The Art of Knowing a Place

He worked the land
He could have been a gypsy, he could have had royal blood
But he worked the land
He knew the high places where the soil was thin
and the low pockets where the frost lay heavy on winter mornings in the shadow side of the hill.
He saw the river curling through the valley on pounding hot days
And the hill fields in an arc of open sky, bringing in the hay
And flies buzzing under the trees and cows flicking their tails in the shade, he brought them water.

She heard the river after heavy rains, the power of water. All that water. Pummelling the landscape.
She could have been white she could have been black
Counted the pennies in one hand, fed the lambs with the other.
They held on.

The child, the first born climbed a tree
She could have been a girl, he could have been a boy
Inched across a branch where it dipped back down towards the ground, where the grass grew long
Dropped down into the hayfield
Could have been anyone but she saw the world through long grass, bending this way and that, matted together where the roots held the soil, discovered a lapwing nest deep hidden
That was a rare find
and cuckoo spit on a single green stalk of grass.

The farm was ancient. Could have been in a valley, could have been on a hill. It had ancient hedges where lambs were born and pastures where cows grazed and a yard where chickens bathed in dust, closing their eyes. She grew vegetables in deep soil. Wheel barrows of muck from the cowsheds. Her back was strong and arms brown. Happy Days, she wrote.

Along the way a developer rips out hedges … there are loopholes if you know where to find them, secret loopholes, buried deep in clouds of information and small print and big pockets of anonymous shareholders … commodities rolls its eyes and investments licks its parched lips.

A child sits bareback on Tom the black pony with fur thick as a buffalo.

Tarmac. This is where we plant tarmac. And cultivate  wondrous shelves of profit margins. What is the subtlety of place? You what? This is where we till the soil of cheap foods, harvesting marvellous profits by diversifying into  .. whatever … stacked shelfs towering high with powdered pea haulms, palm oil and the perfected synthetic flavour of real things. Cheap. This stuff is cheap.

Above the valley, on the southern slope of an ancient field, something moves in the grass, a mouse. Or perhaps a lapwing. Something in the long grass, where the long arm of a tree reaches over the hayfield.

They still work the land.
Could be rich could be poor.
Could be African, could be from that village on the way to town, just past the corner where Joe Davies upended his car in the ditch, and down the long lane.
They’re deep rooted,
tough as boots,
old boots, new boots, leather boots, all-weather boots,
look at the soles on them beauties, designed to last they are.

At Christmas, you can get a cheap turkey for two pound fifty or a Luxury Christmas Hamper for a small fortune. The river meanders in summer, there is a place where an old ewe always takes her lambs to shelter from the storm.
Above the valley, on the southern slope of an ancient field, something moves in the grass. A child watches the world change.

Screenshot 2019-05-21 at 08.20.02.png india-e1576828929779.jpg  Screenshot 2019-03-30 at 08.21.53

Rachel Francis. Christmas 2019.

Metal at Edge Hill Station

This interview is part of a study exploring community use of railway buildings. The final report will be available later this spring, published by ACoRP and the Rail Development Group. The study was led by Professor Paul Salveson. This interview with Shaun Curtis, director of Metal Culture in Liverpool, is by Rachel Francis.
diff-trains3-mmcnulty
Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” performed at Edge Hill Station. Photo Mark McNulty.

Metal’s vision is to transform iconic, disused buildings into creative workspace for artists. In Liverpool, Metal work out of Edge Hill – the world’s oldest active passenger railway station.

At Edge Hill, artistic aspiration is coupled with down to earth ideas that engage the local communities – like inviting people round for a home cooked meal, or giving out free tickets for world class performance.

Metal completed the renovation of two historic buildings at Edge Hill in 2009.  The original 1836 Engine House, Boiler Room and Accumulator Tower have become a cultural and creative hub for artists whilst maintaining the aesthetic of the railway station and its historic roots. The main building on Platform One includes large communal dining area, exhibition/work spaces and office. On the opposite platform are studios and an incubation space for creative businesses. An outdoor area has become a garden for community projects with focus on health, natural world and climate change.

In September 2016, Metal held an open-air performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains. Reich attended the performance, together with a packed audience from across the country. The performance took place on an unused area of the station – once an entrance for carriages – that forms a natural amphitheatre. The performance was widely acclaimed and attracted a high level of media coverage.

Tell us about your work at Edge Hill

S.C. Three permanent staff work at Edge Hill, supporting artists from the UK and overseas, hosting artists-in-residence and running intensive, week-long Culture LAB’s for peer-to-peer learning and exchange.  Following up from the success of Different Trains, a follow up  performance is planned – at the moment further details are embargoed.

Creative work is directly linked to people and place:

Our community at Edge Hill is Wavertree, Fairfield, Kensington(Liverpool) and Toxteth – the poverty in these neighbourhoods is a pervasive narrative – from Edge Hill Station we have begun to tell another story about the same area – about a place where passenger transport by rail began, a place of new ideas – ideas that have changed the world for the better.

What is Metal? 

SC. Metal started up in London in 2002. The founder is Jude Kelly OBE and her vision is to transform disused buildings into creative workspaces for artists of all disciplines. Metal at Edge Hill began a few years later, with a meeting between Jude and Ian Brownbill who was already working in the Edge Hill area and went on to become the first director at Metal Liverpool.

Included in the meeting was Columbian artist Luis Fernandez Pelaez . … he was planning to create an urban forest in a rundown area of the city … it struck them that the desire to transform spaces through art can have a powerful impact.

metal-edge-hill-station-garden
Community Garden at Edge Hill

This was the spark that bought Metal to Edge Hill Station. There was an engagement process and funding was raised to renovate the disused station buildings with support from Northern Rail, Network Rail, Merseytarvel, the Railway Heritage Trust and Kensington regeneration. The work was completed in 2009, achieving recognition for the beautiful contemporary spaces that embrace the history and aesthetic of the building. Funding for Metal Liverpool comes from Arts Council, Liverpool City Council, Northern Rail.

What form of lease or other agreement do you have with the landlord?

SC. We have a 25-year Tripartite Lease with Network Rail and Arriva Northern for the two buildings. They have recently acquired the space for a community garden and would like to develop use of the disused entrance that was used as an amphitheatre for “Different Trains”

What have been the positive impacts of the project for your organisation and the community/s you support?

SC. The key success factor is a focussed, authentic vison in which aspirational art connects with place – the history, the atmosphere, the trains and the people of that place. This has been achieved without any compromise on the creative intent or quality of the art, in fact the station and local community are a compelling element of the art. The station has become something to be proud of and also to get involved in – a positive, inspiring, welcoming presence in a rundown area.

Metal operates through a wide range of partnerships, including Arts Council, local authorities, agencies such as the Local Economic Partnerships. Local Community groups get engaged through particular projects and a strong local network has been established.  If this had been an arts initiative that was pretentious – or that didn’t have a connection to place – that parachuted in – felt like a UFO – it wouldn’t have worked.  The station has bridged the gap between art and community.

Rachel Francis, www.sharpeningpencils.co.uk

metal-shared-meals-at-edge-hill-station
Shared Meal at EdgeHill Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Trail in the Making

Sir Percival was one of the legendary knights of the round table. Even though he was born to noble blood, most of his family had died from knightly misadventures, so his mother took him away as a small child and raised him deep in the forests of Wales in a very simple, down to earth sort of way.

However, on the eve of Percival’s 16th birthday, a group of knights rode by and from that instant, Percival wanted to become a knight and go questing. His mother reluctantly agreed. So Percival went off to train as a knight. He was a marvelous horse rider and hunter and but had not been raised with the right noble etiquette. The thing that really annoyed other knights was his inclination to ask questions. They made it clear that if Percival wanted to succeed he would have to respect highly ranked knights and not question them or their judgment.

Time passed and Percival learnt his lessons and at last, on a fine morning, the newly knighted Sir Percival set off from Wales on his first quest. After a long ride through green forests and up steep mountains and across rushing rivers, Sir Percival noticed the land had  begun to change. It was not so lush. It was not so green. Eventually Percival came to a castle moat, where he found a man hunched over a fishing rod in a small boat. This man was a king. All around the king was his kingdom, but it was a grey wasteland –  bare and barren.

Some called him the  Fisher King –  but sadly his favourite pastime of fishing was pointless, because all the fish were gone.

Sir Percival was invited to stay at the King’s castle.  He was made much of and promised lovely things. Trade deals and such. There was a feast and entertainment, but Percival longed to ask the King what had gone wrong with this kingdom – on the tip of his tongue danced that important question “What ails thee?” but he knew that he shouldn’t ask questions, nor even suggest that anything was wrong. So he bit his lip and carried on partying and when he awoke the next day the land, the castle and everyone at the castle had disappeared. Such is the nature of questing.

Attached to the legend of the Fisher King is the idea that a ‘king’ is so tied to the land that when he is ‘ill’, the land itself falls ill as well. In the original story, the question “what ails thee?” was not asked and the story is regarded as unfinished. Many people have written different endings to the legend but perhaps it is better – more challenging – less comfortable – unfinished. And perhaps it is unfinished because it’s still career suicide to ask a leader “What ails thee?” Ask – and it disappears.
~

Also still unfinished – A Trail in the Making. Arriva Trains Wales recently funded a study for a walking trail, weaving between stations along the Heart of Wales Line. The study was carried out by Professor Les Lumsdon and Alison Caffyn, working closely with local walking groups. They came up with a fantastic long distance route – that starts (or finishes) in the old railway town of Craven Arms,

Bridleway between Llangammarch Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells.JPG
Photo near Llanwrtyd Wells. Les Lumsdon

passing through stunning countryside and intersecting walks that include the Shropshire Way, Offa’s Dyke Path and Beacons Way

Offas Dyke (Visit Wales).jpg
Photo:Offa’s Dyke. Visit Wales

and finishing (or beginning) at Llanelli with a final stretch alongside the estuarial salt marshes of the Loughor Valley, en-route to the Millennium Coastal Park.

27-6-15 Loughor 150 2V38 0900 Shrewsbury - Swansea.jpg
Photo: Loughor Estuary. Stephen Miles

And so a trail is in the Making. The trail steering group are working with Rights of Way teams across Powys, Carmarthenshire, Shropshire and Swansea to make the trail a reality. A crowd funding appeal runs from January till April. https://localgiving.org/heartofwaleslinetrail

Sponsors’ names will appear on a special Roll of Honour at Llanelli and Craven Arms stations. Don’t let this brilliant idea disappear.

Rachel Francis

Published in BroadSheep

Shaping business for C21st – Riversimple Governance

Interview with Estelle Clark, Riversimple Governance. Written for Riversimple

how-the-business-works

Estelle Clark joined Riversimple to take a leading role shaping the business as it develops. She is Head of Profession at the Chartered Quality Institute, which is the chartered body for quality management professionals in Britain, and Chairman of the Technical & Advisory Board of Lloyds Register Quality Assurance. Her work has a particular focus on quality, safety, sustainability and innovation.

______________________

On Process

“This is about developing the fundamental principles for a new governance model and it could not be more timely.  As Steward, ensuring the balance of interests of the 6 Riversimple custodians, a key step is to agree a code for:

How the six custodians work together for the success of the business

How we clearly identify our different ‘constituents’ – in particular for the environment which doesn’t have “a voice” per se

How we consult with these constituents and bring the results back to the head table where decisions are made.

This process must be based upon sound principles– just like the engine of a good car. I think all of the custodians are fully aware of how challenging this is, we all have our feet firmly on the ground.”

 

On Multi Stake Holder Governance

“We don’t know of any other business that is articulating the kind of broad reaching structure for stakeholder engagement that Riversimple is working towards.

There are highly successful modern businesses, such as the Fairtrade Movement and the John Lewis Partnership that are governed by a principles-based constitution with a number of other stakeholders. What we are advocating now is a business model that thinks in advance, with everyone that has skin in the game – including the environment – involved.”

 

On the Financial Lens

“The investors are normally the focus of a business and their needs are considered paramount. This has led to bad behavior at the top of some companies – JB Sports, BHS.

But even leaving aside these big news stories, if the customer, the community, the environment etc. is only seen through the lens of the investor, then a poor decision may only be recognized further along the line when things start to go seriously wrong. By the time customers are complaining about a product or people are protesting about the way a business operates on social media, the damage has been done.

So there is a real opportunity here to do something better for everyone, including the investors. I would rather know where the pressure points are before a decision is made than act on problems retrospectively when they manifest.”

 

On the Bigger Picture

“The Brexit vote really rocked the foundations of business, exposing widely held public doubt about the role that business plays in society today. This is stark. Key public figures are already debating how to rebuild public trust. It begins with the businesses themselves. A cohesive society relies upon businesses that are well-run.

Largely because of the impact of social media, there is nowhere to hide when a business makes poor decisions. People can make their own purchasing decisions based on the experience and reviews of others. A huge percentage of consumers read online reviews before buying a product or service – or applying for a job. For the social media generations, everyone has a viewpoint and everyone gets a say.

There is growing opinion that a well structured and well tested multi stakeholder model could be the solution for getting business back on the front foot. So the Riversimple model is developing at a prescient moment in history.”

 

A Code for Better Business

“Meanwhile at Riversimple an exciting new model is evolving. How can you argue that staff or customers or any one of the constituent groups represented by our custodians should not have a say in what a business does?

Business with impact, business that earns trust, sustainable business that will stand the test of time – that is what this is about.”

______________________

Riversimple is an engineering company that designs and builds super efficient hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Their first poduction prototype,  Riversimple Rasa, was released in February 2016

Screenshot 2016-07-07 07.38.41

The company is based in Wales, UK.

 

 

Riversimple Custodians #3

PETER DAVIES, COMMUNITY CUSTODIAN

Peter’s  background is in business, working for the CBI, DTI and Business in the Community. He became the first Commissioner for Sustainable Futures in Wales in April 2011. Peter has taken a key role in the development of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, leading a national conversation on “The Wales we Want” and using the findings to create a framework for long term goals.

Peter Davies RF Custodian

On What Makes Riversimple Unique

I am especially inspired by the depth and breadth of the Riversimple vision.  I believe the governance system could help to rebalance the relationship between local and global from a business context.

On ‘Community’

Community – simply put – is about being connected. Community contributes to our sense of who we are and what we care about.  

The “Wales we Want” conversation engaged 7,000 people across Wales. We found that feeling disconnected, in particular from decision making, is a significant issue for communities today. Many people don’t feel in control of what is happening to them. Many younger people don’t feel there is a future for them.  The Riversimple model represents an opportunity to shape business in a way that re-connects with community, creating new opportunities, engaging young people in particular – and enthusing them.

On the best and worst things that a business can bring to a (geographical) community

A business can bring investment and jobs to a community – it can help to develop a local skills base and local supply chains. It can bring prosperity, not just in the form of jobs, but the long term resilience of the community and that brings with it a sense of pride.

But all businesses should consider the wider impact they will have upon a community. Its not just about winning support in the short term.  Political and media rhetoric can tend to focus on job creation but whilst important, that is not the whole picture, quality of life for a community is dependent on the nature of those jobs.

Wales is a country that knows all about the adverse affect of heavy industry – the effect that it can have on air pollution and the long term health of the community. We’ve had that experience and hopefully we are much the wiser. So a company like Riversimple, at the leading edge of socially and environmentally responsible business, is exactly what Wales needs to fulfill the ambitions of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

What are you looking forward to?

Its very exciting that this radical change is being led from a company based in the heart of rural mid Wales. I’m looking forward to the first pilot in Monmouthshire – our first community. I have great regard for the leadership in Monmouthshire and together we have a chance to test out the car and the business model – demonstrate its value.

There is a huge groundswell of local support. Local people really want Riversimple to succeed. We want to show that we can attract the very best engineers and new technology to a rural area. That we can bring young people back to rural communities because there will be a business growing there offering careers that appeal to them – without damaging rural ways of life or the environment. I am very excited about that.

~

Riversimple’s ‘place by place’ pilot, it is hoped, will begin with trials of the Rasa car in Monmouthshire.  Following both rural and urban-based trials, Riversimple could then expand via regional, small scale manufacturing units, producing 3,000 to 5,000 vehicles per year. Each unit could create high quality local jobs for c200 people.

This article was first published in the Chartered Quality Institute monthly newsletter “Knowledge.”

A SMALL GATEWAY TO THE WORLD

Written by Rachel Francis

In my mind’s eye I try to picture the kind of railway station I love. It has a kind of rural simplicity. But also a buzz. This station includes people. It may not be a London Euston or a Manchester Piccadilly, but it is still a place where we pass in transit – whether we are on our way to the office or a rugby match or auntie’s house or the other side of the world.

I am trying to turn this idea into something with more shape. I’m writing the first word onto the first blank sheet of paper. Gateway. And this word seeks other words, in an effort to say something precise and uncomplicated. And now I have a sentence. A small gateway to the world. I am struggling with the way this sentence sits with other sentences …

A small gateway to the world. Not another shopping mall. But perhaps a local trading post – with a commitment to not damaging the world. Because when you leave this gateway to travel somewhere, you need to know that you are not damaging the very place that you’re discovering.

I would like the idea contained within these words to be delicious to people. Consider the Café des Fleurs at Rye Station

DSCF1971

At Rye Station in Sussex, an empty station building has become a Café and Flower Shop. An old empty building can be a sad place. A deserted railway station after dark or before dawn is especially empty when you have to wait there for a train. It’s not much of an incentive to leave the car at home.

But this café, not designed by Pumpkin Cafes, or Starbucks, but by Lucy Forrester and her gran, opens up early for commuters, serving great coffee and homemade porridge, and very good scrambled eggs on toast. The florists occupy the other side of the cafe, where they make displays for weddings and special events. Local people actually come to the café so that they can watch the flower displays being made. By combining the two business ideas the whole thing becomes viable in a small town.

From Rye, you can travel by rail up north to Yorkshire and the town of Settle – gateway to the legendary Settle and Carlisle Line.

Version 2

Settle Station was first opened in 1876. It had a Station Master’s house, goods shed, weigh office, cattle dock, signal box and water tank, but goods facilities were dismantled in 1970. Today the station might be too small for the corporates, but it has a ticket office, a shop selling local produce, and a waiting room which is about to become a micro pub, complete with honkytonk piano. A unique community-based company runs the station facilities at Settle and also further along the line at Appleby. The same company operates locally sourced on-train catering, creating jobs and valuable contracts for small suppliers.

If you haven’t been there, you should consider a visit.

And finally to Llandeilo on the Heart of Wales Line

At Llandeilo station there was once a station pub called “The Refresh.” Old locals still remember it with a smile, but the building is long gone. Llandeilo Station has been a lonely platform at the end of a lonely road for a long time.  In my mind’s eye I try to picture the kind of railway station I love. It has a kind of simplicity. An aesthetic.

Slide03

The Llandeilo “Station Hub” is a small, transportable building with a covered aisle, leading to a modern composting toilet. It was designed along the lines of the old freight wagons and built with FSC Welsh wood by David Bamford and a build team from Presteigne. The idea was to create a space that could be run on a tiny budget, by and for the community.   The design includes a rainwater harvesting system and optional renewable energy unit. The result is a stand alone, multi purpose, mini-building. Not another shopping mall. But rather a gateway with a commitment to not damaging the world. Because when you leave this gateway to travel somewhere else in the world, you need to know that you are not damaging whatever it is you’re discovering.

Already a new company are starting to distribute local and organic produce from the station hub at Llandeilo. And it has recently been shortlisted for a national award for the most enhanced station.

So this has already happened. But what if we built more of these hubs, for other lonely stations, and for other community enterprises? The builders of the Llandeilo Hub are up for it, so the Heart of Wales Line Development Company will help them market this idea to the rail industry. With several stations already expressing an interest, it could just happen.

To find out more about hub sales, you can contact rachelzzzyx@gmail.com On behalf of D.S Bamford and the Heart of Wales Line DevCo.

This article, written by Rachel at www.sharpeningpencils.co.uk  was first published in Broad Sheep Magazine and the Weekly Salvo.

Riversimple Custodians 2

This is the second interview in a mini series exploring the Riversimple model of governance. The business structure underpinning Riversimple is described as disruptive, but what does this really mean? This month I interviewed Dr Stafford Lloyd.

Stafford is Systems and Sustainability engineer. He joined Riversimple from Rolls-Royce plc and has an engineering doctorate in environmental technology. He was recently voted in by staff to represent them as a custodian. He describes the role as “making sure that Riversimple is run well from a staff’s perspective” and wants to bring staff into the decision making process without becoming “a puppet for populist ideas.”

 On The Role

When I accepted the role of staff custodian it was largely undefined. I felt that it could easily have become confused with an HR role. Human Resources however, is focused inwards – on maximizing employee productivity, improving skill base, management of the workforce.

The staff custodian represents staff in a radically different way. It’s about collecting the opinions and thoughts of staff and then bringing the worker’s perspective to the table so that they are part of shaping the direction of the company as a whole. Exclusion of social consequences in economic decision making can be very damaging.

On Systems

Decisions taken in one place can have unforeseen consequences in another. A key part of this role is to review possible consequences from a wider point of view before a critical executive decision is taken by the board.

Of course this process must not become too cumbersome –  but with the right mechanisms and the right people, there is a potential for ground breaking progress to be made.

 On Staff Involvement

There is an opportunity here. It is an opportunity for Riversimple to benefit from, rather than just manage, staff perspective and viewpoint. The challenge, however, begins with several tough questions: How does a company deal honestly and meaningfully with knotty problems raised by staff? How can we draw out staff perspective in a way that is objective and free of prejudice? Is it possible to measure staff well-being in a way that can stand up against financial targets?

 What Do Staff Want?
For employees, a decent wage is the bottom line – to feed the family, to provide security, for happiness and well being. There are also issues about pay structures and at the moment we are grappling with this. How do we keep a fair ratio of pay between high and low wages for the benefit of the company as a whole?

And above and beyond wages, what draws in talented staff and how they are lost? Riversimple has an opportunity to offer a fresh kind of legitimacy but what does this mean on a day to day basis? People respond positively to somewhere that is a great place to work, where they don’t have to leave their values at the door as they come in every morning, where communications are good and where there is a real sense of having a voice.

The Team

A team is something bigger than the sum of its parts.  The custodian framework creates an opportunity to tap into that, to develop and shape both company and outputs in a more connected way – it is a framework for change.

 

Next month (last in series) – interview with Peter Davies, custodian for neighbours/community.

Written for Riversimple, interview with Dr. Stafford Lloyd by Rachel Francis at Sharpening Pencils

Published in “Knowledge” – by Chartered Quality Institute

Image shows Riversimple team. Stafford Lloyd is pictured 5th from left