Deconstructing Yorkshire

The Leeds Beckett University Media and Place research cluster

As one of the founder members of the Media and Place research cluster, Dr Lynne Hibberd works closely with colleagues Dr Zoë Tew-Thompson, Dr Lisa Taylor and Dr Casey Orr to explore how media, culture and environment co-exist and help us to understand daily living practices. Since launching the MA Media at the global Media and Place conference at our University in 2014, Lynne and the team have been out there gathering the thoughts of the Yorkshire public on everything from rhubarb to Leeds city centre and Last of the Summer Wine. Carrie Braithwaite met up with the team to find out more.

Media and place are two ideas that go hand in hand, explains Lynne: “It is thinking about the way the media never exists in a vacuum. It is aligned to where we are and how we are in that environment. For example if I come into Leeds I always bring my phone and would feel lost without it. If I’m walking the dogs I take my phone with me but I’m happy if I haven’t got a signal and don’t feel like I have to be accessible. I watch a lot of TV at home but I wouldn’t on a train, even though I can, because I relate it to a specific place. I am interested in how media operates in different environments and how different places impact on the kind of media used.”

Lynne is currently investigating the relationship between Holmfirth in West Yorkshire and legendary television drama series, Last of the Summer Wine, which was filmed in the town. Lynne says: “I live in Holmfirth and it is around me all the time. When I moved here people would say ‘oh that’s where Last of the Summer Wine was filmed’. I had heard of it but never watched it yet, because of the daily references, after a while I started to say it as well and it began taking on a meaning. It shows how media, such as a TV programme, can frame our experiences even when it isn’t there.”

Lynne’s task is to find out how Last of the Summer Wine helps us to navigate Holmfirth through a tourist route. People come to Holmfirth for various reasons and they might cross the route or have some awareness, but how is their perception of the town changed by the series? With landmarks such as Sid’s Chip Shop and the Wrinkled Stocking Tea Room’, how has this big mediated production which no longer exists shifted our sense of place and changed the way a town looks? At the moment Lynne is talking to residents and will soon move on to talking to tourists. She says: “Most are quite dismissive even though they often have never seen the programme. There is a sense of slight embarrassment through the stereotype of the three old men. People are both disavowing it whilst continuing to claim it as a marker of their town.”

Earlier this year, the Media and Place team organised an event to celebrate Zoë’s new book, Urban Constellations, which looks at how British cities in the North and Midlands built flagship cultural projects around the millennium, such as The Deep in Hull, and how these iconic pieces of architecture attempted to regenerate the city and transform the way that people consume culture.

Leading the event, Zoë got people thinking about how we are encouraged to navigate places, museums but also city centres, according to certain routes. Lynne explains: “We took a tourist map of Leeds, which puts everything into certain zones such as shopping, museums, etc, and asked a member of the group called Stephanie to draw a big ‘S’ through the map. This was the route that we then took through the city, disrupting the traditional flow through the city and commenting on the chance encounters that we made such as sculptures, art, and even building sites. We saw the familiar in a different way.”

The exploration culminated in a session at the pub, creating gift shop style snow globes to represent the evening’s experience, using upturned jam jars, Lego, and pipe cleaners, which celebrated the overlooked aspects of the city encountered on the walk.

Walking and talking, whilst fully taking in the surroundings of a place and experiencing all that it has to offer in terms of senses, memories and ideas, is central to all of the research taking place within the cluster. Another event taking place this year has been ‘You are here: Leaving the city’, a 15-mile night-time walk which started at Broadcasting Place and finished at 2.30am.

Casey explains: “It was the hottest night of 2015 and a group of 20 walked together out of Leeds to Arnscliffe Crag. We experienced the night as darkness advanced and also receded and sought an understanding of the relationship of city to countryside and how walking through space and time can enhance the affinity between internal and external landscapes.”

Saturday Girl

One of Casey's projects is Saturday Girl. Beginning in Leeds, Casey expanded her series of photographic portraits to Liverpool this year. She explains: “Saturday Girl is a series of portraits of young women – teenagers – specifically as seen through their hairstyles. It is an exploration of hair and its cultural meaning for young women, and how we experience and use the power inherent in becoming visible as women. Saturday Girl was conceived after seeing so many young women in Leeds with ‘big hair’; hair teased and back-combed, styled and extended with hairpieces and wigs. I wondered what it meant, what it said about undercurrents in culture, the unspoken signs that tell of our values and tribe identities and how these things burst forth (whether we intend them to or not) in self-expression.”

Saturday Girl Liverpool, Casey’s book, was hot off the press in time for the Look 15 International Photography Festival in Liverpool in May 2015.

Shedding light on our rhubarb stories

The team’s latest collaborative project is all about the Yorkshire hero: the rhubarb. Starting at the Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb in February 2015, the team hit the streets gathering the public’s stories about rhubarb to look at how it is central to Yorkshire identity and distinctiveness. Lynne says: “The Rhubarb Triangle, spanning Leeds, Wakefield and Rothwell, is known throughout the world, bringing people looking for work and exporting rhubarb out around the globe. Casey Orr is documenting this through some stunning photography to create a visual narrative, and Zoë and I are exploring the cultural specificity of Yorkshire rhubarb by inviting people to talk about their relationship to it.”

In March, the team took part in a visit to a rhubarb shed, getting a tour of Oldroyd’s Farm in Wakefield and meeting with rhubarb enthusiasts who were also on the tour. Following this, the team have developed a workshop which involves using Lego to recreate the tour experience and getting people to make meaning through creative processes. Zoe explains: “The idea is that we take a very sensory experience such as being in a rhubarb shed, which is very cold and dark, and we show it in a different way. It is about stepping outside of the purely visual and understanding the tactile and embodied ways people make attachments to place. There is also the task of asking people to recreate an experience using limited resources which focuses people's attention on how they inhabit places quite differently than if we ask them directly. By asking them to make something which represents their attachment to a place we engage with their sensory experience and creativity. We are planning on developing this idea as a research activity with participants, who are mainly retired, so it is fun to get them working with Lego which is cross-generational.”

At RHS Harlow Carr’s ‘Wildlife Weekend’ in Harrogate in April the team even had a Rhu-booth: a portable confession space created by some of our design students where people can reveal their rhubarb secrets!

I had to ask Lynne if she has any rhubarb stories herself: “I did manage to kill a rhubarb once. I dug it up to move it but then the weather turned. It’s still lurking in my garden like a neglected pet! Having just been on the rhubarb tour at Oldroyd’s Farm in Wakefield I’m hopeful that I might be able to revive it.”

If you have any rhubarb stories you would like to share with Lynne, please email them to rhubarb@leedsbeckett.ac.uk.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Meanwhile, Dr Lisa Taylor has been developing a project based at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where she has been running ‘walk and talk tours’. Through the tours of the park, she has been tracking the way that people engage with the sculptures and landscapes.

Lisa explains: “I notice that people want to touch and feel the sculptures; they want to walk through them and, with pieces such as Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Family of Man’, they physically view the landscape through the sculpture itself. One of my main findings has been that people bring to their engagement with the Sculpture Park their own biographies, memories and specialisms.

Image: Barbara Hepworth, Square with Two Circles, 1963. Courtesy of YSP and copyright Jonty Wilde.

"Walking through the parkland at YSP triggered memories for people of walks with friends and loved ones. Others brought their interests to how they respond to art; so for one woman the sculptures evoked associations with her favourite writers and poets."

Verdant Creativities

Another study by Zoë, ‘Verdant Creativities’, explores three kinds of urban gardening and the transformation of cities through growing. This includes examining ‘guerrilla’ gardening and exploring every-day practices of greening West Yorkshire through creative acts of protest. Zoë is also conducting walk and talk tours through people’s allotments. “They walk me around their plot and this is a very sensory engagement. As well as seeing what people grow and finding out about their methods, you can smell, taste and touch. They discuss their past: as gardeners, their relationship to the city, their childhoods, where they learnt to grow and why they decided to have an allotment,” Zoë explains.

Zoë is also looking at the use of abandoned spaces and community gardens and thinking about how people transform and cultivate places. One such area is Bedford Fields in Woodhouse (the beautiful location for our video and photo shoot), a plot of land owned by the Council which anyone is free to use for gardening and growing food.

This idea of protest is common throughout the Media and Place research cluster, Lisa explains, highlighting the notion of claiming land rights for common people. Another way that this is promoted is through links with Commoners Choir, led by Chumbawamba singer Boff. Working with the Media and Place team, several walking and singing events have already taken place across Yorkshire, including one on Ilkley Moor in June to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

Lisa explains: “The songs are fun and relate to everyday life and we take them out into the landscape to sing them. The singing and walking events aim to get us all thinking about land rights and access to common ground, whilst walking in northern spaces. During our first event, I felt really moved and choked up when singing the songs all together, outside in the sun. It was a wonderful experience.”

Above all else, the researchers are keen to bring together communities through their work, reaching out to people and making an impact on their lives. Lisa adds: “Our research is interested in public engagement, with ideas about attachment to place, and all of our activities centre around getting people involved in creativity to celebrate and think about the idea of place.”

For more information about the Media and Place research cluster and to get involved in their activities, please visit http://mediaplaceresearch.co.uk/.