a significant reshuffle and re-structure of Government. In this context, researchers from all over Newcastle University express their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities for the Government in the Ideas for May’s Ministers blog series, considering how individuals, communities and societies can thrive in times of rapid, transformational change. Dr Venda Louise Pollock, Director of Newcastle University Institute for Creative Arts Practice, targets art education in this idea for Justine Greening.

To: The Rt. Hon Justine Greening, MP, Secretary of State for Education.
From: Venda Louise Pollock, Director, Newcastle University Institute for Creative Arts Practice

The extraordinary cultural and creative talents we share contribute to the well-being of our society, our economic success, our national identity, and to the UK’s global influence. These are precious returns, a powerful cocktail of public good and commercial return.[1]

Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value

According to the GREAT Britain campaign,[2] launched in 2012 to build on the interest and success (economic and reputational) of the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics and Paralympics, culture and creativity are mainstays of what makes Britain distinctive. With posters boasting Quentin Blake’s illustrations of Roald Dahl’s stories to headlines celebrating Shakespeare, and partners drawn from a breadth of creative fields – Aston Martin and Mulberry to name but two – the campaign has secured a confirmed economic return of £1.9bn to date. This is only part of the story.

Creative industries are worth almost £10m per hour to the nation’s economy with an overall worth of £84.1bn per year.[3]  The sector is growing at almost twice the rate of the wider UK economy and, at the launch of the recent DCMS report in January 2016, Ed Vaizey pledged that the government was ‘determined to ensure its continued growth and success.’[4]

Too often our appreciation of culture and creativity is premised on instrumental rather than intrinsic terms. The AHRC’s recent Cultural Value Report[5] speaks of the “imperative to reposition first-hand, individual experience of arts and culture at the heart of the inquiry into cultural value” and goes on to acknowledge the ability of arts and cultural engagement to “help shape reflective individuals”, and produce engaged citizens. Thinking specifically about education, the report shows, as many other studies have, how arts make an important contribution to learning through their impact on cognitive abilities, skills in problem solving and communication, as well as improving students’ confidence.

Coloured used paintbrushes

This is all in addition to the simple fact that creativity and culture enhance our lives, often in ways we cannot explain or articulate but which are fundamental.

If the government is determined to ensure the growth and success of our creative and cultural sector, this support should be embedded within our education system by not introducing the EBacc in its current form – for the young people of today are those who will shape futures, just as you, now, are shaping theirs.

As a performance measure (not a qualification in itself) that includes five ‘core’ academic subjects: English, Mathematics, History or Geography, the Sciences and a Language[6], the EBacc has created a value perception in our education system. While it is important to note that there is still room within the broader curriculum for students to take creative and technical subjects, not including them in the EBacc has sent a signal that these are not worthy of ‘performance managing’ or ensuring excellence within. This is having a significant impact. As widely reported at the time of the EBacc debate in Parliament (4th July), there has been a significant decline in the uptake of arts and technical subjects. An IPSOS Mori study in 2012 also found that at key stage 4 drama and performing arts were no longer taught in nearly a quarter of schools, 17% had withdrawn arts courses and 14% design technology.[7]

Although students can still opt for creative subjects, in reality their choice will be limited by availability – and yet building on Michael Gove’s increasing parental choice,[8] the government wants to improve choice for students.[9] Some have argued that creative subjects are needed for weaker students, but, in a critique of the EBacc, the government’s former education secretary has acknowledged this is ‘narrow minded’ as countries with the lowest youth unemployment and highest skilled workforce are those where technical and academic subjects are studied together.[10]

At the Party Conference, it was outlined that linking paths from early years to apprenticeships was a crucial step to secure the building blocks underpinning educational reforms which aim to help young people achieve success in the future. In this context of joined up thinking it seems out of kilter to lessen emphasis on the subject areas that are, currently, major drivers of our economic growth. In creating a level playing field for students, we should do so for subject choice also.

In Scotland creativity is gaining increased importance within education with ministers endorsing a national Creative Learning Plan which recognizes that creativity skills help learners be motivated and ambitious for change, confident in their capabilities and own viewpoint, possess transferable skills, and work collaboratively.[11] In undertaking creative work, students will have to think well beyond the box to innovate, to collaborate, to rise to challenges, grow in confidence and learn from failure, to take risks, be self-motivated and disciplined. These are important skills regardless of where you end up in life.  The Creative Learning Plan acknowledges that the skills learnt from creativity are needed to tackle life and work in an ‘increasingly uncertain and rapidly changing economic and social environment.’

Beyond skills, I don’t want my nephews growing up reading Shakespeare but being unable to imagine it or feel that embodied experience, to view art or listen to music without being able understand it as both expression and technical skill, or to read poetry without having themselves wrestled with words. We should aspire to excellence within our education system – in terms of creative teaching methods, the teaching of creative subjects and in exposing our young people to the best of culture.

I would recommend:

  • reconsideration of the introduction of the EBacc in its current form
  • the use of rigorous research to inform the development of policy with regard to the role and value of creativity and creative learning
  • an approach to education that recognizes, as Eric Booth, has argued, the potential for creativity to be the key that unlocks the Curriculum for Excellence[12]

 

 

[1] Warwick commission final report

[2] http://www.greatbritaincampaign.com/#!/home

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/creative-industries-worth-almost-10-million-an-hour-to-economy

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/creative-industries-worth-almost-10-million-an-hour-to-economy

[5] http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/documents/publications/cultural-value-project-final-report/

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/english-baccalaureate-ebacc/english-baccalaureate-ebacc

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-effects-of-the-english-baccalaureate

[8] https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/nisr/category/ideas-for-mays-ministers/

[9] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/10/full-text-education-secretary-justine-greenings-conference-speech/

[10] http://schoolsweek.co.uk/utcs-architect-slams-narrow-ebacc/

[11]http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningandteaching/approaches/creativity/about/

[12]http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/learningandteaching/approaches/creativity/about/

School choice reforms

On 14 July 2016, the Prime Minister Theresa May announced her new Cabinet, following a significant reshuffle and re-structure of Government. In this context, researchers from all over Newcastle University express their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities for the Government in the Ideas for May’s Ministers blog series, considering how individuals, communities and societies can thrive in times of rapid, transformational change. Steve Humble and Prof Pauline Dixon from Newcastle School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences here consider choice in the education system.

To: The Rt. Hon Justine Greening, MP, Secretary of State for Education.
From: Steve Humble, MBE, Lecturer in Education and Professor Pauline Dixon, Professor of International Development and Education, Newcastle University.

Justine Greening has been given one of the toughest jobs in government. The current education system has been forged around the assumption that governments should regulate, fund and supply schooling. School reforms that challenge this assumption will be met with derision from those who benefit most from maintaining the status quo. Even when it may be in the interest of our children.

Following in Michael Gove’s footsteps, who has been called the ‘most radical education secretary of the past 50 years’, might engender caution. But, like him or not, Gove’s policies have seen an increase in parental choice.

An open door to school

Under Gove’s watch, over 60% of state secondary schools have become academies. Regarding GCSE results in 2015, 63% of children studying in converter academies achieved 5 A*- C GCSE grades compared with 55% in maintained schools. The performance of sponsored academies has been shown to increase more than the performance in similar maintained schools.[i] The research of Professor Steve Machin at the LSE suggests that schools that have been academies the longest have the greatest impact on improvement.[ii]

Free schools have been opening at a rate of knots, and there are now over 500 ‘open’ or ‘approved to open’ free schools which will create 330,000 new school places[iii]. In 2011 seven secondary free schools opened. The GCSE results in 2016, for these students who have completed their entire secondary education in a free school, show ‘stellar performances’ including 37% at the West London Free School achieving A*/A.[iv]

Choice has also been supported through more transparent league tables. Information on schools is now easily available and in the public domain. This allows parents to make informed decisions as they are able to access reliable information.

But was Gove right?

In every aspect of our lives we act as informed choosers so why does the idea of parental choice in schooling cause so much debate?

Giving parents the right to choose reflects our modern societal wishes for autonomy, control and self-expression; allowing parents a voice that can articulate their family values and the aspirations they have for their children. Choice promotes greater equity and opportunity for all households, not just those who can afford to live in the right postcode area.

So Justine Greening would seem to have it simple. One could advise her to sit tight, ride on the back of Gove’s policies for now and enjoy the calm after the storm.

But what to do? – Be bold and brave or bide one’s time?

If Justine Greening wants to be bold or brave her next step to increase choice is to introduce a universal top up school vouchers scheme.

In many countries around the world school voucher schemes exist. From Colombia to the US from Pakistan to Sweden research shows that choice, through vouchers, is raising education standards amongst the poor.[v]

In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher was close to introducing school vouchers, but held back believing that the public were not ready.

Are we ready now?

We’d advise the Rt Hon Justine Greening:

  • Continue allowing for greater variety of school types;
  • Instigate a top-up voucher system in the UK. Give every child in the country an educational voucher. This would give parents complete choice on where they want to send their children. If an educational establishment costs more than the voucher, then they can choose to pay the additional amount;
  • Ask parents what they want. Commission household surveys in the UK to find out how and why, parents are choosing;
  • Look at gold standard research from around the world to help inform UK educational policy.

 

[i] https://fullfact.org/education/academies-and-maintained-schools-what-do-we-know/

[ii] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeduc/258/258.pdf

[iii] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/free-schools-open-schools-and-successful-applications

[iv] http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/what-are-free-schools/free-school-news/nsn-congratulates-pioneer-gcse-free-school-students

[v] https://www.povertyactionlab.org/partners/programa-de-ampliación-de-cobertura-de-la-educación-secundaria-paces and http://static.maciverinstitute.com/Policy%20Studies%20Journal%20SCDP.pdf