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For too long the media and often the politicians and the residents of regions and cities have been bemoaning the perceived dominance of London. But there is a wind of change which looks likely to become a storm. The Scottish independence referendum of 2014 and Nicola Sturgeons confident handling of the SNP agenda for devolution of power is without doubt going to result in changes after this General Election.

I am currently working on a large scale cultural project in Liverpool and am enjoying visiting and overnighting in a city that is confident in the fact that it is moving forward on so many levels. Liverpool Culture along with all the cultural institutions are doing a wonderful job as are the planners in encouraging brave modern architecture and interesting public spaces. And its creative sector is also responding in the Baltic Quarter creating an exciting district that is akin to the early days of the Mitte in Berlin with its DIY aesthetic and “absence of government”. No wonder the city has entered the top five visited cities in the UK.

Birmingham, never a city to be brash, is looking increasingly like a confident large scale European city and if the media is to be believed is attracting aspirational young people who find London just too expensive.

Bristol, under a “can do” and free thinking mayor, George Ferguson, increasingly feels like an independent green state. This new found “belief” is washing down to smaller towns. Blackburn, the town where I grew up and where I am working on Blackburn is Open is starting to change its language from “decline” to “opportunity”.

I would like to think that we have played a small role (via our Boscombe Overstrand project) in what is going on in once sleepy Bournemouth. The town is now bucking the trend as one of only two towns in the UK where the average age of its population is getting younger as it becomes a centre for technology industries and bringing the cool café’s, bars and clubs with it. As I have written before, London’s unaffordability for many fuels opportunity outside the capital, but what is happening is more than this. People are sick and tired of negativity about their towns and cities and are taking positivity into their own hands.

This wind of change is very likely to result in central government “devolving” some of its tax take locally. In Manchester, this is already planned with £1 billion of public money earmarked to be to be controlled by its elected mayor as part of what has been christened “Devo Manc”.

Manchester almost certainly has the skills at the top and through the ranks to spend this money wisely but I fear that many of the smaller councils would struggle to spend locally generated public money to the best effect.
I think I will be returning to this subject in the next few months.

London View By Scyrene 750x380

I have been following and become increasingly intrigued about the campaign for London to become a National Park. The website greaterlondonnationalpark.org.uk is a pretty persuasive one saying;

WELCOME TO THE GREATER LONDON NATIONAL PARK*

Uniquely combining a biodiverse landscape with nature reserves, parks and gardens, the Greater London National Park* covers an area of over 1,500 km2 and is home to more than 8 million people.

Recognised as one of the world’s most important urban habitats, green, blue and open spaces occupy over 60% of London. Over 1,300 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation cover 19% of the National Park*.

Londonwide the capital is home to more than 1,500 species of flowering plants and 300 species of bird.
With over 300 languages spoken, 170 museums, four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of Britain’s National Trails the Greater London National Park* is open for you to explore.”

*The Greater London National Park* is officially a National Park.

It is easy to forget when we are in our offices and homes how wonderful and valuable London’s (and for that matter most towns and cities’) non built environment is.

Being a runner, a cyclist and owning an exercise loving dog I have become intimate with many of London’s green spaces and wonderful canal towpaths. From my office the dog can be swimming in the almost always deserted Welsh Harp before we run across the relatively unknown Fryent Country Park, across Barn Hill Open Space where it feels like you are in the middle of a wooded wilderness until you emerge out and the giant Wembley Stadium smacks you in the face.

Many Londoners will know how easy it is to get a little disorientated on Hampstead Heath and many of us have run within meters of a deer in Golders Hill Park or Richmond Park. I remember once during marathon training, running from central London along the Grand Union canal and meeting Mrs H a couple of hours later close to Heathrow to get changed in the car before checking in for a flight.

There are a number of reasons why a Greater London National Park would be of great benefit.

1. Increasingly humans choose to live in towns and cities. In the UK 80% of the population live on 7% of the land. Living densely like this protects the rural and farm land. To give London “National Park “ status would help to spread the word about the cities sustainable green spaces and help take the pressure off rural and farm land.

2. It would be another marketing tool to keep London high in hierarchy of great world cities and would reinforce London’s reputation for creatively thinking differently.

3. It can help investment in the green spaces and this contribute to reducing pollution, reduce flood issues, promote wildlife and thus impact positively on happiness, health, personal and social well being.

4. It could also help to take the pressure off some of the areas of the city that are under pressure. There are too many voices incorrectly saying that London is “full” when there are underperforming suburbs like Harrow, Sudbury Town, Wembley,and parts of Acton all with access to green space that could help to make them every bit as live-able as the now “overheating” East London growth areas.

Read more about what I said here.

It seems to be one of those ideas that at first raises eyebrows but when you think deeply, does makes sense.

– Wayne Hemingway

Shop Closures

Two stories about shop closures have saddened me this week. Food for Thought became London’s leading vegetarian restaurant and became the food of choice for all the staff at Red or Dead’s second Neal St store (Red or Dead was our first brand and Food for Thought was next door). In 1984 the rent on our Neal St shop was less than £100 a week, so I would imagine Food for Thought’s would have been similar. Prices in Covent Garden have far outstripped inflation and after 44 years Food for Thought are being priced out. So one of the last indie’s leaves Covent Garden. Read more here.

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It’s a similar story in Sheffield’s Devonshire Street, where a truly iconic and much loved vinyl record store Rare and Racy (again adjacent to one of the first Red or Dead shops ) is on its way out.
Read more here.  Devonshire Street has always been Sheffield’s centre of alternative culture and low cost indie start-ups.

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I have written extensively about protecting indie shopping and the Conservatives made a big noise with Mary Portas. But all it has been is noise. In my opinion it’s time to allow local councils to set and collect business rates and decide how they spend, rather than it go to central government. Where local start up’s get the chance to work with local councils you can get something interesting going witness Blackburn is Open.

Let’s hope that the next government doesn’t preside over so many losses of much loved indie businesses as this government has in the past 5 years.

– Wayne Hemingway

right_to_buy

It’s very worrying that this government doesn’t seem to understand the value of encouraging Housing Associations and Councils to take up the slack of the housebuilding shortages. It beggars belief that they can be even talking about encouraging forcing “Right to Buy” on Housing Associations!  Margaret Thatcher did some severe damage to the structure of Britain’s housing balance by ushering in “Right to Buy”. The housing was rarely replaced and the amount that fell into the ownership of private landlords still causes problems for lower income families today.

The idea that forcing “Right to Buy” on Housing Associations in the belief that it will release money for them to build new housing is surely stupidity (or at least naivety) in the extreme. It will reduce the rental income that their business model is built on, will surely make lenders nervous in the first instance and isn’t it likely to reduce the value of their property portfolio making it even harder to borrow against their stock holding?

Surely the government should be lending to HA’s be to build housing based on the value of their portfolio and their income. We need HA’s and councils building homes and they should be offered land at rates less than the private sector (in fact shouldn’t all government land go to HA’a and Councils?) because HA’s and Councils have obvious and real incentives to think about long term stewardship and value rather than the ROCE (Return on Capital Employed) that drives the large scale private sector house builders and more often than not results in tiny, identikit, not fit for purpose, ugly developments that continue to blight Britain.

– Wayne Hemingway

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I believe the British General Election of 2015 is the most important in a generation. For the first time there is a generation who are worse off than their parents, the housing affordability and shortage is a disgrace, and the equality gap continues to grow. So I decided to make this statement through our social media channels.

“At the upcoming general election we are voting for a party that genuinely cares about a more equal society that understands that creativity and the arts should sit at the heart of any civilised society and a party that is more likely to work towards a renaissance in emboldening councils to build council housing. How about you?”

The Labour Party contacted me and asked if I would be a signatory to a letter that responded to a letter from 100 business leaders supporting the Conservative Government.

Dear Sir,

We all care about Britain’s economy and we all have a stake in the future.

We are all working people. Some of us run businesses, large and small. Some of us used to work on zero hours contracts, some of us still do.

We come from all walks of life, this is what Britain looks like.

We believe that the fundamental choice at this election is: who does this country work for? Does it work only for those at the very top or does it work for working people – those trying to make ends meet, working in British businesses across the country to create wealth and support their families?

A symbol of the failure of this Government’s economic plan is the proliferation of zero hour contracts which has helped fuel the low wage, low skill economy that is letting down working people and letting down Britain.

Britain only succeeds when working people succeed. We need a better plan for prosperity. We need a better plan and a better future. We need a Labour Government to put working people first.

The letter instigated a media furore and I was asked to take part in a very positive interview with Clive Myrie on the BBC News Channel at 8.30pm on Monday 1st April. I managed to get across the fact that whilst the previous Labour administration had not managed to slow the damaging gap between rich and poor at least the current Labour Party was talking about these issues and making commitments to a fairer society (which to me ultimately means a happier society) and that whilst the Zero Hours contract is fairly small fry in economic terms it was a start and it did emotively raise the issue of inequality. I spoke about how my families morals that had instilled in me the belief that we were supposed to try and leave this world a better place than we found it and yet the current government were presiding over an economy that was leaving a generation worse off than its parents for the first time ever and that opportunities for those born to poorer parents were worse than previous generations.

Then my world was turned upside down and I was reminded how by saying something you care about you open yourself up to attack by the media who don’t care about facts and just want a story.

The Independent (a paper who I thought took more care about getting their facts right) published this article (http://ind.pn/1CeFFq4);

Wayne Hemingway, a designer, is among the business leaders who signed the letter, but his company – Hemingway Design –advertised for a 20-hour-a-week internship for “expenses only”, The Independent has discovered.

Meanwhile, labourers working on his project to renovate Dreamland in Margate were employed on zero-hours contracts.

In the letter, signatories describe the rise of the controversial working arrangement as “a symbol of the failure of this Government’s economic plan” and claim they have fuelled a “low wage, low skill economy that is letting down working people”.

The letter, which has also been sent to the Guardian, says only a Labour government will “put working people first”.

Labour claimed the letter was proof that it “commands support from all walks of life – because Britain, and British business, succeeds when working people succeed”.

I contacted the Independent and stated the facts but as I write this still have not had a conclusive reply .

Hello Matt, Andrew, Amol, Denise.

I wanted to get in touch re your article published online today that I was at the butt of.

I want to begin by separating the issue of zero hour contracts and short term internships / work experience for students – which we have offered in the past and continue to do so.  Zero hours contracts are very different subject matter from the internships we provide and to combine these issues is quite frankly simpleminded and misleading.

You need to get your facts right and not resort to lazy and spurious journalism which is leading to much stress and a series of malevolent articles in other papers. What is your advice as to how we deal with all the false accusations (“zero-hours boss”) that are resulting from your article… The BBC has since acknowledged their unsuitable coverage and I would like a response from you!?

We have provided expenses only and paid internships as an integral part of a student’s degree. We are enabling not exploiting people who come here on internships and giving young people opportunity!  The internship you quote was from two years ago is NOT a zero hour contract!

We do not have anyone on zero hour’s contracts! Three of our full time, long term team started as student interns. Their talent was spotted!

Re Dreamland… This is not our project, we have no shareholding, no management roles and we are employed (NOT employers) purely and simply as designers on the scheme. You really should be doing your homework or at least some homework!

We have received a flood support via email and on social media, all extremely negative about the Independent’s approach to the piece – We await your reply.

Wayne Hemingway

The wider press had waded in and series of copycat and misleading articles and broadcasts have been published. First the BBC in an interview on the BBC NEWS Channel followed the exact same line without checking the facts and the presenter did not understand the difference between zero hours and internships. I had been asked to go onto the programme to explain why I backed Labour in the signing of this letter. He didn’t seem to want to listen or let me explain about businesses being more caring, about the international empirical evidence that more equal societies in terms of the difference between haves and have not’s achieving higher life satisfaction levels that including lower crime rates and higher educational achievements. I managed to get some of it in but only by going on the offensive myself.

The Evening Standard contacted us to find out the facts but still printed what The Independent said. Well of course that gave them something to hide behind and another story to try and get at someone. Then along comes the Daily Mail with a big headline Zero Hours Boss .Well that nasty publication couldn’t give a damn about a totally false, wrong and hurtful headline.

For all of us at HemingwayDesign involved in trying to make sense of this it was a day of negativity, a wasted day when so much of the good projects that we are proud to be part had to take a back seat because of unfair and totally incorrect journalism. It will probably cost us in terms of loss of goodwill and contracts.

The only ray of positivity is that we got dozens of supportive emails and social media posts that came into our channels, which we may publish and some point, and only one nasty one (but even that one hurts in these circumstances).

The bottom line though is that the valid and important messages I signed up to help get across were not allowed to come out. The Independent by getting their facts wrong triggered off a barrage of abuse aimed at me.

Antballet1

I was asked to take part in a debate at the annual Event Production Show at Kensington Olympia, the premise being that what with posh loos, glamping and VIP areas, festivals are losing touch with their DNA.

My view is clear on this.

Posh loos…yes please I don’t want to do my daily in filth and surely it is not just black and white in that Portaloo equals affordable and the others put ticket prices up? Is it not a design issue whereby Portaloo providers are lazily peddling a dated product that requires design and innovation input?

For all those that sneer at glamping then go to a festival that is community based and not about maximising profit, there are plenty providing these (including ones like our Vintage by The Sea). Yes many festivals now try to ring out profit from every angle and in every nook and cranny of the event from the festival goer but that is the nature of the world we live in, but you can choose to go to events that are not that way inclined.

The debate got dragged into the question of “is the proliferation of festivals and the widening of the meaning of festival damaging the concept?” What a load of old baloney! To me the concept of festival is a celebration of people getting together and enjoying a shared passion or interest. Did the word not come from a day of celebrating a religion? Our Festival of Thrift is a festival but it is not about watching bloomin’ Kasabian or the god-awful Mumford and Sons in a muddy field.

Food festivals, like Jamie Oliver’s one on Alex James’ farm came under attack and were robustly defended by its owner who also owns Taste of London. My view was bring them on and could I suggest Bad Taste of London where the food was all by the likes of Chicken Cottage and Kebbabish and the music was headlined by Peter Andre.

Harvey Goldsmith was on the panel. He said told us about Pestival. “A mobile arts festival examining insect – human interactivity”.

Pestival sound great to me and I want to watch Mosquito Coast on the big screen Adam and the Ants, The Bees, The Spiders from Mars and obviously what’s left of the Beatles should reform for this one.

– Wayne Hemingway

Spirit Buses Founder Stev 012
Spirit buses founder Steve Hurst at the depot in Rothbury from where they operate two buses on routes across rural Northumberland. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

As more than half the world’s population live in towns and cities (many of us in cities like London with great public transport systems) and it’s easy to forget, how difficult to get around it can be for people in rural areas and without access to their own car.

I have just been staying with my mum in Garstang between Lancaster and Preston. Garstang, a town and immediate surrounds with a population of around 7000, is very close to the West Coast rail mainline, but lost it station post Beeching cuts.

So I have a choice of getting off the train at Preston or Lancaster and then either hiring a car or getting a bus. Whilst it’s a faff (hence nudging me to empty my mind in this blog) the bus service is far from a disaster.

Garstang whilst being deprived of the convenience that is the train is better served than many rural areas and we should all support initiatives like Steve Hunt’s bold and public spirited bus initiative in Northumberland. This says it all:

“Bus driver Steve Hurst, 29, set up Spirit Buses, having spotted a “gap that’s long needed filling”. Growing up in the market town of Rothbury it was impossible to go to the cinema in nearby Alnwick without getting a lift from his parents. Though just 12 miles away as the crow flies, the journey by bus took a whopping two-and-a-half hours, requiring a change at Morpeth in completely the wrong direction. Friends in the hamlets of Snitter, Alwinton and Harbottle weren’t even that lucky – no buses at all ran through their villages.”

It is worth reading the full story of this young man’s public spiritedness and what he has done and is sacrificing to serve his community. I hope the community support Spirit Buses.

Whilst it won’t get much of a mention (if at all) in the run up to the General Election, Labour have recognised rural transport as being an important driver of quality of life. Michael Dugher, the shadow Transport Secretary, told The Independent in this article:

“Like the energy market, the bus market is broken. Developing a thriving not-for-profit sector is one way Labour will rebalance our bus market. The significant development of not-for-profit model will help city and county regions break the stranglehold that the big private bus operators currently have. There is a proud and growing British tradition of community transport in the UK. It is a sector that serves both rural and urban areas, often operating in areas the commercial operators have turned their back on. In government, Labour will ensure that communities cannot be held to ransom by operators threatening to pull buses and cut services.”

Politics and politicians that recognise issues like this, issues that are often referred to “micro issues” should be applauded. But, it is down to the Steve Hirst’s of this world and then ultimately us, the public, to support these initiatives (in doing so support those without access to a car).

To me this is the kind of  “big society” thinking that Cameron promised to support and seems to have drifted right off his agenda.

– Wayne Hemingway