On the drawing board this week….A conversion of a Methodist Church in Bradford

On the drawing board this week is a conversion of a Methodist Church into a dedicated community space for a pre-school, before and after-school club and Scouts.  For the past few years, the Church balanced the existing community organisations with the worship needs of their congregation; but this year found that they were unable to continue to offer regular services due to a declining congregation.  The Bradford North Methodist Church Circuit recognised the importance of the community work that was on-going and future possibilities, therefore sought to adapt the premises to ensure the long term future of the building and its place within the community, with support from ourselves and Batty France Building Consultants.

Currently each of the existing three organisations cram themselves into a single space at the rear of the church buildings, which results in a careful and well-orchestrated ‘dance’ at the beginning and end of the day as the three groups ‘hand-over’ the space.  The existing facilities are challenging and access is limited.   With regular worship at the Church ceasing, the three groups are able to expand – not just physically within the building but also as businesses.

Having spent the last 5 years designing education facilities including those at Rothwell St Mary’s Catholic School and Kirkstall CE Primary Schools amongst many others, we are aware of the spatial needs of young people.  However, it can be a challenge to meet the needs of the educational establishment and those of an old dame of a building.  Experience at Harewood and Meanwood CE Primary Schools (both Grade II listed) demonstrate that the two are not incompatible. In fact, in our experience, the combination of the two can result in some terrific spaces that are dynamic and interesting.

Indeed, the Victorian structure of this Methodist Church does provide a number of challenges like inconveniently placed fireplaces, internal level changes and a site that slopes rather dramatically.  Although not listed, we are still taking a conservation approach to the building, and exploring interventions that affect the original fabric as little as possible.

This first layout took advantage of the dramatic slope by forming a new level ‘bridge’ and bringing together all three groups to create a single secure entrance, with the before/after school club at the rear and the pre-school in the former sanctuary.  The Scouts found a new home in the basement that gives them the space to negotiate their camping equipment to an exit that does not involve taking out a small window (literally).

The feedback was generally very positive but it became clear that the preschool and the before/after school club require separate entrances and staff facilities.  There was some debate as to who ‘owns’ the mezzanine office space.

This revision was coloured up in a way that clearly shows the lines of ‘ownership’ between the three groups.  Each of the concerns have been addressed within the amended plan with separate secure entrances, separate accessible WCs and defined offices.  However, the number of offices required further thought with the before/after school club requested office space on the same level as the rest of the facilities.  Easy access to outdoor play space has also proved to be a challenge.  Each group requires access, but due to the dramatic topography of the site, it is impossible for all three groups to have level and continuous access.  We have tried to address this with the Scouts having access to the rear which is at the same level as the basement, and the other two groups sharing a raised play area to the side of the building.

This iteration has tweaked the scheme to address these comments.  A small office area has been squeezed in behind the mezzanine stair which takes advantage of an existing (and exceedingly narrow door) to form an observation window into the main space. The play area to the side has been split into two.  This was presented to the groups and the response was incredibly favourable.  Just a couple of further tweaks and we are ready to proceed, so do watch this space as to how the scheme progresses.

On the drawing board this week… An Artist’s Studio in Calverley (Part 1)

On the drawing board this week is an artist’s studio in Calverley.  This is our third client who practices as an artist, and admittedly, it is good fun to work with a family who shares our passion for design and creativity, and who are keen to explore alternative ways at looking at things.

The house is a semi-detached property in the lovely village of Calverley built in the late 1950s.  It is well outside the Conservation Area in a neighbourhood characterised by a semi-detached and detached properties built from the 1950s onwards developed in various ways over the years:  lots of extensions, large dormers and garages have all been built to meet the needs of their owners.  Consequently, the character of the area is defined by a mix of design responses in a typical suburban area.

Our client’s house forms a chain of semi-detached properties that are linked to the next semi-detached house via outhouses and sheds.  Neighbouring properties have replaced these outhouses with garages or have converted the spaces into kitchen extensions so they have lost some of their original essence over time.  The houses are built of a deep red engineering brick with a red-black string course and plinth, with the window cills being made from tiles typical of that period.

This particular project comprises a side extension with a dual purpose.  It is to be an artist’s studio now but has the opportunity to be converted to an annex for the client’s son in 10 years time.  It has been a challenge to fit the contents of the brief into a thin strip of land 2.5m wide, but we have been exploring how we can make use of the full height of the existing building to create a mezzanine level.  This allows the ground floor to have the ‘functional’ spaces like the utility and shower rooms, whilst creating an open plan and – crucially – a bright space suitable to meet the needs of an artist’s studio.

A key part of our brief is for the extension to have a clear separation from the main building – to be contemporary and, importantly, not to match the existing.  The client is inspired by industrial aesthetics which we personally love but could be difficult to create within a suburban setting.  We are exploring how we can achieve this and the direction in which we are going is of an ‘honest’ one.  Materials are to be exposed for what they are, which is much harder to achieve than it sounds as it does rely on quality craftsmanship and some well designed construction details that both work and look good – think delicious stainless steel bolts and polished concrete.

To compliment the red engineering brick, we are looking at cladding the extension with zinc or a commercial composite cladding so that the addition becomes a ‘shadow’ next to the original red semi-detached property.

Part of the project is to convert the loft so we are exploring whether we could tie the two elements together.  One thought is to cantilever the loft stair into the mezzanine.  This would prevent us from losing the third bedroom in the main house, but with the added benefit of creating an usual feature within the extension.  In terms of the plan, this completely meets the needs and aspiration of the client, but in terms of the elevations, creates a bulky rear elevation, so we are looking at how this can minimised.

This is an ongoing project with an enthusiastic and creative client, so do keep watching this space for updates on how we progress.

Getting Started…Again

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So getting starting again.

It is always one of those things to do, writing a blog.  And since the last post (TWO years ago – I know), so much as happened.  Namely setting up my own architectural practice, Stead & Co.  I had a few ideas, but then I met with a new client the other evening, and she mentioned that she found my views on colour rather interesting.  Which led to a chat with my Unofficial Technical Director, that yes, quite frankly, I should pull my finger out, and JUST DO IT.

So why did I set up Stead & Co.  Well I just felt it was time to explore my own design work in the widest possible sense.  And why Stead & Co?  In my view, design is rarely done in complete isolation.  As an Architect, I work with Contractors, Landscape Architects, Quantity Surveyors, Planning Consultants as well artists, graphic designers, illustrators, funders and marketeers.  In fact, it is quite a team that brings together a project, and it is my job to facilitate and coordinate this team whilst crafting out a solution to a client’s question.  That team varies.  Not everyone is involved on all projects all the time. Hence the Co. – Stead & Co. is a company that is built on the principle of collaboration and a collective approach to contemporary design.

So to this blog.

Designing buildings and interiors – well, anything for that matter – is not something that just goes Taa Daa, here’s THE solution.  Well not in my experience, anyway.  Projects are crafted. They are crafted out of aspirations, ideas, lifestyles, doodles, words, photographs and sketches.  Sometimes projects become real life built entities, sometimes they do not for a variety of reasons.

Therefore the purpose of this blog is to reveal Stead & Co.’s work in progress, sharing our inspiration, tools, experiments, and yes, even our mistakes. This is how we design, where we design and what we design.

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The Narrative in Colour

Galina Arbeli, a good friend who was over from Israel to speak at a conference, has planted a seed in my mind.  We had spent a brilliant day tramping around London Craft Week and found ourselves at L Cornelissen & Son, colourmen to the artistic great and good, watching a demonstration on colour charts.  What we thought was going to be a talk about the colour spectrum was in fact a talk about a series of charts that demonstrate the actual colour a product produces.  There are three types of chart that L Cornelissen & Son’s make, explained Cathy and Nicholas, a rather marvellous and unlikely double act: they make them because no one else does, or if manufacturers do make them, they often make them badly and lastly to compare a similar product across a range of manufacturers.

This seems a rather straight forward proposition – the creation of charts that ensure that the very specific blue pencil you bought last year is the same as the one you bought this year and that it is exactly the right shade of blue that you require for the particular job in hand.

What this means is that rather than choose a blue pencil because it is the only blue in the pack, you, instead, make a very conscious decision about what blue is the right blue.  What are you trying to say with blue? How is that very specific blue going to help whatever it is that you are doing?  Is that blue truly representing the same blue in reality or the feeling that your work is invoking.  Is blue even the right colour.  Maybe a shade of green or purple is better?

You see, as Galina pointed out, by separating out each individual colour – the pure pigment of colour – available to an artist, you are giving that colour a narrative.  At it’s very basic level, colour can infer peace, joy, anger – a whole palette of emotions.  When doing design workshops with primary schools,  this is what we cover before exploring how we can use colour as part of an interior design so the pupils are making more of an informed choice rather than deferring to pink for girls and blue for boys.  However, perhaps we need to take this a step further as colour is so much more than guttural emotions.  Each specific pencil in the pot (read any medium in any storage container) has a whole back story waiting to be discovered which in turn adds whole new layers of narrative to the work.  For example are you choosing that shade of blue because it’s the colour of a misty morning in Venice?  Because it’s the colour of your favourite scarf? Because it’s the colour of your lover’s eyes?

Likewise the use of that shade of blue works in the opposite.  The viewer, seeing that piece of work on the wall in a gallery buys it for her husband because it reminds her of his eyes – a decision that is clearly nothing to do with the reason why the artist chose that blue in the first place, thereby adding a further layer to the colour’s narrative.

The lesson?  Do not be lazy with colour.

 

Stead & Co - L Cornelissen & Son

Stead & Co - L Cornelissen & Son

Stead & Co - L Cornelissen & Son

Stead & Co - L Cornelissen & Son

 

L Cornelissen & Son

Never Mind the Bollards…Here’s the Real Impact of Security on the Built Environment

It was in horror that we watched last year’s events unfold in Paris.  Places of apparent safety – a restaurant, a music venue – became unsafe; a city violated.  We may think that the impact of a troublesome political climate is a relatively new thing, that it is really only now that we feel unsafe, insecure, paranoid even, whilst going about our daily business.  Yet is this really the case?  Medieval Britons would think twice before venturing far without being armed to the teeth.  Georgian homeowners would literally nail themselves within their property.  It is the threats – and perceived threats – that have changed.

And we are not just referring to the impact of contemporary terrorism on our built environment – it is also about safety.  Creating places that feel safe at all times of the day is crucial to the success of a neighbourhood, resulting in reduced crime and increased business.  It can attract investment, people and culture.  Indeed a little anarchy can be a good thing for an area, cultivating alternative thinking, artistic endeavours and literary inspiration.  A counter-culture can be good for business – just look at New York’s Meet Packing district or Brixton.  Unfortunately safe places = terrorist targets.  Boston, for example, is consistently voted as being one of the safest cities in the US, although this illusion was shattered during the Boston Marathon, giving rise to the question as to whether a balance can be struck between ‘safety’ and ‘security’.  It would seem this shift in the balance is only temporary.  Cities are amazingly resilient – largely due to its people who rebelliously will not hide, but also the buildings, infrastructure and public spaces that continue to endure.

Many of our cities developed because of their defensive position.  Whether a small city like York or a metropolis like London, the very existence of these conurbations is due to their foundations as fortifications.  The quaintness of Yorkshire market towns like Richmond or Knaresborough belay the once strategic importance of their associated castles, but these fortifications influenced how our cities developed and in turn shaped our society, becoming places of safety in turbulent times.  How things have changed.  From the blitz, the threat of nuclear war and alternative tactics from terrorist organisations have made these urban areas look less like refuges and more like the targets.  How has modern day urban planning responded to these new challenges and is there a way that we can learn from past defensive design to bring sanctuary back to the city?

There is a great deal of research on how the creation of spaces that give residents and users a feeling of sanctuary, reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.  However it would seem that this theory is taken to the extreme, that rather than creating urban design that engages people,  some local authorities and developers are keen to ‘design out’ certain activities, and ipso facto, certain people.  Whether it is the anti-loitering Mosquito device, anti-skateboarding studs or benches that prevent any other use other than the act of sitting, urban spaces are becoming less about inclusive design and more about defending our cities from the homeless, ‘anti-social’ youths and feral pigeons.    What are the consequences of such design?  How can we design urban spaces that are all embracing to the wider society in which we live, yet remains safe and welcoming?

The Internet of Things is possibly the future of the industry, and the development of the concept of intelligent buildings is leading to significant shifts in the way buildings are designed, operated and used.  From the designers, constructors and users, everyone stands to benefit from the optimisation of space, energy efficiency and connectivity, whether a workplace or home, changing demographics come with increasing user expectations of modern and flexible space design, improved comfort, productivity, and pervasive connectivity.  Sounds great, but the downside is that the greater the reliance on digital technology, the greater the chance of the building – or elements of – being hacked.  Can terrorists turn out the lights out of a city, can a burglar hack into your security alarm, can your kettle turn against you?  Is this the future or will there be a revolution against the digital age?

Maybe the armed forces can help solve some of the challenges.  The armed forces have incredible skills in design and engineering; skills used to overcome some extraordinary circumstances in places of extreme danger.  But these skills, developed in response to defending security, can be used to overcome peacetime problems.  Whether in the aftermath of earthquakes or, as the Boxing Day floods demonstrated, the army’s skills in design were indispensable in keeping communities together and society functioning.  However, can these skills be used for more than emergency situations, when all other options have failed?  Are there innovative solutions that the industry can use as a matter of course?

I realise that I have introduced more questions than answers, but that, I think, is because there is no single answer in creating safe and welcoming spaces.   Indeed it is questioning what has been done and how we can work together in the future that is the basis of the Construction Industry Council’s sixth annual conference.

The aim of this day is to explore the ways in which our built environment has developed and continues to develop strategies that respond to safety and security risks, and questions how we, as construction professionals, can work together to create safe yet welcoming spaces.  What this conference is not about is bomb blast bollards, barriers and anti-parking paving, but rather an interrogation of new threats, what we can learn from past threats and what we can do to defend the future.

For more information, please go www.nevermindthebollards.eventbrite.co.uk

I look forward to seeing you there.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Is this the Future of Infrastructure in Yorkshire?

The Northern Powerhouse is everywhere.  It even has its own Minister, seeking to address the North-South divide which is as strong as ever in our post-recession construction economy.  However, the government’s focus appears to be rather Manchester-centric, which is all well and good, but many do believe that what is great for Manchester is not necessarily the right thing for Yorkshire and the Humber.

So what does this mean?  Are we talking about Manchester as a capital of the North, or is it about the North working together, akin to the Northern Way of the Blairite era?  Some people argue that the Northern Powerhouse is little more than a concept, but it is a concept that is gaining momentum and encouraging spending across the region.

The thing is, Northern cities are disparate.  It’s all very well encouraging the cities of Leeds and Manchester to band together and collaborate, but have you ever been on the Transpennine Express at 5.30?  It’s all very well encouraging businesses to invest across the region when high speed broadband is still a dream for far too many.

We can all agree that whilst London attracts 4 times as much spending on infrastructure, but the North cannot attract the investment it needs when there is a lack of serious infrastructure spending in the region.  And many believe that HS2 is not the answer.  There are just too many questions.

But it finally feels like Westminster is starting to listen and has announced at least £6.4 billion of transport investment in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.    However, how joined up is this investment?  You can make it to Leeds Station, but trying to get to Leeds Bradford Airport is an adventure in itself.  Connectivity through infrastructure is critical to the growth and strength of the large geographical area covered by the Yorkshire and Humber Region.  But how do we ensure appropriate development in our rail, road, airports and bus transport, as well as sustainable green transport options (including cycling and pedestrian routes)? And has there been enough joined up thinking on integrated transport plans, public transport, effective utilisation of airports and clear consideration as to how region to region connectivity can be improved?

This raises a further question.  The need for new housing and greater transport links undoubtedly results in a greater demand for public services such as hospitals and schools, but it is debatable as to whether there has been enough investment in this social infrastructure. Centralisation of resources has advantages for both industry and public services but does this have a negative impact on communities with increased traffic, costs, and loss of time travelling long distances for work, schools, and healthcare?  Does the high speed internet compensate for this or does it fragment communities and isolate people further?

Investment in both these sides of infrastructure is, quite frankly, brilliant, but by the time new roads, trains and HS2 have been delivered, will the needs of the region have moved on?  In the same way that we are educating children for jobs that do not exist yet, are we designing infrastructure to serve jobs and lifestyles that have yet to be invented.  And if this is the case, is it all a waste of money?  Although the internet of things, artificial intelligence and the collaborative economy sound like fringe ideas, the fact that the Chancellor has allocated £40million to the idea reinforces the fact that  this is very much the future.  But how does this new infrastructure affect the construction industry and the communities we build?  How does this affect our homes, our carbon footprint and our future workforce?

This in turn raises yet another question.  What about the ghosts of infrastructure past?  Our roads follow the routes of drovers paths, airports are former RAF bases and railways rattle on Victorian routes.  But is it more sustainable to start again, replace what is there or just give up altogether?  The impact infrastructure has on the environment, whether we are considering roads, railways, power stations, wind farms, waterworks, heating systems, flood barriers or hospitals, is huge. What are the environmental costs of decommissioning past endeavours?  What are the implications of future needs?

So, going back to the Northern Powerhouse and the investment in the infrastructure – the economic skeleton, so to speak, of the region,  Hull is a brilliant example of how a city can use its backbone to re-invent itself to face the future with a wonderful sense of confidence.  Since the 12th century, Hull owes its existence to its port and its prominent position facing Northern Europe. By first exporting monastic wool, the port expanded in response to Yorkshire’s industrial revolution. And when Hull was not exporting Yorkshire’s goods, it was feeding the nation with fish from the North Sea.  Automation of shipping and the Cod Wars put paid Hull’s fortunes in the 1970s and by the 1990s it was considered one of the poorest towns in the UK.  However, Hull’s ‘old’ infrastructure is having a rebirth, with the port city becoming the centre for green industries, energy imports and remains a key gateway to Europe.  Can such a rebirth be a lesson to other post-industrial cities of the North and what does this mean to Yorkshire?

I realise that I have piled question upon question, but at the Construction Industry Council, we believe that it is necessary to encourage a debate and pose questions that get us all thinking. Come join us at our fifth annual conference on the 12th November at the Yorkshire Air Museum to explore these questions with a range of experts and – hopefully – come out a bit more informed about what infrastructure investment means to Yorkshire and the Humber.

For more details, please go to http://cic.org.uk/events/event.php?event=2015-11-12-trains-planes-and-automobiles

And for our speakers, please got to http://cicyh.co.uk/planes-trains-and-automobiles-speaker-announcement/

I look forward to seeing you there amongst the planes of the Yorkshire Air Museum.

Stefanie Stead

Chair of the Construction Industry Council Yorkshire and Humber

Getting Started

It has taken me forever to start this.

By forever, I mean since 2005 when The Chap thought it would be a good idea for me to have an online portfolio.  At the time I was an architectural student, and yes, despite being a new century, was still a little perplexed by the world of the internet, still hand drew my drawings and never checked my emails.  Over time, the portfolio was never quite updated, as I veered towards printing my work, the Ideas Exchange, on crisp cartridge paper, bound together in a blue cover by an artisan bookbinder in York.

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Artisan.  What do I mean by that?

A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand (Oxford English Dictionary)

Mid 16th century: from French, from Italian artigiano, based on Latin artitus, past participle of artire ‘instruct in the arts’, from ars, art- ‘art’.

On some fundamental level, I was – am- drawn to having something to touch.  Not necessarily for posterity – I’m not talking about sentimentality here.  But there is something that makes your soul sing when you are handed an item that has been crafted together with extreme skill.  A skill that has been learned over time, starting small and learning time honoured techniques, and then it gets even more exciting as you take those techniques and develop them into something new.

John Ruskin and William Morris had the right idea when they set about influencing society with the Arts and Craft Movement.  With the ravages of the Industrial Revolution around them, the movement grew out of a deep concern about the loss of design and traditional skills, and the effect that this would have on society.  Forget about the machine, people’s homes should be filled with beautiful and useful hand made items.

Ironically, this approach, although admirable in saving traditional skills and ‘good’ taste, meant that the final product was more often than not out of the reach of the working people that it set out to save from the slavery of the mills.

But does it have to be this way?  Does ‘craft’ have to be purely about the handmade?  Or how the media likes to portray it – homemade?  Can it be about good design, crafting innovation from need?  Can it be about engineering?  Can it be about making something, and making it well?

So going back to the beginning.  It has taking me forever to start this.  It is like having a large sheet of pristine white paper on the drawing board, and it is the scariest thing in the world making the first mark.  So much so, that the original idea has moved on, and I have something completely different to make. Therefore this venture is less about a portfolio showcasing what I have made, but more about an exploration about why we make.  This is a blog – a diary if you will – about the knack of making.

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Le Grand Tour de Yorkshire

Sustainable communities are places where people want to live and work because they meet diverse needs, are sensitive to the environment, safe and inclusive. The construction industry plays a huge part in building these communities, providing homes, infrastructure, jobs and social institutions. Whether the Bronze Age stone circles or modern stadia, construction is intrinsic to the creation of community and there is no better place to explore this than Yorkshire, where evidence dates back to the prehistoric.

As the location of the Grand Depart, Yorkshire is building a new type of community for the region, one that combines sport, tourism and media. By following the cycling route map – a new sort of neighbourhood plan – we can explore the type of communities Yorkshire had – and has – to offer from Roman roads to modern arenas and ask what we can learn from the past to build the communities of the future.

The new Leeds Arena is the face of the modern construction industry and a reflection of the need of communities to gather for a shared interest, be it gladiatorial combat or a Bruce Springsteen concert.  As the first purpose-built arena with a fan-shaped design and “the best acoustic experience of any large arena venue in the country”, it created technical challenges for the construction team.  But this is not the only ‘new’ arena in the area.  2011 saw the discovery of a significant Roman Amphitheatre in Aldbrough, which also demonstrates cutting edge construction skills.

Central to the development of communities in the region was the building of monasteries in Yorkshire.  Architecturally, the buildings pushed boundaries; economically and politically, these institutions were the power houses of the country.  Fountains Abbey in Ripon was the largest and richest of the Northern abbeys, with an influence that extended to the rest of the country and as far as Norway.  It was occasionally at the forefront of international affairs, whilst closer to home, thousands of people relied on the abbey for work, food, trade and shelter, as well as spirituality.  Today it is a World Heritage site and the impact on tourism is clear but are there lessons here in constructing sustainable communities?

The Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII to form the estates of the gentry had a profound and permanent effect on the Yorkshire landscape. Their stewardship of the land continues to define the character of much of rural Yorkshire and rural business. Bolton Abbey, is a prime example of how once redundant traditional buildings that are no longer suitable for mainstream farming can be given a new lease of life within the community.

Religion was also key to the development of the Rowntree Company established by Joseph Rowntree in 1862. By the time it was acquired by Nestlé in 1988 it was the fourth largest confectionery manufacturer in the world. The company was founded on Quaker principles and Rowntree was deeply interested in improving the quality of life of his employees.  In creating the model village of New Earswick, in York, Rowntree stated that he did “not want to establish communities bearing the stamp of charity but rather of rightly ordered and self governing communities”.  The Rowntree Trust continues to build today along the same principles, demonstrating that the need for well-designed communities is as relevant today as it was then.

But what about Yorkshire’s urban communities that have experienced the highs of the Industrial Revolution and the lows of the modern economy?   Hebden Bridge flourished during the Industrial revolution, being a central part of the wool industry that came to define much of the West Riding.  By the late 20th century however, the small mill town was looking like a northern backwater.  The fact that the railway survived the 1960s axe, reinforced the relationship the town has with the larger metropolises of Manchester and Leeds, allowing it to become a vibrant suburb with a distinct sense of independence.  The reinvention of Hebden Bridge fits nicely into the aims of the ‘Northern Way’ initiative before the demise of the LDAs. How can other parts of the UK replicate Hebden Bridge’s success?  And should the ‘Northern Way’ be rebuilt?

Likewise, Sheffield is a lesson on how a city can be reborn.   Having established itself as the ‘City of Steel’ in the 18th and 19th centuries, the 1980s saw its dramatic fall as an industrial powerhouse, with the loss of over 50,000 jobs.  Yet Sheffield is now leading the way in its regeneration by engaging with the city in innovative and creative ways, facilitating diverse employment and taking advantage of two top class universities.  This thinking, which combined exemplary architecture and landscape design that was thoroughly endorsed by the Council, has resulted in Sheffield’s GVA increasing by 60% since 1997, standing at £9.2 billion in 2007, with steady growth averaging around 5% annually. So are there ways we can learn from Sheffield?

‘Le Grand Tour de Yorkshire’ is the subject of the CIC Yorkshire and Humber Conference which takes place at the National Railway Museum in York on 25 June 2014.