I am currently the owner of a giant baby that will not be put down. As you can imagine this has made a slight impact on the way I make a living. Let’s just say, for all the best reasons, I am currently professionally impaired. For large portions of the day my arms are held hostage which means, even while my baby is snoozing, I cannot get to my computer to do anything of use.

So, I thought, as a scrolled through twitter with my one operative thumb (the other numb under the weight of the baby), what can I do while engaged in the worlds longest cuddle? The answer proved elusive.

Meanwhile, my quest to shop locally continued. I have for years tried and failed to do it, spending, instead, inordinate amounts of time and money in the nations favourite supermarket. But since the giant baby arrived I had been able to spend more time at the local shops. Now, I am no cook so shopping locally is a bit of a challenge. Meat is especially troublesome. I know what mince is. I know what a sausage is, and I know that chicken breasts are expensive. But that’s about it. I started to venture into my local butcher. He’d ask really tough questions like ‘what would you like? and ‘how much do you want?’ and I wouldn’t really know and had to resort to hand gestures…’ can I have some of that’, ‘enough for two and a half people?’

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Now, Jim has been a butcher for a very long time. He knows a lost shopper when he sees one. He took pity on me and gradually started to introduce me to the whole process. He would tell me what to buy and how to cook it and what the most affordable roast is (it’s pork by the way). He showed me how much a pound of mince was and told me that lamb was expensive this year. He told me his name was Jim and that he couldn’t understand why people where intimated by coming into a butchers shop, but that they seemed to be and that this was especially true for people under 40. He said he was struggling to get the message out there that he was happy to help and that he went the extra mile, quite literally, by delivering free of charge to the local area.

The penny dropped. In fact, as anyone who follows me on twitter knows, it dropped a long time before I did anything about it. I could Tweet for Meat! Evolution had prepared me for this! My one functioning opposable thumb could help me put food on the table. I could provide!

But I couldn’t bring myself to ask him. I knew social media would help him. I knew that people on twitter tend to be in their 30′s and 40′s and not entirely comfortable with the onward march of the supermarché. I knew I could tweet in my spare moments. But telling him this felt risky. Did I do it in the shop and risk him thinking me a sponger, did I ask him for a drink and ask him then? This felt like dating. It felt weird. So my quest to ‘tweet for meat’ stalled until, well, he kind of asked me.

Now I could tell you the ins and outs of this bartering relationship but let me simply tell you this: it is GOOD. It’s good for his business, it is good for my food bill and just on a human relationship level it is GOOD. I’m learning stuff about food. Proper food. I’m learning that my social media skills are good enough to make a difference. I am eating differently. Jim is learning that social media is simply an extension of word of mouth and is not beyond him. He is learning to shout about his great quality products in a different way. It is also good for his customers – they are being given information to help them shop in the way they want too, which isn’t always in multinational ginormo-stores.

In order for me to tweet anything of any sense on his behalf I need to talk to him daily and every day I discover something brilliant; his meat is all British, the beer in his real ale bangers is our local Bombadier, the size of the sausages handmade daily on site depend on how many pints Lee has had the night before, his pies are all handmade (apart from the pastry, but not even Jamie Oliver makes his own pastry) and there has been a butcher on the site of his shop since 1890.

Jim tweets, and I tweet. His tweets are more interesting than mine and over time he will take over completely. But on busy days I can follow and RT and remind people that they deliver while he gets on with being what he is, which is a bloody good butcher.

We’ve taken money out of the equation and come up with something better.

So, two things: who could you barter your social media skills with? And, if you are a Bedfordian carnivore why not follow @LingersButchers ?

Below I have pasted my letter to Colin McQueston, at Coplan Estates and Dave Hodgson our Mayor, regarding the proposal for the redevelopment of Riverside North in Bedford. I am posting it to encourage others to take part in the consultation and to encourage debate and conversation about the development. If you would like to view the proposal and take part in the consultation please do so here. If you would like to join a public conversation on twitter please use #riversidenorth. This post will be relevant mainly to those readers in Bedford, but others who are interested in urban regeneration may also find something here (and also might like to check out this post by Bradforia on DIY regeneration). If  you are interested in how to consider and communicate the changes your community might like, need, or want in their town you may find Place check of interest.  Jane’s walk is also worth a look (thank you to Dawn Giles of Bedford Creative Arts for the heads up on that one.)

Re: Riverside North Development, Bedford

Dear Colin,

Thank you for taking the time to consult with the people of Bedford over the proposed development at Riverside North. As an active member of the Bedford community striving to be a positive voice within the town I would like to:

  1. comment on the consultation process
  2. comment on the development itself
  3. suggest that greater clarity regarding the boundaries of the project is needed
  4. suggest that a process such as place check is used to aid consultation.

Firstly, thank you for making the consultation fairly accessible. I imagine that within urban regeneration, activities described under the term ‘public consultation’ might stretch from the shy and tokenistic where only the slightest effort is made to garner opinions from the public, (and you certainly cannot be accused of that) to the other extreme where consultation activities  put the people at the heart of the development process. For my liking the consultation has not yet gone far enough. You are relying on people to come to you, and the opinions you most need are those of the people who do not usually come to the town centre. A consultation committed to listening to the public should go out and find the public, even those who are disengaged and possibly cynical of the process. Why not talk to people at the market, tweet ups, the retirement centre, the local residents association for example.  You also need processes for crunching the data and making sense of it. But the more crucial question, for me, remains – are you consulting on the right thing?

When I came to see the presentation I left feeling deflated. It felt like being asked to choose from the menu at a dinner date you didn’t want to be on.  I dutifully ticked the boxes on the form and confessed that I would love a Wagamamas to come to town but I left with many questions.

  • Is the consultation process genuine?
  • What are the stipulations of the development?
  • What brief have the architects had been given?
  • What is the problem they are trying to solve?
  • Why the focus was solely on retail and money-making leisure services?
  • Who is it for?
  • Who does it serve?
  • Could the area become, for instance, a park, a nature reserve, an Exploratorium?
  • Does it have to make money?
  • Where is the funding coming from?
  • What is the project a response to?
  • Why that bit of land in particular?

Put another way, are you saying:

  • Bedford has £50 million to spend on itself, how should we spend it?’
  • Bedford has £50 million to spend on this particular area on the proviso that it has a cinema, X amount of retail space  etc, do we want it and if so, how should we spend it?’

The public would give very different responses depending on which question we are answering. Our town is a good town but it has areas of need. Ask your average Bedfordian where investment is needed and they’ll say that the bus station is the area in most desperate need of investment. Parking, and public transport in from rural areas are also huge issues. If we have a choice I imagine the townspeople would choose for other issues to be dealt with first.

I asked some questions at the consultation and felt uneasy at the answers.  For example, I asked why we needed another cinema. The answer was that the new development needed a draw to attract other investors. This clearly didn’t work for Aspects, which would no doubt be destroyed by any new Cinema complex. Indeed the premise on which Aspects was built is similar to Riverside North but Aspects has ample parking whereas Riverside North has very little. Aspects is far from ideal but it will be less good if it becomes a complete ghost town.

Castle Quay was mentioned as a similar ‘successful’ development, which has the draw of the museum and gallery (currently under development). Certainly it is an area which is starting to blossom and will be a key area for the future of Bedford, but it was not that way for a long time. It took massive amounts of community involvement to bring it to life. It does a disservice to the original businesses there to say that it has been an easy sell as they fought hard to survive in the early years, when most of the units laid empty and unfinished. Myself and others worked long and hard to create a buzz and ‘feel’ for the area thorough ‘pop-up’ arts activity through my community group We are Bedford. We can’t forget how hard we worked there. Let’s also notice that the big names did not flock there despite the riverside location, the large restaurant units and the draw of what will be an impressive cultural attraction of The Higgins. What would be different with Riverside North?

What I didn’t find in your answers was a sense that this development related to the rest of the town. Bedford town as a whole needs rethinking. It needs a vision. There is plenty of appetite for people to get involved and small ad hoc working groups are making waves; We Are Bedford, Castle Quarter, Tavision, Midland Road Residents Association, Transition Bedford, and ‘I love Lime Street’ are all bubbling away, making things happen at a local level. Bedford BID have also spearheaded a Portas Pilot application. For all the valuable community work that is done to try (and sometimes succeed) at redevelopment, grassroots work is, by it’s very nature, piecemeal, and run on good will and energy. These organisations do not have the budgets or resource needed to join forces and make a wholesale transformation of the town. A £50 million redevelopment plan and consultation on the whole town could. Bedford desperately needs a vision for the future.

Personally I would love to see a few more big name retailers come to town, and equally I would love to see more independents helped to settle and grow here. I would love more leisure activities for all in the town and the café culture to which we aspire to bloom here. I would embrace more arts provision and activity in the town. I would like to be able to get into town and move through town more easily. But more than this, I would like to see robust mechanisms for the townspeople to have a real say in what goes on here.

So, whichever question you are asking us to answer I would be pleased to see a strong commitment to genuine public consultation. If we are getting a 7 screen cinema whether we like it or not, but we have a say in the rest of the development, then tell us. If this money could be used in more creative and community serving ways then consult, consult, consult and prepare to be surprised.

This leads us to the question, ‘how do we consult with a town’? Not easily. People, en masse, are problematic! There is no hope of pleasing all of us, and not all of us can articulate what we want. We are not, all of us, architects. But if you ask the right questions, openly and with a genuine desire to listen then we might have a chance of making an investment that would transform the town.

You could ask us:

  • how we feel about our town,
  • where we go,
  • where we avoid,
  • what we leave town for,
  • what we miss
  • what we wish for.

You should also watch what we do, watch how we move through the space, how we travel and how long we spend in each area (I’ve blogged about this approach here ). Maybe what we want are spaces to connect, to communicate, to relax and reflect. I’m not sure that we have yet been asked. I would urge you to consult with us to find the brief, not the solution. You are the experts on the response to the brief, and we should certainly trust your professionalism in that, but please first check that you are working on the correct problem.

I suggest that you look at the place check process. This process can involve people in the development of their places on such a level as to become meaningful. It can make a real change to a town and is much more valuable than bricks and mortar. I would be more than happy to take part in such a process.

To finish I would like to thank you for your time, and I do hope that this response does not seem too critical. I am passionate about my town and would love to see the energy here harnessed to the significant investment that is being considered and used for the best possible ends.

With very best wishes

Kayte Judge

It has been a crazy 12 months. I have spent last year finishing my MSc in Managing Business Creativity and Innovation, finalising my work as a Creative Agent for Creative Partnerships, teaching Arts Award, completing case study on home education for Learning Futures and undertaking a RSA Catalyst funded project that was supposed to be a little something on the side and ended up taking over my life. We Are Bedford is an empty shops project of which I am immensely proud. It led me to work as a producer for the wonderful Bedford Creative Arts. My second child Edie was also born in January this year and you know what? It has all been brilliant and hectic and far far too much.

Before I left my various roles for my maternity leave I spent some time with the lovely Emily at Mindful Maps. She is a graphic facilitator who offers a 1-1 service that allows you to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. My time with Emily focused on how I would cope with the enforced break second-time motherhood would bring. I was frightened that I would lose the opportunities ahead of me. Looking back, I was also exhausted and didn’t know how to carry on at the pace I had been maintaining for a good few years. Emily helped me find the rich metaphors of mulching, composting and baking; all processes that require significant amounts of downtime. I needed to mulch.

But how does a workaholic new mother mulch? It is easy to get bogged down in dirty nappies and the epic task of feeding everyone. Well, you need a project. A small, unimportant, just for fun project. and that is where the Elevated Envelope came in.

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The Elevated Envelope is a project run by letterpress printer and calligrapher Tara Bliven. She invites people to create and exchange mailable envelope artwork, elevating the envelope from the ordinary to something quite special. It also means you get art mailed to you at home. This is good.

I knew I wanted to explore the theme of Bedfordshire Lace as it was the topic of the ‘Lace in Place’ programme I had helped to put together at Bedford Creative Arts. It is a dying art form but one that has a vibrant local history. Lace was threatened, like most cottage industries, by the advance of the Industrial revolution. So what did the Bedfordshire Lacemakers do? They made lace that was impossible for the machines to make. They didn’t halt the inevitable march of the machines but they made a radical, human, stand against them. I appreciate the punkness of that.

I commissioned a small piece of Bedfordshire Lace from local Aragorn Lacemaker Sandra King. It cost £15. I bought a copy of ‘print workshop’ by Christine Schmidt and had a go at a few print making techniques.I tried sun printing (we had some sun back in March), drawing, and also tried lino cutting, but my rustic style meant it went a bit more ‘caveman’ than I had hoped. Local artist Charlotte Tenneson came over to show me a few basic printing techniques including relief printing and ghost printing. I was nervous about using the actual piece of lace to print with as it felt wasteful but once Charlotte had shown me the techniques I felt less likely to make a total mess of things. So I started printing. The relief prints were bold – I wanted to use hot colours to mix up the traditional form of the lace with a modern feel. I took ghost prints too, not with anything in mind really, just because I could and I knew from Charlotte’s printing session that the ghosts were often very interesting. Once the prints had dried I knew I couldn’t use the prints as envelopes. I couldn’t write addresses on them easily and they would get damaged in the rain. I remembered back to some of my trial runs when I was experimenting. The photocopies of the lace were beautiful but didn’t seem ‘handmade’ enough for the project. So I decided to make a protective see-thru layer for the prints by photocopying on tracing paper. It worked well. I also stuck a little lino print stamp on, just as a nod to the evenings I’d spent stabbing myself in the fingers with the cutting tools!

I included a sun print inside – some worked better than others but most gave detail that the relief printing missed. I chucked a business card in too – I hadn’t thought about how to let people know that it was me sending it. Funnily enough my business cards seemed to ‘fit’ too. I’ve posted some pictures of the process and the final envelope but Tara has taken some too and will post them on her blog in the future. It’s worth a visit to see the range of things others have done. Some are truly epic pieces of stationery.

I enjoyed taking care over an object, I enjoyed making something and connecting with others, the lacemakers, artists and the ‘pen pals’ I sent them too. It was just what I needed to creatively spend some mulch time.

If you fancy a go you can sign up here.

I have been working for a while as a Creative Agent for Creative Partnerships through the UK Centre for Carnival Arts (which will be heaving right now as today is Luton Carnival Day). You may have heard that our funding has stopped so we are making plans for our departure into pastures new. One of these plans has been to set up a network of schools who are committed to exploring creative techniques of teaching and learning whose relationships will form a legacy network that will outlive creative partnerships provision. We have called this the Creative Schools Network and you can follow us on twitter here

The reason I am writing is because we have developed a technique that seemed to have a significant impact on those who came to the last meeting. We have been playing with formats and trying to balance the need for input with plenty of opportunity for actual networking. We decided to nestle our approach in the everyday problems faced by the teachers who come from a range of subjects and settings. Our mantra from the early days was to be as useful as possible in the shortest time. We know that teachers are busy and being at our meetings means not being in the classroom – so we have to make it count.

So this is what we did. We undertook a Creativity Experiment based on the Action Research Cycle and the Osbourn Parnes Creative Problem Solving Technique. We were hosted by a local school and the session ran from 9 – 12.45. We first explored what we mean by creativity by looking at a sample of the hundreds of creativity definitions out there in order to encourage participants to recognise themselves as creative (and to divorce the deep-rooted link between artistic ability and creativity). We then led a short period of reflection to encourage participants to scan their professional landscapes to identify a problem that they wanted to give some attention to (this would be the problem finding part of the CPS model, or the reflection of the Action Research Cycle). For some the word ‘problem’ was a barrier, so asking participants to identify an area that they would like to improve on worked better. We asked them to use the ‘invitational stem’ ‘ In what ways might…’ to phrase their problem, and to identify a problem that was at once important but within their power to change. This represented both divergent (scanning) and convergent thinking (problem selection and redefinition) of the problem solving process.

We then led them into the solution finding stage of the Creative Problem Solving process through a divergent thinking exercise. Armed with their ‘problem’ we set up a speed dating cycle where they took their problem to each of 6 creative practitioners (a puppetter, audio artist, pop up book maker, dancer, sculptress and set designer) who all responded in the moment to their problem. At the end of the session each participant had had 6 conversations and been exposed to a wide range of people and possible solutions. Of course not all solutions would be immediately applicable or attractive to the participants, however many set off new ways of thinking about old problems, allowing them to break with habitual thinking. This exposure to a range of responses enabled more ‘combinatory play’ to occur and increasing, we hoped, the possibility of developing solutions. We asked them to again enter into convergent thinking by selecting one course of action and creating a hypothesis for their problem. We simply asked that they create a sentence using the words ‘if’ and ‘then’ to structure their statement which made it testable. We encouraged participants to give some thought to the practicalities of their experiment including how they would test any impact. At this stage, mindful that testing and data can strike fear into the heart of any warm blooded practitioner we reminded people that whatever told them their was a problem in the first place might well be the same thing that told them if anything changed. If this was their ‘gut’ then that was good enough for us. This represented the planning stage of the action research cycle.

The result was that teachers came together, identified a problem and a wide range of solutions and turned it into a plan of action. They built relationships with each other and with creative practitioners. This can only be good for creative practice within schools.

The workshop seemed to, well, work. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and people left feeling that the session was relevant and useful to them as individuals. All participants were invited back to report on their progress and we will simply repeat the cycle, probably with a different bank of practitioners, to keep widening the possible links and combinations between new approaches and old problems.

I wanted to share a picture of one of my students with you. His mum has given me permission to use the picture but asked that I call him by another name. So I shall call him Karl. When I say one of ‘my’ students I don’t really mean that. He is part of a home education community group called PLACE who, when it suits their needs, commission teachers to come in and teach them. I am not a teacher, as it happens, but I facilitate both Arts Award and the AQA project qualification with them.

The AQA qualification is best described as a content-free but process rigorous qualification; learners can choose a topic of their choice and respond to it in a medium of their choice.

The AQA qualification is interested in authentic assessment. It encourages learners and their guides to find ways that they can test their learning that suits the nature of their project. This year we came together in a local theatre, also called The Place, where the students held stalls, put on fashion shows, showed films and gave presentations. Karl gave a Powerpoint Presentation and had a stall. He had made a model of a particular Victorian garden for his project. He told us that if we could go back in time and show his model to the Victorian gardeners they would recognize it as their own.

I was pleased with the use of the theatre. It gave us a range of spaces that the students could choose from and so a range of presentation methods. The ambience of the theatre added something to the nature of the spoken presentations for sure. But in many ways it was still only an imitation of the real thing, like learning to drive in a car park.

The really impressive stuff happened after the projects were handed in. Karl had shown his model to the head gardener of the garden he modeled. The gardener was so impressed he contacted English Heritage. English Heritage contacted Karl. They wanted to see him and his model. Karl has now got appointments with a number of magazines to give interviews and talk about his work.

It matters not one bit what grade he gets for that piece of work – what matters is that it has been authentically assessed by experts in the field and found to be of an extremely high quality. What if more kids had opportunities like that? What if they could truly understand the value of their work? To do this we need to let them out on the road more.

Now my hippy credentials are piss poor. Trust me. The last time I achieved a nirvana like state it was in a Chrysler with a tank full of diesel on the new bypass between Bedford and Milton Keynes.

But a few years back I heard that we, the good people of Britain, give Tesco £1 for every £7 we spend in shops.

I think that’s too much. So I made a promise to reduce my dependency on the big T. It took a while to stop the habit, I’ve got to tell you. I know it is madness to dedicate my shopping-self to one shop all for the promise of the price of a Christmas turkey in ‘points’ at the end of the year, but it was hard to break the spell.

This week I noticed that I didn’t go at all – I had got my meat from the butchers, veg from the farm shop and milk, chocolate and crisps from Nobbies Hobbies, my local shop (no, I didn’t make that up). But the thing I am most proud of is my bottle of fairy,

This bottle has been refilled with my trusty funnel and bulk bottles of ecover successfully for a YEAR, and by me, a non-hippy.

I think bulk buying is the unsung weapon of the ethical shopper. It reduces packaging and petrol and its cheaper, so why don’t we do more of it? YOU WILL ALWAYS NEED LOO ROLL, YOU WILL EAT RICE NEXT WEEK, TINNED FOOD NEVER GOES OFF. I don’t know why we think we need to buy only what we need for the week. Of course if space is tight or you don’t have a freezer its not going to work for you, but please, next time you are trying to decide where to go for the small packet of pasta, or the medium size one, go for the extra large one. You will eat it, I promise.

There is an element of denial about supermarket shopping that leads to waste and wasted journey’s – I used to buy much more veg than we ever ate, and much less wine than we actually drank. This meant we threw out a lot and I was often seen in Tesco’s at 7pm clasping a bottle of vino in my paw. There is a theory behind all of this of course, I think it is called something like symbolic consumerism, but whatever it is, it makes much more sense to keep an eye on what you actually consume and then figure out the best way to buy it.

There are things I will probably always buy at Tesco’s – breakfast cereal, nappies, wipes, loo roll, ice cream, salt – but at least I am now doing it because it is the best all round choice for me. When I do buy I buy as much as I can store. I am buying and freezing meat from the butcher, and veg from the farm shop (although frozen still from Tesco), gifts from the independents in town or online, and laundry and cleaning stuff from the ethical superstore (although this isn’t the cheapest option and one that would change if I lost my work). I’m still mainly buying milk from Tesco’s or the local shop and think that getting on the milk round might be better… but just need to do it now.

There is a part of me realizing, reluctantly, that some of the things I do go back to Tesco’s for, because they are cheapest there, are the things that I don’t really need at all (biscuits, fizzy drinks, squash, frozen pizza and crisps)

Anyway. It may seem banal to be posting about this, especially as my efforts are not earth shattering, but I do believe that shopping is a political act whether we are conscious of it or not. Where you spend your money makes a real difference, so just think about it. I think we can fall into the trap of thinking that it is all or nothing, or that it is somehow radical to avoid the superstore superpowers, but really it just makes more sense. Spending £50 a month at your local butchers is going to make a very different kind of impact on your community than spending £30 on cheap meat at Tescos. Reusing one fairy liquid bottle and bulk buying the liquid will make a difference to the amount in landfill, as will buying 24 loo rolls rather than 4.

It’s simple really.

(and we now order wine by the crate)

Its been a while dear reader. I was distracted momentarily by organizing a little arts fest in some empty shops and have been submerged in work both paid and for my action research project. For anyone who has been following my tweets you may know that this has not been the best experience i have ever had. I plan to blog more about my experience as an adult learner another day when I have had time to reflect. I think it is to do with grades. In fact i know it is. Grades, I am coming to realise are the single most damaging thing for real learning. They make you behave far too well. My grades have fallen steadily since I started my MSc 2 years ago and I am now wondering if I will even pass. I got a first for my first degree, and now I am scraping C’s. I have been doubting my learning and doubting the thing that I find most mesmerizing about my professional life, that is the practical use of what I call ‘metaphor techniques’. I’ll tell you more about them one day too. But for now I wanted to share something with you. It is some feedback from a participant in one of my metaphor sessions. it makes it all worth it.

“Having you, as a fresh mirror or prism through which to project and refract the spectrum of our thoughts and practices, enabled us to consider, more dispassionately, the future changes as possibilities and challenges, rather than obstacles and disempowerments. Your methodology suited us, it presented our group with an intriguing an engaging set of challenges, which fitted with our approach as educators – we could see where you were going with us and felt happy to be guided. Without any of us individually having any evidence of your particular skills, you demonstrated your ‘metaphor’ methodology practically, so that anyone with a scrap of visual intelligence could participate and you could gently help us to disentangle our thoughts about the past and the future, which is what you did. I am hopeful you will be able to return for a third session, to help us to build on the open and optimistic results we ended with at the last session, in order to create some concrete intentions to enable us to structure plans for the future.”

That, my dear reader, is worth more than my entire MSc rolled up. If that is what you get when you flunk college, then give me the dunce hat and i shall wear it with pride.

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