The TLANG Project: Artistic outputs…in progress

By Jessica Bradley

Our project has a number of different artistic and research outputs. This has been in part why working on this endeavour has been so invigorating and exciting. It’s also why – as the weeks go by – it’s so consuming. For all of us!

Here’s a quick summary of all the different ‘things’ we’re currently working on.

Small silk paintings

The first outputs are the small silk paintings that the workshop participants made themselves. These were handkerchief sized and were taken away by the participants to keep. We asked the groups to consider the word welcome, and what it means. We asked the participants to think about welcome in different languages, in their own languages, or in pictures. One that Bev Adams was particularly drawn to included a washing line. Where are you welcome? Where you can hang your clothes. Where you can take them out of your suitcase.


Large silk paintings

The second outputs are the larger silk pieces which were painted for the organisations themselves. With these, we tried to incorporate the images and words from the original silk paintings. One of the participants, in week 2, talked to me about preserving the language of his tribe. He wanted me to sketch out the words ‘Zaghawa language’ in Zaghawa. He wrote it on a piece of paper and I transferred it onto the silk. This now appears on the larger piece which will be given to RETAS to hang in their offices.

Artists Helen Thomas and Stephanie James led the painting workshops. You can check out some of Helen’s other work here on her blog:


The vocal score

During the final two workshops, local composer – the wonderfully talented Maria Jardardottir – led singing and vocal workshops. She also recorded our singing and vocal work and will be using this to create a soundtrack. This will be a vocal piece around the theme of welcome and the city. You can hear more of Maria’s work here:

The film 

Paul Cooke from the Centre for World Cinemas at the University of Leeds produced a short film for us, based on the workshop at RETAS, Leeds. You can watch the film here:


The book

I am working on a short book, or rather pamphlet, about the process – focusing on ‘welcome’ and what it means to be ‘welcome’ in utopia. This , I hope, will take the form of a fold out map of ‘utopia’. In this I will include extracts of conversations we had across the different workshops, in which we discussed the idea of welcome and what it means.

The performance 

Faceless Arts, with performers from the University of Leeds – the Schools of Performance and Cultural Industries (PCI) and Languages Cultures and Societies (LCS) will develop a performance based on the idea of migration and home, and of welcome. This will be previewed on the University of Leeds campus on 22nd June, and then taken to the Utopias Fair at Somerset House on 24-26 June.

We’ll be updating you over the next few weeks as work on the performance progresses. Please keep an eye on this blog!

More info about the fair is available here: Do come and see us if you’re in London that weekend! We’ll be sure to offer a warm welcome!

But, while we’re not only creating these threads, we’re also trying to weave them together. And it’s got me thinking about what it means to be welcome, and how we welcome. How does it feel to be welcome and how do we know that we are welcomed? How do I want to be welcomed?


A few weeks ago a school friend invited me to come to a gig with her at Unity Works. She had a cold drink waiting for me on the table as I arrived at the bar, half an hour late, in a flurry, after struggling to leave the house in time during the tricky teatime, bedtime ritual (or dance) that having small children entails. The gig itself was Threshold – songs and stories of hospitality (do go and see if you get the chance). We all filled in pieces of paper describing when we feel welcome and what it means. Some alignment with our project – a nice alignment. Why are we thinking so much about welcome during these times? Is it as the referendum approaches and we think about staying together (or, for some, leaving) and how we all rub alongside each other in the day-to-day? Does reflecting on what it means, and how we do it, and how it feels mean we’ll change the way we do it? Will we do it differently? Or will we simply be more aware as we continue to welcome people in the ways we always have – just thinking about it a little bit more.

Some further reading on hospitality includes Derrida on Hospitality (a useful short summary is available on thiswebpage which offers an encyclopaedia of philosophy); Thomas More’s Utopia and Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity.

Wonderland: the art of being human

The Wonderland project is about recovery, art and utopia – the hope and active desire for a better present and future. It is mainly about recovery from substance mis-use but also concerns mental health. It is a “Recoverist” research project – a bringing together of art, activism and recovery.


The Utopia Fair

At the Utopia Fair at Somerset House, the Wonderland team displayed books, a film, emotion cubes and portraits made during the research engagement project.

They used a camping toilet tent as a photobooth and invited visitors to use Cristina Nunez’s methodology to make self portraits using a polaroid-style camera.


The methodology involves an exploration of emotions. Our first day at the Fair coincided with the result of the referendum on whether to remain in Europe.



A mother and daughter were visiting a nearby university where the daughter hoped to study. They said that their portraits marked a moment of change as the young woman prepared to leave home.


Comments on Wonderland books and film

Bill White U.S activist

“I found the 1st cut of Wonderland absolutely fascinating. I have never seen anything quite like it and have hopes it might stimulate other artists to explore recovery through multiple media. I am quite exciting about the possibilities of expressing recovery activism through the arts.”

Wonderland participants

“The film is still for me the most amazing thing. It’s completely different from anything else I have seen about recovery because it captures the process, it is a living thing.”

About the Utopia Fair “Amazing weekend with thinking, feeling people who are brimming full of ideas and actions to make the world a better place for us all.”

Christina Douglass, Arts and Health filmmaker

Powerful, moving, and really thought provoking. Beautiful too. Excellent example of collaborative visual practices generating profound benefit.

Gemma Meek, PGR, MMU, researching collaborative artists books

“The books were beautiful, some really raw and brutal, others quite poetic – some of the portraits reminded me of traditional, art historical styles – the dark backgrounds like Velazquez, the lady with long red hair, very Pre-Raphaelite. When reading the books, I almost felt like I was imposing or entering very personal spaces, and at times this made me feel rather uncomfortable. I don’t view this as a bad aspect, I wonder if in some ways they are meant to be slightly confrontational and honest. Were the photobooks meant to be viewed outside of the group? Were the participants making in mind of a particular reader?”

More information can be found at Wonderland and Recovery

Eloquent Brain


The ‘Eloquent Brain’ is a series of artworks by Lisa Carter, filmed by Culture Colony. It has been created for the Utopia Fair at Somerset House 4-26 June 2016, a collaboration between Somerset House Trust in partnership with Connected Communities.


Part of the Dementia & Imagination project. More information can be found on their Website and Twitter.

The Utopia Séance

The Ghost Lab

This event took place at the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme on July 29th, 2016 in the Main Auditorium as the culmination of work taking place in the North Staffordshire coalfield area during February to June 2016 and involved the project team working with Borderlines at the New Vic Theatre to develop an initial co-production event (“Is there anybody there?”), a community outreach process (“Utopia Ghosthunting”) and an intergenerational preproduction event (“The New Vic Ghost Lab”) leading to a performance called ‘The Utopia Séance’.



Reflections from Sue Moffat, New Vic Theatre

The ghost lab at the New Vic had 15 community members and a real connected and diverse group from people who had been involved directly with the fight for the coalfield communities during the strikes, and those who had become involved with those post industrial devoted communities through work with the Stoke on Trent City council but also Trussell Trust food-banks, young people (in difficult circumstances, unemployed and to a certain extent currently unemployable) from coal mining families who had all but lost those connections, and young adults with learning disabilities equally contributing and engaged.


The community cast reached the number of 13, again a real mixed group including a young man with autism, a young woman with cerebral-palsy, our oldest member was 75, a retired community midwife from a coal mining background in Barnsley and others connected through friendship or work with the coal mining stories.


The material used for the performance was generated from our ghost hunting series. We reached 38 individuals and had on-going meetings with 9 Unite Community members who are x NUM and who shared their direct stories of the experiences of the 84/5 strike and the on-going 12/13 year battle to keep the coalfields open. Some of their voices were heard during the performance.


We were also privileged to accompany our community members on the Justice for Orgreave event, traveling in the minibus with 8 x miners 2 who had been at Orgreave 32 years earlier. We met Bob Burnett and Kevin Horne and we have maintained contact with them through social media. It was great to see the various dots joined together as the connectivity of the coal-mining communities of the UK became apparent crossing the country and actually generations, what a privilege. Also phrase which had become almost mantra like which we heard form so many different mouths completely independently.


And finally what a great turn out for the performance over 100 in the audience, again completely inter-generational and a real community occasion full of warmth and camaraderie, and moving and real. We did not skirt around the issues but in the best tradition of the neutral space which is theatre, created a safe space where conflicting and difficult narratives could exist alongside the presence of absence and the indeed the ghosts played their part. The feedback has been extremely positive and we will look for ways of developing what we started with this project and maintain our connections with the communities who played their part with us in achieving ‘The Unquiet’.


At the Utopia Fair

The Utopia Ghost Lab – tarot reading, creative writing, drawing and banner making…


The Ghost Lab Comic

A comic created by Jim Medway, based on our Ghost Lab with young people from Hackney Voices of Youth at the AHRC Utopia Festival.

You can download a copy from

Ghost Lab

The Utopia Seance is part of the Social Haunting project. More information can be found on their Website and Twitter

Mapping the Music

A potential space: music as a catalyst for improved community cohesion

‘Mapping the Music’ is a co-produced participatory arts research project taking place as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias. It looks at the potential that music has to create a space for positive contact between students and schools and act as a catalyst for improved community cohesion. The project developed a series of workshops on local music practice and heritage in collaboration with the Roma heritage communities within Page Hall and in the Fir Vale area of Sheffield. The project aimed to improve the profile of the Roma community, encourage engagement with them, and open up opportunities in music education on a city wide scale.

Mapping the Music

Mapping the Music is part of the Transmitting Musical Heritage project. More information can be found on their Website and Twitter

The Nottingham Black History Mural

In 2016, the Centre for Research in Race and Rights (part of the Rights and Justice Research Priority Area), and the New Art Exchange joined together to create Nottingham’s first black history mural. The four-month project transformed an old wall in the heart of Hyson Green into a vibrant and inspiring piece of public art. It depicts the diverse histories and potential futures of Nottingham’s Global Quarter, and explores utopia and community activism.


The Workshops

Between April and June 2016, Maxine Davis, Youth Forum Manager, and eight young people (aged 15 to 22) from NG7 Voices Youth Forum/Hyson Green Youth Club worked in collaboration with artists Tim Weeden and Andrew Wright to design the mural. At four of the eight workshops, they were joined by local experts for discussions of Nottingham’s black history. Guest contributors to the project’s learning seminars were Lisa Robinson from Bright Ideas and Black Lives Matter Nottingham; Panya Banjoko and Ioney Smallhorne from Nottingham Black Archives; and Zoe Trodd, Hannah Jeffery and Hannah-Rose Murray from the Centre for Research in Race and Rights.


The Mural

The mural’s patterns and symbols are designs by the young people who took part in the project. They brought images to the workshops and were particularly interested in African print designs. One of the young people drew a series of links and chains becoming pathways to the future, which forms the main mural pattern.

From history workshops with local experts, the project participants also selected four figures to feature as portraits in the mural:

George Africanus is a Nottingham legend. A former slave, he was one of the first black entrepreneurs of the 18th century.

Winston Murphy is a war hero who served in the merchant navy between 1940 to 1945.

Louise Garvey is a nurse has promoted equality in the health service since the 1960s. She wrote the book Nursing Lives of Black People in Nottingham.

The Black Lives Matter child honours the fact that Nottingham is home to Europe’s first official Black Lives Matter group, and adapts a famous artwork by the Black Panther Emory Douglas, who visited Nottingham and worked with the community in 2011.


The Launch

In 2016, a humdrum brick wall in Hyson Green, Nottingham, was transformed into a vibrant and inspiring public art mural celebrating Nottingham’s black history and imagining community futures. It was unveiled during a special event on June 17, marking an important moment in local history.

Freelance Community Engagement Consultant Boseda Olawoye explained the significance of creating a mural in Hyson Green: “Hyson Green is one of the most culturally rich areas of Nottingham and this public mural will focus on the Black Histories of the local area and acknowledging those who have played an important role within our society. For the project it was important that the young people had a sense of ownership for the design of the mural. This will be a permanent piece of public art for the participants, their friends, family and local community to enjoy and be inspired.”

At the heart of the project was NG7 Voices – a youth forum set up by Hyson Green Youth Club, neighbouring the mural wall. Led by Maxine Davis, Youth Forum Manager, the forum aims to empower young people (aged 14-25) to make positive change in their community. The muralist Tim Weeden worked closely with young people, nurturing their creativity and incorporating all their ideas into the finished design. The young people have named the mural “Pathways.”

Tim explained his creative process in the mural: “I’m merely the paintbrush, and not the painter. The enthusiasm of the young people was key to the mural. Art is a great medium to explore issues of community identity.”

The young people themselves commented: “To be a part of something like this makes me proud of the community I come from – it shows we all did something to contribute to the community”.

Professor Zoe Trodd, co-director of C3R, commented at the launch: “Nottingham celebrates its history as one of rebellion –from Robin Hood, the Luddite rebellion and the Chartist movement to the rebel writers Lord Byron, DH Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe. Murals are the quintessentially rebellious art form. But until now, there was no colourful community mural narrating the rebel city. C3R is privileged to have been part of creating this important work of art. I particularly like the way the mural represents the new Black Lives Matter movement, acknowledging that Nottingham is home to Europe’s first official Black Lives Matter chapter – something of which the city should be very proud.”

Skinder Hundal, Chief Executive of New Art Exchange, described the importance of the mural at the launch: “Our new mural beautifies, educates, celebrates and symbolises the diversity and cultural memory and contribution in our neighbourhood, and affirms the importance of community-building. It welcomes all, and represents the things that matter in Nottingham’s Global Quarter, Hyson Green – a culturally rich and vibrant place, home to many black and diverse communities. The mural continues NAE’s core mission to champion marginalised voice, and to use art as a way of exploring who we are, why we are here and where we are going, capturing the value of diversity in both art and society.”

Hyson Green’s newest masterpiece was formally unveiled by Councillor Graham Chapman


More information can be found on the Website 

Around the Toilet

The three-day Utopia Fair event at Somerset House began on 24th June – the morning Britain found itself plunged into Brexit, an irony in photo 3terms of timing which was lost on no one. The Fair was part of the UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility activities, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s radical imagining of a better world. The grand, cloistered courtyard of Somerset House was to provide a pop-up version of More’s imagining of a ‘no place’ that is also a ‘good place’ – at once located centrally just off London’s West End, and yet strangely set apart from the rest of the city. The carnivalesque juxtaposition of worlds was a theme that continued throughout the event – from Brexit to utopia, academics mingling with tourists, to the country fair style of the stalls set within the walls of a Tudor palace, this was to be a weekend of playful and stimulating contrasts.

The Fair presented a number of different stalls presenting outputs from various Connected Communities projects, all engaging with the creative and political possibilities of utopian imaginings. The event proposed future-oriented thinking as a gesture of hope and political agency. As one person noted at a speaker event on Utopian Housing which took place in one of the wings at Somerset House, communities are often asked to reflect on the ‘history’ of a place, group or institution. But often, when the conversation turns to plans for the ‘future’, then experts – architects, designers, councillors – will step in to declare what is possible or permissible (or affordable). In other words, there is often an unspoken privilege – or symbolic capital – in speaking about and for the future which is not always afforded to community groups. The Fair’s celebration of utopia seemed to suggest that everyone should have the opportunity to radically reimagine, shape or design the way the future. Utopian thought, in this way, has the potential to be a levelling act – one that is creative, ambitious and a powerful statement of a shared, collective will.


Travelling Toilet Tales and Servicing Utopia both had connected stalls at the fair in which we provided ‘hands-on’ activities for members of the public as well as exhibits from our past activities. The public received the first viewing on iPads of our animated Toilet Tales film, an exploration into the ways in which everyday journeys are planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet and featuring stories from a range of toilet users, including truckers, disabled parents, and non-binary people. Visitors also got the chance to listen to the individual toilet stories in full, browse our postcards designed by artist Smizz, and talk to the special guests who were helping on the stall. At various points over the weekend, we were lucky enough to be joined by members of Accessible Derbyshire, Changing Places,Action for Trans Health, Truckers’ Toilets UK, and the Loiterers Resistance Movement, as well as the storytellers and artists behind the films for both projects and the digital Toilet Toolkit.


We were also delighted to have with us Nicky Rose, an artist in mixed and recycled media, and Tom Gayler, a designer at the Royal College of Art, who led i20160625_174406nteractive sessions which invited visitors to create utopian toilet models from cardboard, wooden blocks, pipe cleaners and other bits and pieces. The intermittent sunshine over the weekend allowed us to stretch our craft materials out onto the floor for visitors of all ages to get involved and get messy. Once built, utopian toilets were added one-by-one to a utopian model town, assembled by Leap of Faith: Anarchy and Play on the stall next-door. If only all towns had so many (sparkly) public toilets…


This weekend also presented the first opportunity for the public to use the interactive digital Toilet Toolkit and view the short animated film produced by the Servicing Utopia team. The toolkit is aimed at architects and other design professionals to promote the accessible design of toilet spaces, and allows users to virtually ‘walk around’ toilet spaces and interact with the items and facilities. This will be available to view on our blog very shortly (watch this space).

20160624_202115Our interactive toilet installation, designed and built by MA Architecture students at the University of Sheffield, was constructed for visitors to view, prompting conversation and graffiti contributions. Written comments from our visitors ranged from a poll about toilet roll use, toilet confessions and jokes, to reflections on personal habits. People wrote on the back of artist Smizz’s postcards to include their own toilet tales, sharing stories that were informative, funny and sometimes disturbing: a dad being told off for changing a baby in a women’s toilet; one person’s account of the inadequacy and fallacy of ‘Community Toilets’ (businesses allowing the general public to use facilities); cleaners rebelling against unacceptable toilet mess; recollections of an instance of violent bullying in school toilets; library toilets providing ‘safe spaces’ for users to have private conversations; one person having to resort to using the ‘please wash your hands’ sign as emergency toilet paper; stories of global lavatory etiquette from the Gambia to the Himalayas to Tokyo; and important notification of a new venue in Liverpool that has a toilet DJ. All of these contributions turned into conversations over the course of the weekend as new visitors responded to the comments left by other people attending the Fair.


As toilet specialists, we were curious to see what kind of facilities would be provided in the historic grounds of Somerset House. There were plenty of options available, including gender neutral toilets near the main reception area which were the source of much discussion (and not just on our particular stall). These were impressive ‘state-of-the-art’ toilets that had given some consideration to providing gender neutral options for everyone, with gleaming surfaces, modern fittings and private washing facilities in each stall. But what was striking was how far the disabled toilets fell short in comparison. Dated, not quite as clean and certainly not intended to be any utopian ‘showcase’ for twenty-first century toilets, the small-ish cubicle also functioned as a boiler room and the only space for baby-changing. Like many accessible toilets, it could have been more accommodating and indulgent…and accessible.

The Utopia Fair also gave us the opportunity to meet with other researchers working on Connected Communities projects and to reflect on the potential for new links and poi20160626_150547nts of connection. TheStories of Change project, which explores energy and community, transported their mobile photobooth across to our stall and asked us to contribute a vision of energy-efficient toilets.  Ours included a wind-powered flush and use of recycled/‘dirty’ water. The open and informal setting meant that there were fluid interactions between the various stalls, and the opportunity to share experiences, tips and stories about our diverse projects. What was particularly effective about the Somerset House Fair was the combination of abstract thinking and imagining on the one hand, alongside a more tactile sense of getting stuck into hands-on activities, talking, designing and listening – from building utopian playgrounds, to model-making, to finding yourself immersed in a live puppetry performance. It was also wonderful to reunite various members of our Toilets team – and for us to also think creatively and ambitiously ahead to our own future projects.


More information about Around the Toilet can be found on their Website and Twitter

An open letter to our Utopian Fair Letter Writers

My Future York


Dear Utopia Letter Writer,

Thank you so much for writing to us at the Somerset House, Utopia Fair in June. We have written back to you personally and have also written this letter to everyone who wrote to us.

Who are the Utopian Council?

As we said on the stall:

We are the Utopian Council. We are a collaboration of minds and hands. Together we are the ears to your queries, dreams and fears and a catalyst for your actions.

The idea of this ‘council’ derives from an ancient concept left behind from earlier days, where cities, towns and constituencies were ruled by tiered management structures and elected members. However the Utopian Council is open to your interpretation. There are no limits to our duties as a council, or yours as ‘the people’, we are here for you as you are for us.

As well as being your Utopian Council we are also the My Future York research team who are exploring how histories of the city can be used to open up alternative futures and different political visions for the city. Reading and responding to your letters helped us think a lot about how we might conceptualize differently the relationship between local council and the people that live in localities.

‘Manifestations of feelings from all people will be encouraged at all times’

To read your letters and organize our responses, we met in the City of York Council chamber in the Guildhall. Our stall in London was inspired by inverting a sign which hangs in the chamber, directed at the public gallery. The sign reads:

‘No manifestation of feeling from the public will be allowed during the council meetings.’

Our Utopian Council sign that hung above our stall at Somerset House instead stated that, ‘Manifestations of feelings from all people will be encourage at all times’. It was in this spirit we read and replied to your letters.


How we read and responded to your letters (or bureaucratic democracy!)

Of course it is very common to criticize governments for being bureaucratic but as we started our task we realized there was a lot of paper to manage! The number of letters we received called on us to have to order our work in some way. We also wanted to make sure we were being fair to each letter.

We began by testing the categories by which our current council works – did they work for your utopian imaginings and hope? The current City of York Council is structured into six big departments as follows:

• Structure of Office of the Chief Executive (CEX)
• Structure of Children’s Services, Education and Skills (CSES)
• Structure of Adult Social Services (AS)
• Structure of City and Environmental Services (CES)
• Structure of Communities and Neighbourhood Services (CANS)
• Structure of Customer and Business Support Services (CBSS)

We first tried to sort the letters into the into 2016 structure for the council. The first very obvious thing was that the pile under ‘Communities and Neighbourhood Services’ was by far the biggest. There was also a very big pile that was ‘Communities and Neighbourhood Services’ and ‘City and Environment Services’, indicating that in your letters many of you linked people and place. The size of these piles was also an effect of ‘children’ or ‘adult social care’ not quite being adequate to the social worlds imagined in your letters. You were imagining more holistic and intergenerational activities and interventions.

Noticing these categorization problems drew attention to the kind of people and kinds of relationships imagined by the City of York Council in 2016. The current structures imagine you in specific ways. You might be an adult receiving care. Or you might be a customer, implying some form of financial translation. Or you might be a child. Or you might be the community. But these are odd and overlapping categories. Do these different social identities add up to a whole city? But for you – our letter writers – ‘community’ dominated. Perhaps this is not entirely surprising at a Utopian Fair based on a research programme called ‘Connected Communities’, however the very things you linked required us to bust out of the 2016 categories into something else.


We started to read in more detail the large batch of fifteen letters which we had filed in two places, both ‘Communities and Neighborhoods’ and ‘City and Environment’. We noticed and colour-coded the positive and negative words. We analyzed the key ideas and used the interpretive writing approach associated with Margareta Ekarv to concentrate meaning to, as she puts it, ‘an almost poetic level’.

We hear you.
We see you.
You are making your homes.
You are doing it yourself.
You are sharing.
You are together.
You are building community spaces.
We will pass on stories and share your ideas.
We will be part, with you, of a spiders web of co-operative housing.

A second large pile of nine letters seemed to relate broadly to governance and decision-making. In this pile there were more negative words: Lies, self and corporate interest, demagogy, money. As well as many alternative positive imagining: love, care, collective, collaboration, democratic, empathy, equal, fair, citizen.

We hear your calls for honest.
We hear that with power has rarely come with respect.
Instead we offer our dreams to meet yours.
You will teach consensus-decision making in schools, in workplaces and in our council.
We will work not on your behalf but ‘hand in hand’.
We will think of people beyond our shores.
We will ‘make a difference without creating differences’.

There was a strong emphasis in another grouping of seven letters on reimagining work. Key words used in these letters were: exchange, swap skills, need collective work, support, free, fun and welcoming.

Land reform.
You are coming together.
You are swapping your skills, your knowledge, your ideas.
We can help you make the spaces.
You will make them welcoming.
You will make them friendly.
You will make them safe.
You will meet people different from you.
‘You are sharing in nature’s commonwealth more equally.’

Another batch of seven letters took energy as a focus. Key words were local energy, clean, renewable, wind, solar and family:

Power to every family.
Where solar and wind meet local consensus decision making.
We share our environment.
Recycling: nothing ever goes only transforms.
We will sustain it and it sustains us.

Six letters focused on better transport and key words and phrases used were: sunlight and air, beautiful buildings complements, enrich society, community, artists, involved.

‘Days of play’.
‘Signing beautiful songs’.
Being adult is being creative.
The path to happiness is
‘Truly looking at each other’
not GDP.

Finally, there was a pile of six letters interested in learning. Notable vocabulary included: diverse, positive, resourced, mutual benefit, contact, share produce and contribute,

Learning together.
Mutual benefit.
Sharing the produce.
New curriculum, philosophy and play.

Perhaps the most crucial thing was that we carefully noticed exactly what you were asking of us as the Utopian Council. The things you imagined the Council doing were notably not in the tradition of representational democracy. This made us wonder for our work in York today how we might mix differently representational, direct and what you might call facilitative forms of democracy in York.

You were not asking for us to take actions on your behalf.
You wanted to work with us to create conditions.
To make spaces where things can happen.
To connect up.
To collectivize infrastructure (waste; electricity).
To spread good ideas.
To reflect back and recognize your successes.
And to be something more multiple than a ‘you’ and an ‘us’.

Yours in Utopia,

Helen, Lianne, Richard and Victoria with Reet So

More information on My Future York can be found on their Website  and Twitter

Utopia Works – Part 2



by Mel Rohse

On Friday 20 May, I travelled to Derby for an exciting day of activities on the theme of utopia and energy future as part of the Connected Communities Utopia Festival. On arrival, we were informed that in Utopia, there were 6 working hours and we were put in small groups with whom we were to spend those completing different tasks and thinking about a prototype that we would present to the other groups at the end of the day.

In the first session, our working group spent a bit of time getting to know each other and explaining what had brought us to the event. Some people had been associated with Stories of Change for a while, others had found their way to it through less direct connections. We all had varied backgrounds: academia, architecture, carpentry, business consultancy and film-making. But as we unpacked our questions and concerns about energy, we soon found some overlapping interests. The theme of how we learn about energy and the challenges that we face, but also how we communicate them seemed to come forward. It’s hard to capture our deep conversations in just a few words, but for example some of us felt that although there is a lot of information out there, it can be hard to make sense of it, which in turn makes it difficult to know what the “right thing” to do is. And even when we come to some kind of conclusion about what we feel comfortable doing, we are then faced with justifying those decisions to others. Indeed, something that really struck me was an anecdote related by fellow “worker” about how his commitment to a low carbon lifestyle was routinely challenged by people – as a result, a theme that we carried through all the session what that of supporting each other and looking for positive ways to communicate about energy futures.

A highlight for me was the wordsmithing workshop, in which we tried to bring together all the conversations we’d had during the day and encapsulate them into a 15 word (max!) pamphlet title. We attempted to translate the positive element of our reflection and the need for support into a metaphor and that of music and a choir struck a chord (excuse the pun). After some group in pairs, we came up with the following challenge: In the symphony of energy, what part do you want to play? I find it a really inviting question and I hope that it will make others think about the role that we can play in dealing with the energy challenges we face, not just as individuals but as a collective. This reflected the other red thread that ran through our conversations; that although we may need to individually make some changes in our daily lives, ultimately we need to make wider cultural changes on how we relate to energy.



by Ryan Bramley

Our foremen (and forewomen!) at Utopia Works may have specified a six-hour working day, but the energetic conversations amongst workers spilled out long into lunchtime and supper – just like the Derwent water which once powered this inaugural factory, the Silk Mill. In our basking of energy’s renewable flame, new friendships were forged, as working collaborations strung together great threads of knowledge from all across the British Isles.

Artists mingled with academics; makers mixed with museum curators; veteran professionals broke bread with the new blood. And betwixt them all, a parity of admiration and respect brought about new bonds of camaraderie that would set the tone of the working day, and the rhythm of future works to come.

In the workshop, wordsmiths smouldered wondrous lyric into verses of revolutionary rhetoric.


Within the prototyping room, newly-forged ideas took physical shape: the fairground of fair energy; the bamboo cage of the canary; and the hanging cloud of the carbon footprint.

And at the printing press, typographers left imprints of synergy upon blank sheets of white paper, and the brimming canvases of energetic minds.

When the working day was done, we downed our tools and disbanded, heading back towards our abodes with weary bodies and wearier heads. But at the end of the night, when we turned off the light bulbs of those houses, those apartments and those hotel rooms, the glow of our experience remained, renewable and boundless.

Utopia was a dream that only lasted a day – but that dream has effervesced a cloud of memories that will float in our minds for a lifetime.




For Utopia Works I gathered together what turned out to be a rather large number of seventeenth-century printed works for the ‘wordsmiths’ table. I hoped they would be useful, for not only giving deeper context to the vital role pamphleteering has played in generating alternative, often radical ideas about the future, but also for thinking about the importance of the past, and role of History, as a resource of possibilities. What follows is a short essay based on my own findings for Utopia Works.

If we take the long view of energy production and use in Britain, we find that our modern dependency on fossil fuels has been relatively brief, yet the story is by no means straightforwardly linear or sequential. For at least two hundred years before the ‘industrial revolution’ of the nineteenth century, London was heavily reliant on coal. Evidence in the form of printed pamphlets, petitions and government proclamations from the 1600s, reveal how the city authorities attempted to deal with the demand and supply of fuel. Faced with what we would recognize today as issues of ‘fuel security’ and ‘fuel poverty’ a number of measures were suggested to help ameliorate the problems facing the capital at this time. Coal (often referred to as ‘sea-coal’) was shipped from Newcastle in vessels known as Colliers. But the inefficiencies of transport by sea, with ships being hindered by ‘contrary winds’ and threat of capture by privateers, had serious consequences not only for the poor, but for manufacturing and industry, including salt and glass making, and iron working. Once the city’s coal stores were reduced, prices went up. Legislation was made against coalmongers, who were accused of engrossment, and a fair price was set for a standard weight or chaldron of coal. Added to which the authorities stipulated a fixed price of fuel for the poor, and put in place measures to ensure adequate supplies in winter. They sought to stockpile coal over the summer months in order to build what was described as a ‘public bank’ from which the city dwellers could draw when the ‘cruel enemy’ of cold and frost visited the city. In one such proposal dating to 1690 the store of ‘chaldron coles’ provided ‘a security to all others as well as the poor’.

The terrible consequences of London’s growing dependency on coal was certainly recognized at the time. In a pamphlet published during the civil wars the author talked about how people used to complain about the odious smell of sea-coal, but now there were shortages (as a result of the war), ‘they say would to God we had sea-cole, O the want of fire undoes us!’. The noisome smell and detrimental affects of coal smoke on health, were both subjects of complaint. Less than twenty years later John Evelyn wrote of the polluted city:

And what is all this, but that Hellish and dismal Cloud of SEA-COALE? Which is not only perpetual imminent over her head… but so universally mixed with the otherwise wholesome and excellent Air that her [London’s] Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist accompanied by a fulginous and filthy vapour, which renders them obnoxious to a thousand inconveniences, corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habit of their Bodies; so that Catharrs, Phthisicks, Coughs and Consumptions, rage more in this one City, than the whole Earth besides. (From Fumifugium by John Evelyn 1661).

Other pamphlets related the unfortunate consequences of what we now know as carbon monoxide poisoning as London dwellers barricaded themselves in against the cold with coal fires set burning in the hearth.

It was not that people thought coal was necessarily inevitable, that there couldn’t be an alternative, more secure, sustainable solution to London’s fuel crisis. Scarcity and want compelled various ingenious methods to be devised and the results of experiment, which undoubtedly drew upon common, everyday practices, were circulated in print. Printed pamphlets, dating from as early as the Tudor period, reveal the celebration of inventiveness and importance of creating a knowledge economy that would help address societal issues and concerns. One such pamphlet called ‘Artificial Fire or coale for rich and poore’ was published in 1644, but drew upon earlier printed works searching for solutions to present day problems. Coal, an expensive and precious commodity, could be made to go further. A pamphlet published in 1603, for example, discusses a ‘new, cheape and delicate fire of cole-balls wherein seacole is by the mixture of other combustible bodies both sweetened and multiplied’. Rather than throwing away the waste products of industry and trade such as carpentry and butchery, writers extolled the virtues of thriftiness and as we would recognize today, recycling. Indeed, waste was a valuable commodity, and recipes for making fuel included all manner of waste materials – straw, saw dust, manure, turf, peat, coal dust – that could be re-formed and manufactured as ‘artificial fire’.


All photos courtesy of @gorminator

Utopia Works is part of Stories of Change, more information can be found on their Website and Twitter