People’s Archive of Rural India

People’s Archive of Rural India, a major new venture from the former Rural Affairs Editor at The Hindu newspaper…


Kitty Cafe

The first cat cafe in the Midlands, Kitty Cafe is opening in Nottingham in February 2015.

The Wrekin Giant

The direct express train service from London to Shrewsbury has been reinstated — and it’s not a piffling two-carriage trundler, either. It’s now pulled by a Virgin Super Voyager named ‘The Wrekin Giant’, no less.


New research report from Nesta and Bloomberg Philanthropies, i-teams: the teams and funds making innovation happen in governments around the world, from nudgers to nerds…

This report tells the stories of 20 teams, units and funds established by governments and charged with making innovation happen. They work across the spectrum of innovation – from focusing on incremental improvements to aiming for radical transformations.”

The new NESTA magazine (iPad design, so deeply annoying on a desktop PC) also has an article from Charles Leadbeater, “Hooked on labs” on the recently profusion of innovation labs and similar outfits.

Impact Hub Birmingham

Impact Hub Birmingham



The full feature-length documentary movie on North Staffordshire oatcakes and their fans, now online for free…

Autumn Statement: creative industries round-up

Here’s my round-up of the new measures I spotted announced today in the Autumn Statement, of relevance to the creative industries…

* A full student loan will be available for a Masters postgraduate degree, and across all subjects and disciplines from 2016-17. It seems there will be no payback until you’re earning a set amount each month. So many artists / actors / freelancing creatives etc may never have to pay back the loan, since we often earn less than the payback threshold.

* The Tax Credits tax break is to be extended from regional touring Theatre to Orchestras. Consultations to be held “early next year” on exactly how it should work. My guess is that it will probably only be available for regional touring of UK orchestras.

* Consultations on extending the High-end TV Drama tax breaks: if the qualifying spend was reduced from 25% to 10%, would small creative subcontractors in the UK pick up more TV production work (on things like costumes/props/special effects)?

* Manchester is to get a new-build £78m “ultra-flexible arts space” named The Factory, open by 2019.

* From April 2015 there will be a new Tax Credits tax break for Children’s TV (live-action productions), which will join the existing tax breaks for Animation production.

* National Insurance contributions will no longer be payable by businesses employing apprentices under age 25.

* The British Business Bank will be able to offer more loans to those rejected for loans by traditional lenders.

* £400m more funding for the Enterprise Capital Fund (venture capital which invest in smaller firms).

* £500m more for business lending schemes in 2015-2016, to try to force the banks to make traditional bank loans to business. This is now to be targetted “exclusively on smaller firms”, and extended out to January 2016.

* The tax system is to be changed to support peer-to-peer lending (Kickstarter etc) for business startups. An investor will be able to write off a bad peer-to-peer loan, via their income tax return.

* An increase to 230% for the research-and-development Tax Credits for small and medium sized businesses.

* A new £45m scheme to help smaller businesses to export. No details yet on when or how. I’d expect India to be some kind of priority area for exports, when the details are announced. Russia, not so much.

* Small business rate relief (business rates payable on retail shops etc) is to be extended. A bigger discount on business rates next year: £1,500 discount for retailers in retail properties valued at less than £50,000.

Dustin Yellin

Dustin Yellin of Red Hook, New York City. His “Psychogeographies” series is Green Man like 3d figures, made by placing layers of organic materials between plates of glass. Sort of ‘Jeff Koons meets Antony Gormley’, at a first glance.

dustin1280Photo: Emily Andrews.

Digital Business Academy opens its MOOCs

Eight new MOOC courses, online for free from the UK’s Digital Business Academy

1: Size up your idea
2: Set up a digital business
3: Develop and Manage a Digital Product
4: Make a marketing plan
5: Build a brand
6: Understand Digital Marketing Channels
7: Run a digital marketing campaign
8: Master finance for your business

The hipster effect

A scientific paper on “The hipster effect: why anticonformists all look the same”. Basically: the intense peer-pressure of youth + being too lazy to keep up with the evolving microtrends = they just copy each other. I recall the useful lesson taught by John Foxx in the 1980s: that whatever is fashionable, the true hipster does the opposite. If the trend is for Canadian lumberjacks, go shiny sci-fi futurist. If the trend is for day-glo hair and scraggy clothes, wear a tailored grey suit with close-cut hair.

Around the Globe

Good to see British theatre branching out into selling online video of the shows. Globe Player is a new video-on-demand platform from the Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London. All filmed productions from the past 7 years, on demand.


Wolverhampton Books & Collectables

Hand in Glove takes a peek inside the Wolverhampton Books & Collectables shop. It’s great to see places like this hanging on, in the face of eBay, Amazon’s sale of used books, and free online scans of old printed material.


But the age of bargains has generally passed. The owners of such used bookshops, charity shops and memorabilia places now all know the going price of everything (via Internet look-up), and then add a bit on top for good measure. The days of picking up three or four nice worth-having items for the price of a cheap coffee are long gone.

The ultimate selfie

A camera drone that flies beside you as you race down the snowboarding slopes, filming your movez…

“Once it’s been set up, you can hit “follow me”, to get the drone to track your movements.”

Which suggests a new market in pre-made place-based “camera glide paths” which program your drone with all the best positions, angles, establishing shots, glides and swooping ‘crane’ shots and suchlike in a particular bit of landscape. Send the drone up for its first run to capture all that background footage. Then send it up again, beside you as you move through the landscape, then intercut the two sets of footage.

The perfect storm

Pushing the super-accurate period of the UK Met Office weather forecast from 12 to 24 hours is set to save billions of pounds by 2020. The Mail reports savings of “£200bn by 2020″, which seems to be mis-reporting. The BBC seems to more realistically suggest a saving to the nation of £2bn from Sept 2015 to 2017 (when the supercomputer will be fully operational).

But even at £2bn (per year?) it suggests that the many other online services are probably having similar knock-on effects on the UK’s efficiency. I guess there may even be a multiplier effect of the aggregated interactions between such services, in a sort of ‘perfect storm’ of BBC ten-day weather, Google Street View, Facebook, and all the rest. Should schools be teaching kids, from the earliest age, how to use that kind of open ‘predictive and planning intelligence’ in a skilled and integrated manner? In the hope that it will percolate across to the parents?

Creating Creative Cities

A City Growth Commissioner is on the RSA blog today musing on “Creating Creative Cities: How the City Growth Commission report can unlock innovation and entrepreneurship across the UK”. It comes on top of a small avalanche of reports from the Commission, and thus the article’s key suggestions on creativity seem a little underwhelming when you consider the amount of research undertaken…

* incubator spaces close to university campuses
* support local angel investment networks
* better train services into London
* attract bright graduates (obligatory mention of Richard Florida…)
* faster broadband

Rather fresher are the key ideas of the City Growth Commission’s new report on universities, UniverCities

* universities could actively match their best graduates with local jobs and housing
* graduates who work locally for some years could have their student loan written off, via local industry sponsorship
* allow sandwich years in degrees for employment
* university-awarded ‘graduate entrepreneur visas’, enabling the best graduating overseas students to stay in the UK longer
* an enterprise module on all degree courses

The Commission’s final report (90 min video) has also appeared, calling for national government to take note of agglomerations of de facto city regions, and their growing aspirations, in the wake of the devolution debate. Notting-derby and Wolver-brumi-hul might be apt names for two such Midlands ‘city regions’ which exist for citizens and businesses, if not for their turf-defending local councils. The report holds out the tantalising prospect of “Devolved City Status” to those city regions able to knock bureaucratic heads together and work together effectively. They’d be rewarded by being able to lower or raise local taxes, would enjoy no ring-fencing of government grants, and more — all without having to accept a City Mayor or similar Whitehall-imposed mechanism to do it. The authors suggest this should get underway swiftly… “Bids would be received following the general election on a rolling basis.”

That may sound risky to those who have learned to distrust local councils — such as those who may remember the socialist rule of Militant Tendency sending Liverpool into chaos in the 1980s, or who grew up with the hideous modern architecture foisted on cities by misguided councilors in the 1970s. Or, more recently, who are aware of the bizzare geographical boundaries that can result from political horse-trading and animosities at the local level. Or who have suffered from the disastrous local implementation of the Housing Pathfinder schemes.

But it’s probably no more risky than continuing with the ‘one size fits all’ / ‘Whitehall knows best’ approach that has been stifling many ambitious cities for decades. I guess the thing will be to persuade people that it won’t mean an extra layer of taxes, an extra layer of politicians and shiny new offices to house them, and that local people won’t be subject to loony Militant Tendency-like ideological experiments by power-mad councils. The “green crap” springs immediately to mind in that last regard.


MontyMarch: A Tribute to Richard Griffiths. Electric Cinema, Birmingham, 28th March 2015. Booking now. It’d be nice if they also showed clips from the Sherlock Holmes film Pursuit to Algiers (1945), in which the villain Gregor (Rex Evans) is an obvious template for Uncle Monty.


International Ocean Film Festival

International Ocean Film Festival, Birmingham UK. 30th October 2014.


Distinctly Black Country

Distinctly Black Country, a landscape history network “for understanding yesterday’s landscape today”.


Wadsworth’s “The Black Country” (1920)

Here’s my partial PDF assembly, from eBay pictures, of the Vorticist artist Edward Wadsworth’s book “The Black Country” (1920). Introduction by Arnold Bennett, 20 black & white plates. Works originally made in 1919.



Joseph Cornell in London

The first Joseph Cornell show in thirty years, coming to London 4th July – 27th September 2015. Booking now, and probably quite likely to sell out fairly quickly.