© 2017 The Harpenden Society

The Harpenden in Question

being a series of editorial commentaries on important Harpenden  issues that should challenge thought and encourage inquiry and action.

12. Art for All's Sake

Spring 2014 Newsletter

A year ago one of The Society's public meetings was successfully utilised by way of experiment under the generic title of Leisure Matters. An obliging audience, who appeared to enjoy and certainly became heartily involved in the exercise, were divided into four. Four members of The Society's busy Education and Leisure Working Group then proceeded, carrying their visual aids with them, to circle these mini-groups and held a twenty minute discussion with each.

Rachel Tuckley, well-versed in the arts world and a talented communicator – she was described by one participant in the respondent sheets as 'a wonderful ambassador for the idea' - took the 'arts centre' brief. She asked each of these four sets of attendees this question – 'does Harpenden need an arts centre?' And the general response was that, although the town has umpteen special associations and clubs for the arts, inclusive of music and singing, there was a call for something along these lines. For all its evident value, there was felt to be some sense of fragmentation and of exclusiveness about the current provision.

Arts and centre: first of all, let us define those two terms more clearly. The Society has, with its schools competition, attempted a zestfully wide definition of the creative arts. We were knocked a bit sideways by the response to last year's inaugural venture when we were flooded with over a thousand entries, all in answer to the question, 'Why do I like Harpenden?', from eleven of the town's thirteen primary schools. This year the competition is entitled 'Hail Harpendonia', with the youngsters asked to imagine that Harpenden is a nation or kingdom in its own right and to design anything from a flag or postage stamps to composing a national anthem. The winning entries will be on view at Celebration 2014, for details of which see page four. That event will be preceded by a special ceremony and show for the children, the teachers and the parents.

The categories include the visual arts and crafts, drama, music and dance, photography and IT and creative writing – and that degree of range gives the clue to what might be involved. For the adult market less conventional disciplines such as street theatre and comedy might be considered.. Some members of our leisure workshop wondered whether the sciences might be included. Range of activities is one aspect; the other is out-reach to under-represented groups in the populace, for which disengaged youth might serve as an example. But all those others of a lifelong passivity in respect of these arts must be considered. One of my favourite instances of a positive approach to this, in a thirty-two year experience nationally with the U3A movement, is the Stevenage woman who brilliantly organised an 'I Can't Sing' choir for older people which went on to do public performances.

Then the word 'centre': at first reading indicative of a building. Many at the discussion at last year's 'leisure' meeting edged towards the view that, yes, a building was required, but it did not need to house all the activities. Some sort of headquarters was essential to convey the right and practical sense of focus but a broad spread of locations could be an advantage. Interestingly, the library service public consultation, referred to on page four, included mention of the library has a 'hub' for community cultural life. Certainly there was some discussion of the library and its attendant accommodation as such a fulcrum for an arts centre. The other possibility mooted was a refurbished or rebuilt public hall, itself another of the four subjects on offer at the 'leisure' public meeting and vibrantly run by Caroline Fleming, another gifted member of the Education and Leisure Working Group.

It is a persuasive and attractive idea. Having opened the debate last year, might it be possible this year to assemble a group of interested parties to transform the idea of a Harpenden arts centre into a working proposition?

Eric Midwinter

Please send comments on this article or any other issues raised in this edition to the editor:

Eric Midwinter 37 Bloomfield Rd. Harpenden AL5 4DD


Sub-editor Harry Downie

Memos to Members

Can I help you?

By our roving crime correspondent.

Taryn Pearson, Head of Hertfordshire’s library service, (below right with Chris Marsden) gave a sparkling presentation to our members at Park Hall on 12 December last. The first public library in Britain was set up in 1598, and Harpenden’s new library shows that we have come a long way since then.

Usage of our library has doubled since its move to the High Street, and it does more than lend books – advice on how to use your computer and how to research your family tree are just two of the other services it provides. Ask at the library for more details!

She is thinking ahead to what the library should be doing in ten years time. I hope you filled in the questionnaire that was available on the evening or on line. It was there if you wanted your voice to be heard. Taryn is listening!

Editor's note. This is quite a library-orientated issue, with the news of the library volunteer scheme as our worthy front page story and an honourable mention of the library on page three in 'the Harpenden in Question' editorial, as well as this report on Taryn Preston's presentation at the December public meeting, with mulled wine and mince pies a tasty bonus. Members may like to know that, as a listed stakeholder with the library service, The Society, as well as encouraging everyone to fill in the questionnaire mentioned above by 'Our Roving Reporter', made a written submission on the future of the library service, with especial reference to Harpenden. This may be seen on The Society's website.

Transports of Few Delights

From Our Reporter Who Would Rove More Were It not For The Transport Problems

Transport: a single word with multiple connotations. With our Chairman, Chris Marsden, in the Freddie Grisewood/David Dimbleby role, an attentive and participant audience kept a panel of half a dozen experts on their toes in a most informative session of not so much 'any' as 'many' questions. The range of posers was surprising. It would appear we need better hospital transport, better parking facilities, better road drainage, better cycle pathways, better parking facilities, better bus services, better train services, oh, and better parking facilities...

The panel responded gallantly: Tom Hennessey and Gary Briggs from the Herts County Council, County Councillor David Williams, Neil Middleton of the Association of Passenger Transport Users, John Copping of Arriva Buses and our very own Donald Robertson, Convenor of The Society's Transport Working Group.

Above from left to right.Members of the panel, Donald Robertson, David Williams, Tom Hennessey, John Copping and Neil Middleton

It was a down-to-earth, shirt sleeves rolled up, workmanlike sort of an evening with panel and people concerned without being rancorous and with some bonny ideas – a pound ticket travelling north by train to Luton to raise passenger usage and revenue; a cycle lane from Kinsbourne Green right through the town; an eastern by-pass from the main road north of Harpenden right round to Junction 9 on the M1 – inventively floated.