“Thank you: that was the best talk I’ve ever been to!” (note from a satisfied customer)

I offer a range of illustrated talks

I don’t do ‘boring!’ I’ve sat through too many dull presentations and talks in my life to wish to inflict that on others. My talks are always lively and they are packed with humour – well, they make me laugh.

I can tailor talks to suit the time available and the type of audience but I recommend you allow 45 minutes to an hour for each of the talks listed below.

Some of my talks are offered on behalf of the charities I represent – eg, Wakefield Civic Society and the Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Societies. There is no charge for these talks but I do ask you to consider making a donation to the charity I’m representing and to cover my expenses.

Other talks are offered in my own name and for these I make a charge payable to me.  Do get in touch to discuss.

Talks on behalf of the civic society include:

1. The Listed Buildings of Wakefield: a look at the listings process – Why are some buildings listed (and not others)? What does it mean in practice? This talk uses some examples from Wakefield to illustrate the points made.

2. The Re-making of Wakefield Civic Society – In 2002, I became the president and chair of Wakefield Civic Society and undertook the re-making of the Society to grow the membership and introduce some modern ideas of marketing and programming. The lessons learned in the process will be of interest to anyone running, or proposing to run, a civic society or membership-based community group.

3. Wakefield – A Merry City Once Again – Showing how Wakefield has developed architecturally from a medieval market town to become a 21st century city.

4. The Blue Plaques of Wakefield Civic Society – The Society has erected over 60 blue plaques. This talk takes you on a tour of the plaques and tells the story of the people and buildings represented.

5. Civic Societies Matter – A look at what civic societies do and why every village, town and city needs a civic society.

6. Do it with Passion or Not At All! – Many societies struggle to recruit and retain new members but recruiting new committee members and officers can be a particular problem for even the most successful society. This talk will look at why civic societies may need to change their ways to stay relevant and to attract new, and younger, members. It also looks at what motivates (or should motivate) committee members and the qualities of leadership necessary to run a successful civic society.

It’s very much a call to arms, reminding all members of a society that the success or otherwise of a civic society is in large part dependant on the contributions the members can make, from doing practical things to help through to just paying their subs on time.

7. Westgate, Wakefield: the noblest street outside London? – In 1777, Samuel Curwen, an American visitor to Wakefield wrote:

The Westgate street has the noblest appearance of any I ever saw out of London; its pavement in the best order; its length nearly half mile and width ten rods. Were it not for some old low buildings London could not boast a more magnificent street.

Westgate continues to be one of Wakefield’s most important and historic streets and still boasts some fine architecture but, it’s fair to say, some of the buildings need attention. With this is mind, the upper part of Westgate, including some of the yards and side streets, has been designated an Historic High Street Heritage Action Zone by Historic England and is the focus of a £4.4M project to improve the appearance of the public realm while also restoring some of the key buildings.

As part of the project, which is being funded by Historic England, Wakefield Council and local businesses, Wakefield Civic Society and Wakefield Historical Society are undertaking research to learn more about the history of the area and its buildings.

This talk will cover the latest developments within the project as well as providing an overview of the street’s history.

For the talks below, I make a charge with the fee payable to me. Fees can be negotiated and will in part be based on the distance I will have to travel and any other expenses I might incur in giving the talk.

1. The Style, History and Influence of Art Deco – From architecture to art, furniture to fashion, and much more besides, Art Deco has been one of the most enduring styles of the modern age. Although coined only in the 1960s, the term ‘Art Deco’ describes one of the most important design movements of the 20th Century.

Taking its inspirations from ancient Egypt and the primitive art forms of America and Africa, the innovative, streamlined and decorative elegance of Art Deco reached its zenith in the 1920s and 30s but continues to influence design today. Original items from the period are now highly collectable but manufacturers frequently incorporate elements of Art Deco style into their current ranges.

I have long been fascinated by all things Art Deco and will share my insights into this fascinating and all-encompassing subject.

2. How I crossed the Atlantic (with a very large crew!) – In September 2000, I sailed across the Atlantic for the first time. This was no single-handed endeavour and no oars or sails were involved. Indeed, I could rely on a crew of over 1,000 to make sure I travelled in style and comfort as a passenger on board the QE2.

My first experience of a journey by sea was as a child when I was taken on one of the small pleasure craft that sailed from Bridlington Harbour to Flamborough Head and back, a memory that endures to this day. It obviously made a lasting impression on me as I went on to develop an interest in the history of the ocean liner, assembling Airfix kits of the Cunard liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and others.

Having gone on to experience many ferry crossings to Europe, either across the Channel or the North Sea, I have since notched up quite a few cruises on board Cunard ships, including the current Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, and I have now crossed the Atlantic a number of times, re-living the heyday of the great liner crossings.

This talk explains my love of cruising and will appeal to anyone interested in travelling across the sea in style. It includes a brief history of Cunard and the story of how the Atlantic crossing evolved from a thing of purpose to be endured to one of luxury and comfort to be enjoyed.

3. Is Heritage a Load of Old Hat? Should we demolish the past and start building the future? – As president of Wakefield Civic Society, I am often approached by people concerned about this or that old building and they want to know ‘what the Society is going to do about it’. Sometimes, the Society will be as concerned as anyone to ensure our built heritage is conserved but, just sometimes, we take the view that maybe we should let something go and see it replaced by something newer. This can be quite a controversial stance for a civic society to take! For this talk, I take off my civic society hat and go off piste to take a slightly irreverent look at our love of old buildings and ask you to think about where this ultimately leads us: if we preserve everything just because it’s old, where do the architects of today leave their mark? We revere the Georgian and Victorian architecture of the past, but how do we create space for the bold new work of the 21st century? In this talk, I ask you to embrace modern architecture in all its rich variety.  

This talk will certainly get you thinking – but will it change your mind?

4. Transports of Delight – the Orient Express and other stories about trains – I have been fascinated by trains since I was a child and I know I’m not the only whose heart beats faster on seeing a steam train!  

Having travelled from Venice to London on the style icon that is the Venice-Simplon Orient Express a few years ago, I began thinking about how luxury train travel has evolved and this talk tells the story not only of my own journeys by train but also something of the history of the golden era of rail travel. You don’t have to be train buff to enjoy this talk, just someone who enjoys the romance of luxury travel.

5. I’ve seen the future – and it’s sooner than you think – This talk will appeal to anyone running a community group whether as leader or as committee/board member. Leadership can be a lonely job: people will often expect you to have all the answers and to provide a convincing vision for how your organisation or group can develop. But how do you keep the it going? How do you keep it relevant to your members or wider audience? How do you look into the future to see what opportunities – or obstacles – lie ahead of you? This talk should help get you thinking. I can’t guarantee that it will provide all the answers, but it will at least help you to come up with some of the right questions you should be asking.

The talk can be tailored to the specific needs of your group and will usually be delivered as an illustrated presentation. Alternatively, it can be adapted to be run as an interactive workshop with your committee members and/or others. Do ask for details.

6. On Beauty – We all need some beauty in our lives. It can improve our mental and even our physical wellbeing. But what is beauty?

Can beauty be defined or is it just another word to describe what is essentially no more than something we like; a synonym for personal taste?

How do we know that something is beautiful? Is the capacity to recognise beauty something that we learn, or is it innate and instinctive? Does beauty exist if there’s no one around to experience it? 

These are the sorts of questions I ask in this talk – my intention is to get you thinking about the subject in new ways. I look at beauty in all its forms and how it interacts with our senses, whether it is natural beauty or something beautiful that is the result of human endeavour – not just in craftsmanship but also in our behaviours (‘moral beauty’).

My purpose with this talk is to mine the topic rather than to provide emphatic answers. Let’s explore the subject in more detail and see whether or not we come to the conclusion that beauty is not only more than skin deep but is also much more than just being in the eye of the beholder!

7. Health and Happiness – OK, health warning: I’m not a medical man and I’m not a qualified therapist. I make no claim to either. However, during a long career in senior management positions, I often acted as life coach and mentor to staff and colleagues both inside and outside the workplace and I’ve learned a few things about life, motivation and problem solving.

There is a surprising degree of overlap between health and happiness when it comes to our overall wellbeing: what makes us healthy will often make us happy, and being in a happy frame of mind will often have a beneficial effect on our health.

This talk will help people to think about what we can each achieve in our lives and what help we might need from others. It will help you to work out what you can change and what you can’t, while adopting a more relaxed approach to the latter.

It will ask you to take a holistic approach to life – to think about what makes you happy (and what makes you cross) – and to think about how you can start making changes.

This talk can be delivered to an audience or it can be run as an interactive workshop for small groups. Do get in touch to discuss.

8. Coming soon! On Truth – in these days of ‘fake news’ and unreliable memories, it’s becoming harder than ever to know what is true and what is not. This talk will explore what we mean by truth and ask you to consider the possibility that some of the things we think we know might not be quite such clear-cut certainties after all!