York Central Community Heritage Group
2nd June 2018
Follow a series of fascinating heritage events during the Festival of York Central we’ve set up the York Central Community Heritage Group to develop discussions and events linked to the archaeology, history and heritage of the site. We had our first meeting on 2nd June 2018 at Friargate Meeting House and asked ourselves ‘What can we learn by looking at old maps and old photographs?’
Here is a brief summary of the discussions, the questions generated and the next things we’re planning to do. Let us know if you’d like to join the group: firstname.lastname@example.org
We had a map of Roman York to look at which shows the roman cemetery that John Oxley referred to in the Festival of York Central event. This raised a few questions for everyone.
It also prompted some discussion about the sense of ownership over the Roman history, that it always seems not to be ‘local history’ as such but as history very much stewarded by institutions.
Most of the maps and images related to the changes in the area that came with the railways. There was a sense that the signifiance of the loss of the carriageworks had not been acknowledged properly.
‘The closure of the Carriageworks – we’ve not taked about the loss’
There were some ideas to take here for thinking about future employment and the danger of reliance on big employers.
And ideas about how to reclaim cycling as part of York’s living heritage with a re-enactment.
What to do next?
What other York Central-related archives to York Explore and NRM have?
Can we orgainise a re-enactment of shifts ending and cycles pouring out of Holgate works?
Robert Powell (former Beam Director and RIBA Honorary Fellow 2018) and Hazel Colquhoun (York Curiouser and independent consultant) introduce the real possibilities for arts, culture and making a brilliant place in York Central.
Robert introduce the cultural wellbeing policy with the local plan.
Hazel gave a series of inspiring and thought-provoking examples of how arts can be used in developments and make new places.
We then opened up for discussion, the aim of the quotes below are to give a real favour of the discuss they’ve been roughly grouped to identify key themes:
York, Heritage, Tourism and Contemporary Culture
‘What kind of culture are we talking about, heritage or contemporary? I am from York and I left. York is dead and that’s why I left. Heritage has it place. But we’ve been kicked over the head by it. The heritage offering is for visitors has been done to death and that is the monolithic overarching problem. There is nothing for me’.
‘Here we house 850 years of the archives of the city and this holds the stories of people of York. The people make the story and make our heritage real. It’s not just about monuments and buildings, we have the stories of the people of York. We have invited artists and creatives to research the rich stories in the archives and to re-tell the story in different and exciting ways. Bringing artists, creatives, digital makers and heritage together to create something new. For example, through our Explore Labs we have worked with young people, hacking stories and creating something else. Both inspirational and aspirational – who knows where it will lead. Explore Labs challenges the imagination – it’s where, artists, tech, heritage and stories collide’.
(Barbara Swinn, from York Explore)
‘We were recently voted in the Sunday Times, the best place to live in England. As far as I am concerned noblesse oblige. If you are given a title, that we have something special, fantastic and wonderful, we need to be optimistic, forward looking and positive. York Central and Castle Gateway and other developments are a fantastic opportunity. This is fantastic future’.
‘This site should be a canvass. Sometimes York is still historic and stodgy’.
‘York that is the sell, the hard tourist sell. I am sick to death of that kind of shtik. You feel like there isn’t anything for you’.
‘There is a lot going on and a lot of independent people getting up and doing things’.
‘I’ve come to York and I can’t quite get in there. York is shared space but where is my bit? I want to do various class and I want to enjoy things but there is such little space for residents. But we don’t make enough money as tax payers to take up that space’.
York Central and Railways
‘The unique thing about York Central is railways. So much of York is about looking backwards, you can combine, shame not to focus in on railways because that is unique. You can combine that heritage with something very modern and incorporating art into it. You can use rail as a motif to direct people through the site. We are looking at many people stories. Phoenix Boulevard, where I live, used to be a foundry but apart from name of the street there is to other reference to it. Before they dismantle the site, can we retain some of those icons. Railways are about travel and movement and you can look forward to what movement might be in the future’.
‘The most exciting thing in the plans is the stream train going backwards and forward’.
‘How do people feel about the railway heritage? We already have a cultural institution on it and playing a role? How do people feel about the railway heritage and can you meld this with the future looking?’
‘Challenges in York Central is to persuade people to come to York Central. Everyone goes to York. Difficulties will be making it less of a island, as there are only limited ways to get into it. One of the things that NRM could thinking about is ‘breaking out of its space’, they should they be thinking of spreading through the space in ways that that would take people further into the space. There could so some quite creative things in other parts of the site’.
‘In terms of the railway theme, there is the Highline in New York. They used a disused rail track, which is elevated. Now become a hugely important outdoors space, hosts music events, arts events, planting. Green space, involved with volunteers, friends of the highline. This would be one way of attracting people to that site. I know its talked about as Great Park but if it’s purely static I don’t think it will survive’.
‘Railway Institute gymnasium. If you go in the is a wonderful magnificent building and that is a building that needs to be retained. It is popular and much loved’.
‘One thing that’s strikes me the culture of the city was not planned and here you’re trying to plan it. I also feel calling is York Central is a misnomer because it is the connection between the city and whole has to be thought of seriously. The culture of the city which grew organically, the concern of the railway, the railway is part of the culture of the site. NRM will expand, absolutely vital but it has to be done in an imaginative way’.
How can culture be democratic?
‘These artists intervention have been about making sense of a space, in this city’s ancient monuments. One thing add, how is that going to affect our children now? With a monument, there is a danger that it is grown over. Or is it going to be something that a community can relate to?’
Hazel: ‘In Cambridge, the Art project included lots education projects. As well as making art that is about the new development, they worked as part of a new school building to link to what the children talked about. There is lots of scope for people of all age as involved. Making a place that can change and making place and spaces that can be used for something’.
‘We make buildings and then the buildings make us. Then it changes us and changes the people that come after that. It’s about having values in minds when they set out. In post-war towns, the approach was ‘build an art gallery’ and ‘build a theatre’ and we’re done. Instead think about embedding capacity for change in the longer term. It is good to have artists in resident but maybe instead of having an art gallery we need an art school!’
‘There has been some talk about digital facilities. Don’t let’s separate artists from the community. We need to encourage them to come from the community, for everyone to be able to explore their talent. If you see that happen then you are getting somewhere close to the ideas for cultural wellbeing’.
‘Picking up on the future and arts of the future, one of the ideas for York Central is the Great Park. I was struck with the Cambridge ideas and trees, the development is growing and evolving as the trees grow. So could we use this Great Park to animate the story, something that is growing and everyone could be involved in it. Because people how move there, future residents and children will grow up with the trees. I like the idea of growth and it being literal’.
‘Language is exclusionary. Particular vocabulary and discourse and if you do not have the way to understand that framework – and therefore it’s not accessible to a lot of people. Topics, complicated not quite able to understand them on an immediate level of what will affect me. We often forget the immediate – the cup of tea – the immediate point of entry, plain English directly, this is how it will hit you. Then I’d be very concerned about the cultural wellbeing plan for York central. I’d worry that you are disenfranchising people right away’.
‘Planning system you do not understand without specialist knowledge but this is how we are going to hit home for you’.
A cultural hub/lab?
‘What if we had an Explore Lab on York Central that could enable artists, creatives, digital/tech and our heritage to collide – re-imagining the stories our history.
An example from our Explore Labs – an 11 year old boy, developed a holder on a 3D printer that could be attached to the base of a takeaway coffee cup – this would be made of biodegradable material and filled with wild flower seeds that would grow and attract pollinators. Who knows where this will lead? We could connect with those young people using the digital labs and ask them what they would like to see and re-visit 20 years later – they could be the very ones using the space in York central – It could be a dynamic and living space. As they grow it grows’.
(Barbara Swinn, York Explore)
How to start to build culture on York Central now?
‘Something mobile or pop up maybe? Could one of the buildings can be used ‘meantime’ to explore making and digital making?’
‘It would be easy to do something tame and has been done before. We are allowed to be risky even if we are York. We’re allowed to think about the future even if we are historic. We have strong roots and therefore we can grow’.
‘But It will be water down if we don’t pull our fingers out’.
‘There are somethings (in Hazel’s presentation) about process and becoming. There were also some things that were something physical in the space. Some of those interventions were about ownership, my brick, my windmill, that’s for them. But there needs to be a longer-term plan too. The cultural plan can have a process, what do we do while it is become, what do we want to become’.
‘We need the process of becoming. But as a community we need that feeling it is ongoing. We also need buildings that can stand the test of time. Good opportunity to have all of them – but we might just get a Windmill!’
‘It is about retaining people and bringing people back. It is about providing space for artists. In Bristol, they have turned themselves around and provide space for artists as a permeant feature. E.g Watershed. We need a place for start ups. If that was in conjunction with the regeneration and the museum itself so much the better. It could be a way of melding old and new, earning a living and stay. That will do well for our native population as well as retain graduates’.
‘Often there is a sense that it’s Leeds you go to for an exiting place to see art. But what about forward thinking art that involves the community. Including communities that are not always wanting to get involved in art’.
‘Retain the element of what it was and what was there and forward looking, NRM is trying to do’.
‘You are talking about people taking ownership over a part of that site, time to box clever to get ongoing funding, that helps to pay for that activity on to the future’.
‘In the Highline in New York, they have kept the essence of what it was I the past, It has sculptural pieces and some of old buildings have been retained and the city has taken ownership over it definitely’.
‘In Birmingham Wharf people can make things. Entrepreneurs can try things out, there are great big tunnels thinking about transport in things at high speed, a place where people can understand things not like a museum, some kind of makers environment where you are doing things because without artists being about to prototype something and try something out. There is a space to prototype then that’s very difficult’.
‘I keep reading your cultural wellbeing plan. You should have a cultural infrastructure plan wellbeing in the result, cultural infrastructure is what underpins it. Physical as well as social. Infrastructure is not just bricks and mortar it’s social. Whatever that infrastructure is it will set the foundation for what follows on. Whatever form it takes it will influences what happens next. Principle area part of an infrastructure and can change – but can give you an infrastructure’.
‘Lots of old building, factories, on the site, I hope there is no suggestions that they should be cleared away as they could be excellent for start of space for artists. Convert them in workshop spaces’.
‘I complete understand its lovely when an arty people get together. But what do you need on a day to day basis is to eat and be outside. I liked the fruit trees idea from Cambridge. As people use the path, they might think about Newton. Railways signify innovation but not everyone will be a maker. They might just wat an apple to immediately take away’.
‘Looking at other tools to describe the space, it uses one kind of language, architectures to tell stories, how people describe, storytelling other way of giving people a chance of places for them’.
‘We can be active with the cultural plan, we want that building for arts and we want to take that. We should be pushing now, to start to use somewhere like the Bullnose Building’.
• Keep in touch: sign up for further discussions about culture and York Central – within the view of starting to make some of these ideas happen?
• Develop ideas about a hub?
• Meantime use of buildings on York Central?
• Arts Council bid to being arts to York Central placemaking?
Thursday 12th April 2018
What possibilities for understanding York’s history are offered by York Central? John Oxley, City Archaeologist for the City of York Council explored the ‘Archaeological Possibilities’, what evidence for prehistoric, Roman, medieval, Civil War, and railway deposits might be present under the ground of the railway siding and buildings might there be? Architectural Historian Alison Sinclair, outlined the Legacy of Railway Buildings on the site, what were they used for, their importance in the industrial history of the City, and suggests how might they be repurposed in the new development.
Leeman Road / Thief Lane: the historic route into town
‘I am worried about cutting of Leeman Road; what is the relationship of Leeman Road today with Thief Lane?’
‘Thief Lane was diverted when new railway station built to line of current road’.
‘The new NRM link building will destroy the historic route into town’.
Pride in Industry: Social History
‘The cultural connection is important, there is a sense of pride in industry, we need to maintain this for future generations. I want my children to know they are living in a railway area’
‘Yes, it is about social history as well as bricks and mortar’.
‘York’s industry and working class social history is hidden – there is pride in it but it’s not valued; there should be pride in that industry. “We don’t want York to be an expensive tourist trap”.
“Council seemed desperate to get rid of blue collar jobs”.
‘rail industry has relocated to places with engineering history but not railway engineering’.
We have to remember the scale of employment – the cyclists at closing time. How can we capture that – WW silhouettes?
Is there any other housing which has links with the railways? Dave – yes, all around this part of the city.
Reuse of buildings
‘Can these buildings can be reused? Can we create a “sticky” site?’
‘Autohorn leaving foundry building. Can we find meanwhile uses which keep buildings in use?’
‘There can be nervousness about occupancy tying up futures of buildings’.
Queen Street Bridge
‘Queen Street Bridge overlooks and marginalises the Railway Institute. The bar in the RI has just closed. So there is choice to be made between RI and the bridge and I choose the RI”.
Sense of Place
‘Can we retain the small detailed stuff, which give sense of place?’
‘the landscape architects are “hooked on the place”’
‘But is this subject to costs’. The example of rebuilding of great hall was given where there was ‘a complete loss of railway engineering history’.
‘How far back into deep time do you go? “Without the glaciers, this wouldn’t be here at all”. The value of the kettle holes etc’.
‘Can we document the small stuff collectively? What public benefit can there be?’
John commented that in other recent excavations they have been professionally-led, community-staffed exercise in surveying/recording. There are people out there at different levels of engagement. How is it all brought together and made public?
How can we reuse the rails that are on the site?
Can we park cars at the edge of the site and use the tracks to move people across it?
Shaping the future?
We ended by asking our speakers to reflect on how the histories and hertiage we discussed should this shape the future.
Alison: Continuity is really important.
John:- There is a professional process underway, but another question is intangible heritage – sounds and smells, the stories of people which resonate among communities. How do we capture these and use them to inform development?
A community heritage group?
We ended by exploring whether we should we form a huge community heritage group to do the public documentation, research, events and archaeology. More on this soon!