The Guardian – 18 October 2012
Bradford and Sheffield get their old Speakers’ Corners back
Successful pilot this week means that street philosophers, ranters and persuaders will have the public’s ear next year. And a hunt through shrubberies may find the a lost old ‘speakers’ stone’.
The city of Bradford has a great political tradition and no shortage of contentious issues, so all looks very promising for its latest democratic initiative.
A group of local people and organisations are reviving the old Speaker’s Corner which was every bit as lively and thought-provoking as the one in London until the Second World War. Bradfordians, like everyone else, sometimes have a habit of grumbling and grousing without actually doing anything about their grievance. A short and – ideally – well-heckled session in the bracing Pennine air should be antidote to that. Past great campaigners earned their spurs at the old soapbox area, including a vigorous local activist called Joe Corina whose grandson is a keen enthusiast for a revived version.
Evidence that it will work was provided on Tuesday when, as part of a local Democracy Week, a pilot version was set up outside Hand Made in Bradford on Tyrrel Street and loads of people from pensioners to children pitched in.
You can read more about that here, and shortly enjoy some examples on film. They’re going to come from an excellent modern addition to the traditional soapbox – a video booth at Hand Made in Bradford which recorded 60 second clips from speakers, more comfortably indoors, away from the rain.
This was organised by Iain Bloomfield, artistic director of Bradford’s excellent Theatre in the Mill who is using them in a sound piece which aims to give an impressionistic view of the city by its citizens. He says:
The project ties in with The Speakers’ Corners initiative but also with our ongoing mission to tell the stories about this city that go untold and to give voice to those who otherwise wouldn’t have. An idea of what that looks like can be seen in our Black History Month programme here.
The overall initiative is the idea of the Speakers’ Corner Trust, a quietly energetic group which is promoting similar ideas in ten UK towns and cities as well as in Berlin, Prague and Nigeria. Yorkshire has a second front-runner in Sheffield which had several Speakers’ Corners for locals to vent their views in times gone by. There’s even a blue plaque commemorating the one at Attercliffe public baths, where people used to sound off in the days when few homes had bathrooms.
Sheffield has a Democracy Week going off at the moment too, and you can have a crack at soapboxing yourself tomorrow, Friday 19 October, in Hallam Square between midday and 1pm. Be brief – there’s a 6o second limit to get everyone in. A trail go on Tuesday went well, with subjects ranging from tax injustice to a hole in Darnall car park. Council leader Julia Dore was going to give the event her blessing but unfortunately had a sore throat.
Bradford’s Speakers’ Corner should be up and running on a regular basis next year, with the blessing of the city council whose leader Coun David Green joined the first speakers on Tuesday. A search is meanwhile under way in Lister Park for the old ‘speaker’s stone’, a good and much more solid Yorkshire version of a soapbox, which is said to have been moved and hidden there in the 1940-s when the old corner closed down.