What does the West Yorkshire devolution deal mean for our region?

Ryan Swift gives our first response to the West Yorkshire devolution deal.

This week it was an announced that a West Yorkshire devolution deal has been agreed. West Yorkshire will become the ninth mayoral combined authority in England joining the likes of Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Tees Valley, and Sheffield City Region.

The process of reaching a deal in West Yorkshire has been fraught. Initial proposals based around a wider Leeds city region stalled. The majority of leaders across Yorkshire then backed the One Yorkshire proposal but this was rejected by government. The deal now agreed is based on the existing West Yorkshire Combined Authority which covers Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, and Wakefield.

Significant questions concerning the politics, economics, and geography of the English devolution agenda (including this deal) remain. As do questions about the wider Northern Powerhouse agenda and the government’s pledges on ‘levelling-up’. Nevertheless, the increased investment the new West Yorkshire deal will bring and the potential it holds in terms of bringing decision-making on certain issues closer to citizens gives some cause for cheer.

Amongst other things the deal includes a commitment from government to support the development of a West Yorkshire Mass Transit System; brings investment from the Transforming Cities Fund; allows access to new bus franchising powers; gives the Combined Authority control over the West Yorkshire adult education budget; and includes a new heritage fund which will support the creation of a British Library North in Leeds. More details on the deal can be found here.

Going forward, citizens and interest groups in West Yorkshire should consider how they might engage with the devolution deal and seek to influence the future direction of the region. Particularly in policy areas where the Combined Authority will have notable powers and funding such as transport, skills, and culture.

As the West Yorkshire Combined Authority takes on these new responsibilities and we look ahead to the mayoral election in May 2021, there is a unique opportunity for local leaders to engage with civil society organisations and the public to shape the policy-agenda in West Yorkshire and bring significant benefits to the region. Hopefully citizens and policymakers will grasp this opportunity.

Ryan Swift is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds. His research focuses on the politics of the North of England. Ryan regularly contributes to academic discussion and media commentary on the North, including debates on its role within the English devolution agenda. His writing has appeared in publications such as The Yorkshire Post and The Conversation. He has also been on BBC TV’s Look North programme and BBC Radio Leeds.
Academic Profile
Twitter: @RyanSwift93

Programless Spaces, further questions, Sarah Aziz, Neil McKenna

Palour, a programless space in Huddersfield market

This is an email exchange of follow up questions and answers between Neil McKenna and Sarah Aziz after Sarah’s presentation about programless spaces at the Future of West Yorkshire’s Regional Democracy symposium that Same Skies organised in Huddersfield, 31 January 2020. The abstract of Sarah’s talk is the below.

The image is by Laura Mateescu of the fantastic Parlour space in Huddersfield’s Queensgate Market, set up and run by Parley.

Neil: My question is quite nuanced and I don’t really have a full understanding as to why I am asking it, but it stems from an interest in your idea of discursive spaces.

I have come across the idea of ‘urban labs’ in recent years – as spaces in the city (town/village) that people can meet, hang out, use as spaces for discussion (probably both free and also programmed). I am also personally interested in combining them with art, workshop, and tinkering space.

I am interested in them as public spaces that don’t have a financial barrier to entry – something that is quite rare beyond certain libraries, some museums, public spaces.

So my question is sort of three-fold:

1) Neil: In your view, where does the impetus for this come from? Should we be looking at community-groups, civil society buying space and setting up autonomously or should we be looking more at a state-led concerted effort to get these set up in different neighbourhoods? Or is it both??

Sarah: The most successful examples of ‘urban labs’ and alternative discursive spaces I’ve encountered have typically come into being through grassroots community organizations, who have identified moments of opportunities and redundancies in their environments and find ways to subvert them. A significant roadblock lies in attitudes towards code and zoning ordinances. When planning departments support programless spaces by changing zoning policies and instigating affordable rent/buying initiatives, such as the $1 lot program in Chicago, it keeps agency in the hands of the community members. It ensures that these spaces can continue to evolve in a manner that’s both responsive and meaningful for people who use them. Theaster Gates’ work is a great example of this.

2) Neil: Related to the above, how are they normally organised and, importantly, financed? Is there a conflict between needing an income to function and being truly un-programmed, free spaces?

Sarah: One way is the adoption of a nonprofit model, as it protects the spaces and their respective identities. Another is to solicit donations and apply for grants; both options require a more formal infrastructure and the appointment of ‘staff’. A more inclusive and cooperative approach, where everyone is given a stake and a sense of ownership, is a good way to establish and maintain these types of projects. There needs to be a common understanding that everyone is responsible for the maintenance of the space in one way or another. This relies heavily on mutual respect, which isn’t always easy to garner. Assemble’s work really speaks to this approach.

3) Neil: Given (particularly in UK) the issues of the declining high street, shopping moving to online rather than physical stores, what role might these sorts of spaces have in our high street? If they are not for profit ?), how does this relate to our conception of the high street as something for commerce, making money/profit, and the rent-seeking that accompanies this from landlords.

Sarah: If our perception of the high street shifts slightly to it being a place for belonging and cultivating community, I think that’s ok. Peripatetic lifestyles, renting price-outs, and fluctuating home prices, make it challenging to establish deep and meaningful connections. We need more spaces that are free to use, with no underlying agenda, where people can congregate and simply be around each other. This exists to some degree with the flourishing ‘coffee shop’ culture found in the majority of cities and towns. They serve as a place where people can temporarily plug-in to some form of community.

Neil: Thanks very much Sarah for your responses.

I think I completely agree with the code/zoning issue.  We don’t use zoning in the UK but have a constraint applied to individual buildings through what we call ‘use class’ – once something is established as a house, or a retail shop for example, you need to justify changing it to something else.  This has tended to be used in a very inflexible manner, failing to recognise that sometimes spaces are used for multiple purposes at different times in the day, over the week and throughout the year and so don’t fall within one use class but potentially multiple.  A post by my Director gives a little insight into this – http://tibbalds.co.uk/2018/06/time-overhaul-use-classes-order-says-jennifer-ross-director-tibbalds/
The formation of co-operatives to run collective spaces seems to work quite well, where people need to purchase membership to attend events and then members of public can get involved in the running of the space (finance, events, sound and equipment etc.)  I think there will always be a tension between being ‘program-less’ versus needing to try and raise money to cover building and staff/volunteer costs and think about what might get people through the door – particularly in a city where there are a lot of options and competing things for people to do.  The spaces that spring to my mind are DIY Space in London (https://diyspaceforlondon.org/) which is really good in terms of socialising and opening up different work groups to run the space and then, closer to home for me, Wharf Chambers in Leeds (https://www.wharfchambers.org/).

I am also totally in favour of the high street being focused more on belonging and community.  I really like the idea of the extension of the living room in the public sphere, providing spaces that are open late for music and art, tools and workshops, making food etc. that don’t revolve around alcohol/partying but are more relaxed.  Perhaps they wouldn’t overcome segregation in the city, but from my experience (in London mostly) we are very bad at providing truly diverse and inclusive spaces for people of different cultures and backgrounds to come together.  We can fool ourselves into thinking we are integrating in diverse neighbourhoods when you walk on the public street but then you look around in the more private spaces of cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants and that diversity doesn’t get reflected inside.

 

The West Yorkshire Alterity: A Call for More Discursive Spaces

Sarah Aziz

In much of West Yorkshire, the effects of racial and economic segregation are palpable, and we must create spaces that engender a transgressive and ambiguous character to allow new, meaningful forms of interaction and discourse to transpire. When we have places to engage in dialogues with people from radically different backgrounds than our own, a diversity of perspectives is reached, as we engage in first-hand learning and listening and cultivate new forms of community. Although there are a plethora of social spaces in the region, they’re often tied to the exchange of money for goods, such as pubs and restaurants, or their use is contingent upon good weather, such as parks and promenades. We need spaces that are programless and accessible to everyone, regardless of their age, beliefs, background, and place on the socioeconomic spectrum. These inclusive spaces where personal narratives, concerns, and ideas can be shared and unpacked, will create a region that is safer, as we develop a deeper sense of empathy for our fellow citizens, and more progressive, as collaboration and innovation across cultures will be fostered.

Another critical issue that this approach addresses is mental health. To create more accessible and inclusive spaces where no particular mode of being is prescribed, we begin to combat feelings of social and cultural isolation, as we have places to frequent that we have a stake and sense of ownership in. These discursive spaces should exist in underutilized buildings that the government subsidizes, and their repurposing should be collective and achieved democratically. The negotiations and exchanges required to develop these “other” spaces will allow people to glean insights into other ways of seeing and making, and empower them to take control over their urban environments. The open design processes will also provide skills to people of all ages and abilities, creating a more vibrant and responsive region.

Reading Group at Climate Emergency Hub

Scammonden Dam reservoir

We are hosting a one-off reading group of a short story by Andy Goldring, as part of the week of activities in Huddersfield’s pop-up Climate Emergency Hub. Facebook event page

The piece we’ll read together is called “West Yorkshire Water Co-operative 2030”, taken from our book of essays “What Kind of Region Do We Want To Live In?”, a fictionalised account of a tour of a visitor centre belonging to a de-privatised West Yorkshire water company, set 10 years from now.

It’s written in the first person, as though the tour guide is speaking, and is only 900 words long, so very easy to read through together and chat about, in no more than 90 minutes.

There is no need for participants to read the story in advance, just come along and join in.

Despite its simplicity, “West Yorkshire Water Co-operative 2030” raises important questions about who owns our natural resources, who profits from them, and what this means for how we can respond to the climate emergency?

It asks whether, if we want to take those resources back into common ownership, that has to be by setting up a National Ministry of Water based in London?

Could new, creative models of common ownership be much better for the people of West Yorkshire, our ecology and the planet?

All welcome to take part, no booking necessary, and copies of the story will be available on the night.

The Climate Emergency Hub is in Unit 16, Piazza Centre, Huddersfield town centre (opposite the entrance to Huddersfield Public Library & Art Gallery).

Photo credit Huddersfield Examiner.

The Future for West Yorkshire’s Regional Democracy: Opportunities and Challenges

9.00am-4.15pm Friday 31 January 2019
Dai Hall, Princess Alexandra Walk, Huddersfield HD1 2RS

ABSTRACTS AND SPEAKER/ARTIST BIOS

Akama, Ryoko, ame and Dai Hall

Ryoko works with installations and sounds and approaches listening situations that magnify silence, time and space. Her sculptural work engages with mundane objects and invisible energies such as magnetism and gravity, employing small and fragile objects such as paper balloons and glass bottles in order to create tiny aural and visual occurrences that embody ‘almost nothing’ aesthetics. She also composes text scores and performs a diversity of alternative scores in collaboration with other artists and musicians.

She co-curates ame, co-runs the independent publisher mumei publishing and label melange edition, and is curator and manager of Dai Hall and Sho Hall gallery/performance spaces in Huddersfield.

Atkinson, Louise, and Kortekaas, Victoria, The Highrise Project

The Highrise Project explores the links between architecture and social relations within municipal highrise buildings and council-built estates. The project uses ethnographic and creative research, which is co-produced with residents. Through exploring the history of social housing, our aim is to highlight the stories, benefits, and challenges of living in social housing, as well as related issues, including sense of community, family history, impact on health and wellbeing, class, etc. Our mission through this work is to use creativity and art as a way for people to tell their own stories and challenge stereotypes of people living on council-built estates. Our collaboration combines our own experiences of living in social housing, along with our skills and interests in co-producing high quality art with communities.

Louise Atkinson is a visual artist, researcher and educator, specialising in the relationship between art and ethnography. She uses a range of media and techniques, including artist books, postcards, drawing, textiles, and sculpture, tailoring her approach to meet the requirements of the project or artwork. Her research and practice involves responding to ideas around people and place, creating work which represents the experiences, associations and memories of a particular area. Through her practice-based research, she also collaborates with other artists and participants to create co-produced installations.

Victoria Kortekaas is a visual artist who works with a variety of different media and technologies, including photography, textiles, web design, typography, digital art, and desktop publishing. Her practice highlights and explores issues surrounding economic and social inequalities in working class communities. Through her practice she develops participatory strategies to enable individuals and groups to tell their stories through creative media.

Aziz, Sarah, The West Yorkshire Alterity: A Call for More Discursive Spaces

In much of West Yorkshire, the effects of racial and economic segregation are palpable, and we must create spaces that engender a transgressive and ambiguous character to allow new, meaningful forms of interaction and discourse to transpire. When we have places to engage in dialogues with people from radically different backgrounds than our own, a diversity of perspectives is reached, as we engage in first-hand learning and listening and foster new forms of community. This paper looks at historical and contemporary examples of free, programless spaces in England, to explore new ways of cultivating those same sensibilities in the context of West Yorkshire.

Sarah Aziz is an architectural designer and educator from Halifax, UK. She holds a B.Arch from Liverpool John Moores University and an MArch from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Sarah has practiced in offices in Leeds, Sydney, and Tokyo, and currently teaches at Texas Tech University.

Boehringer, Jorge, New Weird Huddersfield (afterparty)

Jorge Boehringer is an interdisciplinary artist, composer, performer and researcher currently based in Huddersfield, UK. Boehringer channels his eclectic and experimental practice into installation works, ensemble music, performances, texts, and visual artwork that explore attention, instability, and the texture and apprehension of temporality, environments and everyday life. Boehringer performs regularly as Core of the Coalman, a solo project in continuous development that he refers to as an open sketchbook, as well as in the duo Kneeling Coats, with composer and musician Eleanor Cully, and in numerous other configurations. He has recently completed a PhD at the University of Huddersfield, supervised by Bryn Harrison, and previously studied in the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College in Oakland, California with Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Curran, and Fred Frith. Recently, he and artist-musician Chris Ruffoni have launched the collective curatorial effort New Weird Huddersfield (NWH), a curatorial project aiming to psychologically increase the local noise floor through the production of concerts and exhibitions in the alluvial region between Manchester and Leeds.

Boulter, Glenn, Full of Noises

Glenn will talk about the organisation’s first ten years, including how he found his way to Barrow, the development of the festival and upcoming projects including Barrow’s recent success with Creative People and Places.

Starting life in a former shipyard canteen building the festival has hosted artists ranging from Faust, AGF, Hildur Gudnadottir and Tetsuo Kogawa to Laura Cannell, Lee Patterson, Lee Gamble and Ryoko Akama. Current projects include a series of island residencies with South Walney Nature Reserve, site specific commissions for Barrow Park and an ongoing series of tours showcasing new sound works from Japan in collaboration with Huddersfield based organisation ame.

Glenn is the artistic director of Full of Noises, a sound art and new music organisation based in a public park on Cumbria’s Furness Peninsula. Since forming in 2009, FoN has produced over one hundred events, residencies, performances and public realm installations, including seven festivals, showcasing new work by over two hundred artists.

Bradshaw, Alice, artist-rapporteur

Alice Bradshaw is an artist, curator and writer. She is interested in discarded, everyday materials and words. Recycling and repetition are important strategies in her work, which sets up a dialogue around the value of rubbish through objects, publications, exhibitions and events.

Harvey, Stephen, designer

Stephen Harvey has a background working in photography and graphic design. He is also an improvising performer and composer and is currently pursuing a PhD in composition at the University of Huddersfield/CeReNeM. Stephen performs in the post-genre noise band Tout Croche with Dominic Thibault and his own project redvirginsoil. Stephen has curated events for Tout Croche and co-curates the record label and publishers, The Silent Howl both with composer and producer Dominic Thibault. Stephen’s solo album CollidedVoices and the Tout Croche album Super Silent & The Whole Shebang are released, amongst many others through The Silent Howl imprint.

Holloman, Tiffany R., West Yorkshire: A London Colony?

Tiffany R. Holloman is a Postgraduate Researcher in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Leeds. As a social historian, her research topics include hidden/muted texts and groups within society ranging from King James VI’s Daemonologie to Black women professors at Historically Black Colleges & Universities in the U.S.

McNulty, Rochyne Delaney, Quiet Radical Acts

Creating connections through small gestures of creativity. Sharing a passion, talent or skill with people who listen and are attentive. Little tiny networks being created and putting through the distance and segregation. They don’t have to be big humongous acts; they can be quiet and slight. Creating a moment where genuine connection can grow and then spark a new gesture. I am quiet, I am not big or loud so I can’t pretend to be, but I think there are more quiet people than maybe we realise. So I hope by being a catalyst for these little acts, I can help join up some dots and help people see the value in sharing, teaching, learning and making, sometimes just for the sake of it. I call it radical, because in the world today, this kind of gesture can be seen as absurd or weird and often doing something without expecting anything in return is considered untrustworthy. It’s far from that, its seeing the good and trying to amplify it.

Rochyne Delaney McNulty is an MA performance design graduate, facilitator, maker, writer, storyteller. Community building is at the core of her practice, creating links and networks, encouraging mindful action and gestures from human interactions. She works with people and communities, using a vast array of mediums, and always incorporating a performative aspect.

Ruffoni, Chris, New Weird Huddersfield (afterparty)

Music maker. Huddersfield.

Seddon, Tess, The Transformative Possibility of Politics and Activism

“I would love to talk about the transformative possibility of politics and activism. I started researching The Yorkshire Party in 2017 for a comedic play about eccentric underdogs, until I interviewed them and was inspired by their do it yourself approach to politics and their radical idea for de-centralising power. When they tweeted me asking me to stand in the general election even the thought that I, a member of the general public, could stand felt alien and even a little bit wrong. When I signed up to do it, I was told I was messing with something I didn’t understand by my boss. I was asked to drop out by Labour. I got threatened by a stranger when I spoke at a hustings. And yet not one person on the doorsteps turned me away. Everyone wanted to talk and everyone was excited to speak to a ‘politician.’ I have now written a musical about my experience called Say Yes to Tess. It is on at Leeds Playhouse March 26- April 4 and then on national tour in the Autumn. I would love to talk about my experience and how I have made a fun, accessible show that is trying to reach and empower audiences who do not think politics is for them.”

Tess is a theatre director and writer from Yorkshire. She’s interested in how systems of power pervade politics, gender, sex and pop culture. She works with classics, adaptations and new writing to create comedic, tragic shows that surprise, challenge and entertain audiences. Tess trained on the National Theatre Studio Directors Course and with the Wooster Group in New York. From 2011-16 she was the Co-Artistic Director of TheatreState an Associate Company of Exeter Bike Shed Theatre and Camden People’s Theatre. From 2016-17 she was the Leeds Playhouse’s first year long Resident Trainee Director. In 2018 Tess worked with Gob Squad and the Maxim Gorky in Berlin and Stanislavskiy Electrotheatre in Moscow as part of a British Council Initiative. Tess led writer director development for Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and Hull Truck. She directs for the National Theatre’s New Views playwrighting program. Tess has directed young people’s shows for Almeida, Southwark Playhouse, Young Vic and acts as a visiting director for the National Theatre’s Connections Festival.

Simpson, Jack, The right to the riding; who decides what happens in West Yorkshire?

Jack Simpson works across a range of projects in music, culture & politics. Co founder of cultural hub Hyde Park Book Club, recording studio & venue Eiger Studios, and culture site The State of The Arts. Alongside these projects, Jack is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Leeds politics department, researching the impact of globalisation on political autonomy. Jack has worked with a number of organisations in roles broadly advising on communication, including Officer at Large for the Human Development and Capability Association (present). Co – Project lead with Unilever & the Open Data Institute, steering group member for Leeds 2023 bid and co founder of Leeds Lit Fest. Jack is an Enterprise Ambassador with the Leeds University Business School.

Spasova, Maja, Art in Public Space

​Maja Spasova has been presented at international exhibitions and festivals such as Venice Biennial, ARTEC Nagoya, Dak’art Senegal etc. She has more than 100 solo shows at art museums and galleries in Europe and overseas. The artist has realized numerous art projects in urban public space and is represented in public and private collections ​all over the world.

Speight, Elaine, In Certain Places

Elaine will talk about the ways in which art and artists can contribute to the development of a place, particularly over long periods of time, through reference to the work of In Certain Places. Based in Preston since 2003, In Certain Places is a programme of artistic and architectural interventions and events, which examines how artists can contribute to the form and functions of a place. By exploring new approaches to art, culture and urban development, the programme has generated new understandings of the urban environment, enabled new ideas to be tested in the city’s public spaces, and formed collaborations between artists, institutions, communities and businesses, leading it to be described as ‘part of the city’s DNA’.

Elaine Speight is interested in the capacity of art to interrogate, mediate and critique the connections between people and place. She is a research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire, where she co-curates In Certain Places, and is also a trustee of the arts organisation Art Gene and a chair of the North West branch of the Contemporary Visual Art Network.

Swift, Ryan, The Shape of Regional Devolution in West Yorkshire

While many other areas in the North of England have received some form of devolution in recent years including Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, the Tees Valley, and North of Tyne, West Yorkshire remains without any new powers. This, in part, is down to a lack of agreement about what devolution to the region should look like. Debate has tended to focus on whether devolution should be at the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (or the ‘Leeds City Region’) level or whether West Yorkshire should instead seek to be part of devolution at the Yorkshire-wide (or ‘One Yorkshire’) level. Given these tensions, this talk seeks to build on these debates and consider the merits and/or disadvantages of different potential governance arrangements for the region and the best ways for it to proceed in gaining greater devolution of powers going forwards.

Ryan joined the University of Leeds in September 2017 on an ESRC funded 1+3 Social Research MA and PhD scholarship in Politics. Since September 2018 he has been pursuing his doctoral research on the politics of the North of England. In particular, Ryan is looking at the extent to which the North is being politicised and the way that the North and Northern issues are framed within contemporary political debate. Prior to joining the University of Leeds, Ryan completed a BA in Politics and Contemporary History at the University of Huddersfield which he passed with first class honours and received awards for the highest overall degree grade and the best final year project. As a result, Ryan received a scholarship to undertake a Master by Research at the University of Huddersfield. For this, Ryan carried out research on the Labour Party and the ‘Politics of Englishness’ which involved undertaking a number of qualitative interviews with Labour Party MPs and council leaders. His thesis was awarded a distinction.

Wilson, Andrew, Same Skies

Andrew has been trying to define and create regional democracy in England for almost a decade. In 2013 he initiated Hannah Directory, an annual directory of people and organisations doing great stuff in places in England’s north, and asking how even more of it can happen. In 2015 he was among the co-founders of Same Skies, the regional democracy network for West Yorkshire, which will be launching a regional democracy think tank in October 2020. Andrew’s other work focuses on the generation of new knowledge through structures for collaboration between people with different kinds of expertise.

Amongst the struggles and massive inequality, there is loads of great stuff that really needs shouting about

Book Cover

When we launched our collaborative book of hopeful ideas for Regional Democracy from West Yorkshire, we wanted to promote debate. If you haven’t yet downloaded your free PDF, you can do so here.

Thank you to Alice Bradshaw  who provided the thoughtful response below. She originally presented this at our book launch event at the Book Corner in Halifax’s Piece Hall on Tuesday 11th June 2019. What do you think? Do you agree with Alice?

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I’m grateful for being invited to respond to the idea of regional democracy, thank you. My response comes from my arts and cultural professional background and my experience of living and working in Yorkshire for the past twelve years as an artist, curator and writer. I’m responding to the ideas articulated in the text “What do we mean by regional democracy” but kind of backwards as they read as I want to first talk about challenging London’s hegemony, then radical subsidiarity and finally building a region.

So firstly the inequalities that present themselves in a London hegemony and how we might challenge that to begin progressive change towards equality. One thing to note is that everywhere in the UK there’s worsening inequality and the situation in many places including London is really grim. But it is the fair distribution of limited resources and who has the say over how resources are distributed in each region that we are talking about here I think.

In 2017 the Institute for Public Policy Research North found that for the north to get the same Arts Council England funding per head as London it would need £691 million more in the 2018-2022 funding round. Arts Council England have improved their funding ratio of London versus outside London but still in the current 2018-2022 funding round, London receives 39.7% of Arts Council money when there is only 14.6% of the population of England living there. The north receives proportionally less arts funding per capita and has consistently done so all my professional life and before that too. This inequality is not exclusive to the arts but as previously mentioned this is my field and what I know best.

An example of how this operates: I subscribe to two contemporary arts listings services. One is London based and one is Leeds based. The London based newsletter is for UK listings but 90-100% of weekly listings are in London. The Leeds based newsletter is around 20-30% London based which is more in line with the population and funding. On challenging the London based one directly their response was to blame their algorithm and to say it is not intentional. This is one point that the piece in this book draws attention to: it’s not intentionally vindictive. It’s just the systems are massively biased towards supporting London. And it’s also worth noting that Northerners are not anti-London just as Londoners are not anti-North. Everyone is struggling but the statistics demonstrate the North is struggling much more and has done for a long time.

Even within Yorkshire, and more specifically West Yorkshire, the funding has a regional Leeds hegemony which brings the same kind of problems but on a regional basis rather than national. The point made in this publication that power and agency needs to be on a town and community basis level really resonates. The North and Yorkshire, and specifically West Yorkshire and Halifax, have been discriminated against for a very long time so perhaps a positive discrimination in our favour is required akin to the City of Culture injections of funding that benefits major cities. Outposts of Culture? This regional democracy text in this publication is pretty utopian so I think my response should follow suit. More realistically though, an equal arts funding per capita would be what we should be aiming for and expecting really.

Equal funding per capita leads us onto radical subsidiarity and governance being at neighbourhood level. Just imagine if that arts council funding per capita was given to each individual to pay for an arts and cultural service they want and need: If we really individualised that process. Perhaps we should have a culture allowance? The providers pitch directly to the public instead of the middle people and in the process we can reduce the administration costs of allocating funds. Read a utopian vision, get a utopian response.

However this individualised approach is missing the vital element of community that the Building a Region text addresses. This is such a necessary component in my view. For everyone to have a voice we need to bring decision making processes into the places like the markets and equivocal public spaces where some of the participatory workshops for this project manifested. Open spaces and open dialogue are how progressive change is going to happen. The published text talks about bringing the conversations and decision making out of the town halls to decentralise power and agency and this, in art practice is very much social art practice or participatory art. Art that is presented in galleries and museums, especially those that are pay-to-enter are only communicating to those that can literally afford to pay in and value that experience enough to pay for it. Art that is presented in public spaces such as the markets, parks, town squares, transport interchanges and schools where a true cross section of society traverse are the more democratic spaces where open dialogue can take place.

Schools and education is the pivotal point I’ll end on. Our education systems are the crux of a progressive and democratic society, I’m convinced of this. All while we’re educated just enough to believe in what we’re taught but not educated enough to question it, we’re never going to progress or have anything resembling democracy. Our school systems are as broken as the rest of society but the impact is much more significant. We cannot learn this critical component of conscientisation through mainstream schooling and universities that are inaccessibly elitist and reduced to economic impact indicators. Where do we learn it from though? It’s not going to be from the London hegemony. It’s going to be through radical subsidiarisation of empowering each other on a local level. If there’s any agency left for the cohabitants of the North it’s going to be centred on helping each other out, educating and platforming each other. Events like this and shameless plug: events like Art Lab at Dean Clough that I coordinate showcasing local and regional artists, encouraging critical dialogue as a free and open monthly event. Stuff like this is happening across Yorkshire, and yes in London too, but the local and regional grassroots activity really does need an effective infrastructure to communicate and engage the very people it’s about and for. What’s effective is word of mouth telling all your family, friend and colleagues about the great stuff you know about. There’s loads of great stuff in amongst the struggles and massive inequality and this really needs shouting about. This is how I think region building could help make cultural regional democracy on a micro level. The simple act of platforming each other and especially the marginalised is the strategy we could each employ.

Alice Bradshaw lives in Halifax.

Devolution must chime with the everyday needs of local communities

Book CoverWhen we launched our collaborative book of hopeful ideas for Regional Democracy from West Yorkshire, we wanted to promote debate. If you haven’t yet downloaded your free PDF, you can do so here.

Thank you to Dan Collins for providing the thoughtful response below. What do you think? Do you agree with Dan?

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I read the book the book over the weekend and very much enjoyed it. I have my usual worries about the kind of asylum policy which would be generated if control was handed over to the people of Yorkshire, but in a more general sense, the idea of handing over decision making power to local communities has got to be a positive.

However, there is some concern in small town Halifax that devolution leads to a new concentration of power in Leeds. I have heard angry voices bemoaning the new integrated transport strategy (trams etc) which only seems to link Leeds and Bradford – no lines at all heading over this way.

I’ve been thinking about all this a lot recently. Reading lots on sustainability and towns/cities and the role of the community in bringing about change. It all ties in very closely with the arguments Same Skies have been making over the last few years. The people who live here need a voice in these transitions – preaching from self righteous activists will only bring hostility. How to get people on board and convinced that such changes will work for them is the major challenge.

I guess my main criticism of some of the pieces in the book was that it felt like the authors were single issue advocates who’d tacked their big idea on to the devolution debate. If devolving power is going to have any force and, more importantly, meaning for the people of West Yorkshire it has to provide alternatives to the key problems facing people in their everyday lives; namely housing, transport, work, schools, food, environment, community safety etc. In addressing these issues, how do we begin to find the pathways which allow people to try to find solutions which are sustainable ? I do not use the word ‘sustainable’ in the narrow environmental sense but instead use it encompass all aspects of 21st century life in northern towns and cities. That includes environmental factors, but also ways of working and living which are sustainable and regenerative in the wider human sense of promoting physical and mental well being, work life balance, breaking down social isolation etc etc.

The forces ranged against such transitions are truly mighty. I don’t think I need to name them here – we all know what they are. And when combined with the climate of fear and uncertainty stoked up by the nationalist right, the seeds for promoting transition in Yorkshire are not sitting on fertile ground. In those circumstances, focusing on a progressive ‘wish list’ is to put the chicken before the egg. For example (and I know this might make for difficult reading) asylum policy is not the catalyst by which local people can begin a new engagement in devolved decision-making. If, at this point in time, a truly local approach to asylum were to be developed, I strongly suspect that the resultant policy would be anything but progressive. If devolution is to gain any traction and is to begin to generate momentum for real progressive change, the issues selected for active promotion must chime with the everyday needs of local communities. To name just a few, how about bins, jobs, housing, traffic, food, security, safe leisure spaces, energy bills, childcare – probably not watchwords on the progressive to-do list, but high priorities for working people and all absolutely amenable to initiatives to promote change at a local level.

Dan Collins is a teacher based in Halifax.

“It is about checks and balances”

Book CoverWhen we launched our collaborative book of hopeful ideas for Regional Democracy from West Yorkshire, we wanted to promote debate. If you haven’t yet downloaded your free PDF, you can do so here.

Thank you to John Sour for providing the thoughtful response below. What do you think? Do you agree with John?

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“What Kind of Region Do We Want To Live In?” certainly gives me a better idea of where We Share The Same Skies” is coming from and broadly speaking we share the same aim of achieving regional democracy. Clearly you are coming at the issue from a particular stance, some of which I share and some of which I have some doubts about.

It is a little bit difficult to know where to begin from feeling amused that you use Paulo Freire whose books “Cultural Action for Freedom” and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” have been on my shelves for 40 years (approx.) to wanting to argue with some of your contributors that either the issues they raise are per se nothing to do with regionalism or that within existing powers something might already be done about them.

So, let’s look at differences – basically, as you will be aware, inequalities in the UK extend beyond regions so e.g. the outcomes of racial inequality spread across the UK as a whole. Arguing that these can be tackled best through regional democracy or what specific role could be played by a regional government is debateable. Either way and this is absent throughout your text is any discussion of the relationship between central government and regional government.

In the same vein, your view of power following upwards rubs against the grain of most regional government systems I know anything about, where important powers are always reserved for the centre. Here is something I would disagree with you about since I believe that while regional democracy is good in itself, I am aware within the broader scale of things it can be either “progressive” in reducing inequality or “reactionary” in increasing it. So, for this reason I am both a centralist and a regionalist – it is about checks and balances.

Personally on the issue of London I think there is some tension between sentences one and two in para 4 on page 3 (yes I have read it in detail) – although you are right that what we are up against is a combination of history, power and geography, I think to avoid misinterpretation you should use “London”. I could imagine in different circumstances what is essentially a concentration of power in another context might be “Manchester” or “Birmingham”, unless you are following some kind of English origin myth relating to London and the Romans. You could also imagine taking the political centre away from the economic centre as some countries have done.

To take you on a different journey I would begin with constitutional reform which crosses over some of your arguments with mine – reading Vernon Bogdanor’s recent book “Beyond Brexit”, he argues that in many instances the lack of a written constitution lays the country open to a variety of challenges not least in the uneven devolution which has accrued to the nations of the UK leaving a system of governance which is wildly at odds with any other modern nation state. Obviously, you can easily add other elements to this mismatch, such as an unelected second chamber, PR and even the monarchy. He believes that as a country we have reached a crunch point, although whether anything will actually change is an open question.

I know a top down imposition of regional reform does not match your broader democratic agenda, over which again I have some sympathy for but also some reservations, however in terms of government reorganisations of the past I have to say this is how it has tended to have been done if we look back to New Labour’s failed efforts or the 1974 re-organisations. Sadly as I think I am quite a lot of years older than you I am looking for short terms only at present.

John Sour lives in Leeds.

 

Leeds Kirkgate Market – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building. Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below. Our first events were at Keighley Market, Oastler Market in Bradford, Castleford Market and Halifax Borough Market.

On Thursday 2nd August, we had a busy and illuminating day at Leeds Kirkgate Market. As elsewhere, children would often be attracted by the colourful maps hung around our stall and adults with them would want to look at others’ ideas and share their own thoughts on their home region and its future. Together families sat down to draw and chat. You can see for yourself the things that passers by valued in their neighbourhood. As well as the city centre itself, our map of West Yorkshire now includes various parts of Leeds including Burmantofts, Bramley, Chapel Allerton, Chapeltown, Cross Gates and Harehills.

It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw things like bus stops, parks, dentists and supermarkets. As they were drawing, people also spoke passionately about how supportive local primary schools had been, how much they valued their community hub, how much they enjoyed the diversity and family atmosphere of their area, how proud they were of getting their own business running in that area and of how much they valued having friends with whom to share bikes and play football in the streets. Some people were worried about whether they could afford to keep living in the area they loved and wished that affordable housing locally was better built. One person even drew an aeroplane flying a long way away… to London.

Over time, we are building up a picture of the things that are valued most by people across West Yorkshire. The things that they want to keep, to protect and to develop. The things that exist in some neighbourhoods and that others would like for their own part of our region. Thanks to everyone for continuing to build our regional map with drawings from around Leeds – look out for us at Huddersfield Market on August 15th.

Halifax Market – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building. Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below. Our first events were at Keighley Market, Oastler Market in Bradford and Castleford Market.

On Saturday 19th May, we had a great day at Halifax Market. As you can see from the maps and the pictures below, despite (or perhaps due to) the alternative attractions of rugby league’s Magic Weekend, football’s FA Cup Final and the royal wedding on TV, Halifax Market drew in people from a wide area. We now have fascinating maps of Mixenden, Shelf, Elland, Sowerby Bridge, Triangle, Siddal, Illingworth, Shibden, Mytholmroyd, Northowram and Halifax itself.

As elsewhere, children would often be attracted by the colourful maps hung around our stall and adults with them would want to look at others’ ideas and share their own thoughts on their home region and its future. Together families sat down to draw and chat. You can see for yourself the things that passers by valued in their neighbourhood.

It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw nearby parks with swings and slides, canals and woods for walks with the dog, local clubs for children (such as cricket), streets quiet enough to play football on, schools, cinemas and pubs (there was a real contrast between the experience of people in Shelf with that of those in Mixenden which had suffered numerous pub closures). It was also noticeable how far people were willing to travel to take advantage of Halifax Market and how many of those relied on bus services.

Over time, we are building up a picture of the things that are valued most by people across West Yorkshire. The things that they want to keep, to protect and to develop. The things that exist in some neighbourhoods and that others would like for their own part of our region. Thanks to everyone for continuing to build our regional map with drawings from around Halifax – look out for us at Leeds Kirkgate Market on August 2nd and at Huddersfield Market on August 15th.

Castleford Market – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building.
Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below. Our first event was at Keighley Market and our second at Oastler Market in Bradford. On Saturday, we had a great day at Castleford Market.
As you can see from the maps and the pictures below, Castleford Market on a Saturday is a busy place (especially when there is a rugby league match on that afternoon). Often children would be attracted by the colourful maps hung around our stall and adults with them would want to look at others’ ideas and share their own thoughts on their home region and its future. Together families sat down to draw and chat. They drew maps of the town itself and also the many other towns and villages around it from where people will travel for such a good market. You can see for yourself the things that passers by valued in their neighbourhood.


It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw parks for playing, canal paths for walking the dog, community centres with things going on like sports clubs, libraries, shops and bus stops with regular services taking them to places like Castleford Market. People also talked a lot about schools, from their love for Ferry Fryston Primary School to frustration at not being able to get a place at the school in their village (Methley) and so having to travel every day to the neighbouring town of Rothwell.
Over time, we are building up a picture of the things that are valued most by people across West Yorkshire. The things that they want to keep, to protect and to develop. The things that exist in some neighbourhoods and that others would like for their own part of our region. Thanks to everyone for continuing to build our regional map with drawings from around Castleford – look out other markets in West Yorkshire, we’ll be seeing you soon…