Imagine a Community Hub

St Loyes is a mishmash of council housing, mobile homes, old and new suburbs, industrial estate, retail park, M5 J30 services and part of Ludwell Valley Park.

There is no community centre, post office, or anything obvious that connects people and provides heart. There are a few cafés for workers on Sowton, but there aren’t really any eateries or watering holes for locals. Most are for shoppers, or for people passing through on business or holiday. There’s nowhere I’d really like to meet up with a friend for a nice cup of tea, or go for a meal, or have a relaxing pint on a summer evening.

The schools provide some space for meeting, and rent out their halls to groups, but it’s not quite the same as having a dedicated space like at Newcourt. In some parts of St Loyes, there aren’t even any noticeboards for advertising events and activities.

It would be nice to have a place that brings people together and could be used as an art space too. Where might such a community hub be located?

There is a patch of derelict land almost slap bang in the middle of the ward near Middlemoor that might be an option. I had a go at dreaming and creating a possible building in the St Loyes Minecraft world. Not terribly successfully, it has to be said. Minecraft can help you imagine all these things and ask what if? questions. Maybe someone could do a better job.

The site is also problematic because it used to be a petrol station and the land needs a lot of work to make it safe. It looks green on Google Maps because it’s overgrown concrete reverting to nature! So maybe there are other possibilities. Let it be, and let it rewild itself, as a pocket of biodiversity? Or perhaps put up a gazebo and bunting, drag in some armchairs for the day, and hold a random picnic? Any other ideas?

Minecraft my home meetup

Minecraft my home - posterAs part of Art Week Exeter, which ran from 22-28 May I held a Minecraft meetup in St Loyes on Sat 26 May.

It was an opportunity for some to learn about Minecraft, and for others to indulge in play.

So within the online world, we now have two herds of ocelots and cows roaming free, and a tribe of villagers somewhere…

Exeter City Futures are supporting the “Minecraft my home” activity, and on the day Mark from ECF kindly helped me out. During the day, he managed to build an ECF branch office in the Tesco car park.

I built the shell of a new St Loyes Community Hub, Cafe and Gallery on the patch of derelict land that used to be a petrol station near Middlemoor. It has a number of really bad design features!

It was good to welcome Peter Holland, my new City Councillor, and I think persuade him of the value of Minecraft as a way of re-imagining neighbourhoods.

Mark and I have also laid some red carpet along ‘desire paths’ – places in real life where people have walked to get from A to B and marked paths where there were none before.

Some of the creations so far are unlikely to happen. Working with Gold Towers – my Trumpesque rebuilding of my home – is never going to get planning permission. And I suspect the Carl Andre / Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy crossover sculpture is always going to be gravity-challenged!

You too can explore, play and build in the Minecraft world of St Loyes. You can download it, the online version should be available until about October 2018, and I’ve written a couple of crib sheets for newbies.

Have fun!

Horrible history of Ringswell

As you head out of Exeter on Honiton Road, you pass Ringswell Avenue on the left and Ringswell Park on the right. The name is one indicator of what happened here between the 16th and 18th centuries. The bus shelter round the corner on Sidmouth Road used to show the name of the stop, which was clearer still: Gallows Corner. It is marked as Heavitree Gallows on the 1932 Ordnance Survey map, but no longer on the latest Landranger or Explorer maps. Nevertheless, as Gallows Cross or Heavitree Drop is how the road junction is still known to locals.

This is where Devon County held executions. Before the 16th century, they were held with the Exeter city executions at Livery Dole at the top of Heavitree Fore Street. From 1794 they took place in the newly-built Exeter Gaol. It appears that the Bideford witches were executed at Livery Dole in 1682, even though they were not from Exeter, and Gallows Cross was in use at that time.

Find out more:

OS 1932 revision - Heavitree Gallows

Horrible history of Clyst Heath

What lies beneath Bishop’s Court and the A379 spur off Junction 30 of the M5? The answer is the site of the two battles of Clyst Heath in 1455 during the Wars of the Roses and 1549 during the Prayer Book Rebellion. The OS Explorer Map has a little crossed-swords symbol to mark the both of them. Copying shamelessly from the Wikipedia article on Clyst Heath

Battle of Clyst Heath (1455)

The Courtenay family of Tiverton Castle and Colcombe Castle, who had been earls of Devon since 1335, were challenged in the 15th century by the rise of the Bonville family of Shute. The Bonville–Courtenay feud during the Wars of the Roses resulted in several acts of violence, culminating on 15 December 1455 when Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon and William Bonville met decisively at the Battle of Clyst Heath, where Bonville was defeated and after which the Earl sacked and pillaged Shute.

Battle of Clyst Heath (1549)

In the evening of 5 August 1549, during the Prayer Book Rebellion, John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford and Lord William Grey and their troops had pitched camp on Clyst Heath. Russell and Grey were concerned about the burden of the large number of rebel prisoners that had been captured from previous encounters at Fenny Bridges, Woodbury Common and Clyst St Mary. An order was issued that the prisoners should be killed, which was done. According to John Hayward, more than nine hundred prisoners were slain.

The following day the rebels attacked the camp of the Royal army and the subsequent battle lasted the entire day, with heavy losses on both sides. Lord Russell’s troops were finally victorious, but John Hooker later reported: “Great was the slaughter and cruel was the fight and such was the valour and stoutness of these men [the rebels] that the Lord Grey reported himself that he never in all the wars he had been did know the like.”

What this 1549 report from Hooker doesn’t quite mention, though, is the brutal massacre by Russell of 900 prisoners. Horrible history indeed.

Battle of Clyst Heath 1455

Horrible history of Exe Vale Tesco

Did you know? St Loyes has quite the horrible history, what with hangings, massacres, battles and burials, and a mental asylum.

For example, the Exe Vale Tesco store and car park are built on the burial ground of a 16th century battle. According to the Historic Environment Record, a farmer unearthed dozens of bones in the 1960s in a field below Pynes Hill. The source for this information “refers to the site being that of the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion battle of Clyst Heath and that the Tesco superstore now stands on the site.”

I found this information via Devon County Council’s Environment Viewer. There’s all sorts here. It also shows a Bronze Age semi-circular ditch under Tesco. Check out all the other historical sites in St Loyes!

On 18 May 2018, Exeter City Futures launched their Exeter 2025 Minecraft Challenge. It was an early outing for the St Loyes Minecraft world, and one lad got hold of it. Here’s what happened…

Planning applications and imagining alternatives

There doesn’t seem to be a week goes by without the announcement of a proposed development in St Loyes, or that will affect St Loyes. At the moment I can think of the following, at various stages of approval:

  1. McCarthy & Stone off Russell Way near Tesco – DevonLive 13 Mar 2018
  2. Retail on the Tesco car park overflow – DevonLive 12 Feb 2018
  3. More retail at Moor Exchange off Honiton Road, just outside the ward – DevonLive 30 Jan 2018
  4. Retail on the north end of the Police headquarters at Middlemoor – DevonLive 16 Feb 2018 and 15 May 2018
  5. Yet more retail on the Western Power Distribution sites off Honiton Road – DevonLive 6 Mar 2018 (handy map of 3-5) and 28 Mar 2018

But what do we really want to see on our doorsteps? Green spaces are great for our mental health. So how can we keep and cherish the pockets of green left in St Loyes?

Maybe that green space off Russell Way should be kept, as a boost to biodiversity, a scrubber of air pollution, and (with access rights) a nice place to walk.

Do we need all of that out-of-town retail, and the extra traffic that goes with it? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a ‘village centre’, with local independent shops and cafés, a post office, and a community hub?

What about building office space for social enterprises on the Tesco car park? It’s convenient for rail and bus, the mixed land use should mean fewer journeys, and there’ll be a nice green space to have lunch breaks.

“Minecraft my home” can help you imagine all these things  and ask what if? questions. You can now explore a re-creation of St Loyes in Minecraft, and experiment with buildings and transport.

Here’s how Mark from Exeter City Futures imagined a branch office on the Tesco car park could look.

Exeter City Futures branch office

Local leaflets 2018

It’s the run-up to the local elections, and I’ve been collecting leaflets over the past few months. These are roughly in the order they were pushed through my letter box, most recent first.