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dreams of something better

May 3, 2011

I spoke to my friend and former colleague Gerry Hassan last week about his project ‘A Scottish Wave of Change’ which is part of the cultural Olympiad. It’s a sort of national story-telling project, organized in workshops across Scotland. I find it odd that things like this and three letters that spell out the word RUN can coexist as ‘Olympic culture’. But good too, obviously.

What is ‘A Scottish Wave of Change’?

A Scottish Wave of Change project is about stories, the future and change. It is a four year programme which sits in the Cultural Olympiad – which aid, nurtures and encourages people across Scotland to think, imagine and then create their own future.

Why are you doing it?

The project follows the imaginative Scotland 2020 and Glasgow 2020. Those projects were immense eye-openers to me, about the capacity of people to be creative, imaginative and tell hopeful stories, whereas as we know ‘the official story’ often rights people off. A Scottish Wave of Change was the chance to develop this further, and see how far we could go aiding and nurturing change.

What has it got to do with the Olympics?

A Scottish Wave of Change is part of the Cultural Olympiad. We started our first events with an exploration of the Olympic and Paralympic values; inviting people to identify the values they would like a future Scotland to embody.

Your project is a sort of cultural project because it’s about stories, but it’s also political because it’s about the future. Are the conversations supposed to be a chamber of political debate, or is it just about creating conversations between people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other, about things they wouldn’t normally talk about?

It is more about aiding conversations, listening and dialogue. Bringing people together. In some bringing together people who haven’t spoken in years and getting past that. In some cases this can be people who live in neighbouring streets. Some of this can be simple and complex, but takes time and involves nurturing spaces which aren’t official or part of the system.

What will happen at the end? How will you represent people’s stories – is this like a census?

A Scottish Wave of Change at its conclusion will have lots of stories, theatre, music, film, conventional stories and graphic novels. We will have several local future visions. And we plan to bring this together and capture the myriad stories of the future, and tour some of the stories around Scotland with discussions, conversation and various exchanges and are looking at numerous ways this can happen.


Invent your own competition, enter it yourself.

April 28, 2011

My friend Max visited the Olympic stadium in Stockholm recently and sent me these photos of the stadium. The games were held there 1912, four years after the first London games.

Pierre de Coubertin the founder of the modern Olympics and the Chair of the International Olympic Committee, was very keen that the Stockholm Olympics should have a cultural festival – so keen that when the Royal Academy in Stockholm refused to organise his proposed series of artistic competitions on the grounds that artists would not be able to glorify athletic life as they lacked any technical knowledge of athleticism, he pressed ahead and had the IOC run the festival itself. Medals were awarded in Architecture, Music, Sculpture, Painting and Literature. Somewhat amusingly de Coubertin entered the literature competition under a pseudonym and won the gold medal for the competition himself.

I think this model of belligerently using the Olympics to invent your own competition, entering it yourself and winning is a useful example for anyone who wants to make the Olympics their own.

I found out most of this in the 1912 Olympic report that Max pointed me towards. Thanks Max.

Here are some pictures I cut and pasted from it.

Lord Bates is go

April 27, 2011

His website


His Facebook

Category Error

April 27, 2011

Last week I went to go and have a cup of tea with these men who fish on the Regents Canal just below Victoria Park, a bit west of the Olympic site. They have been fishing on the same stretch of the Canal since the 1950s back in the days when you needed a key to a gate to access the towpath. They are adamant that there are way more boats on the canal than there used to be. Talking to them made me think that the issue with the boaters really has very little to do with the Olympics. It just seems that there are alot more boats on the canal than there used to be, and there’s only so much space for boats on the canal. You can argue about the best ways to decide who does and doesn’t get to live on the canal and the ethics of those decisions, but to make it about the Olympics just seems a bit of a category error.

Teddy from Korea: Reported.

April 14, 2011

Collecting items in homes from competing nations continues. This Teddy competes for Korea. Thanks Esme.

World in Den

April 13, 2011

Esme from Lift sent me these pictures from one of the schools they have been working with in Ilford. The children made a den, filled with  objects from different countries around the world that they collected from their homes. The world in a Den. Not sure what they all are – particularly the odd picture of the man with poppy heads where his face should be.

Interested? Why not do it yourself.



‘The Olympics is an opportunity, but it is also a huge monster’ – a boater talks.

April 8, 2011

The London boating community have attracted a considerable amount of attention recently. New regulations proposed by British Waterways, intended to come into effect before the London Olympics could significantly increase the cost of living on the canals and the River Lea in London. A campaign has been launched by London Boaters to fight the new regulations. Their facebook group is here.

This Guardian article from March this year contains a rather harsh quote from a British Waterways spokesperson.

‘But we have to control the number of boats, which have increased by 40% over the last four years on the Lea. The only way we can do this is through price, and some people will have to suffer.’

I spoke to a campaigner to find out more.

What have these new regulations got to do with the Olympic Games?

British Waterways say that these regulations have nothing to do with the Olympic Games, as the Olympic Waterways inside the park are not yet open to boaters. The waterways around the Olympic site will be subject to security measures, with only one-trip boats having permission to cruise the River Lee. All other boats will be removed to an exclusion zone which is only just now being defined as planing applications from the Park are being submitted – this is also news to British Waterways who are kept almost as much in the dark as anyone else attempting to find out and plan ahead for what is to be imposed.

The suspicion is that ‘tatty’ boats (boats in various states of disrepair, with perhaps building materials on their roof) would be unsightly and that either British Waterways has decided for itself, or pressure has been brought upon them to remove these boats from the immediate vicinity of the Olympic site – away from cameras. It is also suspected that British Waterways are using the timetable of the Olympics to push the reforms through.

Aren’t they responding to legitimate concerns about security though?

No one is going to argue with security issues. British Waterways have planned to make mooring sites available for a charge for visiting boaters during the Olympics. Some of these moorings are regularly occupied by continuous cruisers (live-a-boards without a permanent mooring). The legality of British Waterways  charging for moorings for the Olympics is dubious. However they will need to accommodate up to 800 extra boats and provide facilities for them, and this is how they have decided to approach it

Are these regulations just a natural consequence of more people living on the water? Surely there must come a point when there are just too many boats on the river…

The fact is that the choice to live on a boat is one that more people have been making, particularly in some urban areas like East London. This is a response to the high cost of housing in the Capital, and as an alternative to a capital based lifestyle which seems to be more or less imposed by the mainstream consumer led culture. So there is a demand for living on water – but no proper framework for accommodating and meeting that demand. Residential moorings has to involve planning permission from local councils and it can be difficult to persuade them to give the ok.

There is plenty of space that could be developed into suitable moorings if British Waterways created the incentives for investment, or if they responded to individuals who want to bring moorings into service..

My view is that the demand should be seen as a positive thing and ways explored and created to meet that demand – providing low cost housing with a strong community ethic should be encouraged, and could be seen as a social asset – not a problem. It could herald the redevelopment of more run down urban waterways, but in an affordable way – not just to create over priced waterside housing developments or exclusive marina moorings. I guess it is a question of values, and maybe even of prejudice against one chosen form of lifestyle – those of low impact living and the traveler.

Who will be the prime beneficiaries of the new regulatory system?

The objective is that these regulations will keep people moving more frequently, with the intention of freeing up visitor mooring spaces in hotspots. They are also designed to discourage any further increases in the number of people choosing this as a lifestyle in London. They are also designed to generate a revenue through overstay fines, which it is intended will fund the policing and enforcement of these regulations. So on the face of it British Waterways should benefit through fund raising for enforcement staff, and occasional visitors to London should benefit by there being more spaces at which they can moor.

In reality no one is likely to gain any real benefit from the regulations as they are currently drawn up. They are unenforceable, have unintended consequences if people attempt to comply with them, such as more boat movements at the weekend – the busiest time for rowers and canoeists on the Lee. They will be met with deep and prolonged resistance which will be costly to deal with, one boat at a time. Better to reassess the issues, deal with the practical aspects which can be sorted out by some creative positive solutions, and open up the thinking regarding the future use of the waterways, particularly the urban waterways.

If they are passed, how would the new regulations affect you personally?

I am starting a trading business on the London Waterways. These regulations will not affect us directly. They will affect the community of people living on London’s waterways. This community is part of what gives the waterways life and meaning. It is the mystique of that chosen lifestyle and the presence of that community which creates added interest in the canals in the eyes of visitors, both local residents and definitely foreign visitors.

What proportion of boaters will be affected?

Estimates around 200 boats in London and up to 400 in the area affected by the proposals (my guess).

If the new regulations come into force, how do you think the experience of walking down a towpath will differ five years from now?

The canals is one place where a diverse group of users from all sorts of backgrounds and income levels manage to get along reasonably well, help each other out when in need, and all because of a shared love of the waterway environment, its heritage, boating life, and valuing simplicity and being close to nature, even within a city. The canals could change into a ‘gated’ community of marinas for those who can afford the high mooring fees. Fewer boats would be able to comply with the new regulations while maintaining their current responsibilities and activities, and therefore have to abandon this lifestyle. Boat resale prices would be affected locally, as a boat would be almost worthless without a mooring to go with it. The canals would become an exclusive gentrified environment and not a vibrant creative alternative one. It would loose its soul and the social and potential economic asset of a living community would be lost.

How many people support your campaign, how many people do you need to support it?

In the hundreds at the moment, In the thousands is what is needed

What’s special about the Olympics?

The Olympics is an opportunity, but it is also a hugh monster that is disrupting so many institutions, businesses and people’s lives. It is also full of promise but finds it difficult to deliver those promises down to the people for whom it is ostensibly there to benefit. It is not allowed to fail or to be seen to fail in any way because the world’s media is on it – so it will be an inevitable media success – even if that is staged, and things get trampled on in the process. I am attempting to negotiate this opportunity and create something out of it that will be of real benefit to local people (see Social Enterprise London – conference on the Olympic legacy). The waterways and the life on it is the key.