Alan Clawley – a life well-lived: his less well-known contributions

Alan was trained as an architect and lived in Birmingham for several decades, providing technical support to a wide variety of community projects. He was a member of the Green Party, founder and secretary of Friends of Central Library and chairman of West Midlands Economics Group (WMNEG).

The writer first met him at meetings of Birmingham Green Party in the 80s and later both attended the 1994 gathering organised by George Heron (left), a supporter of the New Economics Foundation (NEF) George circulated all the NEF supporters living in the West Midlands and an inaugural meeting was held in which the constitution of an unincorporated voluntary association was adopted.

Since the structure of the NEF did not allow for branches as such, it was agreed that WMNEG would be independent of the NEF but share its values and interests. A management committee planned the programme of activities and George was its chairman until he moved to Manchester in 1997. Paul Baptie took the chair for a short period followed by Alan Clawley. A website was created and contact with supporters was maintained by email.

Trawling through her documents the writer found several records of work not mentioned in the widely appreciated tributes by Steve Beauchampé and Neil Elkes. A summary follows.

Alan explained: “WMNEG first met in 1994 to apply the ideas of the New Economics Foundation to the economy of Birmingham and the West Midlands. Since then we have developed our own unique response to the practical economic problems of the City and the Region through dialogue with many other organisations and bodies of opinion. We focus on economic activity designed to last and to meet people’s basic needs. New Economics opposes the short-term exploitation of people, natural resources and the environment typical of industrialised societies. E F Schumacher, in his book “Small is Beautiful” describes it as ‘a study of economics as if people mattered’ “.

For more information go to the Meetings Archive:1996-2015 and more recent entries on the same website.

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An early collaboration with a group of teachers at the University of Central England (since renamed Birmingham City University) resulted in the publication in 1996 of Struggling with Sustainability (below right).  This was followed in 1997 by Alan Clawley’s New Green Guide to Birmingham published with the support of Birmingham City Council under Local Agenda 21. For news of more recent books click here.

WMNEG members attended a number of meetings of the Real World Coalition, founded in 1996. From 2002 to 2005 WMNEG was represented by Alan Clawley and Andrew Lydon (vice-chairman for many years) on the Eastside Sustainability Advisory Group to which they submitted papers.

The New Labour government of 1997-2010 gave the public many opportunities to comment on draft policy papers. WMNEG responded to many of these and several members attended a number of local consultative conventions chaired by Clare Short when she was Minister at the Department for International Development (DFID).

Andrew Lydon and Alan Clawley spoke at the Public Planning Inquiry in 1996 against the development of green belt land at Peddimore for a silicon chip factory during which Counsel for the City Council described the concept of sustainability as ‘protean’ and accused objectors of being opposed to all development.

A planning application for the redevelopment of Nechells Power Station for an entertainment complex to be known as Star City was received by the Council in 1997. WMNEG engaged the Neighbourhood Initiatives Foundation with a grant from the Digbeth Trust, to mount a Planning for Real exercise to come up with a ‘sustainable’ alternative.

In 2002 WMNEG was awarded a grant by the West Midlands Social Economy Partnership (a branch of SEA?) to do an action research study. Study visits were made and a report was published in 2004 for distribution to policy-makers, practitioners and academics.

The study, “Sustainable Housing in Small Heath” (2004), is the illustrated story of the year-long study into the application of renewable energy in an inner-city neighbourhood. Most of the work was done by the voluntary steering group.

After visiting the Eco-Centre in Leicester, Aman Awel Tawe in South Wales and the Black Country and getting reports from a number of experts, Molly Scott Cato (now MEP) and Jackie Carpenter (Energy 21), it concluded that a ten-year programme was needed, starting with home insulation and energy efficiency and leading on to community wind turbines, photo-voltaic roofs, wood-burning stoves and combined heat and power plants. This could create many new jobs for local people provided the government offered new enterprises the right kind of support and created the general economic conditions for a renewable energy market to flourish in urban areas.

In order to implement some of the proposals in the report a new charitable company, the East Birmingham Community Energy Company (EBCEC) was formed in 2006. This had some early success with community outreach, including work local schools and community organisations, funded by Awards For All. In 2008, The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts [NESTA], encouraging people-powered innovation, wrote to say that EBCEC’s application for the Big Green Challenge had been successful in moving forward to Stage 2 of the competition. The administrator wrote that the quality of the applications was impressive and demonstrated the enthusiasm and commitment of communities to working together to tackle climate change. However, after the 2008 banking crisis and following economic downturn, no further funding was obtained and EBCEC was wound up.

In 2006 Alan contributed to the debates held countrywide by MP Clare Short: Instead of replacing Trident. His view was that the money should be used to fund a world-wide scheme that will enable people in positions of responsibility to learn how to resolve conflict by non-violent means.

Alan (4th from left, Solihull News) acted as a judge for the 2006 Attwood Awards, with Solihull MP Lorely Burt and Sir Adrian Cadbury. Local people had submitted alternative plans for the former Territorial site in Haslucks Green Rd – now developed as “Parkgate”. The award was presented to Fred Carpenter, one of four finalists.

Then the Central Library campaign began: ReStirred Forum comment: “The more you think about it the weirder it is – a cash-strapped city demolishing its stunning and well used central library in order to rebuilt it at great expense a few metres away. You couldn’t make it up.”

See over 20 articles about the campaign on this site – many photographs were lost due to a technical problem at the time.

In September 2008, Alan wrote: Birmingham For People – Mark II, anyone?. He pointed out that fans of the Central Library and the market traders are up against the same problems – the overwhelming power of property developers and the unwillingness of the City Council to make demands on them for fear that they will take their money elsewhere. Birmingham for People had an impact on the final form of the Bull Ring and Brindley Place and some would like it to be resurrected to fight – alongside existing groups like the Twentieth Century Society and the Victorian Society – for more humane forms of development in today’s City Centre and to scrutinise big development schemes such as Paradise Circus, the wholesale markets, and Colmore Row

In the Birmingham Press (2011) Alan wrote about the proposed relocation of the wholesale markets in the Bull Ring: “The Market is within walking distance of the wholesale markets . . . elsewhere the use of small vans is widespread and major retailers truck goods long distances from giant warehouses located at motorway junctions. Municipal wholesale markets like Birmingham’s are left to support thousands of smaller independent traders who run their businesses admirably well with the lowest possible overheads and with less adverse impact on the environment.”

Later that year he wrote a detailed article in the Birmingham Press about the down-grading of the library service. He referred to the involvement of Capita, which formed a joint venture with Birmingham City Council in 2006 and two years later caused a backlog in the payment of nearly 30,000 invoices at Birmingham City Council.

In 2011, the people of Birmingham were asked for their views on next year’s Council Budget though council leader Sir Albert Bore admitted that roughly two thirds of its £3.4 billion annual running cost would be “out of bounds” for public discussion.

Birmingham City Council had announced that the government was forcing it to cut the cost of public services by £212m during the next financial year, but in May 2011 Alan – after several days poring over the 166-page Budget Book – saw that public services were indeed being cut but that civic spending was set to increase. He was so surprised by this finding that he emailed the council to check the figures, thinking that he must have made a mistake. He referred to these findings in the Birmingham Press after setting them out in great detail at a WMNEG meeting, adding his proposals for an alternative budget. He actually found an overall INCREASE: the council made cuts of £149 million but increases of £164 million, so the overall cost of running the Council was to increase by £14 million, i.e. from £3,513 million in 2010/11 to £3,527 million in 2011/12. Alan pointed out that local front-line services, especially those not deemed ‘essential’, were being asked to take more than their fair share of savings.

Alan and his wife Hazel were founder members and officers of Small Heath Credit Union (registered in 1990). Alan commented that in Birmingham, the community-based credit unions founded in the 1990s had, with the exception of Small Heath, been closed and merged into a few large ones, but the recent failure of South Birmingham Credit Union suggests that mergers alone do not guarantee survival. The credit union movement is dominated by the expansionist tendency and the small volunteer-run credit unions such as Small Heath (population 30,000) are seen to be lacking in ambition and not helping enough people. Nevertheless, Small Heath survived when bigger ones have failed, maintaining a band of volunteers, keeping overheads to a minimum by using premises provided free by the Anglican church and a housing association, and adopting a conservative loans policy, especially for new borrowers.

In the Spring 2015 newsletter of Birmingham University’s Housing and Communities Research Network Professor David Mullins reported that group members enjoyed an internal seminar on the history of the Small Heath housing cooperatives by Alan Clawley. A student noted that Clawley was one of the first residents of Small Heath Park Housing Co-operative, where he still lives. It is one of a remarkable group of six housing co-ops set up in Small Heath between 1977 and 1988 which survive to this day. of 48 dwellings, designed by Coventry architects Nichol Thomas Viner Barwell and funded by the Housing Corporation. An extract  from Alan Clawley’s book ‘A History of Small Heath Housing Co-operatives’ may be seen here.

On December 1st, 2015, as councillors arrived the Council House reception entrance for the first meeting with John Clancy, the new leader of Birmingham city council, many gave their views for and against the retention and reuse of the Madin Library’s ‘ziggurat’ to Alan and many other campaigners at three entrances to the Council House.

Alan organised Small Heath Housing Co-op Day, held in 2016 at the Emerald Social Club, 214 Green Lane, Small Heath, Birmingham B9 5DH. In the last quarter of the twentieth century six tenants’ housing co-operatives were established in Small Heath when local residents were persuaded by a band of housing professionals to get together to provide decent rented housing for themselves and others who needed it for one reason or another.

Having been successful ‘home-educators, Alan and Hazel supported others taking this path for many years, attending ALTERNATIVE EDUCATIONAL FUTURES (2016), held at Birmingham City University’s Baker Building, organised by the CPE-PEN educational charity, of which she and Alan were directors. It aimed to provide delegates with some ‘inspirational appetisers’ into the world of alternative education, alternative thinking and educational futures.

Alan and Hazel came to the Centre for Personalised Education in 2005 to help out for a short period. Peter Humphreys remembers: “They ended up staying until March 2017, ever present and reliable, always willing to get involved and take us forward. Alan acted superbly as treasurer but was also involved in writing for our Personalised Education Now Journal, completing book reviews, coordinating and contributing to learning exchanges and conferences and famously even single-handedly managed a creche at one event!”

In 2017, at Friends of the Earth’s warehouse – WMNEG’s meeting place for many years – Alan presented extracts from Jeremy Rifkin’s 2014 book, ‘The Zero Marginal Cost Society’ at a West Midlands New Economics Group meeting. including the collaborative commons and the eclipse of capitalism.

John Nightingale reflects:

Alan’s was a full and active life but at the same time imaginative, joyful and generous. His causes and relationships stemmed from a love of nature, buildings, music and people. He was without vanity or rancour and encouraged others. He was willing to champion unfashionable causes and had the pleasure sometimes of seeing fashion catch up with him. He fought vigorously for what he believed to be right, often with success, sometimes unexpectedly so. But if he failed I didn’t see him mope; he simply moved on to the next thing.

Alan was kind and helpful, especially to children and those who were disadvantaged. He appreciated what was good in the past, whether Victorian architecture or the more recent “brutalism”, while giving a critical welcome to the new.

As we face the unexpected today, our memory of Alan is a challenge and inspiration.

 

 

 

 

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