Our Concerns About the Stanza Stones Project of the Ilkley Literary Festival.

(NB – this site is under development. Images, document files and other features will be added shortly.)

A summary of our concerns can be found in the four requests near the end of this page.

THE STANZA STONES PROJECT IS AN ODD ‘ARTS’ SCHEME that involves the carving of ‘poems’ all over the West Yorkshire moors.  Some of the carvings are intended for imported stone; others are on quarry faces and natural rock – at least one of them is intended to be carved on natural stone on Ilkley Moor. 

Evidence strongly suggests that carvings intended for Ilkley Moor will serve to encourage further vandalism on the already heavily-vandalised moor, which is a treasure house of antiquity containing many ancient monuments and one of the largest cluster of prehistoric cup-and-ring carvings in Western Europe.

When checking out how the awful project got off the ground, we came across a nasty story of misrepresentation, and an educational disaster.  Along with what looks very much like the grooming and/or manipulation of local government officials, and possible serious danger to property, life and limb, in a dangerous area prone to flooding.  PLEASE HELP US TO PROTECT ILKLEY MOOR FROM ARTS VANDALS.

Below are some details of our investigations and objections to this ill-considered project, which local people object to.  The text here is taken from letters and emails we have sent to authorities:

The Stanza Stones project, being undertaken by the Ilkley Literature Festival, is not without a history of controversy and, quite evidently, some effort to deflect public concern. It is a re-hash of a project attempted by the Ilkley Literature Festival in 2009. As they state on page 9 of their grant application to the Arts Council ‘Stanza Stones, grew from a short listed Artist’s Taking The Lead bid.’ The previous project, named, ‘Greater Than A Single Span’ was similar to the Stanza Stones project, being also an idea to carve Simon Armitage’s poems into rocks on Ilkley Moor. That project was in fact a failed entry into the 2009 Arts Council competition ‘Artists Taking The Lead’. The competition invited artists from each region to submit project proposals for a prize of up to £500,000. All of the projects were listed on regional web sites by the Arts Council, and public comment was invited. I (David Hazell) visited all of the project comment pages, and found that all of the public comment spaces had numerous posts, predominantly supporting the various projects; excepting the Ilkley Literature Festival’s, proposed ‘Greater Than A Single Span’ project comments page, which carried only one comment in support of the project.

When I tried to post a comment myself, I found that the comments did not appear. I contacted the Arts Council to complain that commenting on the project didn’t seem possible. Shortly afterwards, within 72 hours, a comment appeared on the page signed ‘Rachel’, stating that she had now clicked the button to allow comments. I believe the Rachel in question to be Rachel Feldberg, Director of the Ilkley Literature Festival.  Along with Rachel’s comment, around 20 other comments appeared on the page, all of which preceded my own attempt to comment, and all of which had been removed. Overwhelmingly the reappearing comments were against the project at a ratio of around 10 to 1. Quite the reverse of the ratio of comments posted about the other projects in the competition.

The project clearly did not enjoy public support and had invited controversy, so it became less than a favourite to win the competition, and did not do so. But long before the result was announced, Rachel Feldberg, was proposing the new and similar Stanza Stones project, to a ‘steering meeting’ of the Rombald’s Forum, on the 12th of September 2009. The Rombald’s Forum was effectively a defunct organisation at that point, and we have some suspicion is that it was conveniently reformed to give a semblance of public support to the Stanza Stones proposal. The Rombald’s Forum ‘steering group’ meeting, which has never met since, was attended by a maximum of 7 persons at most.  Listed for us by Mr Dave Melling, Bradford MDC Rural Economic Development Coordinator, as:

Bradford Council, Museums Service
Bradford Council, Economic Development Service
Keighley and District Model Aircraft Club
Friends of Ilkley Manor House
The Bridleway Society
Local landowner
Bingley and District Local History Society

We have asked Mr Melling, who himself attended the meeting wearing at least one hat, if any of the listed representatives were present in dual roles.  Mr Melling chose not to respond to that query, so we have no figure of actual persons attending. Our belief is that the number is actually as small as 5, or very possibly as small as 3.

In the process of the ‘Artists Leading The Way’ project, I posted an open letter to Simon Armitage, on the Arts Council project comments page and received the following reply, on the 22nd September 09:

“Thanks for your email. Just to assure you that there is no plan to carve poetry onto the rocks on Ilkley Moor. The project has changed direction since those first notions, and if you would like clarification on this, Rachel Feldberg at the Ilkley Literature Festival would be pleased to discuss it with you, I’m sure.
Best – Simon Armitage”

Mr Armitage may not have been aware that the mentioned Rombald’s Forum steering group meeting had taken place on the 12th of September 09, preceding his email to me by several days. As evinced in emails I subsequently received from Mr Melling.

It is important that the number of attendees at the Rombald’s Forum steering committee be properly assessed, as it appears to be the only consulted body, consisting of public group representatives, that actually supported the project.

In an email sent to Councillor David Heseltine by the Countryside And Rights Of Way officer Danny Jackson, Mr Jackson makes it clear, that considerable trust in the bona fides of the project, was placed in the hands of a Mr Tom Lonsdale, Stanza Stones project Director. This has somehow resulted in the myth that the project enjoys the support of bodies that clearly do not support it.  See the following missive, sent to author and prehistorian Paul Bennett, of communications between councillor David Heseltine, and Danny Jackson, below:

Dear Paul
Please see below response from officers
Regards
Cllr David Heseltine

“Dear Councillors,
“I refer to your e-mail addressed to Suzan Hemingway regarding correspondence from Mr Paul Bennett about the Ilkley Literature Festival’s Stanza Stones project.

“I have previously replied to a query from Councillor Malcolm Sykes on the same subject which I have copied below and hope gives the background detail you require. Just to clarify, we were approached by the Festival for permission to allow a verse, specially written by Simon Armitage to be carved onto a boulder in Backstone Beck on Ilkley Moor. The Festival representatives carried out consultation on the project which also involves a further 6 sites aross the South Pennines. Only one of these other 6 sites is being kept under wraps by the Festival as they want people to find the seventh verse, rather than advertising it. Hence, I presume, Mr Bennett’s reference to secrecy about the location of the carvings.

“I should explain that my team (Countryside and Rights of Way in Planning and Transportation / Regeneration and Culture) are responsible for mananging Ilkley Moor and we were approached by the Stanza Stones project about their proposals and ultimately gave the permission.

“1. Has there been the cost to the Council so far and if so, how much and is any further Council expenditure committed to the project?

“1A. There has been no cost to the Council. Stanza Stones is an Ilkley Literature Festival project and they have secured a grant from the South Pennine LEADER programme which is a strand of the English Rural Development Fund (ERDF) – European cash channelled through DEFRA. There may also be some funding linked to the 2012 Olympics as I understand the project is also part of the parallel Cultural Olympiad. I will check up on that point but the main issue is that there has not be any expenditure of Council money on this project, nor will there be.

“2 .Are there any unresolved pending matters regarding the project, particularly in relation to any permissions which need to be sought?

“2A: I am not aware of any unresolved matters in relation to permissions – we as landowner have given permission, English Heritage (who oversee Scheduled Monuments nationally) have been consulted and have no concerns — indeed they suggested the actual location in Backstone Beck, Natural England similarly are supportive. Ilkley Moor is currently included in a Higher Level Stewardship agri-environment scheme, and as such the necessary permissions and “derogations” relating to this scheme were sought and obtained. Operationally the only unresolved issues I am aware of are the sourcing of the stone flags which will form the base of the path carving – I understand the sculptor is still in discussion with the supplier. She is not scheduled to start any work on the moor until next year.

“3. Was there a formal Public Consultation including the wider community other than the local Parish Council and local Ward Councillors?

“3A. The consultations that were run on behalf of the Literature Festival included the Friends of Ilkley Moor, who we regard as representative of the users of the Moor. The Parish Council meeting which Mr Lonsdale (the project co-ordinator) addressed was also a public meeting. In preparing the project, representatives of the Ilkley Literature Festival, including the Director Rachel Feldberg, addressed the Rombalds Forum about the project. This is a wider stakeholder forum, including landowners, leisure interests, archaeologists, businesses, geologists etc. and they too were generally supportive. I am not aware of any further public consultations.

“4. What is the actual role of the Council in the project?

“4A: The Council’s role is simply as landowners of one of the sites chosen. There are 6 other sites across the South Pennines also included – mostly similar moorland settings -including the National Trusts Marsden Moor. We have also advised the project leaders about who to contact and who to speak to in relation to the Ilkley proposals.

“5. What mechanisms were in place to facilitate and deal with any objections to the project?

“5A: Essentially we relied on the feedback from the consultations that Mr Lonsdale undertook. As this was, in the main, supportive, this gave us confidence in giving permission. Any specific objections raised, we expected Mr Lonsdale to deal with. An example is that an intial proposal was to set out one of the Stanzas near to the Trig point cairn on the very top of the moor. This is a scheduled monument (a burial cairn). Feedback from English Heritage on this site triggered a re-think, hence the alternative proposal at Backstone Beck was pursued.

“I should also add that this proposal has attracted some media coverage – including a piece on BBC’s Look North back in July. The project did not receive any negative feedback as a result of this.

“6. Has there been a planning application in respect of the project and if so were decisions made under delegated powers?

“6A: I am not aware that a planning application has been submitted in respect of the project, I think the understanding is that one is not necessary given the scale and nature of the proposal.

“I should finally add as a further explanation of our support for this project, that the poet involved, Simon Armitage, is one of the nation’s leading poets and we regarded it, when approached, as something of a coup to have some of his original work on one of our sites. The fact that these 7 sites across the Pennines will be linked by a publicised trail (another part of the project) will mean that this will be an additional attraction to the area and further enhance the image of Bradford as a cultural and tourist destination.

“I hope these address your concerns, if not we would be happy to discuss them further with you, or we can arrange for Literature Festival contacts to provide further background.

Regards – Danny Jackson,
Countryside and Rights of Way Manager
Department of Regeneration and Culture…“

We are concerned that paragraph 3A in the foregoing email, illustrates that the consultation process was severely flawed, beyond the point of explicit misrepresentation. Particularly the phrase, ‘‘they too were generally supportive’’ in reference to the Rombald’s Forum steering group. The word ‘too’ implies that both Ilkley Parish Council and importantly The Friends Of Ilkley Moor referred to in paragraph 3A, were also generally supportive. In the case of the Friends Of Ilkley Moor; cited in paragraph 3A by Mr Jackson, as “representative of the users of the Moor” this is not the case! This is illustrated in an email we received from Mr Owen Wells (16th October 2011), Chair of The Friends Of Ilkley Moor, below:

“The Stanza Stones is a difficult subject. Our committee was unable to agree a position on this. We held diverging views. On the whole it was our position that if stones were to be carved, we would prefer them to be located near areas like the Tarn, where the effects of human intervention on the Moor are most evident, rather than in the wilder places. I think most of us had reservations about public art in remote landscapes. I am aware of very good landscape art, like that of Andy Goldsworthy, but on the whole we prefer Ilkley Moor to be left as it is. That being said, there are many examples of carvings on the Moor (Victorian as well as neolithic) and there is a maze on the Moor that I think is probably Victorian – so people have been leaving their mark on the Moor for very many years.  In the end, our opinion was not terribly important as we were not the body that decided on the Stanza Stones.”

Our own experience in consulting members of the public is that in far greater part, they echo the Friends Of Ilkley Moor, desiring that ‘Ilkley Moor to be left as it is’.

We are also concerned that given the outcry against, and failure of the very similar, ‘Greater Than A Single Span project’ that the secrecy surrounding the location of the seventh stone, could be construed as a device to deflect public awareness until the project was an effective fait accompli, thereby avoiding the tide of protest that led to the demise of the previous project. Although this may not be the case, it is certainly the case that the secrecy factor will certainly have had such effect.

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Stanza Stones project instigators did not know that it would be controversial, and the story was highlighted briefly by the local Press: http://www.voiceofthevalleys.net/stanza-stones.html

******

As indicated previously, the Rombald’s Forum steering group meeting, which consisted of so very few people, can hardly be categorised as public support, and investigation of the presentation to Ilkley Parish Council, reveals areas of major concern. Firstly, it is well known that public attendance at Parish Council meetings is negligible, so stating as in paragraph 3A of Mr Jackson’s letter, that it was a “public meeting”, offers no genuine indication of public feeling on the matter. Mr Lonsdale’s take on how the presentation went is quite revealing and in its way rather alarming.

We have accessed a great deal of paperwork concerning the project under the Freedom Of Information Act. We find in the paperwork we received from Bradford Metropolitan District Council an excerpt from a letter to Mr Jackson from Mr Londsdale dated 07 April 2011:

“I think the presentation to Ilkley parish Council was a success as far as it goes: the impression I gained was that the Parish council members were pretty keen. Cllr Mike Gibbons was the only District Councillor there and he kept his powder dry and I suspect that he expressed his opinions to Anne Hawksworth, who arrived just as I was leaving.”

We feel that when Council officials are allowing a project based on someone’s assumption that an elected representative favours the project, it is a disservice. Not only to the elected representative, but serves to make a mockery of local democracy. As well as being a somewhat discursive attitude, if not an actual affront to the elected representative in question. Commonly, voters expect the people they vote for to be properly consulted on such matters. In all, it is taking the notion of tacit consent, to extreme levels. A point on which we are sure, many people would agree.

Mr Lonsdale, seems to have a penchant for communication breakdowns with Councils. It is minuted that at the Ilkley Parish Council meeting on the 4th of April 2011, Mr Lonsdale was introduced as chair of the Pennine Heritage Task Force. When we contacted Mr Lonsdale, about the Pennine Heritage Task Force, we found that it was an organisation that had not been active for over a decade!  Mr Lonsdale, explained the fact that he was introduced to Ilkley Parish Council, as being in that role, as a mistake on the part of the minute taker at the meeting, and invited us to check it out. In inviting us to do so, Mr Lonsdale, may or may not have been aware, that the minute taker; Parish Clerk Dr Yule, had actually resigned at the time we received his communication inviting us to check. Although we doubted that Mr Lonsdale, would seek to impugn the efficiency of a qualified Council official, we did contact Mrs Fiona Birdsall, the acting Ilkley Parish Clerk, who was also at the meeting on the 4th of April 2011. Mrs Birdsall, informed us that it was the practice of Dr Yule, to simply write exactly, only what she had been told by any presenter by way of introduction, quite meticulously.

Mrs Birdsall also informed us that after the presentation there was no discussion whatsoever by Ilkley Parish Council of the presentation. So Mr Lonsdale’s assertion that ‘the impression I gained was that Parish council members were pretty keen’ remains just another assumption, and its value as a test of public opinion in itself is highly questionable. As is its citing as evidence thereof, in paragraph 3A of Mr Jackson’s, letter. The fact is that any kind of extensive testing of public opinion on the Stanza Stones project has simply not been undertaken, and we contend that however well intentioned, that far too much reliance has been placed on the stated ‘impressions’ of Mr Lonsdale, on this matter.

Mr Jackson’s reference to the rather flimsy Look North July broadcast in Paragraph 5 of his letter, reporting an absence of public feedback after the broadcast, does not in our opinion qualify as evidence of public assent. The broadcast gives little indication of the locations of the carvings, with only negligible reference in the voiceover to Ilkley moor. It is in fact a dismal piece, which was hardly likely to arouse much excitement in most early evening viewers.

Paragraph 6A of Mr Jackson’s letter, is something we find to be quite disturbing on further enquiry. It would appear that Mr Jackson had not visited the proposed carving site at Backstone Beck when he wrote the letter. We accessed information from English Heritage under the Freedom Of Information Act, to find the location of the site, and visited it. Reaching it is something of a scramble from the main footpath, and without extensive excavation of the dangerous path leading to the site, it will remain impassable for many disabled people. In the minute of the 4th April 2011 presentation to Ilkley Parish Council, Ilkley Literature Festival, state the intention of building a viewing ‘spur’ to enable people to view the carving:

“It was envisaged that the Backstone Beck stanza would be carved into a boulder just off from the main path and a spur would be made to the boulder so that walkers could get close enough to read the stanza. spur’ … the spur path would be horizontal and safety issues had been taken into account.”

So we must conclude that Mr Jackson, was left unaware of precisely what would be involved, when he wrote:

I am not aware that a planning application has been submitted in respect of the project, I think the understanding is that one is not necessary given the scale and nature of the proposal”

We have checked the online planning applications submitted to Bradford MDC, and at this time, no application for the proposed spur over Backstone Beck, is listed.

When Mr Jackson writes in Paragraph 1A, in his letter to Councillor Heseltine,

“the main issue is that there has not been any expenditure of Council money on this project, nor will there be”,

it again suggests that he is not fully aware of what the project does entail. In the event that structures are built to allow access to the Backstone Beck carving, we must assume that the ongoing costs of maintaining the insurance would fall on to BMC. In the event of an injury occurring on the spur or approach, it would be quite disastrous and potentially very costly to the Council, particularly if full and accredited planning permission for the structure or any alteration to the approach, had not been fully and properly undertaken. We fear that such costs would inevitably fall on to Bradford DMC rather than the Ilkley Literature Festival or Mr Lonsdale. Since it is Mr Lonsdale’s practice with such projects to form limited companies for the duration of the project, and wind them up when the project is completed.

In the same context we need to be concerned that the Backstone Beck carving itself could be a target for vandals, if insured. The site is in fact literally surrounded by existing vandal carvings. Another aspect that needs to be investigated is the question of the incidence of flooding that occurs regularly at Backstone Beck. Although costly widening and culverting of the Beck has been undertaken, it is proper that local residents should feel safe. And also, be assured as a consequence of testing and investigation, that the proposed Stanza Stones viewing spur, planned to be built over the Beck is genuinely safe. Also that any other work to be undertaken, will definitely not serve to facilitate the kind of blockage that occurred in 2007, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage.

There is no doubt that Mr Lonsdale has an impressive CV, having been employed as Manchester City architect, and in other leading roles. So we make no critique of Mr Jackson’s willingness to trust the judgement of Mr Lonsdale on many aspects of the project, nor Mr Jackson’s reliance on Mr Lonsdale’s oversight of the project. We feel however that Mr Lonsdale’s communication skills and thoroughness are by no means appropriate to the project as a whole. Being far too assumptive and effectively negligent, in some senses. For example a number of bodies who should have been made aware of the project were either overlooked or ignored by Mr Lonsdale. The ‘Wild Yorkshire’ organisation were not consulted and don’t like the idea at all. The Conservation Officer for Butterfly Conservation, was not consulted, and fears that the project may be potentially damaging and possibly illegal. Bradford Ornithological Committee, who were not consulted either, fear some important sites in the project may be violated.  The West Yorkshire Geology Trust should have been consulted prior to the project and was not. Similarly the British Lichen Society who are active on Ilkley Moor had not been informed, and those of the climbing fraternity that we have spoken to, know of no consultation and are appalled at the proposal in the project to carve on quarry faces. Essentially, other than the dubious and sparse Rombald’s Forum steering committee, attended by a maximum of seven people but more probably three or five, the only public body actually consulted was the Friends of Ilkley Moor, who do not support the project.

A responsible approach to Mr Lonsdale’s role as Project Director, would have ensured that all relevant and engaged bodies were properly consulted and fully informed, and it appears that in some instances legal action could be a consequence of his failure to do so.

We can accept that Bradford Council officers may have been quite happy to allow what at face value appears to be a well managed project. We can also accept that a person such as Mr Lonsdale, would have been assumed to be sure to consult and inform all the relevant bodies, particularly if Mr Lonsdale had given such assurances. But a serious question about the role of Bradford Council officers arises from information we have obtained under the Freedom Of Information Act, in the application for funding, submitted to the Arts Council by the Ilkley Literature Festival.

In the Ilkley Literature Festival’s Summary Report 2011, submitted in support of the Arts Council grant for the Stanza Stones project, we find on page 6 a list entitled ‘Particular Successes’.  The last three items on the list are as follows:

  1. Completion of new box office and website to budget, for the 2010 Festival.
  2. Introduction of more ‘year round’ programme including free lectures at Cartwright Hall.
  3. New Bradford MDC officer well-known to Festival-working with us to introduce proper system for our application to them.

The third item is of specific concern and we have accordingly presented in context.

We are puzzled that the appointment of a Bradford MDC officer, can be regarded as a ‘particular success’ of the Ilkley Literature Festival?

We are addressing this question, and summary of questions below, directly to the Chief Executive of Bradford MDC, as a matter that we feel ought to merit the Chief Executive’s investigation.

Obvious questions which arise, are:

  1. Did the Ilkley Literature Festival have any role in the appointment of the mentioned officer?
  2. Is this officer “well known to the Festival” under any obligation to ease the path of applications by Ilkley Literature Festival?
  3. What changes have been introduced to facilitate a ‘proper system’ for the Festivals applications?
  4. Is it, as may appear, the case that a compliant officer is changing systems and possibly regulations, because the officer is “well known” to the Festival?
  5. What introductions of ‘proper systems’ have taken place, and can any such changes to systems and regulations introduced by the Festival friendly officer, affect the applications of other bodies and groups in any way?

Quite frankly, we collectively feel that the ‘particular success’ we refer to, could all too easily be interpreted as an admission to the grooming of a Council officer in order to facilitate the Festival’s ends. Boasting of seemingly potential manipulative capacity in such a way, and claiming such activity as a ‘particular success’ can give the impression that our local politics are in a very distressed state indeed. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I heard the phrase ‘the old pals Act’ used in discussions on this point. A phrase I have not heard in many years, and in these days of accountable and responsible public service, never thought to hear again. It is our collective experience in dealing with Bradford MDC representatives and officials, that we can normally expect to be engaged with often extraordinarily diligent and helpful people. So we are aggrieved that the ‘particular success’ of the Ilkley Literature Festival, has the propensity to cast something of a shadow across the many laudable efforts of our local officials.

Such consideration cannot be ameliorated by reference to the fact, that the inevitably controversial Stanza Stones project, was approved with so little public consultation, and seemingly without appropriate planning scrutiny. Similarly, the recent despoilment of a considerable area of Ilkley Moor by an Emmerdale film crew, using heavy vehicles on the grasslands, cannot be excused by pleading that officials were unaware of the probable extent of the ensuing damage. It should be the responsibility of those charged with the protection of the moor to properly assess any damage to the moor before any approval is given, and to impose conditions and receive undertakings that any potential damage can be minimised and adequately restored. Clearly this is not happening.

******

We are disturbed and curious about a statement in Mr Lonsdale’s letter to Mr Jackson of the 7th April 2011 which reads:

“I do think however it is Backstone Beck or nothing in Ilkley. Richard very kindly showed me round some very sensibly chosen possible locations but none offer a solution to the sort of concern being raised without importing a stone and the project loses its integrity if we do that in a location littered with existing stone.”

******

Since we started to raise concerns about the Stanza stones project online, we have been contacted by a number of people who were under the clear impression that only imported stone slabs were to be carved on.  Nowhere in the Ilkley Literature Festival’s publicised information on the project does it state that the integrity of the project is contingent on the carving of any natural stone. We feel that it is the responsibility of Bradford MDC, to enquire of the project organisers why this need be the case, since it was made clear to be so in the application letter referred to, and has obviously gone unchallenged. In trying to fathom this question ourselves, we have done some research, and come up with little in the way of reason as to why natural stone intrusion should be a matter of ‘integrity’ to the project, other than something vaguely probable, yet entirely grotesque.

Ms Feldberg, the Director of Ilkley Literature Festival, along with her husband David Collins, are prominent advocates of a strange movement known as ‘interventionist’ or ‘transgressive’ art. Mr Collins explains the strange rationale behind this activity on a website, which we have copied. Sadly, it involves the defacement of posters and other art, often in a criminal way.  From our reading, Mr Collins openly admits to criminal activity in this regard with some pride:

http://www.saatchi-and-someone.org.uk/weddingPic.html

On the site MR Collins writes:

“One evening in Autumn 1990 I was driving out of Bradford when I saw a new Billboard. It showed two young women wrapped in a blanket holding a small child between them…”

Mr Collins then goes on to explain how he and others went and defaced the poster at dead of night, and boasts of other such interventions/transgressions. All seemingly justifiable to him as the posters are of a political aspect!  As the act took place within the precincts of Bradford MDC, we request that the information on the site be reviewed by Bradford MDC police committee.

Other instances are outlined on the site, but our concern is any possible connection between this bizarre behaviour and the so called ‘integrity’ of the Stanza Stones project, being contingent on the despoilment of natural rock.  More importantly however we must ask this question particularly as the Stanza Stones project involves groups of children in education. Since Rachel Feldberg, as this site indicates –
http://www.saatchi-and-someone.org.uk/weddingPic.html – openly supports her husband’s criminal activity in the name of art, in all honesty is this person the kind of individual that ought to be in a position that involves setting example to young people?

******

On the question of integrity itself, it is certainly not a term that can be applied to those involved in the Stanza Stones project, if care and diligence can be interpreted as features of integrity. This is no better exemplified than in an outrageous undertaking that we refer to as ‘The Red Velvet Box Fiasco’.

Listed on page 6 of the Ilkley Literature Festivals grant application to the Arts Council, again under ‘particular successes’ we find:-

  • Development of Young Writers Group – high standard and commitment of participants.

Unfortunately, however high the standard of participants in these bodies, the standard of product and effort produced and delivered by the Ilkley Literature Festival, has proven to be abysmal by any standards in a product which would be hilarious if it were not publicly funded. And horrifyingly, can only serve to misinform and mislead young people, often at an age when they are approaching GCSE examinations, and the requisite excellence of their talents is at a premium.

It is usually contingent on arts bodies seeking funding, to involve themselves in community activity. It bolsters the case for public expenditure on such phenomena as the Cultural Olympiad, when it can be shown that such things contribute to the well being of communities, and exercises in the field of education are mandatory where Cultural Olympiad associated monies are to be availed. The ‘development’ of such entities as ‘young writers groups’ ‘young actors groups’ by involving local schools; and their maintenance in an area, provides agencies like arts festivals with conscript material, always at hand, to be included in support of funding requests.

At face value this would be an excellent thing, if it could be seen to foster literary erudition and improve literacy amongst the young people involved. Remarkably and regrettably, the reverse is proven to be the case in the instance of this particular ‘flagship’ project. Young people’s writing groups were sent red velvet boxes containing a ‘resource’ kit, designed to help them engage in the Stanza Stones project, by visiting the carvings and hopefully inspiring them to compose poems of their own. Competitions and interactions between groups were also features of the scheme. The main and much vaunted item in the resource kit, was a booklet entitled ‘The Penine Water Shed’. As is evident the word Pennine, is spelled with only one ‘n’ where there should be two, and as photographs we have saved from their website attests, the misspelling was printed in large upper case lettering on the front-cover of the booklet.

The Ilkley Literature Festival organisers were so enthused by the booklet venture that they published it online, with photographs of youngsters, eagerly gathered around the red velvet boxes. Photographs of the opened boxes, which reveal the misspelled cover word, for all to see, were also on display. Rather distressingly, the text within the booklets was also fully displayed online. We use the word ‘distressingly’ because the displayed text, as printed in the booklets, was a case study in very poor spelling and quite horrendous grammatical errors.

A local journalist placed the whole thing on a web site (still online at the moment of writing) – http://www.voiceofthevalleys.net/pennine-watershed.html – and offered a prize for whoever found the greatest number of spelling and grammatical errors! After he contacted the Ilkley Literary Festival, obtaining no comment from anyone, the text of the web pages was quickly removed, and was quickly deleted from the internet!  We checked, and this occurs when Photoshop text images placed on line by the uploader, are deleted by the uploader. We have however retained the text and the images of the opened boxes and incidents associated with the red velvet box scheme and have copied the webpages for reproduction in the near future…on this very website!

We consider it to be the responsibility of Bradford MDC to take appropriate measures in alerting the head teachers of Bradford schools and other educational agencies involved in the red velvet box scheme, to its educational shortcomings.

As parents, and people with young family members in school, we are frankly appalled at such misleading, careless and ill-considered exploitation of young people. We believe that Bradford MDC should be at pains to ensure that no copies or textual material from the offending publications be retained by the young people affected, and that the young people themselves be alerted to what has taken place. Such action is particularly important and quite urgent, since all of the young people so affected, are in age groups approaching life affecting, GCSE examinations.

One curious feature that we have discovered in respect of the red velvet box debacle, is in the form of a tweet, tweeted by the Ilkley Literature Festival here – http://twitter.com/#!/ilkleylitfest/status/82740231836672000 – which reads:

“Ilkley Lit Fest – Congratulations to Paul Price, creator of the Stanza Stones resources boxes – just won Leeds College of Art 2011 Print Prize!”

We checked with the Leeds College of Art, being under the impression that the prize may have been awarded for Mr Price’s work on the red velvet box scheme. We were informed that no 2011 Print Prize had been awarded, and that Mr Price; who until recently was under the tutelage of Ms Feldberg’s husband Mr Collins, at Leeds College of Art , had been awarded no prize whatsoever in 2011. We see this case as possible indicator of the quite desperate lengths that some individuals associated with the Ilkley Literature Festival have gone to, in order to manufacture credibility for the Stanza Stones project.

******

We wish to make it clear that generally, we are supportive of the way Ilkley Literature Festival has expanded in recent years, and are happy to praise the organisers of the Festival, for their many worthy achievements. However we can only have serious concerns about the Ilkley Literature Festival’s Stanza Stones project. In addition to those outlined in the foregoing text, our initial opposition to the Stanza Stones project arises from two principal concerns.

Firstly, we think that the incidence of such carvings is a rude and unnecessary imposition, on those who seek a walk in the country just to ‘get away from it all’, as many people do. Secondly and vitally, we fear that the project may serve to jeopardise the invaluable and irreplaceable ancient, cup and ring carvings and other pre-historical monuments on Ilkley Moor. Some of those carvings are estimated to be as much as 6000 years old, and regrettably some have already suffered from what is evidently modern vandalism. It is our contention that the incidence of sanctioned and approved carving on the natural stones, or indeed anywhere else on the moor, may serve to suggest in the minds of those with existing vandalising tendencies, that carving graffiti on the moor is not only acceptable but legitimate.

We do not share the view of the Director of Ilkley Literature Festival, which we hold to be remarkably unrealistic. As illustrated in an email below, placed online by an individual who tentatively supported the project, and made enquiries about the dangers to the ancient carvings:

“The kind of sites we have chosen for the project in general.  All the sites we have chosen, after a great deal of thought and research – not just in the Ilkley area but across the Pennines – are sites where human beings have already made major interventions- industrial, quarrying, agricultural or even recent local authority initiatives so that it isn’t ‘untouched’ landscape (if of course such a thing exists in England any more after thousands of years of human activity.) We have also examined very carefully the question of whether a highly skilled artist carving using hand techniques which go back to the middles ages would encourage graffiti and all the evidence shows that when professional standard carving is introduced it doesn’t provoke graffiti- it’s almost as if people think- ’I could never do something like that’- and don’t bother.”

This message reveals that the Director of Ilkley Literature Festival holds the view that anywhere in the country is suitable for artistic intervention and transgression, if anyone has ever engaged in any activity at all at a site.  No consideration of the industrial or agricultural archaeology of any site is given in the message, which effectively suggests a carte blanche approach to artistic intrusion: an attitude we are moved to perceive as far from environmentally conscious, and decidedly unhealthy.

The Director’s incredible attempt to present an analysis of the vandal mind is truly bewildering. The use of the phrase ‘all the evidence shows’ by the Director of Ilkley Literature Festival, cannot be substantiated, since no such verifiable evidence is in existence. Despite quite rigorous research by a number of academically qualified supporters of our concerns, no relevant studies seem to have been undertaken and nothing that could be appropriated as ‘evidence’ has come to light. It may be that some comparison has been made with projects undertaken by Mr Lonsdale in Cumbria, which would be an entirely inadequate comparison. The Lake District is not on the edge of a major conurbation, and although subjected to some vandalism, nowhere in Cumbria is as heavily vandalised as Ilkley Moor, and other countryside areas in West Yorkshire.

We contend that it is remote in the extreme, that the kind of people who vandalise graveyards, bus stops, telephone boxes and just about everything else they encounter would, as the Director of Ilkley Literature Festival amazingly suggests, recognise professional carving that dates back to the middle ages, and be in such subsequent awe of the work, that all thoughts of causing any vandalism would flee from their minds, to be replaced with the thought, “‘I could never do anything like that’- and don’t bother.” 

Such postulation is naïve in the extreme.  No such consideration seems to dissuade those who damage professional carvings in our cemeteries from wanton destruction. As anyone who walks in the regions countryside is aware, countryside vandalism in this area is a regrettable feature of our rural places, with practically all the information plinths placed around the region, being themselves subjected to vandalism, often within days of their placement. It has been pointed out to us that the Pike Stones on Anglezarke Moor in Lancashire, was damaged only by the elements for a period of several thousand years, before the erection of an information plinth nearby. Not long afterwards the plinth and the Pike stones were both vandalised. Such examples lead us to think that the Director of Ilkley Literature Festival’s analysis of how vandals might react is quite outrageously unrealistic. Very far from the kind of statement that we would expect from an adult person, responsible for the direction of a large enterprise.

We feel it far more likely that in the minds of vandals, the incidence of any recent carvings of any type would more likely serve to encourage further damage. Whilst The Ilkley Literature Festival organisers cannot guarantee that such will not be the case, we ourselves cannot guarantee that it would. It is simply the case that in hopes of affording some protection to the largest cluster of ancient carvings and monuments in Western Europe, we prefer not to take any chances. Nor do we feel that Bradford MDC would be acting responsibly in taking any such chances. Ideally, we would wish to see; and willingly support, efforts to have Ilkley Moor accredited with World Heritage site status. In that event, access to a variety of funding and greater protection of the moor would result. The award of such an accolade could only be of benefit to Bradford, serving to take full advantage of a sometimes overlooked, yet potentially invaluable asset of Bradford MDC. Further unnecessary intrusions on the moor could only harm such aspirations.

******

We therefore make the following requests:

  1. We request that permission for further Ilkley Literature Festival activity on Ilkley Moor be withdraw, until a thorough and representative public opinion estimate on the Stanza Stones project is undertaken.
  2. We request that a full investigation be undertaken into the incidence of Ilkley Literature Festival’s claimed ‘Particular Success’ (*New Bradford MDC officer-well known to Festival-working with us to introduce proper system for our application to them.) We consider that a full and satisfactory explanation should be solicited from the Ilkley Literature Festival on this matter. Also we think it appropriate in this circumstance, that any decisions in respect of the Ilkey Literature Festival, should not be taken by potentially compromised Bradford MDC officers, but should be taken by elected Councillors in the appropriate committee, or elected Councillors in a full Bradford MDC Council meeting.
  3. We request that Bradford MDC appoint properly qualified flood experts and engineers to investigate any proposed work to be undertaken at Backstone Beck, by the Ilkley Literature Festival. In order to provide absolute assurance, that no structure, permanent or temporary, or any other Ilkley Literature Festival activity, can serve to increase the probability of the kind of disastrous flooding that occurred due to blockages at that site in 2007, causing extensive and costly damage to property and endangering lives.
  4. We request that Bradford MDC, take responsibility to engage in a damage limitation exercise, by endeavouring to ensure that all the young people adversely affected by the misleading ‘red velvet box’ scheme are fully informed of all the errors in texts delivered to them. We consider that Bradford MDC, as the host and supporting local authority of the Ilkley Literature Festival, should take measures to also ensure that affected young people in neighbouring authorities also be fully informed. Since many of the young people involved in Ilkley Literature Festival activity are of ages approaching or involved in life affecting GCSE examinations, we consider that education officials of Bradford MDC should scrutinise all of the potentially misleading literature distributed to vulnerable young people by the Ilkley Literature Festival. Also that parents, guardians and head teachers, be given assurance that further distribution of misleading material to their charges, cannot again be allowed to occur.

******

In these times of financial exigency with so many publicly funded projects undergoing scrutiny, we feel that it is imperative that the public be fully informed of any questionable activity surrounding such projects. To this end we are placing the whole of the foregoing text on a publicly accessible web site.  Additionally, a book is being prepared about the Stanza Stones project, for which a publisher has been found, and we are in contact with production companies serving Channel 4, with a view to the making of a TV documentary about the Stanza Stones project.

******

People and agencies we have contacted, with the foregoing (by recorded delivery):

  1. Chief Executive Bradford MDC
  2. Overview and Scrutiny Bradford MDC
  3. Customer Relations Bradford MDC

By email:

  1. All Bradford MDC Councillors
  2. Arts Council England
  3. imove
  4. Yorkshire Forward
  5. The Cultural Olympiad 2012
  6. Department for Communities and Local Government, FAO Greg Clark MP
  7. DEFRA, FAO James Paice MP
  8. Department for Education, FAO Michael Gove MP
  9. Department for Culture Media and Sport, FAO Caroline Spellman MP
  10. Yorkshire Water Authority
  11. Various Media agencies.

With thanks to – Sayan’im; Tyler Durden; David Hazell; Paul Bennett; Michala Potts; David Speight

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment