Monthly Archives: November 2021

subtext 197 – you know your worst is better than their best

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In this issue: editorial, campus update, campus by-election, bailrigg garden village special, tolerance update, honorary degrees, valete spineless, post-lockdown dystopia, peter scott review, three widden reviews, letters.


Before 2021, the longest ever hiatus between subtexts was a little over five months, between subtext 61 on 10 December 2009 and subtext 62 on 20 May 2010. The editors put out ‘not issue 62‘ on 21 January 2010, where they explained: ‘subtext relies on willing volunteers, but time moves on, and people come to feel that it is time for others to shoulder the task. The collective is now down to three people, and that is not sufficient to produce subtext. Either we need more people to join the present team; or subtext can hand over to a new collective; or it disappears.’ This tale of winter woe did the trick, because subtext returned triumphantly in the spring with nine editors and a bumper issue.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Welcome to subtext 197, hitting your inboxes after a record-breaking eight month gap. While the timing is hopefully a sign that, as with our campus and the whole world, things are getting back to sort-of normal, the reality is that, as in 2010, the subtext collective is now down to two, and without a new influx of hip young gunslingers (or anyone, truth be told), it’ll probably be even longer before the next one. Which is a pity, because the stories – on academic freedom, health and safety, forthcoming UCU strike action, ‘pulse surveys’ and more – are very much out there. We would say that they write themselves, but… they definitely don’t!

So, while the spirit of subtext is currently weak, we think there should be life in it yet. We need you. If you might like to get involved, or would just like to gossip for a few hours a month, get in touch via

What’s Been Happening While We Were Away?

Readers who haven’t yet ventured back onto campus may be wondering what it’s like these days. Allow subtext to be your guide.

Barclays Bank has gone (currently it’s being used as the Parcel Collection Point), meaning there are now no banks on campus at all, but WH Smith is back! If you’ve not been visiting campus over the last eighteen months then you may not have realised that Smith’s had gone at all, but as one of the first shops to go when the apocalypse hit, seeing it return in mid-September was rather reassuring. The campus asymptomatic COVID-19 testing site is now located in the University Library basement – students and staff can either drop in or book in advance.

This year’s Big New Building is the Management School’s ‘West Pavilion’, which looks nothing like a pavilion and, indeed, looks highly uninspiring from the outside. Head on in, though, and it is really very pleasant indeed, with two well-designed large lecture theatres (15 and 18) alongside several smaller theatres and plenty of office space. It’s a bit like the Engineering Building, truth be told, with plenty of visible staircases and mezzanines, only this time they remembered to include some teaching space.

Eight of the nine college bars are now open on a regular basis, the exception being the Herdwick in Graduate College, which has stayed firmly shut since the apocalypse hit. Whether this is still intended to be ‘temporary’ seems increasingly unlikely.

The marquees, put up this spring in Alexandra Square and also situated outside many bars for reasons of necessity, are mostly still here, and very pretty they look too. Plenty of picnic tables and parasol table sets too, notably in Edward Roberts Court which has become an attractive place to sit outside and dine alfresco. Obviously this atmosphere will be tricky to maintain in the Lancashire midwinter, but when the sun is out it works very well.

The arrows that guided us through a one-way vision of living have been gone since early September, as have most of the scary warning notices. It really is very similar to two years ago…

…which could be a problem, because despite the efforts of the majority of staff to encourage mask use, regular hand washing and social distancing, it’s very clear that the majority of our new students (UK domiciled ones, anyway) are very politely having none of it. They can hardly be blamed, given that last year’s ‘rules and regulations’ are now just ‘advice and guidance’, but even so, as a way of stress-testing the government’s ‘Plan A – a comprehensive approach designed to steer the country through autumn and winter 2021-22’, this term on campus will take a lot of beating. More on ‘Plan A’ (readers will be reassured to know that there is also a ‘Plan B’) can be found online at:

What are the buses like? Rarer than usual, reports your correspondent on the Number 100. For example, on 29 October, 19 buses scheduled to travel to and from campus did not run, all of them departing the bus station between 10am and 8pm. According to the drivers, the problem was (and still is) partly due to there not being enough staff, as so many left Stagecoach during the pandemic, and partly because so many of the remaining staff were (and still are) off sick. Many were (and still are) doing overtime shifts.

Since the start of October, of course, we’ve added several thousand undergraduates into our public transport system, and at peak hours the buses are standing room only.

One year ago, in subtext 195, we commented on a paradoxical state of affairs: ‘for as long as many are avoiding Stagecoach because they’re worried about the risk of travelling by bus, the numbers on the buses will remain so low that the risk is likely minimal. Alas, in true tragedy of the commons style, as soon as enough of us realise this, the numbers are likely to rise until the risk becomes something to really worry about.’ Those passenger numbers are now at their highest since March 2020.

Fingers crossed.

It’s By-Election Fever

Warm congratulations to Jack O’Dwyer-Henry, sometime Labour and then Eco-Socialist councillor for the University and Scotforth Rural Ward of Lancaster City Council, on being appointed Strategy and Communications Officer for the Green Party of Northern Ireland. His departure means that, on Thursday 11 November 2021 (Week 5), literally as subtext 197 finally rolls off the presses, it’s campus by-election fever! Kind of.

Regular subtext readers will know that University and Scotforth Rural Ward by-elections are much enjoyed by electoral observers. The 8 December 2016 by-election, discussed in subtext 156, saw Nathan Burns (Labour) elected with an impressively small tally of 98 votes, on a 7.12 per cent turnout. A letter from then-Cllr O’Dwyer-Henry in subtext 194 noted that 98 votes could well be a record breaker for elections to principal authorities in the UK, ‘as I doubt any other candidate has ever been elected with fewer votes’.

This autumn’s contest has the added frisson of being possibly the last ever election in University and Scotforth Rural Ward. The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has proposed, in its draft recommendations for new city wards, to abolish University and Scotforth Rural, moving the University part into Scotforth East Ward and the Scotforth Rural part into Ellel Ward. The Commission’s justification is that Scotforth Parish Council really, really doesn’t like being in the same ward as the campus, and wrote to the Commission to say so. There were no submissions from either Lancaster University or Lancaster University Students’ Union. Hence, it seems, thanks arguably to a single submission on behalf of the 250 or so residents of Bailrigg, Burrow Heights, Hazelrigg and Langthwaite, the distinctly different representation currently afforded to the 2,500 or so residents on campus is likely to end in May 2023. Read the Commission’s draft report at:

Comments on the draft recommendations are currently sought from local residents and organisations, with the deadline being 23 November 2021. Submissions should be made via the LGBCE website.

There are four candidates (Con, Green, Lab, Lib Dem) and plenty of visible campaigning (from the Greens and Labour, anyway). If our campus community truly values having distinct city council representation then, well, presumably it’ll turn out in significant numbers, whereas if the election winner once again ends up being elected with a two-digit mandate then, well, defending University and Scotforth Rural from obliteration is going to be a lot more challenging.

Have the campus authorities done their best to encourage civic participation? Let’s give three cheers to the students’ union for plastering campus notice boards with posters advertising the election and assuring residents that they should be able to vote. Let’s offer no cheers to the college accommodation officers who recently sent emails to students displaying political posters, saying that ‘displaying of posters, flags etc in your accommodation that makes it visible from the outside of your accommodation is not permitted’ and that anything on display currently should be removed immediately. Any subtext readers faced with such a letter are encouraged to send a concise reply that includes terms like ‘quiet enjoyment’ and ‘running jump’.

Bailrigg Garden City

Back in subtext 179, on 7 June 2018, in an article introducing the then-new idea of a Bailrigg Garden Village on land between Galgate and Scotforth, your correspondents speculated on how many dwellings, exactly, we would be talking about here. We reported that, ‘according to a table on housing supply shown to subtext, the planners currently forecast Garden Village construction to start in 2021/22, with 205 houses built between then and 2023/24, a further 700 built between 2024/25 and 2028/29, and a further 750 built between 2029/30 and 2033/34.’ That’ll be 1,655 dwellings in total then. Cut to 25 June 2021 and…

‘Lancaster councillors are to discuss plans for a major £260m transformation to south Lancaster which is set to see more than 9,000 new homes built.’

Hang on, what?

Where did this figure – actually 9,185 dwellings – come from? Are these houses really likely to be built? Cut to an extraordinary meeting of Lancaster City Council in Morecambe Town Hall on Wednesday 25 August 2021, where councillors formally agreed ‘that Lancaster City Council enters into a legally binding Collaboration Agreement with Lancashire County Council, for the purposes of recovering funds through the use of planning powers’ in order to ‘repay Lancashire County Council for the forward provision of infrastructure related items pursuant to the delivery of the South Lancaster Growth Catalyst’. The publicly available council documents for that meeting are at:

The council meeting began with seven addresses by members of the public in opposition to the plans – meanwhile, a demonstration took place outside.

Subsequently, it turned out that the announcement of 9,185 houses should have come as no surprise to anyone, because the figure had been announced in the 11 March 2020 budget by Rishi Sunak MP! Campaigners at Dynamo, the Lancaster cycle campaign, spotted this on 2 April 2020, noting that HM Treasury had explicitly announced that £140m from the Housing Infrastructure Fund would ‘unlock up to 9,185 homes’ in South Lancaster:

Between then and June 2021, this figure went largely unmentioned. With hindsight, it’s difficult to work out why – were we all distracted by something?

subtext attended several of this summer’s public meetings in an attempt to work out what we are, and are not, likely to be seeing over the next 20 years.



First up was the North Lancashire Green Party’s online public meeting on Wednesday 14 July, ably chaired by Dr Emily Heath. Billed as a discussion, in reality this was a chance to hear from several of the scheme’s most prominent critics, including Cllr Caroline Jackson, Cllr Tim Hamilton-Cox, Cllr Gina Dowding and, from the garden village-sceptic group CLOUD, Mary Breakell and Tony Breakell.

‘It’s big!’, stated Cllr Jackson, meaning both a big issue and big in terms of land area, with (we were told) plans to build on over 1,000 acres of current farmland, stretching from just west of Lancaster University almost to Glasson Dock, and likely to be agreed by the city council as a condition of accepting £140m of Housing Infrastructure Funding (HIF) from the government. It would be ’15 times the size of Halton’, ‘6 times the size of Carnforth’ or ‘the size of Nelson or Darwen’.

Besides government funds, the only significant money coming in for this would be £98m of ‘Section 106 money’, i.e. money obtained from the developers, and Cllr Jackson did not see how this could fund the local amenities needed by such a major new town, since we ‘can’t expect people to walk or cycle from as far as Glasson Dock’ to visit facilities in Lancaster.

Cllr Hamilton-Cox had slides, figures and pictures – most of these came directly from the ‘final draft masterplan’ for the Bailrigg Garden Village project, published in March 2021 by ‘JTP on behalf of Lancaster City Council’ (JTP is a firm of architects) and available at:

Officially these are just ideas, but certainly, the vision for a (rather attractive looking) new town is there: the first phase, to be implemented between now and 2031, would focus on Burrow Heights, while the second phase, starting after 2031, would develop land west of the canal and north of Conder Green Road (the road from Conder Green to Galgate). The JTP masterplan includes a map, shown by Cllr Hamilton-Cox, indicating on a satellite image the possible locations that could be used – it did make the place look a bit like a new golf course, but the details were clear. There’s even a little heart emoji on Tarnwater Lane, because that’ll be the ‘heart’ of the new community. Aah.

One thing that was lacking in the JTP masterplan was any estimate on the numbers of dwellings, but this is where Cllr Hamilton-Cox could help. We now knew the number of homes forecast as part of the South Lancaster Growth Catalyst (Bailrigg Garden Village’s official name) bid, and it did indeed come to 9,185 in total:

– 8,085 in the garden village or ‘new town’, made up of 4,585 in phase 1 and 3,500 in phase 2;
– 600 elsewhere in South Lancaster; and
– 2,000 new student rooms on campus, which apparently was only equivalent to 500 homes for the purposes of counting homes, for some reason.

These figures were later confirmed as appearing in the City Council papers for Wednesday 25 August’s meeting in a Facebook post by Cllr Alistair Sinclair. Cllr Hamilton-Cox claimed that plans to use land east of the M6 (a significant portion of this is now owned by Lancaster University) had ‘dropped off the radar’ and could be disregarded. However, the ‘Bailrigg Spine Road’ running west from Hazelrigg Lane under the railway line (see subtext 195) would be ready for September 2025, with the remodelled Junction 33 of the M6 complete by July 2027.

Did Lancaster have to do this, though, especially after 2031 when the current local plan expires? According to Cllr Hamilton-Cox, the ‘quid pro quo’ of accepting the HIF money was a commitment to deliver that many houses. It was ‘in the small print’, although the meeting wasn’t shown any of this small print.

This issue – does signing the deal commit the council to deliver that many homes? – remains the biggest point of disagreement between the two sides. On the ‘No’ side, the report by the Director for Economic Growth & Regeneration to the emergency council meeting, released to the public on Monday 23 August, sought to reassure councillors that the housing numbers of 9,185 ‘are not Planning figures, but assumptions based on the potential capacity of sites across the broad area for growth within the Local Plan. They provide a projection of what can be delivered to fund road and other infrastructure, but they are not absolutes. These numbers also may or may not be delivered within the HIF timeframe.’ On the ‘Oh yes it does!’ side, the Lancaster Civic Society stated on Monday 6 September that they ‘understand that by entering into this agreement the City Council is now faced with the dilemma of enabling the provision of over 9000 new homes in South Lancaster or accepting the financial consequences of failing to do so’:

What about the council’s requirement that all developments should contain 30% affordable housing? Cllr Hamilton-Cox believed that this could be waived if the developer could demonstrate that this requirement would make the scheme unviable. If the council didn’t approve the HIF bid, could the site be developed anyway? Cllr Hamilton-Cox noted that the local plan forecasts 1,300 new homes by 2031, and current housing plans, not including the garden village, would deliver these anyway. Developers would need good road access from the M6, such as would be provided by a remodelled Junction 33, to build on such a scale.

Jill Bargh, whose family sold some land east of the M6 near Hazelrigg Lane to Lancaster University, and which still owns land west of the Lancaster Canal, told the meeting that most farmers with land west of the canal weren’t planning to sell. It’s very good quality land which is much valued by farmers. Cllr Hamilton-Cox countered that ‘some farmers are very willing to sell their land for development’, but Mrs Bargh’s contribution raised an important point: you can only develop a piece of land if the owners of that land are willing to sell it to developers, and if not enough of them are willing, then the development is unlikely to happen.



On to an online briefing by Lancaster City Council on Wednesday 11 August, where the first speaker, Cllr Caroline Jackson, was trying to sell an arrangement which, your correspondent suspected, she was not entirely supportive of. This would be a legally binding collaboration with Lancashire County Council and Homes England: we would accept £140m from Homes England as part-payment for road and other improvements that will cost £241m; and the bulk of the remaining funds would be borrowed by the County Council and be recovered over time by the City Council by means of a ‘roof tax’ on developers. To cover the cost, developers would need to build 9,185 houses. Lancaster had a number of highway problems and the new road would help with most of these. We don’t have a viability study and, for that reason, we don’t know whether we will get any affordable housing in the development, because the developers may decide that this is not viable.

Following this less-than-ringing endorsement, over to council planning officer Jason Syers, who gave an upbeat outline of why the scheme should be supported. It might look like a ‘great big slug’ of a development, but this was how to plan development in a sustainable way, to create truly walkable neighbourhoods. The figure of 9,185 homes came from a ‘desktop exercise’ and didn’t form part of any planning case. Local people will have the opportunity to contribute as part of discussions on the eventual Area Action Plan.

When would the viability study be available and would it be published? Mr Syers described the study (which, possibly contradicting Cllr Jackson’s earlier point, does seem to exist) as being ‘a bit like a graphic equaliser’, containing a sensitivity analysis of the range and breadth of risks. The viability study would not be a public document due to ‘commercial sensitivities’.

What was to stop the council setting up its own development vehicle, providing council housing to Passivhaus standards? Mr Syers thought that the authority could look at being the provider of some housing provision, but not all, due to cost constraints. Affordable housing was not the only solution anyway; we wanted mixed use neighbourhoods. Kieran Keane, City Council Chief Executive, noted that there were several things local authorities would love to do, including the use of development vehicles, but they still need to borrow the funds.

Why did this decision need to happen so soon, on 25 August? ‘This has been going on for some years,’ assured Mr Syers, sounding at times like the commander of a Vogon Constructor Fleet: while he didn’t actually say that ‘you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaints, and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now’, your correspondent detected similar levels of frustration in his voice.



The last big event prior to the Council meeting was the online Lancaster Youth for the Environment (LYFE) public meeting on Thursday 19 August, with former Labour MP Alan Simpson (appearing via a recorded interview), Jenny Bates from Friends of the Earth and Cllr Kevin Frea, City Council Cabinet member with responsibility for the climate emergency. In the chair, Millie Prosser from LYFE claimed that the plans made ‘a mockery of the climate emergency declaration’.

Alan Simpson felt that we have to engage in transformative thinking and we ‘cannot go on with our current notions of growth and recovery’. Cars had been barred from large parts of Copenhagen. The South Lancaster plans had ‘rang all sorts of alarm bells’ with him. Banks were withdrawing from projects that weren’t ‘climate compatible’.

Jenny Bates focused, like the majority at this meeting, on the proposed Galgate by-pass. Not even electric cars were clean and we needed to cut car miles. Copenhagen was encouraging longer cycling trips. Building a large road would just feed more traffic.

Cllr Frea claimed that the council had a carbon budget of just 4.8 million tonnes between now and 2100, and just building the road would use up 2.8% of this.

Cllr Hamilton-Cox believed that the development would not enable the City Council to meet its 5-year housing supply target – between now and 2034, the garden village would account for less than 2 years’ supply. Cllr Gina Dowding claimed that council officers had told her in writing that the development wouldn’t meet our 5-year housing supply. Cllr Faye Penny suggested we should instead use the Canal Quarter in Lancaster or the Frontierland site in Morecambe for housing.

Cllr Anne Whitehead was one of only two voices to cautiously speak in favour of the HIF funding, asking people present to consider the alternative: a ‘free-for-all’ where developers would be likely to win planning objections on appeal. This yielded a comment that ‘as if 9,000 houses in South Lancaster isn’t the embodiment of a developer’s dream’.

Further comments were made on flood risk – including the point that the proposed road under the West Coast Main Line will be 2.4m below the level of the adjacent Ou Beck, so how would this be kept clear of water? Towards the end, Cllr Sinclair seemed to sum up the mood of the meeting: ’59 councillors are not the receptacle of all the wisdom in the district.’



Onward, then, to Morecambe Town Hall on 25 August and the full council meeting, where subtext won’t offer a very long report, because thanks to the wonders of modern technology it’s possible for you to watch the proceedings yourself, as a Teams recording, at:

The best speech in opposition to the plans was probably that of Cllr Richard Austen-Baker (starting 1 hr 31 mins into the recording), who focused entirely on the possible risks to the council: ‘I don’t know, from reading through this contract, what the potential risks are, over such a long period of time’. If we didn’t recover sufficient funds from developers through the roof tax, would the county council address this by deciding not to provide some of the promised infrastructure?

The best speech in favour of the plans was, according to some of those who heard it, that of Cllr Anne Whitehead, but this was given during the ‘exempt’ part of the meeting when the cameras were off and visitors were excluded, so we’ll never be able to hear it.

A proposal to say ‘no’ was lost by 30 votes to 19; following some votes on amendments, the final proposal to say ‘yes’ was carried by 31 votes to 16, with 2 abstentions. The agreement with Homes England was signed the following week.

Tolerance News

Lancaster University’s commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) came under focus during July, when a group of Travellers arrived on the 15th and camped on some of the University football pitches for four nights. In response to a letter from Eco-Socialist city councillors for University and Scotforth Rural Ward, seeking assurances that the site need not be disturbed until at least September, the response from our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement, seen by subtext, was perhaps less-than-inclusive. Noting claims that there had been ‘physical, verbal and racial abuse directed at our students’, our recently ennobled PVC felt that, ‘Whilst we remain courteous and respectful at all times, since their departure we have incurred significant expense to clear refuse and repair damages caused. As I am sure you can understand, such despoiling of our beautiful campus does not epitomise a mutually respectful relationship.’ This framing of a complex situation in terms of waste management was, unsurprisingly, not met positively by the councillors.

Lancaster’s EDI website ( assures us that, ‘We are committed to creating a fairer and more inclusive University for all staff, students, visitors and our wider university community, where equality, diversity and inclusion is an integral part of our University’s plans and activities. We recognise that we all have a key role to play in making this a reality.’ We do indeed!

Roll of (Dis)honour – Update

In subtext 196’s letters page, referring to the previous issue’s article on Lancaster’s honorary graduates, our correspondent Sam Dillane wrote that, as well as Sir Cyril Smith (LLD, honoris causa, 1993), there were two other recipients of honorary degrees that the University might, on reflection, regret awarding. Who could they be?

Step forward, Field Marshal William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim (1891-1970), Burma veteran and former Governor-General of Australia (LLD, honoris causa, 1964) and Prof Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), Romanian historian, latterly of the University of Chicago (DLitt, honoris causa, 1975).

Viscount Slim was one of the first five recipients of a Lancaster honorary degree, alongside luminaries including Harold Wilson, and extracts from the ceremony at which he received his degree are available on YouTube:

He was also patron of the Fairbridge Farm school for migrant children in Western Australia. In 2009, long after his death, the ABC broadcast serious allegations of abuse at the school, including abuse perpetrated by Slim, based on David Hill’s 2007 book ‘The forgotten children’ (ISBNý 978-1741666847). In 2019, following a campaign, the Australian Capital Territory agreed to rename a road, William Slim Drive in Belconnen, to Gundaroo Drive. Viscount Slim is of course not around to defend himself, and the University was hardly likely to know about these allegations in 1964.

By contrast, Prof Eliade’s political allegiances during the late 1930s, where he was an active supporter of Romanian fascist party the Iron Guard, were and are well known, although his post-war views are more contested. His politics, including his relationship with Julius Evola, were discussed in the recent paper ‘One Knows the Tree by the Fruit That It Bears: Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology’ in the journal ‘Religion’:

Was he a wise choice for the University to honour in 1975? Is he still a wise choice to have on our ‘roll of honour’ in 2021? Do send us your letters.

Valete, Team Spineless

Spineless, Lancaster’s alternative source of student news and comment, is no more. This is for the happy reason that the (officially anonymous) members of the Spineless team have now successfully graduated from Lancaster, leaving behind a 16-month archive of articles that dissected University House, the University Council and the students’ union alike. Coverage of the student rent strike in January to February 2021 (see also subtext 196) was particularly detailed. subtext understands that the website, and its contents, will stay live for the time being at Farewell!

A Post-Lockdown Utopia

Contributed article

This is Amy. She works in Professional Services. Like many of her colleagues, Amy has learnt a lot from the pandemic, like the fact that she can (kind of) do her job without being on campus, and it is much cheaper for the University if she doesn’t take up any space. Therefore, Amy is one of the many people who now blend working from home with hot-desking on campus.

Amy has just arrived on campus, ready to face today’s exciting challenges. She hoicks her office chair out of the boot of her car, and wheels it towards the building where (fingers-crossed) she will be working for the day. She is a little bit late, because she is flexibly blending caring responsibilities with working full-time, but with any luck she is not so late that she will have to resort to the overflow office building on the White Lund industrial estate.

Most people now work in a flexibly blended way, and so there is no need to be on campus all the time. There are definitely enough desks, because it is really only necessary to be on campus once a week for meetings. Unfortunately, members of senior management don’t tend to co-ordinate their diaries with Amy, so although it is true that she only has one day of meetings each week, these tend to be spread out from Monday to Friday.

As she walks through the large open-plan building filled with rows of desks, she scans for a place to sit. You can sit wherever you like, and enjoy the opportunity to connect with a colleague from another division, thus aiding the fostering of cross-working collaborative synergy. Or it would do if it hadn’t become a bit of a taboo to engage in gratuitous conversations, what with the noise levels. Passive aggression isn’t a nice thing to feel, is it? Still, there’s a real feeling of camaraderie when someone takes pity on you and lets you perch on the corner of their desk.

Of course, if you want to work in a collaborative way with members of your own team (i.e. you want to talk to them), you can get some of your 10,000 wellbeing steps in and wander round the building trying to find out where they are. Amy’s team all work in a blendedly flexible way, and she hasn’t seen some of them for weeks. Come to think of it, she’s not even sure how many of them there are anymore…

And of course all meetings can be held on Teams now, which is good because there is no meeting space anymore. Indeed the whole of this building is full of people having confidential Teams meetings. (If you’re using headphones, at least it’s only one half of a confidential conversation that you can hear.)

Actually, before the lockdown, it was becoming really difficult to find private meeting space. Now this has been solved by no longer holding private meetings (lol!). No, but seriously, once you get used to discussing reasonable adjustments and compassionate leave with your reportees on the steps in Alex Square, it starts to feel less of a big deal. When you think about it, doors are really just a barrier to agile flexibility.

Amy’s strategy for holding Difficult Conversations with staff or students is actually to hang around Bowland North quad waiting for a seminar to kick out early, so she can nip in for ten minutes. This is usually just enough time to give someone the link to the staff wellbeing pages or counselling service, before the next seminar starts. Job done.

In fact, this is a testament to the wonderful resilience and creativity that is being shown by colleagues, and it’s become pretty common when walking round campus to stumble upon a committee meeting efficiently going about its business in one of the larger disabled toilets. Amy is on an interview panel next week, but thankfully the chair of the panel has just bought a Ford S-Max with a nice roomy boot, so there’s no worries.

Amy nears the end of the aisle, and is just about to give up hope of finding somewhere to sit when, to her delight, she spots a free desk. Not a prime location, what with the afternoon screen glare and noise from the hand dryers, but it’ll do. She settles in and begins the process of adjusting the height of the desk, the brightness of the screens, getting the dock to recognise her laptop, and wiping the ick off the mouse. After only 40 minutes, she’s ready to start work, proud to be a valued team member in such a flexibly blendable modern workplace.

Review – ‘New Perspectives’ at the Peter Scott Gallery in June and July 2021

The pandemic caused many art exhibitions to move online, including our LICA Undergraduate Degree Shows. Previously these were ‘for one week only, never to be repeated’, but since lockdown, they persist as virtual worlds that can be returned to again and again. The Summer 2020 and Summer 2021 shows, ‘Borderless’ and ‘Y/our Perspective’, are available now and presumably for ever more at:

Both are excellent.

It’s never quite the same as being in an exhibition venue, though, is it? Hence, when the Peter Scott Gallery finally re-opened with an exhibition, ‘New Perspectives’, in June and July 2021, your team went to take a look.

A pre-booking system was in force, but this was entirely painless, with no checks on entry.

The three artists on display were Garth Gratrix, Julia Heslop and Gavin Renshaw, who were ‘proposing how we can connect with the local landscape and community surrounding Lancaster Arts on the Lancaster University campus’. This meant exhibits from three very different people, all of whom were new to subtext, focusing on land and landscapes.

Garth Gratrix’s location photos, taken on our campus, all include someone (the artist?) in the background with a coloured handkerchief hanging from their back pocket, echoing the ‘handkerchief code’, accompanied by deliberately ‘ooh er!’ titles like ‘Gobstopper’ and ‘Snake Charmer’.

Julia Heslop’s work explores land ownership and housing, particularly in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne. ‘One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth’ presents newspaper articles about student housing developments in Newcastle alongside a chart showing where the owners of the properties are based – the winners being Jersey and Luxembourg, alongside Newcastle itself. ‘Felling’ examines the felling of trees in Newcastle – we stand and gaze at bark rubbings from trees that are no more – while ‘Protohome’ is an 11-minute film about a self-build housing project in Newcastle led by Heslop in 2016. ‘The Spider Web City’, meanwhile, is a 21-minute documentary film about an ‘informal settlement’ on the outskirts of Tirana, Albania.

Gavin Renshaw, meanwhile, is fixated on maps, landscape photos and local travel, particularly in and around Preston. The ‘Routes in, Routes out’ project includes a detailed route map of cycle paths in and around the city, together with dozens of photos of Preston city centre, all taken from several miles away. You can download and use a PDF of his (accurate) cycle route map at:

Renshaw’s work ‘Caliban’ contains detailed sketches of the internal workings of the disused (and now demolished) Courtaulds Textiles factory at Red Scar Mill in Ribbleton, at its peak the largest producer of rayon in the UK, while ‘Parameters’ is a two minute film of a skateboarder (the artist?) whizzing around Preston Bus Station.

All the artists are worth investigating.

The Gallery’s current exhibition, ‘Shifting Currents’ on the theme of water, opened on 26 October and runs until Tuesday 14 December. A similar pre-booking system is in operation.


Footnote – Rhian Daniel’s review of ‘New Perspectives’ for SCAN is at:

Widden’s Reviews

Contributed by Martin Widden


The first concert from Lancaster Arts to take place in 2021 with a live audience was held in Lancaster Priory on Saturday 5 June, with full social distancing in place. This meant of course that audience numbers had to be reduced, but it in no way detracted from the enthusiastic response from the audience for the music played by Michal Rogalski (oboe) and Petr Limonov (piano).

The first part of the concert addressed the theme of the series The Water Season, through works by Benjamin Britten and Robert Schumann: pieces from Britten’s Metamorphoses after Ovid were interspersed with three Schumann Romances, not specifically about water, but full of emotions such as might be inspired by the ever-changing nature of streams and rivers. The four pieces by Britten, dealing with the changes wrought in humans after interaction with gods, covered the myths of Narcissus, who wasted away into death through excessive admiration of his own beauty reflected in a pool of water and was transformed into a flower; Phaeton who drove the chariot of the sun too close to the earth and was thrown by a thunderbolt from Zeus into the river Padus; Syrinx who in trying to escape from the unwanted attentions of Pan was changed into a marsh reed, from which Pan made the first pipe; and Arethusa who, again resisting advances from an immortal, was turned into a stream.

The Britten pieces were linked by readings by Jocelyn Cunningham, Director of Lancaster Arts, from the Ovid Metamorphoses myths. This narrative helped to illuminate the music, played sometimes solo on the oboe, and sometimes in duet with the piano.

The second half of the concert comprised solo piano pieces by Rachmaninov and Debussy: all of them virtuoso pieces, they were played with great skill by Petr Limonov. Despite the technical demands of the music, he nonetheless conveyed brilliantly Debussy’s interpretation for the piano of the idea of reflections in the surface of still water. The recital closed with a performance of Debussy’s l’Isle Joyeuse. Inspired by Watteau’s painting l’embarquement de Cythere, this piece describes in music a group of revellers leaving the mythical island of Cythera, including the sound of the swell moving their boat. Once again, the pianist Petr Limonov played this excellently.

It was very good to hear this music played live. Zoom is a wonderful thing, but no amount of technical expertise has been able to replace the emotional force of a live performance such as this.



Opening the 2021-22 International Series of concerts in the Great Hall were two very different performances.

‘Voice of the Whale’ was the title of the first concert, given on 23 September by four members of the Manchester Collective. To avoid the risk of covid infection being transmitted, there was no printed programme. Members of the audience could read the programme in advance from the concerts website, or bring their smartphones with them; if however they had printed the programme off at home, they may have had some difficulty reading it, for the Hall was dimly lit, and some audience members will have had to take it home and read it afterwards.

The Hall had been laid out with small tables, well spaced apart, with a small vase of flowers on each table; recorded music was playing as the audience arrived and took their seats. It all looked and felt quite festive. The first item on the programme was High and Low, an improvisatory piano solo by Molly Joyce, very skilfully played. This was followed by two pieces, Curved Form and In Beautiful May, for cello and violin augmented by some recorded music. The first consisted of a gradual crescendo of a chord, rising to a climax, then gradually dying away to nothing: pleasant to listen to, but without detectable rhythm. The second included snatches of a rather fine recorded voice singing Lieder, whilst the violinist continued to play and also to sing – quite a tour de force. The final piece of the programme was Vox Balaenae, composed by the American composer George Crumb. This made use of some unconventional sounds: solo flute played whilst the player sang through the instrument, piano right at the bottom of its range where the pitch of the note was almost impossible to discern, twanging on the strings of the piano, and so on.

All this made for an interesting evening, although it could take more than one airing for the music to be fully appreciated.

The programme for the second concert, performed on 28 September by the Brodsky String Quartet, consisted of three substantial works, but only the last of them might be considered conventional fare for a Great Hall concert.

It opened with an arrangement for string quartet (by Paul Cassidy, the viola player of the Brodskys) of the sonata in C for solo violin by J S Bach. One might think ‘hold on, how can a sonata for solo violin be arranged for the four instruments of a string quartet?’, but this would be to fail to appreciate the power and depth of Bach’s capacity as a composer. In places he uses all four strings of the violin to provide harmony – no doubt this is very demanding on the violin soloist – and at other times the harmony is very clearly implied. Evidently Paul Cassidy is a Bach enthusiast. His arrangement of the sonata is a remarkable achievement that made a very satisfying piece of music for string quartet.

The second piece was the string quartet no 3 by Benjamin Britten. Probably few members of the audience will have been familiar with this piece, but to this reviewer it seemed very convincing. The Brodsky Quartet had clearly spent a good deal of time learning the piece, and their performance of it was excellent.

The final item in the concert was the string quartet in D minor by Schubert, often called the Death and the Maiden quartet because the slow movement is a set of variations on Schubert’s own song of that title. This is a dramatic piece in which a young girl is enticed by the calm embrace of death: Schubert was already seriously ill and aware that he was likely to die soon, which very probably explains why the composer was attracted to the poem. Occupying some forty minutes, the string quartet he composed on this theme is a dramatic piece, all in minor keys, and is recognised to be one of the pillars of the string quartet repertoire. This rounded off an excellent concert.


Dear subtext,

In response to the letter at the end of the recent subtext, I googled the Lancaster list. Many of the more recent names I had never heard of. It would be helpful if they put ‘Dead’ by the name of those who had died. Who has currently held an Honorary Degree the longest? Who has been the most influential Degree Holder? Just Curious.

Roger Frankland
One time member of the University Court