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LEFT BEHIND a response to... Financial Times November 2017 In November 2017 the Financial Times published the article ‘Left Behind: can anyone save the towns the economy forgot?’. One in a seemingly endless stream of articles about the hopelessness of Blackpool, the poster boy for run down British seaside towns, of a place once loved for it’s carnivalesque atmosphere and escape from mundane industrial life, lost to the shadows as it was overlooked for cheaper holidays to sunny climates.


The residents of Blackpool are used to being the subject of articles, studies, initiatives and examples of what happens when people have lost hope. Blackpool occupies a strange juxtaposition, the butt of jokes and frequently used as an example of a broken town on one hand, contrasted with a swell of emotional, sentimental attachment from the nation on the other. Go to any party or conference in the UK, or around the world for that matter, and say you are from Blackpool and people will regale you with how they visited as a child, their grandparents danced in the Tower Ballroom or how they once saw some cult band play at the Winter Gardens. On further reflection ‘Left Behind’ however, felt slightly different. It wasn’t a factually incorrect article and it placed Blackpool in a national context, an example of towns on the edge which could easily have been replaced by Southend or Bridlington. As it says in the article,

“Blackpool exports healthy skilled people and imports the unskilled, the unemployed and the unwell. As people overlooked by the modern economy wash up in a place that has also been left behind, the result is a quietly unfolding health crisis.” It laid out the argument that we are the sticking plaster of the UK where people come for refuge from everyday life, creating a transient community which is not inherently more broken than anywhere else. People wash up in Blackpool for many reasons, we adopt those that have been beaten and bruised by life circumstances that could happen to anyone. Locally the article caused heated debate, particularly in the creative community. On one hand people felt it told the same story of Blackpool as the place of problems, ignoring the spirit and character of the place which can’t be seen in statistics. On the other hand people felt that the article looked at Blackpool in its national context and that in itself was a positive thing, something that rarely happens. Either way people wanted to respond, they wanted to challenge, provoke, explore and generally have their voice heard.

And so we formed the Left Behind gatherings. A place for people to come together and talk about what we could really do to tell our own story, and what should that story be? Creatives, artists, architects, local business owners and academics all came together to respond to the article. This wasn’t a forum to say the article was wrong, we know the local statistics inside out, but it was a discussion about how we could change the story and whose job it was to change the story. How could we work creatively to show what was already happening, provoke discussion or encourage radical thinking? At LeftCoast we wanted to test if there was an appetite for a creative response, and the answer was a resounding yes. People wanted to hand it over to those who were expert at looking at a situation in a different way and invite unusual thinking. A core team of 10, a self-appointed local panel from the gatherings, compiled an artist’s brief to be released nationally. We wanted artists to explore the many different facets, nuances, ambitions, quirks and colours that make up this place and its people. There was a feeling locally that the article made local communities appear disenfranchised, the done to rather than the done with, and this is not entirely true. Whilst we acknowledged the issues explored in the article, the creative community felt that this was the right time to have a different conversation. If Blackpool is symbolic of national issues and central government are not addressing the root causes, how could we use art and creative approaches to challenge and comment on this? The artists brief received an overwhelming response of over 90 proposals. Each was considered by the commissioning panel in line with the aims of the brief and our established commissioning principles. We gradually whittled the list down to five proposals that felt like they had something to offer to the debate that we were trying to ignite, but also worked together to form a diverse programme. We aren’t proposing that we can ‘fix’ Blackpool, or that Blackpool even needs fixing, we are the voice of an active creative community who want to have a new conversation and hope that by prodding, pushing and nudging the established story we can provoke a different ending.

Laura Jamieson - LeftCoast


What was it about the FT article that struck a chord for you?

What is your film about and what would you like to achieve with it?

We were at first drawn to the description in the article that connects the geography of the UK to the economy ‘...in Britain, it is increasingly on the country’s physical edges, in its seaside towns, that you find people on the outside of the economy looking in.’

The film tells the story of Trish, who, after living on the streets for 10 years has recovered from drug addiction through finding unexpected support from a stranger.

We were interested in this focus on the landscape, its effect on industry and how this impacts on the lives of a community and individuals. We also felt this connection timely in the current political and societal context with the decision to leave the EU and the sense of uncertainty about what lies ahead. Through the article we felt a connection to the place and the social conditions that are affecting individuals. Sarah O’Connor (FT) interviews a diverse range of individuals who comment on their own personal experiences of being out of work, due to the seasonal nature of employment in seaside towns that rely on the tourist season. Or people that move to Blackpool for cheaper accommodation but then find themselves cut off from their community, and so experience isolation and larger mental health problems. We felt the way in which she explored the range of issues facing individuals was interesting and that it extended beyond one place and could be applied on a more national scale.

The film reveals the communal spaces that were meaningful in her recovery process and emphasises the importance of relationships of care and support, and aims to change the perception of those who are in need. Trish now works to support others who are going through what she went through.

The article outlines Blackpool as one of the statistically highest places for the prescription of antidepressants leading to the conclusion that it has some of the highest rates of mental health issues. We felt this was more nuanced than the statistics could show and that there was something optimistic about the fact that people in Blackpool might be confronting their problems and seeking help. We felt that there was a potentially positive angle through the fostering of honest communication and the sharing of negative experiences to support others.

HELD

Trish

"I had been through a lot of detoxes and rehabs in my life, you know trying to come off but then there was never any recovery after it, so when you come out you’d relapse, you know. Because trying to change a lifetime of behaviours in just a couple of months, just isn’t reality"


Bella Riza Emily Briselden-Waters

Did your ideas change from your initial ideas once you started talking to people in the town?

Are you challenging the viewer of your film to change their thinking in any way?

We interviewed a large variety of people within Blackpool and in other areas of the UK who specialise in mental health, physical health practitioners and lived experience individuals. The initial idea evolved a lot through each person we spoke to who contributed to the journey of the film.

We wanted to explore the differences between perception and the inner life of an individual. Through Trish’s story we understand her ability to overcome her circumstances took an extraordinary amount of personal strength and will to recover, but she was also supported by someone who allowed her to feel trusted and with agency and through that support she was able to access a wider network of care. Nobody can recover from difficult circumstances alone and we want the viewer to relate with that very human notion.

After spending time in Blackpool visiting locations and speaking to people we were introduced to the recovery community in Blackpool via an organisation called Fulfilling Lives. Fulfilling Lives works to facilitate individuals in need by linking them up to the relevant services, including housing, medical, and mental health services. They provide continuous and sustained support, and what stuck out for us was how personal it is. This led us to meeting Trish who’s story moved us and immediately seemed to interact with the research and ideas we were working with for the film. After meeting her we felt we wanted to work closely with her to explore the relationship between recovery and community. Her story was full of hope and care but it hasn’t always been. The film is not meant to present an answer or a final outcome but aims to show that change is possible with support and that we need to work harder to provide and support each other.

Where do you see your film being watched? As the film doesn’t so much offer a solution, only the representation of one nuanced story, we feel it would be important to screen it as part of wider discussions. The Left Behind Gathering in Blackpool is the perfect context for that. Showing it in the community from which it was made is also very important, so we hope to be able to explore more opportunities and possibilities with Blackpool venues like the Grundy Art Gallery. We feel the film resonates with other areas both coastal and urban inner cities too. We want to start a conversation with the Museum of Homelessness for possible screenings with them. We hope that we can reach a wide audience through its distribution so are looking at festivals and institutions that speak to some of the ideas the film touches on.


What is your relationship to Blackpool?

How is it relevant to Blackpool?

I was born in Blackpool, I’m a ‘Sandgrown’n’. I’m an artist living near Blackpool still.

I think the Kintsugi repair technique, as part of the Wabi Sabi philosophy of embracing the ‘imperfect’, lent itself perfectly in creatively responding to the FT article. I wanted to make/mend a bit of Blackpool and give something back to the people using the streets of Blackpool. The usage of the repaired spaces unified those people that passed through them, despite the facts and figures presented in the report. The relevance of the repair and the use of gold as a colour brought happiness to me as the artist and to the public seeing the repair taking place, that something as precious as gold was being used. It was like a statement to say, ‘Blackpool is worth this, we are worth this’.

Where did the inspiration to repair the town come from? I guess the FT report was asking if Blackpool was a town ‘Left Behind’? All of the statistics stated in the report made it feel like Blackpool was broken, possibly irreparable. After hearing others’ responses to the report there was a lot of contrary positive feeling about the town. A lot of participants at the LeftCoast ‘Left Behind’ meetings felt Blackpool was a town under pressure, suffering, but there were also positives, a definite sense of resilience. My repair idea was inspired by this resilience.

Gold is an important colour in the heritage of Blackpool, we have the Golden Mile, the golden sands, it is a colour used to embellish and adorn our public spaces for all to enjoy for many years. My Golden Repair referenced this heritage whilst looking to the future.

Jayne Simpson

‘Blackpool is worth this, we are worth this’


GOLDEN REPAIR

How did people respond when you were installing the repairs? The response from the public at each installation was overwhelming, most people were intrigued, some came over to ask, a lot of people wanted to know more, nobody was negative or rude. I had conversations with children, older visitors, homeless people, landladies/business owners and many others. One guy said he could do the same and I encouraged him to do so. Some people thanked me as they saw me on my knees cleaning before I repaired each crack, it certainly bonded me as an artist with my audience and recipients of my repairs. It unexpectedly gave me a new sense of pride in my town’s people. Those who I spoke to accepted my repairs as public art, they loved it and seemed to get a lot from our conversations.

What conversation do you hope to provoke with the work? The community are still coming across the work, the cracks are covered and then revealed with the changing weather, I hope the cracks shine brightly this summer and people remember me making the repairs and the sentiment behind each repair. I hope that they are reminded that although there is still a lot that can be done, and should be done, for a seaside town ‘left behind’, that despite all of our social, political and health problems, there are strong communities, artists, creatives, good people wanting to do good things here.


What was it about the Left Behind call out that made you want to apply? The call out was addressing exactly the kinds of things I had been focusing on for a number of years in various projects, but specifically the Blackpool connection chimed with work I began in 1992 and had been working on again since 2016. I believe that it is critical that artists and photographers address social and political concerns and I realised that I was perhaps in a unique position to explore the idea of ‘left behind’ communities, not just in a particular moment in time in 2018, but to connect the issues to wider changes in society and government policy over 25 years.

What impact would you like your work to have? I want the work to highlight the chronic, intergenerational nature of poverty and explore how that might link directly to social policy. I would like the work to have some legacy in showing the effects of those policies: social, employment, health, education and housing policy on real people. I want it to challenge the acceptance of notions of meritocracy and show how circumstance, housing and financial security are great barriers to social mobility; how ‘equality of opportunity’ and comprehensive education are not enough. And how added to the ‘five giant evils’; Poverty, Want, Ignorance, Squalor and Disease, that William Beveridge set out in his 1942 report that heralded the NHS and the modern welfare state, might be added a sixth ‘evil’: Debt.

Can you give us an overview of your project? In 1992 I spent some time with a couple and their six children living in a hostel for homeless families in Blackpool. It was a co-commission from The Independent in London and Liberation in Paris, to investigate the existence of a ‘poverty trap’ and to shed some light on a horrible new phrase that was being bandied around by politicians and the media at the time: The Underclass. The pictures caused quite a stir when they were first published and helped to expose the failures of social policies that kept people trapped in a cycle of unemployment and poverty. For many years I wondered what became of the six kids I’d met in ’92 and tried at various times to find them. Then in early 2016 I finally managed to reconnect with them and started to follow up on the original story.

What are the parallels between the family members you spent time with in the 1990’s and those you have reconnected with in the past year? The parallels for many of the family members are evident and plain to see. They still struggle with making ends meet and providing for a new generation of children, many of them are still trapped in insecure housing and live a hand-to-mouth existence with no financial security. They are no longer all in Blackpool, but are mostly spread out across what might be described as other ‘left behind’ communities in the north west of England.

Perhaps, though, the most obvious and frightening change is that they are now mostly in work. The ‘work-your-way-out-of-poverty’ mantra has not delivered for them, relying as most of them do on low paid, insecure, zero hours contracts and struggling with the introduction of Universal Credit.

Most of all I’d like the work to make us question why it can still so often be the case that if you are born poor you will die poor, even in a modern, wealthy country and to examine all the potential that is going untapped by failing children born into difficult circumstances.

THE POVERTY TRAP


Kirsti

“I believe if we can’t be seen, we don’t have to be bothered about, so we end up in places out of the way, where you can’t be seen, where people don’t have to see your lifestyle, see how your kids grow up. And if it’s not seen, then they don’t have to claim they know about it do they?”

What have you taken away from the experience of tracking this story over such a long period of time? That it is important to tell these stories; that whilst the economists and policy makers like to say that the ‘plural of anecdote isn’t data’, I want to show that it is equally true to say that data isn’t real life. It is important that documentarians, artists, journalists etc. tell real stories of real people and find ways to connect policy and statistics to real, lived experience. Falling unemployment figures and rising incomes may be possible to present as statistically correct, but they mask much broader problems in society associated with cuts to services, rising living costs, insecure employment and housing, growing consumer debt etc. etc. As the quote most often attributed to Disraeli says, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”. My role is to try and challenge some of that.

Craig Easton


‘Pearls of Wisdom’

by Grennan & Sperandio

Blackpool

‘Pearls of Wisdom’

by Grennan & Sperandio

Blackpool

commissioned by left Coast - www.leftcoast.org.uk

take them one at a time and you can sort them out.

Life has problems and you must face each one in turn.

commissioned by left Coast - www.leftcoast.org.uk

everyone goes through troubles.

you think that it’s about helping others, but it helps you Too.

Voluntering has saved me.

It’s true what people say: “you have to stand on your own two feet.”

as told by Elaine Smith M.B.E.

as told by Julie

But I learned that if you can get help from other people, then take it.

Pearls of Wisdom

Grennan Sperandio

&


as told by Evie

Blackpool people are lively, resilient and generous. I’ve found that people from all walks of life have been willing to share their experiences and find similarities with the experiences of others. There really is a sense that everyone shares some sort of struggles in life and that this sharing helps everyone to get through them. People face real challenges in Blackpool and, of course, some of these are also faced by other towns and cities and other seaside resorts. But, Blackpool people show the uniqueness of their response in finding a place for people to work things out and make their way.

So I’ve never done that again.

What is your impression of Blackpool’s communities having worked in the resort over a number of years?

In your conversations with the community did you learn anything unexpected? We always learn something unexpected when we meet and work with new people in Blackpool! The single thing that we have learned in making this work in Blackpool has been the existence of many overlapping social networks, which cut across social, professional and economic boundaries: family and work relationships that cross generations and which weave the town together. It’s always energising when we meet someone and they say “Oh, my cousin runs such-andsuch...” or “I was taught by her dad” for example.

Blackpool

We aimed to surprise readers of the Gazette, to some extent. Not so much as the strips were incomprehensible, but enough for a reader to ask themselves ‘what is that?’ That’s one of the reasons we tried to place the strips with the small advertisements. The form of the newspaper strip itself is still, to some extent, expected in, well, a newspaper. So that was half the challenge overcome. In that context, we wanted that surprise, especially as the stories in the strips are easy to understand themselves. If a reader saw them week on week, we hoped that expectation, or at least familiarity, would start to kick in and they’d start to recognise the shared theme of the work.

‘Pearls of Wisdom’

What would you like people who come across the comic strips in the paper to think?

by Grennan & Sperandio

Not unique, but specific. The life lessons that we have collected in ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ can be relevant to people everywhere, but in a specific Blackpool context, they say ‘we’re sharing experiences of this place and this place has helped to teach us how to face a personal challenge.’

when I was three, I accidentally drew on the kitchen table.

Do you think that the local wisdom you have collected is unique to Blackpool?

commissioned by left Coast - www.leftcoast.org.uk

‘Pearls of Wisdom’ is a simple idea. The article in the ‘Financial Times’, which simply described Blackpool according to a range of deprivation indices, so obviously missed the point of Blackpool, by missing the responses that Blackpool people make to the challenges in their lives. The FT didn’t describe how people live with challenge. It simply described the challenge and left it at that. We thought that was a narrow and not very useful view. People in Blackpool know how to live as much as people elsewhere: more so, in fact, because they face daily challenges. We wanted to bring some of that knowledge of life to the fore. ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ simply presents some significant life lessons gleaned from Blackpool people.

it upset mum and dad quite a bit.

Where did your Pearls of Wisdom idea come from?


How does living locally in Blackpool affect your practice, if at all? Working on Painting the Town has made me realise how much living in Blackpool has affected my practice. Although this is the first time that I have made any direct work about the town I now understand that there is a deep connection between person and place.

Laura Shevaun Green

I was born and raised in Blackpool and because of that my life has been dramatically impacted by the experience of living here; you could say the same for anyone, wherever they live. Your location and how you feel about that place, your daily routine, and the people you meet all shape you as a person and for an artist that impacts on your practice, even if you are unaware of it. I am only now coming to understand what the Blackpool experience means to me and how it shapes my life and practice. It is something I am looking forward to exploring further.

Painting the Town Peering down at her feet she sees the waves crashing through the gaps in the wooden boards. The voices of her sisters blow past her on the light breeze. They’re somewhere behind her and out of sight. Her mother’s hand holds tightly to her own, fingers sticky and pink from the remains of a sugary treat. Together they stroll down the walkway, past the deck chairs and stalls, to the very, very end. It stretches out in front of them, the deep blue waters and the feeling of freedom, on this, the first day of summer.


This work is quite a departure from your normal practice, where did the idea come from?

Did being involved in the Left Behind gatherings help develop a response to the article?

The final outcome of the work, the paint palette, is something completely different from me. The palette is what people will first experience when they interact with the work, but the backbone of the project is the stories and that is something I have always explored in my work.

What being involved in the gathering did for me was give me a fantastic opportunity to speak to other artists about my idea and get their honest and learned views on it. I gained a lot of insight and knowledge from that experience as well as a sense of support and camaraderie. It pushed me to apply and I am grateful for the support and advice I was given at that time from the artistic community.

Examining and reclaiming narrative is what my practice is about; I didn’t recognise the Blackpool described in the FT article, as in, it is not my experience of it, not my full experience of it. The story of Blackpool that is told nationally seems to be told by people who haven’t lived it, just visited it and I was a bit fed up by that. I wanted to tell our story. I started to reminisce about my experience as a teenager in the town and so much of that is based on place. The paint really came in at the end of the process when I started to think about a place that was important to me in the town, in my mind’s eye I see it really clearly as a colour. I was also decorating my house at the time and was really frustrated that I couldn't find the shade I wanted. The two things collided and the idea grew from there.

How have people responded when asking for stories of places? People in the town have very personal and deep rooted connections to place and many people got in touch with me to tell me about what they cherished about the town, it was an honouring experience to hear their stories and share in the storytelling process.

What future do you see for the work? I wanted the paints to be a legacy and a gift to the town and I hope that they are both received and used as such. I am not sure what the future for the work is. I made this work and I am giving it over to others to use. I hope this helped in some small way to reclaim the narrative of the town. I was told once by a very wise art tutor that all you can do as an artist is move the conversation forward and what people think and do with your work after that is out of your hands. I am excited to see how it is used by others I think that is the future of the work.


‘Poverty is not caused by people not working hard enough at school. The lottery of birth in a highly unequal society means that we spend our most formative years in highly unequal circumstances, on a playing field that is far from level. We then go on to compete for jobs that are highly unequal in pay and quality. It’s that structural inequality in economic opportunities that produces the difference between the well-off from the low-paid and the insecure, not how hard they tried at school. If 10% of jobs are low paid and insecure, 10% of the workforce will have such jobs. As US philosopher Elizabeth Anderson says, blaming those in low paid and insecure work for their situation is “akin to blaming those left standing in a game of musical chairs, while denying the structure of the game has anything to do with the outcome.”*’ Professor Andrew Sayer, University of Lancaster *from her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It), Princeton University Press


Published in November 2017, the Financial Times article was another bleak critique of a victimised town where national austerity strategies are systematically dismantling social protection and creating the worst levels of poverty. All depressingly familiar and miserable and specifically about our town, Blackpool, where we live and work. LeftCoast felt as an arts organisation we could bring our communities and partners together to respond to the article and begin to explore any aspects of that narrative that we could re-frame or even address. Certainly presenting a more rounded perception of Blackpool’s people and place was within our collective expertise. And the commissioning process of the Left Behind artworks was collective. To the extent that trying to build consensus around an open commissioning process, inviting national as well as local artists to comment on being ‘Left Behind’ was not without heated debate. However, poverty and its associated challenges are so complex we have to be able to get around a table with people who do not agree with us as well as those that do. Nationally, the failure of cross-party cooperation to deliver an intelligent version of Brexit is an obvious example of what happens when hearts and minds (that have the power to effect change) cannot come together.

Image Credits Page 2

Still from ‘Held’ Bella Riza and Emily Briselden-Waters

3, 4

Still from ‘Held’ Bella Riza and Emily Briselden-Waters

5, 6

Jayne Simpson ‘Golden Repair’, photograph by Henry Iddon

7, 8

The Poverty Trap, photographs by Craig Easton

9, 10

The Poverty Trap, photograph by Craig Easton

11, 12 Pearls of Wisdom, art work by Grennan & Sperandio 13, 14 Painting the Town, photograph by Laura Shevaun Green 15, 16 Painting the Town, photographs by Laura Shevaun Green 17

The Poverty Trap, photograph by Craig Easton

www.leftcoast.org.uk

@leftcoastuk

Obviously, at LeftCoast we acknowledge that a small arts organisation and its networks cannot easily impact on the economy but we can have an impact on the many domains of the human experience that poverty effects such as the social, emotional, psychological and, of course, the cultural. Darren McGarvey in ‘Poverty Safari’ argues, without apology, for us to take personal responsibility for our consumer behaviour, our lifestyle choices and our mental health. He says ‘just as we are products of our environment, our environments are also a product of us’. All of the Left Behind Artists within this newspaper have made their work with and amongst the people of Blackpool to bring us unique stories and wisdom, colour and repair. To this end there is something we can bring as a creative community to our environment by generating purpose and positive energy through activism and meaning through art. Tina Redford - LeftCoast


behind

Profile for LeftCoast

Left Behind Newspaper  

In November 2017 the Financial Times published the article ‘Left Behind: Can anyone save the towns the economy forgot?’ Centred on Blackpool...

Left Behind Newspaper  

In November 2017 the Financial Times published the article ‘Left Behind: Can anyone save the towns the economy forgot?’ Centred on Blackpool...

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