Arts and politicians

29th April 2015

What’s wrong with Labour’s policy on the Arts?

logo election 2015

In 2011 we reported on the visit to Leicester of Labour’s Ed Miliband.

“The creative industries are vitally important for the economic recovery of the UK, ” said Labour Leader Ed Miliband, in Leicester today to rally the local troops behind Jon Ashworth, candidate for the Leicester South by-election. Answering a question from ArtsIn editor Trevor Locke, Mr. Miliband acknowledged that the arts generally and the creative industries in particular were important for economic growth and the UK was able to attract industry on a global basis.
Trevor Locke explained to him that Leicester stands out in the UK as a centre for the development of creative industry but that the hustings, currently taking place in the run-up to the elections on 5th May, had not focused on this issue.

Ed was keen to point out that Labour Policy does support the Arts and does see the potential contribution it can make both for economic development and for its own sake.

When he asked Trevor Locke why he thought that there was a problem with Labour’s Arts policy, Trevor commented “It’s just not getting through in the hustings that are taking place here right now”.

“Leicester stands out nationally for its culture, arts and creative industries and more could be done to put our city on the map”, Trevor said. “If the politicians are not talking about this, maybe its because they lack a firm programme”, he said.

Speaking at a meeting of invited guests, Mr. Miliband expressed his support for the work of De Montfort University in developing key projects which would have a bearing on the future of Leicester.

Looking relaxed and confident, the Labour Leader fielded a broad range of questions from party activists, people from the local community who might not have been Labour voters and students from Leicester schools and colleges.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, standing the middle of the room in his shirt sleeves, on this warm and sunny afternoon, rather than from behind a rostrum,  said this was an informal opportunity for people to get up close to the Leader of the Opposition and listen to his views on a wide variety of topics, as he answered questions from people in the room.

Responding to a question from Geoff Rowe, of the Big Difference company and Leicester Comedy Festival, Mr. Miliband said that the 2012 Olympics would offer opportunities for people in the regions to get involved.

He commented that sport is one of the UK’s leading exports and hoped that British Athlete’s would come away from London with a respectable collection of medals.

So what does Labour have to say about policies for the Arts? See Mayoral Candidate Peter Soulsby’s manifesto. 17 pages long … try searching for the word “arts”.

To be fair, it does include the commitment “Explore the possibility of making a bid for the 2017 ‘UK City of Culture’.” and “Continue to support small arts organisations in our City … “. Labour will ” … also support Leicester’s strengths in the creative industries. ”

We have not yet seen a manifesto for Leicester South conservative candidate Jane Hunt.

Gary Hunt is standing in Leicester for the office of Elected Mayor. Speaking on the BBC Mayoral Hustings at CURVE, he made a point of raising a wide range of specific local issues but the arts was not one of them. Zuffar Haq is the Lib-Dems parliamentary candidate in Leicester South.

A trawl through the web sites of these politicians reveals that none of them have anything to say about arts issues, including the all-important key topic of support for our local creative industries.

[Arts in Leicester magazine, 19th April 2011]

Also, in 2011 we ran a news story on some work that Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth had been doing:

Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth featured in Arts in Leicester magazine

Ashworth hosts summit in bid to make Leicester top destination for music acts and bands and promote Leicester’s talent

Leicester South MP, and keen music fan, Jon Ashworth MP working with Leicester Shire Promotions is hosting a ‘summit’ dinner in the House of Commons, today in a bid to promote Leicester as top destination for big band and major music acts.

Jon Ashworth MP said “I’ve always been a big fan of music and I see no reason why we can’t attract more high profile bands and major music acts to Leicester in the same way Birmingham and Nottingham attract major acts

“That’s why I’ve teamed up with Martin Peters of Leicester Shire Promotions and pulled together this summit in the House of Commons this week with major figures from the music industry to bang the drum for Leicester and tell them what we can offer and at the same time promote Leicester’s music scene and our local talent as well.

“Given our large student population and with venues like the O2 Academy, De Montfort Hall plus our two stadiums, we should be able to get major bands and acts to come to Leicester when on tour.

“I hope this summit will be a chance to discuss how we get more acts to Leicester as well as look at how we make it more viable for those venues to put on the acts”, Mr Ashworth told us.

Those attending the summit will be representatives from the Leicester Alliance of Music Promoters; O2 Academy; De Montfort Hall; The Auditorium; City Council and Coda Music Agency. From the national music industry attending the summit dinner will be representatives of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry); Music Managers Forum; UK Music; Music Week and Live Nation.

Editor of Arts in Leicestershire magazine, Trevor Locke, commented “This is a step forward for music in Leicester. Apart from big bands coming into town, I hope the group will consider the 200 bands resident in the city who will be looking for support slots.”

[Arts in Leicester magazine, 28th July 2011]

See also

Leicester and the election of 2015

News about the election of 2015 and the arts

Our coverage of the election of 2010

 

 

 

Shiv

Thursday 23rd April 2015

Shiv

Curve

Shiv runs from 22nd to 25th April in the studio at Curve

A Curve production

Directed by Suba Das
A play by Aditi Brennan Kapil
Designer Kevin Jenkins
Lighting by David Holmes
Music and sound by Adam McCready for Poetic Machines.

Our rating: ****

Emily Lloyd-Saini as Shiv and Andrew Joshi as Bapu Pamela Raith Photography
Emily Lloyd-Saini as Shiv and Andrew Joshi as Bapu
Pamela Raith Photography

The European première production of Shiv by the American play playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil, never seen before in the UK, explores what it means to grow up between worlds. The central character Shivatri – played by Emily Lloyd-Saini – is at home with Star Trek as she is with the Ramayana (the Sanskrit epic poem ascribed to the Hindu sage and Sanskrit poet Valmiki) and is a woman of Indian origin who moved to live in the USA.

The play had four actors: Emily Lloyd-Saini in the lead role of Shiv, Andrew Joshi as Bapu (Shiv’s father), Robin Bowerman as The Professor and Ian Keir Attard as  Gerard (The Professor’s nephew.)

Andrew Joshi as Bapu and Emily Lloyd-Saini as Shiv. Pamela Raith Photography
Andrew Joshi as Bapu and Emily Lloyd-Saini as Shiv.
Pamela Raith Photography

Aditi Brennan Kapul is a writer, actress and director of Bulgarian and Indian descent who was raised in Sweden and now lives in Minneapolis.  She is noted for her plays Love Person, Agnes Under The Big Top, A Tall Tale and her latest trilogy of works Brahman/i, The Chronicles of Kalki and Shiv.

Shiv is a stunning new play about multicultural identity in the 21st century, both  heart-breaking and hilarious; it follows a young Punjabi-American woman Shiv and her quest to find out the truth about her father, an aspiring poet who moved his family from India to the US, seeking a better life. As the beautiful and enigmatic Shiv begins a summer romance with Gerard, the ghosts of her childhood begin to appear, and we learn of her loving but ultimately devastating relationship with her Star-Trek obsessed Dad. Filled with sharp, witty observations on multi-cultural society, this stunning new play explores what it means to live in two worlds at once.

The audience appreciated the moments of humour, which cropped up regularly throughout the show. The play was in one-act (without a break) Shiv being on stage throughout as the other members of the cast came and went.  The minimalist set was centered around a double mattress which served as Shiv’s sofa, bed and imaginary star ship. A small radio was another focal prop – used as a pretend communication device on Shiv’s imaginary space ship.  The story unfolded in bits and pieces, some scenes being in the present and other being flash-backs. A little hard to follow at times, the story line was nevertheless absorbing, if enigmatic but that gave its charm. The actors fitting their roles exceedingly well with Emily Lloyd-Saini delivering a convincing and appealing portrayal of Shiv.

Ian Keir Attard as Gerard and Emily Lloyd-Saini as Shiv. Pamela Raith Photography
Ian Keir Attard as Gerard and Emily Lloyd-Saini as Shiv.
Pamela Raith Photography

The play explored the themes of self-discovery, the clash between cultures and the dialogue between reality and imagination. The one-act play was peppered with images, icons and similes, often being represented by various props that were taken from an assembly of cardboard boxes and by the dialogue (which, at times, had a clipped, conversational style and at others were scene-setting or recollective monologues) and often felt like poetry.

A play that was challenging but one that held me spellbound throughout, Shiv is another triumph for Curve Productions and also for Aditi Brennan Kapil.

Also tonight at Curve – the launch of the Inside Out Festival.

Photographers

Photographers

of Leicester

We highlight the work of photographers from Leicester and Leicestershire

Sunny Hoyle

Photo by Sunny Hoyle
Photo by Sunny Hoyle

Sunny Hoyle The Photographer offers Environmental Portraits, PR and Commercial Photography in the Leicester and Rutland area.

Sunny Hoyle is a Environmental, Portrait, PR and Commercial Photographer based in Rutland, Midlands. He offers photography services in Leicester.

Sunny has nineteen years experience in the industry sandwiched around a ten year immersion in the performing arts where he worked with such luminaries as Jose Carreras and Basil Brush.

Sunny explains; “Film and Theatre are passions of mine. Having dipped my toes into the profession I now love to be part of it from behind the camera. I cover Headshots, live shows and film stills.”

His style is creative and narrative, and he is friendly, dependable and a enjoys working in a team.

When not working behind the lens, he can often be found being dragged around the countryside by his two dogs Rupert and Matilda.

Visit Sunny Hoyle’s website

Scott Choucino

Leicester photographer Scott Choucino has launched a new website. See Scott’s posting: My Week in Pictures (2016)

Scott Choucino (from his page on Facebook)

From his studio in London Road, Scott has been a long-standing photographer, covering subjects such as portraits, architecture, food, weddings and live music.

Some of Scott’s photos have appeared in this magazine as well as in our sister publication Music in Leicester magazine.

Scott said: “Over the last year we have been increasingly enjoying working on some great photographic and video-graphic projects.
Advertising Campaign Shoots with Premier (Drums) International and the forward thinking Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service.
Event Photography & Videography for the increasingly successful DAVE’s Leicester Comedy Festival and also for the very worthy Re-think Your Mind Charity. Photography Workshops are running again in 2015 with a new syllabus and a more practical approach. More information can be found here. We continue to have the privilege of working with a number of talented Artists in different fields. Sarah Millican, Bob Geldof and Kasabian alongside a number of great shoots we’ve delivered for aspiring individuals and bands.”

Follow Scott Choucino on Facebook

 

 

House bricks Part 4

22nd April 2015

House bricks

past, present and future

by Trevor Locke

Part 4 – The future of housing

House bricks Photo Alamy
House bricks
Photo Alamy

In part 3, I considered the factors that we can see playing a part in approaches to the supply and provision of housing including making better use of existing housing stock

In part 4, the final instalment of the series, I return to the brick as a central material in the construction of housing. Looking to the future of house design and supply, I move on to considering ways in which we can think outside of the box, focusing on where the future of housing might take us.

Time to do away with the brick?

Do we have to live in homes made of bricks?  Do all homes have to be three-bedroom semi-detached new builds?  Britain is a very low-rise country by comparison to many European and Asiatic countries.  British people love their little boxes set in a small piece of garden.  Suburbia is the quintessence of the British way of life. Even if we have to stick to the box-like house, need we also have to stick to the brick?

Well my take on this question is very clear:  no.  If we can persuade people that there are new ways of building homes that do not require bricks and mortar, then we begin to open up more solutions to increasing the housing supply.  New materials can be manufactured more quickly than clay bricks.  Wood does not need to be consumed in large quantities for structure – new materials can replace it that are more friendly to the environment. Wood is good for interior features and furnishings – where its natural beauty can be appreciated – but inside walls and inside roof spaces (where we cannot see) we do not have to use wood, if cheaper and more ecological materials can replace it.

People have already begun to re-think the idea of a home and have started to construct houses, using radically new ideas about what to build with and how to create living spaces. Our problem is that,  to Mr & Mrs Average, such ‘experiments’ are a bit cranky and certainly not for them. Understandable perhaps but these new concepts of what constitutes a home lead to all sorts of beneficial spin-offs. Take heating for example as part of the overall use of energy in living accommodation.  Some of these new, ‘experimental’ homes are seeing anything up to a fifty percent reduction in the cost of energy.  The less money required for energy bills, the more money is available to pay for the cost of the home and for its interior furnishings.

People who are on fixed incomes have to balance the cost of their mortgages, leases or rentals against estimated running costs. If they think they are going to be faced with high costs of energy, their calculations of affordability are going to fail to stack up, given all the other costs that are involved.

I would like to see the average family offered financial incentives to at least try something new, when it comes to homes.  Today’s house-builders are focused on return on investment and profit margins. That explains why they all want green field sites on which to build profitable, standardised boxes. The supply of housing, particularly in the ‘affordable’ sector is dominated by building companies that have to make a healthy profit margin. Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to be in business to make a profit. What I am arguing for is an injection of policy that would make it possible to both build at a profit and to offer something that is different from standardised boxes.

Television programmes have been stimulating interest in new approaches to house building.  Amanda Lamb’s My Flat-Pack home (Virgin, Sky, UK TV Home channel) follows families who opt for constructing their homes from pre-fabricated flat-packs. Watch this on YouTube.

Companies are now offering pre-fabricated houses, and some of them are portable (see this article for example .)

A company called Dan Wood is offering a variety of dwelling houses that, it says, provide ‘customised, turn-key homes with the highest standards of energy efficiency.’ Their website goes on to claim that ‘building your own homes doesn’t have to be a dream.’  This is a company that, it seems, offers pre-designed buildings that can be constructed pretty quickly. Dan Wood website.

We can be much more flexible and imaginative when it comes to designing homes. Will people be prepared to change their preconceptions about what they can accept as being a home?

Thinking outside of the box

If we can tempt house-buyers away from the standardised, magnolia painted box, then it is much more likely that the housing shortage will be dealt with and dealt with more quickly. Encouraging the use of new materials, changing building regulations to reflect new trends in energy conservation and giving up our obsession with look-alike houses are some of the things, I would argue, that would lead to more people having their own homes in a shorter space of time.

But to make this work, people have to change their ideas about what constitutes a house for families to live in. Our concept of ‘the home’ has changed little in post-war England. We are beginning to move away from the one-family-one-house model towards multiple-occupancy structures which make far better use of land. In the urban setting, land is expensive but families want their own spaces in which children can play and family pets can run free.  Flats are not an option for the bulk of people who want homes for themselves and their children. The desire for garden space is deeply ingrained in the British psyche. In the sixties, the builders of tower blocks wrongly imagined that children could take the lift down to the ground floor to play in communal areas. How wrong they were. Even childless couples often prefer properties that will provide them with a bit of garden. Some architects have designed apartment blocks with gardens; in Sydney, Australia,  a programme is underway to provide ‘green apartments.’  In Australia green homes are being built that use less water and energy; at the Green Strata project ‘We focus solely on helping owners and occupiers of residential multi-unit properties improve the sustainability of their common property and their community of residents.’  Green Strata website.

The forest in the sky, in Northern Italy has become widely celebrated as making a breakthrough in the way that high-rise apartment blocks can be made into ‘vertical forests’, having two 27 floor tower blocks that are home to 730 trees and thousands of shrubs and plants.  The amazing amount of vegetation produces oxygen and create a micro-climate that cools the apartments in summer and moderates heat loss in winter, as well as filtering smog and dust particles from the atmosphere. Each block has as many trees as could be planted in a hectare of forest. The buildings are creating a biological habit for apartment-dwellers in Milan. ‘Grey water’ from the apartments is used to irrigate the vegetation. These projects are an example of combing architecture with live plants; trees have been introduced into building design before but nearly always inside the buildings. These ideas might change the climate and ecology of cities and, providing the costs are within affordable standards, might well revolutionise the urban landscape.  Wikipedia.

A lot of lessons were learned from the housing disasters of the 1960s. Not that all public housing was based on tower blocks. Councils developed large estates for working class people. This was often in tandem with a programme of slum clearance. Outer urban land provided cheap space on which Councils could spread acres of social housing for the poor and needy.  These housings estates also have to be supplied with schools, shopping centres, health services and good access to the national transport systems. There was a time when large private sector housing estates were constructed without any of these basic amenities of family life being provided.  Planners got it badly wrong and approved applications for large housing developments in which there was no planning gain in the form of schools, shops or health services.

I hope we have got a better approach to planning these days. We got stuck in policy opportunism, that allowed developers to create housing estates rather than communities. I remember going to see large numbers of show-homes in Leicestershire in the 1980s.  Although the new-build houses offered every latest comfort and amenity, the estates as a whole were just houses. Car-ownership was relatively cheap in those days and it was assumed that everyone who would buy a new house would have at least one car and would be able to drive to the shops or take the children to school.  The architects of these ‘soul-less’ rural or suburbial estates were people who clearly lived in immaculate barn-conversions who had lost the notion of community and what constituted family life in villages and city-edge suburbs.  These housing estates put profit before people.  There were no schools, shops, doctors surgeries or any of the other essential elements of daily life.  The estates were all about houses and more houses and that was it.

It took a lot of protest by lobby groups to bring about change to this situation. Hopefully planners, and the politicians who control them,  are more enlightened these days. We were lucky – we ended up with a brand new house just five minutes away from a primary school  and within easy walking distance of a doctors surgery and a small supermarket. It was a matter of luck – just being in the right place at the right time (in 1992.) Many other families were less fortunate and got themselves stuck in beautifully designed homes that were miles from the nearest shop or school.

The policies that govern urban development must take into account how people actually live and not be focused on the commercial demands of private sector building companies. We need to think about sustainable communities in which people can live comfortably and happily for several decades, able to adapt to changing economic circumstances.  Short-termism is no way to plan urban growth.

Where will the future of housing take us?
Governments, both national and local, must face the challenges of improving life in Britain by coming up with credible, joined-up policies that meet the basic living needs of the people who elected them. People are slow to change and hard to convince that change to traditional ways of doing things can be better. We need houses to live in; we want houses to live in. But we do not need them to be made from traditional clay bricks. We want them to be structurally sound for many years; we want them to be warm and not overly expensive to heat; we want them to be situated within easy access to roads, schools, healthcare centres and shops. We need to get to work in order to earn enough money to pay for them. The modern home is, as Le Corbusier famously said is “a machine for living.” Modern homes tend to look like that with all their fitted kitchens and ‘mod cons’ but they are also a reflection of our tastes and cultural values. My hope is that people will become more adventurous in what they will accept as suitable house-building materials; I also hope that people will be more inclined to accept new approaches to designing homes.

Trevor Locke
March 2015

Trevor Locke has an MA in Urban Policy Studies.

References

Office of National Statistics, A century of home ownership and renting in England.

Guy Standing (May 24, 2011). “The Precariat – The new dangerous class”. Policy Network.

Planning Advisory Service. Objectively assessed need and housing targets – technical advice note, 2014.

This is money (website) Blocked by the banks? How to get a mortgage if you are are a small business owner or self-employed, October 2014

The Brick Industry Association, Why choose brick, USA

Tudor Brickwork by Gerard Lynch.

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.

Home building and renovating. The self build and custom house building bill.

See also:

Introductory article to the house series
House bricks part 1
House bricks part 2
House bricks part 3

Housing

20th April 2015

Housing policy

I have had a long interesting in housing – both from a historical perspective and from the point of view of policy.

This month I have published a series of four articles based on the theme of house bricks.  In four parts, this extended feature looks at the humble house brick – past, present and future – and moves on to considering the policy implications relating to house building and the supply of accommodation in England.

All four articles are now published on my magazine Arts in Leicester.  This writing project started when I watched a team of archaeologists investigating a trench at a dig; they discovered several bricks and were able to identify the period that they came from by their size, colour and shape. I thought this would make a suitable piece for a magazine that covers heritage, architecture and history alongside other topics related to the arts.

As I worked on the piece I found myself drawn into more and more areas to do with housing – not just the history of buildings for living but the present and future policies that might come to govern the use and manufacture of materials for building houses. Writing a piece like this was a challenge.  A good writer should be able to write about anything – particularly as both a writer and as a journalist.  I gave myself the challenge:  write about something very mundane and commonplace – the house brick – and see where that takes you. It took me a long way. It took me far beyond bricks into the subject of houses, housing-building and then into housing policy. I was able to draw on my academic experience as a student of town planning and urban policy.  I did not set out to write an academic article;  this was written for the average, lay reader who was interested in the subject, just as I am. I had to do quite a bit of research into a variety of topics within the subject.  Most journalists would do that as a matter of course, particularly when tackling subjects that are not part of their day-to-day work.

I have enjoyed doing this writing project; not only in getting into the subject matter but also in managing the length of the whole thing.  I was well aware, at many points, that I was skimming the surface of some issues but I wanted to avoid getting bogged down in certain topics at the expenses of keeping going the flow of the whole piece. Some experts in this subject would find it frustrating that I have touched on topics that could have been treated much more extensively. But then, this was not written for experts.

As we are now a short time away from the UK’s general election,  housing is a subject that has contemporary resonance.  I have found it interesting reading what the major parties have to say on the subject. Equally of interest has been looking at what the government has been doing – since 2010 – to tackle housing issues and policies. What bears most on my point of view is the future of house building, particularly as builders tackle a raft of issues that are affecting them and will come to affect their practice in the next couple of decades. Chief amongst these issues is climate change and the effect it will have on where people can live – as sea levels rise and as the climate in this country changes. The development of technologies is providing new ways of manufacturing building materials. The traditional clay house brick has been the standard for centuries but the demands of the present-day environment are pushing manufacturers to look for new materials. A crucial issue is the increasing use of plastic and the volume that it takes up in land-fill sites; I was pleased to find that work is under way to find uses for waste plastic in the production of building materials.

A series of recent television programmes has highlighted a trend towards innovative building construction. The growing interest in self-build is stimulating, as people become more concerned about having the types of homes that reflect their personal needs and aspirations. As I say in my article, English house builders are not noted for their ability to innovate or to think outside of the box. For them the box remains de rigueur. House builders and designers should, in my view, be more open to change, innovation and experimentation.

House Bricks Part 3

20th April 2015

House bricks

past, present and future

by Trevor Locke

Part 3 – Providing better housing stock.

House bricks Photo Alamy
House bricks
Photo Alamy

In Part 2, I looked at the need for join-up policies to improve the supply of housing.

In part 3, I move on to considering the factors that we can see playing a part in approaches to the supply and provision of housing.
Making better use of existing housing stock

Making better use of existing housing stock

More and more buildings are being converted into apartments. One solution to the housing crisis is to convert properties into affordable accommodation. In the city this has met with a degree of success.  There has been a big increase in the supply of apartments created from buildings that have fallen into disuse. In Leicester, the city centre (the area known as the Cultural Quarter) has many old factories that have been converted into flats. This has renewed an urban area that had fallen into neglect and disrepair. It is a pattern that has been repeated across many cities in the Midlands. These conversions were not new-builds; they involved re-generating properties that had become empty and disused, bringing them back to life to provide homes for people who like to live in the inner city. Not the best homes for families, but more appropriate for young urban professionals, childless couples and single people. That creates an alternative supply to students and young professionals occupying properties that would be more suitable for families.

In the rural areas the supply of affordable homes poses problems. The typical ‘barn-conversion’  is well outside of what young working people can afford.  These are conversions for the wealthier sections of society or for people who can afford second homes.  I would argue that change of use conversions could provide affordable housing in the countryside, more quickly and less expensively, to meet the growing demand for homes for working people.

Our housing stock is not well-managed. Much of it lies empty, derelict or neglected. Local authorities have not been keen enough to identify empty houses and bring them back into use. The land-owning shires are oriented to the supply of land for new build. Yet, a lot of rural properties are either disused, poorly used or are suitable for conversion but left empty. Somehow, the landed gentry, many of whom are members of rural councils, fail to see this. If this country had a stronger lobby for social housing, it is likely that we would also see a better management of our existing housing stock,  instead of an obsession with new-build.

Those who loose out the most, due to the current short-fall in housing supply, are young people. Nearly half of all young people now rent accommodation, both flats and houses. In 2011 the Government published a statement on Providing Affordable Homes for Rent. The government claims that it is improving the quality and quantity of properties for rent, both in the private and social sector. Measures being taken include the of funding local authorities to refurbish their housing stock and encouraging more investment in the private rented sector through schemes like new loan guarantees and the Build to Rent Fund, among others. These actions stemmed from the publication, in November 2011, of the policy paper Laying the foundations: a housing strategy for England. It reflected the Government’s desire to get the housing market moving again and they admitted that they would not achieve this by attempting to control the housing market from Whitehall. There was a realisation that it is only at local level that housing management can properly be carried out. If the goal is to supply a balanced mix of housing options, then only local bodies can achieve that. As some have suggested there needs to be a radical overhaul of housing associations. Private sector supply is also needed but policies need to balance the rights and security of tenants with the incentives of property owners to continue to invest in the market or to enter it. If the balance swings to far in the direction of tenants, the supply could be jeopardized. Likewise, giving too much power to property owners leads to insecurity and poor standards for tenants.

Make better use of land.

In our small islands, land is in short supply. There are many conflicting demands on the use of land.  Some of it has to be used for farming, some for sport and leisure and some forms part of our national heritage and natural assets and as such needs to be protected from any kind of development. Planners created the green belts as a way of ensuring that urban areas did not become conflated into concrete jungles. There is pressure now to relax local planning in the interests of housing development and green belts are under attack. In my view this is a grave error.

More should be done to rescue and recycle brown field sites. There is enough land to meet the need for housing and business development, even in our finite little group of islands. There is enough land if we take an objective approach to its usage. The problem is that brown field sites cost more to develop than do green field ones. To put it another way – there is less profit from the development of brown field sites. Really, it is not that simple. Some developers have had the foresight, imagination and resilience to both develop brown field land and to make a reasonable profit from doing so. I am not referring here to heavily contaminated land or land that is riddled with mining subsidence. This kind of land is where a change of use can be effected without in ordinate costs of cleaning or repairing it.

One of the big challenges to housing management over the next ten to twenty years will be the supply of land that is suitable for housing. The floods of 2013/14 highlighted the lack of planning and foresight of developers who have built on flood plains. English house builders have not been good at water management when developing new-build sites on land previously used for farming. As sea levels rise, many coastal areas will become uninhabitable and people will be forced to move inland to homes on higher ground. This movement of house owners to areas not prone to flooding or coastal erosion needs to be planned for now – not when it becomes a national crisis.

Dealing with the short-fall in housing supply.

It is good to see builders trying something new. The British building industry has never been good at innovation;  bound to traditional ways of doing things, slow to change and reticent to innovate, British builders are not known around Europe for their leading edge practices. In Germany, Austria and other countries builders are more inclined to try new ways of tacking housing supply. OK, there are some notable exceptions to this in Britain.

Custom build, for example,  represents one way of thinking outside of the box. Companies that have tackled new ways of designing and building housing are breaking the mould by following projects that have been a success on the continent. Governments have not however had any road to Damascus moments when formulating their housing policies. National and local governments must become more aware of the possibilities offered by new ways of doing things in the building sector.

In Manchester, the Great Places Housing Group is having a go at custom build. The Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15 received royal assent as the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act. The government launched a loan fund (in June 2014) to enable building of self-build homes. The encouragement of self-build is now finding a place in the policies of political parties.

With an ageing population, demand for smaller accommodation types is changing as older people give up their large family homes and seek smaller units more suitable to two-person homes. The housing market now has to cater for the growing demand for retirement homes. Housing needs to be suitable for older people: not necessarily those who need care but retirement homes for active people who can look after themselves. Many older people move away from the large houses they had, after their children have grown up, seeking small accommodation.  The problem with this is that more and more adult children are being forced to stay at home with their parents for longer periods. There is now more demand for housing extended families, where the younger generation must provide a home for their parents, grandparents and other family members. This is often ignored by house builders who are still focused on the nuclear family.  Changes in the birth-rate have led to a decrease in household size. The ONS statistics of 2013 found that ‘The fastest growing household type was households containing two or more families, increasing by 39% from 206,000 households in 2003 to 286,000 households in 2013. However multi-family households still only represent 1% of all households.’ It is likely that there will be an increasing trend in people living alone. All of this enhances the need to create flexible housing supply based on needs and to provide options to people who have a variety of housing requirements.

References

Office of National Statistics, A century of home ownership and renting in England.

Guy Standing (May 24, 2011). “The Precariat – The new dangerous class”. Policy Network.

Planning Advisory Service. Objectively assessed need and housing targets – technical advice note, 2014.

This is money (website) Blocked by the banks? How to get a mortgage if you are are a small business owner or self-employed, October 2014

The Brick Industry Association, Why choose brick, USA

Tudor Brickwork by Gerard Lynch.

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.

Home building and renovating. The self build and custom house building bill.

See also:

Introductory article to the House Bricks series

House bricks part 1

House bricks part 2

House bricks part 3

House bricks part 4

House bricks part 2

17th April 2015

House bricks

past, present and future

by Trevor Locke

Part 2 – Housing, employment and transport: why we need joined up policies.

House bricks Photo Alamy
House bricks
Photo Alamy

In part 1, i looked at bricks and other kinds of building materials, asked if there can be viable alternatives to traditional materials and considered how building design might change to take account of the rise of new materials.

In part 2, I move on to discussing the kind of policies that are increasingly playing a part in the supply of accommodation.

The need for affordable homes.

Are people ready to move away from standardisation and traditions? If the media is to be believed, the average Jess and Joe want to get married and start a family. They want to own a home of their own.  But does Mr & Mrs Average want to live only in the traditional house?  Through the medium of television, we have seen people who have abandoned the traditional notion of the house and built themselves a home from materials you would not find on the average housing estate – such as blocks of straw. Others have done away with the conventional idea of a slate roof and covered their structures with grass.

In post-war Britain there was a trend to build ‘pre-fabs’ – prefabricated houses built in bits in factories and then assembled on site.  Prefabs were cheap, cheerful and provided a quick fix to the shortage of housing after the blitz. The decades of the 1940s through to the 1960s brought us the baby boom. As those generations grew into adulthood, demand for housing increased. Recently, the lack of access to mortgages, following the financial crash of 1998, has led to an increase in rented properties.   Couples and new families, not wanting to be stuck at home with their mums and dads, are going out to find rented accommodation.  In the urban areas this is fairly easy but in the countryside, it is much more of a problem.  House-prices in rural areas are very widely beyond the reach of workers in villages and rural areas.

Today, the baby boomers of the 60s are down-sizing.  Having brought up their families, couples find themselves living in houses that are bigger than they need. So, couples aged 60 and over are moving into smaller properties.  Whilst this should be releasing houses for occupation by younger people,  the problem is that house prices have increased and the mortgages needed to buy these properties are hard to come by.

Politicians have made a big thing about new-build.  To them, housing supply is all about new build. In order to get anywhere near the level of demand for houses that there in England today, the solutions are always stated as being about building new homes. Only the more radical politicians give credence to the idea that the supply of housing might also include a wider set of options.

Housing is the key to everything

If you do not have a home, you cannot get a job.  If you do not have a suitable home, you are going to find it difficult to marry and start a family. Most people who are homeless are also likely to be unemployed. It’s not just a question of being homeless. Often the problem is more about inappropriate housing and unsuitable accommodation. Energy poverty rides on the back of inappropriate housing; people who live in accommodation that is not suitable are likely to suffer from high energy costs, which will lead either to inadequate heating or people failing to feed themselves properly to keep up with the demands of energy suppliers. Poorly built houses are also likely to suffer from damp, drafts and lack of insulation.

It is said that we need 250,00 new homes.  In that context what do we mean by ‘new?’ Do we mean new build or do we mean more supply of housing stock of all kinds. Around four million people are now renting their homes. In many continental countries, renting is standard; now that house-ownership is so difficult in England, renting looks like it might become the standard approach to securing accommodation. For policy makers, the issue is one of renting not being as secure, for tenants, as it ought to be.

Housing and employment

Most people in this country need two things: somewhere to live and a job to fund it.  There is a reciprocal relationship between housing and employment. People need a home in order to get and hold down a job;  people need jobs in order to be able to fund a home.

If we are to have policies that work, we must be able to make housing and employment work together in a way that reinforces them both. How does the housing market relate to employment? What proportion of the labour market can afford housing?  What people are being paid relates directly to the type of housing they can access. Those with well-paid jobs, that have long-term prospects,  will be able to attract mortgages. Mortgage providers are less keen to fund those whose jobs are short-term or occasional – such as those on zero hours contracts. It is not always the level of pay that gives access to mortgages – it is more to do with the long-term prospects for continued employment that will fund a mortgage over its term (typically 25 years.) People who are on zero hour contracts are not good prospects for mortgage providers. Precarious employment contracts are not good for  home-ownership and access to mortgages and leases.

Despite the fact that the UK has a record level of employment – the best since 1971 – home ownership is as low as it was in the 1970s. Can government policies be synchronised so that there is both full employment and a strong supply of housing? Traditional home owners (in terms of their employment status) are becoming a small proportion of the labour market. People who have to survive on precarious jobs are finding it more and more difficult to gain access to suitable housing. The Labour Party’s pre-election headlines have placed emphasis on increasing the supply of new build housing; but if they do not have synchronised policies for employment, too few people who will be able to buy into that housing and the policy will fail. What people need to access new build housing are jobs that offer long term stability and a predictable income. Around 15% of the labour force is now self-employed. There has been a huge increases in people gaining their primary income from a small business.  “Nowadays, although it is not impossible for someone who is self-employed to secure a mortgage, it can certainly be a difficult process because lenders are far less willing to take what they see as a risk on those with a ‘non-standard’ income”, claims the Thisismoney website. Lenders want to see a history of business success and to be convinced that this will continue over the life of the loan. That immediately places people into age categories.

In 1971 half the population was renting and the other half owned their homes. The number of people in work is now at its highest level since 1971. What proportion of people who are employed can afford access to housing?  We hear a lot about the difficulties that people have in securing a mortgage, especially for those aged 20 to 25.  These might be people who are in work but the kind of earnings they have do not give them access to housing. If we now have record numbers of people in housing, why are so many not able to get a mortgage or cannot afford to rent suitable homes?

Guy Standing has written about The Precariat,  a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security. Many of these are people whose income is precariously based on things like zero-hours contracts. These are casual workers who lack a long-term reliable income, the kind of income which would allow them to secure permanent housing. If your job cannot be replied on to provide you with enough money over a long enough period of time, then you are likely to have difficulties in accessing the kind of housing you desire. Housing requires permanent employment, a stable income over a long period of time and a level of income that will convince mortgage-providers and people who lease or rent apartments that you are a reasonably safe bet. Zero-hours contracts might offer a hand fix for some people, for some of the time, but in the long term the creating disadvantage in terms of housing.

Employment and transport

Some parties have added transport into the housing/employment equation. Some have gone on to put this in a regional context.  We can look at England as a whole but when you regionalise the equation, there are areas of the country that need special attention. Some local authorities have developed policies that address the issue of the supply of land as being the key to dealing with meeting housing needs.  Policy therefore has to balance two sets of supplies:  jobs and homes. This also needs to consider travel to work areas – the ability of people with jobs to travel to work, to areas away from their homes. This is where transport comes in – if the supply of transport lags behind the supply of housing and the availability of jobs (within a travel-to-work area) then people are going find it difficult to get housing within a reasonable distance of where they want to live. The choice of where to live, for a majority of families,  dictates where their work places can be. They have to take into account their relatives – particularly dependents  – access to schools and access to heath care, if they have specific needs in that respect.

Formulating housing policy is a non-starter if not related to employment and education and, some would argue, transport policy.  Joined up policies are the most likely to be credible and effective because they pull together these variables that all depend on each other. If we want our housing policy to succeed we have to make sure that the labour market has a sufficient proportion of employed people who have the kind of income that is required for stable home ownership (whether via mortgages, leases or tenancies.) The more people whose jobs fall into the short-term, precarious end of the labour market, the more difficult it is going to be to have a robust housing policy. Allowing employers to lead the market for jobs is bad for the economy as a whole;  it is free-marketism of the worst kind. Allowing more and more employers to indulge in short-term and zero-hours contracts is harmful for the economy as a whole.  It is a practice that cannot join up jobs, homes, education and transport and for that reason it does the country no good at all.

In part 3, I will look at some of the issues that affect the supply of housing stock, how we can make better use of land and possible options for addressing the short-fall in housing supply.

References

Office of National Statistics, A century of home ownership and renting in England.

Guy Standing (May 24, 2011). “The Precariat – The new dangerous class”. Policy Network.

Planning Advisory Service. Objectively assessed need and housing targets – technical advice note, 2014.

This is money (website) Blocked by the banks? How to get a mortgage if you are are a small business owner or self-employed, October 2014

The Brick Industry Association, Why choose brick, USA

Tudor Brickwork by Gerard Lynch.

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.

Home building and renovating. The self build and custom house building bill.

See also:

Introductory article to the house series

House bricks part 1

House bricks part 2

House bricks part 3

House bricks part 4

House bricks part 1

House bricks

past, present and future

by Trevor Locke

Part 1 – Bricks and mortar as the basis of housing

In this series of articles (to be published in four parts), I will be using the word housing many times but often in the sense of accommodation of all kinds; rather than to refer only to house ownership.

House bricks Photo Alamy
House bricks. Photo Alamy.

What’s in a brick?

If you live in the United Kingdom,  you are sure to have seen house bricks.  You might live in a house that is made from them.  But have you ever stopped to think what bricks are made of?  Most people in this country will have picked up and held a house brick at some point in their lives.  Have you ever thought:  have bricks always been the same as this? We are all familiar with bricks – their size, shape, colour, texture and feel. But have you ever wondered whether they will always be the same, in the future, as they are now?

If you think that a brick is a brick – you might be surprised to know just how varied they are.  The common house brick is a solid block,  usually about 8.5 × 4 × 2.5 inches. Some bricks have 10 holes in them to decrease their weight, some are made in different sizes and and come in a variety of colours.  Most are newly made but there is a big market for reclaimed bricks. I am referring to British bricks because the size of bricks varies from one country to another. Bricks are made from a mixture clay and sand that has been heated in a kiln, to harden it and make it strong.  Bricks are coloured red because they are made from clays that contain iron. Bricks that have other colours are made from clays to which additional materials have been added, such as chalk.

At the present time (2015) the production of bricks in 2014 -15 is expected to reach £889.2 million. Standard clay bricks that is. It is said that the recession of 2008 resulted in a shortage of bricks. We can see that the construction industry went into sharp decline from 2008 onwards, not recovering until late 2009/10. This was due largely to the lack of finance for both building and the purchasing of new homes as the credit crunch bit into the availability of finance. It was not until 2014 that house building recovered to its pre-crash levels. We cannot attribute the slump in house building soley to shortages of materials (or the finance required to obtain them);  the depressed economy also led to a shortage of skilled labour, as companies laid off construction workers.

The use of bricks in house-building has been affected by the ‘breeze block’: hollow and cellular blocks made from concrete or some kind of aggregate. These are bigger than bricks and thus reduce the time in which internal walls can be completed. The standard concrete breeze block has always been made from the same material to a set of standardised sizes.  Most buildings in this country, these days, use these blocks for internal walls. They might be faced with bricks or other external walling materials but these blocks are the cheapest and quickest way of putting up walls.

How old is the brick?

Bricks have been around for a very long time.  They are thought to have been used for six thousand years, being found in the city of Babylon. The ancient Egyptians made bricks from dried mud, some of which have survived to the present day. In the British Isles, the Romans made bricks, firing them in kilns. In China, millions of workers had to make millions of bricks for the construction of the Great Wall. Bricks were rarely used in the UK before the fourteenth century. Flemish refugees brought brick-making to East Anglia. In the fifteenth century, many craftsmen from Holland and Belgium settled in the UK. After the great fire of London in 1666, people began to build houses with brick walls to replace the wooden ones that were susceptible to fire. The Tudors were keen on building with bricks and fine examples of Elizabethan brick-built houses are still standing today. During the industrial revolution, brick-making became industrialised in order to meet the huge demand for bricks, especially during the Victorian era.

Tudor bricks

Henry VIII took over Wolsey’s Hampton Court Palace in 1528. Much of Hampton Court is still standing today and visitors can see straight away that most of the facades are made from bricks, rather than stone blocks that would have been noticeable in many structures since Norman times. Between 1485 and 1603, brick-making and brick-laying merged as a specialised craft.

The times of the early Tudors and Elizabethans saw substantial increases in trade and prosperity. The rich and powerful no longer needed to build ‘castles’ that would withstand attack; in the relatively peaceful times of the The Renaissance, houses could be designed to look beautiful and to reflect the wealth of their owners. Stone continued to use used for things like windows, where ornamentation was required, but walls and chimneys would be made from bricks, which could be woven into patterns and decorative designs. The Tudor brick sizes were typically found to range from 210-250mm x 100-120mm x 40-50mm. [Tudor Brickwork by Gerard Lynch]

Archaeologists know the sizes of bricks from different periods of history.  When they open a trench and find bricks, they can usually identify the period from the size and colour of any bricks found in them.

Is the house brick here to stay?

Wienerberger, a leading supplier of wall, roof and landscaping innovations, has launched its brand new Wienerberger e4 brick house™ concept. Using over 200 years of expertise and innovation, Wienerberger has analysed economic and social trends to unveil a unique archetype that directly addresses the UK market need. Wienerberger’s leading clay brick and wall technology provides the blueprint for the house of tomorrow – an aspirational living space that is practical, sustainable and innovative.

Graduate Henry Miller has devised a way to reuse waste plastic as an aggregate in cement, circumventing the energy-intensive process of plastic recycling. By grinding up landfill-bound plastic and mixing it with Portland cement, Miller was able to create a material just as strong as traditional concrete made with mined aggregate. The construction company made the EcoArk Pavilion in Taipei, reports Paul Mozur of The Wall Street Journal. The walls of the building are made solely of plastic bottles that fit together like Lego pieces. The polygonal bottles, called Polli-Bricks,  are made of plastic, recycled from items such as water bottles. Polli-Bricks make the building structurally sound enough to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, environmentally friendly, and are relatively cheap to build. The bricks can be blow-moulded out of shredded PETÂ bits at a construction site. They are then stacked into rectangular panels. Workers cover the bricks with a film similar to the coating found on smartphone screens. The coating makes the panels resistant to fire and water.

Experiments have commenced into using modular ecological bricks, as an alternative to the more common clay house bricks. Bricks are now being manufactured from re-cycled plastic waste.  European Union research network Eureka has helped create bricks with domestic waste polymers usually considered too varied or dirty to be recycled. Eureka has worked with the Latvian Technological Centre, the Institute of Polymer Mechanics, the University of Latvia, and Spanish company Hormigones Uniland to mix waste polymers with other materials to make construction products. The Latvian researchers have developed a technique to turn thermoplastic polymer waste into a binding substance which could be mixed with other materials such as sand to produce polymer concrete products, without using cement.

Peter Lewis has created an innovative machine that can transform discarded plastic – such as  bottles and bags – into building blocks. The rock-hard bricks could be used for garden retaining landscaping walls or other interesting features such as shock absorbers behind crash barriers.

Changing patterns of house construction

Given the development of technologies for the production of new building materials and the increasing demand for environmentally friendly products, it is likely that traditional materials will change in the future as house builders move away from the kind of natural materials that have been used for thousands of years.
Wood

From pre-history to relatively recent times, wood was the standard building material.  England was once covered in woods and forests. As the climate changed so did the landscape; more and more forests were cut down as demand for timber increased. Naturally occurring woodlands diminished so much that the government began to plant new forests on an industrial scale. More and more wood has been imported to make up for the shortages in British-sourced timber.

Walls

If we go back to medieval times, we see walls being constructed of wattle and daub, mud being used to seal the gaps in the wooden walls made from branches and twigs. It was not until brick manufacture developed (as the road infrastructure allowed for their transportation) that we saw bricks being used as a common material for the construction of walls in the fourteenth century. There were some experiments in the use of other kinds of materials for making walls (remember the ‘prefabs’?) but contemporary house building is widely oriented to the use of bricks because of their aesthetic appeal for external walls.

Roofing

Medieval houses were roofed with thatch made from reeds, the most common form of material used to place a waterproof topping to a building. It would be several hundred years before clay tiles or slates were widely used as roofing materials in many parts of the UK. Some roofs were made from wood shingles but the frequency of fires led to the wider use of clay tiles. The use of steel sheets, such as corrugated iron, in roofing has not had much appeal in this country.

Windows

Even in stone-built castles, windows were small and often no more than holes in the wall.  Only in the very wealthiest of buildings, would glass be used in windows to keep out the cold and wet. It would be a long time before glass became a way of creating weatherproof windows in modest buildings. In modern times, we saw the introduction of plastics to replace the traditional wood frames of windows. More glass is used in houses these days than was ever the case in historical times.

Building design

In the middle ages houses were built largely without any plans; their construction was based on know-how handed down from one generation to another. Houses gradually became more elaborate in the way they were constructed and builders began to work from drawn architectural plans.  During the Victorian era there was a vast increase in the number of houses being built; as people began to live and work in cities they needed to live within walking distance of factories. The design of homes gradually became more and more standardised, driven by commercial house-building and the kind of prosperity that led to the home-owning classes. People who wanted to own houses became use to traditional designs. As prosperity increased, there was a demand for separate kitchens, indoor toilets, bathrooms and separate bedrooms for adults and children. The increasing sophistication of buildings led to the establishment of specialised professions of architecture and building design.

Future trends in house building

When we think of housing we inevitably think of bricks and mortar. I wish to argue that many other factors come into play when we begin to discuss housing – factors such as changing demography, patterns of employment, the need to integrate housing with communities and the options we want to make available for increasing the supply of housing. In fact, there are several factors which might see changes being made in the kind of building materials that we have been familiar with over many generations.

In Part 2, I will look at broader trends in house building, including the need for affordable homes, seeing how housing is the key to everything and how it sits within the relationship between housing and employment and employment and transport (as factors governing the demand for housing.)

References

Office of National Statistics, A century of home ownership and renting in England.

Guy Standing (May 24, 2011). “The Precariat – The new dangerous class”. Policy Network.

Planning Advisory Service. Objectively assessed need and housing targets – technical advice note, 2014.

This is money (website) Blocked by the banks? How to get a mortgage if you are are a small business owner or self-employed, October 2014

The Brick Industry Association, Why choose brick, USA

Tudor Brickwork by Gerard Lynch.

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.

Home building and renovating. The self build and custom house building bill.

See also:

The introductory article on Bricks and Mortar.

House bricks part 1

House bricks part 2

House bricks part 3

House bricks part 4

 

 

Housing

16th April 2015

Housing

history, policy and practice

House bricks Photo Alamy
House bricks
Photo Alamy

Our new section of the magazine looks at housing.  The kind of homes that people built, the materials they used and the way that houses changed over the course of history has been touched on in many of the article we have already published.

In a series of articles to be published over the next few days, we look at housing and the materials used to construct homes and move on to a discussion about the future of how we live and the kind of buildings we might be calling ‘home’ in the future.

Houses form a key part of our narrative about the history of Leicester.  We have argued already that the best way to understand any community – in history as well as in contemporary times – is to look at how people live, cook and entertain themselves.  In this context, considering how people live, the kind of homes they build and the materials they use to construct their houses is a key part of any historical account.  Water, supply, drainage, sanitation, cooking and waste-disposal are fundamental elements of understanding communities, cities, towns and villages.

In the forthcoming series of articles about bricks and mortar, we begin with a brief look at the basic units of construction,  before moving on to the wider policy implications for meeting the supply of housing.  This series of articles will deal mainly with the present and the future, whilst placing that focus in a historical perspective.

A debate about housing is very apposite to the current time, as political parties launch their manifestos in the run up to the general election. Housing in a subject that all parties will want to say something about.  We hope that our series of features on bricks and mortar will lend something to those debates – as we consider the future of housing and its historical perspectives.

Later in the year, we will place the themes of these article in a Leicester context as look at the history of housing in our city and what might lie ahead for the new political policy-makers.

Trevor Locke

Trevor Locke has a masters degree in Urban Policy

See also:

House bricks part 1

House bricks part 2

House bricks part 3

House bricks part 4

 

Election2010

Tuesday 14th April 2015

logo election 2010

Artsin’s coverage of the 2010 general election

Arts in Leicester magazine gave some coverage to the general election of 2010.  We dug back into our archives to see what we published.

Our magazine published an editorial on 7th April 2010 in which we wrote:

There has never been a better time to ask questions about the arts of our political leaders. Between now and 6th May, we have a great opportunity to fly the flag for the arts, both nationally and in Leicester/shire. The politicians want our votes. As fans, followers and consumers of the arts and as artists, we want their support. So, let’s ask them ‘what are they going to do for us’? Us, the people who produce arts and entertainment and the people who benefit from the what artists give to our society and our community.

Arts in Leicestershire intends to ask questions at the hustings. We want to know, from the main political parties, how they see the arts, what policies they would implement, what support they would give and what commitments they would see their party entering into, where the arts is concerned.

Why is the arts important? In our view the arts is more than just the icing on the cake; it is much more than a luxury. Arts and entertainments of all kinds benefit the economy, the community and society. Art is not a sideline or a marginal add-on: art is something much closer to the well-being and soul of society and to the life blood of our local community

We urge both artists and the public who benefit from the arts, to ask questions of the candidates. Ask them to think about the arts. Ask them to say what their policies are for the arts.

Our material about the election of 2010 was published in the blog associated with the magazine

The UK General Election has been announced for 6th May 2010.

Now is a good time to ask questions about how the political parties intend to support the arts. The hustings are a time when people who are concerned about the arts ask the political parties and their candidates about their policies for the arts.

Here are some questions we would like to ask:

(1) What support will your party give to the arts?

(2) Does your party have a policy about the arts and in particular the role that the arts can play in the economy and in developing social cohesion?

(3) Where does the arts stand in your general system of priorities?

(4) Who do you think benefits from the arts in the community? What benefits does the arts confer on various segments of our community?

(5) Will your party continue support for the Arts Council? How will your party support the Arts Council?

(6) How do you think the arts can be enabled to become more diverse and inclusive?

These are general questions that apply nationally. No doubt there are many more more questions that could be asked and hopefully readers will add their comments.

In particular, we would like to receive comments from people who have asked questions about the arts and what replies candidates have given.

We will also want to ask those questions to candidates standing in Leicester and Leicestershire.

In the blog, we said:

Guardian Blogger Jonathan Jones argues that no one would decide which party to vote for, based on their policy for the arts, alone. Well obviously. But the point is that there will be many people who are undecided which way they will vote. There are many substantial issues which will decide the outcome of the election and many issues that each voter might want to address when deciding where to place their tick. My line is that the arts is not the “cultural comforts of the middle class” but something that is the heritage of all people, in whatever class they think they are.

But there are many more crucial arts issues than great paintings or funding for the BBC. The arts contributes to health and social cohesion, as we have covered in the main body of Arts in Leicestershire. Community Arts projects have helped thousands of disadvantaged people in Leicestershire alone. When we think “arts” we will hopefully see the wider picture and not just see paintings in the National Gallery or costume dramas on the telly.

When it comes to schools, jobs and health, artists have contributed a great deal. The interest group for arts activities in the general public. Everyone benefits in some way or other.

We also reported a news item:

ARTS COUNCIL CHIEF URGES COUNCILS TO KEEP ARTS INVESTMENT

Arts Council Chief Executive Alan Davey urges local authorities to maintain their investment in the arts. He argues that the arts confers economic and social benefits and can play an ever greater roles in the success of local communities.

Even though public finance will be under great pressure, the arts can deliver great benefit, he argued, in a recent speech. He pointed to examples of the arts contributing a great deal to local economies.

Later that year we ran the following editorial

Does the arts give value for money?

Do we get value for money from the Arts? When times are hard and people do not have much to spend, it is more important than ever that the arts are seen to be good value for money.

During the great depression of the 1920s, the one thing that bucked the trend was entertainment. People escaped from the harsh realities of every day life by going to clubs, pubs and music halls, where they could enjoy themselves and find some relief from the tribulations of worklessness, poverty and low incomes.

People haven’t changed that much. They still have a need for entertainment. What has changed of course is how they get it. Even in the poorest homes in this city you will find television sets. If people want to get out of the house and do something a bit more social, there are numerous opportunities available to suit all tastes.

Is art just for posh people? Well fine art or classical art might be but here at Artsin we take a different approach. Our pages reflect an overlap between the arts and entertainment. We do cover fine art but we tend to cover art as entertainment.

We have pages on comedy, popular dance, community arts, music for the masses, festivals and our visual arts pages cover films, photography, video and digital. We might even cover magic, fashion, poetry and children’s books. We take a wider view of the arts than most comparable magazines. We try to see the bigger picture.

If you had £20 to spend on a night out, what would you do? See a band? Go for a laugh at a comedy gig? See a show at Curve or De Montfort Hall? You could do any of these things on a budget of £20. If you’re unemployed, over 60 or under 16, the chances are you will get a discount ticket. There are also quite a few free events, particularly if you are a fan of live music.

if you want posh art and you can afford it, you have plenty of choices. What’s important here is that the arts, as we see them, are available to everyone. If you are from the Asian community, you have lots going on from Bangra to Bollywood. If you are from the African or Caribbean communities, you will not be short of things to do. If you are Polish or from one of the many European groups settled in Leicester, there will be events specific to your cultural interests.

This vibrant, multi-cultural city and county offers its peoples a huge variety of choice. Events of all kinds go on all year round, almost every day of the week, providing something for everyone, no matter what their age, ethnicity, orientation or health status. This is what makes Leicester a great place to live.

We get asked whether arts (broadly defined) should be subsidised from the public purse. We get asked specially whether the ‘big’ venues, like the De Montfort Hall, Curve or the Phoenix should be subsidised by rate payers.

We say no. There is no need for arts and entertainment venues to be subsidised by tax payers, especially in these financially stringent times. Generally speaking the arts and entertainment should be self-financing.

There is a case for investing in new artists, minority arts, the leading edge of creativity, improvements to access for people with disabilities, projects reaching out to people with mental or physical health issues, the very old, the very poor, the young … certain specific arts activities should qualify for financial support, where it is difficult or impossible to expect them to be self-financing.

A lot of work is going on to use the arts as a medium for reaching out to disadvantaged or excluded groups. That support should come primarily from charities but there is some case for justifying support from local authorities or the NHS were there are proven benefits both to the target groups (old, young, ill, excluded, at risk) and the public. The well being of individuals, groups and communities can be enhanced by the arts and there is a strong case for supporting these projects with money and other resources.

We do not see a case for justifying public expenditure on ‘big’ venues. Multi-million pound venues should be self-financing and not underwritten by the tax payer. That is not say that the buildings concerned should be in the private sector. We have already argued the case, in a previous editorial, for social enterprise approaches to running arts venues.

There is probably a stronger case for supporting the smaller venues that are vital to the life of a local community, where building and operating costs are difficult to sustain. Where the benefit to a community is worth every penny of the relatively small budgets they work to.

Big venues should be able pay for themselves. If they can’t then they are doing some wrong.

Art and entertainment bring millions of pounds into the local economy. More and more people are coming to Leicester and the county to enjoy the many festivals, events, shows and occasions that are on offer here. Those people contribute to local businesses, hotels, restaurants, bars, taxis … leisure is a vital part of the local economy.

Should local politicians meddle in the arts? asks Robert Mandell in a recent article in This is Leicestershire. In an outspoken and forthright piece, the one-time music Director of the Haymarket Theatre, argues that Leicester City Council should stop meddling in the arts. The debate continues as to how to find a sustainable future for the Hall that does not involve public subsidy. Politicians are divided on the issue of whether privatisation is the answer.

The City Council’s cabinet is to consider a “draft De Montfort Hall business plan”, according to The Leicester Mercury. Why? Do politicians think they can run an arts venue? Apparently they do and this lies at the root of the problems facing the DMH, and Curve. If the Council has any control over the future of these venues, there is only thing it should be doing: making sure that properly qualified and experienced managers are running them and then leaving them to get on with their jobs.

All these ‘big’ venues play a vital role in our local arts scene but none of them if big enough to compete with the high capacity theatres in Birmingham and Nottingham. Leicester politicians have only so far succeeded in putting relatively small capacity venues into the city. In consequence, Leicester fans have to travel outside of the city to get spend their ticket pounds elsewhere.
What Leicester needs is an arena level venue that can offer local people a local choice for big name acts and which could bring much needed revenue into the local economy. Not much chance of getting that in the present climate but as a long term goal, that is, in our view, a serious project.

[Arts in Leicester magazine,  25th November 2010]

See also:

Our lead article on the 2015 elections

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2011: Labour’s policy on the arts

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