The feedback from people visiting the Fourth Portal in Great Yarmouth has surpassed expectations. This second test stage focused on whether the real-world layout would stimulate conversations on the likelihood of technology improving people’s lives and reducing human impact on the planet.
Stage 2 complete
The second test stage of the Fourth Portal ended on Sunday, 4 December 2022. We began to ask visitors to share their thoughts on camera. The comments were almost universal in recognising a need for such spaces where in-depth conversation and understanding of technological change can occur.
The following is a selection of videos recorded in the last weeks of November 2022 and photos of customers throughout the two test periods. A write-up on test two and the next stages will follow.
Future of the High Street
Keith and Paul from Birmingham came into the Fourth Portal with their partners on the last weekend of test two. Paul declared that it was the future of the High Street. Keith stated he was ‘gutted’ at the closing, as it was the kind of place he adores. Along with his partner, Keith moved to live in Great Yarmouth two months previously. Paul and his partner were visiting for the weekend. (Film: 40sec)
Keith and Paul from Birmingham define the Fourth Portal as the future of the High Street (40sec)
The word gutted was used by many visitors when hearing that the Fourth Portal test was coming to an end. Jaye and her sister stumbled on the Fourth Portal and became hooked on the coffee. As a qualified mental health practitioner, she found the Mind Room fascinating and recommended Fourth Portal to colleagues, who also began to visit. (Film: 35sec)
Jaye reflecting on the end of test two of the Fourth Portal
Understanding the concept
Both Fourth Portal test sessions confirmed the art interventionist approach and layout works. Developed by Platform-7 Events, the method involves creating intrigue and curiosity. It can often be difficult to attract people into any building unless the person has entered previously – tempting people over the threshold is why shop windows play such an important role in retail. The Fourth Portal was not in a retail space and only had small domestic sash windows. To be inviting for people of all ages and backgrounds is a vital component of the Fourth Portal. Without actually walking through the door, understanding the concept can be mystifying. In this video, JP came in with his wife and provides an insight into how most people enter an unfamiliar space. (Film: 1m:45sec)
Long time Great Yarmouth resident JP reflecting on the Fourth Portal
Sharon and Brian began regularly returning to the Fourth Portal. The video captures how the layout draws in visitors and develops the conversation around technology and lifestyles. (Film: 1m:15sec)
Sharon and Brian discuss their attraction to Fourth Portal and the end of test two.
Visitors Emma and Phil met while in the Fourth Portal. Emma moved to Great Yarmouth to create a business – Airbnb and artspace within her home on the seafront. Phil was born in Great Yarmouth and is embarking on a history degree. Emma and Phil discuss the attraction of the Fourth Portal and why such spaces are vital for the town. (Film: 10min)
Phil and Emma discuss why Fourth Portal is needed in Great Yarmouth
Engineering the future
A Norwegian choir came to Great Yarmouth during the last weekend. Three members found their way to the Fourth Portal on Friday, returning on Sunday. Four of the choir, who are professional engineers agreed to be interviewed. The men were struck by the power of the Fourth Portal to bring different people together to create new ideas, businesses and solutions. While in the Fourth Portal, they observed how the space attracted a diverse customer base. The interview touches on how technology should solve some of the climate issues and why humans need to change their behaviour. (17m:55s)
Norwegian engineers discuss the importance of space like Fourth Portal and technological advances in the fight against climate change (17m:55s)
Stage two testing was to ascertain how people would engage in an unfamiliar concept and whether the objects would stimulate conversation around new technology. What surprised us was the breadth of people engaging, and across all age ranges. We will be taking this learning into our (online only) stage three testing and then into a new real-world site in early 2023.
Students from The Bartlett, UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment, spent four days at the Fourth Portal. Using emotional mapping software, students engage people in Great Yarmouth to gauge body reactions to the built environment when walking around the town.
Unit 8, Engineering and Architectural Design in Market Row, Great Yarmouth
Day one: Students and lecturers arrive in Great Yarmouth
The group began their stay with an enjoyable visit to the Time and Tide museum before walking across Great Yarmouth as darkness fell. Arriving at the Fourth Portal, they met Gillian Harwood, owner of the buildings where the hub is situated. An overview and introduction to Great Yarmouth followed.
Catch The Tide Museum. Read about this important Great Yarmouth asset here
Day two: Guided tours and meeting local people
Students had two guided tours of historic Great Yarmouth before gathering at the Fourth Portal for an evening event. In the weeks leading up to the visit, the Fourth Portal team had been contacting local businesses, institutions and groups with an open invitation.
Fourth Portal invitation October-November 2022
A range of local people came to discuss the town, including the principal of East Coast College and the chair of the Civic Society. The locally made short film, Love Letter to Row 116 was shown followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, Karl Trosclair. Enjoyable conversations continued late into the evening. The feedback from attendees and students was positive.
Students and local people discuss Great Yarmouth at the Fourth Portal
Day three: Emotional mapping
Students employed the open-source electronic prototyping platform Arduino to construct emotional maps of Great Yarmouth. The Arduino proved fascinating to everyone coming into the Fourth Portal; even the students seemed excited.
Arduino emotional mapping devices
What is Arduino?
“Arduino designs, manufactures, and supports electronic devices and software, allowing people around the world to easily access advanced technologies that interact with the physical world. Our products are straightforward, simple, and powerful, ready to satisfy users’ needs from students to makers and all the way to professional developers.”
Two finger sensors connected to the Arduino were attached to the volunteers. The sensors measured how the body reacted to different urban environments as the volunteer walked around Great Yarmouth. Students set a pre-defined destination and followed the volunteer, who chose the walking route.
Volunteers and students set off on different walks
Analysing the data
Students worked late into the evening on the data they had gathered. Not all the Arduino boxes worked as was hoped. Data was interrupted for several reasons, including loss of GPS connection. As frustrating as it was for the students, enough data was collected for the exercise and to present results on day 4.
Students analysing data from the emotional mapping walks
Day four: Presenting results
Day four saw the Fourth Portal mind space transformed into a room for student presentations. Each student group presented their findings to professors back at UCL in London. The 3D models provided a fascinating insight into how people react when walking around Great Yarmouth.
Presentations and 3D emotional mapping visualisation of Great Yarmouth
Great Yarmouth would benefit from an extensive study using such technology as Arduino. Engaging a large sample of local people and those new to the town could provide a deeper understanding of what the citizens of Great Yarmouth feel about their hometown. Such an undertaking could be a positive step toward addressing some of the many issues the town suffers.
The UCL students also had a direct beneficial impact on the income of local businesses, particularly accommodation, restaurants and gift establishments. The Fourth Portal will encourage more academic partners to visit Great Yarmouth over the coming year.
Stage two of the Fourth Portal testing has begun in Great Yarmouth. It will introduce the hybrid LiftPod, developing the provenance system and other technologies.
Stage one focused on opening a physical Fourth Portal in a former Citizens Advice Bureau. The goal was to gauge public reaction and inform the Platform-7 network. As expected, we hit problems that all new businesses face when starting up. We fell behind on bringing in the technologies we wanted to sample and need a second testing period. Read TEST HUB for more on stage one.
Stage two testing
Stage two runs throughout October and November 2022, Monday to Friday, 11am-6pm. There will be occasional Saturday openings and evening events. Free WiFi and an internal network allow visitors to surf the internet and work offline.
The main goal for stage two is to set up our in-house technologies. Showing various apps and raising awareness of the Fourth Portal will also be a priority.
The Lucia Collective developed a four-floor virtual house in 2020. With pandemic lockdowns, the online house became a meeting point for friends. The fun 2D space has simple keyboard commands to move around and resembles early video games.
Around the same time, Platform-7 was running the online Discussion Festival. The weekly event sought to understand how people move around unaided during an online event.
Conversations developed between Lucia Collective and Platform-7 on the future of hybrid events. These conversations have led to the development of a hybrid arm of the Fourth Portal. The LiftPod is our first real-world experiment.
Graham Klyne developed his linked data tool as part of the Fusing Audio and Semantic Technology (FAST) programme. Platform-7 was working on presenting FAST to the music industry at Abbey Road Studios.
Discussions began on using linked data as a form of provenance system. Provenance is the ability to know the history of a product or object. Fourth Portal is creating ‘In The Frame’ (ITF) to test some ideas. Framed photos of people who changed the course of history will be on display. These photos will have an identifier that a mobile phone can read. This identifier will open and provide information about the person in the frame.
The basics of linked data are not very complicated. The challenge lies in the classification of information. This is important, as it partly underpins AI and Machine Learning. See THE SEMANTIC WEB for more.
Great Yarmouth suffers from deprivation and low educational attainment. A benefit of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the availability of assistive apps. Such apps are widely available and often have a free element. This provides an opportunity for people to improve their life chances through self-help. Apps can assist in helping to improve reading to way-finding for those with a disability.
A selection of apps will be on display with visitors urged to try them and see if they are of benefit.
Art and creativity
Understanding creativity through the lens of art is an established method. Peter Rodulfo and Kevin Gavaghan are the two artists exhibiting this autumn. Technologies relating to the artists’ work will be displayed alongside the paintings.
Raising the profile
Stage two will begin the process of raising the profile of the Fourth Portal. Low-key publicity, live events and future blog posts will introduce the business. Feedback from visitors will prove vital to the development of the business model.
The Fourth Portal is a business model of the future. It is complicated as it brings together elements that are often separate. Retail, work, learning and social all mix within the same space. For a public unused to such an experience, the place may cause confusion. Stage two is to understand how to ensure people are comfortable coming in. What encourages them to stay and what causes them to leave? It is all part of an enjoyable learning process.
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.
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. 
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
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. 
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.   
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. 
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. 
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.
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. 
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.**
Eivissa, a municipality on the Spanish island of Ibiza, is changing. A seedy, shabby town 25 years ago, it is transforming into a distinctive city. Part 1 of 2. First impressions.
The Spanish city of Eivissa is better known in the U.K. as Ibiza Town. It has a poor reputation. 25 years ago it was no different to port cities the world over. Eivissa had dingy smelly narrow streets, loud bars, seedy clubs and general unpleasantness. Returning to visit was low on the itinerary list.
The first visit to Eivissa was brief, to collect an item from a warehouse. The city appeared the same as remembered, except cleaner. Bendy roads with poor signage and people driving too fast, making driving stressful. Streets snake around poor quality industrial architecture and plots of open wasteland. Without a second reason to return, this view would have been the final impression. Fortunately, the second visit furnished a far better opinion of this changing city.
On initial impressions, downtown Eivissa felt like other large Mediterranean cities. High buildings crowd over narrow avenues, shading out the sunny January daylight. The design of the streets focuses on protection from the blazing summer heat. Walkways are clean and well maintained. Cars park bumper to bumper. Only when strolling a short while does a distinct identity begins to emerge.
There is a thoughtfulness to the town plan. The industrial area first visited was the old Eivissa. It was a town rapidly growing into a city without a plan or direction. Planning laws in the 1970s were probably akin to the wild west. Spain as a country was awaking from decades of Franco dictatorship. Business people and developers grabbed what they could. The roads and services were afterthoughts.
The Ibiza Town spreading out from the port area today has a sense of collective thinking. There is a feeling of consideration. A balance exists between the needs of tourists, the city’s main income generator, and local people. 
There are large areas of pedestrianisation. Public squares with cafes, narrow streets with limited or no parking. There appears to be a policy of zoning. The casinos seem to be concentrated on the fringe of downtown, facing out onto the main road. It makes sense to keep 24-hour type businesses located in an area with the least potential to disrupt residents.
It becomes noticeable that certain streets attract similar kinds of business sectors. Exercise is one example. Several gyms neighbour each other. The retail on these streets offers related goods, from supplements to running shoes. The cafes advertise healthy food options. Food shops sell vegan and vegetarian supplies.
It is unknown whether there is a deliberate business clustering policy or it’s organic. What is clear is that residents head to this district for indoor exercise.
Heritage has become part of the city. Historic buildings are being tastefully modernised. They can be experienced rather than set aside as artefacts to be observed from distance.
Children are not caged in, as so often seen in England. Families can enjoy the city while children play without the demand for money or restriction. A climbing frame can be practical and sculptural, fulfilling many needs.
From bins to bicycle parking, every aspect seems considered. Nothing appears to be an afterthought.
Walkways blend seamlessly into one another, encouraging walking, exploring. Subtle and practical lighting for hours of darkness provides a sense of romance. Eivissa feels safe and invites investigating.
One of the considerable differences between English and Spanish urban space is the quality of the walkways.
There is a lot of care taken in Spain. The design, installation and maintenance of street paving are paramount. It is the same whether in the smallest town to the largest city. Walkways are central to the identity of an area, evoking strong held civic pride.
In England, it is rare to find well-designed walkways. Only public space privately owned or heavily commercial has quality walkways. Paving is always relegated to insignificance within urban planning, unimportant.
There has been no research beyond visiting Eivissa undertaken for this post. The importance was to focus on personal observations. Part.2 will be to look into the urban plan and seek the views of locals.
Eivissa feels as if it has a 30-year plan, which is two-thirds of a way through implementing. The start point was people. What do people need? Not just the tourist who bring the income but the residents as well.
It is the eye for detail that makes Eivissa feel so exciting. The pride of the people constructing the streetscape. The whole of downtown exudes pride that is spreading outwards. Driving out of the city, in the opposite direction to the warehouses, there are new modern roads. Underpasses and properly designed roundabouts. The policy is clearly to build the new city properly and retrofit the old town for modern living.
Eivissa has the potential to become another Spanish urban design success story to rival, or even surpass Bilbo. While modernising, the city is carving out a unique identity. A rare success in city regeneration.
Part 2 of this post will involve an analysis of the city plan and local attitudes. Do any of these observations fit with the formal urban plan?
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 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. 
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. 
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 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. 
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.  
With workplace socialisation in decline, a rethinking of public spaces has become essential.
The lines between privacy, censorship and freedom of speech blurred as the internet evolved. This blurring is where the battle for social media is happening. Only real-world dialogue and understanding will produce a solution fair to all.
It‘s unfair accusing governments of abdicating duty around online communication. The issues are complex. Every decision a government makes will have long term ramifications. Unlike laws within a country’s borders, the internet requires global solutions. What one country deems libellous will be satire in another.
Culture. Economic standing. Educational attainment. Religious and political norms. Many considerations have to feed into the internet debate. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides the first step.
In January 2021, Twitter removed the account of Donald Trump. During this period, Donald Trump was one of the most popular accounts, by followers, on the platform. He was also the sitting President of the United States of America. In removing the account, Twitter effectively issued a D-Notice.
A D-Notice is an old UK government device sent to media editors to voluntarily not report on a story. The fundamental difference between a democratic government and Twitter is one is elected, and the other is not.
And herein lies the rub. Who gets to decide what is and what is not acceptable online?
Has Twitter become a new form of democratic state? Rather than built on votes, Twitter runs on Tweets and sentiment.
Marketers use sentiment analysis to ascertain campaign effectiveness. It is a powerful tool for understanding how the public reacts to a topic or event. What it does not have are policy setting attributes. And this is what sets a government apart from corporations. Governments, in theory, set policies for the overall good of society in its entirety. Corporate policies set strategic goals for the company, shareholders and customers.
Aside from politics, the Trump episode highlights a dispersal of power. Beyond a vote, citizens can now vocalise their views, demands and concerns globally. This vocalisation has brought benefits and worrying situations. The storming of the US Capitol in January 2021 is one case in point.
Printing press politics
At the time of its creation, the printing press was the social media platform of its day. What followed sparked the violence of the Protestant Reformation and widespread education. One saw families and communities torn apart while the other brought societies together.
Our present period is no different.
The 2011 Arab Spring was, in part, attributed to social media as much as the underlying discontent. In Syria, a brutal war ensued. In Saudi Arabia, women began forcing reform around equality.
Protests, Black Lives Matter (BLM) and #MeToo went global due to social media. Groups opposed to change also use the same platforms to maintain the status quo.
So who is the referee for social media? And who was the referee for the printing press?
Public space and the arts
Public space has been the one constant throughout the history of societal change. Back to the time of the Greek agora, public space has proven pivotal, along with the arts, in forging progress.
Technological interaction is integral to progress. Real-world interaction is essential to peaceful co-existence.
It has never been more critical to have open gathering places and public spaces. Real-world environments challenge opinions and viewpoints. There is more exposure when people meet in person. More reactions are on show; body language, sweat, pupil dilation. These reactions can be positive or negative, depending on the situation. It is a different dynamic to sitting semi-anonymous behind a keyboard.
Public space, where people come together remains the best place for consensus to emerge. The arts will play a pivotal role as always. The ability of artists to see beyond the mundane will light the path.
The haphazard business journey has been to uncover what a hub of the future will look like? What does it need to convey? What will make it different?
The Fourth Portal hub needs to counter-balance the online environment. A hybrid meeting place, operating in both the real and virtual world. Open discussion and dialogue are intrinsic to the hub.
A successful Fourth Portal will spill over into other public forums. The reassertion of the historical value of public space is needed. Encouragement is required to reevaluate the importance of the town square and marketplace as places to gather. Urban design needs to incorporate hybrid relatedness into all future buildings. A well designed public space will be both physical and virtual.
Censorship demands by one group will be freedom of expression for another.
Measures to balance different views have not kept pace with the growth of online platforms. Meanwhile, the internet has become an extension of everyday life. It has allowed mass connectivity. Despite this, there is an increase in isolation and dis-association. Something is not right!
Censorship and privacy laws will be unable to address the problems of online interaction. Only real-life engagement and dialogue will solve these issues.
Governments are struggling to draft legislation. Big tech presently fills the void with their own rules.
We are only on our second-generation since the creation of the World Wide Web. The printing press has had dozens of generations shaping laws, regulations and principles, and we are still tinkering.
Public space, where people come together, remains the best place for consensus to emerge. It may take a long time. Discussion allows a better understanding. Ultimately, new online manners will emerge through real-world conversations – not on Twitter. The Fourth Portal will play a small part in nudging this conversation towards equitable consensus.
Arriving at the shabby-chic North Norfolk seaside town of Cromer, I was taken aback by how little it resembles Great Yarmouth and spent a very pleasant day strolling the lovely streets and excellent beaches.
Great Yarmouth myths
While in Great Yarmouth, there were numerous comparisons to Cromer in North Norfolk being similar, with poverty, social issues and struggling. Norfolk friends would scoff and those from outside the county were a little puzzled as they could not remember Cromer being down at the heel. So I took the bus from Holt, where I am based for two weeks while I explore North Norfolk to see the town for myself.
Old Cromer photograph, shop window.
As the bus pulled in, Cromer looked clean but shabby. Looking up at some of the windows, it was obvious that there is poverty in the town, so my expectations initially leaned towards what I heard in Great Yarmouth. This swiftly changed however, and the more I walked the more I could appreciate why so many people, particularly those who grew up or holidayed as children in Norfolk, are in love with the town.
The schools are back, so the kids on the beach were infants with parents, paddling in the sea on a glorious warm sunny day. It was a day for creating childhood memories.
The first thing that struck me was how untouched the town has been by ugly developments and in all likelihood, was not bombed very much during World War Two. The mixed architecture resembles that of several Kent seaside towns. Whitstable houses and beach huts. Three floor Georgian houses in street rows at right angles to the sea, as found in Cliftonville and Ramsgate. Long sweeping paths from the top of the cliffs down to the seafront, as in Folkestone. Some of the housing is in need of TLC but not much that I observed would be deemed unfit for human living, as is the case right across Great Yarmouth. The town has living accommodation for all tastes it seems.
Keep it simple
Whether through lack of money and funding or whether it is by policy and design there is a noticeable difference in the approach to urban planning in Cromer versus Great Yarmouth. Cromer appears to have a more thoughtful approach to planning. No doubt irritating to local developers and people wishing to see change, the town benefits from allowing things to develop at a considered pace, not seeking to gentrify (although that is seeming to be happening in pockets), the town is self-regenerating, the best kind of change.
The children’s play area on the beach and wildlife exhibition (photos below) are prime examples of very simple yet highly effective public art, information and play spaces. All over the town there are small yet strong permanent or semi-permanent interventions that are informed, intriguing and easy on the eye. An old Ford tractor on the seafront, which I guess never moves, is a perfect example of creating a public intervention that will appeal to people of all ages that has probably cost little or nothing to install.
L to R: Public artworks and wildlife information on seafront paths with open access, Tribute to local hero, Ford tractor parked alongside other ageing vehicles and boats, attracting interest of people of all ages, Simple, beautifully designed and constructed children’s play area on seafront, free and open access.
Care and attention
There is no more damning evidence of the disrespect and lack of care in Great Yarmouth from borough council and outsiders than when taking a cursory glance at any building site in the town. The council itself does not enforce rules on its own sites or cares how construction takes place on other sites. The three photos below are just some examples of practices in Great Yarmouth that you just don’t see elsewhere. Coming across a clean building site with some block paving being laid in Cromer brought home the difference in approach and mentality to that found in Great Yarmouth.
L to R: Great Yarmouth Aldi refit (summer 2021), Man in flat cap and worker with trainers on demolition site on North Quay, Great Yarmouth (May 2021), Market square roof construction, Great Yarmouth council led project (September 2021), block paving and restoration, Cromer (September 2021).
Food and Drink
Cromer’s food and drink offer has been the best I have found in Norfolk, outside Norwich. Still not a huge choice but there are some very good coffee shops, nice new bars and The Red Lion pub has a wide and excellent selection of Norfolk ales. The local speciality is crab, which I did not try on this visit, and makes the town regionally famous. I opted to visit No1 Cromer, a Fish and Chip shop that I have only heard good things about. Chips were the first thing I tried on my first visit to Great Yarmouth in 2019 and with hindsight set the tone for my time in the town. Cromer No1 fish and chips were very good, and far far superior to anything available in Great Yarmouth town centre or beach front, however probably only on par with the White Swan in Great Yarmouth, an excellent fish restaurant deserving of national accolades.
L to R: First portion of chips in Great Yarmouth in 2019 (read more here), Fish and Chips from No1 Cromer, High St, Part of a wide selection of Norfolk beers available at The Red Lion.
Besides both being by the sea and in the same county of England, there is little else in common between Cromer and Great Yarmouth. The brash and uncaring approach of the council, businesses and developers in Great Yarmouth is amplified by the quiet, reflective and highly effective approach being undertaken in Cromer. Spending a day does not provide a deep insight into a town it has to be acknowledged, however comparing this visit with the first trip to Great Yarmouth in 2019 (here) provides a pretty good indication of the power of first impressions.
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
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.
A Great Yarmouth gem and must see museum, the Time and Tide presents an outstanding permanent collection documenting the rich history of the town’s fishing industry and offers a sober reflection on the challenges it continues to face. In addition, there are two marvellous galleries for touring shows, presently housing the terrific Fisherwomen exhibition, by Craig Easton.
Street Scene Reconstruction
Excellent reconstruction of a Great Yarmouth Row (narrow passageway street) and the inside of homes. Far right, photo of a row before WWI.
Time and Tide occupies the premises of the Tower Fish Curing Works, originally built c.1850 and enlarged in 1880. The works closed in 1988.
In 1998 the Tower Fish Curing Works were purchased for conversion into a museum – designed by Norwich architects Purcell Miller Tritton.
The museum tells the story of Great Yarmouth and its herring industry and the lingering aroma of the smokehouse remains today.
A town built on herrings
Visitors are taken on a well curated journey of the herring industry, with beautifully created rooms that avoids the schmaltz that sometimes accompanies recreated scenes.
Left to right: Reighing room, Woman with herrings, Barrel stencilling, Fisherman with catch
Because of the nature of the work, coastal towns had their own fashion, and one enterprising local entrepreneur has realised that there is probably a good market for such garments today.
Spin off industries
A short film on the Great Yarmouth basket industry was absorbing, and as with the clothes it is one of those industries that could easily make a small come back as the world continues to turn its back on plastics.
Left to right: Short film on the importance of baskets to the herring industry, Selection of baskets, A port for 800 years
The museum has an eclectic range of machines.
Left: Herring packing machine, Right: A mutocope
Gallery architecture and curation
The gallery is housed in a beautiful building, sensitively designed and lovingly restored with a clever use of sculpture and illustration to provide the viewer with a strong sense of life in a smoke house.
Left: Roof rafters, Right: Illustration of herrings being smoked
Left to Right: Head of Britannia (concrete, around 1850), Glass herring sculpture, Excellent series of stories of people from overseas who moved to Great Yarmouth
Fisherwomen touring exhibition
Fisherwoman is a moving and informative travelling photo exhibition of the often forgotten women of the herring industry. The narrative plots the path of the boats that would follow the herrings from Shetland down the North Sea, bringing catches to shore all along the east coast where women would gut, pack and sell the fish.
Thinking of modern Great Yarmouth
The Time and Tide and the Craig Easton exhibition shines a light on a place like Great Yarmouth, providing detail on how such a place evolves and why some things that may appear odd to outsiders makes perfect sense within the town. Whether considering the diet, the housing or the drinking, only by visiting such cultural places can a real glimpse into the past be found that determines the present and likely shapes the future.