Dear Reader: Lost in West Yorkshire + Gin Rocks Festival

Harrogate artist Laney Birkhead inside her calico Swarm artwork.
Harrogate artist Laney Birkhead inside her calico Swarm artwork.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

The towns all blend into one, the streets are all the same, the road signs are hopeless – I hate driving in West Yorkshire.

Trying to find Skelton Grange last Thursday, I ended up on the M1 going south, then going north, then on the M62 going to Manchester, then going to Hull.

But getting lost turned out to be worth it once I got to where I was going.

I’d journeyed to the far side of Leeds to see a lovely installation by talented Harrogate artist Laney Birkhead

Such has been its incredible success, the environmentally-themed Swarm has now been exhibited in public three times in three different locations.

I doubt, however, that Laney will find anywhere better suited for her beautiful piece of art highlighting the plight of our bee population than Skelton Grange Environment Centre in south Leeds.

Staffed by conservation volunteers, it’s an amazing place - and it’s not even a gallery.

This community-orientated charity hidden down a scraggy backroad is currently celebrating 25 years of introducing urban children to the natural environment and all its wonders.

Its existence is the result of an act of generosity by the National Grid which donated a small piece of derelict land in the early 1990s.

And there this socially-inclusive, eco-building sits to this day, an oasis of good intentions in the middle of an industrial landscape.

Gin Rock Festival controversy

When I saw the first wave of complaints come crashing in on Sunday morning after what was billed in advance as “Harrogate’s first independent gin festival” at Ripley Castle the night before my first thought was “how on earth do I handle this?”

In the rapidly changing world of the media, journalists often find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, the cut-throat nature of the national press and social media has made the idea of tolerating any mistakes a complete non-starter.

On the other hand, the last thing anyone operating in the public realm is keen to accept in this harsher climate is anything that smacks of bad publicity.

In terms of the local press, when it’s a matter of local people trying to do good things locally, the whole situation becomes one big dilemma.

So what’s to be done in a world where anyone with a grievance, no matter how slight, is more prone to press the nuclear button?

Just what trained journalists have always tried to do at this newspaper since it first roled off the presses in 1836, a year when William IV was on the throne and Charles Darwin returned from his five-year voyage of discovery round the world on HMS Beagle.

Try to be fair.

Try to be balanced.

Try to be accurate.

Of course, it never has been possible to please all of the people all of the time.