Sunday, 6 June 2010

Whilst it's good to really get away from it all, when you come back the enormity of what we are managing here in Leeds, with the second largest metropolitan authority in the country and the sheer scale of the challenges we face, it can seem simply overwhelming...

I had a great week away enjoying Liverpool and Oxford at their brilliant best... the Picasso exhibition at Tate Liverpool, the International Slavery Museum, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the colleges of Oxford in the summer sunshine and the Race for Life.

Since Tate Liverpool opened in 1988, the gallery has presented over 150 different exhibitions and collections displaying work by hundreds of different artists, some seen for the first time in the UK. The Picasso: Peace and Freedom exhibition brings together over 150 works by Picasso from across the world and, as well as revealing a new insight into the artist's life as a tireless political activist and campaigner for peace, provides a timely look at Picasso's work in the Cold War era.

The International Slavery Museum is based in the Merseyside Maritime Museum and opened on 23 August 2007, the date of the annual Slavery Remembrance Day, but the year was also particularly significant as it was the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade. This dynamic and thought-provoking museum aims to increase our understanding of the world around us by promoting the understanding of transatlantic slavery and its enduring impact, and addressing ignorance and misunderstanding by looking at the deep and permanent impact of slavery and the slave trade on Africa, South America, the USA, the Caribbean and Western Europe.

The Merseyside Maritime Museum tells the history of one of the world's greatest ports and the people who used it. For many, it was a gateway to a new life in other countries, but for others its importance to the slave trade had less happy consequences. This wonderful museum's collections reflect the international importance of Liverpool: from slavers to luxury liners; submarine hunters to passenger ferries; Liverpool has had a central role for centuries at sea.

Oxford is the City of Dreaming Spires, and is famous the world over for its university and its place in history. For over 800 years it has been a home to royalty and scholars, although people are known to have lived in the area for thousands of years. Oxford University has 38 colleges and six permanent private halls, all with their own character and history and all worth a visit.

The Race for Life I attended was a 5k event where women can walk, jog or run to raise money for Cancer Research UK. The Oxford event took place in the University Parks and was sponsored by Heart Radio, Headington Road Runners, the Oxford Mail and the University of Oxford. The events are organised by Cancer Research UK: the world's leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research. Their groundbreaking work has saved millions of lives and we were told that the Race for Life events have already raised over £300 million for this wonderful cause.

And then of course you come back to earth and hit the ground hard as you realise and recognise where we are in Leeds: with the national spotlight on education and children's services; the local spotlight on political, organisational and personnel changes; and the reality of underachievement, underperformance and organisational inertia slowing the pace of change. But as always, the great thing about Leeds is that you quickly remember that, despite its size, complexity, difficulties, worries and risks, together we have achieved so much over the last nine years because our schools are generally such outstanding places; full of talented, committed and passionate colleagues supported by extraordinary teams of colleagues who share a faith and a belief that all things are possible… and they are!
Keep the faith.

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