The York: Living with History site is now archived with the end of the project in 2015. The project has developed into My Future York. For all new updates and events building on the Living with History project see: My Future York.
On 25th March, we kicked off the My Future York project with a stall on Parliament Street. We were asking people about their hopes for the future of York. A taster of some of the contributions are below and you can go at look at the full #myfutureyork gallery on Instagram.
Housing was a key issue that came up on the stall and was a focus of a pilot project we undertook in November last year called York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines. As part of the project, we invited a wide range of people to comment about the challenges York faces in terms of housing. Alison Sinclair in her piece ‘From New Earswick to Tang Hall: How York set the agenda for social housing’ explored York’s tradition of innovation in high quality and affordable housing. Darren Baxter and Alison Wallace, from the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy, asked ‘What is it that drives unaffordability in York?’. Through a specific focused project using the city archives we explored some of the stories behind York’s big changes and trends in housing, Carmen Byrne, in ‘Emotional Trauma, Community Upheaval, Long Silences’ uncovered the impact on people of compulsory purchase in 1970s. We have built on these pieces through commissioning a new piece, published last week, by Richard Bridge, giving a specific account how legislative changes will impact of York as a livable city, ‘A Right to the City?: The new legislation driving York’s gentrification’.
One key theme that emerged through York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines was about public engagement in future decision making. An openess to public discussion in the context of the new Local Plan and York Central was set out in a piece by Council Leader Chris Steward and Deputy Leader, Keith Aspden, ‘Don’t wait for us to come to you, please come and talk to us’ . Phil Bixby, chair, York Environment Forum and partner in the My Future York project, suggests that, while there are a lot of external drivers, one of the reasons the York is experiencing a housing crisis is that the city has found it hard to make decisions, ‘The real crisis York faces is a crisis of decision-making’.
One of the key aims of My Future York is to open up a public debate in dialogue with City of York Council so that we can build shared understanding of the issues York faces. Key issues we’re liking to want to explore – highlighted through the Parliament Street stall – including housing, affordable activities and city centre playspaces for families, access to green space, transport, flooding and York’s drinking culture / night time economy.
If you’d like to get involved in shaping the My Future York project, drop us a line via the comment function.
On Friday (25th March), we’ll be found exploring York’s pasts and thinking about York’s futures in the Little Marquee. Parliament Street (drop in 10am-3pm). The York Past, Present…and Future Event is the beginning of a new collaboration with York Past and Present, York Explore Libraries and Archives, York Environment Forum, Vespertine and the Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage, University of Leeds. A key focus of the project will be to explore how engagement with heritage can be used not only to think about what we value from the past but to open up ways of thinking in new ways about the city’s future planning and decision making. The tagline for the project is: The past was different to today, the future will be too – what future do we want for York?
This project is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival 2016 will take place across the UK culminating in a series of stall and workshops to be held 24-26th June as part of the Somerset House’s UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia.
York Environment Forum will be leading on a large map to help people think about what they’d like to do and the lives they’d like to live in the Future. York Past and Present will be using their powerful Then and Now images (like the one above) to prompt discussion about the histories of housing in York. They’ll also be asking for York in three word response: What should York value? What should York change?
A key issue we are addressing is the problem on ‘consultation’:
Helen Graham, Director, Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage, University of Leeds: ‘One of our motivations for undertaking the My Future York project as part of the Connected Communities Festival is to address the problem of consultation. Consultation is usually not designed in ways which enable people to engage with the complexity of the issues, to take into account other people’s needs or views or to take responsibility for the outcome. Consultation, therefore, has a range of negative effects. Not least that the views that consultation processes enable often appear thin and uninformed. As such, consultation often just exacerbates cynicism, from both decision makers and members of the public. We want to explore more creative and fun alternatives, through engaging richer understandings, local memories and knowledge and collective hope – pasts and futures – to develop more dynamic engagements in local democracy’.
Phil Bixby, chair of York Environment Forum, ‘York desperately needs a framework for engaging its residents in the process of change. Much current consultation founders on the misplaced belief in an enduring if imperfect present, rather than a belief that the future could be different, let alone better. The Environment Forum is keen to help unlock the imagination of the public to work towards a more sustainable future for York’.
The project is really interested in exploring our engagement with York’s past can help in open up different approaches to consultation and future planning – which take local knowledge and collective imaginations really seriously:
Victoria Hoyle, City Archivist says: ‘Archives are usually associated with studying history and the past. You wouldn’t necessarily think they were useful for imagining and creating our futures. But actually archives are powerful tools for understanding change, for getting into the minds of our predecessors, and so better understanding our own motivations and actions. Archives give context to what is happening now and help to reflect on what might be possible in the future.’
York Past and Present facebook group has over 12,000 members who regular share photos and memories and together represent enormous recourse of knowledge and creativity about York. Richard Brigham and Lianne Brigham, administrators for the group said, ‘We are taught that with age comes experience and that experience is something we learn by so without looking at our past we can’t be expected to learn for the future’.
The event will act as a prompt for the rest of project, we’ll use it to pull out key questions and ideas that need further public debate and to help us plan our future events and activities.
Our overall aims are:
- Open exploration of visions for York’s future – starting with what individual people, families and communities want to do in their lives now and in the next 10, 20 and 30 years. We will do this through stalls, workshops and through online engagement.
- Active engagement with York’s past to open up new perspectives on issues facing the city such as flooding and housing. We will do this through workshops at York Explore Libraries and Archives and walks through the city’s historic and green environments.
- Deepening and extending understanding of the crucial issues that determine the city’s future and seeking alternative ways forward, We will do this through public talks and workshops, from green belt legislation to approaches to transport and engaging with new ideas and inspiring ways forward from elsewhere.
- Developing resonant stories about the city and what the city might become through exploring new ways of working with lots of different types of contributions people might make from oral histories, memories and archive photos to workshop flip charts and post it notes and social media discussion and by creating a dynamic feedback loops to iteratively inform York’s public debate.
- Feeding into policy making and decision making. We will do this by being proactive in involving York’s policy makers and decision makers as we go along, feeding into formal consultations (e.g. Local Plan and York Central) and opening up new ways for the city to approach ‘consultation’ in the future.
If you’d like to get involved us the contact form.
The York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines project is well underway now with 11 researchers – many of whom are members of York Past and Present facebook group – developing case studies on different areas of York. People have chosen the case studies for a variety of reasons but a key reason has been having a personal connection to that area.
The main areas of interest so far – and we’d love to hear from people with memories or family connections in any of these areas – are:
1930s Walmgate [and then those that moved to Tang Hall or Heworth]
1953-1961 Wood Street area (near Heworth Green)
1960s Mayfield Grove off Tadcaster Road
1969-1978 Dennison Street (off Huntington Road)
Late 1960s-l970s Clementhorpe and Bishophill (and starting to find out more about the Clementhorpe Action Group and Bishophill Action Group)
1971-1973 York 2000 campaign against the inner ring road (starting next week)
Alongside the archive work we’ve been sharing opinion pieces on our blog looking at the issues of York and Housing from lots of different perspectives. The first is by Council Leader Chris Steward and Deputy Leader Keith Aspden setting out the issues they see facing York in terms of housing today and, in the light of the Local Plan, encouraging people ‘not to wait for us to come to you, please come and talk to us’. In the second Phil Bixby, Chair, York Environment Forum argues that while we do have a housing crisis in York the real crisis we have is a crisis of decision making and suggests that we need alternatives to the ‘consultation’ model of public participation which often fails to allow for creativity and positive engagement. Most recently, we’ve posted a piece by York Historian Alison Sinclair, showing how the innovative social housing developed by Joseph Rowntree in New Earswick influenced both developments in Tang Hall and at a national level through the post-First World War Homes fit for Heroes scheme.
We have two workshops later this week to share what we’ve found – hoping those who come can help us develop our case studies and thinking further.
20th November, 3-6pm OR 22nd November, 1-4pm (the content of the workshops will be the same so book on to the date that suits you best)
York Explore. Book a place
If you’d like to know more, get involved or share memories and photographs, contact Helen Graham on firstname.lastname@example.org
In June, as part of the the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Festival, we ran an event ‘What has heritage ever done for us?’. We’ve developed some full proceedings of the ‘What has heritage ever done for us?’ event (which you can find by scrolling down), which also includes an overview of the York: Living with History project.
The event has led directly to a mini project – York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines to be launched this week – will exploring how York’s archives and heritage might be used to enliven public involvement in key decisions facing the city.
The June event also used Open Space techniques to generate group discussions for the rest of the event. Out of this some ideas for future activity were developed – with York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines as one aspect of this and a email discussion list for issues related to York and Heritage on its way.
1) Proactive not reactive: Build on Local List to ensure very early engagement with what is significant to try and reduce crisis moment around specific buildings at threat.
2) Develop more playful ways of people being involved in decisions at the city level: Can history and heritage help here and act as a point of connection for contributing towards decisions affecting the future of the city?
3) Historic Environment Record: to link up different people’s knowledge about York and become a resource for engaging in decision making.
4) Bridging arts and heritage divide: To arrange a hack day to bring lots of people interested in Guildhall and Digital Media Arts to explore ways of interpreting the Guildhall.
5) Public documentation: Linking up private owners with fascinating interiors with people interested in documenting them.
6) Understand better how ‘heritage’ affects York: Heritage has a range of complex effects – how can we more self-conscious use it to live well together.
7) Understand better York today: Idea of mass observation or other forms to ‘make tomorrow’s history’.
8) Set up York Heritage Network (mailing list plus facebook page). Not to replace the forums but a loose network for information flow and initiating proactive responses to issues (e.g. Guildhall / Maltings). We’ve done this now and you can join here: www.jiscmail.ac.uk/YORKANDHERITAGE
If you’d like to get involved in any of these ideas – or to keep in touch with developments – email Helen Graham on email@example.com
Next Wednesday, York Museums Trust are seeking City of York Council approval to charge for entry for York citizens to all sites (including a £7.50 charge for York Art Gallery) and to institute a membership scheme (£22/£17 with York Card; £6/£5 with York Card if you are a user of benefits).
Anyone can attend the meeting and contribute towards the debate and decision, if you want to speak you just need register.
In 2002 York Museum Trust was created and taken out of direct Council control. While the city still owns the buildings and collections, the Trust was set up to manage their stewardship, access and interpretation. Since 2012 YMT has experienced a cut of £900,000 (60%) from City of York Council and now are only funded by the city for 10% of their activities. The stated aspiration is to be ‘a self-sustaining commercial organisation’. One of the conditions on setting up the Trust was that residents of York would have free entry to the museums, something that has been managed through the York Card. Next Wednesday’s City of York Council decision is necessary as York Museums Trust are asking the council to overturn that condition.
I think we can all recognize that public sector funding cuts have backed the people charged with running YMT into a corner. At the same time I also think we as a city need to seize this opportunity to take responsibility for helping the Trust’s museum professionals and Trustees to create the museums we want and think the city needs.
There are two issues here. There is the issue of funding – but there is also the issue of public accountability and democratic involvement.
Free entry isn’t enough: Free entry increases visitor numbers, but not necessarily audience diversity
To take the issue of funding and charging first. Three major pieces of research have been conducted into the effects of free entry to National Museums in 2001. The first thing to note is that visitors numbers increased massively – up to 120% (in the case of the Science Museum and V&A). The likelihood of any introduction of entry fees in York is that visitor numbers will drop substantially. This may also affect revenue generated in café and shops (as evidence shows this did increase in the years after free entry was introduced in National Museums). However, the biggest danger is the museums becoming irrelevant and not part of the day to day lives of people who live in York.
Yet one of the striking findings of the most recent research is that free entry has not increased the diversity of visitors overall:
Even ambitious measures such as the institution of free entry to national museums, one of the country’s most internationally visible and admired policies for cultural access, has failed in its declared mission to make Britain’s flagship museums more inclusive. Analysis of annual performance indicators of DCMS-funded museums reveals that visits by UK residents fell by 3% over the period 2008/09 to 2011/12 while visits from UK residents from lower social groups fell even more, by 12%. The higher social groups accounted for 87% of all museums visits, the lower social groups for only 13%.53*
This isn’t an argument in favour of introducing entry fees – but it is a warning that free entry isn’t enough to create a dynamic and vital local museum service. There is, however, a lot of evidence (including in the Heritage Decisions research project that of which Living with History is part) to suggest that participatory approaches which value what people know and can bring – including at the level of governance – do work in engaging people who do have not traditionally used museums.
Public accountability and democratic involvement with our museums
Secondly, Trust status. York Museums Trust is a charity governed by Trustees. Two of these Trustees are Cllrs and therefore elected by people who live in York. The other eleven Trustees are appointed by existing Trustees. The current call for Trustees emphasizes professional and ‘senior’ experience. In the current call for Trustees local knowledge and community networks are not being explicitly valued and there are no direct ways in which people living in York can influence the appointment of Trustees. Regardless of whether you think York Museums Trust is doing a good job, the structure bequeathed YMT by the then council on the Trust’s inception is less than promising if you want a democratic, open, participatory museum service. The membership scheme posed by YMT is notably less community orientated than has been set up as part of Community Membership at York Explore as part of the Community Interest Company.
The vision and mission of YMT is also very ambitious and outward facing. But this aspiration holds the danger of getting in the way of itself. Sometimes ‘world class’ and local participation are seen as opposites, but I always think of David Simon on his programme The Wire. Simon said he wanted the drama to feel completely true to people working and living in Baltimore, even if that meant viewers from elsewhere having to get their ear into the dialogue and slang. Problematic though the idea of authenticity is, when any of us are tourists the last thing we want to feel is that we’re been given a generic and pre-packed offer. While I am not saying YMT is generic, I would suggest that an even better experience for people visiting York would come through rooting the museums within the city, grassroots up. There are countless examples of a community-led tourism offer in other parts of the world – we could learn from these inspiring examples. Better local engagement – and real participation – also enriches the experience for visitors.
Greater democratic engagement
To take the issues of funding and democratic engagement together, next Wednesday’s decisions is one of the levers that the City of York Council has to shape York Museums Trust. If charging and the membership scheme are accepted as proposed or with the conditions currently offered in Option B (Kids Go Free plus free attendance on residents weekends), then not only will the people of York lose their rights to freely visit and engage with their collections but also – assuming charging enables the Trust to become more financially self sufficient (which it might not) – then the influence the Council can assert has the potential to wane further too.
There is a petition saying no to all charges. I’ve signed this and encourage everyone too. The papers for the meeting, however, are strongly discouraging of Councilors rejecting all charges. It is claimed this would cost the council £700,000 to subsize York Card holders and gift aid on charging already factored in the YMT accounts.
While the best case scenario is that charges are rejected by councilors seeking to protect our rights to freely visit our collections and sites, the worst case scenario is that charging is accepted without any conditions. So if Option B is the most likely outcome then we must build in further conditions to support and extend public accountability and democratic rights. Next Wednesday, as a city, we must also make the collective commitment to further enshrine democratic involvement in governance through the York Museums Trust Service Level Agreement for 2018 onwards.
Extending free membership and extending the idea of membership
In keeping with one of the partners from our Heritage Decisions research project – Bede’s World in Jarrow – could we insist that any membership for YMT is linked to governance as it is in a co-operative model?
So here are some additions to Option B that have been debated on various groups on facebook:
1) Kids Go Free
2) York citizens who use benefits of any kind (including housing benefit) can register to become members for free.
3) Entry is free for all with proof of residency on residents day and one other day.
4) Membership can be free in return for volunteer hours.
5) The membership scheme is accompanied by rights of involvement in the governance of York Museums Trust (e.g. two members positions on the Trustee group, open annual general meetings and quarterly active consultation around future programme or big decisions).
My preferred option would be free entry plus an active local membership and democratic accountability leading to a rooted and vital museum service that sees the people who live here as produces of the city’s culture, history and heritage.
And who is to say Option B, if membership is extended to include sustained democratic rights, wouldn’t lead back to free entry anyway.
And we have between now and 2018 to negotiate a new Service Level Agreement that is more ambitious for the people of York’s involvement in their museums than simply the right to walk through the doors.
*Selwood, S. (2013) The Museums Association, Museums 2020 and its Public Attitudes Research. Unpublished report commissioned by the Museums Association
The aim of our ‘What has heritage ever done for us?’ event today is to hear from – and create a space for dialogue between – lots of different people, coming from lots of different perspectives. The ethos of the York: Living with History project – and the wider research project it’s part of ‘How should heritage decisions be made?’ – has been that as a city we can’t really know ‘the character of York’, as the Council Leadership have framed it, nor make good decisions about the city’s future, without actively creating conditions for many people to make contributions.
We have a great range of speakers today and here we share a written contribution by one of York’s most thoughtful and deeply well-informed commentators, Lisa from the York Stories website. For over 10 years now Lisa has been using York Stories to keep a ‘residents record of York and its changes’. In her piece, Lisa draws attention to the ways in which old and new; heritage and innovation are too often opposed, held apart as opposites. Lisa calls for those wanting ‘to make their mark on the city’ to do so with the grain of York’s local distinctiveness and ‘more sympathetically to the solidity that came before, the distinctive shape of what’s already there’.
A contribution from York Stories
I’m one of those York born and bred people. I know we can be annoying when we go on about this, and that we can make other people who’ve moved here more recently feel like they’re not accepted and don’t belong. I don’t want to do that, but I do have to write from the perspective of someone who has lived here for 40-plus years.
Heritage is what we inherit. And if you’re born in a place and live in it for decades then you have a weightier inheritance to think about, assuming you’ve grown to have attachments and understandings about the place, as most of us do. I’m thinking not just of the built heritage but of a cultural heritage too.
Concerns about the protection of heritage are often dismissed as ‘fear of change’. I’ve often thought, if I did fear change as much as members of the ‘heritage brigade’ are accused of doing then I’d be cowering in a corner silent and terrified by now, as there’s been so much change.
York-born people of my generation and older have seen enormous changes in recent decades. The factories where so many people worked when I was a child are now part of our ‘heritage’ rather than workplaces. The city turned towards tourism and welcomed visitors, more recently it has seen a massive increase in the student population and residents who have graduated from the universities. This has changed the feel of the place quite dramatically. It’s most noticeable probably in the Walmgate area, where we now have the interestingly named ‘Student Castle’.
This has resulted in tension and difficulty between opposing perspectives, the ‘new stuff’ and the ‘old stuff’, those who want to make their mark on the city and those who want to protect its heritage.
I’ve found it troubling the way heritage and ‘new stuff’ have recently been set up as if in opposition by members of the growing creative sector. Heritage is often portrayed as some dull dusty thing getting in the way.
The UNESCO designation as a City of Media Arts and associated plans for the Guildhall provoked particularly heated debate, emphasising the divisions between different communities within the city.
“The proposal for the Guildhall complex is part of a bigger picture and demand being pushed through the city by the creative sector” said an article in oneandother.com. The UNESCO designation is “about York pushing forward” suggested a recent piece in the Press. There seems to be quite a lot of pushing going on. It’s no wonder some of us feel a little concerned, and fear that the things we care about will be pushed out of the way, destroyed or silenced.
Recently on Twitter I noticed a photo taken in Beverley, in East Yorkshire, some decades ago. A photo of a bus going through Beverley’s North Bar. The bus had a really unusual shape, at the top. Not flat and wide, but with the sides of the roof at an angle, forming a more pointed roof. The roof matched the shape of the North Bar’s opening and allowed the buses to go through it. A solution to heritage being ‘in the way’ of the needs of 20th century life, an imaginative and thoughtful one, and a local one.
There’s a message there for those wanting to drive through change in York. I hope that they’ll take their journey through the city with more respect for what’s already there, shaping their changes more sympathetically to the solidity that came before, the distinctive shape of what’s already there, rather than driving through change regardless.
In Beverley, to help with traffic flow, they could have knocked down the bar. In York we nearly removed ours, and took the barbican from most of them. No doubt at the time the ‘heritage brigade’ were seen as trying to stand in the way of progress …
For the future, I would like to see us broaden our awareness and appreciation of heritage to include the places and experiences perhaps more resonant to groups of people currently under-represented in the many dialogues about the city’s heritage. Many voices remain unheard.
It’s clear that those who know how to get support and funding will have a clear advantage, and that there are many people left on the periphery unable to influence decisions on heritage or have their stories and experiences recognised as part of York’s story. I fear that the dominant narratives will end up wiping out or obscuring the local distinctiveness, ignoring what is already known. A challenge for the future is to make sure that the less visible heritage and the quieter voices are recognised and recorded.