The Guildhall: histories and futures

‘The Guildhall should be the centre of ‘York’s Story’ […] a chance to see democracy and engage with it’.

‘I also think that improved public access could act as a catalyst that might improve public engagement with the council and local politics. There’s something to be said for seeing the place where the council meets and decisions are made’.
(Quotes from the Guildhall Tours survey)

One of the My Future York project partners is York Past and Present, whose adminstrators Lianne Brigham and Richard Brigham have, over the past three years, shepherded the facebook group to an ever growing membership (14,800 at the last count) and to becoming a dynamic face-to-face community with coffee morning meet ups, Christmas parties and projects in collaboration with local heritage organisations (York Chocolate Story; Mansion House; York Explore Archives).

Lianne Brigham shares the history of the Council Chamber as part of the Guildhall Tour, Residents’ Weekend 2017.

Since 4th October 2014 York Past and Present (YP&P) have been running volunteer-led tours behind the scenes of the Guildhall, including during two Residents’ Weekends (2016 and 2017). In this time they have introduced 2000 people to the Guildhall and its history. As part of their partnership with the Guildhall, they have also been active in the Mansion House Heritage Lottery Fund project, with YP&P members volunteering to pack up and photograph the house before the renovations began. The Guildhall tours have now come to an end in advance of the proposed changes to the Guildhall. Through our research collaboration, YP&P, we decided to take the opportunity of the final Residents’ Weekend to interview and survey those that took part. We wanted to evaluate the tours as well as to understand better the meaning of the Guildhall to people who live in York and what they would like to see in terms of its future development. Overall 61 surveys were returned – in person and online – which represents close to 25% of those attending that weekend.

Read the full report. Look at the raw data from the surveys.

Key findings:

Question 1: What did you enjoy about the Guildhall tour?
The tours were well received, particularly the feeling of getting to look ‘behind the scenes’. The way the tours were done – by an enthusiastic volunteer – was also noted as important. The idea that tours might continue in the future either by YP&P or by others was suggested.

Question 2: Why is the Guildhall important to you? / Why is the Guildhall important to York?
The sense of the Guildhall as being a key in the development of York was foreground by all respondents. A phrase used over 25 times was ‘Part of York’s History/ Heritage’. This was directly linked to the development of civic engagement and local democracy. Yet there was also a strong connection made between history of York, the history the development of Guilds and the development of local democracy. This was seen as a crucial ‘York story’ that could be told through the Guildhall.

‘The Guildhall is a real treasure of York, and should be seen by as many people as possible. It would also help if the local community could learn how local authorities operate on behalf of the community’.


Question 3: What would you like to see for the future of the Guildhall?

There was a consensus that the building needed to be maintained, pay for itself in some way but also still be publically accessible.

Some – responding to the current plans – explicitly mentioned their support for the historic fabric to remain intact (a reference to the proposed new doorway in the main hall). A number of people noted the importance of economic viability. There seemed very little concern about the proposed extensions and restaurants in the wider complex. However, support for the proposed extensions and commercial additions was related to continuing public access to the Guildhall and Council Chamber, with a clear interest expressed in the shared civic story with the Mansion House. The argument for future public access was very often made on the basis of its civic and democratic significance.

‘I also think that improved public access could act as a catalyst that might improve public engagement with the council and local politics. There’s something to be said for seeing the place where the council meets and decisions are made’.

There was a strong sense of the importance of this story for people who live in York. There was also a desire to share this with visitors.

‘It is a magnificent building and one that should be showcased to the 1000’s of visitors York gets every year’.


Recommendations:

Create one ticketed entrance to Mansion House which includes the Guildhall and Council Chamber for visitors to the city. This should include free access to people who live in York, as is already planned by the Mansion House.

Ideas:
• Build on the living traditions of the Guildhall – as the Chamber still used for Council meetings – to create a hub for wider public democratic engagement in current issues facing York. The aim of this might be to use a variety of creative methods to enable more people to feel confident in participating in local democratic processes (from voting to ward committees to planning process) and well as enabling wider civic engagement.
• Use the idea of local democracy as a living tradition to develop a visitor experience for Mansion House / Guildhall which engages this city’s visitors with the links between York’s past, presents and future. For example, temporary displays could look at a specific issue (flooding; housing; Castle Gateway) and explore the histories of the issue and open up questions about how the city should handle the issue in the future. This could be in the vein of ‘Urban Lab’ experiments developed elsewhere. Strategically this would ensure a tourist experience to York which is far from ‘in aspic’ but actively deploys connections between the city’s past and future. Such an approach could act as a bridge between the city’s strengths in both heritage and media arts and between the city’s cultural entrepreneurs, its students and long standing local communities.

This report will be shared with relevant City of York Councillors and Council officers – but we see it as a working document so if you have any further comments on the tours or on the Guildhall, add a comment to drop us a line.

LGBT histories, LGBT futures

LGBT History Month
York’s LGBT history: make your own rainbow plaques

Saturday, February 18 at 1 PM – 4:30 PM
Garden Room, York Explore Library and Archives, Library Square, Museum Street, YO1 7DS

For the York LGBT Rainbow Plaques 2016 event

This month is LGBT History Month and York’s LGBT History team have put together an amazing array of events. This is the third year I’ve been involved in running with Kit Heyam our York’s Alternative History Rainbow Plaques event. The past two years have seen a raft of contributions. Some have wanted to commemorate Ann Walker and Ann Lister, who took a joint communion taken in Holy Trinity Church on Goodramgate at Easter 1834 and saw this as equivalent to marriage in the eyes of god. Others have shared more personal memories, from coming out, first kisses and exploratory visits to gay pubs. We have also used the plaques to remember violence and bullying as well as activism, protest and campaigns. We hope to see many more histories, memories and stories contributed this year. Join our facebook event – or come along on the day.

The future is always lurking in this event. It is about change that has happened and change we want to come. So this year we want to connect the pasts that we will commemorate to the future. As part of My Future York we’ve been having lots of conversations about the lives people want to live in 10 years time. Where will they be living? Who with? Where will they work? What do you want York to enable you to do? How can York change to enable the life you want to live?

As LGBT History Month kicks off let’s think back but also think forward. We’ve been asking people to write a Day in their Life Story, one for this year and one for ten’s years time. For inspiration here is Kit Rafe Heyam’s.

What’s your 2027 like?

Sensory York: Sights, sounds, smells and feelings

Smells of Hungate in early 20th century… what will York smell like in ten years’ time? Designs and Photos by Reet So.

In our research on Hungate – and drawing heavily on Van Wilson’s oral histories of the area – we found that people’s memories were bound up with its distinctive sights, sounds and smells. In designing our exhibition for the Yorktopia event we wanted use the sensory landscape of early 20th century York to prompt us all to consider what we’d like York in ten years’ time to look like, sounds like, smell like and feel like.

You can contribute your own sensory York online.

  • Smells of Hungate, an exhibit at the Yorktopia event. Designs by Reet So.

We got a handful of responses to this during the event. This contrasted with the much more popular Census activity. This is a good reminder that participative exhibits need to be quite structured and immediately easy to undertake in crowded and noises spaces. On reflection this York Senses activity needed, perhaps, a more meditative mood. However those that did find the mental space during the event to imagine their Yorktopia sensoryscape produced really evocative and poetic responses.

Here are some samples below for inspiration or as point of resistance and disagreement:

Looks like...

‘Traditional buildings upkept. Lots more trees. No more car parks.’

‘Lots of trees, paved roads and pavements, shared sapce all through the centre, good modern buildings next to old.’

‘Sunsets + sunrises, red brick and wooden breams, smiling faces and starry nights, bright lights and clean lines, home.’

Sounds like…



‘Sounds of birds. Local musicians/buskers, supported to bring the streets alive’.

‘Quiet, only the tinkle of bicycle bells. The whirr of electric engines’.

‘Gentle folk music and sometimes heavy rock and punk protests, fireworks, laughter, and the ring pull on an can on beer, someone telling you that they love you…’.

Smells like..

‘Smell of logs burning, street vans, mulled wine, donuts, not rubbish’.

‘Clean. Grassy’.

‘Fresh coffee, cinnamon, the first raindrops on aspelt, incense, pine trees, sometimes fresh paint and petrol, freshly baked bread, apple pie’.

Feels like…



‘A small homely feel but a part of an active community in a city. This is why I choose to live in York.’

‘A place to sit an breathe, an exciting city with a buzz, safe but edgy.’

‘Clean, safe, soft, like crunchy leaves under your feet and fresh drew in the air…warm, comfortable like sinking into an arm chair by the fire’.

In the comfort of your own digital space, create your own meditative space and imagine what does you York in ten years’ time look like, sound like, smell like and feel like?

Thanks so much to all who shared their sensory hopes for York at the Yorktopia event. Card and icon designs by Ben Holden. Exhibit designs by Reet So.

Census: from 1911 to 2026

Yorktopia event, 23rd November 2016: 2026 Census activity. Designs and photos by Reet So.

At our Yorktopia event on 23rd November – promoted by 1911 Census for Hungate – we asked those walking through our exhibition to contribute to our own My Future York 2026 Census. Given the event only lasted a few hours, we were staggered when we undid the box to find 37 replies.

We have now launched an online version – what is your Census return for 2027?

The Yorktopia Census activity. A snapshop to Hungate in 1911. Designs and Photos by Reet So.

As we share the link for our new online version, here are a few reflections on the census returns contributed during the Yorktopia event.

Age
We had an excellent age range. From those that will be in their early 30s in ten years’ time, to those that will be in the early 70s. It was especially great to get so many submissions from those in their 20s, I assume from the student group exhibiting their art work in the next room and their friends.

Work / Travel
For those that planned to be in work in ten years’ time there was a strong consensus of either working from home or living very close to work, less than 5 miles or ‘not far’ were by far the most popular answers with only one stating a long commute of 30 miles.

Over 90% of those responding imaged they would either walk or cycling to work. Of the other options bus, train, tram were popular. Two mentioned cars, as many as mentioned teleporting/brain implants…

Home
However, it was the ‘where will you live’ census box pulled out the most differences. There was clearly a cohort of people – all of who will be in their 60s or 70s in ten years time – who were owner occupiers of their homes and didn’t really see much changing.

‘Expect to be where I live. 2 bed mid-terrace. Probably with ever more technology in the house’, will be retire by busy and aged 68.

‘Still in our three bedroom townhouse (me and husband) but probably thinking of downsizing’, will be ‘still working’ aged 65.

‘With my husband in our present house. Semi-detached. 5 beds. Paid for. Or my mother’s house opposite. 2 beds also paid for’, will be aged 71.

Of the other strand of older respondents innovative future lifestyle and living arrangements were imagined, suggesting that future housing also needs to taking into account of future approaches to sex and domestic relationships:

‘Large purpose built intentional community for polyamourous. York. Ecobuild’, will be seeking to retire and aged 60

‘I will be in a commune with my long term lover and his wife’, will be a volunteer and aged 82

‘Off grid, Commune of family, friends and strangers’, will be a carer and aged 65

For those who will be in their late 30s and early 40s in ten years there was a trend towards a certain sense of accumulative confidence, the four bedroom house seemed to be a marker:

‘4 bed house with family. Owned by us’, will be a University Lecturer and aged 48.

‘4 bed. With my love and her boys. I own it!’, will be self employed and aged 49.

‘3-4 bedrooms. Semi-detached house. Garden. Private off street parking. Owned by myself and mortaged’, will be a project manager aged 37.

‘3 bed town house, Mortgage paid. Living with wife’ will be a Programme Manager and aged 52

‘4 bed. York or Leeds. Victorian. Owned. No garden but near a park’, will be a civil servant and aged 50.

For younger people – those who will be in their 30s in ten years’ time – a note of modesty and a tone of realism featured:

‘Probably renting. It is a beautiful city but people my age can’t afford to stay’, will be a travel writer aged 36

‘I will live in a moderately priced house / flat with my boyfriend Jay and our tortoise Murray’, will be Film maker / painter / artists / sales assistant and aged 31.

‘Apartment 2 rooms. With partner or friend. Small balcony. Owned by me (probably not realistic)’, will be a writer and aged 30

‘A little cottage with a bunny. 2 bedroom.’, will be a nursed and aged 38.

‘Own an ‘eco-home’ / flat of some sort / with garden space / not too many bedrooms’, will be a parent and/or involved in chemical regulation and be 40.

Our snapshot census for 2026 reflects the typical type of audience attracted to contemporary art event – a mixture of arts students and affluent 30+. Yet it also points very clearly to an issue of life phases and periods of certainty and uncertainty which need to be taken into account in city planning.

In this snapshot there appears to be a group of economically secure people and a time in people’s lives (35-60) where there is a sense of certainty in your trajectory – you expect that you will be doing the same job or a better version of it, you will own the same house or a bigger one.

Yet in the Yorktopia respondents at both ends of our age spectrum there was more uncertainty. At the 70+ end of our age range, for some there was a sense that things would be changing, you might downsize, you might seek out a small place to live, you might join an intentional community or a commune. For those earlier in their lives, it was expected that these next ten years would also see a lot of change. Yet it was notable that the sense of confidence and possibility that pervaded the contributions from those who will be in their 70s was much less in evidence for those who will be in their 30s.

It will be interested to see how the online versions of the Census activity nuances and deepened these snapshot findings as the sample increases and diversifies. However, there are already concrete things to draw out here in terms of the familiar but crucial story of generational inequality as well as of the need to consider type, tenure of housing and the kinds of social relations our future housing might need to enable.

With many thanks to all who contributed.

Yorktopia: looking back to look forwards

  • Yorktopia event, 23rd November 2016: York sounds and smells activity. Designs and photos by Reet So.

On 23rd November My Future York collaborated with Vespertine and York St John University to look back to the histories of the Hungate area to provoke debate and discussion about York in ten years’ time.

In our exhibition we invited people to look at floor plans of a Hungate house, demolished in 1936, the houses of the new Tang Hall estate and those being built the new Hungate development.

A plan of a two bedroom house in Hungate. Designs by Reet So.

We then invited ideas for a utopian dwelling. We also invite people to listen to record excerpts from Day In My Life stories we’ve already collected.

An ideal dwelling for York in ten years’ time.

One aim – not surprisingly given the focus of the My Future York project – was to invite people to contribute their own ideas. Two of our participatory exhibits seemed to work well and to entice people to think about their and York’s future. Thinking of the event as a prototyping process we’ve now developed these ideas into online versions.

The first was a quick Census activity. Based on 1911 Census in Hungate but asking people to image their own Census for ten years’ time. We got 37 responses in the short period of the event. The new online version will only take 5 minutes to complete.

The second was a York Senses activity. From oral histories and archive photography we gathered images of the sights, smells and sounds of Hunagte in early 20th century. From Chicory to the slaughter house. The online version of York Senses will take between 5-10 minutes to complete.

Smells of Hungate in early 20th century… what will York smell like in ten years’ time? Designs and Photos by Reet So.

The event finished with an array of signers and poets sharing their visions, hopes and fears for York’s future such as Henry Raby’s contribution of a battle-scarred York.

A big thanks to Veserptine and York St John’s for working with us on the event and to Reet So for being brilliant designers and collaborators.

Guest post Henry Raby: York in ten years’ time

A school trip, ten years’ time: ‘I stand and listen in. Hear my history replayed like this young man, all said with the certainty I wish I had. He regales all the old battles I don’t remember as battles, the events I don’t remember as being so important. He misses out details that fix hard in my mind. He speaks without fear like a good person. I give a cough absent-mindedly and a parade of eyes swivel towards me. I instantly fumble for my identification, but before I’ve had chance to grasp it from my pocket, the eyes have returned to the tour guide and I realise my heart is thundering. I’m no threat. Nothing to fear’. Photo credit: Catherine Sotheran.

At the Vespertine Yorktopia event in November York-based poets and signers imagined York in ten years’ time. York performance poet and writer Henry Raby brought the event to a close with this piece. Henry describes York after a battle has been lost, a time when emotions and histories have been stablized and contained, where hope lies in not in visions or plans but half memories and feelings that creep up on you.

A contribution by Henry Raby

We are not allowed to be afraid. If you’re afraid, you’ve lost. The sign at the train station reads: Never Fear.

White sign with deep red letters like thick scars. Hissed with a splash of graffiti in cutting black paint.

School trip clog up my route. No braying noises, these children are fixed and focused. Their teachers, tall men and women, solid and dependable. The children demur, showing a reverence that belies their tiny age. The children of 2020, born to the smell of diesel, sounds of gunshots, ticking of lists, dazzle of streetlights. They grew up knowing they cannot Fear.

Never Fear.

Their tour guide, a thin gentleman as standard as you’d ever likely to find. A smiling character. He points out the great holes in the City Walls. I can recall when the walls were complete, or at least walkable. But these gaping absences suit the walls. Make them look battle-hardened. Like Vikings learnt how to use rocket launchers. He tells the class

“Like the Romans before, and the Vikings, and the Siege of York in 1644, these walls stood to defend the city from oppression, this time from inside the city of course.”
The class nod. They note it down in their memory. They are good students. They are 6.
“And the Walls biggest challenge occurred 6 years ago. Gosh, when you were all born”
The class nod. They know this. This is not new information.
“But York stood up to that test. York survived, as it always does. The rest, as they used to say, is history”.

The children don’t seem to enjoy their history lesson. I think they’ve been taught it all before. I forgot it all. Faces pinky in the winter chill, their cheeks puffing tiny clouds almost beautiful in the crisp air. No one notices their breath, they are all upright. Attentive. Competitively so.

I stand and listen in. Hear my history replayed like this young man, all said with the certainty I wish I had. He regales all the old battles I don’t remember as battles, the events I don’t remember as being so important. He misses out details that fix hard in my mind. He speaks without fear like a good person.
I give a cough absent-mindedly and a parade of eyes swivel towards me. I instantly fumble for my identification, but before I’ve had chance to grasp it from my pocket, the eyes have returned to the tour guide and I realise my heart is thundering. I’m no threat. Nothing to fear.

I walk into York alone, relief at leaving the throng of bodies. The streets are naturally quiet, the roads quieter. If people have trod their way into the city centre, they did so long before this hour. A bus must pass through, I recall. Every couple of hours doing the rounds. Traffic lights are cracked. Road paint worn away.

I go onto autopilot, aiming for my destination like a seeking missile. The streets I walked down so often in the past, the routes so well visited, are alien to my now. Crunch through puddles, like an assailant. I feel like I’m causing trouble just by being here, breathing this air. Stealing oxygen, taking up space, walking paths which are not mine. Because I lost them.

I am furious with my memory for picking up hints of the past. Where the charity shops and cafes and pubs peppered the streets. For imagining where buskers stood, what they sounded like, where the Food Not Bombs stall would be found, where the Christmas tree would have loomed. My memory is too reliable, or these memories too solid. I wish they’d float away like my breath.

The past was ripe for taking. We plundered 50 years of music and fashion and ignored the fact beneath our borrowed culture we were scabby and rotting. We paraded the fashions of the century in the new millennium and poured the past onto our iPods and phones.

We were stagnant and remainiators. Necromantic artists obsessed with the dead, with holograms, releases and remake, fixated with mourning passing and words like ‘irreplaceable’.

I’m a cynic because I was told the future can be bright, but the past was brighter. I’m a cynic because I was told to hope with one foot in the bogs of the past.

Maybe I’d feel better if my home town was busy. But there are no shops, cafes, restaurants or bars. Just office space, windowless buildings and refurbished blocks for the business of 2026. And that’s when I come across the place I made my pilgrimage too. The wandered wrapped in scarf and gloves finds the Snickelway like a twisted corner tucked away.

I take off my glove and feel the brick work, see the dents from bullets and recall, alongside memories of gigs, hot chocolate and guitar bands the howling that came from silence. The pauses we mistook for calm which were really hot thoughts getting hotter.

It didn’t feel like our last attempt, it felt like progression. The history books are already being written, saying York was at the centre of a warzone. But it wasn’t a war, it was eradication.

I hope in my future we are allowed to be sad.

I thank thickness lodged in my throat. I want an empty stomach waiting to be filled. I want to sigh out my breath.

I want fear to tingle me. I want it to rest inside my toes at night. I want it to be the reason I turn lights on and drive slowly and walk around in groups and arrange to meet people early and keep my phone close at hand.

I want fear and sadness to be my twin guardians, one on each shoulder. Whimpering and sighing, gasping for air and holding its breath.

I don’t want instant joy, I want it to creep up on me when I least suspect it, and fill me up slowly like poison through sad veins.

I want to feel it rise like icy rainwater. I want it to flood my house and make it grumpy. I want joy to come through the door in the middle of the night and disturb my rest. I want to blame it for making me sleep in.

I knew that anger so well. I knew it inside me, and I could see it in everyone’s eyes. Harrowing and drilling, a sense that we could take the tension from our own tight fists and put it to good use on all sides. And my anger lost out, and their anger won and now all the faces are white. The only history we wanted was celebratory, bold, bright and had a flag wrapped tight around it.

So now we say, boldly, in signs and sayings and casual agreement. Never Fear. Move forwards. Don’t look back, just look to the next stage, the new wave. Because we’re building it better, they say, everything is going to be better. So stop looking backwards.

I want to go find one of the schoolchildren. Take them to this wall. Show the next generation the bullet holes. The place where we held banners and broke windows and stood in front of trucks and shouted slogans about deportations. Some light candles and wrote petitions but it wasn’t enough. There weren’t enough of us. The silence in the city is familiar. I want to show the scars where I tried to crawl into camps.
But their fathers and mothers probably worked in those camps.

So, with hours before my train to take me away, I wander around York more. Looking for gigs and curries and quiz nights and real ale and poetry nights and film screenings and theatre events and a different language. I fail.

I have found myself down by the river, all browns and grim blues. On the walls around me in thick black spraypaint, like a maddened scrawl, the words ‘Normans Go Home’ is written.

Guest Post by Lisa@York Stories: Citizen Engagement

Photo credit: York Stories

In her third and final guest post, having looked back to 2006 and looked forward to 2026, Lisa@YorkStories brings the focus to dynamics of decision making in York.

A contribution from Lisa@YorkStories (www.yorkstories.co.uk)

I was invited to write a piece for the My Future York project, and thought that a useful contribution might be to think about the decade just gone, and the changes the city has seen in that time, as another way of thinking about what ten years on might look like. In the earlier part I wrote about the obvious visual changes in the city’s streets and buildings. This piece is more about the changes in ‘citizen engagement’ over the last decade or so, again based on my own observations and experiences. And taking up the question asked by My Future York: what future do we want for York? And adding to that — whose ‘vision’ is going to shape the York of the future? Will you be involved?

– – –

Looking at photos I took in York in 2006 and thinking about the changes in the city in the last ten years (in part 1) has made me think about my own experience, of a developing connection with and understanding of this city, the way it is shaped by planning decisions and other people’s visions, and about my own increasing ‘engagement’ over the years.

Ten years ago I was wandering about getting increasingly concerned about the things I saw happening, such as the sugarbeet factory closure. I knew I couldn’t do anything about that, and suspected I couldn’t have any input into the smaller local things either. But some years later the proposed demolition of a former WW2 service hostel building behind the art gallery provoked a sudden and intense engagement with the planning process, which continued and got deeper and wider over the years in response to plans for King’s Square, and York Central, and several interesting but unlisted buildings, since demolished.

Anger and incomprehension was my reaction after my first attempts at ‘engagement’ with the planning process. Since then I guess I’ve developed a more pragmatic and realistic view of what’s possible. Or maybe I’ve just become more resigned, with age, having seen so many changes in the city, so many buildings lost and streetscapes changed. Maybe that’s the difference ten years makes. But I don’t think it’s just that. I think that a major part of it is reading more, researching more, also watching the council webcasts of meetings, which gives the viewer an opportunity to sympathise more with the fellow humans we know as local councillors as they make decisions on often controversial matters. I think many other residents have yet to find that sympathy, judging by some of the comments about councillors I see online.

Because of the amount of information now available online it is easier than it was to follow what’s happening with planning applications and consultations and various types of ‘citizen engagement’. Still, the planning system through which planning applications are decided remains a mystery to many of us, and the council’s ‘planning access’ online system is frustrating and confusing and often fails to load the relevant documents.

Consultations on larger schemes are becoming more common, but many people still don’t hear about consultations until it’s too late and decisions have already been made. For those who do know and want to comment it can be hard to believe that consultations are genuine and are intended to help shape development.

At least there are now more attempts to consult on important matters, like the access road for the York Central development. I was particularly concerned about the future of the city’s built environment, and that aspect in particular, under the council leadership of James Alexander. It seemed that things not understood were in danger of being swept out of the way because of big ‘visions’ for the city’s future. A memorable low point was seeing a photo of Cllr Alexander in front of the former carriageworks canteen, which he was happy to drive the York Central access road through, because it meant nothing to him.

With that in mind, when I see comments to the effect that we need more leaders with ‘vision’ to shape the city I think about that. Whose visions? What kind of visions? The kind that show no understanding or regard of the complex and deep sense of place felt by the people who have lived here for decades?

So, a few years back we had a council leadership that seemed big on ‘vision’ and wanted to plough through a bridge into York Central regardless of what might be in the way. There seemed to be a simultaneous neglect of basic boring things like drain clearing and street cleaning and supplying of bins. That’s turned around in some ways I think since the current administration took over last year. There seems to be a recognition that the basics matter, and that council tax payers like to see some evidence that our council tax is being spent wisely.

Still, York in 2016 feels like a rather fractured place, with growing resentment about the large student communities and the fact that accommodation is springing up all over for students but not for others who are just as much in need. Many different perspectives about what the city is and what it should be.

Perhaps, in the next ten years, the city will swing back into ‘vision’ mode. I guess it will have to, a bit, to get the York Central project started, and other major sites like the British Sugar site.

I hope that the vision, and the reality, will include and involve everyone, or at least a wider cross-section of the communities that make up this city we call home. The city seems likely to be shaped to fit the needs of the university-educated and relatively wealthy residents. Cities usually are. But perhaps in this age of austerity the divide is becoming clearer, and the danger of exclusion. Already evidence of it. The young, energetic, well-educated and confident residents are claiming spaces and places, setting up the things they feel are missing. The older more settled residents, some of them here for decades, are seeing things claimed, taken away, changed beyond recognition in places. To some residents the city seems like a world of opportunity, a playground for ideas. Others feel a sense of loss and grievance, feel pushed out, powerless.

Having given a personal perspective, in response to the project ‘My Future York’, I’m thinking that perhaps a way in to writing about ‘My Future York’ is to take ourselves out of the picture – remove the ‘My’ and instead think about a Future York better suiting all of us. As it is the city as a whole we’re trying to help with, trying to imagine, and it involves the place working well for everyone who lives here. As Phil Bixby says in ‘Building a city-wide brief‘: ‘it involves altruism – consideration of what we hand on to others’.

Things are going a certain way, towards a city serving the needs of some of its residents — mainly the wealthier ones. How do we make it better reflect all of its residents, and include the needs and wants of those who don’t feel confident enough to put their views across, or don’t know how to?

I used to feel powerless in the face of the changes, in this city I was born in decades ago and have loved since I began to develop a ‘sense of place’. Recently I’ve seen some evidence of a more collaborative approach between decision-makers and other citizens, and I hope that continues to develop, and expand beyond arguing angrily on social media. For that to happen it needs more respect all round – among citizens in terms of how council staff, councillors and other decision-makers are seen, and from those decision-makers in terms of recognising that residents often have a wealth of local knowledge that can be of benefit if brought into the mix in plans for York and its future.

There will always be new residents arriving with energy and vision, and the challenge for the future is how to combine that energy with the wisdom and knowledge already here, to include a respect for heritage — of the built kind and the less tangible understanding of place. Projects like My Future York will I hope help to do this, bridging divides and bringing more of us in to combine our efforts for the sake of this precious place.

– – –

If you’d like to add your own thoughts on York in the future, there’s more info on this page, and you can add your contribution on this link. My own ‘Perfect York, 2026’ is on this link. My Future York has gathered many interesting and thought-provoking perspectives, including contributions from Christopher Styles, Victoria Hoyle, John Cossham, Kit Rafe Heyam, and Helen Graham.

Guest Post by Lisa@YorkStories: ‘My perfect York’

2026: ‘At West Offices there’s a drop-in centre where residents can get details of planning applications and comment on them or discuss them with other residents and local councillors. The old ‘us and them’ attitude has gone, after more residents began to engage with the planning process and put pressure on the authorities to make changes in the way plans were presented.’

In the second of our guest posts by Lisa@yorkstories, she outlines her perfect 2026 York as a contribution to our Day In My Life 2026 project.

Contributed by Lisa@yorkstories

An imaginary walk/cycle ride through York in 2026 … a utopian vision of how I’d like my side of town to be.

. . . . .

On Burton Stone Lane there’s an entrance to the football and rugby ground, on what used to be the MoD land of Lumley Barracks. The plans for a new ‘community stadium’ at Monks Cross were eventually abandoned after growing ludicrously bloated and unworkable, and a way was found to keep the football club at Bootham Crescent. The MoD land became available, and in a sudden surprise move the massively profitable housebuilder Persimmon decided to be philanthropic in the city where its business had begun, and instead of building houses on the Bootham Crescent ground, as had been the plan, it bought the whole site, and the MoD land, and donated it to the people of the city.

The new stadium has the necessary upgrade in facilities, and is also used by the rugby club. It’s still in the heart of the community, in the same place now for almost 100 years. Both York City FC and York City Knights are now doing well, with larger attendances.

Bootham Park hospital has reopened, and the forbidding ‘no unauthorised persons’ signs around the site have been removed. The double gates to Bridge Lane have been repaired and are now open, allowing cyclists to access the site more easily without the danger of colliding with pedestrians. The former ‘gala field’ is used for community events and the green space is better appreciated and cared for.

The journey from this part of York to the station has been made much easier since the construction of a new more accessible bridge alongside the old Scarborough Bridge, on the Clifton side. It curves across the river, set higher than the riverside paths so that it’s still accessible in times of flood. The floods are less dramatic these days, as there has been more work upstream to manage the flow before it reaches York.

The new curvy bridge over the river takes us into York Central. It’s possible to walk or cycle right through the middle of this area, to reach Holgate Road and Water End. It’s still a work in progress, but parts of it have been built. The tallest buildings, a mix of offices and residential blocks, are carefully sited so as not to block light from the rest of the site. Here, open parkland areas have been created and planted with trees – proper woodland trees like beech, oak and horse chestnut.

A strip of land planted with meadow flowers has extended from the original wildflower meadow around the Holgate arch right along the edge of the site, a river of flowers leading to the carriageworks canteen building.

The canteen was saved and has a new use as a community centre and business start-up space. On its walls are massive images of the carriageworks site in the past, and its workers, including those iconic images of all the bikes streaming out into the Holgate Road traffic. A ‘borrow a bike’ scheme based here pays homage to that memory. Outside and through the wildflower areas are information boards giving a history of the site and what was built here, with a plan of where all the rail workshops were when the site was at its peak. The ‘pride’ we talked about so much in the mid-1990s when the carriageworks closed has eventually been revived, thirty years later, through a thoughtful reuse of the site and its surviving buildings.

The new and old sit more happily together now. There’s not that conflict there used to be between those who want ‘progress’ and those who used to be labelled ‘the heritage brigade’. More people have come to have a wider and deeper appreciation of this city’s heritage and also of their own, and how the two fit together, and there’s a recognition that intelligent development (‘progress’) means working with what’s there, building on that.

Alongside the excitement of all things new and innovative there’s a growing recognition of the fact that it’s fairly easy to start things but much harder to keep them going, how much work and commitment it takes. A while back it was all about innovators and innovating. Now the focus is on maintainers, maintaining. In line with that, a new shopping area behind the station on the York Central development has been massively popular, featuring only those businesses with an established local presence dating from the 1980s or earlier. Many businesses ended up moving out of the walled city, as bars and restaurants moved in. York Central has its own fairly new ‘high street’, with a branch of Barnitts in the middle of it.

Heading back towards the city centre we pass the retained and improved Railway Institute buildings near the station, and pedestrians and those on two wheels can pass through the quiet arches under Queen Street bridge, taking the line the trains used to take, in the mid-19th century, right up to West Offices, the station at that time.

At West Offices there’s a drop-in centre where residents can get details of planning applications and comment on them or discuss them with other residents and local councillors. The old ‘us and them’ attitude has gone, after more residents began to engage with the planning process and put pressure on the authorities to make changes in the way plans were presented. An improved online system has meant greater participation and understanding, and the Residents Planning Centre here at West Offices is usually lively and buzzing, with a good atmosphere, and occasional laughter even.

Leaving West Offices we can then walk along the city walls. Though many changes were proposed to the moats and mounds around the walls most of these weren’t put in place as residents campaigned to preserve the existing views. These have been enhanced by further planting of wildflowers right around the walls. The buzzing of bees can be heard as we pause to admire the view towards the Minster, which looks much the same as it did ten years ago, and a century ago.

Over the other side of Lendal Bridge the library and city archives continue to provide a valuable and well-used service.

If we walk past there, out of the city centre, up Gillygate and Clarence Street and onto Haxby Road, we find that an offshoot of the library and archives has recently opened in the newly refurbished Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library, alongside the Nestle South development. Lights are on in the old Rowntree factory building. People are living in there now.

Behind it there’s a new cycle track heading off towards Bootham Stray, which is still open land there for us, as it always was. Or we can cross the road and go past the allotments, towards Clifton Backies, then onto Kingsway, where the green space between the houses is also full of flowers, and bees buzzing. There are benches made by local residents, which are never vandalised, and there’s no litter on the ground, here or anywhere.

Guest Post by Lisa@York Stories: ‘Ways in: looking back …’

Since 2004 Lisa@York Stories has been documenting the city under the heading ‘a residents record of York and its changes’. As part of the My Future York project we’ve been asking people to look forward and imagine their lives and York in 2026. In the first of three posting for the My Future York project, Lisa looks back ten years to 2006. What difference can 10 years make?

A contribution from Lisa@YorkStories

The My Future York project is asking us to imagine what life might be like in the city of York ten years from now. It can be difficult to think ten years into the future, into an imagined future. It can feel like quite a long period of time.

Perhaps, as a way in, looking back ten years could be a useful exercise. Giving a perspective on what has changed in the ten years just gone might help us imagine what ten years on might look like.

In my online ‘record of York and its changes’ (www.yorkstories.co.uk) I’ve taken photos around York and written about York for more than a decade. I’ve been going through the photographs I took on my York walks ten years ago, in 2006, and reading the website pages I wrote about some of them, focusing on our lives here in this particular city.

The photos include some things that are no longer part of the cityscape, and many things that still are.

Back in 2006 the sugarbeet factory was a prominent feature of the skyline on my side of town, and the announcement of its imminent closure led me to take many photos of it, from the other side of the river, across Clifton ings. Its familiar smell was part of the local landscape at certain times of the year, a reminder that a sense of place and ‘our heritage’ involves all our senses, as we live and work and walk through the local patch.

November 2006, looking over Clifton Ings to the sugarbeet factory – now closed, taking with it familiar smells. Photo credit: York Stories.

What will York smell like in 2026? Will the smell of cocoa still drift across from the Nestle (formerly Rowntree) factory? And will the blue signs for the cycle routes still point the way to ‘Rowntrees’, or by then will they be replaced with ‘Nestle’? The disused part of the Rowntree site, Nestle South, has been marketed as ‘the Cocoa Works’. By 2026 will it have been redeveloped, and will the signs point the way to ‘the Cocoa Works’? Will locals of a certain age always call it Rowntrees, regardless?

But back to 2006. The photos remind me that there wasn’t yet a Sainsbury’s on the corner of Bootham Row, where a new tall building has replaced the former garage building, low level and set back from the road. Just like all the sites built on in the last ten years in or near the city centre, the new buildings are much higher, making as much profit as possible on valuable land.

In the heart of the city, the Minster’s East End was covered in scaffolding, back in 2006, and old carved pieces of stone were stacked on the ground nearby. After painstaking restoration for so many years it was recently unveiled in all its glory. In 2006, around the Minster’s south side, Deangate still had kerbs and tarmac, an obvious road. Now it’s repaved with expensive stone, a shared space where cyclists whizz through and pedestrians are wandering.

Back in 2006 King’s Square still had its 1970s paving scheme, since controversially replaced. Similar major repaving work has occurred in the last decade in part of Exhibition Square, and in Library Square.

The library has been renamed York Explore, and it now has the city archives housed in an impressive added extension. Major work here on this building and all the others around it in what was called for a time the ‘cultural quarter’, though that phrase didn’t seem to catch on. But in the last decade we’ve seen work on the Yorkshire Museum, the art gallery, the theatre, the De Grey rooms alongside, the public loos by Bootham Bar, and most recently St Leonard’s Place. All emerging as handsome and new, and some of them in some ways more accessible, in other ways less accessible (because of increased entry fees, or because bits of them are no longer open to the general public).

Also in the ‘cultural quarter’, at the Lendal Tower corner of the Museum Gardens, the former engine house and the land behind it was scruffy and intriguing in 2006. Now it’s the Star Inn, and very posh. There’s a new access point through an archway in the wall, which in 2006 was used as a storage area for old bits of wood and the like.

Across the other side, the ‘tunnel’, just inside the Museum Street entrance of the Museum Gardens – still an unexplained and intriguing place in 2006, with sarcophagi along its walls. Now it’s a display space for information boards.

Beyond the historic core we’ve lost many buildings that had heritage value but no listing to protect them. Attempts to compile a ‘Local List’ drew attention to many buildings of interest, many of them demolished in the last decade. Including the old iron foundry buildings on Leeman Road, Reynard’s garage (aka the former Airspeed factory), St Barnabas old school building, and the Burnholme WMC, housed in a fine and fancy Victorian villa, now demolished, with a new club and housing in its place.

The Bonding Warehouse was empty in 2006, had been that way for some years, with its plastic letters dropping off: The Boding Warehouse by then. It’s now fully renovated and occupied, with offices in the place we used to booze and dance and laugh. I hope people still laugh there, even if boozing and dancing isn’t on the cards.

The photos from back then also remind me that there were the usual seasonal floods, in the autumn of 2006, lapping around the Boding Warehouse and other buildings by the Ouse. I have many photos of the riverside areas, Clifton ings and Paddy’s Pitch, covered in water, and gulls. But nothing too dramatic, over the ten year period, until of course the major incident in late 2015, with the failure of the Foss Barrier. I have photos of the Foss Barrier in 2006, when like many people I didn’t really appreciate just how important it was. It was rather taken for granted back then. Begging the question: what do we take for granted now that in ten years time we might not?

By the Foss, back in 2006, the old Stubbs ironmongers building was being converted to a Loch Fyne restaurant, with a new residential block behind it. I have photos of it mid-conversion with its new lettering painted on the brickwork and the old Stubbs signage still above the shopfront. The 2015 floods left it closed for almost a year. Another restaurant nearby still hasn’t reopened. Will we be better able to control and cope with the effects of flooding in the future?

June 2006: the conversion from Stubbs ironmongers to the Loch Fyne restaurant is underway. Photo credit: York Stories.

Nearby, walking down the characterful Straker’s Passage off Fossgate in 2006 meant passing the side of the Barbican Bookshop, where a side window held a selection of interesting books. The Barbican Bookshop is one of many familiar well-established shops to have closed down in the last decade. New shops have appeared, but bars and restaurants are more common.

June 2006: the Barbican Bookshop side window down Strakers Passage. New shops have appeared since, but bars and restaurants are more common. Photo credit: York Stories.

Near Fossgate is the Hungate redevelopment area. In 2006 it was still full of the functional low brick-built buildings dating from the mid-20th century. I’m reminded of this by a photo of the buildings on Stonebow taken from the Peasholme Green end. The demolition of those buildings led to a marketing suite on part of the site and a fine buddleia forest behind hoardings on the other part. Behind that, in the intervening ten years, tall blocks have been built. Some private residential and some student accommodation.

June 2006: buildings on Stonebow, since demolished. Looking very different now, with a marketing suite for the new Hungate development. Photo credit: York Stories.

Which brings us to the main change in the city over the last decade. There has been a huge increase in the student population, and that has had a noticeable effect on the city, in terms of the built environment and culturally.

If in 2006 you lived on a quiet street of residential houses occupied by families paying a mortgage and now you’re living on the same street surrounded by rented houses occupied mainly by young people only living there for a short time then your neighbourhood will have a different feel to it. In recognition of this there have been attempts to deal with the large increase in the student population by building huge blocks of purpose-built accommodation. Large accommodation blocks for students have appeared in the Hungate development area and on Navigation Road and Walmgate, and outside the walls along Lawrence Street and Hull Road, where the older properties of the Poor Clare’s and the former St Lawrence WMC/Tuke house are also being converted to student accommodation. The changes on this side of town are quite dramatic.

The changes between then and now stand out. But photos from 2006 also focus the mind on the things that haven’t changed much, the things that endure, much the same, maintained. I have many photos of Homestead Park, York Cemetery, Clifton ings and the riverside areas, Rawcliffe Meadows. All as lovely as they were, actually better than they were, as our appreciation of our local natural environment deepens.

In the paragraphs above I’ve focused on the changes. But ten years isn’t really that long, certainly not in the context of a historic city like York. So how will it change in the next ten years? With competing interests and opposing viewpoints? Technology will of course be part of the mix, and wider cultural changes. But for York, specifically, what changes in buildings and our use of land can you see being likely? What would you like it to be? How would you like it to look? Will it feel ‘like home’?

2026: After the 2020 Great Flood of London, tough times but also social solidarity

'2026: more flooding in York and worldwide. But along with the social unrest and disruption caused by the disasters, there have been many positives. There’s been an increase in expressions of solidarity and inclusivity, a sort of ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality. We’ve accepted a huge number of migrants, many from Bangladesh since most of that country became uninhabitable, and a significant number of Dutch, although many of them have been able to go home due to the successful drainage and restoration of their damaged dykes. This has added greatly to York’s diversity and culture, which I’m enjoying.' Photo credit: Catherine Sotheran
‘2026: more flooding in York and worldwide. But along with the social unrest and disruption caused by the disasters, there have been many positives. There’s been an increase in expressions of solidarity and inclusivity, a sort of ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality. We’ve accepted a huge number of migrants, many from Bangladesh since most of that country became uninhabitable, and a significant number of Dutch, although many of them have been able to go home due to the successful drainage and restoration of their damaged dykes. This has added greatly to York’s diversity and culture, which I’m enjoying.’ Photo credit: Catherine Sotheran

Contributed by John Cossham

Today, Autumn 2016
I’ve just come back from a gig in Burton Constable, 10 miles cycle from York, but the wind on the way there made the journey tough. But the client paid me well for the three hour gig, and the kiddies were so excited with being able to have a go at making balloon animals. I never cease to be overjoyed at their happy faces even after more than 20 years working as Professor Fiddlesticks.

I’ve got a huge amount of fruit to process, as it’s the season for me to be inundated with apples and pears, many of which I dry on my woodstove. It’s a good blackberry year so I’ve made quite a bit of blackberry and apple fruit leather. I’m pleased that my involvement with ‘Abundance’ means I can pick unwanted fruit, keep some (quite often the ones which fall on the ground) and donate the rest to organisations which can use them, like the homeless hostels, refugee centres and the Food Bank in Acomb. Some of the recent apples I’ll take to the Tang Hall Community Centre and the nearby primary school. But fruit preparation takes time and I’ve got a presentation to put together on ‘green funerals’ for the West Yorkshire Humanists. Fortunately I’ve a slide show which I can adapt and rename, but it will still take several hours to get it to how I want it. The amount of time I put into these presentations is not matched by the low fees I get for public speaking, but it might be laying the foundations for something bigger and more important in the future, who knows?

I’m worrying about my teenage children. Neither of them knows what they want to do with their lives, and both of them have absorbed some of my fears and worries about collapse and extinction, but haven’t got the busy social life I’ve got which gives me meaning and reason to keep going. However I’m pleased that Adrian from Biochar in York has offered to ask my eldest if he wants to use one of the biochar retorts to start a mini-production line, using some of the woody wastes I get from my gardening work. Maybe if society starts to take carbon sequestration seriously there might be some money in carbon negative activities.

10 years time, Autumn 2026
Today I’m excited to be heading off out to the UK’s first Composting Burial Service Opening Ceremony. The unit has taken 18 months to build and test, so as usual I’m cycling to the site in Bishopthorpe. But today’s special, and I’m wearing my suit, as Prime Minister Corbyn is officially opening it. Some people have joked that he ought to be the first body in it since he expressed his support for this low carbon technology half way through his first term, but we’ve had plenty of people already give their remains to the project, and we’ve put them through for free. But today we start operating commercially, and have a competitive price to standard burial and the obviously high-carbon cremation. My role has been part of the PR team and carbon flux advisor, drawing on my PhD, a detailed carbon footprint analysis of the methane emissions of standard deep burial compared to shallower woodland and meadow burials and some existing work on the emissions from composting fallen stock. My son ought to be there too, as he’s been developing the active carbon sequestration part of the system, using biochar. Working with this team has been a welcome change from my Professor Fiddlesticks activities, which have been getting increasingly tiring as I’ve got older. However, the income from the Composting Burial work has meant I have been able to fit a high capacity electric propulsion system to my bike and trailer, so I’m now not as hot and sweaty when I arrive at a gig. I can get about 10 hours assisted ride with it at about 15 mph, so I can easily do a gig 30 or 40 miles away, which is further than I used to be prepared to cycle.

Tonight is the fortnightly York Climate Change Support Group meeting. Although we started in 2015 following the scarily accurate talk given by Dr Guy McPherson, there was little interest until the Great Flood Of London in 2020, which devastated so much of the capital’s infrastructure, and forced the seat of government to be moved to temporary accommodation near Birmingham. That seemed to shock the nation into accepting that climate change was real, was affecting us in the UK, and triggered a wave of introspection about our lifestyles and fierce debate about policies to deal with the probably-too-late levels of CO2, which reached about 420ppm that year. Thank goodness that airlines are now having to pay for the damage they’re doing, and the number of flights is down another 11% after the punitive taxation was imposed in 2022. This was part of a suite of ‘equity’ measures brought in by the government who were elected during the immediate aftermath of the Great Flood, with the Prime Minister showing great leadership and refusing to fly, preferring to ‘attend’ international summits via video-link, or travelling by train if less than 24 hours transit time. Although the 1% are still bleating on about ‘natural cycles’ and ‘economic growth’, they are widely despised, and many have been victims of the Climate Riots which followed the rationing of high carbon foodstuffs such as meat and alcohol which the masses blamed on the Capitalist minority. Rationing was seen as a fairer way of reducing consumption, less regressive than taxation, but it still has it’s detractors, and there’s a thriving black market and significant home production. Guinea pigs have never been so popular!

But along with the social unrest and disruption caused by the disasters, shortages and increasingly bad weather, there have been many positives come out of these tough times. There’s been an increase in expressions of solidarity and inclusivity, a sort of ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality. We’ve accepted a huge number of migrants, many from Bangladesh since most of that country became uninhabitable, and a significant number of Dutch, although many of them have been able to go home due to the successful drainage and restoration of their damaged dykes. This has added greatly to York’s diversity and culture, which I’m enjoying.