Beautiful streets, pavements, shop signs in Nottingham: participative, creative retailing in an opencity: starting in Hockley?

Above: 1950 Jacob Lawrence Painting: Sedation: Is it medication or mental illness that inhabits and inhibits a patient?

The Case is Now for Beautiful Streets, Pavements, Shop Signs: they can change the way we see and feel the world: it’s seventy five years since the second world war ended and we’re still debating, contesting, the kind of economy we should have.

We know we want the best of the large and the small, distributed to more people, more of the time. How though?

The rise and fall of Tarmac Roadstone into the monster that became Carillion: the contracted out warehouse distribution economy of a billionaire who’d like to colonise other planets while workers on earth are stuck in warehouses: this elite self justification, leaning and relying on contingent and temporary workers borrows much from a military exceptionalism  that was highly stratified and emotionally regressive in the reconstruction of the UK economy after the second world war.

Instead of evolving ever more humane ways of developing the peace dividend we’ve still got a sense that we’re not investing in people: temporary structures built by strong men who never say a word yet leave their mistakes and nightmares for society to grapple with and make sense of. We need a city economy with many routes in that changes perceptions, values and outcomes. Everything and every person matters and needs to feel they can move, learn, contribute and innovate.

After the first and second world war we said ‘Never Again’ while knowing that the way we were reconstructing the country was a kind of ‘willful blindness’ to the history, diversity of experience and appetite in the country for social change.

I think that now in Nottingham there’s a fantastic opportunity to connect the energetic economies stuck in silos around micro, small and larger businesses through understanding that we need to see beautiful streets, pavements, shop signs to encourage the whole community to participate and contribute: young, middle aged and older from every background to support and share their time and resources, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year.

Nottingham is ours, not theirs!

How can we do this? I had to go to Southwell last Friday and looked at it with new eyes thinking of all the personal and shared histories in this town. I looked at the balance between decent paving, shop signs, windows and the way you could walk, breathing and thinking, shopping and communicating and I thought how hard people work to understand this place and to keep it new and contemporary but also connected to shared experiences, problems and solutions.

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Above: The Old Theatre Deli, (and tree!), Southwell

I went back into Nottingham and thought I’d walk through Hockley and look at the Independent retailers and the balance between the aspirations at every level and whether there was a richness of support and hope to balance the desire for profit and I thought well, what if….what if we could get some courses going at Nottingham Trent, Nottingham Uni, Lincoln, Derby:

to give local people the training to help micro businesses, SMES and larger businesses revision themselves, giving all of the great people already working to do this a real acknowledgment, a ‘credit’ if you like, for being bold, creative, having the courage to try to improve the independent retailing environment.

We could have retail environment improvement courses where anyone could do courses in how to engage retailers with creativities to improve and tailor the whole environment around the shops: planting, pavements, hand drawn shop signs, window news/dressing, learning something new about the business, making a stake in new businesses to help them grow and grow but also to find new ways of helping larger businesses ‘get smaller’, meaning larger businesses also need to evolve through connection with their communities with new services, new developments. This can happen if the people who live in Nottingham are respected equally and encouraged to grow too by the businesses who are here.

We have a model of retailing that hasn’t changed much since the second world war: we talk about how intelligent our financial and tech systems are but they’re wilfully blind to the massive intelligence, knowledge, economic, social and cultural potential here. The ‘Mosaic’ we use here simply reproduces the military reconstruction motifs of hierarchical organisations stereotyping class, race and gender in an apparently jolly and conversational way. Highly segmented information and access to resources though, simply reproduces ignorance and inequalities.

In the local we should see the regional, national, international: we need education and great people to lead retailing into a much better world: People like Jasmin Issaka 

who has such a vision of the street in Nottingham and Manchester a vision that taps into and recognises our energies, our aspirations, our imaginings as graspable: imaginative poetry for the concrete world: 

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and signwriter Marie Edwards (she runs courses in Business signwriting)

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Above: Marie planning a business board image @ madebymee /Twitter 

Marie, who in Corona time is making beautiful rainbows in local business (and homes) is also selling artists materials to raise funds to support the NHS. All profits  towards costs involved in 3D printing PPE for the NHS💥 8mm chisel tip set £36 5mm bullet tip £28 To buy message Marie @madebymee /Twitter MadebyMeeeee on Facebook or email

The chalk pens she’s selling  mean the work is developing creative momentum of its own in homes across Nottingham-wow! ❤️ Create beautiful artwork on windows, chalkboards, metal and plastic -wash  off when you’re ready for something new ❤️ 

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Artist’s materials perfectly modelled by the gorgeous Dexter


As I walked through Hockley looking at the shop signs I thought: shop signs are a form of news, a welcome to the diverse history, intelligence and knowledge of the people who live, work, make, dream here: