The return to Cromford (& Lea Mills)


Last week Stories of Change Researchers, Artists (Folk Singer Lucy Ward and animator Bexie Bush) and the Future Works M.Arch Architecture Studio spent a week back in Cromford. This was an opportunity to visit sites, plan new work, and develop ideas. The week kicked off with a tour around Masson Mills to see their hydro scheme and learn about the evolution of the factory system.

On Tuesday, Renata and Julia from the Stories team held tutorials with students who are working at factory sites across Sheffield and the Derwent Valley. Linked together by a shared and evolving energy strategy, the architecture projects vary from using photosynthesis to generate electricity, to factories to make climbing rope or skis and snowboards from natural materials, to rethinking a region-wide relationship between humans, nature and industry, to re-imagining the historic John Smedleys’ site for the 21st and 22nd century! Lucy Ward gave insightful and lyrical feedback about the ideas it sparked for her, and what came across as the most interesting aspects of the projects.

The afternoon brought a walk along the towpath from Cromford, past High Peak Junction onto the Lea Mills site of John Smedley, where award winning animator Bexie Bush is filming her latest work, ‘The Rumour Mill: Whispers about the future of energy along the Derwent Valley’. We all were given a tour around the set, and shown the meticulous and creative processes of development. The latest version of her animatic is incredibly atmospheric, and being able to understand her process added another layer to what is an engaging and fascinating film. It was of particular interest from an architectural point of view to see how space is understood and constructed across the models and shots- often through the use of 2:1 perspective. This was an opportunity for landscape historian Nicola Whyte, Singer Lucy Ward and Environmental Technology lecturer Stephen Peake to see the progress of the film, and discuss opportunities for future collaborations and projects.

Tuesday evening brought a convivial meal, and discussions late into the night about the difficult, personal and controversial topic of how we might engage in climate change. What were our responsibilities individually and collectively, how could we influence change, and how did this topic unevenly effect us from the scale of a city to global. The sound of the cascading waterfall from the mill pond at the Malthouse eased us off to sleep…

Wednesday brought new visitors, Architect Robert Evans from the award winning practice Evans Vettori, Steve Lewis a ‘Concepts Visualiser’ from local clockmaker Smith of Derby, and MA History placement student Joe Elliot, who is collaborating with Nicola Whyte to investigate the local archives and find maps of water rights. Together with Stephen Peake they joined in reviews of the architecture student projects, conducted around a huge table, where together we projected work, drew ideas onto the paper tablecloth and gave feedback from the level of an architectural detail, to engaging in the big questions that climate change poses.

Wednesday afternoon began with Lucy Ward and Nicola Whyte sourcing ballads, and on the spot Lucy writing new tunes for those lyrics whee they had been long lost. Lucy then enrolled us in songwriting (more, undoubtedly to follow on this)…. and we waled up to Black Rocks to learn about the energy landscape that surrounded us.

Set against gloriously clear blue skies, on a frosty Thursday morning Micheal Ledger, the Arkwright Society Education Officer, took time out of a busy day to share with us the story of energy at Cromford Mill. Micheal explained that much of the knowledge of how the complex water system worked has now been lost. We learnt about the evolution of the factory design, based around the frame he designed, and features intended to keep the workers working, including inside toilets. We watched the brand new cinema experience where the ghost of Arkwright greeted us in the very first factory building, and we watched a film narrated by Brian Blessed, which set the site in its world heritage context.

An incredibly productive and stimulating week, ideas were sparked, decisions made and we even all got to sit by the fire with a giant dog, eating pie and drinking a pint in the very lovely Cromford Ship Inn pub.



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