Holding people to account over the choices they make, and helping them make better choices, works!

Today, in a Comment is Free piece in The Guardian, to coincide with the release of the ‘Sustaining Great Art & Culture‘ report, Nicholas Serota Chair of Arts Council England lists some of the headline achievements of ACE’s 10 year partnership with Julie’s Bicycle (a charity that supports the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability.).

Over a 6 year period, Julie’s Bicycle has supported, cajoled and gently badgered ACE’s National Portfolio Organisations to report on their environmental sustainability against certain criteria. For small organisations such as Talking Birds, this is a slightly blunt tool: as one of many small companies renting a temporary office in a building we don’t own, untangling our energy or water use from that of the entire building – let alone exerting influence over others’ energy or water use is nigh on impossible) but the important thing is that the existence of this reporting programme starts the conversation, and it is conversations that prompt behaviour change.

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We all know that climate change is a massive issue – and we now know we have (probably) 12 years to plateau the mess – but it’s still true that individuals and companies find the scale of the problem just too big to even try to contemplate – yet alone do anything about. However, what today’s report highlights for me is that (a) holding people to account over the choices they make, and (b) helping them make better choices, works!

The report headlines that in the last 6 years there has been a 23% reduction in energy use, and a 35% reduction in carbon emissions across Arts Council’s National Portfolio. These are astonishing figures! If the arts, with our meagre funds, in our draughty old buildings and/or traipsing around the country to take our work out to you, can make these kinds of changes in behaviour and these kinds of impacts – then surely it’s possible for every other sector (and individual) to step up too?

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As I mentioned, the energy reduction is hard for Talking Birds at the moment because of our current office circumstances, but we’re working on that – and we are also doing lots of other things which don’t yet get reported on, but are just as important. We thought it might be useful to list some of our top ‘quick wins’ of things we do (at work and/or at home). If you don’t already do these, maybe they might be useful suggestions for you, or at least give you something to consider. If you have some actions that aren’t on the list please let us know via the comments – we’ll add them in – always good to use the hive-mind to crowdsource a list of practical ideas 😉

  • Always carry a refillable water bottle, coffee cup, fork/spoon and reusable carrier bags with you.
  • If you have to grab lunch on the go, choose something with no/minimal/paper packaging (in Coventry, a falafel wrap is a good option for this – but take your own cup if you want juice).
  • Use Ecosia as your search engine, because they will plant a tree for every 45 of your internet searches.
  • Switch your electricity and gas supplier to a renewable energy provider like Good Energy.
  • When food shopping, take your own containers/bags/tubs with you and choose loose produce when you can – in Coventry, try the market, or further afield, support the Zero Waste Shop (popping up across Warwickshire) and The Clean Kilo (in Digbeth in Birmingham)
  • If you are not already vegetarian or vegan, try to eat plant-based foods more often – if you need convincing how tasty and filling this can be, take yourself to The Pod for lunch sometime.
  • Get your (organic!) milk delivered in glass bottles – in Coventry, try Luckett’s Dairy.
  • If you can’t live without carbonated water, invest in a carbonating machine (like a Soda Stream) where the gas canisters are recycled.
  • Don’t fly. If you have to travel abroad, go by train.
  • Actively choose recycled/sustainable options on office paper, toilet roll etc
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning materials such as Ecover (then get refills), Bio D and Method (who use recycled plastic bottles).
  • If you regularly cater for small events (board meetings, networking etc) invest in some washable (ie crockery!) plates, cups and cutlery. Think about changing the balance in favour of vegetarian/vegan options rather than these being considered a ‘special dietary requirement’.
  • Try to spend some time outdoors to keep connected to nature, stay well, and observe the changes of the seasons (both expected and unexpected).
  • Look for zero waste or plastic-free toiletries, like Ben&Anna’s deodorant, toothpaste in a jar and shampoo in a bar.
  • Try to buy less stuff, but think carefully about what and where you buy. Buy local if you can, as every local (rather than chain shop or internet) purchase helps your town – if you don’t have a local bookshop and haven’t been put off ordering online by Dr Who, try hive.co.uk (yes, it is still internet shopping, but your purchase also gives a donation to an independent book shop of your choice, and I understand that they also pay tax).

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Let us have any of your ‘quick wins’ in the comments!



Wednesday Recommendations: Wilding, Doughnuts & Eating with Strangers

It’s been a while since there’s been a moment or two free to write a #WednesdayRecommendations post but, it’s Wednesday and I’ve got 10 minutes so here goes:

READ: ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth. I got hold of this after listening to the author on the ‘Reasons to be Cheerful‘ podcast, and I’m so glad I did! This is one of those books that totally changes the way you see the world – causing you to totally re-examine everything you think you know about the way things are done, or have been done – and why. It challenges our modern understanding of ‘growth’ and how we measure value – and is therefore much wider ranging than just economics. Laying out a compelling vision of how things could be (and need to be) done differently – the book is full of hope and practical steps for how humanity can re-organise to truly prosper, whilst re-generating our ravaged planet.

READ: ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree tells the story of her family’s decision to end the loss-making intensive agriculture farming business they inherited at Knepp on the South Weald. The book charts their incredible 20 year journey of discovery as they stopped ‘conventional’ farming, and gradually allowed (and prompted) nature to re-colonise and essentially heal the land. In common with ‘Doughnut Economics’, this book turns accepted views, and ways of doing things, upside down. I’m particularly struck by the way that this has been written as a summation of 20 years of quiet observation, and how that observation leads to a far deeper understanding, which in turn leads to (eg) the radical suggestions that the early British ‘wildwood’ must have been closer to wood pasture than forest; and that our understanding about the preferred habitats of many wild species are based on where they were able to survive when their really preferred habitats had been denied them by human activity.

LISTEN: The Food Programme ‘Eating With Strangers‘ which was broadcast last year, explores various examples of where strangers get together to eat – from Supper Clubs to Sikh Temples. It’s a fascinating programme on a number of levels, but particularly resonant for me, having recently enjoyed the Curating Coventry Supper Club at The Pod, the Stories on our Plate supper, and having linked up with the amazing Langar Aid during Spon Spun Festival. There’s lots of discussion about the connective potential of food but the clincher is probably “You can’t really hate someone you eat with.” Definitely worth a listen!

As always, let us know if you take us up on any of the recommendations – and what you make of them – and let us have your recommendations for reading and listening too. Cheers!



News from the Nest

Hello! We’re writing to you from our cosy 4th floor vantage point overlooking Coventry, the UK’s City of Culture 2021, with some titbits about forthcoming Birds activity:

Spon Spun Festival 2018 (Coventry)

Spon-Tryptich-1Sat Sept 8th – Walk With Me…

Come and tune in to some of the secrets of Spon End in the company of our guide, radio enthusiast and inventor, Herbert Cleaver. Expect a trail of the unexpected – and help us develop this work-in-progress walking tour by giving your feedback afterwards over tea & cake.

At Spon Spun 2018 we’re piloting this, the first of our city trails commissioned as part of Coventry City of Culture’s Great Place project, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England.

Tours at 1pm & 2.30pm from outside the Oasis Community Cafe, Spon End CV1 3BL. Free and suitable for all ages, and route is ramp accessible, but pre-booking essential by e-mailing access@talkingbirds.co.uk (please state how many places you would like to reserve and any access requirements you’d like to let us know about). Please note that the route lasts about an hour and we will be walking pretty continuously, so please wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately for the weather!

Screenshot 2018-09-06 09.38.58.pngSat Sept 15th – The Female Warrior

As part of the Spon Spun Art Trail https://www.sponspun.co.uk/artists/, and honouring the 2018 Heritage Open Day theme of Extraordinary Women, we will be giving the Coventry Premiere of our outdoor performance telling the extraordinary true story of Hannah Snell who, in 1746, joined the army in Coventry in the guise of a man and whose life as soldier, marine, mother, stage performer & publican defied the conventions of the time. “Captivating” (Audience Member)

Performance times: 1pm & 4pm In the garden behind Langar Aid House on Doe Bank Lane (next to historic Spon Bridge) CV1 3AR

The performance is FREE and lasts 40 minutes and is suitable for all ages. CAPTIONS [subtitles] will be broadcast to Mobile Devices via THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE app. More details: https://www.talkingbirds.co.uk/DE

Also coming up:

Screenshot 2018-09-06 09.34.13The Whale…
at Llawn Festival, Llandudno Promenade 15th-16th Sept 10am – 1pm and 2pm – 5pm both days https://www.llawn.org/

at Kenilworth Arts Festival 29th Sept 11am – 4pm https://www.kenilworthartsfestival.co.uk/whats-on/

We’re recruiting Board Members!
Would you be interested in joining our dynamic board to help steer the company’s exciting flight towards 2021 and beyond? Please contact us by e-mail so we can arrange an informal chat!

And finally…

A chance to win a Talking Birds’ exclusive Artist-Designed Prize bundle!
Have you been to one of our shows this year? If so we’d love to hear how you found it (and help us report to our funders!) – you’ll get the chance to enter the prize draw once you’ve completed this 5 minute survey:

That’s all the news from the TBs Nest for now – if you’d like to join our mailing list and get all the news from the nest direct to your inbox, you can sign up here: http://www.talkingbirds.co.uk/pages/mailing_list.asp

Wednesday Recommendations: Veganism, Purple Hibiscus & Solutions-Focussed journalism.

Right – this is going to have to be a bit of a quick one – running out of time today! Going to begin by showcasing a new discovery (to us) in the Podcast department, which is the Guardian’s ‘We Need To Talk About…’ series.

LISTEN: There’s a pretty robust (think that’s the modern term for a bit of disagreement) discussion demonstrating how emotive the issue of food choices is, in ‘We need to talk about the rise of veganism’. The panel comes at it from various angles with a range of opinions and looks at the issue in terms of personal wellbeing, animal welfare and – most pertinently – environmental (including climate change, deforestation and pollution). Early on, one of the panel details the shocking statistic that 14.5% of human-caused emissions are attributable to the livestock sector, which is more than the global transport industry combined (all the planes, trains, cars etc total about 13% of human-caused emissions)! Definitely worth a listen, regardless of your eating preferences.

READ: This fortnight I’ve been reading ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and ‘Purple Hibiscus’, catching up on the back catalogue of Chimamanda Ngozei Adichie – both of them were quite brilliant, although I think ‘Americanah’ is still my favourite of her novels. Worth reading all three.

LISTEN: Another Guardian podcast ‘Why is positive news coverage so vital in today’s world?’ – discussing solutions-focussed journalism and whether it can counter the depressive/disempowering effect of much of today’s rolling news. This is a really interesting discussion – particularly in the details offered on traditional journalistic training and the equation of ‘bad news’ with ‘serious journalism’ versus ‘good news’ with ‘frivolous’; and the psychological evidence offered on the empowering effect of more positive reporting. This tied in for me with the fantastically inspiring ‘Hope in the Dark‘ by Rebecca Solnit – and the train of thought Talking Birds has been exploring for a while around the responsibilities of artists/TV/filmmakers who represent the world as hopeless and corrupt, in unwittingly making these theories self-fulfilling. (We have written about this before – in more depth and much more eloquently of course – but – sorry! – don’t have time to find the link at the moment!)

As ever, let us know whether you read/listened on one of our recommendations and, if so, what you thought.

Wednesday Recommendations: Co-ops, artist-friendly cities & change-making football.

Here’s ‘Wednesday Recommendations’ post number 4 – this is some of the stuff Birds have been reading and listening to in the last couple of weeks that we found interesting, and think you might find interesting too:

LISTEN: Reasons to be Cheerful episode 41 – another cracking episode from Ed & Geoff!  This episode explores cooperatives as a resurgent business model of choice, alongside other socially responsible models currently growing in popularity, such as community interest companies, non-profits & social enterprises. The second guest in particular (Joe Guinan from the Democracy Collaborative) describes the very clear advantages (think stability, stronger local economy & job security) of such socially responsible company ownership models to the areas in which they are based vs the de-stabilising effect of the constant change of ownership that happens with big corporations and the way that non-local ownership just siphons profits out of the business and out of the area, or even the country.

Slightly paraphrased, he says: ‘If you have a real stake in the business you work for, you tend not to export your own job overseas and are more aware of the environmental impact of your method of production because you also live there and so you’re unlikely to pollute the water or air your children are going to be drinking/breathing … it’s a more embedded form of ownership’

READ: Art hotel & the ‘artist-friendly city’ is a really interesting blog post from MAIA, who I’d not come across until I head Amahra speak at the a-n Assembly event in Birmingham the other week. One of the projects she’s heading up is working towards creating an Art Hotel in Birmingham. This paragraph rings really true, but also echoes back to a lot of things about co-ops in ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’. “We work with socially-engaged artists, practitioners and citizens with a deep-rooted investment in their environment. Fundamentally, given the broad parameters of which their work interrogates, when you make a city more equitable for artists and makers, everyone benefits. Of course, there is the awareness that in order to do that, it takes a societal shift, to renegotiate our understanding of what being an artist is. For too long, ‘artist’ has held definitions too contained, too narrow and too exclusive.”

READ: I’m not really into the football, but this article from historian David Olusoga totally shifted my perspective – if you’ve also been known to get slightly uncomfortable around a St. George flag, give it a read.

That’s it – as ever, let us know in the comments if you’ve followed any of the recommendations what you thought – and if you have any recommendations for us.

Wednesday Recommendations – it’s all about Volgograd…

This time, the Wednesday Recommendations (a day early!) are all about Volgograd – you may have heard the name – we understand there was a football match there last night…

Coventry and Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad, it was renamed in 1961) have a lot of history – being the first twin cities in the world and effectively inventing the idea of twinning after WW2. Talking Birds has had a connection with Volgograd for a while now, beginning when we found about the tablecloth in 2004. To mark the 60th anniversary of the twinning, Talking Birds created the ‘Twin 60’ project to explore what the twinning had achieved and what it meant to citizens in the two cities after 60 years, through the creation of a “Virtual Tablecloth“, which you can still find and explore online here.

As we wrote in 2004: Coventry and Volgograd’s…is a friendship that persisted even during the darkest days of the Cold War, and has led to many exchanges between the two cities – whether civic, cultural, educational or personal. It is interesting to ask whether the twinning has made any permanent difference to the thinking and actions of its citizens. And if so, what are they? What do we have in common?

There are issues of regeneration and image that might be explored, as well as the issue of a city’s relationship with its past. We should be careful not to try to make too many direct comparisons between the experiences of the two cities during the war; but we might be inspired by a concept of twinning which cannot be controlled by national governments, and might not even reflect national relations, yet persists and flourishes and has the potential to encourage change on a national level.

What does it mean to be a city of peace and reconciliation?

What does it mean to be a twin?

So, after that bit of background, this week’s Wednesday Recommendations are:

READ (in English or Russian!): About the origin of the link between the two cities, which began in 1943, when Emily Smith, Coventry’s Mayor, and 830 other Coventry women (and some men) signed their names onto a tablecloth. Each one paid sixpence to sign and the money raised went towards medical aid for Stalingrad (now Volgograd). The names were embroidered by Mrs May Adams over the course of the next two years. In 1944 the relationship between Coventry and Volgograd was cemented and the cities became the first to twin.

LOOK: at the 1943 tablecloth itself – the online version – the real cloth is displayed in the Panorama Museum in Volgograd, although it did visit Coventry in 2004, and was displayed at The Herbert.

EXPLORE: Our 2006 exhibition Other Coventry <> Other Volgograd, including this sonic collaboration by Slava Mishin and Derek Nisbet, recorded at Herbert Media.

WATCH: The video of the world premiere of Twin Song, a symphonic poem created by Talking Birds to mark the 70th anniversary of the twinning and performed at Coventry Cathedral.

BROWSE: The Twin Story blog, an umbrella for our Volgograd projects, including Coventry-Volgograd Pecha Kucha talks, children’s art exhibition and more!


Article in The Guardian from 2016 by Trevor Baker “The issue of how to create links between communities and individuals without endorsing political regimes remains problematic. Even so, there are those who still think that twinning agreements can make a difference to life in our cities. This could be even more true in the case of countries that don’t agree on a political level. In 2014, to celebrate the original bond of friendship, Volgograd Children’s Orchestra visited Coventry and performed a piece of music, Twin Song, written by Nisbet. It could have been disastrous timing, as relations between Russia and the west were at the lowest they’d been since the cold war. The orchestra travelled soon after Russia annexed Crimea. “I was a little bit worried about hearing some questions from people about politics. But luckily there was nothing like that,” says orchestra leader Yuri Ilynov. “We only heard nice things about the orchestra.””

Article in The Conversation “I love Volgograd” by Catherine Danks, Senior Lecturer in Russian and Soviet History and Politics, Manchester Metropolitan University (which also mentions our projects!)


Wednesday Recommendations – stuff to read and listen to.

So it’s official, this is ‘Wednesday Recommendations’ post number 2, which means that <muted fanfare> Wednesday Recommendations has become ‘a thing’. Time will tell whether that is a good thing, or a bad thing, but here goes – this is some of the stuff we’ve been reading and listening to in the last couple of weeks that we found interesting, and think you might find interesting too:

LISTEN: Reasons to be Cheerful podcast episode 37 ‘Rethinking Economic Success’ – Ed & Geoff chat to Kate Raworth, author of ‘Doughnut Economics‘, recorded live in Hay-on-Wye. The basic concept of doughnut economics challenges the assumption that unlimited economic growth and ever increasing GDP is inherently good, but rather explores sustainable ways of increasing prosperity fairly for all the people on the planet. This is a really interesting listen – Kate Raworth describes the principle really simply and it just makes so much sense. There are some good, challenging questions from the audience too. Really thought-provoking and definitely worth a listen.

READ: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a pithily practical companion to her earlier book ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, based on her (highly entertaining) TED Talk of the same name. It’s a short, insightful and thought-provoking book, originally written as a letter to a friend who’d asked for advice on raising her baby girl a feminist. It also contains this lovely paragraph: “Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference. And the reason for this is not to be fair or to be nice but merely to be human and practical. Because difference is the reality of our world. And by teaching her about difference, you are equipping her to survive in a diverse world. She must know and understand that people walk different paths in the world and that as long as these paths do no harm to others, they are valid paths that she must respect.”

LISTEN: The consistently entertaining and slightly irreverent Fortunately Podcast from Jane Garvey and Fi Glover has become required listening at TBHQ. Pick an episode, any episode, and enjoy…

That’s it for now. Let us know whether you followed up on any of our recommendations and, if so, what you thought – and if you’ve got any recommendations for us. Cheers!