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Archive for February, 2015

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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

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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

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Last week I was tasked with giving a talk on: “Bravery and a can do attitude” at the Somerset County Council’s Staff Awards. The premise being that with all the cutbacks in central government funding, these are hard times for councils. It is a subject matter that is close to my heart and something that is sadly lacking not just in the public sector, but in a fair number of those in the private sector that serve the public sector and their paymasters in the private sector. We all bemoan the paucity of decent design in the vast majority of the new housing estates that have been built in the past 4 decades or so. How many times do we have to sit in a miserable hospital waiting room or feel deflated at how uninspiring that sheltered housing scheme is where a beloved relation is living out their final years? How many times do we look at some new public landscape and think what a bleedin’ waste of money? Just about all of those crappy buildings, public spaces and interiors will have had significant input from architects and designers all of whom (assuming they have any understanding of good design) have lacked bravery in debating and standing up to a client that doesn’t understand the value of good design and will have lacked a can do attitude in being creative with tight budgets. What is the point of being a designer if all you are doing is earning a wage and you don’t care about the outcome? AtHemingwayDesign we have a firm philosophy that “design is about improving things that matter in life” and it is this mantra that continues to ensure that we are brave and we “can do” and that drives a very healthy bottom line. Gerardine (wife of 32 years and design partner for 34) were brave in moving from our native Lancashire when we were teenagers with no plans other than to see what “that there London” could offer. Without staff, without a factory to make her clothes, Gerardine was extremely brave to take a very large order from Macy’s New York for her first collection that up to then she been sewing herself whilst sat behind her portable sewing machine in her stall in Kensington Market in the early 80s. To grow Red or Dead into a fashion brand with shops all around the world without backing, with a team of young unqualified enthusiastic can doers was a hoot as well as being brave. We have since been fortunate to have been involved in a number of schemes that echo the attributes that enabled us to build our brand and then sell it for such a healthy sum! The first that comes to mind is Bournemouth Councils bravery in commissioning for the run down district of Boscombe, the world’s second only surf reef and employing designers (including HemingwayDesign) to bring back to life the mid-century overstrand and pier. Cries of waste of money went up from the media and the usual suspects. The surf reef was untested technology lo and behold the surf reef failed to generate decent waves, then broke and the New Zealand construction company went bust. But, you know what in the meantime the investment paid off, Boscombe seafront is nothing less than transformed and the coolest and arguably the liveliest bit of beach in the area. The surf reef is about to be fixed as well! From the bravery of Freebridge Housing standing up to the naysayers of Kings Lynn who said that their Hillington Square housing scheme should be demolished (the sustainable reimagining that we have led on is now loved by the town) to the project that we are most proud of, The Staiths South Bankin Gateshead, it is clear that bravery and a can do attitude can turn a sows ear into a silk purse. The early years in the development of the Staiths were full of debate and arguments over “secured by design”, “homezones”, “communal barbeques”, “the table tennis tables in the streets”, “shared pocket parks”, “cycle routes” and “restrictions on car ownership”. We really were questioning accepted practice and Gerardine and I were also being questioned by many architects and planners as to our suitability for the project. “Q. What could a couple of fashion designers know about housing? A. We have bloomin’ well lived in them for 4 decades each and we care about the quality of life!” We didn’t let any of the flak get to us, we proved the police wrong in their belief that we were designing crime “in” rather than designing crime “out” by placing all the parking down gable ends rather than in view of residents houses. We proved the council wrong by getting rid of all wheelie bins and forcing residents to communally dispose of waste (no, the development has not become covered in litter) and no, the local youth haven’t barbecued the neighbour’s cat on the communal barbeques. Our current, most challenging and most exciting project is Dreamland Margate and if there is a braver regeneration project in the UK with so many can do folk involved then please point me in the right direction. From Heritage Lottery, to Thanet Council, to The Dreamland Trust and the Margate community that support it to Sands Heritage Ltd who will run the park everyone is taking risks and going with flow and all for the public good. It is this can do attitude from creative minds that have taken The Mitte District in Berlin, Williamsburg and now wider Brooklyn in New York, Hackney Wick and are transforming the Baltic Quarter in Liverpool and the old town in Margate and making them such hot spots (if these are examples of gentrification then bring gentrification on please). And the councils that have allowed pianos and table tennis tables to populate our public spaces: well I salute you for your bravery and supporting those who say “try this”. – Wayne Hemingway

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The Staiths Southbank Gateshead 5

Today I am a very proud man. I am up in Newcastle – Gateshead to do a talk and also visit our favourite project of our careers The Staiths South Bank housing development. The development is nearly finished, is looking and living wonderfully and today is the opening of the community shop run by two residents on the estate. The café looks great, the food is great and its uplifting to hear how much the community are supporting it. Hopefully now that the riverside Sustrans cycle way is fully open they will get many more casual passers-by as the weather warms up.

The owners of the café put on a great spread at the opening and had as few tasty Panini’s left at the end. Hating to see waste and knowing that breakfast in the hotel I was staying in was £13.50 I decided to take one back to the hotel.

The next morning I ran the 7 miles or so along the Tyne to the historic pedestrian tunnel with a view to getting the Metro back from the other side only to find that it was closed for refurbishment. Rather than fiddle about trying to find another form of public transport I decided to run back. After completing more than a half marathon I was ready for some hot food and not a cold Panini!

I still couldn’t bring myself to spend £13.50 when I had some food in the minibar fridge so I decided to “live the dream”. Having never had the need to use a Corby Trouser Press for their intended use (how many times do your trousers get that creased?) I have always wondered how hot they get, could you cook on one. So leaving the Panini in its brown paper bag I switched the trouser press on and placed the said bagged Panini between the two faces of the press and closed it. Within a few minutes the room was filled with the aroma of pesto and mozzarella and warm ciabatta. It tasted fresh, delicious and was possibly my most satisfying breakfast in living memory.

When I book a hotel from now on I will be checking that they have Corby Trouser Presses.

– Wayne Hemingway

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