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Re-Imagine Nelson: Re-Radicalizing, Re-Learning and Re-Connecting the Real

Samantha Jones

On starting my research to Re-Imagine Nelson, through the focus of exploring history and new possibilities for collective action, like all of us I brought my history, heritage and experiences of life with me, so let me introduce myself.

I am a working-class artist form the North of England (Liverpool), my family are (now settled) Irish travellers and my lived experience of cultural, social, economic and gender inequalities have driven my artistic practice, from its grass roots co-created art activism to international collaborations. My practice tackles these issues by working through experimental and durational forms in the social productions of alternative models of; economic and environmental systems, land ownership, built environment.

During Covid I lost my father and became a carer due to my husband having long covid. Therefore, coming to Nelson, I brought with me the inherent understanding we are all “people in the process of figuring out what to do, how to live, and the meaning of their struggles” (Bochner and Ellis, 2006, p. 111). During that initial meeting through a ‘Community Assembly’ with local residents I introduced the process and mechanisms of collectively resisting decision making and asset ownership being out of the won hands.

Samantha Jones at the Community Assembly in Nelson.

Image: Diane Muldowney

To clarify; part of my practice, I co-produced the development of ‘Homebaked’ a durational project in Anfield, Liverpool, with Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk. Working with, and as a local resident to create structural change within our neighbourhood of Anfield in Liverpool. We did this by firstly taking over a 100-year-old bakery that had been closed due to failed (HMR) Housing Market Renewal Programme and reopened it as a community owned co-operative, bringing back the ‘Oven at the Heart of Anfield’ through a crowd funder campaign and now it has won the British Pie Award and employs over 22 people. But we didn’t just want a bakery we wanted community owned homes, land and food security, therefore we set up a Homebaked Community Land Trust (CLT). The CLT built accommodation for young people above the bakery and now building affordable green retrofitted homes and supported Homegrown Collective a sister resident let membership organisation to grow food and develop a low carbon training brewery. And this is how we resisted and took control of where and how we lived.

Image: Homebaked

It was a real learning experience to find that Nelson has a unique and rich history of radicalism and collective mutualism that is also still alive today. The last Clarion house kept open by The Nelson ILP Clarion Society. The original Clarion House built in 1912 is a co-operative, ‘planned as a model of how society as a whole ought to be organised, with its aim to provide a vision of a socialist society based on co-operation and fellowship’. Nelson has its own Community Land Trust Bradley Big Local Community Land Trust and the Pakistani community in the town continue the ‘Committee’ community saving circle.

Nelson Clarion House CIC Image: In-Situ, Courage of our Convictions 2017

Image: Big Bradly CLT – Peter Dewhurst and Rafida Khaliq

Also, In-Situ and Building Bridges ‘Talking Lounge’ and ‘Talkaoke’ process of discussion and public debate had already started a process open discourse to be built on. This history and continued practice of radicalism and mutualism that I found within Nelson reminded me of artist Jeanne van Heeswijk’s approach of ‘radicalising the local’ to create real change and Kropotkin’s writings on mutual aid were he proports “Practicing mutual aid is the surest means for giving each other and to all the greatest safety, the best guarantee of existence and progress, bodily, intellectual and moral.” (1902, Pg 45). It felt it was all here in Nelson, with the opportunity to remember its heritage and re-radicalize, and build on the current practices to re-connecting to make real change.

Image: Talking Lounge group at Nelson Library

Ivan Ilich (1973) writes of conviviality as an alternative to capitalist production: “Conviviality is opposed to productivity […] productivity is conjugated with ‘to have’; conviviality with ‘to be’” (1973, p. 43). I considered it productive for researching ‘ Re-imagining Nelson, Illich’s comparison of the tools of industrial ( and post-industrial) society with what he calls ‘tools of conviviality’. Jeremy Till discusses in his article 'Urban Weaving’ (2010) the ways in which Illich’s convivial tools might allow the individual to enjoy greater autonomy and control over the urban regeneration of their environment.

Image of thread/weave included- please give appropriate acknowledgments

Therefore, I wanted to present a realistic alternative to the surrender of an urban area to the industrial tools architects and designers use and align themselves through presenting ‘alternative’ real world exemplars of community led urban change and begin to develop ‘tools’ for local resident to use to make change in Nelson. Working with residents through workshops in hands- on, skill building sessions with the aims to apply co- creative tools of developing an economically sustainable town. Sharing my learning of local, national and international case studies of community wealth building, the economic and social value of these exemplars, we worked collectively to explore how these methods could be applied to Nelson and together create a blueprint for the future of Nelson.

Samatha Jones mapping session at Nelson Library Archives for Nelson Re-Imagined Image: Diane Muldowney

Bringing these tools, I would hope it would be a beginning of ‘re-radicalizing the local’, along with re-learning the radical history of Nelson and Pendle and re-connecting with the mutualism that is interwoven within the town, that there are the beginnings of creating infrastructures that can leverage and influence the opportunity to truly reimagine Nelson. I would also hope that In-Situ, by inviting artists with co-production practices that habitually enmesh intricate negotiations of place and modes of democracy, rather than the amelioration (Bishop, C., 2006) avoid the neutralization of dissent (Suchin, P., 2007). This is a difficult ask in the timeframe of ‘Nelson Town Deal’, with its timeframe being short rather than durational models (13 years) I had experienced, and any artists (or organisation) who authentically works within community could not avoid having a moment of discomfort on reflecting on this situation. To unpack this, I looked what Beech outlines to steady my feet:

If we are going to think politically about art, site, publics and time, we need to put the ideology of duration behind us. We have to stop keeping tabs on our own use of time. Let’s think instead about delay, interruption, stages, flows, of instantaneous performances and lingering documents, of temporary objects and permanent mementos, of repetition, echo and seriality. (2011, p.325)

Although Murphy suggests, Beech’s ‘prompting towards breaks and flows, delays and interruptions echoes the contingent nature of the complex organisational co-operations generated within the alliances of durational practice’ (2013, p.16), these breaks or what I would call ‘breaches’ inevitably happen when working within a complex framework of communities and multiple stakeholders (whatever the time frame) and should not be shied away form but embraced as a key providing the possibility for inevitable antagonism to be transformed into "agonism" (Mouffe, 2007) and bring people together through the creation of community led/owned asset building to shift the power dynamics.

I have hoped through my research to hold open the space of ‘not-knowing’ (Lather, 2009, p.18), where Re-Imagining Nelson is not yet fixed, where the possibility and mechanisms to leverage and shift this ‘re-imagining’ by re-radicalizing, re-learning and finding out what could be re-connected. As Arendt proposes – freedom as an embodied relation that emerges through concerted action (Arendt, 1989), therefore I hope there is the opportunity to resists transforming into imagined ends, but rather transforming into something ‘real’. Built and owned by the peoples of Nelson's actions, claiming the right to be free to create Nelson as a sustainable place for all that live in it. No doubt residents will need to dig deep to make this happen and as Owen Griffiths, who held a ‘This is Nelson Conversation’ says ‘Dig Where You Stand’, ‘to create equity, empowerment and sustainability.’ And I would also hope as Arjun Appadurai’s writes they achieve a ‘deep’ and practical democracy, achieved through a ‘politics of patience’ (2001). Going beyond the Town Plan with hard-won cumulative victories and long-term asset-building that can frame every aspect of their future.

References and further reading

Appadurai, A. (2001). Deep democracy: urban governmentality and the horizon of politics. Environment and Urbanization, 13 (2), (pp.23–43).

Arendt, H. (1989) The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Beech, D. (2011) ‘The Ideology of Duration in the Dematerialised Monument: Art, Sites, Publics and Time’. In O’Neill, P. And Doherty C. (Eds.), Locating the Producers, Durational Approaches to Public Art.

Amsterdam: Valiz, (pp. 313-325)

Bishop, C. (2006) The Social Turn: Collaborations and its Discontents.

Artforum, Vol 44, No 6.

Bochner, A. P., and Ellis, C. S. (2006). Communication as Aautoethnography. In G. J. Shepherd, J. St. John, and T. Striphas (Eds.), Communication as ...

Perspectives on Theory (pp. 110–122). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Illich, I. [1973] Tools for conviviality, New York, Harper and Row.

Kropotkin. P. (1902) Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution [Online]. Available from:

Lather, P. (2009). Against empathy, voice, and authenticity. In A. Y. Jackson and L. A. Mazzei (Eds.), Voice in qualitative inquiry: Challenging conventional, interpretive, and critical conceptions in qualitative research (pp. 17-26). London, UK: Routledge.

Mouffe, C. (2007). Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces. Art and Research, 1.

Suchin, P (2007). Mistaken As Red. [Online]. Available from: Red

Till, J (2010). Urban Weaving [Online]. Available from:

Websites of interest

Samantha Jones is Director of Homegrown Collective and previously co-director of Homebaked Community Land Trust (CLT). She was Homebaked's embedded researcher since the projects initiation as a Liverpool Biennial commission and she is a practicing artist working in the area of food anthropology, environmental technology and alternative economics.

Image: Photo by Kristina Borg

I dragged myself out, and, there, the first question popped up. From where can I exit the towpath, which is quite literally on Nelson’s margin? What if I feel too tired to continue walking, what access points do I have to exit and continue my way by bus? The lack of clarity made me walk into town via the A682. And that was a perfect introduction to the week of walk-and-talk sessions that followed, during which the locals guided me around their favourite green and blue spaces.

What started off as a very wet morning eventually turned out to be a very white, snowy week, but this didn’t stop us from walking along, even if my Mediterranean temperament felt quite alien.

Image: Canal walk in the snow, photo: Calum Bayne

The green and blue spaces we walked along – Victoria Park, Lomeshaye Park, the Leeds and Liverpool water canal, Pendle Water river, Walverden Reservoir, and many more – are a proof of the potential that Nelson has to offer, but which for various reasons is underused. The locals mentioned lack of signage and lack of access, safety issues and litter. At one point, during one of the walks, we completely lost the connection with the water canal, precisely because of the intrusion of the M65 motorway. We spent almost the entire walk circling around to find our way back to the waterway. But what struck me most was the way how such green and blue spaces on Nelson’s margin were assigned with a specific purpose, that of leisure, and initially there seemed to be a certain resistance to connect them with the town centre.

Image: Drawings by Kristina Borg

I flew back home pondering on the one and the same question, how can we create a better exchange between Nelson’s green and blue spaces and the town centre? How can we connect and communicate better between these areas? But, above all, why isn’t there a feeling for such a need? Acknowledging my role as an artist-researcher, but also an outsider to the context I was researching, I recalled what American educator Myles Horton once said to Paulo Freire, “My expertise is in knowing not to be an expert.”(1) When working with communities, I consider the locals as the experts of their context, and this was no exception. I felt I had no right to propose anything new, and so, I preferred to find the gaps, support and scale up what already existed locally. This motivated me to contact local foraging expert Pete Compston.

Flying back to rainy Nelson last March, we went on a foraging walk around Victoria Park and the immediate water canal area, under Pete’s guidance.

Image: Foraging Walk, photo by Kristina Borg

After going through foraging etiquette, for the safety of us all – human and non-human, we explored Nettle, Hawthorn, Bramble, Ivy and Cleaver leaves. We also did some crafts, tasted a home baked Nettle cake and prepared some wild tea with the fresh leaves that were collected during the walk.

Images (left to right):

Hapa Zome with leaves collected during the foraging walk

Preparing wild tea with leaves collected during the foraging walk

Wild tea prepared with leaves collected during the walk

Photos: Kristina Borg

As one of the locals shared, “There is lots of inspiration and passion just outside our doorstep and there’s so much we can use.” Indeed, there’s so much we can use, connect and work with, and if you feel like foraging around Nelson’s green and blue spaces, I invite you to download this zine which equips you with the basic tools to manage your way through and explore the area by yourself in your own time.

From my desk back home, as I look out of the window, on this warm but rainy day, I wonder where and how water will continue to guide us.

(1) Helguera, P. (2011). Education for Socially Engaged Art: A materials and techniques handbook. Jorge Pinto Books, p.52.

Kristina Borg is a freelance visual and socially engaged artist, a spacemaker and an art educator/lecturer. In her transdisciplinary research-practice she spends time integrating into specific communities and devotes her attention to relationships between people. In dialogue with the community and/or the place, her work focuses on the co-creation of projects that are situation and context-specific, and involves alternative, experiential processes that relate to socio-political and economic issues in urban-collective spaces - spaces that range from the city to the supermarket, from the walkway to the sea or the field.

Kristina has recently led an artistic community project in collaboration with the University of Malta as part of the European project AMASS - Acting on the Margins: Arts as Social Sculpture, funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. In 2014 Kristina placed first in the 3rd edition of Divergent Thinkers-Malta and in 2020 her collaborative project Nimxu Mixja (Let's take a walk) was awarded Arts Council Malta's Premju għall-Arti (Art Award) as 'Best project in the community' and nominated as 'Best work for young audiences'. Recently her project You Are What You Buy - Reap what you sow has been selected as a finalist for the New European Bauhaus Prizes 2023. She is also a fellow of the Salzburg Global Forum for Cultural Innovators and a member of the international Community Economies Research Network.


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