We are looking for contacts, local community groups, interested individuals, routes into funding, places to exhibit, support, volunteers, publicity and people to network with in order to develop our projects.
Please contact us by emailing milesanddacombe@virginmedia.com.

Friday 25 March 2011


Perry Barr, sounds rural, romantic or like the name of a childhood sweet, we’d never been there and we went with few preconceptions other than it was unlikely to be rural, romantic or anything like a childhood sweet!

To take advantage of our £10 Great Escape ticket we had to begin our journey at Northampton Station, a busy place but very ugly in a low, crouching, cramped kind of way. It’s a functional place with many commuters using the line to get to and from work; it must cost commuters a fortune in parking fees every week.

On our arrival at Perry Barr we knew we were going to have to work hard to make the place come alive in our imagination, if Northampton Station was ugly, then Perry Barr really needed to be adopted by the community. The London Midland lime green and black livery did do something to add a visual cohesion but there was a sense of things being a bit run down and unloved.

Maps, help points and signage were sad, tired and there was a cherry tree that seemed to be held prisoner in the unforgiving embrace of the concrete stair-rail, there was also bird song, and budding on the branches, the light was lifting, warming and the adventure was about to begin.

Out on the street we were struck by the noise, petrol fumes and the savage gash created by the main road running through Perry Barr. It was hard to get any sense of the place, it wasn’t a space it was a line. There had been an attempt to make the Subways beautiful in an Art Deco-meets-the-8o’s way.

The community didn’t love that either; the walls were tagged, the walkways were filthy, cigarette butts and cast aside rubbish etched itself on the eye.

It was obvious that there were the beginnings of regeneration; the bold colours of a large, curved billboard jumped out at you, urging you to "Be a Star in Perry Barr". The significance of this became clear later.

As our senses began to atune to the surroundings, we started to pick out interesting details that seemed to hint at stories: a dignified Church building sitting next to a modern factory / warehouse complex. Sheltered under the ornate arch of the church entrance, a man, smartly dressed in a dark suit, texting on his iphone……….

A jumble of sudden colour at the market, bright fruity colours lined up in blocks that sang out amongst the concrete and tarmac greys of the main road.

Having almost stumbled over a monument to P. C. Malcolm Walker we stopped to puzzle over it.

A voice behind us piped up “ I can tell you all about that, what happened that day……” and Sal the manager of a Property Lettings Agency launched into the history of the monument, what had happened on the day, the subways, the tension between communities, his passion for local and family history, his travels in the forces, the wide and varied network of his family and roots. We were wide-eyed and glued to the spot and we felt it was as if we were meant to meet this person who was able to make the location come alive.

Once we started noticing the individual, whether it be in the glorious local market or the tales of Sal, we realised how friendly this place can be. Many of the people milling about were calling a good morning to others in the street, there did seem to be some sense of community and people were, on the whole, smiling. An underlying warmth in Perry Barr had started to reveal itself and we were glad we had taken the time to look deeper. As our walk around the area continued, we found more things of astonishing beauty and potential, and we left hugely inspired... which you can read about in part 2, coming soon!

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Myth Maps in Snibston; the story so far

Two fantastic walks have been completed to Snibston with family groups.  Thank you to all the Intrepid Explorers:  the Paines, the Bishops, the Petersons, the Rawsons and the Wheelers, for coming with me and bringing these walks alive!  Thanks also to Maurice and Esale for joining us, and to Snibston for making us so welcome.

Working drawing
My idea for Myth Maps is to look at how maps can tell tales about places and the meaning of places.  I am interested in how places build up layers of meaning over time, and those meanings can become intermingled, stories can be distorted through whispers or tales that are guessed at, overheard and passed on as fact.  Thus myths are created about the places that we inhabit and visit.

For Myth Maps I will map the walks that we took, not just the route we followed but the people who were with me (the Intrepid Explorers!), what they said, the tales we told, the dreams we dreamt, what happened on that particular walk on that particular day with that particular group.  The myths we made.

Walk 1 in February started at St Mary's Lane where Leicester Road meets Standard Hill.  Following footpaths across the fields, we looked for "treasure", listened to the sounds, and responded to the shapes of the land by running, jumping and climbing.

The walk took on a surreal, dreamlike quality, children finding delight in small, strange things they discovered, that seemed out of place and time.

They climbed trees and dug at the sides of fields, making up stories about magical lands and the King of the Forest.

My first map is called A Map of the Real and Surreal.

A Map of the Real and Surreal:  work in progress


Walk 2 started in Ravenstone at Woodstone School, a new school by new houses and next to a host of young trees still being planted into a new woodland.

Ravenstone to Snibston:  work in progress

Crossing through a newly made park full of mounds and mole hills, we then zigzagged through Ravenstone and into a playing field, down an old green lane and onto Church Lane, lined with 19th century houses.

Back across a field and up the steep hill where suddenly we saw Snibston below us, and the children raced down the hill to get there!

This walk seemed to take on the theme of different times overlapping and connecting, the old, new and the yet to come.  Each space we passed through had its own sound, its own atmosphere.  Some places had a sense that somebody had just been there - fresh animal tracks, the marks of footballers' boot studs.

An archeaological dig?

I have long had a feeling that Snibston as a place is where the past, present and future co-exist.  When I asked Jack, one of the boys on the second walk, where he thought the oldest place on our walk had been, he said "Snibston".  When I asked him where was the newest place, he thought for a while and then said "Snibston" again!  And he's exactly right!

The final walk is on Sunday, starting from Belvoirdale School in Coalville.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Back from Beijing

I spent Christmas and New Year in Beijing, China.

The city is changing so fast, the Chinese are building at a tremendous rate.  Staying in the Central Business District we were surrounded by shiny new skyscrapers and neon lights.  Incredibly clean streets but quite polluted by the thousands of cars, which are really starting to cause a problem with the traffic and emissions snarling up the city.

There are still masses of bicycles everywhere, though, sneaking their way down the sides of the car-packed streets, in this city that was once famous for its millions of bikes.  (Carole and I both love bikes!)
 Being in Beijing is a bit like Time Travel.  I get this feeling in many cities, one of the reasons that I love them, but in Beijing it is extreme.  China is an ancient civilisation and its history is millenia long, at the same time it is embracing the new at an astonishing rate.

Exploring the city you really feel this, the ancient and the new are built next to each other everywhere.

You can lose yourself in the huge complexes and tranquillity of the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace, and yet step out of the gate and you are instantly transported back into the futuristic reconstruction of the city.

When I was working on the Children's Trail in St George's, Leicester, in 2007, I wrote about cities:

There is a dreamlike quality in many cities, where buildings and street designs are worked out as they go along and have to fit in and around older structures.  In Beijing I fear that they are in danger of knocking down and replacing too much, thus losing the richness of the layers of architectural history that gives most cities their unique characters.  The Chinese are only just starting to realise the importance of their heritage and that it must be rescued.

Beijing is full of contradictions.  Despite Communism and the Cultural Revolution, ancient belief systems still persist.  The Chinese are famous for their superstitions.  Even the new buildings are still built on Feng Shui principles!  The famous "Birds Nest" Olympic Stadium represents to the Chinese the body of the dragon, therefore they had to balance this with another building which stands a little way away, respresenting the dragon's tail.

The body of the dragon...

...and the tail
(Apparently the head of the dragon is underground!)

Another wonderful thing we found was the Shard Shop.  Tucked away and quite hard to track down, this little family run business is using old culture in innovative ways.  During the Cultural Revolution people were not allowed to keep their traditional Ming and Qing pottery and so thousands of these important pieces were smashed up.  The Shard Shop is gathering these shards of pottery and making them into new things.  We bought several shard boxes as gifts, lacquered boxes with beautifully decorated blue and white pottery shards inlaid into their lids, curved pieces that hinted at their original life as a huge rounded vase.  Wonderful and unique.

 And how about this for mapping!  The Temple of Heaven, a circular building built to represent the celestial year, with four inner pillars for the seasons, twelve outer pillars for the months,  you look up into the ceiling of the Temple and it is like a plan for the heavens!

Saturday 5 March 2011

Preview to Perry Barr

 Ann Leonard sent us lots of information about our selected place, Perry Barr:

Perry Barr is home to the
Birchfield Harriers - The UK's Premier Athletics Club

More about Perry Barr here:
Perry - History of Birmingham placenames
Perry Barr was the northern half of the ancient parish of Handsworth lying on rising ground north-east of the River Tame; the other half, confusingly also known as Handsworth, lies south-west of the river. The boundaries at the north of the parish was marked by ancient roads: Queslett Road, the Chester Road, College Road to its junction with Kingstanding Road. From there the boundary followed the line of the Roman Icknield Street down to Hockley Brook.

Perry Bridge, popularly known as the Zig-Zag Bridge used to take the Aldridge Road across the River Tame. Built in 1709 this is a four-arched packhorse bridge in red sandstone which crosses the river with a span of 15m and a 50m long embankment which raises the roadway above the flood plain. The Roman river crossing was by a ford, perhaps paved, some 200m east of this bridge at Holford and may have been used as the main crossing until medieval times.
 Thanks Ann!

We will be posting a report of our trip to Perry Barr soon!