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Celebrating the ‘great stuff’ in England’s north

andywilsonThe 2014 Hannah Directory, named after suffragette and rebel Hannah Mitchell, launches this week with modest celebration activities in places across the north of England.

The directory begins from an appreciative enquiry:

What great stuff is happening in places in England’s north now?

Who is doing it?

How can more of it happen?

It looks for people and organisations active in the arts, music, new businesses, new kinds of social organisation, scientific discovery and anything else.

Hannah brings those things together because they are all needed to make great places to live and work, and the directory makes no distinction between arts activity and business. Founding, sustaining and growing a company needs at least as much creativity as putting on a play.

The first edition of Hannah was as a small festival in Leeds in June 2013, with 25 amazing things ranging from impossible architecture to participatory art, new music, children making cardboard robots, new writing, public transport strategy and digital ‘monsterology’.

This year’s directory has almost 50 contributions from Newcastle, Gateshead, Durham, Sheffield, Leeds, Huddersfield, Manchester, Stockport, Preston, Barrow and Liverpool, limited only by the time needed to put it together and the cost of printing.

It celebrates organisations such as Infinite Crypt, a Sheffield startup, incubated at the city’s internationally renowned sustainable media lab Access Space, and funded by a successful Kickstarter, which uses on-demand rapid fabrication to make endlessly reconfigurable 3D dungeons, castles, temples and bunkers for miniatures gaming.

Or Maker Fun in Stockport, set up to get children, and girls especially, ‘inventing, designing and making digital craft stuff for fun’, and so learning how to prosper in a future filled with new technology, rather than just suffer its consequences as passive consumers of code.

The directory highlights places like Newcastle’s inspirational Star and Shadow cinema, a community and arts space run entirely by volunteer members, that has flourished for eight years through a non-hierarchical, consensus-based decision-making structure in everything from the film programme to staffing the bar.

A directory is a productive resource, and one reference point for the Hannah Directory is the Whole Earth Catalogue, published in California in the late 60s, and said to have been influential in the development of everything from the internet to recycling.

By including organisations from across the north of England, the directory celebrates the possibility of cooperation between people and places for the common good. It defines the region not by identity but as a relational space, of ‘small pieces loosely joined’, to borrow a description of the world wide web.

It draws on Richard Sennett’s definition of co-operation as a craft skill that has to be practiced. Cooperation is the art of difference, not solidarity. We have to choose to cooperate between places, and work hard at it. If we do, we become more than the sum of the parts without having to become all the same.

The only resource we have for making flourishing places in the north of England is the people who live and work here. I’m hosting a conversation at the Star and Shadow on Saturday 7th June, 11am to 3pm, asking anyone who wants to take part, ‘How can even more great stuff happen in places in England’s north?’

We’ll use the open space event structure so everyone who comes has chance to share their ideas, listen, talk and think about making the best future for our parts of the world. The ideas will be for anyone to take away and act on, and the final session will be a ‘What next?’ discussion among the whole group.

People and places in the north of England have no choice but to be resourceful and self-reliant, and that is applied to the production and distribution of the directory.

The printed directory is designed subject to a strict set of rules. It’s pocket sized, one colour, no images. Generative rules are a commonplace technique in the arts, from John Cage’s composition to the Poetry Business’s creative writing exercises, and this year’s designer, Simon Canaway of Supanaught in Newcastle, stepped up to the challenge.

Happily these rules also mean that the directory is cheap to produce, which makes it resilient.

There is no point in printing a directory if no one knows about it, but how will people find out without a marketing budget?

Through offering a fair exchange instead of money. We all know a good spot to pick up flyers and programmes about upcoming events.

The Hannah Directory By Hand Network asks people to drop off five copies in the spot they know, in the north or anywhere in the world, and in return to publicise an activity on the Hannah blog, Facebook and Twitter, up to a maximum of 52 people, one per week until the 2015 launch.

Last year I ran a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to cover some of the running costs of the festival events. It had backers from as far away as San Francisco, and the By Hand Network has already reached Bristol and Verona in Italy.

The Hannah 2014 Directory is a space for connecting and sharing so that even more great stuff can happen, and as a member of the network your activity might spark somebody’s imagination and prompt them to get in touch.

Please join us, wherever you are in the world, and let’s make even more great stuff happen.

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