The first real-world hybrid live event using the developing Lucia House online platform took place at the Fourth Portal. Four years in development, the event highlighted the challenges of merging virtual and physical spaces. 

The Fourth Portal was, from the beginning, envisaged as a hybrid working and social space. A place where a person can sit at a table and meet others in the virtual and the real world. Hybrid meetings in public settings will become normalised and the experience seamless. Fourth Portal is at the cutting edge of developing such spaces. On 4th November 2022, we curated our first live test event.  

Lucia House

Lucia House is a four-floor virtual home developed by the Lucia Collective in response to the first pandemic lockdown. The Lucia Collective is a loose gathering of programmers, engineers, mathematicians, philosophers and visual artists.  

The Lucia Collective came together with Fourth Portal via Platform-7’s Discussion Festival events. The Discussion Festival was a weekly open-house occasion. Visitors moved about, without hindrance, between virtual tables hosted by experts on various topics. Engagement in a virtual environment is different to being in a real-world occasion. These evenings sought to observe how people interacted, moved about and communicated in virtual space when undirected. The learning feeds into the design parameters of the Fourth Portal and the online equivalent.

Open-mic poetry evening

The open-mic poetry event was on a Friday evening, hosted by Platform-7’s Bristol-based poet, Isabel White. A mixture of local poets and non-poets came along. Online were members of the Lucia Collective and other guests, including poet Andrew Duncan with his Ai nomenclature, R Andru Dunkn (a homage to Asimov robot stories).  

Poetry host, Isabel White and local Poets Jason Parr and Clare Currie

Lucia House’s virtual theatre beamed into the Fourth Portal via WiFi. Surround sound provided an immersive feeling inside the space. For guests in the room, the event was a new kind of experience. Although most people were familiar with Zoom, the Lucia House’s eclectic virtual furnishing and moving face tiles were unexpected.


There was no wide-angle projection of the Lucia House floorplan in the venue. This meant the layout was unclear for those in attendance to understand how the theatre was part of a much larger online environment. The Fourth Portal is awaiting the installation of a dedicated 1Gb fibre cable, leaving the event operating on a slightly erratic internet connection. Occasional weak signals caused breakdowns in the audio, leading to some chatter coming from the online guests while the real-world poets performed. The venue arrangement meant the performer could not see the online guests. In response, poets would move out of the camera shot to view the online audience, who then could not see the poet.  

Facebook indetifiers

A simple website front page asked for a name and email address to gain free online entry to the event. A link was posted to Facebook and Instagram. As the event was due to go live, it became apparent that the Facebook link would not work. Post-event investigation discovered the issue; Facebook attribution parameters stop logged-in users from reaching the webpage. A solution, found via Seb’s IT blog, will be implemented for the next event. 

Stop facebook attribution parameters from breaking my website

Problem Description

The affected application would return a 404 The requested URL was not found on this server message when accessed from logged in facebook users. That is because the link facebook presents to its users contains their fbclid URL parameter:

Example: https://domain.tld/adventcalendar/?fbclid=IwAR0QwiqUUrAZqv66g2y4SINDYjMZlGSZXEi6NhMXSLJqdfzoVGiWxMgfP1c

Internet connection issues aside, the online visitors who did find their way had a reasonably smooth experience. With no cameras facing the real-world audience, online guests felt denied the opportunity to feel fully involved in the real-world venue. 

AI poem

In between the poetry performed by humans, the audience was treated to some poetry from an AI. Created by John K, from the Lucia Collective, the AI constructed its poetry by scanning the works of poet Alan Duncan. The poem was somewhat odd and caused unintended amusement in places, however, the audience was reasonably impressed by the poem recited. (Can an AI recite? One of the many debates yet to be had!) 

R Andru Dunkn, Ai. performs reconstructed works of poet, Alan Duncan


The hybrid open-mic poetry night was a culmination of many years of work. The evening felt momentous for us involved in developing the Fourth Portal and Lucia House. Bringing together a real-world audience with a virtual audience was a milestone. It was all done in proper DIY style. The virtual and physical spaces are cobbled together using hanging cables, available kits and, of course, the ubiquitous old ladder. 

During the first half, the poets were a little disorientated by the experience, as were some of the real-world audience. The second half was more relaxed and people became accustomed. 

For the team, plenty of learning was gleaned, which will feed into the next event on 2nd December 2022.  

Was the hybrid open-mic night a World’s first? Probably not! However, not many hybrid open-mic poetry nights can claim poems performed by an artificial intelligence performer.  

John M


Fourth Portal Hybrid Open-Mic Night

Friday, 2nd December 2022, 7pm – 9pm, UK time (19:00-21:00 BST)

To attend the real world event: Fourth Portal, 2 Stonecutters Way, Great Yarmouth, England, NR30 1HF

To attend virtually: https://lucia.network



The Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring many challenges. As the world goes virtual, the role of public gathering places will need addressing. The Town Square must again become the centre of local discourse. If not, the 4IR may become known as the Period of Polarisation.

From Wikipedia

“A town square (or square, plaza, public square, city square, urban square, or piazza) is an open public space[1] commonly found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings. Related concepts are the civic center, the market square and the village green.”

Piazza della Signoria, in Florence, Italy, a historic example of a traditional public square

Announcement of the establishment of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on Congress Square in 1918



Town squares will become contested during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Technology will permeate every part of daily life. As it does, the need for physical gathering places will rise. The risk is that such public spaces become battlegrounds.

Urban planners need to pay close attention, particularly in England. The virtual world is changing behaviours. These changes are spilling out into the real-world streets. [1]

Class system

Since the Edwardian period, England has neglected public spaces. Public squares that encourage the mixing of cultures are rare. The Georgians began the trend to fence off public spaces and streets. The policy was steeped in the British class system. In recent years, the privatisation of public space has accelerated.

Sample of English public spaces

In Southern continental Europe, the opposite is the case. Town squares are the centre of the entire community. The design, construction and purpose are all geared towards civic pride and participation.

Sample of Spanish public spaces

Spanish Squares

In Spain, all urban planning revolves around public space. There are plenty of elaborate squares and boulevards to be happened upon. Most though are of simple design and materials. They work for all occasions. Organised events, family gatherings, meeting friends or eating a sandwich. Finding a public space with a fence or a locked gate will be a challenge in Spain.

Some squares have a cafe or restaurant bordering the parameter; many don’t. It is unusual to see a cafe in the middle of a town square. Modern Spanish libraries and museums spill out onto public squares. Public spaces in Spain are welcoming and well used because of their simplicity. [2]


The two photo galleries above show the public realm where people live. These are not tourist areas or places of commerce. Public spaces are there, in theory, for the local community and visitors to use and enjoy. The public realm in Spain sits at the very heart of a community. Unless there is a commercial reason, public space in England is a low priority.


Town Squares can be a metaphor for what is happening in the virtual world. Some people wish to see them controlled with restrictions on who has access. Others want them completely open, freeing and welcoming to all. [3] [4] [5]


Recent history has demonstrated how the virtual world can spill out into the real world.

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, is the most prominent example. Protests in 2013 began online, discussing government corruption and policies. WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts began to grow and to spread. Soon these virtual spaces were not enough. People had to come together. Tens of hundreds of thousands of people started filling Tahrir square. Night after night protests continued until Egypt’s President Mubarak toppled.

Similar scenes with different results played out across the Arab world. These 2013 protests became known as the Arab Spring.

Although not on the same scale, most areas of the developed world have seen similar protests. The rise of the online protest hashtag has been instrumental. #MeToo and #blm (#blacklivesmatter) are the most successful to date.


Britain’s exit from the European Union was a direct result of online campaigning. What followed has been years of disruption, strife and polarisation. The struggle between the Leave and Remain camps manifested physically in London’s Parliament square. The argument has continued right up to the present day. [6]

Brexit supporter carrying Great Britain cardboard cutout, Parliament Square.

Rise of technology

As life moves further online, the need for real-world gathering forums will increase. Failure of authorities to not plan for this change could lead to dire consequences.

Reasons for people to engage within the physical world has been declining since the 1990s.

The internet changed the world of work, allowing employees to be more distributed. The onset of the pandemic brought a further scattering of the workforce as people work from home. Retail has been shifting steadily online. Restaurant food can now be delivered directly to the family dining table. The world of supermarkets without cashiers is upon us. Online gaming transformed from a table gathering to global competitions. The gaming industry now dwarfs, by revenue, the movie and music industries combined. [7]

There are plenty of Apps that anyone can access for free. However, to receive the full benefit requires buying a subscription. Public squares in England surrounded by cafes and shops are similar. To fully partake in the space requires a certain amount of purchasing power.

Two-tier England

English Extremes

Above photos from the Argent development, Kings Cross, London (2020). Below, public squares managed by Great Yarmouth borough council (2021).

In Spain, public squares are places where people congregate, play and celebrate. The public realm encourages the community to come together for serendipitous moments. Spending power is not relevant except in the most exclusive of shopping areas.

Public forum, with permanent outdoor screen, multilevel seating, no barriers. Eivissa, Ibiza, Spain, 2022. [4]

In England, the opposite is too often the case. There is heavy reliance on the private sector to create public amenity spaces. It is another aspect of Britain’s two-tier society. Money buys access.

Fenced public spaces, ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs and other rules are commonplace around England.


Public space needs to become the bridge between the virtual and physical worlds. Some may believe this is about introducing VR – virtual reality. VR will soon be playing a much larger role, but this is more about the physical spaces themselves.

The layout, ambience and purpose of the public domain in England should be along Spanish lines.

Free to access town squares must have 5G connectivity. Multipurpose seating and tables that encourage gatherings, games, meetings and work. Architectural flair can overcome issues around Britain’s inclement weather. The public realm needs to be attractive to all cultures, ages and abilities.

Without change, England risks further polarisation. Addressing the poor quality of places for public gatherings is now urgent.


The internet has slowly eroded the need for people having to meet fellow citizens. The pandemic has further reduced real-world interactions. Technology seeping deeper into everyday life raises the potential of a more isolated society. Free to access public spaces is critical for communities to stay in touch in the real world.

The political discourse around local issues cannot be online alone. To allow this will lead to unhealthy debate and will undermine stable democracy. Views are best challenged and debated in the open, in places where alternative voices can be heard.

Open, free, real-world forums, like town squares, are the best spaces for such discussion to happen. Being open will also allay some fears around privacy, censorship and freedom of expression.

Britain is in the grip of a mental health crisis, with loneliness and a sense of isolation increasing. Social media gets some of the blame. Not much is written about the lack of public amenity spaces.

England needs to rethink its approach to the public realm. Design should encourage serendipity and random conversations. Learning from Spain’s public spaces would be a good start.

We are in the fifth decade of the internet. It will be one that will see the virtual world and the physical world merge. Successful societies this decade will be the ones with the most engaging public realm.

Introducing technology into these spaces is the next phase around the world. Creating buzzing ambient public spaces will be essential for community lifeblood. Animated public squares will also attract the next generation of innovators.

England needs to rethink the public realm urgently! This is where ‘levelling up’ has to begin.**

John M

All images John McKiernan ©2022

** Levelling Up. A Conservative government manifesto pledge. What does it mean? https://www.centreforcities.org/levelling-up/

[1] see Public Space

[2] see Eivissa

[3] see Censorship

[4] see Apple Privacy

[5] see Leiston and Sizewell

[6] see Brexit

[7] see AI Supermarkets


It is three years since the outbreak of COVID-19. Discussions have turned to what the post-pandemic world may look like. Technology is at the forefront. Lost within the debates has been the importance of public space. As the world goes virtual, real-world gathering places will become the hot issue.

The Internet

The internet will be 40 years old on 1 January 2023. It allows the creation of a virtual world almost unimaginable 50 years ago. The World Wide Web (www.) became available 10-years later. How much harder would the pandemic have been without the web?

The internet has become an extension of everyday life. It allows mass connectivity. People communicate through an array of online mediums. Social media chat has overtaken voice calls as the communication tool of choice for the young. WhatsApp and Signal have relegated the use of email in business. The email itself replaced the printed document, the business mainstay for centuries. [1]

Business meetings

Business meetings seemed unaffected by the internet. People in business still preferred to meet in person and sit around tables. The pandemic called a halt to these face to face meetings, except in specific circumstances. The rise of Zoom and other video technologies began in earnest. Ways of doing business changed and will not be returning to how it was.

The loss of workplace meetings has caused a widespread disruption within firms. Work meetings are now more likely online than one-to-one. It cuts off a source for meeting new people, social interaction and serendipity. For some working people, it has also reduced personal contact more generally.

These changes are not only taking place in offices. Automatic checkout in supermarkets removes this most mundane of interactions. Maybe not something missed for those with busy lives. For those alone, the shop cashier may be the only human interaction that day. [2]

The pandemic has sped up the automation of everyday life. 

Doctors appointments by video link are becoming a norm. Banks close down branches, forcing people online. Buying insurance, holiday or toothpaste from an algorithm is as likely as a person.

Even in construction, the rise of efficient technologies, such as 3D printing, will reduce the requirements for human teams.


There are fewer reasons to meet in person for a non-social purpose.

Despite global connectivity, there is an increase in isolation and dis-association. Workplace reliance on providing social interaction has diminished. Workers are finding difficulty transitioning to a virtual world. Online activities only please certain aspects of emotional fulfilment. Humans are social creatures, by and large, and demand social contact.


The workplace for the majority will not be returning to how it was pre-pandemic. The impact will go beyond how people work each day. Social interaction at work will become unrecognisable from previous decades. New ways of working are emerging. However, new forms of social contact have not yet materialised.

Public Space

Public spaces will need to adapt to fill the social void left by virtual working. Some parts will be picked up by the private sector. Work hubs, cafes and a redefined retail sector will fulfil some needs for people who can pay. The rest will require open, free to access public gathering spaces, like the old town square. [3]

Two-tier England

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the two-tier society existing in England. As financial disparity widens, so does access to the internet and public space.  

Without paying for broadband, fast access to knowledge, easily accessible to others, is denied. Only those who can afford monthly contracts have access to unlimited mobile data.

The same is happening in public spaces. Even when public facilities with cafes are accessible, the inability to buy coffee can still create a barrier.

England requires a bridge between commercialised and non-income generating public spaces.

Extremes of English public spaces: Granary Square, London Kings Cross and a public square in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk


In England, it’s the market that has presided over the public sphere through recent generations. The High Street is the most obvious. Privatisation of squares and whole streets is not a new phenomenon in England. The pace of privatisation is the real cause for concern.

Privatised space often comes with restrictions on who can use it. The right of all citizens to assemble regardless of wealth or age has become more restrictive. Public places not reliant on enterprise are often left neglected. The online world is seeing similar barriers. Barriers risk alienating people and furthering polarisation.

Public space has to be redefined in England. Urban design should follow the templates of European neighbours like Spain, where people are the starting point, not commerce. [3] [4]

With workplace socialisation in decline, a rethinking of public spaces has become essential.

John M

[1] also see Censorship

[2] see AI Supermarkets

[3] see Town Square

[4] see Eivissa (Ibiza Town Pt.1)


Pictographic of Great Yarmouth capturing the middle and last weekends of the holiday peak season and indicating the hoped for 2021 summer staycation boom was a muted affair, leaving a bleak outlook for the businesses still operating.


With the Covid-19 pandemic still spreading across the globe, international travel has been a less attractive proposition in 2021. There was expectation across hospitality and tourism for a staycation boom with the British public choosing to stay in the UK for the summer holidays rather than travelling overseas. Despite the UK summer weather being generally poor with weeks of grey, rain and often chilly, many regions and towns have been booming as predicted, particularly Cornwall and North Norfolk. Unfortunately, Great Yarmouth seemed to have bucked this positive trend.

Weekend 20-21st August 2021

Bleak outlook

Visiting Great Yarmouth on two separate weekends during summer peak season, it became apparent that the town was not having the staycation boom that other UK holiday destinations were experiencing. This once vibrant holiday destination was again struggling, with sparsely populated restaurants and few retail customers to be spotted. Many more shops have closed since leaving the town in May 2021 and the outlook for a good number of the businesses that remain operating looks bleak indeed.

Saturday 05th September 2021

Sunday 06th September 2021

Sunday 5th was the busiest day observed during my time in Great Yarmouth. A classic car event was taking place and the weather was good, warm, sunny, no wind, just a gentle summer breeze.  The seafront was comfortable, certainly not packed and there were plenty of spaces to park a car.  Away from the seafront the town was empty. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, many businesses were not open, including a whole stretch of the Pleasure Beach at 1pm. It is a mystery why the businesses are not open until 11pm throughout the summer to maximise trade, one of the many mysteries of Great Yarmouth. 

Delusion or obfuscation

This post documents, for the record, the streets and seafront of Great Yarmouth over two weekends of peak season during summer 2021, regarded locally as the most important and busiest weeks of the year.  It serves to counter any claims from those in power in the town that Great Yarmouth thrived throughout the entire summer.

John M


The Dickensian living conditions of thousands trapped in Great Yarmouth is tragic. Life is more akin to an open prison surrounded by walls made from poverty. The up-and-coming holiday resort the council is trying to promote is a long way off.

Housing conditions

I have spent time in many towns and cities where living conditions are inadequate.

London had, and still has, some atrocious dwellings with awful landlords. Margate on the Kent coast has improved since the grim experiences witnessed in 2011. I would visit ‘homes’ with several mattresses butting up to one another on the floor, sleeping many people in a single room. The rooms sometimes had no glass in the window frames. Plastic made a poor substitute for keeping the rain out.

The worst conditions I have experienced were in the slums of Mumbai, India. Known as Bombay when in 1995, the Mumbai slums had families sharing one or two rooms. Larger families would turn the beds as restaurants will turn over their turntables. As one person gets up and another takes the bed.

I have seen pockets of bed turning in London. More so in Margate. In Great Yarmouth, it appeared almost systemic. The approach to people living in housing in multiple occupancies (HMO).

Chicken pluckers

In Great Yarmouth, people gather on street corners throughout the day. For the most part, they keep their heads down and to themselves. At certain times they will board buses, and off they go.

These people are the chicken pluckers. Low paid, majority immigrant workforce from a range of countries and ethnicities. Tenants of HMO landlords, these people work in the poultry farms across east Norfolk. The largest operator is Bernard Matthews.

Packed double-decker buses ferry the pluckers out to the factories. Watching these buses, it was noticeable there was no social distancing. Some passengers wore masks, others didn’t. These factories made national news early in the pandemic. Covid-19 spread quickly in the tightly packed working environments.

A new poultry plant which looks set to create at least 650 full-time jobs has been given the green light.

Beecles and Bungay Journal, Thomas Chapman, 17 April 2019, with accompanying photo below

Vested interests

For most people, regeneration of deteriorating buildings and public spaces means a general improvement in the living conditions of local people (leaving aside arguments of gentrification) and general uplift to the ambience of a place. In Great Yarmouth, the small clique of people who own large numbers of properties within Great Yarmouth, keeping the status quo, HMOs packed with people or families with low income is probably more financially lucrative than having an influx of higher income residents with spending power that the local businesses are desperate for. Generally speaking, having higher income earners comes with the headache of questions and challenges. They will soon begin to ask why are the neighbouring houses housing 10, 20 or even 30 people when there are only 4 bedrooms? How are there a dozen adults from different families living above one shop?

We were shown one premises by local businessman C, who proudly showed off the wall heaters he had recently installed in the 4 floor hovel he was hoping we might be interested in buying. The desired minimum auction price was set at around £130,000 and he told us how the ‘apartments’ generate around £18,000 per year from the four tenants and shop. From an investment point of view it may well have been a good return, from a human point of view it was a firetrap. A narrow staircase led up to the hovels where not even a proper kitchen could be seen; two spaces had only a tiny area with a microwave – I now struggle to remember if there was even a sink! The ‘apartment’ was less than 25 square metres and this included the toilet space, the beds took up the majority of the rooms, and none had the curtains open. The places were musty, and a heavy dampness that comes from habitats that have no ventilation.

This visit and other conversations with local landlords revealed a very depressing character of the average owner of large tracts of housing stock. These men, although there are probably landladies as equally as bad, should have been left behind in the 1970s rather than thriving in 2020. Charles Dickens would have had rich material had he met these local pillars of the community whilewriting a follow up to David Copperfield. It soon became clear that most of these landlords had impunity from any regulation as they are so embedded into the town, probably for generations. The interweaving of families, friendships and other forms of relationship means there is little if any rules being enforced. On top of this, there is a clear despising of the English on lower income for the position they find themselves and anyone foreign is deemed a lesser being it seems. It is a very sorry state. 

Examples of housing in Great Yarmouth

The following photos provide examples of some of the housing stock in Great Yarmouth where people reside. We do not know, and have not knowingly met any of the landlords/landladies who own these properties.

Snaps of just a few of the many houses and public spaces in Great Yarmouth, (2020-2021)

The council

There were, supposedly, some new Landlord regulations to encourage property improvement. Enforcement of regulations were already delayed when Covid hit, allowing the council a get out-clause from any inspections. The borough council found itself subject to a BBC news report about the appalling housing conditions of council tenants. There is a general lack of care that pervades the town beyond sweeping the streets.

But why?

Lots of reasons can be attributed to why there is a mentality to allow Great Yarmouth to deteriorate. Most of the arguments centre around economic activity or lack of it. However this is a red herring (pun intended – see Time and Tide post). Before the pandemic, Great Yarmouth had many businesses and infrastructure to expand and grow more commerce. There was the offshore and a healthy legal, accountancy and support services economy. For the arts and creative industries Great Yarmouth could be a Mecca, with large warehouses, big window buildings, good light and plenty of open space.

The reason for its decline in my view has been greedy landlords and an inept council and local political system. Ultimately people in poorer situations are so vulnerable that they often feel it is better to keep quiet than make a fuss, as this could risk the little they have. Rarely do struggling people have the option to just pack up and leave, so are at the mercy of landlords, unless protected by wider society. We heard many horrible stories while in Great Yarmouth, one example being a heavily pregnant lady being evicted at midnight. The police, from what I have managed to discover, do their best in difficult circumstances to help, but the tools of policing are limited when it comes to civil disputes. Landlords also know that the government will often subsidise or pick up rent for the lowest paid and that little or no attention is paid to how many people live at one address.

My London, online, Marcus Wratten, 21 August 2021

Will it change?

There is a small chance that the hype around people all rushing from the cities post pandemic will bring about a change in seaside resorts like Great Yarmouth.  Indeed it might.  Ten years on, Margate does seem to be slipping from the clutches of families and vested interests that stifled progress for many decades.  However, the planning for this was not done by the local council but external public bodies, quite often in defiance of the local councillors and officers.    Great Yarmouth does not benefit from being in the London orbit and the challenges that brings.  

People in Great Yarmouth have been beaten into submission. There is little to speak of in the sense of community, everyone tries to keep their heads down.  The council is secretive and it’s track record on delivering anything substantial is exceptionally poor.  The decisions they are making with tens of millions of pounds of public money are appalling and little if any of this money will make even an iota of difference to the situation the present population finds itself in, beyond being able to go for a swim.  My view for Great Yarmouth’s future remains grim and the outlook for most of the most deprived, glum indeed. 

John M

Header Image: Exhibition photograph of Great Yarmouth Row displayed at the Time and Tide Museum. Photo: John McKiernan, 22 August 2021


Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Town Hall 2020

The English coastal town of Great Yarmouth is a picture postcard that the local government and many residents of Norfolk no longer see, leading to atrocious architectural planning decisions and requiring a new lens in which to view the town.

Header Photo: Venice, Norfolk by John McKiernan ©2020

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Broad Row Sunset 2020

Broad Row at Sunset

Atrocious Planning

Seeing some hoarding with architectural visualisations for a new swimming pool due to blight the seafront from 2022 onwards, I decided to post this series of postcard-esque iPhone snaps of attractive locations in Great Yarmouth. Photographed over the past 9 months, while I have been living in the town, the intention is to foster debate and conversation, both inside and well beyond the town.

Some Caribbean Sunshine

Car Park Affliction

One of the strongest impressions on my first visit to Great Yarmouth in June 2019 was the sheer number of hideous car parks that afflict the town, see bottom of page. In conversations that have followed, it appears to me that the majority of people in Norfolk are almost blind to these unnecessary eyesores.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Desolate Beach 2020

Old Beach Building

In conversations with locals, I almost universally hear moans that the council is not doing enough to tarmac over more of the beachfront to create further parking spaces.

Protected Dunes

Protected Dunes

Although I have not personally met anyone locally who shares my horror at these monstrosities, clearly there are people who do fight to try and protect some of the natural beauty from car park developments. The dunes on the Caster side of the pier is the finest example I have noted.

A Mental Health Haven | Caster Dunes

Get Out More

My conclusion, or should I say assumption, from what I have learned is that people who make decisions in this town don’t travel very far and seem oblivious to how the market for UK visitors, and those from abroad, has changed – and changed dramatically.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Bike River 2020

Back of Asda

Seafront Blight

Swimming Pool Hoarding

Who is the new 25m swimming pool on the seafront for? Is it meant to be an attraction, and if yes, who will it attract? What is the business case for blocking off the seafront and creating even more parking spaces, when the existing 100,000 car spaces – slight exaggeration – are empty about 80% of the year!

And are major new build public building projects exempt from seeking to be net-carbon neutral and generate at least a portion of their own energy usage? If there is to be a solar-panel roof or photovoltaic cells or other forms of energy self-generation it is not clear from the promotion.

Rethinking Attraction

Britannia Pier 2020 (advertising 2019 events)

Great Yarmouth desperately needs to attract a new range of visitors who are not constrained by having a fixed daily budget to spend. Tourists can go anywhere to play slot machine amusements and there are many fine and attractive piers around the country. For most urban dwellers there will be a 25m pool within the borough they live and will not need to travel to Great Yarmouth to swim.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Windfarm Shelter 2020

Wind Farm Shelter

Photography, Port and Pursuits

When comparing Great Yarmouth to Margate, Hastings, Morecambe Bay, Torquay or even Brighton, it is pretty easy to see where the town has competitive advantages.

Structural Decay

The town does not need to build any more new buildings for visitors, it needs to broaden its understanding of what people outside Great Yarmouth like to do, then it could excel at a fraction of the cost.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Water Slide Sunrise 2020

Water Slide at Dawn

For photographers, urban geographers, historians, students and the general public interested in industrial design, architecture, urban change, history, environment, climate change, and so on, the town could be a mecca. It has everything from interesting structures, which are truly unique to the town, to open spaces that should really have World Heritage Status.

Surrounding Marshland

Year Round Visitors

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Tree Wall 2020

Wild Tree

Great Yarmouth is much bigger than Margate or Folkestone in Kent, and any of the Essex or Suffolk seaside towns that I have visited. It would be difficult to cover the whole area on foot in one day. This presents a fantastic opportunity for the short stay market at any time of year as the light is always changing as is the port.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Wall Flower 2020

Wall Plant

The town is awash with stunning buildings going back through the ages, with the Medieval town walls dating back to the 1200s and King Henry III.

Great Yarmouth town has one of the best preserved and most complete Medieval town walls in England, dating from 28 September 1261 when King Henry III granted Yarmouth the right to enclose the town with a wall and a ditch to protect them from pirates and ensure taxes could be collected. As a Scheduled Ancient Monument, large sections of these walls and eleven towers still survive today.

More on the wall available on the Tourist Information website

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | AirBnB 2020

Airbnb Holiday Let

And there are plenty of more recent buildings that are not only of architectural interest but also perfect for repurposing.

Control Tower

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Brutal Sunrise 2020

Brutal Shelter

Seemingly lost spaces will have design and architectural interest to many people and offer professional event organisers ample opportunity to develop interesting events that could pull a different audience to the town.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Barn Store 2020

Store House

The beach offers opportunities for a multitude of club activities, like open water swimming, which is an all year round pursuit and that could utilise the pier with competitors using the theatre changing rooms and as a warm up arena.

Glorious Beach

Nature Walks

Environment and nature walks, with two rivers, the Broads National Park and marshland that attracts migrating birds right on the edge of the town should be one of the biggest attractions for Great Yarmouth.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Bird Hide 2020

Bird Hide

At Portal B I have created the Paget Garden to begin highlighting the natural beauty that grows wild all over the town and particularly behind the huge Asda superstore and train station.

Sunset over Breydon Water and Rotting Jetty

The rebuilt Norman-era Minster Church of St Nicholas, along with the vast cemetery attached offers a further opportunity to entice nature lovers, walkers and historians.

New Cemetery

Allowing more wilding and becoming a nature reserve could quickly make this part of town a must see for the millions of annual visitors.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Cemetery Tree 2020

Minster Dawn

New Narratives

The local authority needs to realise that there is a whole new audience that can be attracted to the town beyond those wanting to play a penny-drop and buy an ice-cream or chips.

Discarded structures with fascinating histories can quickly establish new narratives through storytelling and repurposing.

Beautiful Structures

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The repurposing can be through events, with particular focus on new technology and putting Great Yarmouth at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is also the main purpose of Fourth Portal. Creating work hubs and learning spaces are other purposes that can be suggested.

Commissioner’s House

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Queen Street 2020

Restored Queen’s Street

Big Idea | The Winter Gardens

The best idea in town is Mark Duffield’s moving the 1800s Winter Gardens from its hemmed in location on the seafront to a desolate waste of prime riverside on North Quay.

North Quay | Potential Winter Gardens Location

As a local estate agent owner, whose business has been operating for several generations, Mark understands the history, the context and the risks to Great Yarmouth if it continues on the present trajectory. Shifting this heritage building offers a chance of a new beginning and provides a much stronger business case as an event and botanical garden, in addition to creating an iconic beacon on entry into the town.

Seafront Winter Gardens

Spending £27m pounds of scarce public money on a manciple swimming pool, double the £13.65m (BBCNews) new build cost of the Turner Contemporary in Margate is madness. Read more on the Ambitious Gateway post.

Dreaded Car Parks

As warned, just a tiny sample of some of the car parks that litter the town.

Car Park Afflictions

Great Potential

Great Yarmouth has Great Potential post Covid-19 if, – a huge IF – if the local authority and elected officials take a step back and ask, what does the world outside Norfolk look for in a trip to an English coastal town?

There are recent building projects around that show there is potential. The Venetian Waterways is a beautiful space enjoyed by locals and visitors alike and does not require vast sums of public money to be maintained, however this is a rarity.

Venetian Waterways at Dawn

Further Discussion

Regardless of your views, I do hope this post has sparked a few thoughts and I encourage comments below if you will please? A few more images to end the post.

From Outta Space

The Rows

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Water Slide 2020

Water Slide

Britannia Aloft

Images: John McKiernan ©2020 No reuse or reproduction without express written consent.

John M


Post-Lockdown Pub Opening | Soho 04 July 2020 | Credit: Daily Mirror

UK Prime Minister Johnson ululates ‘return to normality’ as pubs in England reopen post lockdown, however things are not returning to pre-2020 normalcy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is only going to further accelerate the process of fundamental change to the way we live.

Cover Photo: Soho Frith Street, 04 July 2020 Post-Lockdown | Daily Mirror

Pubs and Restaurants Reopen

Yesterday, 4th July 2020 pubs in England could reopen after almost 4-months of Covid-19 lockdown. There was excitement in some quarters, yet within the industry there is some trepidation, with many smaller operators delaying opening for a few weeks to watch what happens. Viewing Twitter, it was a mixed bag, some places very busy, others empty. Great Yarmouth at 7.00pm was pretty quiet with seats to be had in all pubs and bars that were open.

Fourth Portal is opening in a traditional English pub so is subject to the same rules and regulations as all licensed premises. The plan opening is for the middle of July 2020 and then only on reduced hours. My barometer has been to watch Texas and Florida in the US, where there was a gun-ho approach fuelled by rising populism that saw pubs and bars open within a few weeks of initial lockdown. Now Texas hospitals are on alert for a patient ‘tsunami’ as cases rocket upwards.

John Hopkins University Texas Cases | Source: Sky News

See Sky News report Friday 3 July 2020 23:38, UK (click)

Race to Normalcy

Commentators early on in the pandemic were already predicting politicians, big business, and many institutions would attempt to return things to normal – however unlikely! Screenwriter Julio Vincent Gambuto predicted an onslaught of marketing to return a sense of normalcy ;

Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal. (That never happened. What are you talking about?) Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. It will come in the traditional forms — a billboard here, a hundred commercials there — and in new-media forms: a 2020–2021 generation of memes to remind you that what you want again is normalcy. In truth, you want the feeling of normalcy, and we all want it. We want desperately to feel good again, to get back to the routines of life, to not lie in bed at night wondering how we’re going to afford our rent and bills, to not wake to an endless scroll of human tragedy on our phones, to have a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and simply leave the house for work. The need for comfort will be real, and it will be strong. And every brand in America will come to your rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis. I urge you to be well aware of what is coming.

Julio Vincent Gambuto

Allowing pubs and cafes to open is the UK government’s attempt at returning to that ‘normalcy’ and encouraging silly hashtags like #supersaturday to build expectation, as if it is a big international football tournament.

4IR Concertina

The World was on the cusp of dramatic change even before the Covid-19 pandemic as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) began to emerge, in essence the virus has just hastened that change. Zoom meetings, online shopping, in-store shopping apps, sharing technologies have all boomed during the pandemic. Even grandma learned pretty quickly how to use Apple FaceTime once she became cut off from visitors. The health sector, from care homes to Intensive Care Units (ICU) has had to embrace advanced technologies at speed to cope. Technologies that were predicted to take a good number of years to become everyday, have literally been adopted overnight, with the adopter curve virtually losing all meaning.

There are many benefits to this sudden shift, however there could be significant downsides in the short-to-medium term as the economy struggles to readjust and adapt, as my post on AI Supermarkets (Dec19) discusses;

“How much are the authorities and government preparing for the potential tsunami of job losses that may incur because of this technology and changing consumer behaviour? What new skills do people need to learn to still be economically active in the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)?”

AI Supermarkets, Haphazard.Business, 18 Dec 2019

The AI Supermarkets blog post surmises a 3-to-5 year timeline for governments to build training programmes and prepare. Now with Coronavirus still raging that timeline will be concertinaed into 6-to-12 months!

Leadership Failure

Much of the horrific slaughter of the early battles in World War One (WWI) came about because ageing generals applied Napoleonic War tactics in a time of mechanical technological change. Almost incredulous to a modern observer, when looking through the lens of hindsight, men on horses were sent to cavalry charge tanks and machine guns. There is reasonable evidence already available that when historians look back at the Covid-19 outbreak it will be noted that it was not that the technology to limit the devastating impact did not exist; it was an old mindset, incapable of adapting strategy and using new tools available that led to such devastation of lives and livelihoods.

The UK Track and Trace system is a shambles and does not work. Tens of thousands of people have been employed to use pencil and paper to phone people when many other more efficient methods could be implemented and to great effect. The whole concept is a car-crash of old and new cultural thinking about security, data, privacy and greater societal good. Meanwhile large technology firms have had a boom period, with a large proportion of the global population forced to stay at home with nothing but the internet and phone to communicate with the outside world.

Big Tech’s billionaire class will have more power after the crisis than they had before, argues Sally Hubbard of the Open Market Institute. Brick-and-mortar retail is hemorrhaging jobs at a time when Amazon is adding hundreds of thousands of their own. Google is gaining even more of a foothold in the home as educators across the country deploy Google Classroom to teach students remotely — whether you want your family to use it or not. 

Vox| Recode

With populism ravaging the Western democracies and authoritarian regimes cracking down hard on dissent, it is difficult to predict how the power of these giant private enterprises will be curbed. Regardless how disinterested an individual may be towards these issues will not indemnify that person from being buffeted by the consequences. A key objective of the Fourth Portal, and these Haphazard blog posts, is to raise the awareness of these competing forces and assist people in negotiating the rapid changes we are all undergoing.

Near Future

Once/if a vaccine is secured, or enough people are immune to this strand of Coronavirus, the planes will begin flying again to a schedule and the pandemic will seem like a vivid abstract distraction, distant and almost unbelievable. Of course, this will only be for those unaffected or uninvolved. For those who lived through it on the frontline, whether in health, care home, bus driving and many other risky roles, and for the survivors and those who have lost loved-ones, the pain, and maybe terror, will live on, possibly indefinitely. For the rest, the world will have changed dramatically and the years ahead will continue to change dramatically as technology and new systems infiltrate every single aspect of daily life.

John M


Julio Vincent Gambuto, 10 April 2019 · 9 min read, Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting* | You are not crazy, my friends, Forge. Online 13April2020 https://forge.medium.com/prepare-for-the-ultimate-gaslighting-6a8ce3f0a0e0

Theodore Schleifer@teddyschleifer ( Apr 7, 2020, 6:00pm EDT), These are the trade-offs we make when we depend on billionaires to save us | Now more than ever, the coronavirus crisis has Americans living in tech billionaires’ world. Vox. Online 14April2020. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/4/7/21203179/coronavirus-billionaires-philanthropy-bill-gates-larry-ellison-mark-zuckerberg-jack-dorsey


University College London VR Studio Teaching Suite

The Fourth Portal opens in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk in mid-July 2020, the next stage on this Haphazard.Business journey documenting how an idea becomes reality – read on…

New Website

Fourth Portal

 Hybrid portal spaces imagining life in the Fourth Industrial Revolution  


The Haphazard.Business journey began in April 2019, with the intention to open a new type of hub space that would imagine all aspects of living and working in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Fourth Portal is the result of the journey so far with Portal B at St John’s Head in Great Yarmouth being the first hub to open, slowly transforming an old English pub into a completely new type of space – yet to be fully imagined.

Idea Becomes Reality

When I set out 18-months ago, my only real aim was to make “a new kind of innovation hub for the Fourth Industrial Revolution become reality”. The intention of this blog has been to plot the haphazardness of such a journey, a representation of how all planning, whether to create a business or just planning for the future can be perilous.

Regardless of age or education, everybody has ideas every single day, some are just fleeting, many are to complete mundane tasks – what to cook for dinner? – and occasionally, one or two can be life changing.

Moving from the idea stage to making it a reality is a complex journey, which Haphazard.Business has been seeking to document how every idea is pummelled by numerous factors, some controllable, most not.

Flexibility Not Rigidity

Many great ideas do not become a reality because the initiator is too rigid and attempts to determine rather than nurture and grow the idea organically. A vision emerges as the idea initially forms and that often becomes cemented in the mind, meaning any deviation is not true to the original idea. People can become engrossed in detail without realising the idea itself encompasses a much wider set of values, which has a fluid set of parameters.


Few, if anyone, were seriously imagining Covid-19 would appear at the beginning of 2020 and spread so quickly, impacting every corner of the World. This blog documents how the idea of creating the Haphazard hub – Fourth Portal as it is now named – has been buffeted and impacted by the developing situation, which remains serious as of today, 1 July 2020. It provides some insight into how I have adapted my plans and thought processes, keeping one eye on the overarching goal, creating a hub, without becoming to obsessed in how it will work, what it will look like and why people will visit.

Next Stage

The next stage will be to document the ideas that formed during lockdown in relation to Fourth Portal, how these developed and are evolving, and how they feed into the bigger concept of creating a hub imagining life in the 4IR.

Hope you will soon be able to visit or follow online, see website for social media connections.

John M


With Covid-19 ravaging populations and the World trying to come to terms with lockdown, it seems an appropriate moment to reactivate this Platform-7 project from 2013 exploring the trauma that follows on from a sudden shocking change in circumstance.



Silent Cacophony took place in a multitude of locations simultaneously on Remembrance Day 2013 exploring the abstract nature of events like we are presently experiencing with Covid-19. The disease is inflicting mass death, suffering and forcing populations to adapt behaviour, and it can be assumed, leading many people to reassess what being human means.

Meaning of event

Increasingly over the past century the word ‘event’ has become associated with some form of performance, whether pop festival or football match. However, ‘event’ is really a moment in time when something extraordinary happens, which can be bad like a car crash or great, as when a healthy child is born. Daily life is full of small personal events that make up an individuals’ personality and worldview, then occasionally these small events are overtaken by a major personal event, as in being diagnosed with cancer or winning the jackpot on the lottery.

Recreating the feelings, emotions and empathy an individual feels at the moment of experiencing a major event is very difficult to recreate outside the bubble of that actual moment. The pain of hearing of death of one that is dearly loved or joy of first-love are very personal and acute sensations. In my view, only art can offer a close proximity to such emotions, by twanging the atoms deep within that foist upon humans the extreme emotional response that only appear in times of rare circumstance.

Silent Cacophony

Silent Cacophony inception came from reading personal diaries of people living through the two World Wars, particularly those who were exposed to sudden explosion, whether a bomb landing on their house or a bombardment from artillery while in a trench. A pattern began to emerge where people would describe life before a particularly incident in rosier terms and the time afterwards using deeply disturbing language. Similar accounts can be found when reading witness statements from victims of terrorist atrocities and major accidents. Terms like ‘it was so peaceful you could only hear the birds sing’, ‘life was all so perfect before…’ or ‘not a sound could be heard before the first explosion’ proliferate such writing. What I found fascinating was whether there was any reality to these accounts, the ‘before the explosion’ moment where they claim to be actually aware of the world surrounding them. My challenge was fairly mundane, people notice silence when they go on holiday to the country from the city or find themselves on a deserted beach, however in the general hubbub of daily life the sounds of aeroplanes, the worry about going into overdraft and picking up the kids from school fills the conscious mind. For soldiers during war, concerns about mother’s health at home or finding some extra rations become the daily normal. Basically it is rare for people to note such change in their daily life except in exceptional circumstances, like going on holiday, going to war or, as in now the present case, a global pandemic.

A mother’s cry

Silent Cacophony sought to try and mimic the experience of sudden change. Anyone who has listened to the wailing of a mother on hearing of her child’s death will often say it is one of the most harrowing sounds that can be heard. Such a sound, which can only be truly created by such grief penetrates the consciousness as no other. The loud bang of an explosion, or the internal crunch of bones one hears when in an accident, offer very precise moments in time, an event few ever forget. These moments are so abstract to daily existence that it becomes a struggle to interpret, both internally within the mind and externally when explaining to others. The philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote of the silence of those who returned from the trenches of the First World War, they would not discuss the horrors, and took the experiences to their graves without ever sharing. The silence hides the trauma, almost a cacophony of competing thoughts, processes and arguments going on within the mind. Self-challenges, ‘could I have done more’, self-loathing, self-doubt and many other competing internal discussions churn over and over, days, weeks, years and too often for lifetimes.

‘Was it not noticeable at the end of the [First World] war that men returning from the battlefield grown silent – not richer, but poorer in the communicable experience?’ (Benjamin, 1990, 84)

Covid-19 abstraction

The world is now sharing a worldwide abstract experience, as if it is a global abstract art intervention in which everyone is a participant. In the UK at least, there is a resounding Silent Cacophony dichotomy. Street of cities and towns are in the most part silent, beyond birds and occasional distant vehicle, yet it can only be guessed at by us on the outside of hospitals the noise, bustle and horror that is occurring within those buildings.

As with war diaries, and with accounts of those who have experienced terrorist attacks, there is likelihood of some rearranging the pre-Covid-19 memories; money was not such an issue, there was enough food, actually the relation with father was OK. A gloss will be painted over the top of peeling flakes in hope it will deceive the eyes to the reality of these events, it will be the only way for people to restart their daily lives. However on a wider scale, a collective change is in motion and only time will be able to reveal what it will look like.


For me, I suppose, is that following this crisis more people will be willing (or able) to appreciate the importance of abstract art and performance, and the unique role it plays in preparing everyone for the unknown. Abstract art intervention events like Silent Cacophony seeks to safely challenge people to consider beyond the hamster wheel that we are all collectively engaged in turning, while rushing about in living daily life. Life will return ‘to normal’, however the normal will not be as it was. Only through reading, watching and listening to our words and actions pre-Coronavirus that we might be able to understand who we were then, as our own minds will distort the past, no matter how hard we try.

Coming of sound

My one forecast beyond this period will be the increase in those interested in sound, soundscapes, soundart and concepts of noise. When the planes begin flying again, people will notice the noise, it disruption to sleep, to conversation and to life – and this will lead to a fundamental revaluation. 

John M – 11th April 2020, Easter Saturday


Benjamin, Walter. (1990/1955) Illuminations, Ed. Hannah Arendt, Translated by Harry Zorn, London, Pimlico