Design Cafe is a methodology which Art Gene employ around engagement with communities across many different projects.

Design Cafe encompasses meetings, design events, talks and walks – often with Art Gene cooking and offering food. The core Design Cafe objective is to provide opportunities for the whole community to get involved.

Similarly, our Concept Cafe develops projects by getting together with multi-disciplinary partnerships (such as community representatives, local businesses, industry, environmental & ecological statutory bodies). This also encompasses meetings, events, talks and walks (and sharing food) which aim to constantly extend our skills base and move beyond single issue concerns in projects.

The  information below gives a detailed account of just one series of Design Cafe events, which took place around the launch of the Seldom Seen project in 2010. (NB: It was first published in 2012 and the content has not been updated).

For more information about the Design Cafe philosophy and practice, go to Stuart Bastik’s slide show Thoughts I’ve Been Having With Myself here.
Image below: Jenny Holden (left) leading a Mass Walk to Piel Island

Seldom Seen – Design Cafe

This page details a small selection of the different kinds of events Art Gene established as part of the Islands of Barrow Immersive Research Programme. This work informs and underpins the design work undertaken by our Art Gene Associates, challenges our approach and keeps our thinking fresh, alive and we hope relavent beyond the period of our active engagement.

Steve Harris, Consultant and Design Cafe Projects Manager

Steve has worked with Art Gene since 2005 and has been instrumental in helping us achieve Capital Arts Lottery Funding for works in the Art Gene Gallery, the development of Barrow-by-Design, of which Seldom Seen is a key element and has managed our Design Cafe Events Trips and Tours and related consultation programmes with diverse groups of all ages within our communities. He also met with and encouraged a wide range of people, young and old, to contribute their stories for the new Visitor Book for the Ship Inn, Piel Island made by bookbinder Dominic Riley.

The Mass Walk to Piel was punctuated with presentations at particular points of interest by our team of associates which stimulated questions, the sharing of annecdotes and a knowledge exchange both between the participants and with our team.

John Murphy, Walk Leader

Cllr. John Murphy (Walney Island), former Mayor of Barrow, has been a great supporter of Art Gene’s work in Barrow. He has led several of our Design Cafe Walks including Art Gene’s Mass Walk to Piel Island in association with the Barrow Walking Festival.

John leads regular walks around the Islands of Barrow and has a column, Murphy’s Miles, in the NW Evening Mail. John’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the natural environment and Barrow in general is infectious and we hope to continue to work with him to promote interest in the unique qualities of the islands of Barrow.

Piel Stories & Visitor Books

Dominic is a self-employed restorer, designer-binder, teacher, writer, lecturer and occasional film-maker. He has worked in London, New York and San Francisco, and is a past president of the Hand Bookbinders of California. Currently he is Vice-president of the UK Society of Bookbinders.

The invaluable early Visitor Books from the Ship Inn are now kept in the County Records Office, Barrow for safe keeping. We have re-established this tradition by collecting stories about visits to Piel and commissioned Dominic Riley to create new leather bound ledgers based on the originals. These will be kept in the Ship Inn.

The evocative stories in the original visitor books date from the mid 1800s and tell of paddle steamer trips from Fleetwood carrying newly-weds to Piel for their honeymoon and provide a valuable historical record of the heyday of Pilot Boats vying for trade in Piel Harbour. Many Knightings and Crownings of former times are also documented and illustrated.

Boat Trips

Based in Paris & Manchester respectively, Eimer Birkbeck & Joe Duffy have worked collaboratively as Birkbeck & Duffy since 2007, producing work that investigates narrativity through place, space, landscape, phenomena, sound and image.

Birkbeck & Duffy also organised boat trips to Piel Island offering a change of perspective and an alternative view of Barrow’s Islands to residents who had never seen Barrow from the sea.

Offshore 2010-2011

Artists Statement
Our project began in 2010, when we first set out to explore the changing map of Barrow’s coastline, including the Offshore wind farm, and our maritime journey to document the transforming seascape.

However we soon realised the fabric of our project was the stories we heard as we encountered Barrows skippers and residents during our sea excursions.

On our first venture towards the offshore wind farm site, through swirls and choppy sea, the wind farm quickly became a back drop as we moved towards recording the stories of people we met who turned our attention towards their perspective and relationship with Barrow.

Jenny Holden, Ecologist

Jenny Holden has been running training courses for organisations and teaching in universities since 2005. Her clients have included University of Central LancsUniversity of Cumbria, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Stirling University. Jenny’s degree is in Biology and Science Communication which gave her a very good grounding in how to communicate science to a wider audience.

Jenny has lectured on Ecology, Wildlife Legislation, Vertebrate Evolution, World Ecology and Conservation Strategy, UK Agriculture and Conservation, Ecological Survey Techniques, British Owls, Beaver Ecology and Reintroductions, Otters, British Bats, Water Vole Conservation and Ecology, Barn Owl Foraging Ecology, and many other subjects.

Jenny has become a regular member of Art Gene’s Associate team making invaluable contributions to a range of recent events and discussions delivered through our Design Cafe programme.

Students from Furness College spent a day beach combing with Jenny Holden and artist Jo Ray. Students gathered and identified a wide range of items collected for inclusion in the Seldom Seen Cabinet of Curiosities. Every Item was carefully identified with Jenny’s help; recorded, bagged and labelled with the details of where and when it was found. She has also acted as a guide to the natural environment during several of our Design Cafe walks with the general public around the islands of Barrow.


Seldom Seen™ is an unregistered trademark of Art Gene. © Art Gene 2016.


Image below: A Design Cafe event on Piel Island, including  Jo Ray’s artwork,  Some Days All This Is Yours 

Seldom Seen – App
Seldom Seen – Series of Maps: Morecambe Bay
Seldom Seen – Introduction to Piel Island Visitor Centre Project
Seldom Seen – Collection
About Design Cafe and Seldom Seen Design Cafe
Seldom Seen – Furniture
Seldom Seen – Mapping Morecambe Bay

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