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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Fern Bass

     

    [TRACK 1]

    [recorded outdoors - background interference – singing birds, wind etc]

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the nineteenth of April 2011 and I’m talking to Fern in the Zion Co-op and the first question I would like to ask is your full name and where and when you were born?

    FERN BASS: Right. My full name is Fern Bass and I was born in London in Whitechapel Hospital in 1953.

    TW:

    Right. What was London like then when you were growing up?

    FB: I had a very interesting view of London. My father was a petty criminal and I grew up with what you call new money. The family had done very well in the war, managing not to fight or anything like that, but to have protected jobs and my grandmother was pretty much king of the black market in the East End, so I had a privileged upbringing. Education was very strange, but...I never fitted in because I came from a background where I was put into private education, but in those days old money counted and new money was looked down on, but it all...when I was about ten my Dad got caught and life changed dramatically then. An experience that was probably, you know, until I was ten, far too old for me. I was used to very much the seedier side of Soho and the East End of London. When I was fifteen I left home, went to art college, decided that I knew I had to look myself so I couldn’t do fine art. I made a choice and went into advertising and when I left college, with a partner I met in college, we set up an agency and within about five years we were quite a bit successful which wasn’t what I wanted! [laughing] It wasn’t at all what I wanted and so in ’76 I thought you know ‘this isn’t me, it’s not what I want’ and I joined a....followed a guru and joined an ashram, and a couple of years later I’d had a semi-arranged marriage. It was a really interesting experience for me. I loved the communal experience.

    TW:

    Was that in Britain or was that overseas?

    FB: It was an international organisation, a bit like transcendental meditation, but typically I chose to go to Liverpool when people were going all over the world. What did I do? I chose to go to Liverpool in ’78 and.....I had always been sort of.....political. I’d always been aware, politically aware but it was actually going to Liverpool in ’78 that I suddenly realised the huge divide between what I was experiencing up there and anything I’d experienced before in London and that.....that was one of those pointers you know, that hit you......it didn’t work out for me and my husband and.....we did have a child in our first year together but really you know, we weren’t, we were not suited at all, [laughing] 

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    it was.....it didn’t seem to matter. I also had a daughter who died as a baby and that.....that put me in a dip for about a year and coming through that I realised I wasn’t doing what I’d always wanted to do which was follow my creative drive and see where it was gonna go, so being a single parent with a small baby, well he was about two then, I was in quite a privileged position in London. I was working a lot in theatre because I chose to work in groups. One of my first thoughts was I never wanted to produce an art work that I couldn’t afford to buy and I’m certainly not about to produce things that would cost enough for me to afford to live so this isn’t going to work [laughing] so working as a set designer, costume designer, I’ve had a wonderful time. I’ve worked right across London with some fascinating people

    TW:

    Which theatres did you work in?

    FB: The Oval House....I loved the studio up there.

    TW:

    I exhibited there in ’75 I think it was yeah, I know it

    FB: That was a bit before my... I think I got in there in the eighties ......there was the Tricycle.... Mydrill Hall and a lot of touring theatres....I kind of specialised in making a set and props and everything that would fit into a small van and be able to adapt to any type of you know, student hall or wherever it was gonna be performed and things like that, so....I worked with the Covent Garden Puppet Theatre which on the face of it sounds good [laughing]...and that was fascinating working on those shows, but I did a lot of work with.... women’s theatre productions and gay theatres and things and so through the ‘80s it was all kicking off in the arts and with the GLC (Greater London Council) down there and somehow I managed to get elected onto the GLC [laughing]

    TW:

    That’s an extraordinary new direction!

    FB: I’m not sure how that happened....I think I was going through a phase of political meetings where I should have learnt to sit on my hands instead of sort of putting my hand up when I thought something needed doing....so yeah, I was doing fine but as my son got older, it’s all very well for yourself to live as an artist and to work and not know where money’s coming in and again, even though I was getting a steady income, it was getting more difficult. You needed regular school hours. We couldn’t wake up under a pool table again, that was dreadful so yes, I wasn’t always the perfect mother but it was interesting, so I took a temporary job in something which I’ve always been interested in which was housing co-operatives. I’d managed to join a housing co-op when my son was a baby and.....lived in several in Islington and London and to me that was it, you know, not ownership of property but shared responsibility and community and it was the 

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    Islington Housing Co-op section that had a temporary vacancy and for the first time in my life I did a proper job....I think within about five months I’d become the shop steward for the housing co-op section, that was always to be, and pretty soon after that I was the building rep right the way through until I was a branch officer and on the national....not a lot going on really....and....NALGO was a challenge because it was nowhere as near the left wing as I was focused.....and I became involved with equal opportunities, that was my field and I had great battles with people, explaining that everybody in the work....you know, if anybody is being mistreated unequally it affects the whole workforce and we can’t just pick and choose our members and that was one of my main conflicts in things that I thought would be of importance and went on from there and I just became a workaholic....I became....I was doing a full-time job plus overtime plus being a single parent [laughing] adding you know, union work, and then of course there was Thatcher and everything else that was going on politically with that and I was involved in Troops Out and all sorts of.....working with people who had been tortured, it just went on and on and on and....in the late ‘80s, ’88 -’89 I just collapsed....

    TW:

    You burned out

    FB: I burned out. I’d done about four, maybe five years if that, and every time there was a cut back I peddled harder to try and keep where we were because everything that I was involved in I thought was really important and it was, but...I hadn’t learnt to say ‘no’ – I hadn’t learnt to sit on my hands and I had a complete breakdown, I didn’t know what was going on....it was diagnosed as M E .

    TW:

    Really?

    FB: In ’89 – ‘90

    TW:

    Was there a physical thing?

    FB: I was paralysed for six months. I....I’d been working hard....it wasn’t uncommon for me to only have sort of one weekend out of three to do stuff and that would be the weekend out of the month that I would get a headache, you know, that was the....it seemed I was sort of able to save up all the stress until I could relax and so typically I’d had two weeks holiday and came back and was just really ill and....it was one of those....it was a strange time because I can only remember it now through people telling me because I just completely blanked but I’d...got a big presentation to do and nobody else in the office could do it, it was all in my head and it was coming up sort of just a month after I got back from my holiday and so I was too ill to pass the information on and apparently a taxi picked me up, I went to Regent’s Park....I talked for a couple of hours, I led a question

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    and answers and workshops and things, I was put in a taxi....I had no recollection of it at all....and when I got home I didn’t move for six months. I cannot remember who I was, I can’t even....I was just in an absolute blank, void state and that was a real shock to me you know, I’d had a couple of pregnancies, I’d had a burst appendix, I’d had other things but nothing debilitated me, I was always you know, I used to do karate, dance and that whenever I could, so... suddenly you know, being totally immobilised was just....I’m not sure what the hell was going on because there were huge blanks there.........but it was all to do with the breakdown of my relationship, the loss of my job....I was retired....a crucial couple of years with my son because he was ten or eleven which was

    TW:

    A formative period

    FB: Yes, very important....and it was like, you know, my partner at the time who I’d bought a house with....and we were planning to have children, just went off with somebody else and wanted to sell the house so we did....I was floored with negative energy – equity on the property, just everything – all my savings wiped out by not being able to work....and I thought ‘there is absolutely no fun living in London. It’s lovely to be in London for the things I want to do but I can’t do them....and I looked at a map and my mum was in Cornwall, there with my dad and I thought ‘I don’t want to go anywhere near them...I’d like to be somewhere green’ so I just looked at the map and put a pin in it and it landed on Hebden Bridge

    TW:

    Is that right?

    FB: And it was just...it was just that, and it was only when I started to tell people that I’d planned just to leave London and move with my son up here....’oh I know somebody who lives there’ or ‘I’ve been there’ and you know, it was like ‘oh this is interesting, there’s some coincidences’ so I.....it was a long weekend and....in 91 and my son and I came up here for a visit and we stayed in a lovely B & B round on the edge of Cambridge Street along there and....it just felt right, straight away. I’ve had experience with seeing people come and go over these twenty years and it’s amazing that some people arrive in Hebden Bridge and all the opportunities just fall in their lap, it just seems to unfold and make it very easy and that’s what it was like for me....I thought ‘oh, I wonder if I could rent somewhere here and there was a health food shop called Aurora I think?

    TW:

    Yes that’s right

    FB: And....I went in, and as I went in the woman was putting a postcard on the wall saying somebody had got a house that they wanted looking after and it was just like that you know, and I didn’t have time, I had to get a train but I spoke to the woman on the phone

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    whose house it was you know, and when I came back a couple of weeks later with my son you know, the key was under the mat,[laughing] on the kitchen table was a lovely, you know, a box of fruit and veg that people had grown and some flowers. There was everybody’s phone number and address and contacts and it was like you know, within ten minutes there was half a dozen women in the house with some really welcoming and

    TW:

    Whereabouts was this?

    FB: It was just in Unity Street

    TW:

    Oh right

    FB: And....they’ve all now gone to Ireland but...it.....it was quite fascinating as well because......it really enabled me to ground myself.....Chris’s house was very earthy [laughing] I’d call it very earthy and......it enabled me to sort of like take time and to think ‘well who the hell am I, what is it with this creative thing that I keep missing out on’

    TW:

    Was that Chris Peel by any chance?

    FB: Yes.

    TW:

    Oh right I know her, yeah.

    FB: And...you know, she was just great and when she came back we shared for a little bit and I found a house in Foster Lane and it just....for me in many ways, smoothly unfolded from there. My M.E.’s gone up and down and after twenty years there’s been extra complications. I’ve had a lot of ill health...but I’ve had a lot of stress because my son became ill when he was about fourteen or fifteen – he’s thirty now – and that was really difficult but.....I’ve lived all over Hebden, from Foster Lane which was just two beds you know, one of those sort of back-to-back, tiny little place it is, then I moved on to Guildford Street and that was quite interesting there, it was a huge rambling place that hadn’t been updated since the fifties and no heating [laughing], the kitchen was in the basement and when the water table rose and it was cold enough, the kitchen floor was just sheet ice but you know, I was the mum and that was quite normal in Hebden Bridge you know, damp water running under the floor or this that and the other, and it was a really wonderfully creative time there, just to have the space to be able to do stuff....and I made lots of friends....travellers coming in and out of Hebden and I knew some from the 

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    theatre from years ago we gradually, you know, there was links and that and it was.....I’m drying up now! [laughing] Keep going

    TW:

    How then did you become part of the Zion Co-operative?

    FB: It was something I was looking at because at the time.....when was that.....it must have been about 2000 or just before.....my son hadn’t been living with me for a number of years and I was rattling around in a house that was too big for me; it was a Housing Association property and I was sort of, part of me was thinking ‘if he comes back I can’t cope with him, but if he comes back I would like him to have somewhere to live’ and so that’s where the seed of creating a housing co-op from my experience with the National Federation working for Islington Council in London on tenant management co-ops and stuff, so that’s where I was sort of moving. I happened to be Chair of the Ground Floor Project, probably for about the first ten years ago and.....I was just in the office and Dave Brookes had come in....the Ground Floor office, you know, a lot of support for people with ideas that come in and Jae Campbell who is the Manager you know, just said ‘Fern I think this is up your street – this is what Dave’s proposing – he’s living in the flat under the Zion Baptist Church and it’s coming up for sale. That means everybody that’s living there is going to be homeless but it’s just such a nice property and we think it could lend itself to be a co-op’ so that’s how I met Dave Brookes and...at that time Christina was already involved...I think that of the people here now that was just it, so I was there in an advisory capacity with experience of co-ops and with a personal interest for accommodation for my son in a supported environment.....that’s how it started. We took it through and we got gazumped on the Baptist Church but we’d called ourselves Zion Housing Co-op by then, so......

    TW:

    You had the name

    FB: We had the name, it sort of did, it created all sort of interesting conversations with people, but it got boring after a while....and then....opposite you know, where I’d been living prior in Guildford Street was the Catholic church and that was coming up for sale and Justin who’s got the ‘Hole In The Wall’ – he was looking at the house which was the Vicarage and huge because he wanted to do some residential courses, so there was gonna be – there would be an opportunity for us, not just to convert the church into accommodation and meeting space, but also the possibility to build one or two bedroom dwellings around inside the walls, I mean it was fabulous. Most of the green land was with the house but after a chat with Justin, he would have loved somebody to have taken on responsibility for that and actually, it would have provided some work as well as accommodation for people, and it was a really ambitious project but one that could be done in steps – ‘right, go with this one’ – so Dave did a hell of a lot of work on raising the finance and getting everything into place. We were involved with Radical Roots before that stage as well and it was all coming together. Architects....

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    there were two architects who did a lot of work on the idea and I made them a model, so we were deciding how to split up space and when you’ve got a huge space there’s not very many people can actually visualise unless you’ve got the hands-on stuff....so I made this model and it was....it was really pretty, I mean it was very simple and I also had an idea of....there’s some wonderful beams in churches that support the roof....of considering it like you know, like tree houses in...so there was this really creative thing coming out and I was getting more into ownership, you know when you do something you have to walk through that door

    TW:

    So you had a vision

    FB: You had to get there, you had to...so working with the architect, I was getting, I found I was getting quite attached to this and so I asked everybody in the co-op, I said you know like ‘I’ve come to this for support and advice you know, we have meetings in the front room and all that and actually, I think this is what I want’ and so we went a lot more along the way of all the members then about digging together and putting down rules or not putting down rules and we had huge discussions about all the ins and outs of what we thought the people who had experience, who were living....it’s a bit frightening....people had had experience of like sharing food and entertaining and all that, it can be intimidating.....but anyway we got all this thing together and I was walking round the site of the church with the architect or Hilary, one of the architects, and it was like....where’s the drains?.....we can maybe piggy-back water and electricity through and do a deal with Justin, but that’s expense.....and when we had another look at our finances, that would have took up our emergency cover

    TW:

    The reserve funds or whatever

    FB: Yes, so you know, it was, you know, we couldn’t go into that reserve fund before we’d even bought the place you know [laughing], that’s what it was gonna be, so we had to pull out, you know, we had to say ‘sorry, no’

    TW:

    That’s a real shame that

    FB: It was a shame because the opportunity would have been....mind you it is on the darker side of the valley [laughing], so Dave was living up the road here at Wood End and we were all going gloomily to this meeting.....’what do we do now? We’ve got everything in place’ you know ‘yes, we were prepared for two years’ hard slog to build this – it’s not gonna happen’ you know, that sort of thing ‘what are we gonna do now?’....everywhere we’d been looking, the developers were coming in behind us, it’s almost like they’d tailed us you know, [laughing] we were frightened to be seen going to place in case

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    somebody else, you know, like the old battery place, so on the way here I saw them putting the sign up For Sale for the ‘Tavern’. We had a meeting, Dave and I cooked up an idea, we sent a friend of mine who didn’t know anybody to the estate agents for the details.....Dave and I turned up for the viewing as the most implausible couple [laughing] but you know, we just didn’t wanna let on until we’d bought the place you know, we just didn’t want the flack.....and the couple who sold the place, Mr and Mrs Painter, the landlord and lady, they were lovely; he was ill, he’d bought this place in ’75 so it was dirt cheap when he bought it, trading as a pub, at that time I believe they bought the last piece of it, so I think ’75 as the first time the whole of the ‘Nutclough’

    TW:

    Was into one?

    FB: Yeah, that we know, yeah, was one piece....he bought properties along here, you know, these rows across here, and they ceased trading even as a pub.....oh it must have been a couple of years before we bought it in 2002. I remember the second visit we’d been speaking to Mrs Painter and Dave and Mr Painter were doing all sorts of plumbing and knocking walls and all that stuff you know, what they were gonna hear I don’t know, and....they were talking because Mr Painter had converted all the bedrooms to have sinks and that and they were numbered and it was supposed to be a B & B, you know, when they shut down the pub for it to be a B & B and I just took a look and caught Mrs Painter’s look, and it was like ‘no way am I gonna be doing this!’ [laughing] ‘it’s kept him occupied for two years but if he’s thinking I’m gonna be doing bed and breakfast now, you know I want to chill’....unfortunately he was ill and.....by selling up all the properties he’d got in Hebden, he’d been able to buy a new place near his family, living with his wife, he’d been able to settle money on all his children, so when it came to selling this place, they just wanted to sell it – there was no.....there was no financial pressure on them to get a certain amount at all

    TW:

    So you got a good deal then

    FB: We got a very, very good deal, and there were little things that we could do that they were really happy with and we moved in.

    TW:

    How many people moved in originally then?

    FB: On the 23rd of December, which was when we got the keys to move in

    TW:

    What year was that?

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    FB: It was 2002 and Christina, you know, moved in within the first week, it was sort of like....moving stuff in, I think Dave stayed with her the first night, Ziggy was a bit later, so was Coln because they were serving notices on where they were living you know, it all moved very fast, I mean it was only a matter of weeks, it couldn’t have been a quicker....it seemed right

    TW:

    So were most of these people from the original Zion then? They had places to live there?

    FB: Yeah, I mean like Stuart at that time was in America so he didn’t move in for a year because he wasn’t in the country, but he was very much part of it and even after he left, he travelled off again, he didn’t...he still maintained the links with us and gave us a lot of support with the accounts and finances

    TW:

    Was that Stuart Cooper?

    FB: Yes.

    TW:

    Oh yes I know him

    FB: Yes, Stuart. Well he’s......supported before while he was here and for a long time after. Brooksie.....Dave Brookes ....I think when he moved in here he thought he’d got it for life and then he went and met the wonderful Emma, and things just turn on their heads don’t they, so two years later or three years later after moving in we celebrated their hand fasting here in the garden and....you know the travelling....and now they run the hostel at the Birchcliffe Centre, so we’ve got a....you know, they did the wheelie bins thing and that was very much.....a change in the co-op because the very strong energy came in, you know, when you imagine maybe two or three people who weren’t comfortable at living communally had moved on, with those vacancies, I mean that’s when just at that time Clive arrived.....I can’t remember names...because Dave and Emma were doing the wheelie bins which was at the Festival Café Support Network thing, we just got the very lovely Dave, we got our Brian who my mother thought was wonderful because his manners were perfect...who else...oh and Duncan Lowe so we suddenly had a whole group of people who were all working

    TW:

    All very active

    FB:

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    Very active, but also working on one thing which was....it was good...it was incredibly disruptive to the household because there was no...when you’ve got five out of eight people, you know like, when you’re sitting down to eat, the main thing, the important thing about living here is the communal meal at night – sharing food, ‘how did the day go’....if you’ve got five out of eight of you have all been working together and living together on sites and working, it becomes, whether they like it or not, becomes a very strong bubble so you feel, there was in Weirdigans and us not, you know, so....and that took a while for us to come to terms with and jig around and actually fully appreciate what effect it had on the co-op, and the largest effect was....that when Dunc Lowe decided to leave the wheelie bins set up and decided to move out, also Brian and then Dave and Em, so suddenly they all went off into different directions and that’s quite hard to fill

    TW:

    It must have left quite a gap really

    FB: Yes it was a sort of a bit of a shock to the system.....and there was a bit of reshuffling things and then you get you know, Dave was sort of still with us.....then we had Gareth I think you know

    TW:

    I know Gareth, yeah

    FB: Now then we’ve had....oh, Simon was a lovely person to be here as well [laughing] you know, he was here for a year or two. He actually, him and his wife, were also married in this garden and they had a humanist ceremony here

    TW:

    Very nice

    FB: So....yeah you know, John went on and now he’s got married and you know, he’s got around a bit, but the biggest bit, is Bear is the whirlwind, the ever practical superstar, yeah....and that’s been a really interesting change to the co-op....I think it’s fair to say that me and Bear will lock heads more times than anybody else, but we’re just both passionate about what we believe in

    TW:

    Is that because you have different views on what it should be or is it just practical things that

    FB: We have very different experiences of life you know.....to live communally, the cooperative principals, everything is so deep in me I couldn’t imagine any other

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    way......also, creativity and appreciation and supporting and appreciating others is really important to me so I want to nurture that.....and sometimes.....you know, they give me the most wonderful opportunities to try and work out why I’m doing something or why it’s important [laughing] it’s a practical brick wall, yeah.

    TW:

    Is there a creative aspect to the co-operative then?

    FB: Yes, from the very start

    TW:

    And what is that then?

    FB: Well....it’s kind of about coming from recognising that creative people are probably mostly selling their souls into an advertising agency or for some film company or whatever....you’re not making money at it, it doesn’t....you cannot easily live off it and to be creative I believe it involves space and a spirit in the community you know, so if somebody is rubbing two sticks together with a bit of string, you know, and they’re in that creative zone, you respect that, you know, you wouldn’t say....it’s about respecting each other’s expression of creativity.....so we have live, Dave’s off in India doing circus skills and he’s ended up.....making his living out of his hobby and turned his life around and he’s now teaching children in India circus skills. He’s been out there for a few months now...Clive’s a singer/songwriter musician... Gethen’s very new......Gareth of course you know, he’s....wonderfully supportive with recording and sound and you know, all the tech stuff that I don’t understand and.....I think John, is, was an actor/musician..., who was here....Bear plays, Christina’s an actress/performer....who else have we got? [laughing] I’m just trying to think you know, Athol lived here for a while, he’s a musician... TW: Is it sort of the people, the creative people or is there any activities focused within?

    FB:

    It’s opportunity. It’s opportunity for people to make connections. Everybody who’s creative have got friends or people they will bring and stuff and there’s this wonderful mixing of meeting up with interesting people, yeah....it’s....there’s certain advantages, like you know, for Dave you know, Dave went to India for five months. If you bought a house or a flat you know, it would be difficult even if you were sort of sub-letting to be able to do that sort of thing....and you know, like many other creative people, his room is absolutely chock-a-block with costumes and everything you know, and all his clowning stuff and his performance things you know, and a bit like mine, you just can’t.....you sort of need space and.....Athol when he was playing, I mean he was away on tour regularly, more than he was here, but you know, he knew his record collection, his instruments and all his stuff was absolutely safe and he didn’t you know, so there was that...allowing

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    people to travel away and come back you know, it’s part of it and...but you can’t...you can’t describe...you know, there’s no sort of ‘Nutclough’ stamp that says ‘made in the Nutclough’ – no, it’s about just respecting and supporting each other

    TW:

    You haven’t really spoken much about our own creativity. Would you like to talk about that a bit?

    FB: Yes, I’m frustrated at the moment [laughing].....bloody frustrated yeah....I love you know, I love the theatre and doing that sort of stuff but that’s physically beyond me, I mean the last piece of work I did was probably three years ago when John and High Hat Theatre was doing a tour of production and I loved working quite intimately with two people and....that was....that was ideal for me. It posed all sorts of problems but it was a joy to solve them and a joy to work with John, so I can do little things like that, no but that isn’t really the thing is it? I....since I’ve come to Hebden....when did I.....in the mid nineties I thought I’d do a bit of skills. I wanted to do some welding....I’d got some idea of something that I wanted to create, my work comes from interactions with people. It’s performance associated with all the props you know, props whatever they are, maybe it’s just a one to one and it’s about the experience between....I think it came from when I was working with Wet Paint in the early eighties [laughing] and the number of times the audience was less than the crowd on the stage, but yeah, it’s about that real connection between the artist and the person participating in the experience, so yes, my art experience is happenings and all that stuff....yeah, pursuing and idea

    TW:

    What did you weld then?

    FB: Well I didn’t. I joined Calderdale College and they lied to me [laughing]. What a surprise! There was a change of leadership or there was a change round and there was no ability to do anything like that. I got back into a bit of ceramics, mind you to me ceramics is playing with clay, it’s not really what I do

    TW:

    It depends how you do it

    FB: Yeah, it’s for me it’s a way of exploring something

    TW:

    Like ideas?

    FB: Yes, I might be exploring something through it but I still you know, the finished objects are only for my own reason or referral, that’s how I perceive them.....yeah, where am I?

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    So, I was very involved...didn’t go for Calderdale College. Somebody told me about the one at Tod so this was still in the early nineties and I was absolutely knocked out at the work they do there.

    TW:

    That’s the one Mary Loney runs.

    FB: Yes she did, and I was very cheeky you know, because I’d already qualified and everything and anyway I did a Foundation [laughing] I did a Foundation in Art and really had a lovely time with the people who were there, like it was just my ethos of working with found material, stuff around you, creating, developing, not being precious about.....you know, just actually being able to develop ideas, working with other students, and I suddenly found that I had a bit of a knack working with other students......especially at stuck points. I’d probably you know, I’d experienced enough of them to....

    TW:

    So you kind of facilitated other people?

    FB: Yeah, and fortunately that’s what I do, so instead of pursuing with my own art, yet again I got involved as part of the support network and working with other people

    TW:

    Are you still doing that?

    FB: No, I had to give up through ill health. My health just....I mean, only eight years ago I was doing...I remember.....I had....it was around 2000ish, it was one of the Hebden Bridge festivals and probably, yeah, the climax of all the work I’d been doing up to then came when I actually turned my whole house.....it was the year Tracey’s bed had got the....Tracey Emin’s bed had got the nomination and so I completely decorated and transformed my whole house with anything personal up in the attic and created a very virginal bed with starched lace and everything on the middle bedroom and Eileen lived next door to me, and she was also working with a poetry performance and we worked out this whole thing and it ran for you know, two performances a day for....six weekends I think we did, yeah

    TW:

    A fair few

    FB: It was a fair few, and it was a long time to leave your house totally unliveable [laughing]. Lots of people had contributed to the art work but I particularly asked an artist who’s a watercolour wildlife painter and she produced a sculpture that she’d never shown, so lots

    13

    of artists produced things to fill the house but they were not their normal, it was about...if someone had recognised their name they would have to adjust, it was all about that....a young woman, Linda, who was at college when I was there, she produced some beautiful paintings and Mary had assisted her. Linda’s profoundly restricted in her movements and it was a joy because there was a very narrow staircase up to the first floor with all Linda’s pictures in this most awkward, inaccessible spot, and we sold a couple which was lovely – the only thing we did, but that was good.....but it was just....it was great fun. I’d been working.....with a food piece.....a kind of, I covered her in saccharine pasta.........yeah, there was a thing going on in my work that was about male and female and somewhere eggs had got into the equation, and there was egg yolks and flour made pasta and egg whites and sugar made meringue, so there was a huge piece. I’d made a complete body suit out of meringue all fitted together that I believe was worn by a woman in Manchester, though I never saw the result! [laughing] I remember having to deliver it in loads of pizza boxes, it was great. So all the meringue went that way and disappeared from me, it went out into chance, and the pasta stuff, we had a whole thing where I made the pasta, I’d sourced the eggs, I knew exactly where the flour came from, where the mill was, and I think some of my work is a bit like....you know the Japanese tea party, the tea ceremony?

    TW:

    I do yeah.

    FB: And the ceremony master has to know absolutely everything about everything that can be seen and is in that enclosed space, and you don’t sit there and lecture people about it, but if somebody looked at the wooden box you’d know who’d made it, you’d know where the wood came from...you’d know where the wood grew if you could, you know what I mean, it’s....so that’s kind of how I approach my work – is knowing every detail, of having absolute control of understanding where everything’s come from, but not necessarily boring anybody else with it, but it’s there, you know, so that was, yeah, one of the pieces was

    TW:

    The pasta piece

    FB: The pasta piece, which was of that moment and involved about a hundred students in all. We had the ceremonial rolling, carrying pasta, draping it – it did look a bit like Rule Britannia when it was finished! [laughing] but the whole idea was the moment that happened as it dried. I didn’t realise how much heat it would take out of his body in the drying process so Chris started to go slightly blue

    TW:

    Is that right?

    FB:

    14

    Yeah, and we had Ted Hughes on something that had come through – you know the cheap books that they try and sell you and tell you you’ve ordered and you get them and you didn’t order them and they’re a pain to get back? Well the morning I left to do this piece with Chris....Ted Hughes’s CD came through this door and I thought ‘oh that might be...’ so we’d got this little broom cupboard, we’d got Ted Hughes playing, we’d got Chris being draped up like Rule Britannia, there was poor Jim stuck in a corner on this tiny little box to get a bit of height videoing the whole thing and...we decided that he was going too blue, and [laughing] and I just left the room and he just broke out of it, and Jim was able to record that and then sometimes I keep thinking....we’ve got it all on video and we must try and find the bloody thing, but the piece wasn’t about recording the experience, but the experience was just in the moment....and I think the moment came as I turned my back and walked out the door, and I’ve talked over your hour I would imagine

    TW:

    Not yet. I was just wondering. You have this wonderful terraced garden and just a fantastic space, and you have all kinds of things growing here. Do you look at it as a kind of performance space in any kind of way?

    FB: This very much to me is....yeah, the creative space. We’ve had Shakespeare here.

    TW:

    Oh have you?

    FB: Oh yes. We do good parties here. You can get a marquee over this one and that one so you’ve got a lovely back stage and audience....yeah, it’s....we need to do a few things before we can...it’s not safe enough for health and safety, but you know, it’s pretty dangerous for kids. I don’t mind it being a bit dangerous. The drops are a bit high. So we do that with planting, actually planting the flowers and that. I’m very conscious of the shapestheymakeandtheopportunitiestofusethroughand. It’sprobablymycreative sensitivity that makes me want to hug the garden [laughing] and not let people just lop things down and do stuff you know.

    TW:

    Well one final question then. What direction do you think the co-op will go in? I know it’s a prediction, but over the next few years, sort of five or ten years, how do you think it will progress?

    FB: It would be nice to have got all the physical jobs done....we’ve done quite a bit with it physically but nowhere near enough and now it’s got to the stage where it really does need some attention, and that’s difficult to find that balance between people who are active and doing things....people like myself physically can’t do things. I can give you a list of things that need doing but

    15

    TW:

    Project management [laughing]

    FB: Yes but you know, when you’ve got you know, people who are working for umpteen hours every day you know, they need a break. I know more than anyone not to get burnt out so.....this time, living communally, adding to ill health has probably made me much more tolerant than....of things but you know....but you can’t change, you just....so yes it would be nice for practical purposes, adding physically to the building. As for jelling together, it’s other people, it’s great, we’ve had a very steady time for a while. Graham moved out in November.....and....I’ve forgotten to mention Nimbi for us, he’s a comedian and everything

    TW:

    Sorry, who?

    FB: Graham.....do you remember Graham?

    TW:

    I don’t think I know Graham

    FB: And.......you know so we get a new person and you know, Gethen’s great and he’s young and that’s what it needs to be; it needs to be

    TW:

    A nice mix

    FB: A nice mix.....and.......yeah, understanding. The one thing that we really can’t do is probably have children here. It’s not...... the household and everything, how it’s set up, pretty much excludes children on a permanent basis. We just don’t have the room that they need – their own rooms and things and the planning, that can’t work with us as we are now but we have children who come in as friends and partners’ children....children who don’t live with their parents, so....we get a.....we get an energetic boost from the youngsters occasionally which is good! [laughing] And I try not to tell them.....been there before, done it....

    TW:

    Is there anything else that you’d like to say about living here, or about yourself or anything like that, that I haven’t asked about?

    FB: The positive things....I mean physically today I’m doing quite well. I had major surgery

    16

    last year and for about two years I wasn’t able to get out of the house, barely at all, and my God, six months of that was just....agony, and there’s a wonderful web site called ‘Pain Support’ that I’d....been trying to you know, even if I could just about look at you know, ten minutes of e-mails a day; I was in a bit of a bad way last year and.....I....can I remember now.....it’s given me an understanding of communicating with other people when you’re in similar pain to me at the time for similar reasons and stuff.....the lack of support people get you know, I was suddenly thinking ‘how lucky I am to live in a house with eight other people’ you know, ‘I don’t have to worry about...has somebody put the rubbish bin out’.....just you know, there was always somebody who want to you know, ‘do you want some shopping or do you want anything?’ there was....you don’t have to have people sort of running after you all the time, but just to feel that you’re not alone....and I think that’s got to be important in the future with our population ageing and the services reducing, it’s definitely something that people should consider. When they don’t need the family home and the other you know, to actually live communally is a huge benefit. I mean I do feel a bit guilty sometimes when I can’t physically do the things that I’d like to do, but I do kind of think ‘I did a lot’ [laughing].....there’s been times when I’ve done a bloody lot so, it’s got to all even out some time.

    TW:

    Okay, well that’s it

    FB: Thank you. I didn’t realise I could talk on so much...

    TW:

    Well thank you very much

    FB: Thank you

    [END OF TRACK 1]

    Read more

  • Interviews and Storytelling: Christina Hooley

     

    [TRACK 1]

    TW:

    Okay this is Tony Wright, it’s the eighteenth of April 2011 and I’m talking to Christina at Zion Co-op. Christina, can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

    CHRISTINA HOOLEY: Okay, my name is Mrs Christina Margaret Hooley. I was born in Winchester Hospital in Hampshire in November 1959

    TW:

    Winchester.

    CH: yes.

    TW:

    What’s it like around Winchester?

    CH: Winchester is very genteel.....it’s...the countryside is.....flattish to rolling hills I’d say....Winchester’s is the county town, city of Hampshire.....I’d say it was genteel but my family are not genteel, they’re actually just an ordinary working class family from Southampton and my dad moved to the countryside, we were nearer to Winchester there than we were to Southampton, and he and my mum built their own house in three years of Sundays.

    TW:

    Three years of Sundays?

    CH: Yes. [laughing]

    TW:

    That’s quite an accomplishment.

    CH: Yes.

    TW:

    Did you learn skills from your parents then?

    CH: No, strangely I didn’t. I wish I had done really, I wish I had learnt carpentry and building skills from my dad, but I guess we just didn’t have that kind of relationship really.

    TW:

    Right. So did you spend most of your....before moving to Hebden Bridge, did you live around there all the time?

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    1

    CH: I lived there until I was eighteen and when I was eighteen I went away to university in Cardiff.

    TW:

    Right. How did you get to Hebden Bridge then?

    CH: Well I’d moved to Leeds. I had friends in Leeds; I had a friend from sixth form college who’d gone to my college at Leeds Poly. I went up to stay with her and I fell in love with one of her fellow students and I moved up there to be with him, but it was a disaster, it didn’t last, but I carried on living in Leeds. I met some people who brought me out to Hebden Bridge one day to look for magic mushrooms actually.....one of the friends was called Axle and he was German. We went out in his VW and we ended up on a track on the moors, finally by a reservoir where a water board worker came out and told us off. Axle pretended not to be able to speak English, so.....the water board worker was quite helpful and showed us how we could get out of the field and back onto the road again, and ever since then I’ve loved the place and I decided one day I was gonna move here. I did actually move to the area six years later. A friend of mine had seen an advert for short-term let of a cottage at Blackshaw Head and I....rang up about it and went to see the people and a few months later I’d moved in.

    TW:

    Have you been here ever since then?

    CH: No, on and off. That was for nine months....the people who owned the cottage, they were working away and so I obviously had to move out when they came back. I did actually go up to Orkney for a while and then back to Leeds, and then within a year I was back in this area, first in Todmorden then at Foster Clough, finally Hebden and then I went away, then I came back again.....

    TW:

    So when you went to college, did you study Art or anything like that?

    CH: I studied Botany

    TW:

    Oh is that right?

    CH: Yes, but I only lasted a term doing Botany in Cardiff because what happened was, I’d done Botany at A Level at my sixth form college and I absolutely loved it and what I really liked about it was going into the field, collecting and identifying flowers, bringing them back, dissecting them, drawing them and.....yes, so that was the side of it that I liked and I got a place to study that at Reading and I then I went a bit, I went off the rails a bit in my last year at sixth form and just didn’t get my grades, so I ended

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    2

    up going to Cardiff through clearing and it was a completely different course. It was very much....on the cellular level....

    TW:

    Much more scientific

    CH: Much more scientific and I wasn’t interested in that at all, and also it was....huge numbers of people; there’d be over a hundred people in the laboratories and in the lecture halls, and I was used to...there were six of us in my Botany group at A Level [laughing] it was very different and I didn’t like it, so

    TW:

    A bit of a shock really

    CH: Yes it was, yes, so I dropped out and in those...we were very lucky, very lucky compared to today’s students because in those days not only did you get your fees paid, a full maintenance grant, that was means tested but if your parents’ income was below a certain level you got the full maintenance grant and if you decided you didn’t....happy with the course after a term then you could leave and still have those same rights for later on.

    TW:

    Right, very good. So this love of plants that you developed from that age, has that carried through then to the work that you do with Treesponsibility?

    CH: Yes very much, yes.

    TW:

    How did you get involved with Treesponsibility?

    CH: I started to volunteer for them and going out on their.......going out on the volunteer days, there used to be volunteer days every week through the planting season and then there would be big events like the New Year’s planting, the autumn gathering, the birthday, and I always used to go to those but I very quickly became more than just someone who went out to plant trees. I began to help with other stuff, with the gatherings

    TW:

    Help organise things

    CH: Help organise things yes, and also I was able to use my theatre skills. I would usually do....something, usually an instant theatre for the gathering which is....that’s what I learnt to do well; I’d trained in Community Arts. I’d get a group of people to make up a story and act it out

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    3

    TW:

    Right. Where did you study Community Arts?

    CH: Well I finally did my degree in Creative Arts at Crewe College and I worked for a community theatre company in Dorset after that.

    TW:

    Right. So the work that you do now for Treesponsibility – has that changed over the years? I mean, how long have you actually been there?

    CH: I’ve been working for them since June 2005. I started working for them when they....they got some funding from DEFRA’s Rural Enterprise Scheme to start doing tree planting holidays and I got the job as a Co-ordinator for that project, and I also did some funding to do residentials for children, so as we continued to do the holidays I continued to do that rather than co-ordinating

    TW:

    What kind of work do you do with residentials with the children then?

    CH: With the children, they....we usually have them three days. We stay with them at Blake Dean Hostel and we try to give them a completely different experience from their life experience....they’re always....they are children who are deprived in terms of not having access to the countryside...

    TW:

    Are these inner city kids mostly

    CH: Yes, but from Halifax mostly, schools in Halifax and particularly the children from West Central Halifax who are often from British Muslim families, British Pakistani families and they have no tradition in their families of going out to the countryside....and they also have other issues, like language issues often, even though they might be third generation British, they will still speak an Asian language in the home and so in effect, English continues to be their second language, and there continues to be sort of problems with integration so.......we aim to not just give them an experience of the countryside, we try to bring them in touch with their environment and with the cycles of nature, we try to help with their other problems of language and integration as well.

    TW:

    Right

    CH: So as well as.....they only do one morning of tree planting – three days of tree planting for ten year old kids would be too much – we do walks and....we start off in Heptonstall doing a history walk around Heptonstall, we go into the museum and then we walk along the Colden Valley...to Hebble Hole, we walk along the top of the

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    4

    valley and we come back along the river, and we....try in that context to give them an idea of how the people who have lived in this area have interacted and to a certain extent shaped the landscape as time’s gone on.

    TW:

    What kind of feedback do you get from them at the end of the three days then?

    CH: Mostly that they’ve really enjoyed it. We always do a quiz on the last night to find out how much they’ve absorbed and the last two groups have done very well in the quiz, you know, the teachers say it’s an invaluable experience for them and.....one little boy we had on the residential last year, this wasn’t from....this was actually from a North Halifax primary school, not Central Halifax, and he.....had certain special needs, some behavioural problems; he found it almost impossible to settle down and concentrate, he was like......couldn’t keep still and he was very....it was really hard to get him to talk to you or look you in the eye and then this year, after the class from that school had come out again and went back to school at the end with the children and saw him, and he looked – I recognised him but he looked completely different and he saw me and he smiled and said ‘hello’ and he’d remembered me, and....I didn’t feel at the time when he was on his residential that he’d connected with me at all, so I thought that was a good indication that you know, he’d had a good experience.

    TW:

    Right. I’d like to talk about the theatre work that you used to do with Coyote Dream Theatre I think it was called – correct me if I’m mistaken

    CH: That’s correct, Coyote Dream Theatre.

    TW:

    How did that come about then?

    CH: After I left the community theatre company I’d been working with in Dorset, I left them partly because I had missed it here so much, I’d missed the landscape, it had got so under my skin and I missed the drama of the landscape and it had become.....it had become a creative inspiration, it had become....fundamental to my identity somehow which is strange because I still feel like in many ways I’m a Southerner you know, I don’t feel like a naturalised Northerner, not by any means and.....you don’t really get accepted round here by you know, people who’ve been here all their lives, not a hundred per cent you don’t.

    TW:

    So what kind of theatre group did you begin when you came up here?

    CH: The company I’d been working for, they were called Word and Action and they worked exclusively in the round so the audience, well technically it’s a square so the audience sits around and the action takes place in the middle......the guy who was the

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    5

    Director of the company who I can’t remember his name at the moment – Gregory – we always called him Greg, but Gregory was his surname and I can’t remember what his first name was right now

    PERSON IN BACKGROUND: Does anybody else want another drink or anything?

    TW:

    No

    CH: No I’m alright thanks. Yeah, he was very very much a socialist [the kettle filling]

    TW: I’ll turn it off for now.

    CH: Yes, Word In Action....what was I saying...worked exclusively in the round. The Director, Greg, who founded the company back in the seventies, this was ’96 when I joined them, he was just about as much a socialist as he was a theatre practitioner, and he felt that the...the style of theatre that we probably think of as being traditional....obviously it has its context as well, is with the presidian arch, the stage, the actors up on the stage with the audience seated below them in front of them, and he thought that mirrored the hierarchy of society, so he felt that theatre-in-the-round was the most egalitarian form of theatre, and I found acting in the round, I found it totally liberating, I loved it. We mostly used to do something called Instant Theatre which again was a form particularly developed by Greg with Word and Action, and we’d work as a team of three, there’d be a questioner, a first actor and a second actor, and the questioner would go in, get the story from the audience and he’d begin with the five W’s – who, when, where, what – ‘what’s the weather like, what happens next’, and then they’d have to judge what questions to ask in order to...to see where their thought story was going; ask questions that would most facilitate the story....the two rules – we weren’t allowed to ask leading questions and the first answer to every question was true and went into the story, no matter how outrageous it might be, it had to go in to the story and when there was enough for a first scene, the questioner then becomes the Stage Director; get members of the audience to come out and act the parts – everything would be played by an audience member, whether it’s a table, a shoe, a hat, a cat or a person. The first actor would always take the main character and the second actor would decide, they would decide at the end what they were gonna do and they would take the part that they thought would best support the....the other parts, yes, so it was very skilled and....we used to tour all round Europe and beyond doing that and working in schools, and it would be a creative language experience for the children learning English at school, you know, as everyone in the world learns English at school if they’re lucky enough to go to school of course, and but then....two or three times a year we would do a play as well which we’d just do for the community in Wimborne which is where the company was based.....and then also once a year there would be a festival of the theatre-in-the-round. The year after I moved back here, Word and Action were hosting the festival of theatre-in-the-round and I decided that I was going to do something to take down to it and.....I’d a friend in Hebden who wanted to work with me and so we developed a little piece together and we took it down and performed it at the festival of the theatre-in-the-round, so

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    6

    that was the.....that was the beginning. We called it The Little Round Theatre Company then, and it was just the two of us, but we did a few performances of that piece......and then a couple of years later we decided that we would do something for Hebden Bridge Arts Festival; I’d become friends with a man called John who had moved to Hebden from Manchester and lived on a boat, and he was called John the Barge and we actually became partners, but the.....three of us plus another guy, we created this piece for the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival that year and I was trying to think of a name for the company. I had....I think it was three days to think of a name for the company and a name for the piece in order to get into the programme, to meet the deadline – the printer’s deadline, and....I’d actually been reading the poetry of Ted Hughes at the time; I’ve had phases of reading Ted Hughes all through my life but this was a particular one and I was reading the Crow poems and I was reading some essays about Ted Hughes along with it, and the essays explained that the crow in these poems was a trickster which is a character that comes up in lots of sort of ancient cultures, like Native American and Inuits in particular, and the trickster embodies all the characteristics that are human but we might not necessarily want to own....but they’re also necessary for you know, the human species’ survival as well, and I got really fascinated by this idea.....in the Native American tradition, the trickster is often the coyote. I also liked working with people’s dreams and aspirations you know, what we hope for, what we wish for as well as our actual night- time dreams and this idea of dream world, it’s a world of archetypes.....I do believe underlie a lot of the human personality, so as I said all these things you know, were going on in my mind and I was trying to think of a name and then...it just came to me, it had to be Coyote Dream Theatre

    TW:

    Right

    CH: So that was how that started.....we did a piece for that festival and that was 1999, and then for every arts festival up until 2005, so me and John broke up and that was the end of the group although it still exists on paper and I have done a couple of projects since then under the name of Coyote Dream Theatre

    TW:

    Right. The work that you did, was it kind of based on the Word and Action type of stuff where you involve the audience in a bigger way and did you do other things?

    CH: I did use that instant theatre format for...you know, I just used to do it sometimes because I wanted to do it and did it a few times in different places around Hebden and I used to use it in my work in schools; I often found it was a good way to begin projects....to sort of do that with a class and then we would use the ideas that came up, you know, well it could go anywhere after that, but it gave me something to work with and it was a way to....get the children going really, creatively.

    TW:

    Well you mentioned earlier that you had a sort of love of plants and also when you came to Hebden Bridge initially then moved away, you missed the drama of the

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    7

    landscape around here and since you’ve been here, how do you relate the area as fitting in with kind of your aspirations? I’d better stop a second

    CH: Yeah I’d better stop and think about this.

    The one occasion where.....you know, this particular place.....was direct, had a direct effect on a piece of theatre was when....it must have been 2001 I think.....no it was 2002, that’s right, it must have been 2002....I’d decided that I wanted to do a piece that was based in local history....so I need to give a bit of background actually to how we actually worked because I’d always start again in September every year, and John and I, we would put out some advertisements and say we were doing some open workshops; they’d always happen on a Monday night and....at Holme Street Art Centre, and anyone who came along to that....we would accept them if you know....if that person liked the way we worked, then they would stay for the nine months from September to the following June/July when the arts festival was, so we’d work with whoever came along. We worked through improvisation, research, any stimulus that anyone wanted to introduce – any exercise that anyone wanted to introduce and gradually over the weeks the ideas would start to emerge and the piece would start to take shape; it’s a bit alchemical, which I really love that process – I find it really exciting, some people hate it, some people came along and couldn’t bear working in that way, they found it just too frustrating and...it can be a bit frightening in a way because you go through stages where you’re absolutely getting nowhere and this idea’s never going to come together into a piece of theatre and that can be a bit frightening, it could just make you feel quite desolate because you’re working with your inner resources, it can bring up sort of disturbing memories and associations for you as well, but I can live with that and I think it’s actually important for us as human beings to be able to look at those dark things inside us and it’s just coming to me actually as well that......one of the reasons why I feel so at home in this landscape is because that is dark and of the time and its......for me it’s......yeah, it reflects that darkness of you know, our humanness and that’s an essential drama which is at the centre of our beings....I feel somehow that the landscape and the elements.....the harshness of the elements here exposes that far, far more than the soft southern landscape and climate does, but anyway this year, so we were doing a piece on local history and we were doing a bit of research, bringing in different ideas and we decided to do the Mankinholes Riots, but you probably don’t want me to go into that cos

    TW:

    You can if you like

    CH: Basically...it was Poor Law Riots when the Government tried to introduce the new Poor Law in was it 1838....I can’t remember, but it was around then, I can’t remember when it was exactly, where people could no longer receive what was called outdoor relief. If they were so desperate that they needed support from the Parish they would have to go into a workhouse and live in terrible conditions, and work really hard for their sustenance, and there’d be a set of Governors appointed and they would collect Poor Law rates from the rate payers and that money would go towards building and maintaining a workhouse, but the people at Mankinholes refused to do it,

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    8

    and so the Poor Law Commission in London sent up some bailiffs to take away goods from one of the Governor’s houses, and on the day it was coming the people came out of the mills, the two local mills were given the day off – all the people came out and opposed the bailiffs and sent them packing back to London and there was never a workhouse in Mankinholes, so we that’s why we chose that story.

    TW:

    Very good. You haven’t done theatre work in a little while. Is that because you’ve been helping to work on this housing co-op and develop the work here?

    CH: No, it’s because my work with Treesponsibility has taken over. It was meant to be my day job to start with, but it’s such an all encompassing thing that you just get totally immersed in it. The year after I became one of the paid workers was the year of the first Camp for Climate Action, so as Treesponsibility is being a climate action group, we were sort of at the core of that really and....so for the next four years Climate Camp took up my summer, and then starting the Transition Town here, that came out of that as well, and that’s taken up the rest of my time, and then the co-op takes up.....[laughing]

    TW:

    Anything that’s left

    CH: Anything that’s left, yeah

    TW:

    Well how did your involvement in Transition Town then come about? I mean you say it comes out of what you were doing with Treesponsibility but why did you need something extra?

    CH: Well....during the Heathrow camp in 2007, there were thirteen people from Hebden at that camp and there were a few of us who were just sitting round the table chatting one day, having a cup of tea, and we were saying ‘what are we gonna take away from this? What are we gonna take home with us?’ and a couple of the women had been to a workshop on the Transition Town Movement and had been really inspired from it; they thought it was a fantastic idea, and we decided that when we went back home we’d call a meeting and see if we could begin to raise some interest in it, so that’s how it started.

    TW:

    Well what was it – when you say Transition Town then, what does it actually mean?

    CH: Right. The movement started with the ideas of a man called Rob Hopkins. He is a teacher of permaculture.....don’t know if you want me to explain permaculture but that’s a whole...

    TW:

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    9

    You can

    CH: level of explanation.....permaculture was an idea that was developed in the seventies. I can’t remember the names of the two guys who developed it. One of them certainly was an Australian and they were very very concerned with how human life was destroying the planet basically. They were particularly concerned with soil depletion and water depletion in Australia so they came up with this idea of....we actually needed to observe how nature worked and plan how we did things according to how nature did it, so it was about sort of the intelligent design and it was about culture so it was being as.....so bringing that right back into the heart of human cultures in that sense.....and the design meant looking at a way of working with the land that was through a design that was permanent so it was looking into the long-term future rather than just a sort of immediate contingency, so permaculture, that’s how it came about. Rob Hopkins was very concerned with the fact that we’re really not getting to grips with tackling the issue of climate change, and also the fact that we are heavily dependent on oil and very soon the fact that it may have already started, I think it probably has, we were gonna reach the point where the production of oil was gonna peak, that’s called peak oil, and he realised that governments, communities were not planning for it and they were needing to plan for that, so he saw these as, these should be twin drivers of our policy – peak oil and climate change – and building resilience in our communities, those two things, and he thought that community by community, town by town, we’d get a broad base of people involved on working on this transition to a low carbon economy way of living, and hence Transition Town. We thought this was a really good idea and decided to bring that back to Hebden Bridge; we thought Hebden Bridge would be a place where it should work very well because they were already very aware people living here....yeah, people with concerns about sustainability and so on, so that’s how I got involved

    TW:

    So are there any activities that Transition Town people get involved in, or is it just a kind of philosophy that you are trying to spread?

    CH: It is very much a practical thing. The idea is that.......to create a plan, a thirty year plan, you know, sort of making the shift from the level of.....use of fossil fuels now and taking that down to a optimum level in thirty years in the future, but it involves all sorts of practical steps along the way you know, starting to get projects under way that can build and you know, until the town is in a position to......start drawing its energy from natural resources, growing its own food, having its own finance and so on, so you know, very much practical projects to that aim of low carbon economy

    TW:

    Right. So creating your own energy either from water or wind power or with the other kind of project you wanna get involved with then?

    CH: Yes.

    TW:

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 10

    What do you say to people then who you know, I suppose the nimbys (not in my back yard) of this world you know, someone wants to put a big wind farm up on top of the moors and they say ‘we don’t want that because it spoils our view’. With your kind of love of the landscape that you were talking about, what do you think about all that then?

    CH: That’s a difficult one really, but I don’t think we should just stick wind farms willy nilly all over the moors. I think they should be placed strategically to give you know, maximum benefit for minimum impact and that involves consultation and.....it’s much much better if there’s like one turbine to serve several households so you know, if there are several households deriving the benefits such as from the feeding tariffs, I think that’s a much better way to approach it rather than you know, than individuals all putting in a planning application just to have their own wind turbine, so I think first of all to consult people, let people see that there are benefits for them and you know, then go from there you know, and try to....this is very hard, but try to....cos it is very hard for us to put ourselves into the position of imagining a future crisis; we’re all very good at dealing with immediate crises but not planning for something that might happen in the future, so it is very hard to get across the idea that you know, if we go on producing the levels of carbon dioxide that we are, we are going to seriously destabilise our climate and we’re you know, gonna create a situation where the planet can support far, far, far communities than it does now and......but you just have to do your best, I mean....sometimes it seems hopeless, but I’m of the mind that I can’t not try

    TW:

    Would you say the Transition Town people in Hebden Bridge, I mean if there was like a plan for a mega sort of wind farm out in the North Sea somewhere that could serve a large portion of the north of England, would the different Transition Towns around in the north all join together to help support a project like that?

    CH: Yes, yes. The idea that the Transition Town, it’s a movement, it’s a network so....you know, the different Transition Towns, there’s over.....the last time I checked the numbers there was well over three hundred in the country and there’s probably more now because it’s a while since I checked on the numbers. The idea is we communicate with each other and derive inspiration and support from each other.

    TW:

    Right. Can I ask you about something else now really? This house that you live in, it used to be a pub at one time, I mean it was probably something else before that but now it’s a housing co-operative. How did your involvement in the co-operative come about?

    CH: I was in a position where I’d been living in a house for five years and I was very soon gonna have to move out; the house was being sold, so I knew I had to look for somewhere to live. I also had a dream of having a theatre one day, you know, a creative theatre having its own community theatre building and I just happened to go

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 11

    along to the Salem Community Centre to volunteer to help put the LETS catalogue together and I met a guy there called Dave Brookes who wanted to start a housing co- op and he.....he’d been at a festival in summer, one of the green gatherings, I’m not sure if it was the Big Green Gathering or if it was the Northern Green Gathering and he’d come across an organisation called Radical Roots which is a co-op of co-ops; it was set up in the eighties I think to help activists get secure housing, so from there he learnt about the idea of a housing co-op. He at the time was living in one of the Zion cottages which backs on to the Zion Baptist Chapel which is on Osbourne Street on Birchcliffe. He got home to find he had a letter saying....giving him two months notice to move out because the building, the whole building was being sold; the Zion Baptist Chapel and the Zion Terrace, and he put the two ideas together and he thought ‘I’ll get a housing co-op together and we’ll buy this place’ so whilst standing up in that room putting the catalogues together he was telling me about it and I thought ‘what a wonderful idea and this would solve my two problems’ it would give, you know, it would give me you know, a secure place to live where I had all you know, as a member of the housing co-op I’d have control over my own housing and a building that could be a theatre, so I just....I bought into it and immediately I said ‘yes’ and I’ve never looked back.

    TW:

    Right. So how long have you actually been here?

    CH: We’ve been in this house since December the 23rd 2002. The co-op was formed in September 2001.

    TW:

    Right.

    CH: We didn’t manage to get the original, obviously because we’re in the Nutclough Tavern, we didn’t get the building that we wanted, the Zion Baptist Chapel and terrace; that is where the name comes from, Zion, although now we’re still....officially on all our paperwork we’re Zion Housing Co-op we’re actually calling ourselves Nutclough now

    TW:

    Oh do you?

    CH: We do yes.

    TW:

    Do you have to formally change that name then, if you wanted?

    CH: Yes, yeah, we’d have to because we’re registered with ICOF, the Industrial Co- operative....thing [laughing] and our bank account is with Companies House so we’d have to re-register which would cost us a few hundred pounds and we haven’t got round to doing that yet, but we tell everybody that we’re called Nutclough.

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 12

    TW:

    I see. How many people live here?

    CH: Eight.

    TW:

    Right. And how do people get to live here then? Do you have like a list where people can apply?

    CH: Well, ideally we would like to have a reserve of members in waiting, but we’ve never been able to achieve that; it’s always happened that when a room’s come empty we’ve had to advertise and then see who comes along. We’ve quite recently acquired a new member......and that seems to be working out very well. He’s a most energetic young man

    TW:

    Do you have any plans to expand or do some new building, or is that out of the question?

    CH: Well.....this is something that comes up from time to time and there are people in Hebden who would like to live in a co-op but for one reason or another, either they’re a family – it wouldn’t suit them to live in a space like this where here, every person has an individual room but the rest of the house is communal and for a family you know, they’d have to pay the rent for every room; it would actually work out quite expensive for a family, so we’ve often thought about maybe buying other properties so that......for families or other people to be members and to be housed, but.....some people in the co-op are quite understandably, don’t want to enlarge our financial commitment any more than it is, you know, and especially as we seem to keep having to borrow more money in order to be able to deal with sort of major maintenance things that come up, so...

    TW:

    Fair enough. I want to ask you about Hebden Bridge really because you did say earlier you didn’t think the local people totally accepted outsiders shall we say, off- cumdens as they call them, and half the people in Hebden must be off-cumdens now

    CH: They must be

    TW:

    So, how does that mix work? I mean, what’s your experience of born and bred and people from other areas? How do they blend together?

    CH: .............I’m trying to think......it’s the.....most of the people that I know well are off-cumdens like me; most of the people who have been involved in things I do are

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 13

    likewise with a few exceptions. Mostly when you meet more indigenous people they’re working in some of the shops and the pubs and so on, or.....that’s mostly how you know, where the two communities are inter-faced and in schools.....I mean I don’t have children myself so.....obviously there’s a lot more integration where people have children of the same age and they’re taking their children to school.

    TW:

    Right. I just want to ask a question about the future really. If say in twenty or thirty years’ time, you know, the work of Treesponsibility flourishes and Transition Town works really well and the sort of, the alternative people that are in this area carry on believing in that ethos and move forward, how do you think it will affect the landscape because you said you loved the harshness of it and it reflects kind of like the inner being of people. If it changes over a period of twenty or thirty years, how do you think that will then, you know, if you could live for another thirty years and then see what the landscape was like then, how do you think that would reflect on human nature?

    CH: Well the moor tops would really stay the same. If the Treesponsibility plan goes ahead, which is to.....a lot of our tree planting is for flood mitigation because even though it’s dry at the moment, the climate change scenario for our area is that we will get more incidents of heavy rainfall, so we try to get land in the water catchment area that’s on the steep valley sides so there’d be trees on all the steep valley sides.....the fields from the Transition Town, from the local food point of view, all the fields that were originally farmland would be productive from growing vegetables and there would also be managed woodland where the woodland would be coppiced to produce firewood and for some timber products. There would be some wind turbines in the landscape; there wouldn’t be.....the landscape wouldn’t be by no means dominated by wind farms; there would be water turbines in the water producing electricity that would be using the old water mill infrastructure which is in most of the rivers is still there.

    TW:

    That’s a good master plan! Is there anything that you would like to say – I’m not asking you a question; is there anything that you would like to say about your feelings or vision of this area?

    CH: ..........I’d like to see more of people working together and appreciating and supporting each other. I’d like to see people taking more responsibility for themselves in the way they live their lives.....and I’d like people to be.......yeah, to be more involved in decisions that affect their lives and affect our community, and generally for people to be more relaxed, less suspicious of each other and I think more of a need to slow down as well, I think really the key to tackling climate change and reducing carbon emissions is not to – well we couldn’t replace our present energy consumption with renewables, but we need to use less energy and I think we need to slow down, do less work, so less work and more community

    TW:

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 14

    Right that’s a good idea I think. Well I think we’ll end there if that’s alright and thank you very much

    CH: Thank you Tony. It’s been really interesting actually, talking and I’ve enjoyed just talking!

    [END OF TRACK 1]

    Read more

  • Interviews and Storytelling: Bear

     

    [TRACK 1]

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the eighteenth of April 2011, I’m talking to Bear in the Zion Co-op and could you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

    STEVEN GIBSON: Right. My full name is Steven Richard Gibson and I’m from Essex. I was born in Essex on the 7th November 1957.

    TW:

    Whereabouts in Essex?

    SG: Chelmsford, County Town of Essex.

    TW:

    Chelmsford, right. And what was it like growing up there?

    SG: Well I suppose it was okay, I mean I’ve no great attachment to it.......since moving to Hebden Bridge I’ve just found a love of the place here and I’ve no intention of going back, frankly. I go down there to visit relatives every year but apart from that....it’s pretty enough in parts, but.....

    TW:

    What did you do down there?

    SG: Oh I had a whole host of jobs which varied from...I’m fifty-three now, I left school at sixteen and did all kinds of dead-end things down there...petrol pump attendant, hod carrying.....you name it, working in shops, factories, lathe turning.......I eventually became a self-employed builder which is what I’ve been doing for donkey’s years

    TW:

    How did you come about to come up here then?

    SG: I lived in London at the time that I was moving up here. I actually came here to do a building job for some people who’d been my customers while I was in London. They’d moved up here and asked me to come and work on the house, so I agreed, came here and really like the place so I just stayed here.

    TW:

    Right. When was that?

    SG: 2003, About this time of year about, Easter time-ish.

    TW:

    What is it that you like about this place that you like then?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    1

    SG: Well it’s more a case of what’s not to like really.......it’s very friendly, very picturesque, grand walking country.....small town, I like the smallness of the town, I hate large towns like Chelmsford and London, they’re just great sprawling masses of concrete and tarmac, there’s room to breathe here basically, everyone’s friendly, good beer.....everything’s good.

    TW:

    Right. Do you feel like you’ve been accepted by local people?

    SG: Oh absolutely, yeah, no question. I feel right at home here.

    TW:

    Right. So how’s the mix of like born and bred people to what they call the off- cumdens...the interaction between the two different kinds.....what’s your experience of that?

    SG: Haven’t really experienced any kind of interaction based on those......whatever it is......maybe I’m too thick skinned or something.....I don’t feel any part of hostility or anything from anyone who is a born and bred local. I realise that there are lots of what they’re calling off, off-cumdens here and we probably outnumber them [chuckling] so they’re in a minority really, that’s what they’ve got to moan about! [laughing]

    TW:

    You live in this Housing Co-operative. How did you get involved with Zion then?

    SG: When I came to town I was working in somebody’s house just round the corner from here actually, and I started checking out all the different pubs in town you know, to see which one I was gonna settle on as my local.....you know, I kind of got into going to the Stubbing Wharf and one or two of the people who lived here at the time went in there, so I started to meet people that lived here already and word was getting out that I was actually a builder, so they needed some building work doing and they employed me to come and do a job here. That was my big intro into this building really. Subsequent to that I actually started going out with Christina who lives here as one of the founder members and we kind of half lived here in her room and half lived in a house that I was at that point renting in Midgley, and when somebody moved out here I just took their place and moved in.

    TW:

    Right. How do you think this place will develop over the coming years as a Co-operative? How do you think it will change? Or will it just stay the same?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    2

    SG: Nothing ever stays the same. Originally there were eight or nine members here and only two of the original residents are still here, and that’s in eight years I think, so we don’t expect it to always remain the same; there’s a constant turnover of people – not a rapid turnover, but you know, people move on in their lives, but I expect the ethos to remain the same, you know, that we’re a Co-op which is...we work on Co-operative principles you know, with.....you know, a Co-op is a group of people working together for the benefit of that group really, so in our case it’s to provide ourselves with a social housing project in which we are both the landlord and the tenant.....so that aspect I don’t see changing......as I say the membership of course will change over time as it has been....the dynamics of the people within it are usually pretty good, obviously we’ve just kind of operated like a big family really so there will be differences of opinion of things sometimes but they always get resolved......but you know I can’t speak about the future with too much certainty. The benefit of the set up that we have really is that......we have control of the building and we.....therefore are the landlords and we get to decide who comes in and fills any vacancies, so basically we’ve got a head start over other tenants in a more conventional sense because those tenants have new house mates imposed on them by their landlord, but we actually get to be a self-selecting community really.

    TW:

    Right. I noticed you’re rebuilding....you’ve taken up all the flags and you’re redoing the floor in the room next to this one because you had some dry rot. It’s quite an undertaking that, and it looks like you’re doing all the work yourself, well amongst you. Is there a kind of.....a skill base that people need to become members or is that just a kind of idealistic way of looking at it?

    SG: No, no....that is a bit of an idealistic way of looking at it. Like I said, I’ve been a builder for many years so you know it kind of falls to me to be responsible for knowing what’s going on from a maintenance point of view and over-seeing any work, so you know, I am able to do the majority of the work. We did get specialist people in to deal with the dry rot so that we could get a guarantee with the treatment for it, but.....outside of that you know, we were able to carry out all the other work, in fact it’s necessary because it’s hellish expensive getting a firm in to do this work, so muggins here is the.....[chuckling] chief humper of things, mixer of concrete etc.

    TW:

    Right. I’d like to kind of move on to the other work that you do which is with Tree Responsibility

    SG: Treesponsibility.

    TW:

    Sorry, Treesponsibility, beg your pardon. SG: That’s quite alright. TW: What role do you play in that organisation then?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    3

    SG: I don’t have an official role like a manager or anything like that. I’m just one of the workers.....everybody does a bit of everything really. There are groups within it; it’s only a small organisation – it’s got a management committee of nine people....a sort of core working group of actual workers who are all in a management committee of six of us.....or seven, I don’t know, six or seven of us actually do the majority of the work and we all have to kind of muck in with all the different roles really.

    TW:

    And what type of work do you do with them? I mean, everybody involved does different kind of work I assume and what are those?

    SG: Well I mean, I could explain what Treesponsibility does I suppose

    TW:

    Yeah alright.

    SG: Treesponsibility’s a climate action group and it works to raise awareness amongst people about the impact of climate change and how we can live sustainably.....and mitigate our contribution to climate change.....we do this generally through organising voluntary tree plantings and work in the schools, so we....we host weekend tree planting events for adults where groups...sometimes we’ll organise it ourselves and advertise it so people just come on an individual basis or the family can come or something, and just join in with whoever else comes. We accommodate them in a hostel which we hire - feed them, drive them about to the planting site and generally look after them, and give them a good experience of a weekend planting trees and interacting with each other and us, and just generally sort of noodling away about climate change and sustainability issues. Other groups book to come or they book us to host for them – we have some regular groups like Earth First.....Manchester Students Gardening and Permaculture Society and others who....just book us to come and have like a get away weekend for their entire group, it might be a wedding party or a birthday event, so yeah, those people come and plant trees for us. We aim to plant five hectares of new woodland every year and......we’ve got reasons for planting trees which are....flood mitigation, so we’ve got steep sided valleys in this area which catch a hell of a lot of water when it rains hard and because we believe that climate change is actually happening and we believe we’re gonna get heavier, more sustained incidences of heavy rain which is likely to increase incidents of flooding in the area, so we like to plant lots of trees on the steep valley sides which help to slow the run-off and prevent erosion, and just keep some of the water out of the bottom of the valley when it rains hard, so that’s our current main focus for planting. We also plan to increase woodland cover and increase biodiversity – provide wildlife corridors

    TW:

    I was gonna ask about the actual type of trees that you plant. Are the different kinds of trees for different types of uses, shall we say?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    4

    SG: Yeah, well we plant all native broadleaf trees, we don’t plant really many evergreens, only if someone particularly asks us to plant on their land, they specifically ask us to plant evergreens we would do that, but generally all our trees are indigenous broadleaf species.

    TW:

    Where do you get the trees from?

    SG: We buy them from a supplier who grows them specially in Scotland, called Alba Trees. We just get crates and crates of about ten thousand plus a year.

    TW:

    Are you into woodland management then as well?

    SG: On the fringes of it really. We’re more about creating woodland than maintaining it at the moment, although we do recognise that’s gonna be a large part of our work in the coming years, and we’ve got kind of a sister group called Knott Wood Coppices who manage a....well, a wood nearby called Knott Wood

    TW:

    What work do they do then?

    SG: Generally coppicing and keeping the place tidy......just making sure that some of the weed species such as.....sycamore, bit by bit are removed and plant more native species in their place because the sycamores and biggish trees are kind of overtaking the local species

    TW:

    Is that just in Knott Wood or do they do that through the Upper Valley?

    SG: No, no no, they just have permission to manage Knott Wood for its own....but we do realise that you know, we are gonna be probably more involved in managing some of the woodlands that we plant in future years because....apparently we get money from funders you know, kind of like though Government sort of funding and the Lottery funding etc to do projects that we do, so....realising that you know, that it is kind of not sustainable forever and ever to keep relying on funding, we will be needing to take on you know, the ability to generate our own funds so management if probably a way of doing that

    TW:

    So you work with private individuals like farmers as well as council land.....how does that work?

    SG:

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    5

    Yeah, well we don’t own any land at all and all the land that we plant on is offered to us by the owners. It’s a kind of trade-off really because we get land to plant on which allows us to do our flood protection and that education etc......and of course the landowner then has the benefit of owning the woodland that they create. We create.....two types of woodland really at the moment. One is a kind of recreated natural woodland....where the trees are relatively spaced out and we also do coppicing in woodland as well where they are much more densely packed which is for future firewood you know, sort of to prevent burning fossil fuels, so if a landowner wants coppice woodland they basically end up with a never ending supply of free firewood on their land

    TW:

    Right, not a bad plan. So this idea of having alternative energy. Is that part of the ethos of Treesponsibility, or is that an add-on, or is it actually built into the kind of fabric of what you do?

    SG: No, it’s pretty much built into the fabric now. I mean, I wasn’t in Treesponsibility at the very outset. I’ve only been a member for the last three years and although they were doing coppicing woodland when I did join, I mean that I did know that that hasn’t been going since the very beginning.....in 1998 it started.......so you know like every project it’s an evolving project...sorry I’ve forgotten what your question was now....oh, was it part of the ethos to use alternative fuels...yeah, I mean now it is, definitely.

    TW:

    Right, okay. I’m just curious. You lived most of your life in London in an urban environment doing jobs along that sort of line of things, and you say you came up here and just sort of fell in love with it. How did that come about, I mean, why didn’t you fall in love with Epping Forest....what was it about this area that you kind of liked?

    SG: Well as I say, it’s kind of what’s not to like – everything about it is just good really [laughing]. It’s extremely picturesque, I mean I have lived in other parts of the country as well for brief periods. I lived in Stroud in Gloucestershire for a short period of time which is very similar to here you know, its stone buildings, valleys....Stroud’s at the heart of five valleys. The only difference really in the two areas is the hills and walks are sort of softly rounded down there and a bit more jaggedy up here really. I like the openness of the countryside, I like the variety of.....if you go for a walk in a very short space of time, you can be walking through streets, through woodland, out in the open hillside, out on the moors, on the tops, you can be crossing a tumbling streams or walking for miles on open flat moor land. The variety is amazing. Absolutely laced with footpaths. I like the wooded valleys personally you know, walking in Hardcastle Crags and Colden Clough, really, really beautiful landscape

    TW:

    That sort of explains why you like the sort of the landscape and your feeling for it. How did it come about then, having being a builder for so many years, you’re now

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    6

    doing something quite different. You’re planting trees, doing educational work and that sort of thing, how did that switch over happen?

    SG: Again, it’s just an evolution really you know, life moves on, circumstances move on and new things present themselves. You know, I grumble and moan about being a builder. I’ve been doing it far too long. I didn’t choose to be a builder in the first place, it kind of chose me because of the circumstances when I started it, but.....working for Treesponsibility is....the opportunity to work for Treesponsibility came up after I’d been doing volunteer work with them for a little while and it was a perfect opportunity to get out of being a builder really.

    TW:

    So you were looking for something anyway but you weren’t really sure what, but you just wanted to get out of what you were in.

    SG: Yeah. I mean I’d never.....I would never have thought I would go about planting trees you know, until...when I moved to here and.....Christina my partner was a long- standing member of Treesponsibility so I kind of got involved via her really and....just kind of morphed into it really.

    TW:

    Very good. You’re part of the Transition Town sort of movement if I can call it that. What does that actually mean to you then? What is a Transition Town?

    SG: A Transition Town or a Transition Initiative is a group of people or an area – it can be a town, street, a hamlet......where the residents are working together to reduce their impact on climate change and to recognise that.....the future effects of peak oil and to build resilience into the town to combat the effects of that....if that makes any sense. We expect the price of oil particularly, well fossil fuels in general, will rocket as supplies dwindle and demand increases world wide, and the effect of that is going to push the price of everything up and to make things less available and less affordable, so we believe we should recognise this now rather than wait for it to happen to us, and take steps to increase our resilience to it so that it doesn’t slap us in the face when we’re not expecting it and leave us disadvantaged. It’s a kind of two pronged thing really. One is to reduce our effect, our actual contribution to climate change and the second is to build in a resilience to the effects of peak oil. So, examples of that are growing more food locally, not being reliant on imports and to encourage.....the you know, to encourage Government even to recognise the fact that we’re vulnerable to food security issues because we rely so heavily as a net importer of food you know, when we actually have the capacity to grow all our own food, so food’s one example, but generally it is about localising everything really and taking responsibility for our own welfare and well-being, so there’s food, energy. We’d like to try and increase the local supply of energy with things like water power, solar power, wind power etc

    TW: Are there any projects on those lines that you’d like to get involved with or are involved with?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    7

    SG: Well I am involved in the energy group, with the Transition Town group locally here. We are working on a project to install some hydro power equipment into Hebden Water and a dam near the cricket ground.....

    TW:

    Is that gonna be like a generator?

    SG: Yeah, a generator. There’s a....because there’s so much water running around here in all these valleys, it’s amazing how much water there is actually flowing in this area of course, as you know it was once hugely water powered you know, there were mills everywhere so there is a lot of infrastructure already in place which really just needs repairing to enable more modern methods of generating power from water to take place.

    TW:

    Might stop for a second

    OTHER PERSON: (another coop member who was helping Bear rebuild a floor) Did you say the level of its second spikes needs to be a hundred and seventeen lower than the top of the other ones?

    SG: Yes.

    OTHER PERSON: Okay.

    TW:

    This generator up Hebden Water then, up by the cricket ground – are you actually gonna have it in the river and then where is the electricity gonna feed to? Is it just into the National Grid or is there a group of people down there that would benefit from it?

    SG: Well, assuming it actually happens because I mean it’s hellish expensive – we applied for a grant for about £120,000 to do this recently, but which we haven’t actually got, but there may be alternative ways we can raise money, and it would work by taking water out of the river using the existing leat, which used to feed the mill pond at what’s called Dodd Bottom and then installing the generator at that point so that water actually returns to the river at that point.....the electricity that’s generated will be fed into the grid via a nearby house

    TW:

    How much do you think you can generate?

    SG: I think it’s a fifteen kilowatt generator.

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    8

    TW:

    Oh right. And how long would that last for before you would have to kind of re- service it to upgrade it shall we say?

    SG: I think...well I’m not really an expert on the technicals of it, but we’ve had some work done by an expert on it who has suggested to us that about every ten years a set of bearings or something like that would need doing, but the actual generating equipment should last up to about fifty years. Currently the Government......has set up a feeding tariff mechanism so that people can actually earn money or people can have equipment that generates money and there’s a guaranteed return from the National Grid which has to buy in stuff, which is fixed for about twenty years so the money that that generates would be used to fund future sustainability projects in the area, so for example insulating hard to heat homes thereby reducing energy consumption, providing some local employment and also helping to set up other sort of sustainability, particularly in energy products that might come along.

    TW:

    So you say this idea that you’ve got in building that generator and using the old goits as it were, can you see that as a model that can then be used again and again through different valleys

    SG: Oh it already is you know, I mean we won’t be the first person to have done this, you know, there are other examples around the country of it, they’re bigger ones as well you know.

    TW:

    So what kind of financial impact would they have – do you know anything about that?

    SG: Not really......

    TW:

    I mean it costs one hundred and twenty grand to set one of these up and you’ve got a twenty year income coming from that by putting electricity into the grid. Is it the fact that it costs one hundred and twenty thousand which is a lot of money when you look twenty years ahead, or is it the amount that you actually get back to kind of cover that cost and then some to help do new projects so it becomes a sustainability project – project shall we say rather than income

    SG: It sounds to me the question you are asking is would the hundred and twenty grand get repaid in income basically

    TW:

    Yeah, I’m trying to....you see I think it’s probably a very good deal, but I mean I haven’t really looked into it. I just wondered whether you’ve looked into that side of it so that....because you were saying that if you did set it up you’d get an income from

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    9

    what you produce and you’d use that towards other projects. I was just wondering....is that the only way you’d like to do it....I mean I was just thinking about whether private people would want to do this sort of thing that lived on the river, and how they would go about you know, giving back to the community shall we say.

    SG: Well obviously I can’t really speak on behalf of other private individuals......there are other groups that have tried installing hydro power things in the area and they tended to come unstuck you know, with it being community groups, when they’ve identified a piece of land with water running through with the right whatever it needs to be, and the landowner might say ‘yeah that sounds good profit and then when they start looking into the amounts they go ‘well actually I think I should have that funding really’ so the projects end up not going ahead......so I don’t know what the answer to your question is really, but in this particular instance there’s been an issue with that piece of land in the past where a developer wanted to come along, chop all the trees down that had grown over the area, over the years since it had been disused and put a new housing development down there and......the incident....

    TW:

    Below Windsor View

    SG: Below Windsor View, now known as the Chainsaw Tuesday incident [laughing] when the developer engaged a whole load of people to come along with chainsaws and start cutting down the trees and the local people all went down to defend the trees and basically drove them out again, and some of those people......who are the residents there put some money together to buy the land to prevent that from happening again, and we’ve got....we’ve been negotiating with those people who currently own the land to have this project on their land and they’re in agreement with it, and in agreement with our aims to use it for future sustainability projects, so we’re pretty sure that we’re not gonna have that problem of somebody going ‘oh actually’ you know ‘let’s have the money in my bank’ [laughing]

    TW:

    Yeah that’s very good. Have you heard about the plan that David Fletcher has for doing a generator for Bridge Mill along there? Have you seen any of the plans or heard anything about that?

    SG: I haven’t seen the plans but....the funding streak that we put in our bid for was actually one of very many for this particular pot of money and David Fletcher’s was another competing bid, so neither of us has actually got this particular funding pot for our project, but of course as part of the Transition Town group, of course completely support what he wants to do there because you know, even though it’s not our project we wish it well because it’s gonna be providing energy from renewables and taking that building which......which is a great building and houses seventeen small businesses I believe as well and is run as a not-for-profit organisation, if that comes off grid and is a model sustainability and education facility as well, we can only wish it well.

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 10

    TW:

    Right. I mean I believe there is about three hundred or so, probably more, sort of Transition Towns or Transition Town projects or initiatives or whatever they’re called. What kind of networking do you do with other groups about the various projects that are going on? How do you keep in touch?

    SG: Well to be honest not nearly enough. It’s aspirational of course to be fully integrated with all of these people but the reality is that we’re all voluntary work people here and....it’s just a mammoth.....sort of mammoth work for those of us who want to sort of run the organisation if you like....I’m the Secretary

    TW:

    How many people are in the group in Hebden

    SG: The group is divided into sub-groups and there’s probably fifty or more people involved in total.

    TW:

    Oh right. Quite a lot of people then.

    SG: Yeah, we’ve got a committee of......twelve....eleven or twelve people which is a representative from each of those groups plus some permanent members like the Secretary, Treasurer, Membership Secretary.

    TW:

    What are the sub-groups? I mean presumably they’re focused on.....I mean there’s one on energy and would there be one on growing food, I mean what kind of groups are there?

    SG: Yeah we’ve got two there. Energy, food; the food group’s been running a project recently. They want to start a community supported agriculture project here in the valley and to get organic food, veg box scheme, all grown within three miles of Hebden Bridge. That’s the aim, and over previous months.....over the previous...five months.....four or five months, something like that, they’ve been running a veg box scheme where they’ve been buying veg in from an organic supplier in Hipperholme which is probably ten miles away, something like that.....and it’s all been run by volunteers so there’s no wages to pay, no rent because it’s distributed from the local church, so all profits from that are being stored up to help set up the local food project. So what’s that....energy, food....transport......obviously transport is a big contributor to global warming so you know, we want to get people out of cars and on to public transport, bicycles and on foot....so the transport group’s got a new project to be announced at this week’s main meeting actually which is about getting people out of cars and on to bikes so that’s quite a multi-faceted project.....there’s a waste group – waste and consumer culture – which their most recent project actually only happened last weekend which was a Give Away Free day, whereby people were encouraged to find things they didn’t want and put them outside their house with a big

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 11

    sign saying ‘Free – please take it’ to keep the stuff out of landfill and stop people just wasting those products which are really perfectly valuable and useful and serviceable and stop them from buying new ones to replace them, so it keeps stuff out of landfill....I did rather well out of that myself. I got a new frame tent out of it [laughing]

    TW:

    Very good...very good!

    SG: .....so what other groups....education......it’s about talking to schools and......any parties, it’s generally about raising awareness you know, about the issues....so what’s that, that’s four isn’t it......there’s a health group.....there is....I can’t think what the others are of the top of my head......I’ll come back to that

    TW:

    Yeah, okay.

    SG: There are others......

    TW:

    Right.....I want to talk really about....a bit more about this idea of Hebden Bridge being the kind of place that accommodates all the different things that you’ve been going on about, you know, Treesponsibility, the housing Co-op, doing the Transition Town things – all sort of alternative ways of looking at life shall we say. What do you think it is about Hebden Bridge that all this has kind of come together and is happening?

    SG: Well my understanding of how Hebden Bridge has developed you know, in the last sort of fifty years or so, forty or fifty years, is it used to be a thriving sort of textile town you know, mills.....you know, it’s the heart of the industrial revolution area isn’t it really? Lots of mills and lots of employment and then of course the Indian sub- continent became the place to outsource work to....you know, mills started closing as imports became cheaper, people got laid off and a lot of people moved away and from what I’m told you know, the place was a kind of rather grubby, dirty, black ex- industrial town that didn’t have much going for it really and the prices of houses were falling and people just moved away, and.....the people that came in to fill those were kind of like the hippy types from the sixties who came and realised that it was actually a rather attractive place and the housing was cheap, and so we had quite an influx here of....they’d had been the first off-cumdens wouldn’t they....of a sort of more alternative types of people really – more arty, more musical, more laid back than the previous occupants might have been and so you know, I mean there are lots of sort of second generation hippy types around here, it’s still a very arty sort of place. The likes of David Fletcher who you’ve mentioned earlier have done a great deal to sort of do preservation work in the town and encourage tourism and.....so you know all of these things have contributed to making the town what it is today which is just sort of thriving, vibrant, artistic....and not everybody looking to make a fast buck really.

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 12

    TW:

    Do you think the local Council, Calderdale Council, have been useful in any kind of way in sustaining, well, bringing about this sort of lifestyle change and that sort of thing?

    SG: Well I suppose they must have, I mean the Council generally is there to serve the people isn’t it? They’re elected by the local people to run the town, so....I mean I know that the Council in years gone by had a lot of the buildings cleaned up after all the mills stopped running and churning out soot you know, they had a lot of buildings cleaned up and they improved the facilities for people you know, parks etc......nowadays you know, are more clued up nowadays than they used to be about the workings of Councils. Since I’ve been working with the Transition Town group really, I’ve had more of an education about that and I realise that the Councils are actually very keen on the same sort of things as us really you know, they want clean, safe environments for people to live and work in which aren’t polluting, which...sustainability of course is a big buzz thing now anyway from National Government which is like pushed down to the Local Government levels to implement, so yeah, I would say so, they are very much into sustainability you know, we have contact with.....quite good contacts with Hebden Royd Town Council and different projects that are going on you know, we have contacts with Calderdale Council in different departments, the Leader of the Council, Janet Battye, is very supportive of us and what we’re trying to do. She’s gonna be coming to our next meeting I believe.

    TW:

    Right. So they support like allotment schemes and maybe even this energy scheme that you’re talking about. Can they come up with some finance for you or some sort of funding or knowledge or actual space that they might be able to hand over to you?

    SG: Yeah well I mean it was actually to Calderdale Council with Yorkshire Forward, no it’s Calderdale Forward, that we did apply for our funding, although I can’t actually blame them for not funding us because there were over a hundred applications for this pot of £2,500,000 which they had available so obviously there would be a lot of bids that weren’t successful, but yeah, I mean, talk about allotments, I’m actually on the Local Council’s Allotments Committee as well and that’s.....that’s come about because I went as representative to Treesponsibility to support an allotments scheme that was being proposed that all the residents locally were objecting to and it looked like it was gonna fold, so I went along and joined in with that and.....we managed to you know, look at all the problems that the residents were raising and get over all those problems and now it looks like that’s going ahead, but the status of that one at the moment is that we’re waiting to get land asset transfer over to the local Council

    TW:

    Is that up Sandy Gate?

    SG: Yes, although the Allotments Scheme is now designed to go up on the Dodnaze Estate at the end of that field.

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 13

    TW:

    Yeah. It’s flatter access isn’t it?

    SG: Yes, it’s flatter access, it overcomes all the problems of the original scheme which had it all down the bottom at Sandy Gate which was mostly to do with traffic issues and overlooking issues, that’s valid reasons to object.

    TW:

    Right. So you work for Treesponsibility, you’re part of the Transition Town and you do the Allotment things, you do the work here at the housing Co-operative. How does all that fit together then within your lifestyle, let’s say over the next ten years, your sort of, your life plan of action shall we say, which is gonna become....are they all gonna diffuse to one big thing or are you....is any particular one gonna become more important than the other thing?

    SG: Well I think they are diffusing into one big thing which is my lifestyle really and my lifestyle does encompass all of these things now...I’ve got quite an education since I came to Hebden Bridge about lots of things you know, mean your life’s changed enormously since I’ve been here and for the better I’d say definitely, so you know I mean, I haven’t sort of plunged into all these projects all at once you know, I’ve gone into one and then you know, something that raises my level of awareness of something else and I kind of like drifted into that as well and it just kind of works really you know, it’s just an evolving process you know, obviously I don’t earn a lot of money doing it but living in a housing co-op, you don’t need to earn a lot of money. The rents are cheap and it’s secure housing so you’re not likely to you know, like become homeless. Because I’m not earning much money, so long as I don’t drink too much beer, I don’t have too much money. laughs

    TW:

    So do you see yourself then as becoming more and more of an activist than just kind of looking after your own patch. Are you actually becoming more and more out there in a kind of political sense almost?

    SG: Yeah. I’ve been involved in some sort of direct action projects you know, in the country, I’ve been involved with Climate Camp, a camp for climate action which has just recently ceased to exist in that format but since it began by camping out sort of by Drax power station a few years back, I’ve been involved with that you know, with organising it as well as just attending......my most recent activist activity was October, the year before last, the last major thing anyway, a group of us descended on Didcot Power Station in the middle of the night and climbed up the chimney and camped out there for a few days to try and stop it from burning fossil fuels again and raising awareness.

    TW:

    I may just have to turn this off until after the teas made. SG: OK

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 14

    TW: You were just talking about the Hebden Bridge Partnership. What do they actually do?

    SG: Hebden Bridge Partnership is......basically a group of people who represent various organisations and so on in the town and it’s to further the interests of the town and its people really, so.....there are representatives of business, representatives of community groups etc so I attend it as representative of the Transition Town group and there’ll be the other people there from for instance Colne Wildlife Trust type thingies and the police are represented on there and the local Council and.....Calderdale Council.

    TW:

    Are they an information trading thing or do they actually create activities in support of the town or discuss issues and then make laws or by-laws?

    SG: They don’t make law or bye-laws or anything like that, they don’t really have powers to do those things like that. I suppose we like to think we represent a good slice of the local community so we can have some influence, so the.....group might write to people for example to lobby for something to be done etc, but of course it’s a networking exercise as well you know, so the different groups that are represented there you know can draw support from each other to help them to develop and further the interest you know, like David Fletcher’s there representing Pennine Heritage and.....well that’s about all I can say about that sort of really you know. I don’t have too.....apart of going to the meetings you know, I don’t have a lot of involvement in the running of that group because there’s too much to do as well as trying to live a life of leisure, you know, my own leisure and time and earning some money as well to live.

    TW:

    Well, I’ll just ask one last question really, and it’s is there anything you would like to say yourself about Hebden Bridge or the area, or how you think the things that you are involved in can be kind of useful for other people? Is there anything that you would like to say that I haven’t asked about?

    SG: Well....my....to be honest I don’t think there is anything that I would like to add that you haven’t asked me on that sort of thing.....obviously I want Hebden Bridge to continue to grow as a place where people want to come and visit because of its beauty and its current culture.....I suppose I see it as potentially influential on other towns and from a sustainability point of view....our energy group is trying to start a project to become the greenest town in the country from an electricity supplier’s point of view where we want to get a project together to get as many people together to sign up as possible – everybody would be the ideal to sign up to energy suppliers that only produce electricity from renewables, so I mean if that comes about then that hopefully would have an enormous influence on the remainder of this country......but no, I just

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 15

    want to continue to try and live sustainably myself and encourage others to do that through the activities and groups I’m involved in.

    TW:

    Okay, great, well thank you very much

    SG: Pleasure.

    [END OF TRACK 1]

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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