Swindon should get knitted

17 May
Charles Landry

Charles Landry

Swindon should get knitted. It’s a sentiment that Swindon’s Stitch N Bitch ladies would no doubt agree with.  Charles Landry, author of The Civic City in a Nomadic World,didn’t exactly say that of course. But he did say, when asked his feelings on Swindon, that it is:

  1. The most difficult place to navigate he’s come across and
  2. It somehow doesn’t feel quite knitted together – that it lacks cohesion.

I reckon he’s got a point.  #SwindonIsAwesome – lots of fabulous things and fabulous people. But I can see what he meant.

Charles Landry’s talk last night was a sharp contrast to John Tusa’s measured and soothing delivery. Both delightful men with lots of interesting things to say. But, oh my, what a whistle stop whizz of a talk this was.

So many take aways buzzing around that I may fail to produce something any more knitted together than our town-that’s-a-city-in-all-but-name. But my jottings should give you some idea of his message. I hope.

At the start of his talk he spoke of five constants – aside from having a job – that great places seem to offer:

  1. Anchorage/tradition/heritage– and how heritage is important to kick start progress. Something to think about by those who would sweep out the old to make way for the new, those who see no value in our heritage. And I say this as a general point though it’s applicable to Swindon I venture to suggest.
  2. Sense of can do/of possibility:‘We need to create space for experimentation in our cities, to allow people to try things out and see what works.’ This quote from his book speaks of a need for dialogue and co-creation as critical factors for progress. Openness, collaboration, culture and creativity – all critical to make a good place great.

During the question time at the end someone saying they were a planning officer (SBC I assume?) commented they had ambitious plans that were regularly thwarted by NIMBYS, old people and Parish Councils. Really? I mean – really?

Okay, I’ve spent/lost enough time on social media to know that there’s an element of that. There could be more ‘Why not?’ – from both sides – rather than ‘why bother?’

We can, in part, explain some degree of apathy with a counter-comment from another audience member who spoke of an absence of dialogue between the council and the people they are elected to represent. An absence that leaves them feeling they aren’t part of anything. Something of a disconnect there that I’ll leave you to ponder on.

  1. Connection/connectivity: to the oneself, to others, and to the wider word – trains, planes and automobiles etc.
  2. Aspiration/Ambition: The individual taking responsibility to make more of themselves.

An audience member expressed a view that Swindon had lost a generation. Young people had moved to Bristol and Bath feeling that Swindon didn’t offer them the opportunities they wanted. Once more though we heard a counter view. This time about new, young entrepreneurs. And even some not so young ones! * coughs * – not that I’m an actual entrepreneur – rather a business owner. I’m aware of the difference. But I digress.

Also, a father spoke about creating opportunities for his children and showing them where opportunities lay. Which rather brings us back to the ‘Why not?’ rather than the ‘Why bother?’ And, as Mr Landry pointed out, some unknown German poet once said: ‘If a place bores you then look at yourself.’ It’s a thought!

  1. Inspiration: this I think is where we come to the importance of pioneering leadership, of courage and of both allowing and accepting mistakes as part of the process of progressing. Thinking of this point I can’t get out of my head a refrain from Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat. It’s the onewhere Joseph is suggesting to Pharaoh that he himself is the inspirational leader Pharaoh is looking for:

‘… And I’m sure it’s crossed your mind
What it is you have to find
Find a man to lead you through the famine
With a flair for economic planning
But who this man could be
I just don’t know …’

And where Swindon’s Joseph is I just don’t know.

Crisis point

Mr Landry had so much to say that, were I to try and cover it all this post would never end. So I’ll round it off with a point of Mr Landry’s that we can see in relation to Swindon – though of course he meant it generally:

Crisis creates conditions for change

Is Swindon in crisis? One might argue it. We didn’t get the sought-after HLF funding for a new museum and art gallery. The future of the Health Hydro, a building so pivotal to Swindon’s heritage, is far from assured. The question of the Mechanics’ institute rumbles on.

Can we move forward from all this? Yes, we can. But I fear it comes down to having enough of the ‘Why not?’ attitude and a lot less of the ‘Why bother?’  Oh – and that elusive inspirational leadership perhaps?

Charles Landry appeared at Swindon Arts Centre in a Swindon Festival of Literature event presented in association with Switch on to Swindon.

Words by Angela Atkinson. Image © Fernando Bagué


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