Blackwater Polytechnic was established by Ben Coode-Adams and Freddie Robins four years ago as an informal educational establishment to bridge the gap between aesthetic quality, design and practical making in the construction industry. In collaboration with Hudson Architects we have won two awards from the RIBA, a Wood Award, a Surface Design Award, an Architects Journal Retrofit Award and been shortlisted for a RICS award and an Architects Journal Small Projects Award.
Blackwater Polytechnic has been self-sufficient and self-sustaining since its inception. We have established our own rigorous theoretical aesthetic framework based on expediency, matter-of-factness, substance and a gung-ho ‘let’s get this party started’ attitude. We think it is interesting and new. We equate quality with hard work, attention to detail, very fine sanding and beautiful knitting.
The Blackwater Polytechnic has subsequently broadened it’s activities to promote Essex and Essex creative people.
Essex is a county with a rich Utopian history. People come here to make things better. Successions of pioneers have built their own dreams on the margins of everything. Here people respect fiercely each others’ right to an individual vision. We do our own thing and come together over shared kinship, and dirt, shooting, horses, cars, and bikes, heels, short skirts, fish pedicures, ale, and giant car-boot sales. We may look a bit like you. We are not you.
We are firm supporters of the https://www.greenparty.org.uk because we believe tackling climate change is the number one issue of our times. It seems to us, and fortunately a great many other people, that the best way of dealing with climate change on a root and branch scale is to tackle social inequality and injustice and that just seems right to us. But we are not waiting for the Westminster Government to catch up on Climate Change. We’ve started changing our behaviour to reduce our carbon footprint. As we have a farm here we can affect a considerable amount of change right here on our doorstep that benefits everyone in our community. We are doing what we can, on the one hand challenging the industrialisation of farming and on the other dealing with a crop that sits 15 years in the ground meaning our iteration of change is quite slow.
We are particularly concerned with water quality in the Blackwater River which supplies drinking water to the whole valley (http://www.chelmerandblackwater.org.uk). We are planting cover crops on fallow and spring planted fields to lock nitrogen into the soil, increase the vegetable matter in the soil, and combat compaction so we use less fertiliser and preserve the quality of our soil for future generations. We are using cover crops and membranes to suppress weeds so we use less herbicides. We are using drip lines to supply water and fertiliser to our Blackcurrant bushes which reduces the amount we use of both resources. Less chemical spraying means less tractor driving so less fuel burnt, and fewer deliveries. We are building a new sprayer wash down area to be certain that no chemicals make it into the river. Over the last few years we have seen an increase in rainfall of a third so we are planting trees to keep the soil well drained. We have always planted trees and are now aiming for a continuous woodland from Coggeshall to Kelvedon.
These are photos of the bridge that links Coggeshall Hall Farm with Feering Bury Farm. Floods previously rare are now regular and start in the Autumn continuing right through to the Spring.The top picture is from 2012 when the willows planted on the right of the picture had to be felled and burnt because they had been infected with watermark disease. In the lower picture from 2014 the area has been replanted with what will be coppiced woodland. All the ash trees had to be removed from this planting because they were infected with chalara fungus. We struggle with these now normal extreme weather events and new diseases spreading as the climate warms, rainfall and wind increase.
We love our valley. We are pretty keen on the parochial. We very much enjoyed this quotation from Paul Kingsnorth in the Guardian.
“(Globalisation) sets out to destroy local particularity and our attachment to it, because if we remain attached to it we may not buy into the placeless nowhere civilisation that is being built around the globe in the name of money. At it’s best, a radical parochialism may be the most effective means of resisting the global machine.”
Nowhere does the blanding of culture apply more than to the visual arts. Pity the poor cultural ambassador in Adam Curtis’ ‘Bitter Lake’ trying to explain Duchamps’ ‘Fountain’ (the urinal) to a group of Afghan artists. WTF.
As we sailed past the election here in the UK, manifestos have been on our minds a good deal. Two have caught our attention. The first is from Ferro Strouse Gallery (http://ferrostrouse.com) in Brooklyn brought to our attention by our buddies at Wayfarers (http://www.brooklynwayfarers.org) Ferro Strouse Manifesto
And then we liked this manifesto from Craft Ontario
Craft Ontario https://www.craftontario.com
1/ YOU ARE NOT A LEMMING.
You’re not a follower; you trust your own tastes and live by them.
2/WE VALUE THE UNIQUE AND ENDURING.
As an authentic human being, you appreciate things that don’t scream assembly line.
3/OBJECTS SHOULD INHABIT, NOT INTRUDE.
You believe objects with personal, tactile histories engage with your world better than the anonymously mass-produced.
4/YOU ARE NOT AUTOMATED, MANUFACTURED, OR CLONED.
You weren’t made in a factory, so you prefer not to bury your life with things that are.
5/YOU BELIEVE IN 10-DIGIT TECHNOLOGY.
You connect more strongly with things made by a pair of hands – the original 10-digit machine.
6/ONE SIZE SHOULD NOT FIT ALL.
You prefer objects that mirror your individual taste, rather than fit some monster demographic.
7/NOTHING IS NEWER THAN TRADITION.
You are as much a fan of time-honoured techniques as you are of their contemporary interpretations.
8/COOKIE CUTTER DOESN’T CUT IT.
In a me-too world, you appreciate that Craft brings different cultures and perspectives into your space.
9/VASES ARE PEOPLE TOO.
Craft objects evoke their makers, letting you surround yourself with not just things, but personalities.
10/WHILE WE ALL MARCH TO DIFFERENT DRUMS, WE MOVE TOGETHER.
You value how each maker’s unique expression bonds us as a richer community.