Cultural markers in the East of England

Month: June 2014

Web? Writing? Whither?

The web has promoted a revolution in media delivery and consumption,  and has generated a similar paradigm shift in production processes and work flows. Whether for the corporate giants of this world, or the lonely writer crafting a masterpiece in his or her garret.


Evidence of the changes in news and visual media were well illustrated in a recent RSA lecture by John Ryley, Head of Sky News. His father, he tells us, was a vicar’s son, who was profoundly affected by his son’s elevation to the ranks of journalism.

You can hear the lecture, and an introduction by Matthew Taylor of The RSA, with an audience Q&A, by using the audio player below…

Rolling News – the Backbone of a Digital Future by Royal Society Of Arts on Mixcloud


In his lecture John Ryley describes his own early acquaintance with television. Describing it as a pseudo-religious experience, with the family sitting in rows, silent, facing an iconic piece of equipment, bathed in a particular blue light.

Web technologies and new software have also promoted a similar revolution in print journalism, which  that and the ubiquitous access that the web offers to any journalist, would be or otherwise, the chance to profoundly affect their ability as humans to tell simple stories.

Why do we write, and become journalists, historians, authors, self published or otherwise? Has technology really affected the way we look at the word on paper and on screen?

George Orwell, writing in 1946, mapped the landscape of why we write. That perceptive voice is still being heard from Manhattan offices to Cumbrian writerly retreats…

  • “Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed”.
  • “Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity”.
  • “Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude”.

Collected Essays, by George Orwell, Why I Write (1946)

Orwell’s philosophy of the narrative is being flexed for the internet age at the The New York Times.  Long an innovator in print journalism technology, they have recently published an article on the creation of their new back office production engine for the newspaper.

What is trans-figurative for New York Times journalists is the new focus on web and mobile as the default primary templates in this production process. The ability to blend digital content  for traditional press production is not an incidental or trivial outcome, it is imperative to keep ‘paper on the street’, but it is a secondary outcome of the creative writing and editorial process. This is new.

You can read the New York Times article about their new CMS, content management system, here.

It is also interesting that it is not only production processes and outputs that are being blended. The Mozilla Foundation, creator of the Firefox web browser and scion of the radical, open internet, has recently been the recipient of a grant “…of roughly $3.9 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which promotes innovation in journalism”.

With the money Mozilla will build a new ‘comments’ software for the New York Times and the Washington Post. It is remarkable that both newspapers are the properties of major league capitalists, but this non-profit initiative is geared to giving readers the chance to generate content, and to take part in the journalistic process by offering the writers direct feedback on their articles in new and  innovative ways.

A new blend of capital, charity and community engagement, which may well transform newspaper publishing?

Finally, amidst all this corporate activity and development at scale, technological innovation for the lone writer has not been lagging behind. From your own desk you can change the world one article at a time by using the services of Medium – a mixture of blogging platform, paid for content, social networking and collaboration tool.

With a beautifully designed interface, and tools that are intuitive and graceful, you can craft stories, news and research that are delivered in an elegant format to your readers.

We like Medium. Its content can be challenging and provocative, but it is also a place where the thoughtful, considered article can find a home. From new fiction to a story of how the cellular structure of the nematode worm has an impact on human brain function, sculpted with light…all writing is here. (You can find the worm article here…).

Of course, as an RSA Fellow in the East of England, you could publish your thoughtful piece in the pages of conversationsEAST. That’s new too!

Send copy at any time to editor (at)  …your audience awaits.


Students rising to the CIPD Challenge

University of Bedfordshire

Learning in Bedfordshire

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is a professional association for human resource management professionals. It is headquartered in Wimbledon, London, England. The organisation was founded in 1913 and has over 130,000 members internationally working across private, public and voluntary sectors.

Bedfordshire Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently worked with the University of Bedfordshire (pictured) on the CIPD Challenge.

The University of Bedfordshire is based in Bedford and Luton, the two largest towns in Bedfordshire. A campus in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire is for students studying Nursing and Midwifery. A further campus in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, teaches business studies, electronic engineering, and telecommunications.

It has approximately 24,000 students. Nearly 3,000 international students study with the university. The university was created by the merger of the University of Luton and the Bedford campus of De Montfort University in August 2006 following approval by the Privy Council. In 2012 it achieved FairTrade status.

CIPD Bedfordshire Group Committee members, Paula Grayson, Sandra Brown and Letitia Winston worked with Sarah Jones from the University of Bedfordshire on the CIPD Challenge in the practice week for undergraduates on the BA Hons. in HRM.

On 3 March 2014, students were briefed on four “Consolidating Culture” challenges to provide good practice HR processes. The guiding principle was to design a process which should assist in consolidating and reinforcing the culture of the organisation.

(Over time the CIPD have developed a comprehensive, effective and wide range of resources for HR professionals. One aspect of the work is the creation of a CIPD Profession Map. Integral to this is the Courage to Challenge Model, which is part of a sequence of themes that look at behaviours around curiosity, decisive thinking, collaboration and being a winning influencer. All skills that the Bedfordshire students would have needed to deploy, in order to complete their assignment….ED).

They needed to use good practice guidance from the CIPD and other sources, remembering organisations are operating in difficult economic times. All additional costs needed to be justified in terms of improving productivity, increasing employee engagement or reducing an existing employee cost pressure. Each team was asked to choose one challenge from:

•  designing a new induction process for a large successful retail organisation to induct and socialise recruits, remembering to embed the strong values as soon as possible, while ensuring health and safety together with all legal requirements were fulfilled from day one

•  using social media in recruitment and selection for a small and relatively unknown web design company needing a web designer who could work within a performance driven culture with tight deadlines to meet client needs. They had to improve the poor job description and person specification written by the Managing Director, including taking out illegal elements, then outline their campaign and process, especially how social media could be used in the short-listing stage

•  improving motivation at a recruitment agency providing education professionals to the local authority and individual schools where the staff are partly paid on commission. They needed to address the low staff retention rate and high absence rate through appropriate non-financial rewards to recognise and provide incentives to staff

Students formed their teams, chose their challenges and got to work.

On 6 March, Sarah, Paula, Sandra and Letitia judged their proposals, selecting a runner-up team and a winning team. The presentations were all excellent, offering thoughtful, appropriate and legal advice to their organisations.

Their professionalism demonstrated how much they had learned during their course, not only about Human Resources but also how to write and present practical solutions to employment issues using good practice. The runners-up were given University of Bedfordshire conference folders.

The five students in the winning team will each have two days of work shadowing with CIPD Bedfordshire Group committee members.

Article contributed by Sarah Jones and Paula Grayson

(If the University has an image of the Challenge Teams, or the winners ceremony, email it to the editor and we will add it to this narrative…ED.)

University image by Kriscollins at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], from Wikimedia Commons


Arts and craft, history and genius

Here at conversationsEAST, this was a story that had everything. High art, craft skills, invention, controversy and ladles of genius. Entwining a Texas entrepreneur, a seventeenth century Dutch painter and an obsessive journey into the ‘how it was done’.

Tim Jenison is a Texas based inventor and technologist with a deep interest in the painting of Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675). Put simply, Jenison is of the view that Vermeer could not have painted his interior scenes from life alone, the application of technology, Jenison insists, is how the stunning art works were created so long ago.

The short film below encapsulates the long journey of exploration that Jenison has undertaken to make his point. He has deployed art history skills, the talents of a craftsmen and the inquisitiveness of an inventor to make an argument, which whilst contentious is, none the less, powerful.

His five year journey involved making exact replicas of the furniture and musical instruments in a Vermeer painting, and through utilising the concept of a camera obscura and a mirror on a stick, Tim sought to recreate Vermeer’s picture, The Music Lesson.

The interiors of the room, it’s content and effects were built by Tim, even hand building the lens to seventeenth century specifications that he used to deliver his painting technique.

The results? Well you can see the full depiction of his work over time in this original article from an issue of

Is it a good argument? We have looked at another old master to see if his thesis is watertight. We have used images stored on the pages of the Google Cultural Institute. (If you have a love of the visual arts this is a storehouse and toolkit of very impressive proportions – Ed.)

Canaletto image

Section of Il Canal Grande de Ca’Balbi verso Rialto 1721-1723
Antonio Canal detto Canalletto | Ca’ Rezzonico – Museum of the 18th Century Venice











Within the broad sweep of this large Canaletto, the texture of the oil paint, the slightly impressionistic depiction of the figures and the matte ‘depth’ of the boat clearly show Canaletto’s brush work and his hand.

Below is a similar size section of the painting, The Music Lesson by Vermeer, that was the object of Tim Jenison’s attention. In it the light falling from the window, the tone and smoothness of the wall surface by the window and increasing colour change away from the light source into the room are, to echo Jenison’s argument, extremely photo-like.

Vermeer image

Section of Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman, The Music Lesson c. 1162 – 1665
Johannes Vermeer | Royal Collection Trust, UK











This might disturb quite a lot of people

…David Hockney

The work of Jenison and his collaborators is a wonderful example to anyone who has an idea or a need to find out, whether an RSA Fellow or not. Obsessive perhaps, but stunning in the execution of so many skills and techniques.

Was Vermeer really a tech geek?

Read the article, watch the film and tell us what you think….


The city. The future. The optimism.

Leaving the opera in the year 2000!

Leaving the opera image

Image: Albert Robida, 1882 – The Public Domain Review, 2014










A wonderful vision of city and cultural life, imagined in 1882. Even in the 21st century it is hard to contemplate leaving a cultural event in a city, stepping into your floating air carriage and drifting off home in ease and solitude.

Even after the most vigorous Tannhauser at the interneticon Royal Opera House, a trip on the Northern Line to return to the solace of High Barnet bears no comparison.

We have not given up on the city yet, though.

Our recent Fellows Annual dinner in the East of England was held in the surroundings of interneticon Emmanuel College in Cambridge.  Dating from 1584, the original Dominican Priory has been embraced by later buildings, yet Fellows were able to hear an entertaining and informative after dinner talk by Matt Lane, Head of the Royal Opera House site at Thurrock, the interneticon Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop, where ROH productions are built and delivered to cities.

The conversation also ranged across the occasion of the region’s forthcoming conference at the University of East Anglia. The programme for which includes Norwich Fellows session on Empowering Invisible Norwich and another on What is a Learning City? So although we will not arrive by hover car, the idea of the city will continue to echo.

Extending the city:

Writing just before the start of this century Peter Hall, in his book Cities in Civilisation – Culture, Innovation and Urban Order ( Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1998) was minded that…

At the turning point between the twentieth century and the twenty-first, a new kind of economy is coming into being, and a new kind of society, and a new kind of city: some would say no city at all, the end of the city as we know it, but they will doubtless prove wrong…

Hall goes on to develop his argument about societal change and stresses the enormous impact of technology on urban dwellers across the globe. This is true, but the forecasts of the end of the city have proved somewhat premature.

In fact, the building, or extending of cities, continues to be a hot political issue. For the forthcoming report by Sir Michael Lyons there is an indication that he will recommend that cities should be allowed to expand at their edges, a return to the New Town concept perhaps. With councils free to borrow and invest in house building and bringing reform of land release for house building to the table.

This latter point outlines how strong the the High Victorian concept of urban spread as an entirely bad thing remains. Surely the point is what sort of urban extension or city growth you achieve. We must not build urban ‘rookeries‘, or blanket ‘Bedford Brick‘ box extensions across acres of green fields either, we would argue.

Land release for social housing or city corporation development will be a thorny issue for private landowners, what ever the political persuasion of the originating idea, we suspect. You can see this debate outlined in more detail in a recent article from Patrick Wintour in The Guardian here.

Farming the city:

Using existing infrastructure in conurbations for innovative purposes is immensely appealing. Using it to farm, to develop new urban and social businesses based on food, new flowers and green space cultivation is a great way to deliver new skills, better diets and employment into communities, we would argue at conversationsEAST.

Robida in 1882, or Hall in 1998, could not have imagined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  interneticon MITCityFARM project.

 “As part of the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, we explore the technological, environmental, social and economic design of scalable systems capable of producing affordable and high quality food in the heart of our future cities”.

If you have an interest in this green aspect of the debate an on-line visit to MIT is worth it. The MITCityFARM team are working in three key areas.

  • Re-thinking the ‘grow it there, eat it here’ agenda
  • reviewing the ‘urban infrastructure facade’
  • developing global open access course-ware, to make knowledge about agriculture available to all.

In the East of England, the agricultural heartland of the UK, arguably, there must be Fellow’s projects that can be blended into delivery of vertical gardens, rooftop farms or the reclaiming of industrial and derelict sites for community owned small holdings or gardens? (Write to the Editor, let us know, we’ll do a feature…Ed.)

The edge of the city, in the city garden:

A blending of  city growth concepts and urban farming/community greening agendas come together in the now, with the recent release of the short list for the interneticon Wolfson Economic Prize.

The Wolfson Prize team undertook research to see what sort of urban development was uppermost in people’s minds. The Garden City was by far the most popular ‘civic choice’ of growth mechanism. Simon Wolfson talks about the design choice in this short film below…

Consequently, the five prize shortlist contenders have been asked to submit designs for a new Garden City. You can see the individual practices in competition here.

In conclusion, maybe the time is now right. We have innovative thinking on edge development, an energised architectural sector with modern materials and community sensibility, coinciding with increased interest in city farms and Garden Cities from the civitas.

Who cannot have an optimistic view of our cities?


A new Arts amalgam…

In the last two weeks the BBC have launched a new set of web pages and content dedicated to the arts. The material , as you would expect from the Corporation, is diverse and stimulating, with a fresh feel in terms of web layout and visual impact we thought. It draws upon television, radio  and web outputs to create a new miscellany.

Below are some of the items we have found interesting at conversationsEAST this week.

Both are of a historical bent, with historian Niall Ferguson opining on how young students now see and re-act to the First World War. A topical segment from the 2014 Hay Festival, with brief contributions from Rosie Boycott and Kate Adie.

Niall Ferguson, ever controversial, begins by describing the teaching of history about the First World War in the UK as, essentially, education about the Home Front. The lack of familial links for young people to the events of 1914 onwards make the story of the Battle of the Somme as relevant as the Battle of Thermopylae, thus the concentration on social history.

The Ferguson thesis on how students see The First World War is encouragingly developed to include how contemporary learners, Ferguson argues, are now very interested in strategic calculation and miscalculation.

This is a credible argument for a return to interest in the prevailing political frameworks by students of 1914. The less comfortable summation is completed by references to the teaching of the impact of the First World War as a video game…perhaps something of an unfortunate trivialisation of all the stories of loss, destruction and bravery that will emerge as the centenary of the conflict is remembered this year?

Have  a look at the clip above and see if you agree?

You can see details of Changing Chelmsford’s First World War: Then and Now programme on our projects page. This is a Lottery funded project between RSA Fellows and the local Civic Society which pertinently concentrates on the historical context of the Home Front, under-scoring the very real social and economic impact of war to the Fellows credit…despite the Fergusonian treatise on domestic history above.

We also found on the new BBC Arts site a page link dedicated to the Scottish novelist, Denise Mina, who has created a social history film about her family, inviting them all to see the finished output at the Glasgow Film Theatre. See more here on this BBC Scotland web page.

Image of novelist Denise Mina

See Scottish novelist Denise Mina talking about her film project here…

We loved the fact that the project was filmed on a smartphone, with very modest funding. The finished piece will be premiered today at the Go North Festival in Inverness.

We thought what a great project, harnessing the power of ubiquitous modern technology, to create a story about a community. An ideal medium for a local arts/history project for Fellows in the region perhaps? Detailing the currency of everyday lives, to to be made enduringly available on the web.

We warmed to the new BBC Arts amalgam and will revisit its news feed regularly. See more here…


A self-employed revolution?

The RSA Action and Research Centre have just published Salvation in a start-up? The origins and nature of the self-employment boom (Benedict Dellot, May 2014).

A collaboration between The RSA and Etsy, an on-line creative and craft market place, founded in New York in 2005, the report is part of a forthcoming series which…

examines what types of micro-businesses are becoming more commonplace? What has caused the large increase in recent years? And what effect are they having on the economy and wider society?

self employment 2014 cover pic

New markets, new people?

The report argues that the current economic landscape contains six tribes of self employment. The Visionaries, the Classicals, the Independents, the Locals, the Survivors and the Dabblers.

We at conversationsEAST would have liked to see a seventh category, or is it an overlay to do with motive for the existing players? That of the ‘socially motivated’ self employed. Whether a visionary at the top of the list or a part-time, older dabbler at the bottom, all may have begun their entrepreneurial journey with a passion to undertake an ethical, socially focused business or activity.

(There must be Fellows in the East of England who fit into this latter, socially motivated cohort, given the ‘societal change’ remit of our Society? – Ed.)

pdfIcon4 Download a full copy of this report in pdf format here...

The largest of the cohort surveyed were the Survivors. Earning less, and more likely to be younger. Whilst the argument for overwhelming market competition that forces this group to struggle to survive may be a good one, if viewed through a more ethical, social business lens, the lack of focus on personal income but rather on softer, less tangible social outcomes for an entrepreneur like this would also affect the findings too.

Another interesting focus in the report is the Happiness Paradox. The traditional view of self employment, it can be argued, is of an isolated, stressed individual who struggles to make ends meet. This rather cliched description is belied by other findings that suggest those who seek self employment are ‘…more content at work and happier in their lives’.

Stress there is, without doubt, but the RSA report highlights other academic research that sees the development of self employed enterprise as ‘…long periods of relative stability punctuated by critical episodes of transition and change’. The gains for the individual in life outcome are only punctuated by pains periodically. The management of change, or how to pivot the enterprise, is a key skill for the entrepreneurial micro-business, social or otherwise.

Do these finding matter? Yes they do. The RSA research findings offer a subtle and detailed analysis of self employment, its conditioning, content and motive. It disposes of the traditionally held viewpoint that older people, who are pushed or pulled into self employment, represent the core. When in fact, by age, motive and shades of effectiveness the position is more complex.

Does this affect our region? Yes it does. This focus on self employment, who by and how it is operated should condition the thinking of Fellows who are looking at projects involving education, social entrepreneurship, skills and sectoral growth in any field. Self employment is a conditional state. Entrepreneurship is about opportunity recognition and the philosophy of risk. The two are connected.

The ‘social business’, delivered by one or a group of entrepreneurs, wholly focused on social outcome is, we would argue at conversationsEAST, a sound model for sustainability of a project. What a great solution to economic change and development in communities – social entrepreneurs delivering innovative ethical business models over time.

Arguably, if the new report Salvation in a Start-up has rewritten the self employment landscape, combining it with social enterprise can re-write a community landscape? What do you think?

interneticon  See the report highlights in the Enterprise section of The RSA Action & Research Centre web pages here…


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