Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The world above 600m

The world above 600m

I've just had a haircut, and as usual I feel a whole lot better for it. Relief from the straggly bit over the ears, trim and neat round the back, no floppy Hugh Grant quiff at the front. Oh, and I went for a little colour and a couple of 'go-faster' stripes down the sides. I've a photo somewhere...

The point is my stylist on this occasion was Evie who is 11. She was taking part in the brilliant 'Haircuts by Children' in Birmingham. Haircuts by Children is a programme designed to encourage shifts of confidence between adults and young people. A number of friends and colleagues said to me, 'wow, that was brave.'

Well, no, not really. What was the worst that could happen to my hair? I guess I could have lost an ear in a really extreme case... but in three years of running this project, there has so far not been an injury. Why should there be? Kids with scissors or clippers are usually naturally careful. I could have had an unfortunate stripe across the top for a week or so, or the colour could have taken a week to wear out.

No, I wasn't the one taking a risk.

Imagine holding the clippers and preparing to lay into someone else's barnet. Evie didn't know initially that I'm an easy going avuncular sort of cove; nor that I'm not exactly precious about my appearance. And besides she had to take decisions about the style and the settings of the clippers to achieve the desired effect.

Evie set about the restyling with gusto and enthusiasm. She was a faster clipper than the Cutty Sark. But she had a little difficulty reaching over the top.

At the end of the trim, we both glowed with pleasure; and then decided that we would go for something more to make a point – thus and hence the go faster stripes and the colour. I've been showing off the new style with absolute pride ever since. And sadly the stripes are rapidly growing out. I may have to get the clippers back to auto-graph them – the grooves over the ears that act as guides about where to place my new specs..

Haircuts by Children is a programme that started in Toronto and is produced by the remarkable and innovative community arts and theatre company, Mammalian Diving Reflex. MDR specialises in arts for community change and development, and place a focused emphasis on reversing expectations of young people, their confidence and creativity.

They practise and realise the philosophy of Guillermo Gomez-Pena, the Mexican artist now working in the USA whose statement, 'the arts are a powerful tool for making society, not just a reflection of it,' is more relevant than ever in times of rapid change.

But speaking of risk; I came across a couple of statistics the other day that speak volumes about the attitude to risk and young people.

The first relates to the title of this thought piece. 600m? Any ideas? It is the height above sea level that requires group leaders with young people to conduct risk assessments, inform and get permission from county hall, or, if an outdoors activity centre, to have additional insurance. Geography field trips that include a walk up the side of Pennyghent need the licence; those up the side of Brown Willy don't.

It made me wonder about the world over 600m that adults are so anxious about. It's almost as if there is a censorship for young people, as if the web nanny was switched on to the landscape.

And then I read that the biggest cause of domestic accidents involving young people were on garden trampolines. The reason is that more families, sorry, that should be parents, are buying trampolines to give their kids some physical activity to pursue that doesn't involve going out of the safety of the garden; that is not going out over the fields and climbing trees, or playing in the park where the paedoes lurk.

Of course, what is really happening is that kids have heard about the world above 600m, and are using the trampolines to try and get a glimpse.

Over-reaching, using their imaginations, taking risks...

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

toffs and tossers

A lot of fuss made recently about David Cameron and the photo of the Bullingdon Diners Club - apparently the photo copyright holders have declined to release it any more.. too many tory boy indiscretions eh?
meanwhile, the photo of Tony Blair from his college days, long hair and boater at a jaunty angle has revealed that it too has generally been edited or cropped so as not to show the unmistakeable gesture with the left hand.

All I can say is that if we all got hot under the (eton) collar about young people and what they get up to in photos we'll never have kids putting up two fingers behind the head of the person in front of them, nor kids appearing twice on the long school photo by running round the back as the camera rotates from one end to the other.

Isn't that the point? what we now take for granted as photo manipulation done on photoshop or some such other whizzy software, when we are kids we have to do by improvisation.

Come on folks, lighten up.

Monday, 15 January 2007

rickonhisbike Vietnam Challenge

I've signed up to do the 700kms in North West Vietnam in September/October.
For Macmillan Cancer Support..

Please go to my fundraising page at
for information about the what, when, where, how (especially how to support me) and why (especially why this is important to me).

Thanks in advance for your support.
I'll keep a separate blog of the training and the trip itself..

Memo to self - start training!

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

creativity articles

A month or so ago Baroness Susan Greenfield chaired the judging panel of the Women of the Future Awards, a cohort of creative talent determined to break all kinds of barriers and ceilings, glass or otherwise. Yesterday her Guardian article focused on the global imperative of drawing on the expertise of teachers and scientists to deliver a creative future through the next generation of learners.

Coincidentally, a report commissioned by the Arts Council and Cannon, sponsors of the new arts awards for young people, highlighted the confusion in the understanding of employers about creativity as a skill for the workforce. Their view was that creativity was not a valuable or valued commodity. A little deeper analysis, however, revealed that their definition of creativity was more likely to be equated with unconventional dress or divergent behaviour rather than the capacity to make new connections between ideas or to think creatively to solve problems. This mis-understanding is sometimes compounded by the association between creativity and the arts; indeed the AC report was designed to show how young people taking part in the arts award scheme are better equipped for the world of work through the development of personal attributes like self-confidence and determination.

Susan Greenfield contributed to the NACCCE committee that reported in 1999 with All Our Futures. In her article she repeats the definition that underpinned the recommendations that in turn led to Creative Partnerships – 'creativity is imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value'. Its Chair, Ken Robinson, regularly uses a similar formula – 'creativity is applied imagination; and innovation is applied creativity'.

As Director of the Institute for the Future of the Mind Susan Greenfield is naturally interested in the psychology of creativity. In the Ignite! programme, now an independent organisation following its three year action research phase as part of NESTA, we look for the characteristics of creative thinkers; we believe we can identify them; and further, having identified them, we believe that we can increase the capacities of mind and behaviour that underpin them. Susan Greenfield also refers to the creative abilities of dyslexics notably their capacity to develop a different system of connectivity in the brain and a talent to 'see the whole picture.'

We in the Ignite! programme would concur in so far as one of the characteristics of creative thinkers is the capacity to see relationships, and through the imagination to make connections. And for some creative thinkers, we acknowledge that their divergent ideas are often not recognised for what they are, or, if they are recognised, then they are not nurtured appropriately.

Seeing relationships between different realms of ideas and then making the connections to create a new and original idea (as per NACCCE's definition) is what informs many creative disciplines.. and we are not simply referring to art or the creative industries. This creativity manifests itself in disciplines, sectors, realms such as analogy (this is like that, and therefore...), bio-mimetics (applying the patterns or features of the natural world to the human condition), sci-art, humour, surrealism, double-entendre, materials science, product or systems design, invention.

And as illustrations, think of the invention of velcro (George de Mestrel connected the idea of burrs sticking to his dog's coat to the idea of a new fastening); or Picasso's head of a bull created from a bicycle saddle and handlebars; or the invention of a fridge that works by evaporation and which can therefore keep pharmaceutical products longer in conditions where there is no electricity supply. This latter connected idea is what contributed to Emily Cummins, a young Ignite! Creative Spark, winning the title of Technology Woman of the Future at the awards ceremony supervised by Susan Greenfield just a month ago.

Using the imagination to make connections is but one capacity of the creative mind; there are several others, and there are factors and conditions and activities that encourage or inhibit their development. As Susan Greenfield correctly points out, as technology builds the platforms of social online networks we need to emphasise and develop the potential for creativity and creative thinking that can be realised through increased interactions, and thereby meet the global education challenge.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

exciting minds

just been to the Creative Partnerships conference, exciting minds, in Manchester..
The event was in two parts - the Arena and the Conference and for a while on the Monday the y competed for attendance which was a shame.
The overall event was very good, and it was brilliant to have an education expo of the calibre of the arena.. some excellent connections were made and network conversations of the highest order.

The example of creative work I observed on Tuesday left me worried and underwhelmed. If the young people from the school involved had not been there I would have voiced my concern.

Let's take a look.. we send a couple of film makers to an African nation, let's say a country that has experienced recent civil war, with bitter factional fighting. And let's film an interview with a young teenage man who has been caught up in the conflict in the most inhumane and brutalised way - that almost defies imagination and certainly horrifies. In recruiting him into an army of boy soldiers his family has been murdered, his sister raped and killed. He now fears for his life and sleeps on floors. His history and current circumstances are truly at the edges of humanity.
Now let's return to the UK and show this interview to a group of year 9s. And then let's interview them and record their responses.
You can imagine their reactions all too easily (and therein lies the problem). What else would you expect them to say? 'It's terrible what has happened to him, he has to beg for shelter and work for water and food, and we don't.'
But where is the learning? where is the self-directed learning through the arts? indeed, where is the art or creative thinking?
The project was presented as a creative learning intervention into the citizenship agenda.
Creativity in a learning context is about engaging with young people's sensibilities and then allowing them to direct the growth in their understandings; here there was no connection and nothing unexpected.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Navigating the unknown

Attended the launch of the ResCen book 'Navigating the Unknown' - an inspirational work of art in its own write (as John Lennon once put it).. as well as a collection of essays, both visual and linguistic. The importance of the work and the research project that produced it can not be over estimated. These are essays in the truest sense, and about creativity - what it is, how it can be deployed through events, space, time and activity, and why it is important.

Creativity is a powerful tool for making society, not just a reflection of it.
Science and technology, and their outputs in innovation can supply the tools of progress; but it is art and creativity (applied imagination) that guide us in their use, humanely and for our common well-being.

Sunday, 19 November 2006

more worrying reports of young people

Panorama has some alarming reports about binge drinking among young people.. and almost inevitably took some stock film footage from the streets of Nottingham.

It is hard to gain a proper perspective on this; one point of view is to recall our own youthful experimentation with alcohol, reckless, risky. We would end up in a village pub in rural Lincolnshire, welcomed by the landlord with a cheery, 'hello children..'

Now we hear of young people drinking to obliterate pain.

'When cider is as cheap as coke, why would you choose coke? You can quench your thirst and get pissed..'

I wish I could offer an answer.