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Archive for March, 2014

At the end of last month I attended The Annual Open Meeting of the London Cultural Strategy Group at City Hall, London. The heads of most of London’s cultural institutions were there and one of the key discussions centered on that lack of and increasing loss of affordable space for creative and artists to operate out of. The concern about London’s high cost of living, and increasing lack of affordable housing was discussed and described as another threat to London’s position as the world’s preeminent creative city. There was talk about investigating and investing in opportunities in the suburbs.

I left the meeting and my mind was whirring. I couldn’t help thinking that the affordability crisis that is gripping London is not suddenly going to end anytime soon. There may be more affordable studio opportunities in some of London’s suburbs but the cost of accommodation is often still a burden that can stymie the chance to get creative careers off the ground. And nagging at me is the fact surely there is room outside London for creativity to flourish in mutually supportive clusters. London is a great city, but it doesn’t “own” and never should “own” the nations creativity.

At Hemingway Design we have spent the last year working on the Dreamland, Margate project and have been observing a growing creative community in Margate, fueled by evocative cost effective work spaces, a highly desirable housing stock at between 25 % and 33% of inner suburban London prices, sandy beaches and rail connection in High Speed 1 that has and is continuing to reduce travel times into St Pancras into a manageable 90 minutes. Every time I go to Margate another cool independent café, guest house, gallery, gift or vintage shop has opened. Stunning buildings that have languished neglected for decades are being thoughtfully brought into the 21st century. Margate is on the first section of a road that Brighton took to becoming a vibrant creative satellite to London. Brighton as well as being a wonderful standalone city serves London giving our capital city a seaside lung that has the cultural buzz that makes London such a draw to the world’s creative class. Epson with its dynamic University for The Creative Arts is showing signs of becoming a significant creative satellite to London.

History is on the side of this concept. London is recognised as the city where there punk movement was instigated (but don’t tell that to New Yorkers!) punk would never have flourished without The Bromley Contingent. The Bromley Contingent consisted if Souixie Sioux, Jordan, Soo Catwoman, Billy Idol. Phillip Salon and Steve Severin are all “faces” that dominated the early punk photography. In the Soul Boy days of the late 70s the movement centered on towns like Romford (with its iconic Lacy Lady nightclub).

The concept of creative satellites is starting to be discussed in the book, ‘The Creative Class Goes Global’ Edited by Charlotta Mellander, Richard Florida, Bjørn T. Asheim and Meric Gertler – where it is written:

“In the Danish Copenhagen and Aarhus regions, only the part of the creative class with high purchasing power or those with low expectations of living standards (the bohemians such as artists) live in Copenhagen or Aarhus proper while the rest of the creative classes tend to cluster in small provincial towns or commuter towns around the central hubs.”

My gut feeling is that we cannot wait for someone to wave a magic wand of affordability and unless we start to discuss and encourage creative satellites to cluster around London, then the city may start to lose its mantle as the world’s most creative city.

By Wayne Hemingway

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Often media hype goes right over the top and I for one turn off. This week’s announcement that Kate Bush is to play her first string of live dates since 1979 has sent the media into overdrive from front pages to the leader pages to the columnists, it’s akin to the second coming of the messiah.

As someone who finds it hard to think of a more influential artist than Kate Bush, I consider the media frenzy to be more than justified.

The one article that really took my eye was by the always interesting, Deborah Orr, in the Guardian. She says “One of my best parenting achievements? I’ve raised a son who is a Kate Bush fan.”   

Well, Deborah, I don’t think you are the only one who has raised Kate Bush fans. I have four grown up children who would all like to go with mum and dad to watch Kate Bush in August or September (alas I doubt if we can get 6 tickets for one concert and actually doubt if we will get tickets at all.) All our kids have been brought up on a soundtrack of soul, funk, disco, punk, new wave and indie and I can’t ever remember playing a Kate Bush album to them, so they have not been force fed Kate.

You only have to hear Running up That Hill or Babooska once on the radio and you’re hooked, coerced into finding out more.

What is it about Kate Bush that creates all this multi-generational excitement? To me it’s simple. Unforced, diligently crafted, intelligent music that “gets” art, style, creativity and doesn’t care about chart placing’s or vast profit generation will almost always be timeless. This is the essence of “vintage” as a concept.

Kate Bush is of a very fine vintage indeed.

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1960's, Panama, Hilton Hotel, Modern Achitecture, Colour Postcard, Worl Travel

As we are all aware many young people are being increasingly priced out of housing and the levels of home ownership are at their lowest levels for 25 years. I have just been reading ‘Eight fascinating facts from the English housing survey‘ on the Guardian Housing Network blog. It throws up some real concerns. Some of the key facts are:

1. More people are now renting privately than socially

The number of people renting from a private landlord (4 million) overtook those renting from a council or a housing association (3.7 million) for the first time.

2. Private landlord rents are significantly higher than council homes or those provided by housing associations

3. Damp is a far more common problem in privately rented home

Nearly one in 10 (9.3%) privately rented homes has a problem with damp, more than twice the average across all house types (4.3%). Owner occupied homes have the least instances of damp (2.6%), followed by housing association properties (4.4%) and council housing (6.5%).

Doesn’t this point to one thing, that we need to build more council and social housing? But how does it get funded? Well when I read things like this – I suggest taxing every home that the likes Candy and Candy sell to overseas investors on a massive scale and putting into a ring fenced fund to build council housing. I have not done the maths, but every little helps. 

By Wayne Hemingway

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It is very easy to sit back and criticise the big energy suppliers, easy to accuse them of ripping the British public off. But surely the answer isn’t ‘big brother’ style regulation or years of tit for tat media haranguing, with the energy companies simply claiming that they are “doing everything they can”.

Can’t a better answer come from placing power in the hands of a fully informed consumer? As a designer, I feel that this kind of solution could come from the principles of design.

Design is finally enjoying its day in the sun: it is rightly recognised as a must have, rather than a nice to have. The recent launch of a website that aims to bring the creative industries together and make it easy for the world to access our world leading sector was launched on the same day that the government announced that the creative industries were worth £71bn to the UK economy.

The creative economy has the fasted growth in employment (adding 144,000 extra people in the previous year alone) and is the fasted growing sector of the UK economy in terms of exports.

This growth isn’t just coming from a fashion, TV production and the film industry but also from design and designers improving quality of life for ordinary citizen. As a trustee of the Design Council I see first hand how public issues can be tackled by thinking about design. The Design Council’s current work in reducing violence and aggression in hospital A&E departments is certainly worth reading about. From my own work in affordable housing, it’s clear that design can really improve things that matter in life.

So how might design help us to tackle the energy crisis? I would always start with the consumer, and in this case look carefully at why the public does not trust the energy companies that supply them.

Some of this mistrust and anger comes from the wider difficulties in people’s lives: there is a proven squeezing on incomes at a time when energy prices are rising. When criticised, energy companies have retreated into their shells. It’s as if – once excitement about wind turbines was drowned by the nimbys – the energy companies have gone silent on innovation.

We need to put the consumer back in charge of their energy usage and to make it easy for them to take control. Energy meters were supposed to do this, but where’s the fun in that? It’s a boring tool that switches people off.

As consumers we have devolved our meter reading to the energy companies. We allow the supplier to tell us what we have used. That’s counter intuitive. Surely we as consumers should understand our consumption and understand how we can effect it?

We simply need exciting and well designed tools to nudge us into action. A leaf could be taken from the very successful car industry which has been transparent in explaining how to reduce our fuel consumption.

Many consumers clearly need reminding that filling a kettle to the top to make a single cup of tea makes that cuppa incredibly expensive. Put a creative design mind with a kettle manufacturer and my money is on a solution that would engage and create fun for the public. You can extend this thinking to a myriad of appliances in the house, in the same way that the provenance of our food and our cosmetics plays an important role in our choices.

The public is interested in design. It is interested in technology, and very interested in having more money to spend on anything but energy. If, through better design, we can achieve a level of public intrigue in where their energy comes from then the investment in harnessing what Britain has in abundance – latent tidal power and further evolution of its first forays into wind power – can garner the funding they need.

Add creative marketing nouse and a good designer’s ability to create engaging responses to all these engineering innovations out there and we can start to stimulate the public to act.

Can designers help energy companies change a war of attrition into a partnership with citizens? It’s worth giving us a try.

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Office

Wayne Hemingway 26th February 2014 – from a conversation in response to the focal question….

The Younger Generation

The signs are already there about what is changing, and that is that the nature of work. There is growing realisation and proof that we’re in an economy where there’s a generation that is not earning as much as previous generations. There are plenty of facts out there that point to a stagnation and in many cases a decline in disposable income, and many experts are stating that this is not about to change in a hurry. This is coupled with the fact that quality of life was not discussed as much back in the 80s and 90s as it is now, and we have a situation where we have a generation that are not as (nor can they be as) money orientated as my generation was They are choosing a more social life, and choosing ways to achieve that. There are all sorts of ways that that will continue, such as the Scandinavian led way of men having decent parental leave, the welcome growth in parity between the sexes as to who is expected to be the bread-winner and the more equal sharing of child care responsibilities.

There is also a growth in “portfolio careers “where either through choice or by necessity people have a number of jobs and careers within careers
Because of all these people want and need more flexibility in how they work.

Home vs Office

What’s not changing, contrary to what a lot of people think, is the myth that everybody wants to work at home and that the office is an outmoded concept. People might not want to be in the office 5 days a week, but certainly want to be there more often than not. They don’t want to be tied their 9 to 5, 5 days a week, but equally want to feel that they belong. It’s a matter of getting the balance between being able to work anywhere, which is a bonus of modern technology, but not losing that ability to sit and have fun and chat, physically, with your fellow man and woman. The line between home life being social, and work being nose to the grindstone is blurring more and more. Social media has changed the world. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram are used for work and private – we use the same social media apps and websites for work and our social lives. Facebook, Twitter et al, all started out as personal social entities, but most businesses use them as tools now, so staff have them open on the screens without fear!

Everything is blurring. Our parents’ generation would put on a suit in the morning and set off to putting their personal life behind them when they got to the office. And at 5:30 their personal life would start again. Those strict timings and separation of work / home are unlikely to return. And the office has to reflect that – not just in the way its set out, but also the rules, how its run and what’s allowed.

Technology and Work/Life Integration

Many use technology to enhance their life not control it. Some fail in this respect and in the same way as becoming addicted to cigarettes or drugs, control is lost. Many of us have challenges in getting the balance right but we have to strive to achieve what’s best for ourselves, our families, our work You’ve got to be able to get that balance right – and obviously not everyone can.

I left the office in London today at 1:45 and headed to my home on the south coast, because it’s a beautiful sunny day and I want to go for a run with my dog on the beach. I’ve been able to work on the train and I’ll have my phone strapped to my arm as I go for the run along the beach. The phone’s there more for emergencies – what I won’t be doing is stopping to look at my emails. And when I get back home my son will be home from school, I’ll cook some dinner and we’ll have that together. We’ll have a chat, stick the footy on telly, and I’ll put my feet up on the sofa, open the laptop and catch up on the work I could have been doing while I was out running with the dog. And I won’t feel guilty – I’ll feel I’ve got that balance exactly right. I ran when the sun was up and I am inside at home half an eye on footy, with my lads company, when the sun has gone down.That’s the nature of new work, life balance and what technology is allowing me to do.

The Future Office

What is office of the future? I think we designed one iteration of an office of the future 15 years ago when we sold Red or Dead and we’re still in that now. It’s certainly not futuristic. We decided to do it in a suburban house so it felt like you were going into a home. We kept the garden looking like a garden and have a big outside work table with Wi-Fi so in summer anyone can work out there. A meeting area is part of a large kitchen where people are encouraged to cook and make things while people are in meetings. Until we needed larger meeting table, for the first 10 year, meeting table itself contained two teppanyaki hot plates with the idea was that you could stick a bit of grub on and cook it whilst you were in a meeting.

Most people can make their home so comfortable, cool and welcoming very afford-ably, because the retailers have allowed us to achieve that. The office has to keep up, because what you don’t want is a world where people choose to work at home because their office is so shit. People want the same comfort that they would have at home, a place to store their stuff, personal space and for it to be a place to belong to a community and be able to take part in a community.

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