The subject of the woodhouse, Hopwas everyones favourite abandoned house in the woods has flickered back into life on the internet after photos were published on the Hopwas Appreciation society Facebook page of the empty space where the Woodhouse once stood. I don´t want to sound like a broken record though and wallow in despair at what could have been. Instead I´d like to take the opportunity to quickly review my desperate last-ditch attempt to save the Woodhouse last August(view previous posts)and see what lessons can be learned from it, what I did right, what I did wrong and hopefully make a small contribution to other people bent on saving a piece of integrity in the landscape from the jaws of uniformity and soulless sanitisation.
Believe in what you´re doing
Starting off with an obvious one, but fundamental as it´s hard work, trying to save stuff, especially starting off by yourself!
Take action quickly
As soon as I got the news about the imminent demolition from Midlands Heritage Forum, my first thought was “sneaky bastards trying to demolish this amazing place behind everyone’s back, I´ll show them,” they demolished it anyway, I made them sweat though. Use that anger as an energy, but be clear-headed about your strategy, I didn´t do the last bit.
Have clear argument
Before shouting your mouth off, have an argument, why shouldn´t they destroy the place, what are the alternatives, . That was pretty easy with the woodhouse (remember to back argument up when you can with examples, expert advice)
Get expert support
This was the bit I did best, sending out emails to experts found through authors, university departments I managed to start a conversation with Dianne Barre, expert on historical garden landscapes in Staffordshire, who gave me invaluable info, and was equally angry about the situation. This has the benefit of validating your campaign, and the experts using their contacts. Also got support from the Georgian society, who even went down to see the place, and the advice from SAVE Britain´s heritage . Expert advice should help in the next bit, spot listing with English Heritage.
Apply for spot listing with English Heritage
After contacting various people in the council, this was the only course of official action I could really take to try to protect the buildings. The application was done online, the people at English Heritage were helpful, they take cases seriously. By indicating that it was going to be imminently destroyed the application process went quickly and the decision took a couple of weeks after inspections at site and written reports were made. Deep down though I felt I was too comfortable about the whole process, trusted in it too much, in the end the decision was taken by too few people…. really you should..
Make noise to get support
This should be a key part to get more people involved, put the pressure on the decision makers, and share the campaign, you can´t do it all by yourself, the idea is to get the juggernaut rolling, then share the pain and hopefully joy at the end! Of course nowadays with so many online facilities and so much info, so much to care about, this is the age of campaigning for a good cause! This is the bit where I failed I think, of course I didn’t have much time, it was all last-minute, but admittedly I wasn´t savvy enough in creating that noise, this is what I should have done:
Local media campaign
Otherwise it´s hard that people are going to know about it, this includes physical local newspapers down to their online versions and the profusion of very active blogs, sites,community pages. My efforts consisted of a letter to the Tamworth Herald and a piece put together by the guys at Lichfield Blog. A good start but should have been more sustained. Should have talked to editors, try to include article, could have even gone regional, spice things up a bit with ghost stories, etc. Again though can´t do it all by yourself so important to get people involved by:
Start Facebook group get friends signed up to it, use twitter(got to get round to this) uses comments on blogs, forums etc. Apart from a call out on the Hopwas Appreciation Society facebook page and Midlands Heritage forum I failed miserably in this part, never again!
Use what you´ve got already, copy, repeat, modify.(above a picture used before of abe and ernst campaigning)
Get in touch with famous people
Don´t laugh, this is the celebrity age, it could be good for their PR and apparently Sir Bob Geldoff visited the woodhouse! really. Obviously the idea would be somebody with a link with the area and who gives a shit about the subject!
On the ground activity
Don´t get entranced by the media buzz, a lot of social media makes you imagine small nations are behind you, but the online noise has to be accompanied by action on the ground, in the local area, phoning and meeting local movers, connecting with local associations/ initiatives which could share the same objectives. This is really important and something I didn´t do much of apart from trying to contact the enigmatic Friends of Hopwas association! This time though I´ve got an excuse, I live hundreds of miles away!
I don´t know if any of the above would have saved the woodhouse but taking the above approach would have done it´s bit to increase awareness among people of whats around them, what people are losing, get people involved and go a small way to creating a sense of place in the area. Social media is creating a real chance here for another more informed democratic approach to our surroundings and making collective connected decisions about it , now for me that would be progress.