Oct 282011

Jonathan Hamilton Russell discusses what he feels are the problems facing society today and how we could potentially solve them.

The culture and economics of greed and reckless speculation linked to ever increasing debt has left the world economy on the brink of collapse.  It is the vulnerable elderly, those with various disabilities and the young that are the most affected.
We have seen across the world an increasing gap between rich and poor and large numbers of young people being unemployed or at best taking work not linked to their training.

Yet the solutions to our problems have included little in relation to redistribution of wealth.

The poor if given more money are much more likely to spend than the rich and this in itself would help in getting us out of recession. The rich have gained from the good times and as such they should also take the responsibility and pay their debt to society now we are in crisis. To this affect there needs to be increased taxes at the top and tightening up of legal and illegal tax loop holes.

John Kenneth Galbraith possibly the most famous and respected Economist of all time talking about the 1930’s recession mentioned two main factors that caused the 30’s crash –  increasing disparities of wealth, and lack of Economic intelligence.

More recently Steve Keen an Australian Economics Professor who predicted the present world financial collapse has identified the main reason for the collapse in the 30’s and now, as high levels of debt.

These debts are much worse now than in the 1930’s.

He thinks the financial bailouts will make the situation worse as we will have even more debt to pay off leading to a spiral of decline and to the potential collapse in the world economy.

Yet the solution so far has been to throw more money at bad debt rather than investing in public infrastructure and future employment as was done in the 30’s. As part of this we also need to be investing in green technologies and insulation of houses to help reduce the increasing costs of energy, which again affect mostly those at the bottom end of society. This in turn would create more employment.

More power to those protesting outside Wall Street but also spreading to other cities in the United States and across the world including Glasgow, Edinburgh and London.

Image credits:
 GAMBLING DEBT © Dana Bartekoske Heinemann | Dreamstime.com 
 CHEAP HOUSE © Franz Pfluegl | Dreamstime.com

Oct 212011

Former RGU Principal Dr David Kennedy, whose background is in the sciences has believed for a long time that we are destroying the world around us. In another extract from his conversation with Voice’s Suzanne Kelly he talks of his horror at what we are destroying in the name of progress.

Dr Kennedy and I discussed where the world may be heading, and I mentioned Albert Einstein, who said:

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Dr Kennedy Continues:

“Emily Spence of Massachusetts  http://smirkingchimp.com/author/emily_spence and I corresponded on a number of issues: global warming, environment, overpopulation. The sad thing is the only sustainable communities we know of are the primitive ones we have destroyed. People on some of the remote Philippine islands lived entirely sustainably. They met their needs until the outside world impinged on and destroyed their way of life.

“However, we want more and it doesn’t matter how much we get, we still want more. It comes from the pleasure centres of the brain. Gambling and winning gives you a kick and so you go on. How can a man like Bill Gates, whose wealth could feed his family for generations, still want more? This causes me to despair. There is a weakness in the human brain or perhaps it is how nature defends itself and we may be on the way to destroying ourselves.

“How quickly is it all going to come? People talk about planning and planning horizons. The Romans had the idea of looking at things after every 5 years. As a manager in education I had to plan ahead as to what we needed, what courses we would offer, how many students would there be, and what resources would be needed. I took the areas I knew most about, and looked at 10-yearly intervals. At the time I did this, the changes in education were colossal and totally unpredictable. In the 70s there were ten colleges of higher education in Scotland, and they were like sacred cows. Scotland was proud of having had the highest literacy rate in the world.

“On coming to the 80s, dramatic changes were occurring in education. For a start, demographics – the birth rate. In the 1980s the number of colleges of education began to shrink. Some closed; some merged. In the 90s, most had disappeared, Northern College of Education here in Aberdeen being the last survivor. Now there are none.

“The same was true in nursing. I came to the conclusion that you might be able to guess what would happen in five years, but accurately forecasting for ten years ahead was absolutely impossible. The rate of change in technology is so incredible only a fool would predict what things will look like ten years from now.”

Dr Kennedy has a track record of concern for the environment and ecology. Apart from protesting over Trump’s honorary degree award, what are some of the issues that concern him most, locally and further afield?

“I’m very interested in what happens internationally. Governments swither over the issue of global warming. Scientists tell them that it is real; big business tells them it is a myth, and governments sit and fiddle while the earth warms and climates change dramatically.”

“As you might have guessed, I am a strong environmentalist with a long and deep concern about what we are doing to the biosphere on which all life depends. Biologists have known for decades about the acidification of the oceans and consequential damage to coral reefs and the communities that live on them.

“Likewise, we are poisoning the land by excessive use of chemicals, the production of which depends heavily on fossil fuel energy. With a rapidly rising population, human life will soon find it difficult to feed itself. Hence one of my concerns is about the short-sighted use of good farmland for house building.

“Just as disastrous is the pollution of the atmosphere with harmful radiation from nuclear power stations, by depleted uranium and gases emitted when burning fossil fuels, while at the same time tropical rainforests that absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen are being destroyed. Lack of rainfall in the Amazon basin, because of climate change, could result in its eventual desertification and the release of trillions of tons of carbon dioxide presently bound up as wood cellulose.”

In future extracts from this interview, we will carry Dr Kennedy’s views on how personal standards and values have had far-reaching consequences. No interview with this former university principal would be complete without establishing his views on education. That too will feature in Voice soon.

Oct 132011

As conversations go, our own Suzanne Kelly found her recent discussions with former Robert Gordon University Principal Dr David Kennedy fascinating. As always, conversations lead to discussion of inter-connected events. Here, in a further interview extract, Dr Kennedy talks frankly about how personal and societal standards, values and morality have changed and how individual actions have affected and influenced matters, perhaps unintentionally, on a much larger scale.

We had been discussing land use and EU farming bureaucracy, and how, for many farmers, European subsidies had made them rich.
See: Aberdeen Voice article  ‘Dr David Kennedy On Land Use And Farming’ )

Dr Kennedy is in no doubt that elected politicians have much to answer for, on numerous issues in addition to agricultural policy.

“It‘s a bizarre state of affairs. These are supposed to be highly-intelligent people elected to represent us. The sad truth is, as one old friend used to say, ‘they are just filling their own pooches’. And that’s absolutely true. Some investigative journalist did the work on MPs’ expenses and when her work was made public, we saw the full extent of their greed. The MPs’ expenses scandal was an absolute disgrace, but that is nothing compared to what is happening in Brussels.

“Morality is fast disappearing for some reason or another. There is a lack of integrity and it now seems that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are making money. Trump boasted on his website of brutality, toughness and greed. Are these behaviours we all really value?

“Why do humans behave in this way? Well, it’s a long story involving conditioning the human brain. This began in a scientific way early in the last century, not by Joseph Goebbels as we are encouraged to believe, but by an American named Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, who could, fairly, be called the father of advertising, propaganda, and public relations. He knew how to play on the pleasure and pain centres of the brain. Goebbels was an avid pupil of Bernays.

“Brainwashing didn’t begin with the wicked Chinese, or the godless Communists, or even the evil Nazis. It began in America, where it has been perfected over the years, and we are all subjected to it. Trump is simply one example of The Big Lie. Anyone who analyses the mainstream media will readily see how words are used, not to inform, enlighten and clarify, but to mislead, confuse and confound. And it is all done to amass wealth”.

“There has been a massive cultural change. I’m 80 or so, and I look at changes such as wealth-creation, sustainability, satisfying our needs and the problem of waste. The thing is, in about the last 30 years the speed of technological change has been bewildering. Sixty years ago an Edinburgh academic, Professor CH Waddington, looking at the future, predicted that, given the rate of change in the accumulation of knowledge, it would eventually be impossible to keep up with all the changes. I think what he said has come to pass.”

Pressed for an example, Kennedy continued.

“Take micro-electronics. When I was a young man you learnt about thermionic valves and their use in radios. A few years earlier, radios were powered by accumulators that seemed to weigh a ton. Electrical engineers who were brought up on thermionic valves, then had to learn about transistors, and the technology of valves was forgotten. Transistor radios were very much smaller and easily carried around. Noise pollution increased. A new technology had to be learned, which lasted for about 10 years before being replaced by the silicon chip. Things are getting even smaller.”

There are serious issues with the UK’s higher education system – tuition fees, devalued degrees, an imbalance in the areas of tertiary learning where we can’t all be Media Studies graduates, poor employment prospects and very grim student loan burdens. What, I asked, are Dr Kennedy’s views on where these problems came from? Where does he think we are heading, and what can be done about it?

Again, the issues of personal morality and values were raised.

“I think it is fairly easy to see where the problems come from. They arise from economics. Mrs Thatcher radically changed the basis of economic life in Britain famously claiming, ‘There is no alternative’.

“This assertion has been accepted by all the major political parties and involved rolling back the state, decrying collective activities while promoting individualism, standing on one’s own two feet. Since then, we have seen the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. This is another example of Trump’s mantra, ’greed is good’.

“So, education is no longer thought of as being for the greater good of society. Health is no longer thought of as a basic necessity, best provided by an all-inclusive system. Caring for the elderly through a comprehensive system of pensions paid for whilst one is healthy and working is now too great a burden.

“Instead, leave it to the individual and let the market decide what should be provided, and for whom. This is completely against the 1940s wisdom of William Beveridge and the subsequent foundation of the welfare state. And, of course, the same attitude prevails when it comes to protecting the environment – nothing must be allowed to stop the onward march of progress”.

More from this fascinating conversation will appear in future issues of Voice.

Image Credits:
 Pound Man © Chrisharvey | Dreamstime.com
Calculator and Money © Timothy Nichols | Dreamstime.com 

Sep 302011

In last week’s Voice, we carried part one of A Change of Name, a chapter from Dr David Kennedy’s forthcoming book in which he outlined how significant pressure had been applied to merge The University of Aberdeen with its perceived less-worthy educational neighbour, RGIT. In the second part of the chapter, we hear of the passionate fight to preserve RGIT and have it elevated to university status in 1992.

So, here we were in 1991 with the prospect of merger very much as proposed by our old friend from Napier way back in 1989. All of the older central institutions were under threat, but the greatest injustice was to those that already had delegated powers from the CNAA to award their own degrees: the technical institutions in Dundee, Paisley and Aberdeen.
Had the Secretary of State inverted the position of the five technological institutions in Scotland, leaving Napier and Glasgow at the bottom, he would have been much nearer the mark in everything but size, and size was simply due to an accident of location.

I know the advertisers tell us that size matters, but quality is even more important.  Small can be beautiful.

This massive injustice needed to be fought and the battle for the survival of the Institute was on.  I prepared a document setting out the very powerful case for the Institute and then went to see a group of members of the Aberdeen District Council.  They were impressed by what they read and the answers given to their questions.  Once they were clear about what was at stake, they readily agreed to ask their Council to support our case.

An all-party group from the District Council gave enthusiastic support and decided, if necessary, to lobby Parliament in our favour.  Money was set aside for this to happen.  The Council also sent a formal request to the local enterprise company seeking its backing for the institute.  While the board members of the company fully supported the request, its chairman (Ian Wood – a local businessman) felt the issue was too political and should therefore not be supported.  Due to the diplomacy of its chief executive, a letter of support was suitably worded and sent off to The Scottish Office.

Copies of the campaign document were sent out far and wide, including the Prime Minister and most of his senior cabinet colleagues.  The response was overwhelming. 

Although some quangos were unwilling to commit themselves because of their fear of government reprisals, ordinary people had no such qualms and responded in their hundreds and perhaps even thousands, across all walks of life and across all generations.  From across Scotland the letters poured into The Scottish Office, many being copied to me.

For the first time, I realised just how much an educational institution can mean to a community.  John Gray, who had founded the Institute in 1885, had done them a great service and they greatly valued what he had done.

Many of the letters were very eloquent, some were very moving, but I think the one I treasured most came from a very special person, a honest man who was courageous and true, and sadly, something of a rarity among politicians: Alick Buchanan-Smith.  Alick wrote on 26 August to give us his full support, just a day or two before his premature death.

There were many other letters of support, including a senior government minister, Michael Howard, who knew personally of the work of the Institute.  The Prime Minister did not reply in person, but nor did he dismiss it out of hand.  My letter eventually found its way down to The Scottish Office for reply.  The Head of the Higher Education Division wrote: 

“You now have a reply from Mr Michael Forsyth … and there is little I can usefully add.  I would, however, re-emphasise that it is not right to suggest that a decision has been taken on this matter when the intention is in fact to take decisions only after consultations and careful consideration of the arguments”.

Once again, the point was being deliberately ignored.  Decisions had been taken.  Napier had been allowed to call itself a polytechnic and no reply was ever given to my queries about the criteria applied, when these criteria were determined and by whom, nor of the purpose of the exercise, remembering that it all took place in 1988.

If criteria existed for this, why were they not publicised and applied to the other Scottish institutions with degree-awarding powers?  According to Mr Forsyth’s letter, “explicit and well-defined criteria” exist which justify according degree-awarding powers and university status to Napier and Glasgow polytechnics, but not to any other grant-aided college in Scotland.

I noted that the Minister had not said these were the criteria that WERE USED in the case of Napier, only that criteria NOW exist that would justify the decision taken by The Scottish Office.  This was simply tricky-micky, political evasion.

A press conference launched the Institute’s campaign.  The launch was extremely well attended and the arrangements made by our Press Officer were excellent.  We got off to a brilliant start.  The problem then was, how to keep up the momentum and stop the campaign running out of steam.

At this point I told him very bluntly just what I thought of his threat to hurt students as a way of trying to coerce me.  

Our Press Officer, June Davis, better known a year or two earlier as the ‘Torry quine’, was superb.  She arranged interviews with a long sequence of North East notables who had responded to our request for support.  These interviews were written up and fed to the media, so that rarely a day went by without some comment of interest and support.

Then there were the visits to the Institute, not from supporters, but from The Scottish Office.  They came on the flimsiest of pretexts to see what was going on.  I received a phone call from another of The Scottish Office worthies.  He told me in a very brusque manner that if I kept on with my campaign I wouldn’t get an honour.

In language only slightly more moderate than that used to me by the oil company chiefs at the time of the Piper Alpha disaster, I told him how much I longed for an honour and how worried I was at the prospect of not receiving one.

Being a civil servant, he couldn’t understand my levity.  He then said that they could easily have me sacked.  I told him that I hoped to leave the job anyway and that my Governors were not too happy about my going at such an early age.  He then threatened to make the institution suffer financially.  At this point I told him very bluntly just what I thought of his threat to hurt students as a way of trying to coerce me.

The untimely death of Alick Buchanan-Smith meant a by-election in his North East constituency of Kincardine and Deeside.  This was a difficult time for the Government.

Disbanding the Gordon Highlanders; de-commissioning of the fishing fleet; and the creation in Aberdeen of the first of the hospital trusts that was widely perceived as some kind of attack on the health service caused some disaffection.  Of all these issues, the one that could be resolved with least cost was to settle the future of RGIT.

MPs kept up the pressure in the House, harrying the Minister about the criteria for degree-awarding powers.  At last, the Secretary of State and his Minister saw that they would have to concede.  The Scottish Office suggested I might invite the Minister to come to the Institute and meet with senior staff.  I readily agreed and arrangements were made for him to attend our annual management conference.

When the Minister came into the room to address the staff he ostentatiously ‘left the door open’.  Although he made no unequivocal statement about degree-awarding powers, it was abundantly clear that that was the burden of his message.  It was exactly one week before the by-election for the Kincardine and Deeside seat.

The battle had clearly been won.

Although the battle was now over, this was by no means the end of the matter.  New articles and instruments of governance had to be drafted and submitted for vetting.

The acid test would be whether our university remained true to its traditions and mission

Whereas most statutory instruments are drafted by civil servants, in this case it was for each institution to propose the powers it wished to exercise and to set these out in an appropriate fashion.  This was an extremely important task, since it laid down the pattern of governance that, once settled, could not easily be amended.

After twenty years of senior management in education there were aspects in the existing arrangements that I believed could be improved upon.  I did not favour the division of staff into academic and non-academic.  All had a part to play in creating a successful organisation.

One of the problems is how to exert enough control to safeguard public funds, without becoming excessively overbearing and in effect, usurp the authority of those appointed to exercise it?  Although important, systems alone are not enough.  So these were the things I had in mind while writing the draft articles and instruments.

Although approved by the Governing Body, it was not acceptable to The Scottish Office.  I was forced to follow the existing model, which had been designed by civil servants many years before.  Being accepted by them meant that it was also acceptable to the Privy Council, and so at last the job was complete.

On Friday, 12 June 1992, the Institute formally adopted the name of The Robert Gordon University. Aberdeen, once again, had two universities.

The acid test would be whether our university remained true to its traditions and mission, or whether, like so many before, it adopted the traditions and mission of the old universities.  If it adopted their values then, without doubt, our own had been vanquished and they had won.

Who can say what the future will bring?  In order to at least make clear what I believe RGIT stood for, what the former mechanics institutes had stood for, what the old crafts and trades had stood for, we had a parchment prepared that set out our mission.

The Robert Gordon University is pledged to produce versatile and resourceful practitioners who are relevantly qualified for their chosen professions and vocations within an educational environment that fosters innovation, enterprise and an enthusiasm for excellence”.

This was formally presented to the City of Aberdeen as an earnest of our intentions.  No doubt it is mouldering somewhere in a basement of one or other civic building, but perhaps many years into the future someone will come upon it and know just what we stood for on that memorable day.



Sep 222011

Dr David Kennedy served as  Principal of RGIT/RGU, having been appointed in November 1984  and took up the post on 1 May 1985.  He retired in September 1997. Aberdeen Voice is delighted to present, in two parts, Chapter One of his forthcoming book wherein he recalls the educational debate of the early 1990s and reveals behind the scenes moves to merge Aberdeen’s two higher education establishments.

1991 was an eventful year for higher education in Britain. Colleges operating under the aegis of the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) had conducted a lengthy campaign for parity of esteem with universities, which had now met with success.

A Government White Paper published on 20 May 1991 set out the proposals for all polytechnics to have the right to award their own degrees and to decide on the name by which they chose to be known.

Significantly, it also set out the closure of the CNAA, thus forcing those colleges without degree-awarding powers to seek an association with a neighbouring university.  But it did hold out the possibility for some colleges to qualify for degree-awarding powers at some future time.

Here in Scotland, the immediate expectation was that the five major Scottish central institutions, which were fully equivalent in all but name with the English polytechnics, would also become universities.

In launching the White Paper, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Ian Lang, confirmed that polytechnics would become universities.  He went on to say that other colleges would have to wait until criteria were devised by which they might be judged on their suitability for the university title.  He stressed that the title of university had a very special distinction in the United Kingdom and government had to be sure before letting just any old institution call itself a university.

I took the precaution of phoning The Scottish Office to check the accuracy of what had been reported.  This was confirmed, but with regret over Mr Lang’s addition about the distinction of the title ‘university’ to the speech they had prepared for him.

In 1986, two local authority colleges, one in Edinburgh and the other in Glasgow, were brought under the direct funding of the SED.  They became central institutions. 

The one in Edinburgh had a close link with the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Malcolm Rifkind.    His wife had worked at the college where she enjoyed a happy relationship with her colleagues.  The college principal became an educational adviser to the Conservative Party in Scotland, SCUA, and within a couple of years Napier College triumphantly announced itself as Napier Polytechnic Edinburgh.

 The latter must have known what was going on, but kept it from the rest of us.   

This was despite the fact that the Scottish Office had hitherto adamantly refused to allow Scottish institutions to use the title polytechnic and had turned down a number of earlier proposals to do so.

Seemingly, having bedazzled the Scottish Office with Napier stardust, its principal went on with great confidence to say that their next name change would be to that of university.

This was in 1988.

The longer established and more mature institutions were surprised that the expected blast from the Scottish Office never materialised.  We were to learn later to our cost why this was.

Two years after Napier, and shortly before the publication of the White Paper, Glasgow College of Technology changed its name to Glasgow Polytechnic and advertised the fact as “having earned a few more letters” after its name!  Its Principal told me that they had used the word ‘earned’, because they had undergone a thorough vetting by The Scottish Office.  The latter must have known what was going on, but kept it from the rest of us.  We were never told about any change in policy, nor that the title of polytechnic was of such profound significance in Scottish higher education.

Many non-polytechnic colleges in England had grown in size and maturity and were clamouring for polytechnic status.  Government asked the funding council responsible for polytechnics and colleges to recommend the criteria for polytechnic designation.  It did this towards the end of 1989: long after Napier had changed its name!  The criteria were accepted and a handful of new polytechnics were created.  RGIT would have satisfied the required conditions.

Meantime, the Principal of Napier Polytechnic did a little kite flying for the Scottish Office. 

He circulated a paper suggesting there were too many institutions of higher education in Scotland and proposing possible mergers.  ‘Mergermania’ was in the air.

No one at RGIT had been consulted about this and the announcement caused quite a stir. 

During the seventies, universities, unlike colleges in the non-university sector, had been funded to pay for staffing and space in advance of any expansion.  This was before the experts had got to work on their predictions of demographic decline, but well after the decline in the birth rate had started.

By the eighties, universities found themselves with an embarrassment of riches: too much space, too many staff, and too many under-utilised resources.  Swinnington-Dyer of the University Grants Committee spent much of his time trying to rectify the funding follies of earlier times.  The University of Aberdeen was one of those particularly badly hit, as was the university in Cardiff, which perhaps suffered most of all as a result. Edinburgh University had to sell off some of its art treasures to pay its debts.

First mention of a merger between the two institutions in Aberdeen occurred early in 1981, when the principal of the university issued a press statement to the effect that his university would be taking over RGIT.  No one at RGIT had been consulted about this and the announcement caused quite a stir.  Unsurprisingly, there was considerable resistance to the suggestion.

Shortly after my appointment to RGIT, the principal of the university invited me over for lunch in order to explain the rationale of his plans for merger between our two institutions.

The institute would be asset-stripped of degree courses, students, and estate, leaving a rump of sub-degree work to be done by whichever staff were left.  The sale of the estate would pay for staff redundancies and the university would be immeasurably strengthened and enlarged.

This view received strong support from some local people.  I was told my position would be protected: a professorial title and an attractive salary, because universities were free to pay professors on a very wide scale.

For my part, I explained that I had already refused the title of professor – being of a Quakerish disposition, titles have never been high in my order of priorities – and nor was money an over-riding concern since, being somewhat abstemious, I had more than enough to meet my needs.  However, I understood the point that was being made very well.  In their position, I might have agreed with it.  But I had a different set of responsibilities, not least to students and staff of the institution for which I carried responsibility. 

A senior official in The Scottish Office told me that three influential businessmen had persuaded the Secretary of State of the benefits of a merger.  If RGIT were denied the right to award its own degrees it would be forced to seek the help of another degree-awarding body, which, of course, would have to be done on terms dictated by that body.  Their hope was that the Institute would merge with its local university.

A local parliamentary candidate (Nicol Stephen) issued a press statement of ‘the plot by the Scottish Office to get rid of Aberdeen’s world famous Robert Gordon Institute of Technology’.

Voice will carry part 2 of A Change of Name next week recalling the fight to save the much-loved and respected RGIT from being absorbed by a predatory neighbour; of the triumph in attaining university status on the abolition of the CNAA; and the bestowal of full degree-awarding power on the new university.

Sep 082011

With Thanks to Dave Macdermid.

In conjunction with this year’s Enchanted Castle event at Crathes Castle, which will run from Wednesday 23rd to Sunday 27th November, there are a number of fantastic prizes up for grabs in a new digital photography competition which is launched today. The competition is open to two age groups, namely 15 and under, and 16 and over.
You can enter both competitions online, via a link on Carlton Resource Solutions Ltd’s website at www.carltonrs.com/castle  and all entries for both categories will be visible so entrants can weigh up their competition!

The theme of the competition is ‘The North East’s Natural Beauty’ and, as Gerry Muldoon from EC organisers GM Events outlines, this can encompass a wide range of subject matter.

“Entries can be anything from landscape shots to wildlife or even the sky at night, the only prerequisite being that the image can be sent digitally.

“The winners will be  selected by Logan Sangster of Deeside Photographics in early November. 

The photographs will be on display throughout the five days of the Enchanted Castle at the Milton Gallery in Crathes and at Crathes Restaurant.  Huge thanks are due to recruitment specialist, Carlton Resource Solutions Ltd, the lead sponsor of the Enchanted Castle, for co-ordinating the photo competition and also to the organisations that have donated fantastic prizes for the winners.” 

Prizes for the senior competition include a family meal at The Milton Restaurant, an overnight stay at the Raemoir House Hotel and a £250 voucher for Deeside Photographics for a full family portrait.

The  organisers hope to see local schools getting involved and for everyone to delight in the region’s top photography talent and share their entries with their friends and family. Among the prizes for the junior competition is a new digital camera, courtesy of GM Events and family membership to the National Trust for Scotland.

The Enchanted Castle event itself will see the grounds of Crathes Castle transformed thanks to cutting edge light and sound technology and stunning choreographed effects, moods and backdrops that will be a ‘must’ for family members of all ages. 

An evening walk will take place in a truly magical ambience, and a host of complementary, themed attractions including storytelling sessions, fire breathers and jugglers, magicians and children’s enchanted craft activities, will all add much to the magical experience.

Tickets for the November event are now on sale at:
Aberdeen Box Office,
Music Hall,
Union Street,
Tel 01224 641122
– and at:

Inclusive tickets for all the attractions cost £10 for adults, £8 concessions, £5 for Under 16’s and free for Under 5’s. Ample free car parking is available at Crathes Castle.
Full details can be found on  www.theenchantedcastle.info

In addition to Carlton Resource Solutions as headline sponsor, Scottish Enterprise, Aberdeenshire Council, Rural Aberdeenshire LEADER Programme, EventScotland, Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms DMO have all assisted in ensuring the Enchanted Castle will be one of the winter’s major events in the area.

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.


Jan 072011

By Bob Smith.

I switched on my computer
Ae cauld December day
Fit I found on ma screen
Fair filled me wi dismay

“Yer affa low on disk space”
The bubble it me did tell
I sat an scratched ma heid
An some obscenities did yell

I tried ma best ti recover space
By deletin’ some o ma files
It didna mak muckle odds
I wis losin space in style

Gweed fowk gied me suggestions
An them I aa then used
By the time I wis feenished
I wis gettin’ mair confused

Doon an doon the GB’s wint
Till I wis near despair
I punched in iss, I punched in aat
An tuggit oot tufts o hair

The laptop it his nearly been
Fair chukkit in the bin
Bit fegs I’m an Aiberdonian
Throwin’ siller awa is a sin

So ma freens I’m noo affline
Cos I canna doonload at speed
The computer’s in for an MOT
So disk space can be freed

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2010

Oct 222010

By Alex Mitchell.

Q: How do we get to be smart?

A: By hanging out with smart people!

The Centre For Cities recently reported that Aberdeen is the third-top city in Britain in terms of the proportion of its labour force – 40%  – in possession of degree-level qualifications.   Only Cambridge and Edinburgh, both at 44%, come higher.

The physical proximity of significant numbers of talented, highly-educated people has a powerful effect on innovation and economic growth.   It has in fact been argued that this clustering of talent is the main determinant or ‘driver’ of economic growth, especially in a post-industrial economy dependent on creativity, intellectual property and high-tech innovation.

Those places that succeed in bringing together a diversity of talents accelerate the local rate of economic evolution and progress.   When large numbers of entrepreneurs, financiers, engineers, designers and other smart, creative people are constantly bumping into each other, inside and outside their places of work, business-related and other ideas and concepts are more quickly formed, sharpened up, executed and, if successful, expanded.   The more smart people there are around and the denser the connections between them, the faster it all progresses.

As individuals, we become smart mainly by associating, consorting and interacting with other smart people, ideally from a very early age.   This is why progress has historically been associated with cities, not villages, with university towns in particular, and with seaports – communities open to and interacting with the wider world, not little places buried in the back of beyond.   Nowadays, road connections and access to hub airports may be as or more important.   And the Internet certainly has the potential to make us smarter, by linking us up to and facilitating our interaction with other smart people.

The advent of globalisation, of a single world market for goods and services, has created new opportunities for certain key cities such as can perform the role of a local ‘ideopolis’ or ‘knowledge capital’.   The concept of the ideopolis goes back to the city-states of Renaissance  Europe and not least to the Royal Burghs of Scotland, themselves semi-autonomous city-states, of which Aberdeen itself was an outstanding example, having closer trade and other links with the North European and Baltic seaports of the Hanseatic League, Danzig in particular, than did either Edinburgh or Glasgow .

A place full of chain stores, chain restaurants, chain pubs and nightclubs has little appeal; people can experience the self-same thing almost anywhere.

The modern ‘urban ideopolis’ is characterised by clusters of high-tech manufacturing, knowledge services or soft technology, operating in close association with local universities.   The ideopolis is a regional centre for economic, technological and knowledge-based expertise and development.   Such cities become catalysts for improved productivity in their surrounding hinterland and in the country as a whole.

Key characteristics of the urban ideopolis are:

– A critical mass of higher education resources, particularly of universities and specialist institutions of research and training, e.g., research hospitals, with strong links to business and commercial partners, supported by a high-quality infrastructure of schools and colleges.   Universities attract talented individuals who will often stay around after they graduate; are themselves a major source of income and employment, and help create a progressive, open and tolerant environment and local culture.

– A major international hub airport and a good supporting transport infrastructure – road, rail and light rail, e.g., urban tramways.

– A flourishing tertiary or service sector.   Strong economic clusters in new and emerging activities such as high-tech manufacturing and knowledge services such as health and biosciences, financial services, cultural and sports-based sectors, the media and retailing.

– A good track record of technological innovation and transfer into new areas of activity.

– An entrepreneurial culture; a local tradition of successful entrepreneurship, a vibrant small-firms sector, successful local entrepreneurs and business personalities, a high birth-rate of new businesses and an informed and sympathetic local banking and financial sector.

It would be a better use of resources to invest in those lifestyle amenities which people really want and actually use

– A large and diverse workforce, possessed of a diversity of skills.   A large proportion of educated professionals and high-skill front-line service staff.   But such people are sought-after, and are highly mobile from one place to another.   If they don’t like it where they are, they will move somewhere else.

– An impressive architectural heritage, comprising historic buildings and well-established neighbourhoods coupled with iconic new physical development; a willingness to invest in high-quality urban design and architecture and in vibrant and attractive public spaces.   Conversely, an avoidance of the more characterless forms of modern urban development, e.g., the monotonous sameness of down-town shopping malls, deserted pedestrian precincts and identikit edge-of-town retail complexes.   A place full of chain stores, chain restaurants, chain pubs and nightclubs has little appeal; people can experience the self-same thing almost anywhere.

– That elusive concept, quality of life.   Big-city buzz.   A distinctive but internationalised city culture.   Cultural and recreational amenities, often small-scale, grass-roots and at street-level, that talented people really want and will use often, rather than the grandiose and invariably loss-making civic facilities so often provided at huge cost to taxpayers, such as exhibition centres, concert halls and football stadiums.

– Thriving artistic, intellectual, creative and bohemian communities of international repute, open and accessible to the wider population and enjoying a high level of local participation – not just there for the tourists.   A diverse population, a diversity of lifestyles, an ethos of tolerance and inclusiveness, reflected in a correspondingly diverse pattern of economic activity, e.g., shops and restaurants.

– Bold city leadership possessed of a high degree of policy autonomy and a reputation for successful regeneration initiatives, as in New York and London.

In the USA, cities like Seattle, Boston, Austin, Atlanta, Denver and Minneapolis are identified as having ideopolis characteristics.   European cities like Helsinki and Barcelona can also be so described.   Such cities are energised by knowledge, by world-class universities and by industries and business sectors which take their lead from them.

These are ‘connected’ cities, with good inter-city and intra-city communications, which people can travel to, from and within with relative ease.   Such cities are keyed into and energised by the forces of globalisation, picking up knowledge-related opportunities and access to specialist venture capital via their hub airports and excellent telecommunications infrastructures.

The rules of economic development have changed.   The local quality of human capital is crucial.   It used to be assumed that people migrated to where the industries and jobs were.   It is now apparent that the new industries and jobs tend to emerge in those places where there are concentrations of people with the relevant talents, aptitudes and expertise.   The most important ingredients for future economic development are the ideas and creativity of clusters or communities of talented individuals, who are thereby enabled to strike sparks off each other, to energise and inspire each other – the benefits of propinquity and contiguity, as David Hume might put it.

It follows that the cities, regions and nations which will thrive in the 21st century are those most able to attract, motivate and retain such talented, creative and enterprising individuals.   Such places benefit from a virtuous circle, or upward spiral, whereby their existing concentrations of talented individuals render them attractive to many more such talented individuals.   Conversely, those places which fail to attract, motivate and retain such people will go into an inexorable decline.

Many cities continue to pour taxpayers’ money into subsidising call centres, big-box retailers, down-town shopping malls and sports stadiums.   It would be a better use of resources to invest in those lifestyle amenities which people really want and actually use, such as urban parks, bike lanes and off-road trails for walking, cycling and running.   Similarly, our cities are inevitably  undermined by building on out-of-town green-field sites, which leads to an outflow of population.   We should be developing in-town brown-field sites.

Policy for attracting talented and enterprising people, and retaining those already here, needs to focus on who we need to attract, how they can be attracted and what it will take to keep them here.

Research suggests that the most attractive and successful places tend to be characterised by diversity of population and lifestyles, tolerance and inclusivity.   This is not obviously good news for much of Scotland which, relative to the UK as a whole, is characterised by a striking absence of private-sector activity, low rates of economic growth, low business start-up rates, a high level of business failures and, critically, a declining and ageing population.   Scotland tends to lose more people through emigration than it gains from immigration, and, as always, those who leave tend to be the best qualified, the most talented, the most enterprising and the most dynamic.

Joblessness and urban deprivation remain major problems in Scotland’s towns and cities.   Poor health, education, housing and transport go hand-in-hand with unemployment, crime and dereliction and the associated sub-culture of educational under-achievement, alcohol & drug-dependency and a kind of learned or inherited helplessness.   Large swathes of Aberdeen can certainly be so described.

But it can be argued that Aberdeen has the potential to become the Seattle of the UK.   We have the two established universities, other educational and research institutions including the major hospital complex of Foresterhill, the nascent University of the Highlands & Islands, a growing regional population, modern high-speed telecommunications, cheaper and more regular air transport than formerly and a uniquely appealing landscape and natural environment.   These are significant points favouring Aberdeen’s prospects as an urban ideopolis.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.