We are two!

Speakers’ Corner Lichfield marked its second anniversary, with a rousing recital of Happy Birthday led by MP Michael Fabricant, at 12 noon on Saturday 14 May at Speakers’ Corner on Dam Street.

Lichfield Speaker’s Corner was launched two years ago and became the second Speakers’ Corner outside London. The city landmark has continued to go from strength to strength, with talks this year on Fairtrade, the Census, Philip Larkin, World Teachers’ Day and much more.

Speakers’ Corner has also received a stunning facelift as part of the city centre parks project, and now boasts a beautiful stone plinth and commemorative plaque, bearing the inscription of a famous Johnson quote: “In order that all men may be taught to speak the truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it.

Revd Dr Pete Wilcox, Chair Lichfield Speakers’ Corner Committee, and Canon Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral explained: “We were delighted to celebrate yet another fantastic year at Speakers’ Corner Lichfield. We were also delighted to host our birthday celebrations as part of the much loved Buskathon event, which returned to Speakers’ Corner this year for the second time.”

He continued: “We celebrated in style with be a few short speeches, cake and more. I’d also like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to Lichfield District Council, Lichfield City Council and Linfords stone masons for making the facelift of Speakers’ Corner possible, and of course to the Buskathon team and to MP Michael Fabricant for his rousing version of Happy Birthday and a Bob Dylan medley!.”

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Son of Buskathon

Following on from the great success of ‘Buskathon’ in May 2010, we are pleased to announce ‘Son of Buskathon’. 

Set to take place at Speakers’ Corner, Dam Street on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May 2011, ‘Son of Buskathon’ will be an opportunity to raise funds for Lichfield’s FUSE Festival. Last year’s event organised by Dave Simcox raised in excess of £2000. 

This year all performers will again be encouraged to raise money through individual sponsorship with the aim of exceeding last year’s total and attempting to raise £3000 in support of FUSE.    

On Saturday 14 May, buskers from all genres will be scheduled to play from 9am to 7pm and, with the following day seeing Dave Simcox (aka Bruford Low) and Chris Newcombe (aka George from The Born Again Beatles) busking for 10 hours in relay.

Anyone interested in performing or finding out more about this event, please e-mail Chris Newcombe at cnewcombe@btinternet.com

Check out the FUSE website www.fuselichfield.org.uk for more information about the FUSE Festival.

Fairtrade in Lichfield – the next 5 years

Lichfield has a strong Fairtrade movement with over 100 organisations supporting Fairtrade .  Our City, District and County Councils are all committed to Fairtrade. 

We proudly proclaim our city’s ‘Fairtrade City’ status on the eight welcome boards on the main entrance roads into Lichfield. 

As we celebrate the third anniversary of achieving Fairtrade City status, it is a good time to ask – Where should we be going over the next five years with Fairtrade in Lichfield? 

As part of Fairtrade Fortnight here in Lichfield, the Fairtrade Lichfield Committee is organising an open meeting to discuss the future of Fairtrade in our city. 

It is on Saturday 5 March from 3.00 – 4.30 pm at the Lichfield Methodist Church in Tamworth Street.

We are pleased to welcome Paul Spray, Policy Director of Traidcraft to lead our discussion.  He is one of the country’s leading experts on justice in world trade.  Paul has previously worked for the government’s Department for International Development and for Christian Aid in policy work on how world trade can be a major force for overcoming world poverty. 

Also, everyone is welcome at Speakers Corner in Dam Street at 12.00 noon to celebrate the launch of an exciting piece of public art work made by students at the South Staffs College. 

It is being created from over 300 Fairtrade City spoons into the shape of the Fairtrade logo.  On each spoon the students have painted the face of a local Fairtrade supporter or a Third World producer. 

It will then go on display at different sites around the city.

Youth work week – 6 November

Young people from the district will be appearing at Lichfield Speakers’ Corner, between 10.30am and 11.15am on Saturday 6 November. They will be talking about and advertising the ‘Youth Work Week’ event that is taking place at Minster Hall on the same day.

Youth Work Week, is taking place at Minster Hall, from 12-4pm. The event will celebrate all the positive work that young people have been involved in, or lead on, over the last 12 months.

There will be a gallery of images on display for the whole community to see and experience – the images will be of work carried out by young people and specific projects that they have led on and created.

Videos produced by young people, and of district events, over the last year will also be shown on a rolling loop.

Young people will also be running a non-alcoholic cocktail bar, and showcasing the skills they have learnt during the recent alcohol awareness week. As well as this, young people will also be around to act as tour guides across the gallery spaces.

There will also be the unveiling of a static piece of artwork dedicated to showcasing how young people feel about youth work, and how it has influenced their lives during the day. This will be worked on in Youth work week (1-7 November) in the run-up to the event.

The event aims to target the whole community, from young people to elderly residents, to show how young people can positively influence and contribute to their community, and to also raise the profile of the work done by the positive activities section of Staffordshire Young People’s Service.

So, why not come along to Speakers’ Corner on Saturday 6 November to find out more – of if you can’t make it in time, come along to Minster Hall between 12noon and 4pm!

Education, education, education!

Pitched somewhere between Universal Children’s Day and World Teachers’ Day, Speakers’ Corner hosted a short session on Saturday October 16th on Education, Education, Education …..

The excellent new Speakers’ Corner banners also made their first striking appearance on the day!

John Brough introduced the topic, stressing the need for the ‘new’ government to listen more to those who work at the chalk face of education – and especially to the real experts, students who themselves spend up to 13 years in the system.

At this point two sixth formers (Aimee in Y13 and Michael in Y12, both from King Edward VI school) stood and spoke with clarity, confidence and passion about two aspects of education which matter greatly to them: the lack of rigour in many GCSE examinations (from Aimee) and the need to fast-track more able students (from Michael).

John referred to both these concerns in the course of his speech, imploring Michael Gove, and the coalition government, not to repeat the mistakes of previous governments in focusing too heavily on examinations and qualifications, unnecessary structural change and excessive inspection and micromanagement. Instead he urged them to re-consider the fundamental question of What is education for?

Here are some extracts from his speech:

“As a former headteacher myself, I just worry that despite the undoubted and much needed investment we’ve seen in recent years in educational buildings, facilities, teacher training and support, there is a real danger that Michael Gove and company will repeat the mistakes of previous governments without examining the fundamental question – What is Education for?

I have to confess that I actually groaned, back in the late 1990’,s when I heard the then prime minister Tony Blair utter those famous words:

“Education Education Education”

because I knew that

a) another set of politicians were going to tell me what to do yet again
b) that their focus wouldn’t really be on Education at all – but on whatever aspects would catch the eye and potentially win votes and
c) that we’d be subject to yet more structural change and interference by government – which actually detracts and distracts from the real purpose of education.

So, going back to the key question, What is Education for?
For successive governments it would appear to be principally about maximising examination results – getting qualifications. Education, Education, Education = Qualifications, Qualifications, Qualifications. For sure, qualifications are extremely important but they are one outcome – an end product – of education – they don’t define it.

Of course, exams are important because they assess certain skills and allow universities and employers to make certain judgements. But all too often, they are used by government as a crude measurement of a school’s performance, when high quality education is much more than that. Exams, important as they undoubtedly are, tell us only a little about the quality of a young person. Richard Branson and Winston Churchill were not highly qualified academically, but few would question their quality as individuals.

We cannot continue to regard schools as exam factories. For a start, over-concentration on exams is not improving teaching and learning, does not encourage children to think nor does it broaden their real understanding of academic subjects. Too often it restricts their knowledge to simply memorising and developing exam techniques and model answers which can be easily assessed and score well. It was Einstein who reminded us that:

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; and everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”.

Education needs to be about developing the whole human being – not least the creative, logical, moral, spiritual and social dimensions. What is not nurtured and developed by the time a young person leaves school may well remain dormant for the rest of their lives. If children are fed primarily on a diet of exam preparation, by teachers who have had their initiative and creativity gradually sucked out of them by an emphasis on instruction, then no wonder that large numbers of children at school are bored, resentful and feel unfulfilled – many lose hope.

So – my message for the new coalition and Michael Gove in particular is to stop messing about with structures, organisation, statistics and an over-emphasis on qualifications, and to start trusting schools, heads, teachers – and young people themselves – to focus on the broader view of education. And that must surely include, incidentally, the urgent development of a first-class apprenticeship system right up to the equivalent of degree level, so that we don’t get a proliferation of young people doing university courses for which they are unsuited and which may ultimately and sadly lead them nowhere. That way, education will truly help to begin to re-engage the minds, hearts and enthusiasm of so many more of our children.

Pete Wilcox brought the session to an end by thanking all the speakers and highlighting the imminent enhancement and development of Speakers Corner as part of the City’s Heritage Project, with a plinth, a stone and a rail to mark the spot much more obviously and proudly! He encouraged the audience to use it! Pete also drew attention to the next Speakers’ Corner event on Wednesday October 20th when Peter Young will give a talk on the poet Philip Larkin (in the Guildhall at 7.30 p.m.)

As Speakers’ Corner strongly signifies the right to freedom of speech, the final words of the day came from the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize – the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo:

Freedom of Expression is the basis of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth.

Celebrate cycling with Alison Churchill

Cycling – it’s ‘green’, it’s cheap, it lets you off time at the gym and is a speedy alternative to sitting in queues of traffic in town centres in the rush hour.

Join me at Speakers’ Corner, Lichfield on Saturday 25 September at 12.00 to Celebrate Cycling, Bring your bike and bring your friends with their bikes. Speakers’ Corner is in Dam Street, by Minster Pool and is also on one Lichfield’s cycle paths, so a great place to meet!

Please spread the word!

Coming up at Speakers’ Corner – this autumn and winter

Here’s a few dates for your diary:

25 September – A celebration of cycling
If you regularly use the cycle-paths around Lichfield District – especially the one that runs past Speakers’ Corner on Dam Street, come along for a talk on the importance of cycling and celebrate what cycling means to you. Watch this space for more news.

Saturday 16 October at 12noon – World Teachers’ Day & Universal Children’s Day.
To coincide with World Teachers’ Day and Universal Children’s Day, see and hear the views of local people, and especially students themselves, about our current education system. Watch this space for more news.

Holocaust Memorial Day & Portraits for Prosperity – October/November TBC
To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, and in celebration of the exciting Portraits for Posterity exhibition, which is coming to the Cathedral, the National Memorial Arborteum and South Staffordshire College, local people will mark this momentus occassion.

More about Portraits for Posterity is a unique photographic exhibition drawn from survivors of the Holocaust living in Great Britain today. Very few survived the ghettos, extermination and labour camps of the Nazi regime. Those alive today are now elderly, but still bear witness to ‘the crime of the 20th century’. By creating images of the few survivors, the exhibit provides a permanent memorial that also commemorates the millions who perished without portraits.

This moving exhibition is coming to Lichfield District this autumn, and will be on show at the Cathedral, the National Memorial Arboretum and South Staffordshire College between 11 October and 15 November.  To find out more visit www.portraitsforposterity.com

5 minute Christmas Stories – 4th, 11th & 18th December @ 12 noon
Come along and listen to Canon Pete Wilcox from Lichfield Cathedral telling stories to open up The Christmas Story. Watch this space for more details.

Why not appear at Speakers’ Corner?

If you are hoping to hold any events at Speakers’ Corner, and want to publish details to this blog, just email elizabeth.thatcher@lichfielddc.gov.uk and we’ll check it won’t clash with any planned events we’re aware of, and then add it up for you.

Why Football matters to God!

Here’s a fact: the qualifying competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup involved 204 countries – whereas the United Nations has only 193 member states.  Football is the only truly global sport.  It is not ‘just a game’.  It is art, drama and even religion.

The Art of Football

Football is ‘the beautiful game’.  To control a ball while running flat out, to be aware of the movement of team-mates and opponents, to decide in a split second where to pass the ball and to be able to execute the decision perfectly, is exceptionally difficult.  The talent of the world’s greatest players is to make this look simple.  This is art. 

Football fans wait for moments of balletic skill, when a player exhibits such speed and power, ball-control and balance that spectators catch their breath.  Sometimes, in football, it is a feat of individual genius which inspires the fan: mesmerising dribbling skills, a deft back-heel, an acrobatic shot, a sweetly timed tackle or interception.  But what makes most fans purr with greatest satisfaction is the intricacy of slick teamwork: individuals working together, acting in concert, as if responding to a common impulse, somehow synchronised, creating a shared work of art.

This art can be delicate.  Some of football’s finest players have been blessed with incredible finesse.  But speed and power and acute spatial awareness are integral to the art of football.  The anthropologist Desmond Morris reckons these qualities reveal the tribal origins of the game.  Football is, he says, a celebration of the arts of hunting and of battle.  The growth of women’s professional football in Britain, and the increasing attempts by clubs to market themselves to families cannot be ignored; but it is still hard to escape the fact that the beauty offered on the football pitch is savoured most by men.  The caricature of the male football ‘fan’ is the hooligan: destructive, violent and abusive.  But for most fans who are men, football is one way they are able to express their appreciation of beauty. 

The Drama of Football

It’s amazing how often (in almost any sport) the outcome of a match or a tournament feels scripted.  Occasionally a football match is literally ‘fixed’, usually by an international betting syndicate.  But mostly, the drama in football is innocent.  Matches which are subject to nobody’s control (not even the referee’s), unfold in ways that leave spectators enthralled at the apparent scripted-ness.  Plot lines are familiar, and biblical: there’s ‘David and Goliath’ (in which a weaker team defeats a stronger one, especially in cup football, in an act of ‘giant-killing’); ‘the coming of the Messiah’ (in which a hero signs for a new club, or returns from injury, makes an immediate impact on the team and leads it to success); ‘Judas returns’ (in which a hated betrayer, player or manager, comes back to torment a former club, consigning them to humiliating defeat); and ‘the Resurrection’ (in which a team snatches improbable victory from the jaws of defeat).  When Liverpool beat AC Milan in the Champions League final of 2005, to win on penalties after being 3-0 down at half time, newspaper match reports asked ‘Who wrote the script?’.  It’s a common question in the mind of the football fan. 

Like every kind of drama, football draws in its spectators and moves them.  But the reverse is true as well.  In football the fans also move the players.  One reason why sport makes especially good theatre (apart from the fact that the performance is sheer improvisation within limited rules), is that its fans are partisan.  There are two opposing sets of supporters, each with the capacity to contribute not just to the fortunes of a club, but even to outcome of a match.

In our society, football moves many people (again, especially men) more effectively than anything else.  When I was a vicar in Gateshead, I found it sobering to see the same men who sat so impassively in the back pews in church at baptisms and funerals, then singing, embracing and weeping on the terraces of Newcastle United.  They may not easily ‘get in touch with their emotions’ at home, at work or in church; but they did it at the match.  And when those football fans wept tears of joy or sorrow, I wondered if the immediate cause was just a catalyst to release emotions relating to all life’s joys and sorrows. 

The Religion of Football as Religion

If a person’s ‘god’ is the thing that gives meaning to their life, from which they get a sense of identity, which shapes their behaviour and around which their life revolves, then a ‘religion’ is a corporate, institutional expression of that thing.  In these terms, football – or football-supporting – is for many fans a religious activity.      

Besides, the word ‘religion’ comes from a Latin root meaning ‘to bind together’: and since for many fans their club is their primary community, football must be their religion.  It is their team which gives them their sense of belonging. 

Fans identify themselves with a club and keep up this allegiance for years: it becomes part of who they are, not only on match days, not only during the football season, but at all times and in all places.  When Sir Bobby Robson finally achieved his lifelong ambition to manage Newcastle United, he told the press (with a reference to the team’s playing colours), ‘If you cut me, I bleed black and white’.  It’s a belonging expressed in the wearing of replica kits not just to games, but about town or on holiday abroad. 

But the belonging is also expressed more spontaneously and fleetingly on match days and in extreme moments of exhilaration or despair.  In such moments, fans testify to a mystical oneness with their companions.  Honest!  Many football fans know the experience, carried away by the ecstasy or agony of a particular moment, of hugging a complete stranger.  That moment of ecstatic ‘connectedness’, of complete mutual recognition and understanding, amounts to a spiritual experience. 

Of course, football has its dark side.  The amount of money in the game, and in the pockets of elite players, is obscene.  There are still tribal hatreds dividing fans at all levels.  Hooliganism remains a social problem associated particularly with football.  While football has had some success addressing racism in the game, the same cannot be said of sexism and homophobia.  Football players are often poor role models on and off the pitch. 

But for all that, in its art, its drama and its spirituality, football is not just a game.  It could even be said to offer glimpses of the glory of God.

Pete Wilcox, Lichfield Cathedral, June 2010

£2,000 BUSKATHON lights FUSE!

Lichfield Arts’ free community festival, FUSE, will burn brighter following a £2,000 boost from BUSKATHON.

During the weekend of 22/23 May, Speakers’ Corner saw 20 hours of music, sun and fun, with dozens of buskers entertaining large crowds.

Saturday saw a varied programme of performers, including traditional one-man-and-a guitar buskers, bands, belly dancers and the Boys’ Brigade band.

Also wowing the audience were a circus performer, musical families, a tuba-playing minister, a folk quartet and even Michael Fabricant MP!

Sunday was the turn of Bruford Low (a.k.a. BUSKATHON organiser Dave Simcox) who busked at the piano for 10 hours, ably assisted by a host of singers who joined in with gusto!

Both days were concluded with a singalong round the Joanna; Speakers’ Corner resounding to Beatles numbers and other popular songs.

Lichfield Arts volunteers rattled buckets and handed out hundreds of leaflets publicising FUSE, which takes place in Beacon Park on 9/10/11 July (www.fuselichfield.org.uk)

Dave Simcox and friends in song

Dave Simcox was tired but ecstatic by the end of BUSKATHON. “I had set myself a target of £1,000, so to double that is truly amazing. As well as raising much-needed funds, we have also raised the profile of FUSE, and also Speakers’ Corner as a public space for the whole community. My heartfelt thanks to all of those who contributed, either by performing, collecting or just turning up and giving money. We finished the event with the song “Perfect Day” and for me, that sums it up.”