Jan 162014
 

Aberdeen Forward would like to invite you to our Swishing event on Friday 17th January 2014, between 6pm and 8pm, for an evening of clothes swapping, wine & nibbles.

colouredthreadspic

For those who don’t know, swishing involves clothes swapping in an informal setting around other like minded ‘swisher’s’.

All you have to do is bring in 1 or more items you own that you no longer want and you can take away someone else’s items instead!

Bring your unwanted clothes along any time on the day and then come down on the Friday at 6pm for the Swish itself.

From 6pm-7pm, there we will be time to browse what’s on offer, over a glass of complimentary wine and a nibble or two and then, at 7pm sharp, we will open the doors and allow you to pick the items you want to take home with you.

When deciding which of your items to bring in please remember the following:

  • All items should be high quality, do not bring damaged or dirty items.
  • Donated items should be clean and either unworn or just worn once or twice. You want to bring something others will want to take away, not throw away!
  • No Casual T-shirts, Vests, Earrings, Underwear or Swimwear will be accepted.
  • Unfortunately, if you don’t take anything home, we cannot return the items you donated yourself, so please be sure the things you bring are unwanted items.
  • The Swish is based on a fair use policy; although no token system is in place, it is accepted that items of a comparable cost, quality and condition are swapped fairly.

We hope to see you there on the 17th January and if you would like to attend, please RSVP by emailing us or calling us on 01224 560360. Entry is £5 and wine and nibbles will be available from 6pm together with various non-alcoholic refreshments.

Sep 182013
 

How does a Friday night of wine, nibbles and vintage clothes swapping sound to you? Why not avoid the hustle and bustle of a weekend shopping trip and come along to Aberdeen Forward’s famous swish where your unused clothes can be swapped with like-minded swishers in a relaxing and informal setting.

colouredthreadspicIf you want to grab a unique item or 2 whilst helping divert landfill, this Friday’s Swish is for you!

Starting at 6pm and finishing at 8pm this Friday, the event will provide you with a chance to clear out items you’ve never worn whilst getting a hold of some new pieces for your wardrobe.

When deciding which of your items to bring in please remember the following:

- All items should be high quality-please don’t bring damaged or dirty items.
– Donated items should be clean and either unworn or just worn once or twice. You want to bring something others will want to take away, not throw away!
– No Casual T-shirts, Vests, Earrings, Underwear or Swimwear will be accepted.

If you would like to come, please give us a quick call on 01224 560360, email cwe@aberdeenforward.org

The event is held at the Aberdeen Forward HQ, 2 Poynernook Road, AB11 5RW. Please arrive promptly for 6pm with your unwanted clothes at the ready!

Entry is £5 which includes a glass of fizz, nibbles and access to the Swish’. Non-alcoholic refreshments are also available including tea, coffee and juice.

Feb 112013
 

Having previously looked at the people who can be considered heroes for their attempts to protect the environment or people, the focus shifts to the ‘villains’ in this fifth article in the Menie Estate Series.

By Suzanne Kelly.

Identifying the players in the course of events at Menie is key to understand what happened, and hopefully to preventing a repeat performance elsewhere.
The cumulative effect of the various pro-Trump factions, large and small, all helped make the development’s approval all but inevitable.

This article will take stock of the people, organisations and incidents that won the day for golf over natural heritage, existing planning policy and area residents.

Donald Trump

Ultimate responsibility for the loss of the SSSI and for the use of security firms in the area surely belongs to the man called ‘The Donald.’  While involved in litigation in his home country, the USA, with private individuals and local governments, our powers-that-be still accepted his fiscal health, his stated commitment to the environment, and his economic proposals at face value.

To illustrate, here are excerpts from one of the Scottish Government’s statements supporting the development:-

“The council understand the suggestion made by the various parties that a personal condition may be appropriate… that is not proposed…    Based on the evidence the council believes that the commitment shown by Mr Trump is genuine.” - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/212607/0067709.pdf

Aberdeenshire Council decided that their ‘belief’ in Trump’s commitment was genuine and of more importance than existing planning guidance and the SSSI.  This faith seems to have been built on the economic case presented by Trump (later criticised sharply by a London School of Economics expert, who featured in the documentary ‘You’ve Been Trumped’).

This faith also seems to have excluded any research into the Trump Organisation’s past form and apparent predilection for suing municipalities (for a summary of some rather worrying past Trump actions.
See donald-trumps-lawsuits-could-turn-conservatives-who-embrace-tort-reform

Scottish Natural Heritage suggested it would be possible to build great golf courses and housing without using the sensitive SSSI sites; however, Trump refused to compromise his plans.  Trump is the driving force in this situation, but whom and which organisations paved the way for him?  Are these people the real villains of the piece?

The mysterious Peter White – aka Neil Hobday

One thing the pre-Trump Menie residents I spoke to have in common is their shared love of the natural beauty in the area.  None planned to move home; none planned to sell up to Trump.   Every resident I spoke with his commitment to the integrity of the unique environment and its flora and fauna.

Another thing they have in common is that many of them reported being contacted by phone by one Mr Peter White.

The story ‘Peter’ told residents was basically this:  ‘Peter’ and/or his wife  just happened to be out driving/walking while visiting Balmedie, and fell in love with the area and wanted to buy a home to live in.  Resident Martin Bennett decided to check out the phone number Mr White left, and found it was connected to the name ‘Hobday.’  ‘Peter’ it transpires was Neil Peter White Hobday – the man who at the time was Trump’s golf course consultant.

When confronted, Hobday told Bennett that Peter and White were his middle names, adding:-

“If I had turned up and said ‘hello I’m from the Trump Organisation’”

Neil Peter White Hobday said to Bennett, while making a gesture Bennett believed was indicating flashing pound signs.

Had any of the residents chosen to pass their homes to this man on the false promise their home would be used and loved instead of potentially bulldozed (Trump has called the properties ‘slums’ and ‘pigsties’), they would have been very much mistaken.  But no one fell for this cruel ruse to gain property under a false pretext – which no doubt would have been sold at lower value than had any resident been aware of Trump’s plans.  Monetary gain or not, the residents wanted to stay put.

The mysterious anti wind farm protest that never was

Last month, some person or agency tried to hire protestors (at $20 per person) to stand in front of the British Consulate in Manhattan, and standing behind a few speakers, as if to act like they were genuine protestors opposed to wind farms in the UK.  When discovered by several pro wind farm groups, the ads were pulled, the media and consulate staff notified, and the protest was called off just as quickly and mysteriously as it had been organised (the excuse was the weather would be harsh).

Who would be interested in making the British fear a negative US reaction to wind farms in Britain?  Could it have been Donald Trump or his organisation?  Their objection to a wind farm off the Aberdeenshire coast has Trump threatening to pull his development.

More on this protest can be found here: cool-job-posting-earn-20-pretending-to-hate-wind-energy.

Some actually believe that Trump might just be, and might always have been, more interested in obtaining the permission for hundreds of homes, then selling the land (and the attached permission) on.

By this time politicians, consultants and anyone else who wanted a piece of the action were climbing on board the Trump bandwagon. Not least one Evening Express beauty contest winner

Sarah ‘The Face of Aberdeen’ Malone, now Mrs Damian Bates

Sarah entered and won a ‘Face of Aberdeen’ beauty contest in the Evening Express, sister paper to the Press & Journal, an equally pro-Trump periodical.  It would seem that she had a friendship with the P&J’s editor, Damian Bates, which turned to marriage in early  February 2013.

Sarah worked at the regional Gordon Highlanders museum in Aberdeen; a great museum but hardly a training ground for the project Trump proposed. She had no experience of Golf, no experience of multinational real estate developers.

She was hired by Trump who didn’t mind the lack of specific skills for his multi-million pound project.  Was it her local connections?  Her physical attractiveness?  She has since acted as the spokesperson for Trump International in Scotland, maintaining that all is well, and that tens of thousands of people have played/will play the course.

Evidence the course has been played that frequently is not shared by the residents, who insist the course would have to have very frequent tee times and many more visible golfers than they have ever seen.

She claims to have been spat at by a woman; treatment no one deserves.  The police investigated, but it seems no action was taken.  Protest groups disowned any such action, which is contrary to the ethos of the protest group Tripping Up Trump.

Malone accused Anthony Baxter of sneaking into an on-site press event (he had been issued a press pass), and that he deliberately blocked heavy machinery, a claim he denied.

Both of Sarah’s parents had worked at Aberdeenshire council; her father, Tom, is now a councillor.  Coincidentally he has had the opportunity to vote on six wind farm developments, and has turned them all down.  It seems he shares his daughter’s employer’s dislike of wind power.

In Malone-Bates’ words:

“We have a world-class developer whose brand is associated with luxury and excellence.”

Some might differ.

Dr Christine Gore

Dr Gore is Director of Planning and Environmental Services at Aberdeenshire Council.  Her impartiality was called into question when the Glasgow-based ‘ Spinwatch’ group did some research:-

“The documents, obtained by Spinwatch,  include e-mails and letters between Gore and Ann Faulds, an Edinburgh-based solicitor with Dundas and Wilson, a law firm hired by Trump. They show that in February, Faulds drew up a report justifying why compulsory purchase orders might be needed to acquire extra land on and around Trump’s estate. It was drafted in Gore’s name for distribution to council members, however the local authority says it was never used.

“David Miller, professor of sociology at Strathclyde University and head of Spinwatch, a Glasgow-based body which monitors public relations, said the documents raised serious questions about the council’s relationship with Trump.”
http://www.trippinguptrump.com/news/aberdeenshire-council-%E2%80%98too-close%E2%80%99-to-trump

Dr Gore’s impartiality also took a further beating (source Tripping Up Trump):-

In Gore’s letter, dated April 7, she writes:

“In terms of public relations and management of the inevitable media interest, I would request that we be given at least a week’s notice of your intended submission date. Thereafter, close liaison will be required . . . in order that we can have a managed approach to what is inevitably going to be a difficult and emotive reaction.”

The letter has prompted accusations of a “conflict of interest” from Spinwatch.  It has threatened to lodge a complaint with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if the council fails to carry out its own inquiry.

Even her words ‘difficult and emotive’ seem to display alliance with the developers over the existing homeowners.  In propaganda terms, implying that the other side is in some way illogical – like stating they are likely to be ‘difficult and emotive’ is a well-known tactic to discredit opposition.

We have seen this kind of name-calling often enough from Trump and his operatives in describing the pre-existing residents; but for the implication of an difficult/emotional, hence irrational, response from those opposed to Trump pretty much removes any doubt as to Gore being partial to Trump.

Ms Gore’s professional body, the Royal Town Planning Institute refuse to disclose whether or not the proposed complaint against Gore was ever even brought.  In that case, perhaps it is time a formal complaint is submitted.

Alex Salmond

Aside from transatlantic wining and dining with Trump while Trump’s application was still pending (which was deemed unethical – and which sent a tacit message that Salmond approved of Trump and his plans), it’s hard to know where to start on the role Salmond played.

Of course the step of calling in the rejected application was without precedent and is what gave Trump his victory.  Salmond used his powers to over-ride the decision of a local government by calling the application in, something that might not bode well for his model of Scottish independence.

The local authorities still had scope to negotiate with Trump over the nature of the development; this scope was whisked away by Salmond.

Salmond seems to have wanted a quid pro quo, and what a favour it was.  Trump was asked to back the Scottish Government’s repatriation of convicted Lockerbie Bomber Al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds.  Trump probably realised this would be social suicide for him in New York (if not the rest of the world) and he refused.

Soon the relationship between the two men had soured over wind farms, and Trump went public with this sensational request over Al-Megrahi.  Trump also insisted Salmond promised no wind farms would ruin the view of the wealthy golf tourist.  Salmond denied making any such promise.

This dispute between the two figures is creating some amazing publicity, not least the advertisement Trump put in the Press & Journal (and other papers), showing decommissioned wind turbines (from Hawaii it seems) and linking in Salmond and Lockerbie. (more on the ad and the P&J to follow).

In a worrying development Salmond’s government is changing many pieces of legislation, not least the rules around Compulsory Purchase Orders. In another time, a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) was basically meant as a last resort if land was needed for municipal projects. This is changing.

The Scottish Government co-hosted a full day CPO conference in October 25, 2011 in Edinburgh.  There were presentations which certainly seem to make it easier to obtain CPOs in Scotland for developments which promise economic growth.  Presentations included:-

Joe Noble, Macdonald Estates ” CPO in partnership with the private sector – a developer’s view” (3.2mb)

Patrick Layden QC, Scottish Law Commission ” Law reform – a look to the future” (0.05mb)

We will see what else Mr Salmond has in store for Menie and for Scotland in the future.

Aberdeenshire Council Clerk of Works and Communications Officer

In August of 2011 I wrote to the Aberdeenshire Council’s Clerk of Works asking about several of the issues highlighted in the national press and in the film ‘You’ve Been Trumped.’  I described the bunding by the Munro home.

I received a reply from (now retired) Communications Officer Gordon Lyon.  He advised that the

“…earth bunding we believe you are referring to was fully removed by April 5, 2011”.

The Munros, other residents and I all can state that the bunding is very much still in place.  In fact, where bunding exists there are fairly clumsy attempts to make trees grow on top of them.  If successful, this would leave both homes with little sun and no views of the shore at all.

It is not that likely the trees will grow (the sand, salt air and wind will play their parts, much as they are doing further down the coast at St Fitticks’s  and Tullos Hill, an ill-advised, largely unwanted forestry creation scheme which has already failed before).  The interesting choice of Sycamore trees for this man-made screen should interest natural heritage and ecological agencies; this tree is considered undesirable for being invasive and foreign.

Scottish Enterprise and Visit Scotland

On 27 September 2007 I attended a public meeting at which the Trump organisation played a video in support of their application.  This video featured the Scottish Enterprise logo, and featured footage of Jennifer Craw talking about tourism, development and so on.  She had been head of Scottish Enterprise at one point.

On seeing this video, the use of the logo convinced me that Scottish Enterprise approved of the project, a project which was still as I understood it, meant to be impartially evaluated by government.  The use of the logos and Craw’s presence made it appear as if SE approved of the plans.

If government quango SE approved, then so must government was the conclusion I reached.  The SE connection could have put pressure on  councillors, government employees and others who saw it, and could have easily led to the conclusion that SE approved.  But was this conclusion accurate?

I wrote to SE, and they stated that the Trump video had NOT sought their consent to use the clips of Craw or the logo.  Here are answers I received from Scottish Enterprise:-

“Neither SE, nor Ms Craw, has endorsed the Trump planning application. SE Grampian is supportive of the proposals but they have no role or remit in terms of the planning decision.

“Ms Craw gave an interview to STV in relation to a documentary on the Trump International plans for a golf leisure development on 26 June 2006.   Ms Craw was not made aware that the clip would be used as part of the Trump presentation at the public meeting.

“SE has not endorsed the planning application.  Any endorsement by Scottish Enterprise would not bind the Scottish Government.

“Donald Trump’s organisation has not received any funding from SE Grampian. A Preliminary Feasibility study along with a promotional DVD in relation to the Menie Estate Golf Resort was commissioned by SE Grampian in line with support for inward investment activity.  The cost of this was £30,285.

“SE Grampian PR support around the project announcement was given to the Trump Organisation in keeping with support offered to potential inward investors.  Please note there is no monetary value placed on staff time spent on projects.

It would appear that SE want us to believe that even though it spent £30k on a video to promote turning Menie into a golf resort, Scottish Enterprise was somehow totally uninterested in influencing the government on the point.

At the next opportunity I tried to speak out at a public meeting to say this video was giving a large and serious false impression by using SE material. I was, disappointingly, not allowed to speak.  I did explain that new, relevant information had come to my attention, and that as I had been a long-term objector to the scheme I wanted to exercise the right to address the meeting.  This was deemed to be out of order.

SE’s logo seems to be protected by copyright, and from what I can gather, it can be used in academic papers without any objection but other use needs permission.  Why no objection was raised to the Trump people, or more importantly why SE did not make clear to Aberdeenshire that it did not endorse the project and that its logo had been appropriated without consent remains a mystery.

We have a situation where one side was allowed to go against established procedures and hijack the implied approval of Scottish Enterprise, while the other side of the argument was not allowed any leeway at all.

The local Press

The Scottish Enterprise episode was just one of many pieces of publicity and propaganda designed to put the Trump golf project on course.  The local newspapers were filled with pro Trump stories.  No mention was ever made of his stateside business dealings, some of which seem to have ended in bankruptcies for stakeholders.

No mention was ever made of lawsuits brought by the Trump organisation against local authorities.  The councillors who stood up to Trump were vilified in the local papers, culminating in a photo of Martin Ford with the word ‘TRAITOR’ as the headline.

Other evidence of the local media’s bias is not too hard to find.  There have been many articles saying what a success the club is, and a total of two (as far as I can find) articles about Anthony Baxter’s documentary on the Menie Estate situation.

In terms of advertising, it may interest readers to know that the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens were refused permission to place an ad in the Press & Journal – well before any referendum on UTG was announced – on the grounds their support for the gardens being improved was ‘political’.

Fast forward to September 2012, and the same paper printed the full page anti-wind farm advertisement from Trump.  This  ad used photos of American decommissioned wind farms, and a photo of Salmond; it also chose to bring the Lockerbie Bomber into the picture.  Some would say that on balance this might have been slightly more political than saving a garden.

For more on the tie between Malone and her new husband, P&J editor Damian Bates, (and other individuals) see http://aberdeenvoice.com/2013/02/trump-exec-vp-weds-journals-ed-joining-the-dots/

There are other players who strove for the outcome we have today.

This series will have two more parts; a look at some of the government documents supporting the case, and a conclusion with a report and recommended actions.  One thing is clear.  All in all, it was clear the residents and the environment never stood any chance at all.

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Sep 212012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah  takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and further beyond ( including the murky depths of ‘local’ cyberspace ). By Suzanne Kelly.

Across Aberdeen this past week most of us have enjoyed the last warm(ish) days of summer, and the sunny days and early evenings. Others have been glued to their computers waging a curious battle over a protest planned for tomorrow (Saturday 22nd September).

In the quest to win new friends and influence people, the ‘Protest Against Aberdeen City Council’ Facebook pages have entertained a wide variety of opinions, and a wide spectrum of humour (I am using the term ‘humour’ loosely).

Somewhere between 12 and 500 people will appear at 1pm tomorrow in front of the Marischal College  building (which will be deserted, as it’s Saturday), to protest against Aberdeen City Council, Labour, and the death of the granite web.

An interesting report is to go before the Audit Committee soon; it is by an independent reporter who finds that both the councillors and the officers of Aberdeen City Council need to think about how they interact.

Anyone who read about this report in the Press & Journal would have been shedding tears, assuming this bullying was 100% by mean councillors against poor but honest officers.   Indeed. More on that later.

But the real talk of the whole country is around the most fundamental question of all, which is dividing the Scottish nation, setting brother against brother, and causing an affa bother:  is the deep-fried Mars bar a national treasure or not?  Earlier on, the Mars company reportedly disowned the creation;  other sources later claimed the Mars business had embraced the calorific snack.

This crucial question will no doubt be the subject of several independent consultations, a referendum, Holyrood debate, health & safety analysis, a PR campaign by the BiG partnership featuring Morris the Monkey, and more than a few bar room fights.

Some people claim that the original, unadorned Mars bar was good enough as it was, and should be retained.  Others claimed it wasn’t 21st century enough unless it was covered with a web of deep fried flour and grease.  Not since Culloden has such bickering been seen in this part of the world.  Old Susannah hopes resolution is possible.

There have been a few amusing news stories across the UK as well.

  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind

Seems some of those nice people at Scottish Enterprise have been very enterprising indeed.  Old Susannah never realised what a generous employer SE was, but it is kindly allowing staff to take SE credit cards and take out nice big, fat juicy cash advances (in a variety of currencies), and paying the amounts back as and when.

As a taxpayer, I’m so pleased we can help out the less fortunate SE employee with the odd £10K loan or two.  It’s alright though, as the employees always intended to pay the money back.  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind.

It’s almost as if proper financial controls were not working 100% at SE – which is a bit unfortunate in such a tiny organisation; they still operate on a mere £750,000,000 or so per annum (much of which is salary – which Old Susannah finds difficult to reconcile with the cash advances the cash-strapped staff seem to need).

And in England, a woman has been sentenced for hijacking a ferry boat, telling her pursuers ‘I’m Jack Sparrow!’ and sailing away until finally caught.

Readers will find it hard to believe, but she was high on drink and belladonna (deadly nightshade to you and me, which is quite poisonous).  I prefer the odd BrewDog and crisps, myself.  After two days of drink and hallucinogens, she felt ill for some reason or other, and called the paramedics.

When they arrived she was, naturally enough, on a moored ferry boat, as you do.  She ‘didn’t mean to untie the craft, but the ropes kept getting under her feet’.  Fair enough – could have been any of us really.  The ferry boat’s owner told the BBC this incident was a:-

“total one-off bizarre incident which we have never experienced before”.

Old Susannah should hope so, too.

I’m afraid the definitions this week do involve the web; don’t worry – this too shall pass.

Carrot or the Stick: (English saying) to offer an inducement – reward and/or sanction to gain support or agreement.

Any movement needs to recruit new members.  Those nice Scientology people give out free books on  Oxford Street, and tell you how clever you are.  Next thing you know, you’re married to Tom Cruise and waiting for the mothership.  The Moonies used to give out flowers; various missionaries would trade a square meal in exchange for preaching at you.

The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens and Common Good Aberdeen – two forces with the same ultimate goal of saving UTG from development have web presences, hold meetings, and hold the odd demo or two.  New members and the curious are welcome.

Speaking of odd demos, there is a group called ‘Protest against Aberdeen City Council’ holding the demonstration I mentioned before, taking place tomorrow.  They too have a web page and embrace open debate.  And what a debate it has been.

The finest minds in all of Scotland’s past pale into insignificance against the rhetoric, logic, self-restraint and persuasive skills of a small number of the posters on this page.  I’m surprised we’ve not all been convinced the web’s the way to go by this bunch.

The page’s administrator, who apparently lives in the United States, has allowed a wide raft of comments to go unmoderated, which I’m sure doesn’t mean they are encouraging trolls at all.

Usually when you want someone to come around to your way of thinking, you offer them some reason to do so – the proverbial  carrot and the stick.  The Big Partnership, recently rendered silent on the topic of the web, used both the carrot and the stick to get us to join the granite web fanclub.

  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence

The carrots were ‘build the web and 6,500 new jobs appear’, ‘two hundred million pounds will magically flow into the city annually until the year 2023 (not 2022 or 2024 – 2023) AND the added incentive that Morris the Monkey and Jake the Ghost want the web convinced us in the thousands.

The sticks used to try and beat us into submission?

‘No one will come to Aberdeen’, ‘we’ll look silly if we don’t take Ian’s £50 million and do what he says with it’ and ‘people will think Aberdeen is ‘closed for business.’

I always liked this last ‘closed for business’ argument.  It was supposed to make me think of a vibrant and dynamic shopping mall, doing lots of business.  Instead, it made me think of an indiscriminate callgirl who would do anything with anyone if the price was right.

How are the ‘Protest against Aberdeen’s’ members and posters winning hearts and minds?  Reasoned argument?  Supplying facts and figures?  Welcoming newcomers?  Parrying dissent with rapier-like wit and friendly banter?  Absolutely!

Please do go and visit this page yourself – it has all the relevant facts you need to know to make an informed decision to support the web.  These include colourful postings such as the following:-

*  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence;

*  there is a woman being insulted because of her looks;

*  there is a man who says he’s no longer onside with the protest because of the abusive comments made by protest supporters – so he’s attacked as being a ‘plant’;

*  a man who was abused as a child is asked if he was ‘a little sh*t who deserved a clip ‘round the ears’;

*  there is a woman who ‘has it on good authority’ that all the bills the taxpayer has already picked up for the web were really somehow not paid by the city council (who the invoices were made out to), but Sir Ian really picked them up; and

*  a hilarious joke about building a mosque on UTG (alas; Old Susannah is unable to appreciate the witticism or the point being made)

People against the web have in several instances risen to the bait and argued back.  But whatever side of this issue you are on, have a look at the comments made by people like Sandy M, George S and others.  They’ll have won you over with their carrots and sticks before you know it.

Readers of a sensitive disposition may, however, wish to stay well clear.  https://www.facebook.com/events/456202784419418/

Cautionary Tale: (compound noun; English) A story intended to impart advice by showing someone else’s error.

This new Information Commissioner is taking no prisoners – well, actually she might be, as the police have been called in to enforce the law.

This kind of development in Aberdeenshire is extremely worrying!  The local authority seems to have accidentally denied it had information and accidentally deleted the information it denied having.  It was almost as if there was something to hide, and as if the law came second to what the local government mandarins wanted.

This story, covered in this past week’s Press & Journal (really) implies that Freedom of Information requests have to be answered with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Old Susannah is reassured that there won’t be any such issues here in our city.

Even if the Information Commissioner’s office is reportedly auditing the work our FOI office does, it’s not as if information has ever been withheld from me, or anyone else, is it?  (Unless of course you count requests about Mr S Milne, the deer cull, cost of Marischal college…)

Pre-emptive strike: (compound noun; English) a form of defence or deflecting attention  by attacking one’s opponent first.

Well, a report going to the Audit Committee next week seems to imply that councillors had in the recent past not been treating officers courteously and had asked difficult questions.  Naughty!

No real naming and shaming was done.  I hope no councillors asked awkward questions of Pete Leonard for instance.  Mean councillors in the past may have asked him why he kept representing that the deer-culling, tree-planting scheme was completely cost neutral, even though he knew for months that phase one failed, and ACC had to repay £43,800 for the dead trees.

He recently tried to deflect this irritating fact by reportedly saying £43,800 referred to something in the 1990s.  Just because the money was paid in March 2011, when he was saying the great scheme was cost neutral to the Housing Committee, is no reason to think he wasn’t accurate or completely open, is it?

A cynic could think this report’s suggestions that councillors should show more deference to officers like Leonard is a pre-emptive strike.  Did the report authors know about all the assorted little machinations of Leonard and his ilk?  I’d love to know.  At least one person must have come out of this untarnished:  the softly-spoken, always calm and rational Gerry Brough, kindly volunteer to the City Gardens Project.

Now that this report has come out, I hope city councillors will be warned by this pre-emptive strike not to ask any tough questions!  Hope that’s settled then.

And there we leave it for now.

Next week:  I will attempt again to escape from the granite web – unless Zoe finally writes back about those CGP radio ads, promising us the web for free.  Will keep you posted.

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Jul 202012
 

Local voluntary organisation Access To Training And Employment will hold their Annual General Meeting next Friday.  Co-chair Jonathan Russell tells Voice readers more about the event and the project which aims to create opportunities for people with disabilities.

The group’s AGM will take place at 2.30pm on 27th July, at the Hamilton School on Queens Road.  Guest speaker Dave Simmers, chief executive of Community Food Initiatives, North East, will present a talk on social enterprises.  There will also be talks on Crafty Things, Café Cairncry, and Neat Ideas, led by office bearers of these projects

Access to Training and Employment became a voluntary organisation in 1998 and its prime objective is to promote and support people with disabilities in the Aberdeen area in training and employment.

Access to Training and Employment is a user led organisation with the majority of people on its management committee having a learning and/or physical disability.

Acting on needs identified by the membership, Access to Training and Employment became the lead organisation in developing a number of exciting and innovative projects.

In 2009 we considerably downsized due to cutbacks and the ending of partnerships with Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeen College.

THE PRESENT AND FUTURE

Over the past year we have developed a particularly constructive partnership with private sector organisation AMEC, which will help us in having a more secure base on which to build.

We are presently running the following three projects:

  • CRAFTY THINGS

This is a joint venture between people with disabilities and volunteers, supported by qualified, experienced craft support workers, which is presently based at the Rubislaw Church centre.  Sewing skills are developed to a high standard and it gives participants a real work experience.

We produce high quality Tartan and Harris Tweed goods for sale in a variety of settings.  The signature product is our Scottie dog cushion which has proved very popular with the international community of Aberdeen.

We also produce a variety of Tartan and Tweed bags, all unique and very special products.  We are also moving into producing corsages and bow-ties.

  • CAFE CAIRNCRY

Café Cairncry operates on Mondays in Cairncry Community Centre, serving a healthy lunch for some 20 to 25 senior citizens and other local people who either attend activities at the centre, or just go along for a companionable meal.

Four young adults with learning disabilities prepare and serve the meals, under the supervision of two paid support staff. They learn about health and safety issues relating to catering and are involved in all aspects of running the Café, which provides practical experience and scope for skills development, confidence building and varied social interaction.

The Café is a popular project with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.  It is much valued by the local community and, at times, the customers range in age from 4 to 80.  The project also provides training designed to enable young people with disabilities to move on to work in less ‘sheltered’ environments.

  • NEAT IDEAS

This project has started over the past year and aims at making a variety of specialised cards, both by hand and by the use of computers, which we will endeavour to sell at premises used by AMEC.  Individual skills have been identified and progressed and we have an excellent team of volunteers and trainees.

The project is based at Reach Out and we usually meet fortnightly at the Info Hub at Aberdeen Market

The Access To Training And Employment AGM is being held at Hamilton School, 55-57 Queens Road, Aberdeen, between 2.30pm and 4.00pm, on Friday 27th July, 2012.

Further information

Access To Training And Employment (Sco28228) – Patron Dame Anne Begg MP

e-mail accesstotrainingandemployment2@hotmail.co.uk

Contact Jonathan Russell, Co-chair, on 01224 586435, or 07582 456233 and leave a telephone number, name and message.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Mar 092012
 

With thanks to Mark Beresford.

Canny fashionistas will be in their element on 15 March at Aberdeen Forward with a chance to trade unwanted and unworn garments for something fresh and new.
This free event is open to anyone with clothes to swap and fashion professionals will offer advice on nails, jewellery and makeup to help complete your new outfit.

The Swishing event will run from 6-8pm on Thursday 15 March at 2 Poynernook Road. All guests will receive a free glass of bubbly on arrival.

Aberdeen Forward is an environmental charity and social enterprise supporting local waste minimization and sustainability projects.

Its Volunteer Manager, Gillian Marr, said,

“This is a great fun way to refresh your wardrobe and get some top tips on how to accessorise your new look. We’re running the event as part of our Zero Waste Club and it’s a really great example of how we can encourage people to reduce waste whilst having fun and saving money.”

The event is supported by The Body Shop and Saffron Settings who will have a presence at the event. Zero Waste Scotland, which works with businesses, communities, individuals and local authorities to reduce waste and use resources sustainably, is funding the evening. www.zerowastescotland.org.uk

Anyone interested in coming along can call Aberdeen Forward on 01224 560360 or e-mail admin@abzforward.plus.com and should bring along at least one item of clothing no longer wanted but in good condition.

Swishing events are gaining popularity across the country and are best described as clothes-swapping parties for women. More information about swishing and other events around the country can be found at http://www.swishingparties.com/

Image credit:  © Jordan Tan | Dreamstime.com

Feb 282012
 

A person might think that a chamber of commerce exists to promote local businesses.  Here in Aberdeen this is true as well.  But as Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly learns – the taxpayer is funding at least some of the PR work  for the City Gardens  Project – and the Chamber of Commerce and ACSEF seem to be leading the City Council by the nose.

The proposed City Gardens Project/Granite Web is a contentious idea which would see a mix of public and private interests building huge, granite ramps over Union Terrace Gardens.
While this idea may not even get off the ground, it has been a gold mine for some fortunate businesses via the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce – at the taxpayer’s expense.

This article will primarily deal with money that the City Council was invoiced by the Chamber of Commerce for PR-related work.  Before doing so, a little recap of other financial facts will add perspective.

PriceWaterhouse Coopers have come up with some grandiose projections including the creation of some 6,500 permanent jobs and £122 million flowing into Aberdeen every year until c. 2023:  all because of the granite web.  PriceWaterhouse Coopers were first paid £41,000 and change for TIF-related work in March 2010.  Other invoices followed, and so far I have been shown by Scottish Enterprise £71,000 worth of PwC invoices.

These invoices are made out to Scottish Enterprise, and Scottish Enterprise is funded by the taxpayer.  Unfortunately, these projections have been seized upon  by the press and turned into ‘facts’  (The Press & Journal published these and other items in a box entitled ‘facts and figures’ on 19 January next to an article about the PwC projections and the garden’s many projected benefits).

The unelected and free-spending and secretive ‘Vote for the City Gardens Project Group’ have likewise promoted these figures in their literature as being reliable facts as well.  They are projections, and arguably very optimistic ones at that.  Whether or not these glowing projections (that we will have more permanent jobs from our web than London expects from its 2012 Olympics) are based on the fact that PwC is being paid by the side that wants to build the web is something the referendum voters may wish to ponder.

A Freedom of Information request I lodged with Scottish Enterprise some time ago revealed (details of which I have previously published) included:-

Item Description Date Amount
1 Technical Feasibility Study to undertake an engineering, cost and design appraisal of the development options for UTG, each incorporating an arts centre. Jun 2009 £162k
2 Architect, Design & Project management fees for a Contemporary Arts Centre project Feb 09/May 10 £226k
3 Consultation Report – City Square Project.. Mar 2010 £113,915
4 Union Terrace Gardens (TIF)-Tax Increment Financing Mar 10
Oct 10
Nov 10
£71,959.65
5 Scottish Enterprise holds 22 copies of invoices relating to ACSEF approved spend for activities relating to stakeholder engagement, events management, and communcations. [sic] 2009-10
2010-11
£51,766.60
£22,712.72

(source – Scottish Enterprise email exchange with Suzanne Kelly May 2011)

While this £648,000 was being spent, Aberdeen City Council was battling with potential job and service cuts in order to balance its books.  It seems that these costs have largely been paid by the taxpayer via Scottish Enterprise and other vehicles, and I can find nothing to show that the Wood Family Trust, which has offered £50,000,000 to further the project, has paid towards any of these costs.  The PR and promotional invoices referred to at Item 5 have been paid by the Aberdeen City taxpayer.

Before moving on to Item 5, which is the subject of this article, some of these other items are worth a further glance.

At Item 2 you will notice we are now talking about some kind of ‘Contemporary Arts Centre project’ – is Peacock already being edged out of the picture at this point?

Item 4 would seem to correspond to PriceWaterhouse Coopers invoices which I referred to.  How much more money has been spent on PWC since this May 2011 exchange is unknown.

From what I have been subsequently sent by Scottish Enterprise, the bulk of the invoices at Item 5 were from the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce to the City Council.  In the words of Scottish Enterprise:-

  • 9 invoices relate to financial year 2009/10 – these total £51,766.60
  • 16 invoices relate to financial year 2010/11 – these total £36,692.95. This total is higher than the original figure stated due to the invoices received after the date of that response
  • There has been no spend on the City Garden Project from the ACSEF budget during the current financial year  (SK notes – it is only February – there is time)

(source – Scottish Enterprise email to Suzanne Kelly February 2012)

Arguably a mere £88,459 is small change as Aberdeen City contemplates borrowing £92,000,000 (minimum) if the project goes ahead. However, this is money which the City paid from its own budgets – it is taxpayer money.  Should a financially-pressured city use pubic money for propaganda purposes – PR, events and photos designed to promote the City Garden Project?  Is the Wood Family Trust contributing any money towards these expenses yet?  I simply do not know.

A spreadsheet of the expenses comprising Item 5 can be found online at http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/  I would recommend looking at these 50 or so items.

If you look at the wording in the table above, ACSEF is apparently approving this expenditure.  ACSEF is a public-private quango, and at the time of writing, Stewart Milne is on its board.  He owns the Triple Kirks land adjacent to Union Terrace Gardens, and he wants to turn this landmark into an office complex which will likely enrich him if it goes ahead in my opinion.

Despite several emails, no one in a position of power has the slightest qualm with Mr Milne potentially having a conflict of interest.    Why precisely ACSEF is allowed to commission and recommend for payment invoices to the City Council is a matter I personally find worrying.

Virtually none of the invoices from the Chamber to the City specify who / what company actually performed the services in question.  What company got all the PR work?  Who took the photos?  I do note that Zoe Corsi of the BIG Partnership is on the Chamber’s Board of Directors – as are other key players such as Tom Smith, one of the two directors of the private entity, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.  This company seems to be in the thick of the decision-making processes; it is apparently the company which is holding onto the results of the design finalist public vote – which it refuses to release at present.

The taxpayer apparently paid for that exhibition and the public vote – and yet a private company seems to be withholding the results.  The argument has been put forth that it is no longer relevant.  Many people took the opportunity to write on the voting papers that they were against all the schemes and wanted the gardens retained and improved.

The public should have had this ‘no’ option at the final selection vote, but it seems councillors who asked for a ‘no’ option were outmoded by the Project Management Board (note – see the website listed previously for details of how all these companies and entities have interesting personnel overlaps).

It may be of interest to accountants that the party which actually performed the work not specified on these invoices, and with only a rare exception is VAT ever charged.  It would be interesting to know whether or not the Chamber of Commerce adds any fees or commission charges to the work it is invoicing the City for.

Highlights of the list of invoices include:-

  • £180 paid for a photograph showing ‘inaccessibility of Union Terrace Gardens’
  • over  £25,000 paid for ‘Stakeholder engagement’ events and so on since October 2009 to August 2010
  • £3500 paid to ‘Comedia’ for Charles Landry to attend event / speak
  • Redacted line items and handwritten notes adorn several of the invoices
  • One invoice – No. 42407 shows only one line relating to ‘coach hire’ – this is £246.  However, the total shown on this one page invoice is for £7444 – what has happened?
  • A January 2010 Advertising bill from Aberdeen Press & Journals for £ 2,820 ( See: http://fraserdenholm.blogspot)
  • £11,000 in February 2010 charged from the Chamber to the City for “Development of images, movie, powerpoint and exhibition material for City Square Project as per attached sheets”

As to the redacted text on the invoices, redacted text has started showing up in Project Monitoring  Board minutes and reports again, despite Councillor McCaig’s previous intervention to cease this practice.  One company which has had its name redacted from recent documentation is Brodies.

The value of three Brodies invoices which I received copies of is around £12,000.  One of these invoices from April 2011 is for:

“City Gardens Project – Development Constraints Report (Legal  [sic] To fee for professional services in connection with the preparation of a development constraints report relating to the title of Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen, and surrounding land.”

I suppose our City’s in-house legal department cannot be expected to know whether or not it has free title to Union Terrace Gardens.   Happily, experts have demonstrated the land is Common Good Land.  As such, whether any of these garden projects can or should be legitimately carried out will be a big question in the future.

Earlier we saw how ACSEF was allowed to recommend these expenditures; we have seen how the Chamber of Commerce invoices the City for ACSEF-approved costs.  If we were to put in some of the over-lapping names from ACSEF and the Chamber of Commerce into the equation, we would be able to see that:

ACSEF [including Stewart Milne, Jennifer Craw (of Wood Family Trust), Tom Smith (Director, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust), Colin Crosby (Director, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust), Callum McCaig (ACC) ]

approved invoices generated by the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce [Colin Crosby; Zoe Corsi (BIG Partnership) , former director Tom Smith]

for the City Council [Callum McCaig]

to approve to further the aims of the Garden Project (CGP entity members include John Michie, Colin Crosby, Jennifer Craw).

Given the above, I suggest that the time is right for an entire re-think of how this project has been allowed to develop, and a full investigation into the demise of the Peacock plan and an investigation into the genesis of the current state of affairs might not be a bad idea as well.

While this is going on, a local care home has announced it will no longer provide 24/7 on-site staff as there is not enough money.  Residents were told to drink less fluids at night time.

Feb 162012
 

With thanks to Lewis MacDonald MSP.

North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald has called on Scottish Enterprise to maintain an impartial position in relation to proposals for building over Union Terrace Gardens, as city residents prepare to vote on whether to support the scheme.
Lewis Macdonald has written to Regional Director of Scottish Enterprise, Maggie McGinlay, seeking her assurances that she and the agency will not attempt to influence voters in the upcoming referendum on the proposed City Gardens Project.

Lewis Macdonald said today:

“The Scottish Government has indicated that it will consider the use of Tax Incremental Financing should the referendum indicate public support for the building over of Union Terrace Gardens. However, there is concern that this finance model is unsuitable as the City Gardens Project would not generate sufficient additional non-domestic rates income for the loan to be paid back.

“Whether to proceed with the City Gardens Project or not has become a very contentious issue in the city, and in light of these very reasonable concerns about the funding mechanism, it is crucial that publically accountable bodies, such as Scottish Enterprise, are impartial. That is why I have written to Maggie McGinlay for her assurance that Scottish Enterprise will not take a public view on this proposal, and that she will not do so either.

“Given the importance attached to the result of the referendum by both the city council and Scottish Ministers, it is essential that public bodies accountable to those ministers do not seek to influence the outcome of that referendum.”

Jan 122012
 

Controversy has raged over the fate of Union Terrace Gardens for the last three years. A major subtext to this has been the role of culture in Aberdeen life, particularly in view of the way the proposed Peacock Visual Arts centre for contemporary arts was gazumped by Sir Ian Wood’s Civic Square proposal in 2008, writes Mike Shepherd.

The £13.5m building was to contain a gallery, TV studio, print studio, restaurant and offices for Peacock Staff and provide a base for Aberdeen City Council’s Arts Development and Arts Education teams as well as extra space for the City Moves dance agency.

It was to be called the Northern Lights Contemporary Arts Centre.

When the Civic Square was first mooted, the emphasis was on the Square itself. Sir Ian Wood had described it as:

 “a cross between the Grand Italian Piazza and a mini Central Park”.
http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/Article.aspx/935798?UserKey

An underground concourse was also proposed and at this stage, the main uses were identified in a Press & Journal report:

“The new square could have three underground levels, the first of them offering the potential for Peacock Visual Arts’ planned new centre, as well as restaurants, a heritage museum and visitor attractions linked to north-east attributes such as granite, paper, fishing, whisky and golf.”
http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1259519

However, Peacock Visual Arts were understandably reluctant to be included within the Civic Square plans. In any case, an underground concourse would not be a suitable venue for an arts centre. A building receiving natural light would have been much more appropriate.

Sir Ian, perhaps frustrated at the reluctance of Peacock to get involved, told the Herald Scotland

“There is quite rightly a strong feeling about the arts in Aberdeen,” he says. “It is not for everyone but some people do feel intensely about it. I understand the emotional concern.

“What I find hard is that, frankly, this is about jobs and economic prosperity, for the wider interests of people in Aberdeen who don’t care about the arts. Eighty per cent of the people who spend time in the square will have no interest in the arts. You have to develop things for the good of everyone.”
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/art-student-versus-millionaire-in-a-battle-for-a-city-s-heart-1.929558

Peacock’s arts centre was effectively killed off by the Aberdeen Council vote in May 2010 to progress instead Sir Ian Wood’s Civic Square proposal. This was later rebranded the City Garden Project.

Following the demise of Peacock, ACSEF started to develop an increasing interest in local culture. ACSEF are the non-elected body charged by both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Councils with promoting the economic development of the region. They have been involved in promoting the City Square, describing it as one of their flagship projects.

The ACSEF minutes for the 4th October 2011 noted comments by Professor Paul Harris, the recently appointed head of Robert Gordon University‘s Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen :

“Paul Harris advised that he is a member of the Scottish Enterprise Tayside Regional Advisory Board.   At a national level he had been closely involved in taking forward the V&A project which illustrates how a collective vision could be translated into strategy and raise a city’s profile in an international context.

“Creative industries have an important role not only in their own right but also in terms of being key drivers of an area’s wider economic success in part through creating vibrant and attractive communities in which to live, work and visit and in fostering innovation, a key driver of economic success.

“Professor Harris concluded that the vibrant and valuable creative industries sector in Aberdeen City and Shire requires greater cohesion and visibility and suggested that a creative industries strategy be devised to address this and realise the sector’s potential for future growth.  In addition projects such as the City Garden offer opportunities for the city to achieve an international cultural venue. He suggested that a collective approach amongst partners could be achieved at no cost while a strategic voice supports funding bids.”

Some in the city might feel alarmed about the business–dominated board of ACSEF defining a top-down strategy for the “creative industries” in the Aberdeen area.

The link to the City Garden Project is of note. Paul Harris is mentioned in the news section for the City Garden Website – “City Garden Project Can Make Aberdeen Cool, Contemporary and Cultural”.

“Professor Harris is leading a City Garden Project sub-group representing culture, the arts and the creative sector to consider the potential content for the scheme which has a new centre for culture and the arts at its heart.

He added: “The V&A in Dundee is a perfect example of culture being a catalyst for wider regeneration. There we had an idea and had to develop the infrastructure. In Aberdeen we have the potential infrastructure and a unique opportunity to fill it creatively.

The sub-group is proposing a new model to enhance the performance and reputation of the region’s arts and culture locally, nationally and internationally based around the new infrastructure the City Garden Project can deliver above and below ground.

The vision is to create an internationally known facility that is a focal point for exchanging and showcasing excellence in cultural activities between countries, regions and cities located around the North Sea.

The so-called “Northern Arc” would form partnerships with key cultural organisations to present displays and exhibitions, diverse performances and events covering, history, science & technology, visual arts, design, film, music, dance and literature.

“The Northern Arc” will include a number of flexible spaces, centred in the City Garden, with on-going programmes of events and activities with a variety of local, regional and international organisations”
http://thecitygardenproject.com/news_full.asp?id=95&curpage&search=clear&section=news

The use of the name “Northern Arc” is unfortunate given that the City Garden Project had killed off the Peacock Visual Arts plan to build the “Northern Light” contemporary arts centre. The sub-group mentioned is believed to include most of the city’s existing arts organisations, which are largely publicly funded.  If the underground concourse is built, could it be that existing facilities such as the Belmont Cinema and the Lemon Tree will be relocated to the building?

The Press and Journal reported last October that Aberdeen Council is interested in making a bid for Aberdeen to become the UK City of Culture in 2017.

Council bosses are applying for a £92 million loan from the Scottish Government to fund five regeneration schemes, including the controversial City Garden Project. Approval of the ambitious plans could trigger a campaign for the prestigious title, officials confirmed yesterday.
http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/2488524

The bid to become city of culture could prove a hard sell to the people of Aberdeen. It was actively discussed with much scepticism on the Aberdeen Facebook page. Here are some of the comments:

-          Aberdeen has plenty of culture. What it doesn’t have is a council that knows what culture looks like. Culture is one of the indicators of true prosperity but you can’t make money off it directly. The council’s thinking process seems to be: Step 1 – culture, Step 2 – ???, Step 3 – Money!

-          I will say that there are signs of some joined up thinking re culture. A sign though… It’s not for the council to lead and make it happen though. It should come from the ground up to the point where the council starts listening to those that are doing and asking what is needed rather shoving another box ticking lecturing strategy in our faces. Far more people working across the arts know what is needed than there are people sitting at desks re writing old words. The city would need to give a decent amount of funding to Arts organisation and to arts within education instead of cutting funding almost to the point of extinction.

-          So much negativity in this thread, Aberdeen should be ambitious & go for this city of culture in 2017, Aberdeen despite is geography has lots of people doing innovative things in the arts. It did Liverpool no harm & only positives came out of it…

A group called AB+ is organising a cultural conference in the Arts Centre on 26 January.  Two of the speakers are Professor Paul Harris and Valerie Watts, Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council.

Valerie will be describing her experiences in Northern Ireland with Londonderry’s bid to become European Capital of Culture and the impact this had on the arts there, whilst Paul will talk about bringing the V&A to Dundee.”
http://positiveaberdeen.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/conference-speakers-announced/

The conference is an opportunity to discuss cultural activities in Aberdeen and as such is to be welcomed. It is likely that some of the issues raised here will be touched upon by the speakers in the Arts Centre.

The City Garden Project will be launching its referendum campaign and will also soon be announcing the final chosen design. It is almost certain that the campaign for the City Garden Project will tie together local cultural activity, economics and Aberdeen City Council’s bid to become UK City of Culture for 2017.

It’s an explosive mix.

Oct 212011
 

Voice’s Suzanne Kelly was present to witness Wayne Hemingway give a talk to a full house at Robert Gordon’s Business School on the evening of 5th October. The audience was a wide mix of students, lecturers, design practitioners, businesspeople and others (Hemingway kept asking the audience questions to determine who was there, and he tailored his presentation accordingly).

Mr Hemingway gave an illuminating, bespoke talk.  My only criticisms were that the lighting engineer had no clue what type of lighting was appropriate for a slide/video presentation talk where people wanted to take notes (the lights went on and off, up and down for most of the second half), and that those who plan to forever change Union Terrace Gardens weren’t in evidence.
They might have learnt something.

If you think the Hemingway family (Wayne and Gerardine) are associated solely with fashion and the iconic ‘Red or Dead’ brand, you are missing some very important developments – housing developments to be precise.

Wayne saw a very clear need (which alas many planners and construction firms miss) to create places where people would actually want to live, socialise, landscape, play and be proud of. But more on that later.

Hemingway began the talk with his own life and design history.

In his early family years in Blackburn, his family was not wealthy; they valued creativity and imagination. He was on the music and clubbing scene from age 13 or so, and was enthralled by all he saw and heard in these early heady days of punk. He met his future wife and business partner Gerardine in a club, and was impressed with her clear passion and talent for clothes and customising vintage wear.

They got engaged, headed to London, and did typical day jobs (she as a secretary; he in a pub). One month things looked tight for paying the rent, so they decided on the entrepreneurial path and took a stall in Camden Market to sell their own second-hand, vintage clothing. This first outing proved so successful (and I assume enjoyable) that they put their efforts towards buying second hand clothing to sell. They delved into the world of  ‘the rag trade’ literally – buying goods otherwise destined for recycling from the ‘shoddy’ yards.

Few were touching vintage or second hand at the time, and the popularity of their stall grew and grew.

They soon learnt marketing tips such as the importance of where the stall was located in Camden. The now iconic Doc Marten boot was adored by the punk world, but elsewhere just seen as workers’ footwear. A clever deal with Doc Marten saw the duo buying old, damaged DMs in quantity (where the soles were worn through), repairing them (with a family member’s repair solution and friends to help), and selling them on for a considerable profit. The business grew and grew.

Gerardine created a small line of clothing – there were only eight pieces in the whole line – and headed to the very cool Kensington Market to join other designers and artists selling work.  Of all things Macy’s of New York found her there, and placed an order for 200 of each item. With some help from  several friends and relatives who could sew  they were able to fill the order. Out of this growth and interest, ‘Red or Dead’ came to life.

 Wayne had bought a large number of non-working sample watches; these were used to decorate shoes.

An older man in the trade asked Wayne ‘What does Red or Dead stand for?’ In the ensuing conversation this man explained how different brands were clearly aligned to aspirations and values: Weetabix, Nike, etc. – all major brands had a ‘raison d’etre’. Wayne and Gerardine made a list of things they stood for themselves – they were politically active, they came from areas without expensive, fashionable designer wear, they valued creativity and bought affordable items themselves.

It was clear they wanted Red or Dead to be affordable designer clothes. In deciding this they reached out to a sector of the public which had long been ignored. (They also realised that Macy’s did not fit with this direction).

The Red or Dead lines were to be sold through Top Shop (1983) and Miss Selfridge. Topshop at that point used to have no designers – only buyers and “copiers”.  These days it uses established and graduate designers, and the flagship London store also has a vintage section, perhaps a nod to ‘Red or Dead’.

At this time the pair had started paying attention to London Fashion Week, which was still at the time primarily an affair for the affluent. But the ‘powers that be’ at London Fashion Week had noted Red or Dead’s ascent with disdain.

The Hemingway’s dealings with Topshop and Miss Selfridge actually prevented them  from showing at London Fashion week for there years. The Hemingways had ‘demeaned’ fashion, and fashion ‘is about Harrods and Harvey Nicols.’  Or at least this was true to a Fashion Week mandarin.

This rebuff did not hurt Red or Dead sales in the least.

One year when the French were conducting nuclear tests and protestors were demonstrating against the tests around the world, London Fashion Week saw some drama courtesy of Red or Dead. “Non a Nuclear” banners provided the backdrop to the Read or Dead collection and French buyers were banned from the RoD show (which accounted for about a quarter of the buying audience normally – this exclusion was a considerable financial gamble).

Wayne explained he and Gerardine were willing to lose this custom in favour of making a political statement and appealing to and showing solidarity with the environmentalists – a growing movement in terms of visibility and economic power. What was going to be the public, media and market reaction to this show? The Hemingways went home.

Watching the national news some hours later, an item opened with a protest outside the French Embassy at Trafalgar Square.

Then the news item cut directly to the Red or Dead Fashion show.

All the media had picked up the story – and the phone started ringing. Wayne and Gerardine were being summoned that same night to talk to the press – the story of their show had veritably gone global.

Sales increased some 400% around the Red or Dead shops (which by now were in many countries). Corporate takeover advances soon came, and the Hemingways decided to sell. It was time for another adventure.

Wayne had interspersed this biographical talk with some sage business advice – the willingness to take risks, the way in which he delved deeply into the workings of the fashion industry from the lowly shoddy yards to the high end and London Fashion Week; all of which contributed learning experiences leading to success. (And by the way, apparently he is a very early riser, proving there must be some truth in the old ‘early to bed, early to rise…’ adage).

Wayne tells the audience:

“You learn absolutely every day; you need an ability to graft; there is never a day I get up after 5am.

“Creative minds don’t switch off… it’s how you get those ideas realised – graft and recognising which ideas can work… you need friends and good minds behind you.”

He also said without any false, unnecessary modesty how good he and Gerardine were at putting excellent teams together.

Turning from fashion to architecture and housing was the new direction. Boris Johnson had asked Wayne to be a ‘London Leader’, which involved working with the Mayor on a voluntary basis on projects and ideas to make London better.   At this point the talk turns from fashion history to the future of our cities.

“We’ve allowed our High Streets to become ‘clone’ High Streets.”  Hemingway says, and no one can argue with that.

He discusses his contribution to Boris Johnson’s project, which was ‘KiosKiosk’ – moveable, affordable (need I say it – well-designed) designer boutiques on wheels, seen at various London icons such as the Wheel.  These offer young designers a chance to meet the world head on – and since a stall at Camden Market is now extremely expensive, this offers others the kind of break the Hemingways had at the start.

Hemingway also applauds the model of ‘pop-up’ shops and restaurants, which have taken London by storm, and which have reached Aberdeen (for instance Emma Noble’s and Toni Roddie’s S.T.A.G Studio events at Korova – 19 November).

Hemingway references an article he wrote, “Why I Hate The Creeping Suburbs” in which he describes the Wimpeyfication and ‘Barratification’ of Britain.

The issues surrounding ‘urban sprawl’ are now recognised by the United Nations (as well as by most serious, thoughtful local planners); our ecology and biodiversity are not all that is at stake – our very health is jeopardised by the cities and suburbs over spilling into the countryside (increasing asthma and heart problems come with increased pollution; obesity from lack of exercise as we all commute to and from the cities to work, alcoholism increases, and so do social problems).

As a designer who has identified a problem does, Wayne decided to ‘look inside’ the issue, ‘see what he already knew’ about housing, and propose solutions.

He showed poignant photos at this point – a fairly new housing development which clearly looked more like a prison or factory; a beautiful Victorian pub turned into a block of (very unattractive, compact) flats, and a Liverpool street which once offered small, good first homes, now earmarked for high-rise flats.

He cautioned that mortgage companies (which could have provided mortgages for people to fix and modernise the existing homes on that Liverpool street) are dictating the state of our housing by what they will lend money for.  They seem to favour mortgages for new properties and turn down those who want to refurbish and improve properties.

The old Victorian homes may leak carbon, but they have been around for one hundred years, and thus have less of a carbon footprint than the alternative of tearing them down to make flats.

Wayne has designed housing estates which have very few, if any, equals in the UK.

There are leisure spaces for families (sand, trees, tables, different levels, etc. – some of the best design work he ever did, he tells us), and community gardens.  No one vandalises these (or the outdoor communal Ping-Pong table) because everyone’s families had a hand in creating and designing them in the first place.  The design for these estates started with people first and what they wanted and liked – the actual housing came second to the people.

Wayne ends with some great footage of his and Gerardine’s ‘Museum of Lost Content’ (a home for vintage design which might otherwise be forgotten) and the Vintage event – a massive ‘happening’ (for lack of a better word) held last year at London’s Southbank.

This festival combines decades of design and fashion, iconic music, bands, events and everything that celebrates Britain you can imagine in one place.   It was attended by thousands.  As words fail me, I suggest you visit http://www.vintagebyhemingway.co.uk/ and let the design do the talking.

Wayne also discussed photos he has of an Aberdeen estate; there are signs prohibiting virtually every kind of activity a child (or adult) might want to indulge in, including the dreaded ‘ball-playing.’

Question time arrives, and I am dying to ask for a comment on the future of our Union Terrace Gardens then and there.  However I decide that once the designs are unveiled, I will contact Hemingway.  I have no doubt he will have something useful to say after tonight’s talk.  It was a valuable and thought-provoking evening, and I was glad for this glimpse into ‘Wayne’s World.’