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Report from Conversations last Wed 29 May

It was nice to have a good group of us again after a rather slim turnout in March. Beautifully hosted by Lotte at Union 105 (East Street Arts’ Chapeltown dinky studios and gallery), we brought plenty of lovely food between us – this is great, it means we don’t need much funding to keep going, if we can get free venues, bring food to share and get printing from the council. Last night’s conversation attracted a higher proportion of professionally creative types than usual – about half the group.

Chapeltown Arts Festival Proposal
This was lucky for Sandra, who had brought her proposal (download it here) for a Chapeltown Arts Trail for discussion – Adam, Lotte and Rick are all getting stuck into the planning/organising group, which is meeting on 4th June at 6pm – email for more info. Having spoken to lots of people in order to prepare her proposal, Sandra pointed out that it’s hard to find people who are willing to put time and energy into this kind of event without getting paid – it would appear that some artists are reluctant to open their studios without getting paid. There’s never going to be the resources to organise the event on that basis – in fact, similar events in other places are funded by the artists paying to be included in the programme. However, there is enough talent and enough interest to go ahead with those who are interested – including visual art, performance art (spoken word, dance, etc), and anything else we can think of. Ali suggested the churches and other local institutions doing a flower festival to tie in with it.

One of the aims is to attract people into Chapeltown and to make Chapeltown the kind of place that people want to visit, and overcome the fear that many people in the region still have. Most artists sell their art outside Chapeltown and don’t identify as ‘Chapeltown Artists’. We talked about the ‘Chapeltown Creatives’ network, which is still fairly small and Mike offered to create a map for this blog, where artists can get themselves listed – ie you can look for artists in Chapeltown and see where they’re based.

We touched on the idea of tying this in with the ‘Made in Chapeltown’ branding project – an idea in waiting for anyone who wants to take it on!

Housing issues discussion
The ALMOs’ staff and housing are coming back into the council, which will no doubt cost loads of money. We discussed Jo’s enormous difficulties in getting the council to clear out and fix the guttering on her flat, part of a big Victorian house (not to mention that it took 6 years to get her decrepit kitchen replaced). This theme was repeated by Toff, who gave examples of contractor works on houses on Sholebroke Avenue which are laughably bad and yet still get ‘approved’ by the council officers responsible. Examples included a 6 foot tree growing out of a crumbling wooden gutter and dandelions in gutters you can see from 100 yards away. We talked about the contractors often being massive businesses, and that much of the work is probably done by under-skilled staff or trainees and not properly inspected by anyone. Mike checked out some figures – one of the contractors, Morissons (not the supermarket!), is on a £30million contract for 32000 houses (or something like that) – which is just under £1000 per house per year. Some of us thought that was peanuts for big old Victorian houses, even if a 3-flat house would mean £3000 per property. On the other hand, Mike pointed out that people in housing co-ops spent their money far more efficiently, because of having direct control over the work done. This contrasts with council tenants, who often feel like they are totally ignored and have no influence at all.

What can people do about this?
– regular harassment of the officers, perhaps on a rota basis with other council tenants. This could be organised through a tenants or residents group, like IMPaCt Residents Network.
– There was a suggestion that, now that housing was the direct responsibility of the council again, it would be worth harassing local councillors
– Pam suggested that complaints should be in writing and headed ‘Formal Complaint’ to see if that would make a difference.
– We talked about a campaign goal of demanding local contractors to work on local properties, because they would be more directly accountable and more likely to do a good job in their own community. Toff pointed out the accounting nightmare for the council of letting people organise their own work to be done.

Random gossip

  • We talked about Browning House, for which the Chapeltown Co-housing group recently put in an unsuccesful bid – looks like a developer has got it, guess they might turn it into student flats.
  • Thomas Danby is closing this summer (although the Enfield annexe across the road will stay open), because all the Further Education stuff is being centralised in Beeston. So the site is likely to be a redevelopment opportunity – there was some speculation that Chapeltown is on the way to being yuppified. No one knew whether there were plans for the Thomas Danby site. Also, we wondered what the impact of losing such a huge economic hub would be on local businesses.
  • Toff mentioned that if there’s anything wrong with any shared drain (ie any waste water from where you live where the drain in the ground is shared with one or more neighbours) then Yorkshire Water is responsible, regardless of who owns the land.