It is a bit of a relief to break off from frantic preparations for MIPIM or, worse still, from trying to second-guess the budget, to work in partnership with the Oral History Society on their conference to be held at the University of Sunderland on 1 and 2 July entitled “Creation, Destruction, Memory: Oral history and regeneration“. (By the way, did you see in EGi this morning that the Work Foundation and the Centre for Cities argue, in separate reports, that the “government’s potential scheme to revive enterprise zones is likely to be costly and ineffective unless there are drastic changes to the 1980s model”? What is going on? Last time I spoke to the lovely Nigel Hugill, we had a full-on-in-support conversation about EZs; I am seeing him this week so I undertake to get to the bottom of all of this and report back to you.)
The OHS are balm to a troubled soul, with their fine culture of listening and thinking properly about things. I am grateful to them for alighting on the theme of regeneration, at a time when the subject is hardly the height of fashion. Shows fortitude, I reckon. Of course, over the years, oral history’s contribution to regeneration has ranged from it being used as a tool to encourage or improve community engagement and participation to inspiring pride in a local area or reaffirming or creating cultural identity. Its role, however, has so far been ill defined and ad hoc, and remains unexplored both in theory and in practice. The OHS international conference will explore the various uses and role of oral history in urban and rural regeneration as well as its unrecorded and potential contribution.
And it will be rooted in experience. The highlight, at least for me, will be the keynote interview: Roger Madelin of Argent in conversation with Alan Dein (freelance BBC Radio documentary feature presenter and pukka oral historian). Funnily enough, my money is on this being a little more expletive-deleted than the Madelin we see at MIPIM! Roger will, of course, be interviewed on the strong track record that Argent has in major developments and city centre regeneration including King’s Cross, London; Piccadilly in Manchester; and Brindleyplace in Birmingham. He will tell his tales of over a decade of listening to people and absorbing their ideas and aspirations at King’s Cross, in particular. And Alan Dein is the man for the job, of course, as he was the oral historian at King’s Cross Voices.
The OHS practises the lovely academic methodology of a “call for papers” and they have asked for contributions on various aspects of oral history. They are particularly keen to encourage papers from not only academics but also planners, architects, community workers, environmentalists, local residents and others involved directly in regeneration.
Frankly, I think this promises to be a most life-enhancing event in 2011, the year that some perceive to be an unmitigated sea of gloom. I think we will find this rather uplifting. And it stands to greatly assist us in finding the new trajectory for regeneration in the UK. For decades I have been telling anyone who will listen of the importance of people’s testimony to the urban regeneration process. We’ve lost sight of this in recent years. To see regeneration taken up by a group of genuine oral historians is most heartening.
In the New World, under Big Society, this stuff will become more important than ever, of course. UKR is adopting a philosophy, first and foremost, of “people regeneration”. It is a privilege to be working with the OHS. They are an untrammelled joy.