Archive for November, 2014


We talk a lot about how many homes there are in the UK. We know we urgently need to build more affordable homes in the right locations because they’re essential for a balanced, productive and happy society. But we talk a lot less about what kind of homes we need to build.

We need to think much more about the ‘liveability’ of the homes we are building – are they meeting the needs of everyone in our society? In the UK, five million people have a mobility problem, and there are simply not enough suitable homes which are accessible and ‘disabled-friendly’.

With minimal regulation in the housing sector, the constant drive to increase profits means that new homes in the UK are the smallest in Europe with an average floor space of 76 square metres compared to 137 square metres in Denmark, which tops the table.

This doesn’t just mean we have less space to hang our clothes, stack our books and entertain our friends – it also means that 95 per cent of homes in the UK are inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair.

Poor quality housing is a risk for all of us. We have an ageing population and every year, more than 800,000 of us become disabled as a result of an accident, a progressive health condition or a sudden illness. When this happens many people’s homes can become a prison.

Very often disabled people’s houses can’t be adapted to meet their needs. Grab rails, stairlifts and wet rooms can’t be installed because they aren’t built to the right standards – the stairs aren’t wide enough, the walls aren’t strong enough and there’s not enough space for a wheelchair to turn.

As a result, those who can get through their front door – and many wheelchair users can’t – face having to sleep in their living room, wash in their kitchen sink and use a commode in the hallway.

There are at least 300,000 disabled people trapped on housing waiting lists across Great Britain waiting to get out of their desperate situations but unfortunately there is nowhere for them to go because we aren’t building the right types of homes to meet a growing demand.

Inaccessible housing isn’t just an unfortunate inconvenience. When people’s homes aren’t accessible it’s often dangerous for them to live in them. People risk slipping in bathrooms without grab rails and hoists, falling down stairs with no stair lift or scalding themselves in kitchens where they can’t reach the kettle properly. Poor housing costs the health service around £600 million every year.

We must act now to ensure the homes we build today are fit for tomorrow.

That’s why I’m supporting Leonard Cheshire Disability’s call for national government to make Lifetime Homes the minimum standards for all new-builds by 2020 and to ensure that 10% of new homes are fully wheelchair-accessible.

Homes built to Lifetime Homes standards are pre-loaded with accessible features – level access to the property, wider doors to ensure that wheelchairs can pass through, stronger walls so that grab rails and hoists can be installed and a bathroom at entry level.

Investing in disabled-friendly housing makes sense. It helps disabled people to live with dignity, reduces pressure on the NHS and care services and means disabled people can make the same choices as everyone else about where to live and work.

We need to build more than one million homes over the next decade, and it’s essential that big developers don’t stand in the way of them being one million disabled-friendly homes.

Not only do we need more homes, but we need these to be the right homes for all.


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I was first invited over to Derry-Londonderry in 2012 to advice on the build up to their City of Culture 2013 year. A city this small (population 150,000) had been brave in bidding to become the UK’s first City of Culture (and the choice of Derry had been equally brave by the panel of judges) and in 2012 Derry was still a way from having everything in place and was clearly ambitious to deliver a special year for its residents, the wider area and for the national and international visitors who would be attracted by the concept of City of Culture. Am sure it’s the same for everyone, but on my first visit I was struck by how welcoming Derry folk are and intrigued by the myriad layers of history including the history of conflict that I had grown up watching on the news. There were still issues. Shortly before my first visit a letter bomb had damaged the Culture Company offices and forced them out to another location. There were forces at work still hell bent on making life difficult.

The City of Culture got the creative community talking, its ambition became infectious, abandoned and once bombed buildings were seen as opportunities. People talked of a renaissance of the shirt making industry (Derry once led the world in shirt making with 18,000 employed in production) and opened pop up exhibitions and artistic interpretations in the grand old shirt factories.

2013 was an unqualified success with more than 400 events delivering in excess of 1 million audience. It played host to some of the largest national events including the Turner Prize and Radio One Big Weekend. It contributed £130m investment in capital infrastructure and £20m in cultural programming. A survey of external perceptions of Derry~Lononderry showed strong agreement that the City of Culture 2013 had improved Northern Ireland’s reputation as a tourist destination. Bingo!

Returning in November 2014 I met up with the team who had worked so hard to make 2013 such a resounding success and found the city in rude health and the team energised and confidently building a real legacy. The city was looking magnificent, spotless and my run across the Peace Bridge, through Ebrington Square and along the new riverside walkways as first light lit up an eerily flat River Foyle was so uplifting that I am planning to come back and run to the beaches next time (maybe the Derry Marathon in May?)

The city was hosting its First Fashion Festival and I visited the brand new Fashion Hub that had just opened in a long term abandoned historic building. The Derry Fashion Hub is a wonderfully though out facility that is exactly what our town centres need. A space for young designers to work, be mentored and be able to access the kind of machinery and facilities (not to say visibility) that they could not hope to own in their studios. It’s a place to swap ideas and feel part of an industry rather than that lonely and often debilitating situation of working in isolation as so many young designers have to. The Fashion Hub and its incubator units is the perfect stepping stone from design education into starting a business and is just one of the wonderful legacies that City of Culture 2013 bequeathed to the good folk of Derry.

The future is not going to be easy with the increasing squeeze on public finances and the EU monies are not flowing as freely (but the EU has been a real help in aiding regeneration in places like Derry that with its recent “troubles” is so deserving of outside help) but it is clear that Derry has a group of leaders and a population who know now that they can deliver and have developed and are developing skills that will ensure an ever brighter future.

I urge you all to go and experience a city with a fascinating history and a very bright future.

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Some of my favourite pop songs ever have been written by the truly great Bob Marley. Family road trips were spent with Bob Marley and the Wailers tapes playing for hours with the kids singing along. Waiting in Vain, Exodus, Is this Love, Get up Stand Up, I Shot the Sheriff and many more are true classics that generation after generation have and will continue to enjoy.

Now his family are behind a licence deal for Bob Marley.

“Seattle-based Privateer Holdings announced Tuesday it has reached a licensing deal with Marley’s heirs to offer marijuana strains, including ones famed in Jamaica, where regulations permit by late 2015. It also plans to sell weed-infused lotions, creams and various accessories.”

“My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herb,” – Miami-based Cedella Marley said in a company statement. She’s the eldest daughter of the music legend who died of cancer in 1981 and is Jamaica’s most iconic figure.

Read more about it here http://bigstory.ap.org/article/39ac28a772bf4739b4de41d26f4a6da4/bob-marley-heirs-join-us-firm-launch-pot-brand

So is the Bob Marley most recognisable legacy about to become that of a hero to cannabis users and just a rasta man on the front of a Camden t-shirt smoking pot rather than a brilliant songwriter and musician? It is possible that Bob Marley becomes a caricature and it is totally possible for his record sales to be affected negatively as a result.


Come on Marley family, have a rethink. This is possible commercial suicide as well as destructive to the legacy of a great man.

There is a great article in the guardian about this http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/20/bob-marley-legacy-cannabis-smoke-reggae-dopeheads

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I was reading an article this weekend about how The Bad Boys Bakery in Brixton Prison was having success in terms of rehabilitating offenders and that the government is trying to “revolutionise” rehabilitation. Whilst this commercial bakery operating out of HMP Brixton is small with only room for 20 people working (out of a total number of 740 inmates) the re offending figures of just 3% for those that have trained in the kitchen compared to over 40% who haven’t has to be a continued pointer that giving people skills and something to fill their lives has to be better than just “banging up” offenders and giving them little opportunity to be productive human beings. There is definitely something in the saying “The Devil finds work for idle hands”. Perhaps the best news is that over a third of those who have been part of The Bad Boys Bakery have found employment soon after their release.


My youngest daughter is doing some work with Fine Cell Work, a social enterprise that works with prisoners in producing detailed embroidery on cushions, quilts, gifts whilst in their cells. Unlike Bad Boys Bakery I requires far less investment in terms of equipment and has really longevity having started in 1997.


None of these prison manufacturing initiatives receive significant negative press. Society has started to does the concept of offender rehabilitation.

It was very different though in 1994 when with our first brand Red or Dead we developed our first proper work wear collection. With a combination of clever marketing (the history of work wear is wrapped up in the US prison system) and our strong social conscience we approached maximum security prison Full Sutton in York to see if they could make a range we, perhaps, cheekily called it Keyhole Clothing.


Red or Dead Press (3) Red or Dead Press (4)

Full Sutton prison was home to some of the UK’s most dangerous and notorious prisoners and when the press got hold of the story that we were manufacturing there we were pilloried in the less enlightened (tabloid) media. Even our young kids were “door stopped” and asked, “what do you think about your mum and dad supporting murderers?”


Our Keyhole Clothing range and our political statements on the catwalk resulted in the media running headlines such as ‘Bloody Disgrace’ whilst our following from a cool enlightened public continued to grow and the Hemingway DNA for social design became cemented in people’s minds.


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