Stage 2

You can probably guess what will go on three sides of each block… the fourth side is more of a mystery.

I’ve now progressed quite a long way into Stage 2 of the project so I feel that the blog deserves an update.

So far I’ve taken the film to five different care homes in the Ashford borough together with a series of four one-hour activity plans. 

As with everything in life at the moment, it was pretty odd: messages at the door instructing me not to enter the building; a very brief chat to the receptionist or the activity coordinator; a retreat to the car.

How difficult it must be for the residents, cut off from the outside world as they are, and for the staff who know that one false move could result in Covid entering the home and lives being at risk. 

The activities are based around viewing the films; poetry; craft (helping to make the abacus); and finally drawing/painting. 

I’ll be visiting the homes again in the next week or so to deliver packages for the residents containing wooden blocks that have been made by WoodnWare CIC. They cut the blocks but are still drilling holes in some of them. 

It will be interesting to see how everyone gets on. I anticipate that I may have to call on other care homes and other members of the community to help with the abacus. Just not sure that many 90-year olds will want to do any drawing and painting… we will see!

The big bully

I’m not the first to say that social media is a bully – making demands, making one feel inadequate, but also creating an atmosphere of dependence.

At the beginning of this project I felt it necessary to set up a variety of social media accounts in order to make the project as accessible as possible. So there’s Facebook, Instagram and a blog. 

I’ve neglected most of them but nevertheless they deliver me so much data. How many people are watching/ reading? How many likes? How many dislikes? What is the most popular time of day? (3 pm on a Friday…)

I’m quite interested in the data for the films. 

Three weeks ago I put up the un-captioned version of the Ashford100buildings film. It got 7,200 3-second views and 2,300 watched for more than 15 seconds. Of these 6% made it to the end which corresponds to about 138 people. 65 likes and 6 loves.

The following week I put up the captioned version. So far it’s had 7,500 3-second views and 2,100 have watched for more than 15 seconds. Of these 11% have made it to the end – that’s 231 people. 87 likes and 9 loves.

I suppose as a film-maker I’ve got to be interested in the audience and it’s amazing the data that social media can deliver.

But now I’m progressing with the next stage of the project which is all about interacting with people and social media will take more of a back seat.

I will be using it occasionally but strictly as a means to keep a record of the project. I’m not audience chasing.

Not until the next film comes around of course…

Foundations

Ashford100buildingswithcaptions from Funder Films CIC on Vimeo.

The funeral was last Friday so I have spent the week relocating the foundations of Ashford100buildings – and have been heartened to find that most things are in place.

Above is the video that we made of 100 buildings in the Ashford borough which I’m putting on Facebook this afternoon – without captions so that it can be a challenge.. how many places can you identify?

(If you want to set yourself the same challenge, you can find the un-captioned version above under ‘Films’.)

While in town this morning, I popped by WoodnWare and spoke to Louisa who said that they have cut 99 blocks and also drilled holes in 7. So the abacus is well underway.

They didn’t have quite enough wood for the full 100 as the saw takes out 4 mm with every cut. I have a short length here in the office so will cut the final block as a celebration.

I also picked up some printing from Serious Print Group in Ashford – the cards that I’m hoping will be stuck onto the blocks.

Will take a look at them properly on Monday.

Hiatus

Reuben Bouverie

Hiatus is one of my favourite words – partly because it’s meaning is somehow so different from its sound. I always think hiatus sounds like things are pretty busy: high tempo, lots of eating going on maybe?

But actually it’s a pause in proceedings.

This particular pause has been brought about by the death of my dear Dad on August 19th. He was a brilliant man, a self-taught engineer.. someone who was always interested in buildings.

He designed buildings made of Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) in the 1960s-1990s. He started out doing roofs for petrol stations and swimming pools and ended up doing stadium roofs (Maine Road and Murrayfield) and domes (Greenwich Observatory Dome, the East London Mosque, the Grand Mosques in Bahrain and Oman).

To my knowledge he never designed anything for Ashford borough so this is a bit of a diversion. I miss him.

I’ll get back to Ashford100buildings after the funeral.

Some of my Dad’s groundbreaking GRP buildings

Superficiality

Listed buildings in the centre of Wye (From http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk)

During the week I was talking to my sister about the project. My brother-in-law had mentioned Pevsner’s history of Kent buildings.

“I can’t read that,” I said, “My project has to be superficial. I don’t have time to go into much depth.”

I explained that this identification of 100 local buildings is really just the first stage of a project which will also involve working in care homes, eliciting memories from some of the older members of the community. I have to crack on.

Listed buildings in the centre of Tenterden (From http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk)

To me the most important thing is to get representation from as many areas of the borough as possible. I don’t want to find myself confronted by a 90-year old from Rolvenden, for example, who feels that there’s nothing for him in my project.

If I really stopped to think about any of the communities that I’ve been working on, I would get horribly bogged down. Tenterden alone has nearly 200 listed buildings. Wye and Charing have over 150 each. And there are more listed buildings in the borough of Ashford than any other borough in Kent.

So I’m going with superficial…

I’ve been driving about like a mad thing sometimes accompanied by my wife or son or daughter. Together we’ve now visited most far-flung corners and have taken photographs of about 250 buildings.

Listed buildings in the centre of Charing (From http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk)

I am bracing myself for the pushback… ‘why haven’t you included such-and-such? Such-and-such is one of the most vital buildings in Ashford…?’

The answer will be that I was driving too fast.

Anchor Garage

John Childs’ garage in Smeeth. A petrol pump in need of preservation.

I spent the day taking photographs in Brook, Brabourne, Smeeth, Mersham, Park View, Kennardington, Appledore, Reading Road…

The buildings that I took photographs of were often quite random like this great petrol station in Smeeth with an original (or at least very old) pump.

‘It was Anchor Garage to start with,’ said a guy working there, pointing at the sign on the wall, ’30s, 40s.. don’t know.’ He was eyeing up my Hyundai, hoping it would spring a sudden leak and that he’d have something serious to do.

I took a picture and then fretted about how I was going to put a date to such a building. Historic England and British Listed Buildings were unlikely to give me much joy I thought.

And putting Anchor Garage Smeeth into Google isn’t very productive either. I just get hundreds of MOT offers and other garages in the local area. No-one suspects that what I really need is a date for a building.

In the end, Ashford Kent Remembering How It Once Was comes up trumps. Not only with details of owners going back to the 1930s but also people who worked there as pump attendants and pictures of the building on postcards.

So it might make the list of 100… will have to see what other 1930s buildings we come up with.

Brambles and borders

I’ve spent part of the day talking to activity managers from care homes which I hope will participate in a later stage of the #ashford100buildings project.

It’s sometimes difficult to reach them because they usually work part-time and, when they’re in the care homes, they tend to be busy leading their activities. And today has been sunny so I imagine that they’ve been talking to residents in the homes’ gardens, drinking tea perhaps or indulging with an ice cream.

I’m hoping that, once I’ve selected 100 buildings, I will be able to take a short film of the buildings into the care homes – to illicit memories and to encourage participation in a collective artwork.

That is why this project has been funded by the Kent Community Foundation – to help alleviate the isolation of those living in care homes during the pandemic. While I have some personal goals associated with #ashford100buildings, as far as the funders are concerned, this is what counts.

So far I’ve got two homes definitely signed up and another three looking at my proposal (which includes such activities as sticking and drawing as well as writing and reminiscing).

I spoke to Jan from Brambles which is in my home community and where I have worked before. She manages to sound as if nothing is too much trouble – which is quite an achievement in these Covid times.

‘Just send over the proposal and we’ll take a look,’ she says.

Too hot to do it today. I headed off to Godinton with Alice to take some photos. What incredible herbaceous borders.

My bugbear

The archway shows the entrance to North Street. You can walk through – if you knew it was there! And the four little spikes above that section of the building shows where the tower of St Mary’s Church is…

Northgate House…

I really want the majority of this project to be positive – to open all our eyes to the amazing buildings in this area. To this end, I have been asking people joining the Facebook group about their favourite local buildings and have been delighted that many have responded with buildings which I never knew existed. Such places are now entered in the timelines (51 buildings in there at the last count).

However, on applying to join the Facebook group, I also ask people about their least favourite local building. Not surprisingly perhaps many have already mentioned Charter House (the Panorama building). It is certainly dominating, brutalist, a real symbol of its time.

But I think that the recent improvements have made a difference. At least one of its huge faces looks as if it will be partially hidden.

My own least favourite is Northgate House, the former Kentish Express building which spans the end of North Street. This was built in 1990 when the Council should have known better.

Driving into Ashford along the A28 it completely obscures the view of North Street itself and of St Mary’s Church. According to a builder who I met yesterday, it also blocks off the view from one of the windows of the Masonic Hall.

Although only 30 years old, it looks tired and dated. A few years ago I believe it was converted into flats. I wouldn’t miss it…

One of the more interesting streets in the town – completely hidden by Northgate House

Catching up with other people’s work

I wonder why they planted those trees?

One of the enjoyable things about doing a project like this is that you uncover work that other people have already done. 

This morning for example I was looking for information about Charter House, the huge triangular brutalist building that dominates Ashford and came across Niccio who had written about it on his blog a few years ago.

His blog is called Ashford Heritage and hasn’t been updated for a while – but it’s a great source of information. He’d done some great research into the Masonic Temple, the College (of Priests) in the Churchyard, and Dr Wilk’s Hall.

Then there’s another great blog, this time called Ashford’s Heritage, which has been set up by people connected to Ashford Museum. Understandably perhaps this is more focused on the listed buildings than on the more modern (and controversial) architecture. But it’s a great source of information.

I’m putting links and photographs into the relevant entries in the timelines. But sometimes there’s pretty little information to go on. 

This afternoon’s challenge was to find information about the 1970’s carpark on Edinburgh Road – definitely a building of its time but not one that many residents will treasure. In the end I came across a press clipping that said that it was built in the early 70s but it would be good to have a precise date. Does anyone know?

And I also spent a while looking at and photographing Northgate House. Now there’s another building I personally could do without. But I’ll save that for another time.

WoodnWare CIC

Darren’s wing atop the Ella Harling display stand

Today I had a chat with Louisa from WoodnWare CIC – a great social enterprise in Ashford “providing opportunities for vulnerable adults to learn wood work skills, up-cycling, re-purposing and environmental awareness whilst building confidence, social networks, enterprise and a sense of community”.

That’s taken from the facebook page. 

I had dealings with WoodnWare a few years ago when one of their vulnerable adults (Darren) helped me make a wing for a first world war project I was working on. 

Abacus design – not Leonardo

The wing was amazing and became part of a display stand which I carted round the local area.

Now I’m looking for some wooden blocks similar to those that I used in the promo. I’m going to need 100 identical wooden blocks – 96 for a four-sided abacus and then four spares…

I drew the design earlier today. Hopefully it will make sense to WoodnWare. It would be fantastic to work with them again.