Thursday, 27 January 2011

Art and Health

In 2009, Cambridge University celebrated its 800th anniversary. It is now a far cry from  the days of 1209, when scholars taking refuge from hostile townsmen in Oxford migrated to Cambridge and settled there.

As part of the 800th celebrations, Quentin Blake, renowned illustrator presented the University with a 70-foot-long mural depicting famous alumni from the University of Cambridge. This was placed in one of the main corridors at Addenbrooke's Hospital, and forms part of Addenbrooke's Art Walk. I'll return to the mural later.

The Art Walk and the Art in Hospitals movement raises some interesting questions about the place of art in hospitals. The question is not so much about whether there should be art displayed in hospitals, but whether there is any health gain in them being displayed.

Grayson Perry, writing in The Times questions the value, and the type of art that is displayed. He says, "The idea of art being used as a sort of visual muzak or trendy organic balm rankles slightly. Hospitals are places of extreme drama: death, injury, birth and the saving of life are hourly occurrences. This is not reflected in the art that ends up in them. The emphasis seems to be on calm - few, if any, of the works loaned by hospital charities seem to tackle the churning existential questions that must clamour in the heads of so many in hospital". He concludes with, "If hospitals want to use art, please can they treat us as adults? Part of healing might be facing up to the realities of being stuck in a fallible body. I don't want the last thing I see from my deathbed to be a jaunty painting of fishing boats".

On the other hand, Dr Lee Elliot Major, writing in The Telegraph, and after initial scepticism, argues the case for giving us art for health's sake. She noted that nearly 400 academic papers had been identified showing the beneficial impact of the arts. She draws attention to one study carried out by Dr Rosalia Staricoff at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. It found that the length of stay of patients on a trauma and orthopaedic ward was one day shorter when they experienced visual arts and live music, while their need for pain relief was significantly less than for those in a control group. Visual arts and live music also reduced levels of depression by a third in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Dr Major quotes Carol Jennings, the renal transplant co-ordinator at Great Ormond Street Hospital as saying, "The opportunity to take part in something creative can offer optimism, a welcome break in a life preoccupied with blood tests and the knowledge that their existence can never be as carefree as that of their friends".

The fact that some people do not want to see pictures of jaunty fishing boats, does not detract from the overall value of this kind of art for the vast majority of people. Roger Ulrich and Craig Zimring, in their work, The Role of the Physical Environment in the Hospital of the 21st Century, say, "Results suggest a consistent pattern wherein the great majority of patients respond positively to representational nature art, but many react negatively to chaotic abstract art. Although nature pictures and other emotionally appropriate art elicit positive reactions, there is also evidence that inappropriate art styles or image subject matter can increase stress and worsen other outcomes".

I like the words of Kathy Hathorn, President of American Art Resources, "Throughout time, art has reached out to the human soul and touched the spirit of the beholder. Its ability to provide solace, inspiration and hope, makes it an indispensable element of the total health care environment".

Back to Addenbrooke's Hospital and the Art Walk. I do not pretend to understand art. I cannot comment on brush strokes, texture, colour or light; I just know what pleases me, and what affects my emotions. I spent three days recently visiting my son at Addenbrooke's, and I was worried and upset. God knows what he must have been feeling like. Walking past Quentin Blake's mural each day had an effect that is hard to describe, as it was very personal. For a while it brought a sense of calm, interest and humour. It was a way of dealing with the worry and upset, and this was for a visitor. Don't anyone tell me that art doesn't work. Music and a good book may have had the same effect, but the truth of the latter does not diminish the impact of the former. As Damian Hebron, Arts Co-ordinator with Addenbrooke's Arts when the mural was presented said, "Art at the hospital can make a real difference to how it feels to be there".

The mural is well worth seeing. Described as Cambridge's answer to the Bayeux Tapestry, it consists of 15 original drawings depicting different episodes from the University's history. Quentin Blake is a graduate of Cambridge, and his unique style will be well known to readers of Roald Dahl's children's books. He depicts well known, and less well known important characters over the centuries. Do click on the link below to see a slide show of the mural, narrated by Quentin Blake himself. 

Any comments on the slide show or art in hospital will be welcomed.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Vallo Congressus

Manning the Barricades
West Bridgford, when known as the village of 'Brigeforde' was mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086. Over 900 years later the town is a suburb of Nottingham with a population at the last Census of around 36,000. It lies south of the river Trent in the Borough of Rushcliffe, and not Nottingham City.

It is, and always has been quite distinct from the City. Average house prices are very high above the national average, and housing density (which makes it a very attractive place to live) is the result of decisions taken in the Victorian period. As a newcomer, I find it interesting that there are no "Streets" here. Originally there were, such as Musters Street, however, the planners eventually decided that the term 'street' was too urban and changed them all to roads. The only 'street' in the town is Village Street in Edwalton. This seems to be indicative of the independent thinking, and dare I say quirkiness of the town, as it aimed to stand apart from Nottingham. This is also seen in the fact that while Nottingham was growing fast during the Victorian period, development in West Bridgford was restricted, as much of the land was owned by the Musters family. Eventually, (after much pressure, it is said) they sold their land, but applied strict planning regulations to the area. This covered a grid like design of the streets, housing density and house size. Just up the road from me is Exchange Road, which was one of a number of roads allowed to have smaller houses for the servants of the wealthy Nottingham merchants who bought up property in West Bridgford. This is one interesting place to live.

Having started to take a keen interest in local history, I was fascinated to notice the establishment in 1897 of the West Bridgford Defence Association, whose sole aim was to "oppose the granting of licenses for the sale of intoxicating drink in West Bridgford". Now, as someone who firstly studied, then worked in Belfast during the 1970's and 1980's, the words Defence Association have unfortunate paramilitary connotations. In particular, the Ulster Defence Association emerged in Belfast during 1971. This was an umbrella organisation for "vigilante" groups called defence associations, "which were tasked with defending Protestant, unionist and loyalist areas from attack", and using the name Ulster Freedom Fighters, was responsible for many acts of violence, including assassination. Surely the WBDA was different? Of course it was.

It was said of West Bridgford in the early 1900's, that "The parish is quiet, prosperous, healthy, happy, without crime and without paupers, and resolute in its determination not to have public-houses or beer-off's, and this is the action, not of a landowner, nor of parliament, but of a united people". Whereas "on the northern side of the Trent where licenses are as plentiful as blackberries", there is poverty, crime, vice, disease, dirt and death. When the population of West Bridgford was 13,000, there were about 800 members of the Defence Association - an impressive ratio by any standards. After fighting their cause successfully for 40 years the Association disbanded around 1938. Why did this happen?

The Test Match
 In 1937, for the first time ever, Nottinghamshire County Magistrates' Court granted licenses for two public houses in West Bridgford. One was "The Wolds" in Loughborough Road, and the other was "The Test Match" in Gordon Square (though this originally was to be called The Rushcliffe). Both establishments were originally called hotels, as this was thought to be more acceptable than pubs. However, places like The Test Match never operated as a hotel. Sneaky or what?

With licensed premises now opening, the West Bridgford Defence Association had lost its reason for being. Would the area now sink to "the depths of Nottingham?" History and facts do not show a slide into social depravity in the town of West Bridgford.

Before concluding, I think we need a lighter, albeit inappropriate comment from W.C. Fields who said, "Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water".

Nottingham has some of the highest rates in the country for alcohol related hospital admissions, alcohol related crime, and has the third highest rate in the country for alcohol related sexual offences. Rushcliffe has the second lowest rate in the country for alcohol related hospital admissions. Statistics will always be argued over, but as someone who has worked with heavy drinkers for nearly 30 years, I concur with Professor Mark Bellis, Director of the North West Public Health Observatory who said, "It is time to recognise that we are not a population of responsible drinkers with just a handful of irresponsible individuals ruining it for others. Over one in four drinkers exceeds weekly limits".

As with so many other matters, it is not the product itself that is necessarily the problem, but man's inability to use that product responsibly. Perhaps the West Bridgford Defence Association knew this, and fought to keep the "demon" away. After centuries of mis-use, are we any nearer to getting the message home? (There are more sources of help than ever before). The responsibility is ours, but we do so like to blame our actions on something else. "It wasn't me Guv, it was the drink". Or as Oscar Levant said, "I envy people who drink - at least they know what to blame everything on".

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Nottinghamshire Budget 2011

Nottinghamshire County Hall
Nottinghamshire covers an area of about 840 square miles, and has a population approaching 800,000 (if anyone can find two sites that agree on the population, then you're a better man than I am). In the above building overlooking the River Trent on the 24th February 2011, the County Council will set its budget for the coming financial year. The detailed budget proposals are currently out for public consultation until the 21st January. This is something that every Council has to do, but in my experience it tends to be a rather meaningless exercise, as apart from some minor cosmetic tinkering, little will change, and the current proposals will be passed. I appreciate that this is a cynical statement, but I call on 20 - 30 years experience of being involved in public consultation to support my view. Keep giving your views though, as who knows, one day, pigs might fly.

What impact will the agreed budget have on the people of Nottinghamshire? Well, when you think that the Council are looking to save about £150 million pounds over the next three to four years, with about £69 million pounds of these savings in 2011-2012, the impact will be huge. The budget proposals can be found on the County Council web site, and having scoured these proposals for the likely impact on the voluntary and community sector, there were three things in particular that drew my attention.
  1. Reductions in Voluntary Sector Grant Aid - Groups who use this grant aid tend to use it to cover infrastructure costs, which are not easy to find from other sources. The budget proposal is to reduce this grant aid by 66% from April 2011. This is a massive reduction all in one go, and one of the most high profile organisations to suffer in the County will be the Citizens Advice Bureaux. This will undoubtedly impact on their ability to provide specialist advice and help services when at the same time, the need for their services is increasing.
  2. Reviewing Mental Health Service Level Agreements - The proposal is to save 60% of the budget over the next two years, with 76% of the total saving coming in the first year. It is generally accepted that nationally, 1 in 4 people will suffer some form of mental ill-health in their life. For Nottinghamshire, this amounts to around 200,000 people. A number of voluntary organisations specialising in supporting those with mental health problems will suffer greatly in the next two years, and of course the result of this will be a knock on effect in the ability to help those who need it most.
  3. Reductions in Supporting People Budget - The County Council say that they are consulting on three options to reduce the budget over four years: £10 million, £12.5 million or £15 million. They are proposing the option of saving £12.5 million, which is a 56% reduction over four years. This will be catastrophic to many organisations, and to thousands of individuals who will not qualify for statutory support.

Look a bit deeper into Supporting People funding and you will see what a vital asset it is. Supporting People is a programme that enables vulnerable people to improve their quality of life, independence and involvement in their communities. This is achieved through a range of high quality and strategically commissioned housing related support services, delivered by contracted providers to people living in supported accommodation throughout Nottinghamshire, as well as to people living in their own homes.

The programme began in the early 2000's, and currently services are targeted at homeless people, young people including care leavers, women at risk of domestic abuse, people using drugs or alcohol, offenders and those at risk of offending, older people, people with learning disability, people with mental health needs, people with a physical or sensory disability, Gypsies and travellers. The support given is practical, and suited to individual needs and can include,
  • support in setting up and maintaining a tenancy
  • assistance with housing and welfare benefits
  • advice, advocacy and liaison with other agencies
  • monitoring health and well being
  • support around safety and security
  • developing social and life skills
  • emotional support and confidence building
  • provision of community alarms
There is well documented evidence to show that through Supporting People funding, there has been an average reduction of 71% in homelessness presentations across local authorities in Nottinghamshire over the last five years. Also every pound invested in the Supporting People programme saves £2.50 in other areas of public expenditure such as the NHS, the police, the prison service and Probation.

It has been estimated that if the proposed cuts are agreed, that up to 400 jobs in the voluntary sector will be lost; some organisations will be forced to close, and others will have to dramatically reduce the services they offer to the vulnerable and marginalised people of Nottinghamshire. This comes at a time when the Prime Minister is also looking to the voluntary and community sector to play a major role in his "Big Society". I'm sorry, but draconian cuts on one hand, and dependency on the sector in the other hand do not go together.

Residents are going to suffer. Organisations are going to suffer. I've seen this myself when I worked in East Sussex. My organisation had a fairly large Supporting People programme which successfully met the needs of the client group. The County Council decided to de-commission over twenty Floating Support services, and to commission two new services in their place. We lost all Supporting People funding, which was about 50% of the budget. Jobs were lost, services curtailed and clients suffered. Anyone who says that this will not happen is living in a different world. The gains of the past will be lost, and the needy of today will struggle to get the support and help they require to cope with the increasing demands of life.

Everyone knows that there has to be cuts, but it's the size of these cuts that are horrifying those who are working with the vulnerable in Nottinghamshire. The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Minister for Housing and Local Government has just written an open letter to the people of Nottingham, where he takes to task the Leader of Nottingham City Council for suggesting that Supporting People funding to the city has been reduced by almost one half. I find the 'formula grant' used by the Government to be quite difficult to understand, but it does seem that the Supporting People element is under 12% less for next year. The County and City do have to make across the board savings, but the Minister says, "the Government does not expect authorities to respond to reductions in their budgets by passing on disproportionate cuts to other service providers, especially the voluntary sector". So there may be hope yet on the 24th February.

One of the largest charities in the area working in the field of homelessness, and with a huge investment in Supporting People funding is asking Nottinghamshire County Council to reconsider its proposals for cuts to the Supporting People budget, and to ask that it matches the Government's commitment to vulnerable people, and approve no more than a 12% reduction in funding in real terms over the next four years.

Any more than this and there is a real danger of hundreds losing their homes, and thousands not being able to access services that they need. Come on Nottinghamshire.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Bromley House

It's been a dank and dreary day today, but lit up by a visit to Bromley House. Following my last blog, my friend Colin offered to show me around the house as he was a member. I jumped at the chance, and we agreed to meet for lunch (which included his wife Gail) at The Bell Inn, which vies with Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem as being the oldest Inn in Nottingham. You'd think that after hundreds of years they'd have sorted this out, but apparently not, and the argument rages on. Oldest or not, The Bell provided a very agreeable lunch.

Following lunch, Colin and I made our way the few yards through the hustle and bustle of Angel Row, and went in through the door between Barnardo's Charity Shop and MSR Newsagents. There is nothing on the outside of the building to indicate what awaits you when you get inside (except a stone plaque which says '1752 Bromley House'). My, what magic awaits when you enter through the inner door.

Bromley House is Nottingham's only subscription library, with currently over 1100 members. The library was formed in 1816, and moved to Bromley House in 1822. This Georgian house was built in 1752 for George Smith, grandson of the founder of Smiths Bank, the oldest known provincial bank in the country. The library bought the building for £2,750, which according to the National Archives currency converter, is the equivalent of £115,280 today. This may be a meaningless exercise, but it does show that people were prepared to put in a considerable amount of money to establish a library in its own premises.

Walking in to the foyer, I was immediately struck by two things. One was the silence. This was remarkable as only a few yards away were thousands of people, buses, taxi's and cars, all going about their business. I could have been in the middle of the country. The other thing to strike me was when looking up the central stair well, you saw, four floors up a beautiful sky light, cascading light down through the centre of the building. The area was bright and newly decorated.

The first room to enter incorporated the reception desk. This part is the main library and includes a gallery area, which was accessed by a magnificent spiral staircase. It had obviously seen better days, as a notice advised that only one person at a time could use the staircase, but it was gorgeous. Bromley House has upwards of 40,000 books in the collection, which includes ancient and modern. Apparently, as a subscription library, it just requires two members to ask for a book to be purchased, and the words of Jean - Luc Picard are enacted, "Let it be so".

Leaving the galleried room, you go on an amazing journey through a labyrinth of small rooms, all stacked floor to ceiling with books. In looking at many of the books, it is obvious that the library's conservation volunteers will never be short of work. The library has on-going renovation plans, and it is clear to see what needs to be done. I really hope they are successful in raising the necessary money for this magnificent building. My tour finished in a room that is no less interesting than any other. Here members can sit to read the daily newspapers, and have tea or coffee at a reasonable price - there is an honesty bowl for the money, which I found to be endearing, which in itself may be a reflection on the standards of my previous working life. On the floor of the room is a brass meridian line; when the sun shines through a special hole in the window at midday, it lines up with the line on the floor, and apparently this was used to set the clocks in Nottingham many years ago. The cataloguing of books may not be up to modern library standards, and a card index system is still used rather than a computer one, but hey, if it works, that's fine by me, and adds to the charm of this unique place.

The last thing to see was the walled garden. What a beautiful oasis this is right in  the heart of the city. There can't be others like it, and though I saw it in the depths of winter, I could imagine it being a colourful, tranquil place for library members to sit out in the summer.

Bromley House has been operating as a library for 195 years, feeding the intellectual appetites of the residents of Nottingham. Great men and women have passed through its doors and contributed to its effectiveness. Long may it continue and flourish.

Thank you Colin for introducing me to one of Nottingham's gems.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

I Love Nottingham

I really do love the city, and in particular its history. Before I moved here a year ago, the only history I knew was that connected with Robin Hood. Now, I'm beginning to understand so much more about Nottingham's social and political past. Every day I go out for a walk, and for the first time in years take notice of what's around me.

Today I was walking back to the bus when I noticed The Thurland Hall public house on the corner of Thurland Street and Pelham Street, just off Old Market Square. I'd seen it before, but now men were working on its refurbishment and renovation. The hoarding outside drew attention to "this historic site". I decided to explore further when I got home.

Before looking at the history, I decided to see what pub goers in Nottingham felt about The Thurland Hall. I could only see two reviews. One in May 2009 said, "OK if you don't mind being stabbed". The other in December 2008 just said, "Speechless". Make of that what you will. I can only hope that the renovation goes beyond the mere fabric of the building.

One of the most prominent figures in the commercial, social and public life of Nottingham about the middle of the fifteenth century was Thomas Thurland, who built Thurland Hall. On completion, it was described as "the largest and most ancient mansion in Nottingham, second only in splendour to that of the castle". It's amazing to think that originally the house and grounds occupied about eight and three quarters acres. This is now Nottingham city centre. While there is fascinating political history, and royal connections with the Hall, what is of interest to me are the little bits of social history.

It was at a meeting at Thurland Hall on the 4th March 1816 that the Bromley House Library scheme was floated. This moved to a 1752 town house in Angel Row in 1822, and is still operating as a subscription library, from the same premises to this day. More information on this can be found by logging on to . One of the libraries past members was the genius scientist and mathematician, who is known as the father of quantum physics, George Green. He was a member from 1823-1833. He called Bromley House his first university, before going on to Cambridge in 1833. And all this from someone who was a miller by trade.

Thurland Hall is mentioned as a place for public use, and it's wonderful to try and picture the uses made of the Hall, eg the card school pictured above from 1797. One history site throws light on the social life of Nottingham near the middle of the eighteenth century, and associates Thurland Hall with it. It says, "Two monthly assemblies contrived for the interview of the genteel part of the town of both sexes, where the younger divert themselves with dancing, whilst the senior or graver part enjoy themselves over a game of Quadrille or Whist. One of these places of meeting is on the Low Pavement. .... This is called the Ladies' Assembly. The other, called the Trademen's Assembly, is held in a large room 70 feet long and 20 feet broad, where the wealthy tradesmen, their wives and sons and daughters, meet for this same recreation. This is at Thurland Hall. The Tradesmen met every third Tuesday of the month, where in the evening there is a numerous appearance (a lot of people)". Apparently, during Assize week, election time and at the Horse races there was held some extraordinary Assemblies. It all sounds great fun, but only if you were wealthy. (There's my socialism coming to the fore again).

Thurland Hall and the adjacent buildings were demolished in 1831.

This is one of the reasons why I love Nottingham so much. It's full of history, and history can come alive.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Charity Collaboration

According to the latest Charity Commission web site, there are over 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales. They have combined income of £53.2 billion, and investments worth £77.7 billion. It is worth breaking this down to get a more accurate picture of size. 91% of charities have individual income of under £250,000 (combined income of around £4.5 billion), and the remaining 9% have a combined income of around £48.7 billion. Most of the small charities that I know have little or no investments, so most of it is held by the larger organisations. It doesn't take a genius to work out where the financial power lies - and it's not with the smaller organisations.
In October 2010, the Government produced its Comprehensive Spending Review. It outlined savings that would have to be made over the next three to four years in order to reduce the national deficit. Local authorities up and down the country are currently making decisions as to how to make savings in their areas. These will probably be around 30 - 40% over three years. These mean cuts in services and massive job losses as they struggle to cope with reduced Government funding. In my interest area of Adult Social Care, there will be savage targeted savings, with an inevitable adverse effect on the most vulnerable in society.

Where does this leave small charities? In talking to the Chief Executive of a large national charity last year, he believed that any charity with income of less than £5 million would be struggling in the future. Whether one agrees with this figure or not, it is patently true that small charities are going to find 2011 and beyond to be very difficult. Just like small independent retailers, they are going to struggle to survive.

In the latter part of 2010, the Charity Commission published a report entitled, "Strength in Numbers - small charities' experience of working together". For the Charity Commission, the way forward is to encourage collaborative working with other charities, and the report outlined how this was being done, what were the benefits and what were the difficulties. The research respondents indicated that the main challenges they faced were in relation to income flow (54%), the recruitment of staff (32%) and rising costs (28%). To counter some of this, charities had entered into informal arrangements such as the sharing of ideas and information, joint fundraising events or activities and sharing equipment. Only 26% of respondents had entered into formal arrangements with others, and these were mostly about joint funding applications, joint service provision and the sharing of workspace or staff.

Collaboration was not without its difficulties, and the most frequent of these involved;
  • joint bidding for contracts (68%)
  • funding applications (61%)
  • negotiations to avoid service duplication (58%)
  • formal sharing of information or ideas (56%)
In spite of the difficulties, over 80% of research respondents felt that collaboration had been of benefit to their organisation. However, there are many charities who have chosen not to collaborate, and others who are struggling with the concept, almost preferring to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel, or some fairy godmother is just around the corner. Many small charities display the existence of a number of attitudinal barriers to collaboration, which reflect a range of fears and perceptions. The report highlights:
  • Individuals running a smaller organisation might feel that collaboration could lead to the loss of a singular community position
  • Some Trustees and CEO's might harbour concerns that their charity risks losing its identity and independence, and that collaboration may dilute its aims and purposes
  • Some charities might fear that collaboration may lead competitors to steal their ideas
  • There is a view among some charities that 'our way is the best way' and they have a strong attachment to their charity's history, often in spite of changing circumstances
  • Charities may focus on their own narrow organisational interests rather than their mission and the needs of beneficiaries
The report concludes this section with, "Participants in the qualitative consultation were of the opinion that these fears and perceptions could sometimes be exacerbated by personality clashes, personal agendas and insular working cultures and practices. Indeed, there was a general consensus that problems associated with personal and cultural issues can be significant 'deal-breakers' when it comes to collaboration. The interviewees felt that this was particularly true amongst CEO's, Trustees or Founders, but could also be a problem amongst beneficiaries and operational staff".

Many smaller charities need to wake up and smell the coffee. The world is dramatically changing. There is unlikely to be a Philanthropist waiting for the call. 2011 will be about contracts cancelled or dramatically curtailed. New services will be about tendering, with unit costs as the focus for commissioners. Small organisations cannot compete on unit costs with larger ones.  We see income reducing, but costs growing. What to do? Doing nothing is not an option. For some, collaboration with others to reduce costs is an option to explore. For others, the only solution is a merger with a larger organisation. For some charities, this will be the only way to ensure that a much valued service to vulnerable people is continued. It means that Trustees must rise above the narrow confines of their individualistic concerns, and enter the real world of 2011 and beyond.

Saturday, 1 January 2011


The clock struck midnight (I didn't actually hear it, but it must have done somewhere). New Year's eve was over, now it was New Year's day.

I'd had my own private party that evening. I'd decided that it was going to be a Queen night. I mentally danced (as I'm brilliant in my head) to "Tie your mother down", "A kind of magic", "Love of my life", "Another one bites the dust" and of course basked in the beauty of "Bohemian Rhapsody". I also kept pace with Brian May on air guitar, and I'd never sounded better. There was a party in the pub next door, and I'm sure that the music group were quite good, but unfortunately they had to suffer unfair comparison with the Kings of Pop.

At Midnight I was standing on my balcony, a quality cigar in one hand, and a glass of port in the other. Then the spectacle started. Fireworks from a house two streets away, then another and another. A brilliant spectacle of sound and vision. In the distance could be heard the deep rumbling of firework crackers, all moulding it seemed into one long burst of sound.

Fireworks were thought to have originated in China around 2,000 years ago, and throughout history, right up to today, they are thought to have the power to fend off evil spirits and ghosts that are frightened by the loud bangs. I'm not sure how many people in West Bridgford had this in mind when they were setting off their fireworks, but if I was an evil spirit frightened of loud noises, I wouldn't be any where near the place. For most people it's just fun. The New Year was being welcomed in a very special way, and I loved it.

In a wonderful juxtaposition; while I was marvelling at the noisy fireworks display, Chinese Lanterns began to drift serenely across the horizon. There was noise and silence, fireworks and lanterns, both beautiful in their own way. It is thought that Chinese Lanterns were first used nearly 2,000 years ago. They were invented as a military aid, used as a method of communication on the battlefield.

Lanterns are now traditionally released with a wish to bring good luck and prosperity in the coming year.

Whether you believe in the origins of fireworks and lanterns is beside the point. I for one am happy to ward off evil by any means, and also to seek good luck and prosperity for the future. Who does not wish the new year to be at least as good, if not better than the old one?

I have my own personal hopes and dreams for 2011, but I also never want to lose sight of a bigger picture. I want to follow Martin Luther King, who said, "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity".

Happy New Year