Oct 232013

The dust has settled on the City of Culture Bid, Round One; Aberdeen did not make the shortlist. Dundee however is through to Round Two. Following a review of bid material, recent events and a visit to Dundee, Suzanne Kelly compares the two cities and offers a few observations.


Netherkirkgate, Dundee. Photo by Julie Thompson

It was meant to be so simple to win the City of Culture bid and it was meant to be another feather in the cap of Valerie Watt, Aberdeen City Council’s Chief Executive.
She’d been at the helm when Derry won the right to be City of Culture 2013.
For the Aberdeen bid, the usual city council suspects were called in and a number of arts and culture names and experts were signed up to create our submission.

Rita Stephen, sometime secondee to ACSEF, past promoter of the City Garden Project, etc, was seen as the safe pair of hands for this task.

Perhaps this appointment is why the bid often hones in on business retention and economic issues, with ACSEF getting a mention or two. Aberdeen needed to produce a sharp, smart and creative bid.

The bid team had to demonstrate how the city nurtured talent, used existing assets and involved people. It had to demonstrate that it could come up with interesting new ideas.

High Street

Seeing as we’re not particularly good at any of these things compared to other cities, the bid was never going to survive round one.

So, how can a city down the road from us, without lots of oil money greasing its wheels, without its own ACSEF, and without a dominant uber-wealthy ruling class outperform Aberdeen?

How did we wind up with the bid submission we produced?

How does our city stack up in the culture stakes against our poor relations in the south?

Would the lusted-after Granite Web in our city centre green space have wowed the judges?

And what was wrong about Aberdeen’s proposed Gigs on Rigs?

Two bids

Dundee’s bid actively seeks input from its citizens and groups. It is well-written with sound ideas based around the arts, people, and the environment. It is clear that rather than drawing up pie-in-the-sky concepts, it drew on its resources and existing practice.

The Dundee update webpage confirms the bid proposals, some of which require a bit more effort, but the proposals are not complete fabrication.  They have the arts and culture base because they nourish their arts.

‘”Communities around the Tay Estuary

• a celebration of the environment – connecting the cities green spaces, a festival of the hills in and around Dundee, its yellow flag beach and an outdoor music programme;

• a celebration of our people – a homecoming for those with their roots in Dundee or those who studied in the City;

• a celebration of the light – shining a light on the future, appreciating the quality of light, a night light luminaire and bright minds.”

In terms of consultation, Dundee still want to hear from people with good ideas:- 

…send us ideas for inclusion in the programme.  We have limited space in the bid so we won’t be able to include everything, but we want to hear as many ideas as possible”

To consult with people, Aberdeen took over the premises of what had been an independent music retailer, One Up. One Up had been forced to close, and in its day it contributed to our culture in showcasing local and larger acts and carrying local records. Having its husk used for the City’s vehicle of what culture should be felt a bit odd.

City Square, Dundee (2). Photo by Julie ThompsonIndividuals were invited to write ideas on Post-It notes in the bid centre/One Up. I did, and there were many good ideas.

There were also notes in pure council speak; such buzzwords as vibrant, dynamic, connectivity and transformational were much in evidence.

If these words did have any power or real meaning, their overuse in every City Council report for decades in Aberdeen has reduced them to meaningless jargon.

Predictably, the culture that was put on offer excluded anything remotely controversial, avant guard, or alternative. This was going to be a corporate, conservative cultural exercise.

As to Aberdeen’s final bid submission, ‘transparency’ was lacking, even to some of those who were supposed to be writing it.

A man who asked staff for a copy of the submission at the bid centre was asked, “And who are you exactly?” He couldn’t get a copy at the City of Culture bid centre. Perhaps this was not the ideal way to win support.

Communicating with Rita Stephen and the FOI office afterwards for a copy should have resulted in the bid being emailed swiftly. In the event, it took several requests to get a copy. The first version received was redacted (ie some text was blacked out for secrecy). We’re used to this in Aberdeen.

Most worryingly, it seems only a very few people had a say in how the bid submission would be carried out or what was going into it, and it is not clear if those in charge consulted widely enough with experienced arts and culture experts before the bid was submitted. What local artists, musicians, venue owners were asked for opinions? Who wrote the submission and who read it afterwards?

Various one-off, specially commissioned events took place during the lauch run-up. Despite the Lord Provost’s speech at an open photography exhibition in the gallery in which he stated that this would be a year of culture with or without bid success, the signs are this promise is fizzling out quickly.

This photography show at One Up / the Bid office exhibited some good work, but there were far too many photos displayed too closely together.  Hundreds of 3” x 5” images, only inches apart, competed for attention. A roughly-constructed installation piece with sound inside didn’t exactly fire the imagination.

Two Environments

HMS UnicornDundee loves its waterfront featuring HMS Discovery.

It loves the lesser-known Unicorn, a beautiful, preserved frigate open for tourism and events.

The city holds events on and around the waterfront.

Its town centre nightlife seems to lack as much severe public drunkenness as dominates nights here, although it does exist, as it does in any other city.

It respects its green park. The river is for walking along, stopping at Discovery or Unicorn, or popping into a hotel bar.

A new leisure complex has been erected on a site which is being revamped. The V&A will soon be on the riverside, creating real arts jobs where the old leisure centre stood. This is regeneration.

Aberdeen chooses to ignore the leisure potential of Nigg Bay, for instance, and financially-motivated expansionists want to allow the industrial harbour to take over this important unspoilt recreational site.

What that would mean to the life – wild, aquatic and human – in Torry in health terms can’t be good. Nigg Bay has two SSSIs, not that this otherwise important environmental protection matters in Aberdeen or Aberdeenshire, as witnessed by Trump’s Menie development.

East Grampian Coastal Partnership sensibly and reasonably proposed to construct a small leisure and learning marina, but this idea seems to have been cut adrift.  North of the industrial harbour, which by some coincidence has two of Scotland’s most polluted roads – Market Street, and Wellington Road – adjacent, is the Fun Beach.

Admittedly some good events do take place nearby, but where there was opportunity for interesting seaside bars, restaurants and hotels, identikit shopping malls exist instead. Many on the seafront have no views out to sea, a waste of waterfront opportunity.

Two Cultures

High Street - City CentreDundee loves the arts. Public sculptures abound, and whilst tourists don’t visit specifically for the bronze Desperate Dan, Minnie the Minx or the wonderful dragon, these public artworks are appreciated, photographed and posed with.

The city centre was busy the weekend I visited. Many were tourists who’d come for the day. I was handed a flyer for a fashion/vintage show. A dignified, attractive, creative market was taking place.  Posters advertised bands and art events.

The best summary of what is already in place in Dundee comes from its bid literature:

  • The V&A@Dundee will generate over 300,000 visits per year and 200 jobs.
  • In 2012 there were 2,414,362 attendances recorded at cultural venues in the city.
  • In 2012 217,009 people attended festivals and events in Dundee.
  • Dundee is home to several independent creative collectives –Tin Roof Collective, Generator Project, WASPS, Vanilla Ink and Fleet Collective – with the aim of providing supportive space and resources for designers and artists.
  • Discovery, Scotland’s International Film Festival for young audiences was the joint recipient of an international award for youth cinema in 2012.
  • Dundee Rep is a leading Scottish cultural institution.  It comprises the only full-time repertory theatre company in the UK, Scotland’s contemporary dance company and a cutting-edge community learning team.
  • Scottish Dance Theatre tours internationally as cultural ambassadors from Scotland.
  • Leisure & Culture Dundee was Scotland’s first charitable incorporated organisation to bring together a portfolio of culture, heritage, library and sporting resources into one charitable organisation.
  • Creative Dundee has hosted global event night, Pecha Kucha Night events quarterly, since bringing them to the city in November 2011.  The speed-presenting format has a 200-strong audience attend each event and has had over 80 local, national and international presenters talk.
  • In 2013 Dundee City Libraries won the UK Bookseller of the Year award for public libraries.
  • The Mills Observatory is the only full-time municipal observatory in the UK.
  • Broughty Ferry Castle is managed in partnership with Historic Scotland, is an icon at the mouth of the Tay with a dramatic and bloody history.
  • Caird Hall is one of Scotland’s most popular city centre conference and cultural venues.
  • The award winning McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum collections of fine decorative art and whaling artefacts have been designated collections of national importance.
  • Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design has an international reputation for being at the forefront of contemporary research in art and design.

The Duncan of Jordanstone arts campus is a short walk both to the town centre, and the river, Gray’s School of Art  is a ten minute minimum bus ride away from our city centre.

Aberdeen has a great gallery with some outstanding work and exhibitions and we are fortunate that the annual National Gallery Portrait Awards tour stops here. The Arts Centre also plays host to a number of events and smaller groups and artists.

McManus GalleriesHowever, the city’s treatment of local arts groups in the recent past is nothing to be proud of.

News does travel through the arts community, and Aberdeen has some damage control to do.

The Granite City has at least one bona fide billionaire who makes a big show of wanting things to improve, via building in a common good land garden rather than brownfield, whilst insisting the geographic centre must be the sole focal point.

The world’s great cultural centres, including Rome, Paris and New York do not share this myopia (nor do Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee).

Sadly, when it came to saving the small, independent Limousine Bull Arts collective, none of our well-meaning patrons could find their chequebooks. This modest collective brought art exhibitions, training and studio space to Torry, a supposed priority area for improvement.

Past shows have included a dramatic historical exhibition on the effects on Aberdeen of the Second World War, a show of members’ work, and work created from some of their life drawing students. It brought people into Torry to talk about and enjoy art. The collective had to close its Torry premises due to lack of the sort of funds our city fathers might spend on a good weekend trip.

What can be said about Peacock Visual Arts and how it got so far with its vision for an arts centre, only to be subsumed in a monstrously out-of-scale City Square or Garden Project? The proposal for the Peacock centre wasn’t loved by all, but compared to subsequent ideas, the Peacock plan was the least disruptive, most affordable and most environmentally-sensitive of all.

Years earlier, the then Arts Council ring-fenced £1m or so for an arts project involving the Citadel. It was in no small part down to the then City Council’s lack of diligence that this never happened. The deadline came and went whilst the administration was inactive.

Perhaps the worst, most visible recent slap in the face for arts, culture and charity was the closure of the worthwhile, creative venture, the Foyer.

City Square Market, DundeeAll manner of good work took place here, from helping people conquer their problems to encouraging fledgling artists to hold exhibitions of their work in the restaurant.

Why couldn’t we save the Foyer?

Why couldn’t public and private money be found?

Why has nothing else come along to do the necessary work it did?

The administration, Valerie Watts and Rita Stephen, who seems to have had a large hand in preparing the bid, seem unaware that these lost opportunities, thwarted arts groups and other initiatives could have been the very foundation for an independent arts scene. The council runs arts courses and arts events.

Does it have some kind of issue with supporting non state-sponsored or patronised artist and art groups? You could be forgiven for thinking so.

For real progress, and for creativity and community culture and art to grow, the city administration might want to consider loosening its controlling, conservative hold, whilst providing reasonable, accountable financial support. In less-controlling, insular areas, you’ll find arts and cultural activity taking place without having to have a government logo stamped on every ticket and every programme.

Two Visions

Magdalen GreenDundee is encouraging people to use its many facilities, to create, to spend time in its existing contemporary arts centre.

It has a large open green space with a pavilion at the end of the Tay. No-one is seeking to destroy it and no one is complaining it is under-used.

It is a park. It is a green, healthy space. It is there for when it’s needed for relaxation or for events.

Dundee’s jute, jam and journalism tradition has evolved, and past, present and future are all valued here. The events proposed, the venues existing and the forthcoming V&A will enhance what is already there and encourage more visitors.

With its great reserves of personal wealth, helped here and there by offshore tax haven use and abuse, Aberdeen seems to have a considerable gap between the have-nots and the have-yachts.

Arts and music education for school children were cut by the previous administration. We have a mentality here, personified in some of our most successful – financially speaking – residents,  that the purpose of education is to learn how to do a job servicing the oil industry. Humanities and arts are not as much a priority here as in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and of course Dundee.

This attitude towards culture and the arts is reflected throughout most of Aberdeen.

The bill of goods we’re being hard-sold is that to fix our retail and city centre social problems, we have to build something in the only green common good land we have.  No-one seems willing to rejuvenate our considerable brownfield sites, where potential exists for positive social and cultural improvement, or encourage use of the closed Union Street shops.

Money rules here, but that is not always translated to the makers, artists, creators and arts educators in the private sector.  Those teachers, small bars, clubs, galleries, art collectives which do exist, deserve our sincere thanks and our funding.

Victoria Docks, Dundee. Photo by Julie ThompsonWhere Dundee has a host of well-thought through proposals, we had a no doubt well-meaning art student draw attention to our bid by painting himself a different colour every day and sitting in the window of a former indy record shop. Rita, or someone on her team, invented the proposed Gigs on Rigs.

With the hallmarks of an idea scrawled on the back of an envelope after a taxpayer-funded expensive four course dinner, this was never, ever going to work.

The idea was to fly bands to North Sea oil rigs, and beam the live shows back to Aberdeen, where we would pay to attend venues to watch bands play from the rigs. No-one seems to have looked into security, safety, or how bands would feel about this. I haven’t met a musician yet who’d prefer to jump in a helicopter to travel to an alcohol-free, freezing outdoor rig rather than play in a lively town and go out afterwards.

No-one seems to have thought through why people would want to pay to watch remote gigs, how much it would cost, who would prefer a survival suit and a helicopter ride to a limo filled with champagne, and so on. The unpredictable weather that often delays flights to rigs is well known in the industry – what would have happened if an act couldn’t get to a rig to perform? But ‘gigs on rigs’ sounded good at the time, no doubt.

Good Luck Dundee

I am rooting for Dundee; it would be fitting if its bid does well. Their ideas are sound, their encouragement and support for independent creatives is genuine and long-running. Their regeneration of brownfield is admirable.

If we are to have the ‘smart, successful Scotland’ that Scottish Enterprise and other quangos claim to want in their jargon-filled reports, perhaps it’s time to stop this inter-city tribal competitive capitalism, and instead to realise that all our cities need to be encouraged and helped, not made to compete between themselves.

Let’s all wish Dundee good luck, and let’s hope the local myopic, formulaic, conservative art mentality and Philistine environmental attitudes of our mandarins and city fathers may improve from watching what our close neighbour does.

Go Dundee!

Dundee’s update: http://www.wedundee.com/downloads/Dundee_CoC_Toolkit.pdf

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Apr 152011

It’s been yet another lively week in the ‘Deen; by the time this is published, Old Susannah will have been on SHMU radio discussing the fate of the Tullos Hill Roe Deer, election leaflets will be pouring through your letterbox, and petrol will reach £2 million a gallon.

At present there are still no answers to relevant, specific questions I sent to the Council’s tree men and Aileen Malone (aka ‘HoMalone’ – when left in charge of something, chaos breaks out and hilarity ensues.  Well, that’s one possible origin for this nickname).  But I’ll keep trying.
Those environmentally friendly folk at Lush are throwing themselves into the battle with gusto. A team is cycling up from Lush Edinburgh and should arrive around 12:30pm this coming Wednesday at the Lush shop in Aberdeen’s Union Street.

Their slogan against the cull is a good one:  “Too Deer a Price.” Their efforts and those of people and organisations from local to international level might make a difference yet.

However, those nice people at the Scottish Information Commission have some concerns over one of my Freedom of Information requests, which – believe it or not – the Council answered late, answered by refusing to answer and offered to do an inquiry which might well have never happened. Another few years and I might have a good story for you. Don’t hold your breath.

Finally, you may recall that Aberdeen’s former head, Sue Bruce, landed up in a job for the City of Edinburgh, much to our great sadness. The capital has since found at least five of its employees were involved in a massive fraud to do with awarding work and projects without proper tenders taking place and paying for work that was never done.

Makes you glad to be in the Granite City where fraud is unheard of, where there is never any City employee helping the police figure find out where £300,000 of taxpayer money went, where work always goes out to tender properly and is never just given to local builders automatically.  But, onwards to some defining words for this past week.

(Noun 1) – member of herbal family of plants characterised by slender shoots of green leaf, a grazing crop suitable for herbivores such as cows and sheep.  Just don’t mention the deer).
(Noun 2) – slang term for cannabis sativa, a substance which can allegedly temporarily impair the consciousness of the person who smokes or otherwise ingests the leaves and or buds of said plant.
(Verb) – to bring another’s wrongdoing to the attention of the public or authorities.  All of which bring us nicely to …John Stewart, Council Leader – a man apart.

Hundreds of people heard this pearl of wisdom from JS and raced to Union Terrace Gardens with rolling paper, matches and things called bongs, only to be disappointed

His critics allegedly call him names and go to his pub to hit him. But they can’t silence him. If the Church of Scotland deserves an ASBO for not behaving as he wants it to, he’ll say so by grassing them up to the local newspapers.

It is hugely surprising that his Press & Journal claim that the Church of Scotland deserved an ASBO (see last week’s column) didn’t get taken up internationally.

Also, in a really brave move, he’s called our attention to a little-known fact.  Brace yourselves: in John’s own words:

“there is not much in Union Terrace Gardens except grass.”

‘How did he work that out?’ I can hear you ask aloud as you read this over your cornflakes.

Stone me.  Hundreds of people heard this pearl of wisdom from JS and raced to Union Terrace Gardens with rolling paper, matches and things called bongs, only to be disappointed.  It seems that John was complaining that the parking lot to be was full of the kind of grass you walk on, or eat if you are a deer that the Council hasn’t yet shot, (sorry, culled).  Either that, or he took all the funny grass for himself and his friends on the Council – that would explain quite a lot.  How did our society let this happen?

“Let’s face it, Union Terrace Gardens, apart from a few trees and the floral crest, is just grass”

Our intrepid Council Leader told the Press & Journal:

“This (the design competition) is an excellent opportunity for Aberdeen to show how good it is at creating gardens. We will see what comes through from the design brief, but I am quite looking forward to seeing the designs.”

Well, so far Aberdeen City has shown how good it is at losing arts funding, keeping schools open, caring for the elderly, and ensuring that no fraudsters are operating within the council stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Aberdeen has also shown how good it is at propping up the AECC, selling land at millions of pounds less than market value, filling in potholes and closing libraries.  A mere £140 million pound project poses little challenge – even if we have no money.

Someone in the City Council attended the meetings – yet the head of the Council claimed to have no idea the project existed

There is no reaction yet from governments in New York, Paris and London – but in light of John’s comments they will be swiftly moving to check their city centre parks for grass and make any necessary corrections. Let’s all hope that after the design contest, which we are all eagerly awaiting as we struggle to pay bills, buy food and petrol etc. will ensure that there is none of this grass-type stuff left over.

I can only hope that John stays away from grass lest his otherwise astute judgement, financial acumen, people skills and fine mind suffer.

Tory councillor Alan Donnelly quite rightly asked:

“What planet do people think we are living on if they think we would support the destruction of Union Terrace Gardens?”

Well, it could be the same planet that saw Aberdeen City’s ACSEF spending some £300k (meant for Peacock Visual Arts) on a consultation showing, er, a big concrete square where the gardens now are. That’s some coincidence.

Deja Vu
(French expression) literally ‘already seen’.  A spooky feeling that you’ve been there before.  As Aberdeen Voice historian Alex Mitchell alluded to in one of his excellent articles on the City’s history, the £1.2 million pounds of funding that was lost to the City as ACSEF, the City and (£750 million pound a year taxpayer funded) Scottish Enterprise bravely battled to kill Peacock Visual Arts long-planned expansion was not the first time the City scored such a colossal own goal.

Cast your mind back some 5 or 6 years.

The Citadel had been earmarked for an arts centre.  It wasn’t going to be turned into a parking lot or shopping mall and there definitely weren’t going to be any deer or any grass:  everyone could have been happy.  The plan was written up and many meetings took place – the City, arts leaders, etc.  No one knows to this day precisely why we didn’t get a plan to the Arts Council on time (spooky!).

Kilroy Silk wanted to distance himself from the party because he thought they were ridiculous.  How bad is that?

Someone in the City Council attended the meetings – yet the head of the Council claimed to have no idea the project existed. If memory serves, the sum was probably £1 million and change. So if you get the feeling that your cash-strapped City had lost Arts Council funding previously – you are correct.

Was it a bit of history eerily repeating itself – or is it possible that the City has not been very well managed and organised for a few years?  Something to think about.  Ask your local Councillor or get out a Ouija board and try to contact the LibDems.  While you’re at it; ask them about the deer, Loirston Loch, services for the elderly and school closures should you make contact.

(collective noun) Comedy troupe such as Bremner Bird & Fortune, Monty Python, The Goonies, and the Lib Dems.

Faced with the Kafkaesque deer, Union Terrace Gardens, and Loirston Loch horror stories, we need to keep our spirits up and what organisation is better placed to give everyone a much-needed heartfelt laughing fit than the  United Kingdom Independence Party?

He might not be a part of the UKIP posse any more, but the very thought of colourful (literally) TV personality Kilroy-Silk alone should get you chuckling.  You might not know it, but the UKIP party has had more infighting than the SNP/Lib Dem coalition.

There apparently was a UKIP candidate in East Kilbride who had a whole laundry list of fascist policies; the UKIP mainstream disowned him. In fact Kilroy Silk wanted to distance himself from the party because he thought they were ridiculous.  How bad is that?  Their MEP member Nigel Farage has made some errors of judgment including appearing on Have I Got News For You (unaware that he was the biggest laugh of the night) and as well as car crash TV, this UKIP leader has serious slapstick form.

On the day of the General Election in May, Farage’s two-seater plane got entangled in a UKIP banner it was trailing and crashed shortly after take-off from an airfield in Northamptonshire – no one was hurt.  Vote for them if you like – can’t be worse than what we’ve got, and they obviously have a sense of humour.

Next week:  More of the same


Silver City Surfers – Opening Up A New World To Over 55s

 Aberdeen City, Articles, Charity, Community, Featured, Information  Comments Off on Silver City Surfers – Opening Up A New World To Over 55s
Feb 252011

By Suzanne Kelly.

Technology is evolving at an amazing pace; just think how many mobile phones you’ve had in the past 10 years; and how many different music players and ways to watch movies there are.

It’s daunting keeping up with these fast-paced technological developments, even for the children of the ‘Information Age’.

For the older person the idea of the World Wide Web, email, Skype, digital photographs and so on can seem out of their reach.

There are common misconceptions the computer newcomer may have – ‘it’s too complicated,’ ‘I know nothing about computers or computing,’ ‘I’m too old to learn,’ ‘why would it benefit me to be online,’ and so on.  The Internet can bring your shopping to your door, let you book tickets in advance, keep in touch with loved ones  – and once these benefits which you and I might take for granted are made clear to the first-time surfer, a whole world opens up.

Happily the Silver City Surfers are on hand to make it all accessible to those over 55 years old who want to get started.

Silver City Surfers is a registered charity that provides free one to one support for people over 55 years who have little or no experience of IT.  It currently operates from 10.00 to 13.00 hours every Wednesday and Friday in the Salvation Army Citadel.  They also run outreach services in Seaton and Torry, and more details can be found on their website, http://www.silvercitysurfers.co.uk/ .

I visited the Silver City Surfers at the Tullos Community Centre; Chris Dunhill, Coordinator, introduced me to some of the tutors and the surfers.  There were about a dozen people – some working alone, some chatting, some in training.  The training sessions are one-to-one, and after a few basics are mastered, the learner tells the tutor what they want to accomplish or learn:  the training is always delivered to the individual’s needs, and there are no forms or tests.

people are getting skills, knowledge, pleasure and socialising as a result of the Silver City Surfers

Betty was doing some creative graphics on her own; she has a mastery of Photoshop I would like to have myself.  I also spoke with Jim Thomson, who proudly detailed how he and his tutor had created impressive family tree using special software and online resources.

I spoke to Irene – a brand new Silver City Surfer – her story is quite a common one for the older computer ‘newbie’.  A relative had made her a gift of a computer, but she had no training and no real idea what to do – so she used it to play ‘Solitaire’ for nearly a year.  A friend told her about the SCS group, and she was extremely glad she came along. When I met her, she and her tutor were looking for broadband providers which would meet her budget and needs for her home computing.  She looked quite at home on her computer even though she was just getting started.

Other members were keeping in touch with relatives around the globe using email and Skype – one person explained how his daughter in California was his own personal ‘helpdesk’:  if he had a computer problem, he would contact her by Skype, and she would get remote access to his computer – either fixing the problem, or teaching him what to do.  Clearly these people are getting skills, knowledge, pleasure and socialising as a result of the Silver City Surfers.

Along with the advantages are potential pitfalls – security and safety online are crucial.  There are many sophisticated illegal schemes out there such as ‘phishing’ scams in which criminals pretend to be legitimate businesses (particularly banks), and email the unsuspecting victim, demanding passwords and personal information.

While the more experienced ‘surfer’ will be aware of such cons and know what to look for, the older person is apt to be more trusting.  By educating its clients, the Silver City Surfers give new users clear, concise help for staying safe on line.

Margaret Smith, Chairperson of the Silver City Surfers adds:

“…people are coming out to the Silver City Workshops and are enjoying themselves, then when they get back home they can use their new skills, and have a less isolated life.”

Margaret noted that more and more government/public services are contactable by email and use websites, so it is important that older people know how to do basic computer communications so they do not get left out

As I was leaving the Tullos Centre, a lady who was in her seventies remarked  she ‘…was only about 20 years old in her head.’  With an attitude like that and a computer, there is probably nothing she can’t achieve.  If you know someone who would benefit from learning about computers with other over 55s, the Silver City Surfers is the way forward.


Feb 042011

By Alex Mitchell.

In 2007 Aberdeen City Council decided to relocate the International Market to Union Terrace during its visit of 10-12th August.   Prior to this, the Market has generally been placed in the Castlegate on Fridays and in the mid-section of Union Street on Saturdays and Sundays.

The relocation to Union Terrace was prompted by Police concerns about serious traffic management problems arising from the blocking-off of Union Street.
We had consistently argued that the Market should occupy the Castlegate throughout its 3-day visits.   The Castlegate is Aberdeen’s historic market place; it had adjacent parking in the Timmer Market and East North Street car parks; it needed the visitors and their custom and it involved no disruption to traffic and bus-routes at all.   Beyond all this, the Market had, at least on Fridays, given us a reason and incentive to visit the historic Castlegate, which affords the most spectacular views of Aberdeen’s best buildings and the mile-length of Union Street – views which can be seen from the Castlegate and nowhere else.

However: in the Press & Journal of 31 July ’07, Mr Tom Moore, ACC’s City Centre Manager, was quoted as follows: “None of the events at the Castlegate has been an absolute success … we’ve tried everything to encourage people to come, but they just won’t … some of the stalls do quite well, but others are just dead”.

This correspondent would have to admit, from personal observation, that neither the International Market on Fridays nor the German Market held in the Castlegate during the weeks preceding Christmas ’06 ever seemed to be doing much business; there was little of the buzz and vibrancy of the Market when located on Union Street, on Saturdays and Sundays.   Part of the reason is that the Castlegate is perishing cold much of the year, because of the wind-chill factor blowing up Marischal Street from the Harbour.   Even the stallholders, who were used to standing about in the cold, could not take it.

All this has serious implications as regards plans to regenerate the Castlegate.

The International Market is a genuinely popular event.   If not even the Market can attract people into the Castlegate, then it is difficult to see what can or will.

To the extent that ‘regeneration’ is about planting the seeds of enterprise, investment and employment, the Castlegate seems almost like blighted or toxic land in which nothing thrives or succeeds, as it should.

The main problems are (a) that the Castlegate is a backwater, some way removed from the main centre of activity and not an obvious route way of choice to anywhere much; and (b) that for all its historic significance, people do not find the Castlegate an attractive or congenial place.   Visitors are repelled by, from recent observation, blatant and overt drug-dealing; by deathly-pale junkies collapsing in the street in front of one; and by Aberdeen’s ever-shifting population of out-of-control drunks, winos and aggressive and obstructive beggars.

In point of fact, the Castlegate has been a concentration of social ills for a long time back, certainly from the mid-19th Century.   The real centre of activity in Aberdeen was always at the junction of Broadgate and Castlegate and around the Mercat Cross (of 1686, but not the first), which was originally located in front of the Tolbooth.   The Mercat Cross was relocated to its present position in 1842 and for a time served as the city’s Post Office.   The gentry used to have their town houses in the Castlegate, mainly on the south (harbour) side, but the advent of Union Street from 1805 encouraged the better off to move westwards of Union Bridge.

A huge military Barracks was built on the Castle Hill in 1794 and was occupied by the Gordon Highlanders until the 1930s, after which it became a form of slum housing.   The Castlegate’s proximity to both the Barracks and the seaport made it a concentration of drunkenness and prostitution.
It was for this reason that the Salvation Army located their Citadel there in 1896.

The Citadel has done much good work in its time, but it has in certain obvious respects served to reinforce the Castlegate’s magnetic attraction for down-and-outs of various kinds.   The drugs rehab & treatment centre under construction in the Timmer Market car park may well have similar effects and will quite possibly kill the Castlegate stone dead.

A neighbourhood or locality, or indeed a town or city, has to be much more than just a cluster or agglomeration of buildings and streets.   There has to be a base of economic activity, of business, trade and employment, otherwise it becomes merely a ghost town or, at best a heritage museum like Venice or, prospectively New Orleans.   One might think also of the great medieval Flemish seaport of Bruges, through which all Scotland’s exports to Europe were channelled, until its river Zwin silted up around 1500, and the trade shifted over to Antwerp.   Bruges remained trapped in a 15th Century time warp for the next 500 years, nicknamed Bruges-la-Morte.

few of us ever go there now; it has become another of Aberdeen’s shunned places

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, President Bush promised to rebuild New Orleans, presumably in the belief that city equals buildings, but the economic base of New Orleans faded away long ago, not least because of corrupt and incompetent civic administration, poor public services and rampant criminality.

Once legitimate business activity withdraws, everything else goes too, including the economically active part of the population – most of us have to live where we can earn a living.   There are obvious lessons here as regards Aberdeen’s city centre.   Policy needs to be more consciously directed towards economic regeneration, to creating a more favourable and attractive environment for business enterprise and investment, job-creation, the local resident population, visitors and shoppers, before it is all too late.   Unfortunately our local power elite seems to have completely the wrong idea as to what this involves and requires.

On Tartan Day, your correspondent decided to go for a wander around Castlehill, mainly with a view to taking some photographs of the remnant of the wall that surrounded the Georgian military Barracks, which were demolished in the 1960s and replaced by the present tower blocks of council flats, Marischal Court and Virginia Court.

Castlehill is an immensely historic part of Aberdeen and affords spectacular views across the harbour and beach area, but few of us ever go there now; it has become another of Aberdeen’s shunned places.   Castlehill is dominated by the giant tower blocks to the extent that non-residents feel we have no business being there, and are effectively excluded.

A great many people must live in the tower blocks, but on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, and with Tartan-related activities going on nearby in the Castlegate, there was hardly another soul to be seen anywhere on Castlehill.   The effect is isolating and intimidating.   A vicious circle is engendered, whereby mainstream citizens stay away, the locality is increasingly monopolised by anti-social elements and becomes even more of a no-go area, and so on.

It has been a real achievement, in a negative kind of way, to transform so many hitherto vibrant parts of Aberdeen into dead zones, apparently devoid of population or legitimate business activity and employment.   Photographs of the Mounthooly area, taken as recently as the 1960s, show streets, granite-built tenements, shops, businesses and large numbers of people walking the streets and pavements.

thousands of Aberdonians must have worked there, but somehow it already seems to have been airbrushed from the collective memory

As with Castlehill, there are still lots of people living in the Mounthooly area, in huge tower blocks such as Seamount Court and Porthill Court, but there are hardly any local shops and businesses such as might provide local people with employment or a reason to go out and about.

In consequence, even on a bright, sunny weekday afternoon, there is hardly anyone to be seen anywhere.

The name ‘Porthill Court’ is the one official acknowledgement that the Port Hill, opposite Aberdeen College on the Gallowgate, was and remains the highest of the seven hills on or around which Aberdeen stands, so-named after the Gallowgate Port, which guarded the northern entrance to the Burgh.   The huge Porthill Factory (linen, textiles) stood on this site for about 200 years, from about 1750 until its demolition in 1960, and thousands of Aberdonians must have worked there, but somehow it already seems to have been airbrushed from the collective memory.

Similarly Ogston & Tennant’s soap and candle factory; the former front office remains at No. 111 Gallowgate.   These were local firms, employing local people, most of whom would have walked to work, going in past their local shops for their morning paper, fags and rowies on the way.

There is no point in romanticising what must have been fairly bleak and grim workplaces; but it must have been easier then for a young person to find their way into paid employment when the workplaces were just up the road, when you already knew people – friends, relations and neighbours – who worked there, equally when you and yours were weel-kent locally, than can be the case nowadays if you live halfway up a tower block in Castlehill or Mounthooly and the only jobs available are with firms nobody has ever heard of, located on industrial estates miles away in Altens or Westhill.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.