Podcast: Mansfield is a Town in North Nottinghamshire

Arriving at Cologne

In April, I took a group of students to Europe on an enquiry-based learning challenge exploring two themes: Levelling up and Graduate Retention. My role was as their academic mentor which meant two things: Making sure they didn’t miss trains and ensuring they produced a list of suggestions which they would pitch on their return to the Mayor of Mansfield, Andy Abrahams, and Ashfield Independent, Councillor Matthew Relf. They were seeking advice on how to invest in their communities after receiving funding as part of the governments levelling up agenda.

In 2021, the government ranked areas from 1-3 using three categories: the most need for economic recovery and growth, the need for improved transport and connectivity, and the need for regeneration. Mansfield was ranked as the highest priority for support.

101 towns were offered funding as part of the government’s Town Fund proposals. Of this, Mansfield was awarded the lowest at £12.3 million whereas Ashfield received the highest with £62.6 million. Therefore, our trip was an opportunity to have a say in how some of that money might be spent.

My area of expertise is the creative industries and so I was interested in how the arts may help regenerate cities. I was accompanied by Iryna Kushnir who specialises in educational policy and whose focus was graduate retention. Iryna is originally from Ukraine. Just before we were about to head off, Russia invaded her home country.

Our route was created in collaboration with the students with the aim of visiting post-industrial cities who may face similar economic issues as Mansfield and Ashfield. However, we stuck to Northern Europe in anticipation of a refugee exodus into Central Europe. Our route was: Lille, Lens, Cologne, Arnhem, Utrecht, Rotterdam with a quick stop off in Brussels for a Belgium waffle.

In Cologne we visited a cooperative who supported each other through a skill share scheme and whose non-hierarchical structure was similar in principle to the Sumac Centre in Nottingham. From the visit, the students developed a Cycle Cinema idea whereby you could peddle out to remote areas and beam films onto derelict buildings. This had numerous benefits: It kept people fit, was carbon neutral, and helped bring culture to people who may not be able to leave home due to health (elderly) or due to costs (unemployed, refugees).

We visited Utrecht to hear about plans for ‘vertical forests’. Architect and urban planner, Stefano Boeri, has created innovative designs to bring some greenery back to concrete jungles. This is not only visually appealing but helps improve air quality. In the evenings, Utrecht transforms into a ‘Lumen Walk’ whereby buildings are lit up to highlight important historical places or hidden art works. The students loved this and argued that if it could be replicated back home it would create a sense of pride and may encourage repeat visits to the town centre.

In Rotterdam we visited Piet Blom’s ‘Cube Houses’ which are quirky designed homes that optimise space. These are next to Markthal, a sustainable building offering an alternative to the traditional market square, providing homes, office space, and a vibrant indoor market. This clustering of amenities mean you head straight to the market for lunch after visiting the Cube homes. They loved this and said if student accommodation or starter flats looked this impressive, they would have more pride in where they live and be more likely to invite people to visit.

Arnhem also provided lots of inspiration and ideas. At one point, this had lots of problems with anti-social behaviour and so required a radical rethink. One innovation was to create homes above shops so that artisans lived together and built community rather than leaving at 5pm. One immediate impact was they got to know the people causing the anti-social behaviour. They provided support, such as a fashion designer repairing clothes for homeless people and another who sowed stories and quotes from refugees into her clothing to visualise and validate their lives. Crime dropped, people talked to each other, and the area has now become a thriving fashion district.

On our return to the UK, I was contacted by Robert Shore, who had previously commissioned me to produce a programme about Alan Sillitoe for BBC Radio 3 series The Essay. Robert is originally from Mansfield but left for London many years ago to become creative director at Elephant and as deputy editor of Art Review magazine. He had recently started a podcast called Mansfield Is A Town In North Nottinghamshire about the past, present and possible futures of Mansfield and wondered if I had anything I might like to contribute. ‘Funny you should say that,’ I said…

You can listen to the podcast here which I co presented with two of the students from the trip, Tiffany Mayfield and Yianni Chrisodoulou.

Episode 8: Regreening Mansfield

The European Future Towns Challenge was funded by the Erasmus Scheme and organised by NTU Global.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All I want for Christmas is a new Broadmarsh Centre

As a youth, we would get the bus from Cotgrave to town every Saturday and hang about the Broadmarsh all day. Highlights included: jumping in trolleys and zooming down to the bus station, gawping at posters in Athena, wondering what a bender in a bap was at Wimpy (and why there weren’t more Wimpys) and causing havoc in the department stores to get chased by the security guard. In 2009 I tracked down the security guard who used to chase us (Eagon Chambers) and interviewed him for LeftLion.

I have no other fond memories of the Broadmarsh.

Today, it’s an ugly grey concrete lump that blocks your view of the city. I feel ashamed that it’s the first thing people see when they get off the train and head towards town. What message does this say about our city, our ambitions, our values? When the coronavirus lockdown brought a grinding halt to the intu redevelopment plan, I was ecstatic. The last thing Nottingham needed was another generic shopping centre like every other city. Now the council is forced to think differently and more imaginatively about city planning. Hallelujah.

The council is under enormous pressure at the moment as it faces bankruptcy after losing 38million in the failed Robin Hood Energy scheme and the various impacts of Covid on city life. Therefore, the temptation will (understandably) be focused on job creation and monetisation of public space. But we need to ride the storm. This is an incredible opportunity to do something different. We’re meant to be the rebel city, why not rebel against convention and tradition? We can do this by turning to our heritage.

A century before the industrial revolution, Nottingham was known as The Garden City due to its rich green landscape. We are home to Sherwood Forest and a certain bow selector. Let’s build on this heritage by striving to become a green city. Pop up markets and shops will provide the flexibility that covid demands as well as spaces for independents – many of whom will need support now that start-ups are becoming one of the most viable forms of employment as Arcadia etc headbutt the pavement.

The way we consume culture now is different. We stream, subscribe and share. Therefore, city space needs to reflect this fluidity. We need benches, trees, parks (think Henry Kirke White and Clifton Grove), places to commune, sit and reflect. Areas for gathering. Areas for communities. Yes, you can lob in a couple of coffee shops. Walls could be used to project artwork and films. But above all, keep it green. Replace pavements with pastures. Give us air we can breathe for once. In 2019, research found that poor air quality in Nottingham was responsible for more deaths than alcohol and road incidents combined.

My dream scenario would take inspiration from the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ in Singapore. Creating something green, iconic, and unique would generate tourism, giving people a proper reason to visit Nottingham. And you can still have your shops, just not here. A promenade of trees leading up to Market Square would drive the masses to Primani et all, thereby drawing clear distinctions in city space. Listen to people like Sarah Manton and the People’s Forest project which aims to reconnect Sherwood Forest with Nottingham. They will help you create a green trail through the city.

The redesigned Central Library would be the epicentre of this design. A place that values ideas, community, and imagination, with the snout of the Contemporary poking out in the distance. Nottingham’s new anthem will be the Stealers Wheels, with tourists singing: “The castle to the left of me! Nottingham College to the right! Here I am stuck in the library with you.”

If I’d have had a great green lump of grass greeting me in the 1980s, and the colours and smells of nature enticing me to sit down and be calm, I doubt I’d have felt the need to be so chelpy with security guards as a youth.

You can have your say about the future of the Broadmarsh Centre by visiting the Creative Quarter website and completing the public survey or business survey. The surveys are open until the 27 December 2020