An educational hub with buzz

Today at the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground, Level has been leading work with colleagues from the Cricket Club, local schools and colleges and regional universities exploring together a shared ambition for partnership working and the creation of an educational hub with buzz at the ground.

Durham is English cricket’s most recent first-class county. Through collaborative working the hub can provide first-class educational experiences in first-class settings with first-class outcomes.

Colleagues considered diverse and surprising connections for students, staff and wider communities, both at home and abroad. Opportunities for local and international engagement focused on curricular and complementary curricular opportunities, each explored through a shared motivation for maximising resources and expanding experiences.

Predicting and anticipating evolving trends and scenarios across sport and education further emphasised the benefits of partnership working, in turn inviting consideration of flexible approaches to teaching, learning and performance development.

Apprehensions were also explored including perceived limitations to practical engagement. However, as our day progressed, any light clouds of reservation or indeed heavy clouds of rain were lifted as colleagues continued informal conversations while watching Durham v Lancashire in the LV= County Championships.

Beyond the boundaries of the excellent Journal Lounge with its first-class view of the wicket, participants enjoyed a tour of the facilities including the media and education centres, SKY TV room, live commentary and reporting studios, indoor cricket facilities and community projects including the first-class charity book stall and the 50 Not Out! project.

The day reflected our underpinning principle and commitment to promoting and brokering partnership work in trying to create a more level playing-field in society. Of course, the crucial question is ‘What happens next?’ Watch this space….

Something for everyone – creating a more level playing-field in the arts

Last weekend saw the culmination of Harrogate International Festivals’ Sunday Series at The Old Swan Hotel. As Chairman of the Festivals’ Board of Trustees, I have thoroughly enjoyed joining audiences to hear and savour the exceptional classical talents of Artur Pizarro, The Pavao String Quartet, Martin Roscoe, Julian Bliss and Paul Watkins, each providing their audiences with the beauty and challenge of their chosen pieces as well as insightful reflections and observations on the composers, their instruments and the skills and talents demanded of them as accomplished musicians.

Each concert took place at The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, famed in part for being the first building in the town to have electric light but more generally for being home to Agatha Christie during her disappearance in 1926. She had checked into the hotel under the pseudonym Mrs Teresa Neale but was recognised during her stay by one of the musicians at the hotel. Harrogate International Festivals has a long history of association with the hotel. The Festival was launched in 1966 as the Harrogate Festival of Arts and Sciences and the Festival Club - to which all visitors to the Festival, together with local residents, were invited to join – was based at the hotel.

The original administrator of the Festival, Clive Wilson, wrote in his opening address:

‘The Festival will be an annual platform on which the North can display its own diverse and unique talents, whilst at the same time presenting some of this country’s, and the world’s, most eminent artists and scientists…

… There must be a breaking down of barriers: barriers between those that feel that the arts are not for them, but are some strange cultural activity carried on in a higher sphere…’

As this week sees the close of the Festivals’ Sunday Series, next week plays host to the annual launch of our Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, ‘the biggest and best of its kind anywhere in the world’. The Festival takes place in Harrogate 19th – 22nd July, at The Old Swan Hotel.

Maintaining the spirit and ambition of the inaugural Festival, the Festivals’ team continue to bring to the town some of this country’s, and the world’s most eminent artists – from music and science and literature – breaking down barriers and creating a more level playing-field for and with those who may not normally indulge in the arts.

Why not take a look at and get a taste of what’s on offer and whet your appetite with a flavour of what’s yet to come…

Surprising Connections and Making a Difference – the Canadian way

In my last posting, reference was made to a number of birthday celebrations and musical connections. Continuing that theme, our attention can again be drawn to anniversaries including the celebration of a seminal album released 40 years ago through to the most recent release by an internationally recognised artist of great influence and critical acclaim. In both cases, surprising and inspiring connections for additional reference, insight and impact can be reflected upon.

Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ was released in February 1972. Although the album has become recognised as an ‘all-time great’ and indeed in some polls is regarded as the greatest Canadian album of all time, at the point of release the record received mixed reviews, with negatives mostly criticising Young for being repetitive, especially in musical style. In contrast, the album reaped one of Young’s most memorable tracks ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’, depicting the harrowing story of human decline through heroin abuse, and his only number 1 single ‘Heart of Gold’.

But the chart topping single isn’t the only example of Young being connected to a heart of gold. In addition to his musical achievements, Young is also the inspiring holder of multiple awards and tributes for his far-ranging charity work and philanthropic activities, in turn touching and making a difference to the lives of millions across the globe. In particular, Young co-founded the Farm Aid Concerts, raising money to support family farmers in the US at risk of losing their farms through mortgage debt. Young and his wife, Pegi, also founded The Bridge School, California, for children with severe disabilities and speech impairments. The Young’s have two sons with cerebral palsy and a daughter who, like Neil Young, has epilepsy. The non-profit school develops and integrates augmentative and alternative communication systems and assistive technologies to aid communication, with monies being raised through the unique – more often than not acoustic – performances of material by an impressive list of international artists at the Annual Bridge School Benefit Concerts. Performers at the concerts include Tony Bennett, David Bowie, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Sir Elton John, Norah Jones, Nils Lofgren, Sir Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Pearl Jam, Simon and Garfunkel, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Brian Wilson and of course, Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

Like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen is a Canadian born singer-songwriter, also famed as a writer, novelist, musician and well regarded, successful poet. Cohen was in his thirties when he was persuaded by singer-songwriter Judy Collins to perform and release his own songs. His twelfth and latest album, ‘Old Ideas’ was released at the end of January 2012, some forty four years after his first album, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’. Within the intervening years, one of Cohen’s tracks ‘Hallelujah’, first released in 1984, has been covered by nearly 200 other artists, including John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Allison Crowe, Rufus Wainwright and Guy Garvey. Other covers of his work include recordings by Tori Amos, Beck, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Johnny Cash, Jarvis Cocker, Willie Nelson and R.E.M. ‘Old Ideas’ has been received to great critical acclaim, not least for its lyrics, lyrical associations, and uncomplicated musical accompaniments, but also for Cohen’s infamous gravelly voice and his interwoven humour:

“My voice is getting lower and lower because I gave up smoking. I expected it to rise but it’s gone the other way. I would like to take up smoking again when I’m 80. I may be on the road then, and it’s one of the things that invites me to tour again — smoking on the road.”

Again like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen is a man of charity, albeit sometimes his focus is seen by some to be controversial e.g. his 2009 concert performance in Tel Aviv. Despite pressures of a call for a cultural boycott and the breakdown of the intended joint charitable fund with Amnesty International, Cohen persevered, established his own Leonard Cohen Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance an Peace and channelled the monies raised from the concert and its 47,000 tickets – estimated at between $1.5 and $2million – to a range of causes, most notably the ‘Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Parents Circle’, a charity focused on peace and reconciliation led by those who have lost a family member or members in the conflict. In addition to awards for musical achievement and production, Leonard Cohen has gained recognition for his work and contributions to the arts more generally. Cohen is an Officer and Companion of the Order of Canada (the country’s highest civilian honour), a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec, the holder of the 2011 Letters prize from the Prince of Asturias foundation (given annually “to reward the scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanistic work performed at an international level by individuals, institutions or groups of individuals or institutions.”), the winner of the ninth Glenn Gould Award (the Glenn Gould Foundation honours Glenn Gould’s spirit and legacy by celebrating brilliance, promoting creativity and transforming lives through the power of music and the arts with the Foundation’s signature activities, including The Glenn Gould Prize) and he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Walk of Fame and is the holder of a 2010 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

The impressive examples and standards set by Neil Young and Leonard Cohen of making a difference by celebrating and drawing on their own skills and talents, together with those of others demonstrate the significance and success that working in partnership can achieve. Surprising connections and a determination to make a difference, even in the face of public criticism, can lead to far reaching achievements and the creation of a more level playing-field for people in all different walks of life, facing challenges that may, in the first instance, seem insurmountable.