Living in luxury – some more than others

Buckingham Palace


THOSE at the top have certainly got nice places to live in – but a new survey has revealed which leaders’ dwellings are worth the most.

The report by property valuation experts Emoov reveals the eye-watering price tags attached to the homes of world leaders.

The study – which can be found in full at – shows that the Queen has the most expensive home, worth 80 times more than Boris Johnson’s Downing Street pad.

The values of the properties are based on factors such as the price per square metre in the relevant city, the property’s age and a cultural premium.

Buckingham Palace in London has been given a value estimated at £4.9bn which, if sold, would make up 0.2 per cent of the UK’s entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

However, the Sultan of Brunei’s residence, the Istana Nurul Iman, if sold would account for a staggering 29.3 per cent of Brunei’s entire GDP.

The Blue House, home to Moon Jae-In, the President of South Korea, measures 5,310 square metres and has the highest land value at £276,635 per square metre, followed by Number 10 Downing Street, with a land value of £175,274 per square metre for just 353 square metres of property.

The overall floor plan of Buckingham Palace is around 77,000 square metres, making the cost per metre square £64,831. This is 500 per cent more than the average price per square metre in Central London, which is £11,523.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has the lowest home valuation at £912,600.

But only five of the 20 leaders in the study could actually afford to purchase their residence personally, one of these being US president and business billionaire Donald Trump.

20 world leaders’ homes ranked from most to least expensive:

  1. Queen Elizabeth II – Buckingham Palace (UK): £4.9bn
  2. Hassanal Bolkiah (Sultan of Brunei) – Istana Nurul Iman (Brunei): £3.01bn
  3. Moon Jae-in – The Blue House (South Korea): £1.46bn
  4. Emmanuel Macron – Elysée Palace (France): £1.41bn
  5. Vladimir Putin – Grand Kremlin Palace (Russia): £1.3bn
  6. Sergio Mattarella – Quirinal Palace (Italy): £1.2bn
  7. Shinzo Abe – Kantei (Japan): £7.34m
  8. Donald Trump – Trump Tower (USA): £630m
  9. Recep Tayyip Erdogan – The White Palace (Turkey): £628m
  10. Ram Nath Kovind – Rashtrapati Bhavan (India): £471m
  11. Donald Trump – The White House (USA): £396m
  12. Miloš Zeman – Prague Castle (Czech Republic): £358m
  13. Pedro Sánchez – Palacio de la Moncloa (Spain): £150m
  14. Boris Johnson – 10 Downing Street (UK): £61m
  15. Scott Morrison – The Lodge (Australia): £47m
  16. Justin Trudeau – Rideau Cottage (Canada): £40m
  17. Jair Bolsonaro – Palácio da Alvorada (Brazil): £20m
  18. King Salman – Justice Palace (Saudi Arabia): £14m
  19. Joko Widodo – Merdeka Palace (Indonesia): £6m
  20. Angela Merkel – Chancellery (Germany): £912k

Looking into the light


THE story of an invention which saved the lives of many miners is being told in a newly-opened exhibition.
The miners’ safety lamp, invented by Sir Humphy Davy, is celebrated in A Light in the Darkness at the National Coal Mining Museum.
The new permanent exhibition at the popular attraction on the site of Caphouse Colliery on New Road in Wakefield has been funded by AIM Biffa Award as part of the History Makers – People Who Shaped Our World scheme.
A Light in the Darkness tells the history of the miners’ lamp, known as the Davy Lamp, which was invented in 1815.
Prior to the invention of the lamp, miners lived in fear of the presence of gas underground which was undetectable but highly flammable and in some cases explosive when it came into contact with the candles needed for light.
The lamp has been credited with saving countless lives.
The museum has spent a year exploring and interpreting the life of Sir Humphry Davy and the new exhibition takes visitors through a series of experiments and audio-visual displays to understand the problems that scientists like him, George Stephenson and Dr William Reid Clanny addressed to create the basic structure for the lamp which went on to be used as a template across the world.
The flame-safety lamp was revolutionary in underground lighting as it not only provided illumination but also helped miners detect explosive gas in the environment before it became problematic.
Housed in the Technology Gallery the exhibition also shows how the lamp has evolved over time, displaying some of the coal mining museum’s unique collection of flame-safety lamps and telling the stories of people who have made, used and collected them.
Collections manager Stephanie Thompson, said: “It’s really exciting to see this exhibition completed. It looks fantastic and tells the story of Sir Humphry Davy and his safe lamp in a really accessible way.
“The museum’s collection of flame-safety lamps look stunning in their new setting.”

Queens of the dance

Sithule Moyo

by Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance (ROAR) chief executive SHARON GILL

IT was a real honour to be able to interview not only Sithule Moyo, but some of her amazingly talented family too.

I have been working in Rotherham for nearly eight years now and very early on I was aware of Sithule and her commitment to enriching the cultural life in Rotherham, and how active she was in the voluntary and community sector, sitting on many different networks and boards.

I also heard her speak about her journey to our country from Zimbabwe at an event run by the Rotherham Ethnic Minority Alliance (REMA), and as with many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers stories, I am humbled by how easy I have it being born in this country, and all the freedoms and rights I expect to have.

It was in 2006 that the Home Office first located Sithule in Southend, and after two years relocated her and her family to Rawmarsh, Rotherham. It is so heartwarming to hear Sithule say that from the very first day she arrived in Rotherham she felt like she had come home, that the community were very welcoming. It seems that Southend did not embrace her and her baby with quite the same warmth.

She very quickly joined St Joseph’s Church and was introduced to a community.

It was in 2009 that her work in the voluntary sector began as a volunteer for the Refugee Centre. This position led to sitting on the Scrutiny Panel hosted by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, which looked after tenants to ensure they received access to services and challenged any inherent discrimination. They delivered events and ran conferences. This led to representing residents from Rawmarsh on the Ward Panel, and this is how she came into contact with the organisation Rotherfed.

It was while working with Rotherfed that Sithule accessed training to help develop community groups and to be a community engagement officer. With these new skills she was able to assist as secretary with other residents of Rawmarsh to set up the Ashgrove TARA.

If that was not enough of a tale of how someone can grow when provided with security for their family, Sithule saw that her friends in the African community were in need of their own tenants and residents group that addressed their specific needs. That is how Mama Africa was formed.

This inevitably led to the doors of REMA who are set up to support BAME communities and because African women are located throughout the borough, it was decided to have a central base for the group.

Nono and Toto

It quickly became obvious that the group would offer more than supporting housing and tenancy rights, but help integration and cohesion into communities, to enable better access to the right services, to share their own language and culture and inevitable friendship and support.

Mama Africa is less active now, as many of the women who came as asylum seekers have secured citizenship, and have moved into employment, which is a success too.

As need was identified and consequently met, it became apparent that the children in these families were at risk of becoming disengaged with their own culture, while not fully comfortable in their adopted country, and needed a place where they belonged.

It was during the preparations for the Rotherham Carnival in 2016, delivered by Open Minds Theatre Company, that a dance group was formed to perform at the event. The young people enjoyed the experience so much that funding was secured through the Postcode Lottery and Young Minds Together was formed.

Young Minds Together

The group have expanded their artistic repertoire and now include poetry, acting, and music especially drumming. The members of the group include anyone with links to African heritage in some way. They do not have to be direct descendants and they can be friends. It is really open to anyone, and currently there are about 20 young people connected to the group.

It is perhaps still shocking that today many black and mixed race children are still on the receiving end of bullying and discrimination, especially at school by their peers. Young Minds Together creates a space where these young people can feel safe and in some ways free to explore their self expression through creative activity. They can feel at home. They are also equipped with the skills and resilience through training to become anti-bullying ambassadors.

Not taking Sithule’s word for it, I was able to ask one of her daughters, Avumile Sibanda (19), what she enjoys most about being part of Young Minds Together. The overriding sense was the opportunities that are created, to lead sessions and teach dance steps and to trial her own choreography.

Avumile has been effectively teaching since she was 15 years old, to young people between five years as the youngest to 13-year-olds.
A real sense of purpose comes from live performance, with the Diversity Festival offering a confirmed booking every year, with a huge public audience, which really spurs the group on.

Avumile Sibanda

Being involved with Young Minds Together, and taking inspiration from her mum, Avumile has the confidence and knowledge to be able to start her own group, should she wish to in the future, and has experience in leading which is an invaluable life skill, which has already seen her taking a role as football coach at her former school.

Avumile is currently studying at university for a degree in Biomedical Science, but assures me there is still time to enjoy dancing.

Ayathola Sibanda (12) enthusiastically enjoys the social side of the group and the range of fantastic opportunities that come about, like performing for the Mayor, going to different places, like the New York Stadium during half-time and dancing in front of thousands of people.

What Ayathola particularly enjoys is the drumming but she also likes the creative media side of opportunities, like making videos and working on the editing.

I asked if the arts were in her career plan? The answer was not quite what I expected: while not performance, there is a strong sense of design in her ambitions to be an architect.

Last in this interview, but by no means least, is Sinokhule Sibanda, lovingly known as Nono (10). Nono is all about the dance moves. She loves learning new steps and styles and of course the thrill and achievement of performing well to an audience.

She sometimes gets a few butterflies before going on stage, but once she starts to dance Nono loses herself in the movement.

Everyone in the group is encouraged to explore and contribute to the choreography of their routines in a very democratic process and this is something Nono hopes to be able to take forward and teach young people in her own studio. That is after having a successful career as a professional dancer, a film star and world-renowned choreographer so she can go and teach anywhere in the world, taking South African artists to inspire and create global exchanges.

It is a testament to Sithule that her daughters have such drive and ambition, and a real sense of being able to achieve their dreams. I have no doubt that such enthusiasm and zest for life is also shared with the other members of Young Minds Together.

Like any community group, they are dependent on funding to pay for room hire, teachers, and other resources. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the group has not been able to meet every week, and they have secured some support to enable digital meet-ups so they can dance at home but together.

They have also been commissioned to create video content for Yorkshire Day and for Black History Month in October.

As mentioned the group have performed each year since their formation five years ago at the Diversity Festival within the Rotherham Show. It is a very public forum with a self selecting audience and provides a real focus for the group’s rehearsals and makes the young performers feel very special. The festival is also for and with their families, and an opportunity to showcase their talent which exposes a wider group of people to African-based culture. The feedback is always brilliant.

Young Minds Together

Under normal circumstances, the group meet at the Unity Centre although they are looking for their own dedicated space with two dance studios, a recording suite and an IT room, whether that’s on a meanwhile lease or with support.

The group do not charge for their sessions, being very aware that many of their families would not be able to attend if there was a cost, and this way there are no barriers. As a consequence they do rely on funding, donations and sponsorship so do get in touch if you can help them bring such enthusiasm and ambition to other young people.

Young Minds Together can clearly achieve anything they set their sights on!

  • If you would like to join in the classes then contact the group through or telephone 07799 485588.

Travel back in time at the castle which inspired a novel

Conisbrough Castle (©English Heritage)


THE castle that inspired the novel Ivanhoe. That’s certainly quite a claim for one of South Yorkshire’s best-known historic landmarks.

Conisbrough Castle has had a fascinating past and remains to this day an important building for the local people and the area’s economy.
Thousands choose to visit the English Heritage property which is a much-loved regional treasure.

Perched on Castle Hill, the small town of Conisbrough has grown around the building which still acts as a focus for the community.

Travel back in time by exploring the 12th century building and learn about the illustrious people who inhabited it.

The castle is extremely popular with school trips and tourists alike.
Built of magnesian limestone, the medieval castle was the focus of a lordship owned by William de Warenne, who was given the land by none other than William the Conqueror.

Conisbrough Castle (©English Heritage)

It is the de Warenne and Langley families which had the greatest significance on the growth and development of the castle over the centuries.

William de Warenne, who took on the Earldom of Surrey, set about developing Conisbrough Castle.

In those early times, soon after the Norman Conquest, the structure may have been an earthwork enclosure or ringwork which had a timber palisade. There would have been timber buildings.

The 3rd Earl’s daughter, Isabel, married King Stephen’s youngest surviving son, William of Blois, who became the 4th Earl, but they did not have children. She later married the half brother of Henry II, Hamelin, and the pair made regular sojourns to Conisbrough, and it is during this period that the stone keep was built (1170s to 1180s).

Inside the keep at Conisbrough Castle (©English Heritage)

The curtain wall and associated buildings such as the great hall, kitchen and a chamber block are thought to have been built soon after Hamelin’s death by his son, William. We are now in the early 13th century.
King John stayed at Conisbrough.

The last Earl, the 8th, had an unhappy marriage. Joan of Bar, his wife, was Edward I’s granddaughter and lived separately from the Earl at Conisbrough before upping sticks to London.

Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, besieged and captured Conisbrough in 1322, but was eventually executed for rebellion against the king. John got his estates back but died without heirs so the land and property went to the Crown. Edward III gave the castle to his son, Edmund Langley, later Duke of York.

The Langleys proved to be principal figures in 14th and 15th century politics.

Conisbrough was regularly used and many alterations were carried out to the domestic buildings in the castle in the 14th century.

©English Heritage

Edmund Langley’s death in 1402 saw the estates and dukedom inherited by his oldest son, Edward, who allowed his brother Richard, who was born at Conisbrough Castle in 1385, to live there as his tenant.

Richard and others plotted to assassinate Henry the Fifth but it all went wrong and Richard was executed.

Edward lost his life at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. This left the castle in the hands of Richard’s widow, Maud. She died in 1446. Richard’s son, also called Richard, inherited the site but he was killed in the English Civil War in 1460 and the castle appears to have fallen into a state of neglect.

But in 1559 Queen Elizabeth the First gave Conisbrough Castle to her cousin Henry Carey. It eventually fell into the hands of the Coke family in the 17th century, to the Dukes of Leeds in 1737 and in 1839 to the Conyers family and Earls of Yarborough.

Landscaping work was carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries when it gained the reputation of being a picturesque ruin which caught the attention of many a painter.

Writer Sir Walter Scott used the castle in his famous novel Ivanhoe, which was published in 1819.

The state took over the castle in 1950 and it was managed by the Ivanhoe Trust during the 1990s before being taken on by English Heritage in 2007.

©English Heritage

Repairs have been carried out to improve the castle for visitors over the years and there is an excellent visitor centre.

Conisbrough Castle certainly draws in the visitors – whether they be school groups, interested locals or tourists finding out what Yorkshire has to offer – and there will usually be plenty of people milling around and discovering the place.

Display panels and projections bring the fascinating tale that Conisbrough Castle has to tell to life.

A lot of imagination has gone into making the attraction visitor-friendly and interactive. People can learn a lot about the castle’s rich history and about the significance of the whole area in major historical events.

From the top of the castle you can get fantastic views of the countryside around Conisbrough, and perhaps plan an excursion into it if you have the time. There are plenty of local walks, as well as nature reserves and nearby

Doncaster has a museum to add even more to your new-found South Yorkshire history knowledge inspired by the castle.

To mark Remembrance weekend, Conisbrough Castle was lit up for three nights with poppies projected onto the castle walls. 161922-16

The castle visitor centre is certainly worth a closer look, offering up attractions such as a model of the circular keep and illustrated panels.

All in all, Conisbrough Castle is a local treasure that most people will be familiar with as they drive by in their car or travel past on the train, but it is well worth exploring even further.

It isn’t just the south of the country that has the nation’s most magnificent historical treasures, we have one on our doorstep that we should take pride in.

Address – Castle Hill, Conisbrough, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN12 3BU
Telephone – 01709 863329

The grass may be greener elsewhere – but think carefully first


NOVEMBER 12 is an important date in the academic year for university students – but not necessarily for the right reason.

That is the most common date for first year students to drop out of their chosen course – with 20,000 calling it quits every year.

This year, the impact of coronavirus and its restrictions may provide extra reasons for students to opt out and leave a university education behind.

But the reasons why a student will make the decision that uni life is not for them are varied – emotional, financial, whatever.

Starting at university can be difficult for many first time students, known as freshers. It is a completely new environment and may be far busier and academically challenging than school ever was, and the new ways of learning through lectures and self study may be challenging.

People may have trouble making friends – though it may be worth remembering that everyone else is probably in the same boat – and being away from the comforts of home can be both liberating and a source of anxiety at the same time. Looking after your own financial affairs, cooking for yourself and being generally ‘grown up’ can make or break a person.

Ofcourse, the vast majority of students learn to cope perfectly well. But some decide that it isn’t for them. Around one in 16 students don’t start their second year.

Leaving uni is certainly not the end of everything. There are viable career opportunities for those taking this route.

Dr Lisette Johnston, head of school at ScreenSpace, part of MetFilm School, said that there are many options still available to young people who feel they may have made a massive mistake in choosing university.

She said: “If young people are worried about their course or university at this point, they are definitely not alone. Many students are feeling exactly the same way.

“They might feel under pressure from their parents to persevere with the course; they might feel afraid to change direction when all their friends seem to be moving on with their lives.

“Dropping out might seem like a radical decision, but remember that three years is a long time and if someone is not enjoying where they are right now, negative feelings might worsen and these can lead to issues around wellbeing.

“If something has to change then the sooner a decision is made, the better.”
Dr Johnston has offered up some top tips for anyone thinking of dropping out from university:

1 Sleep on it
Don’t make a snap decision – you have invested a lot of time and money to get this far. Make a pros and cons list and consider your next move really carefully. Think about your situation when you are in a different frame of mind. If you come back to the same conclusion, then you know you have got make something change.

2 Get some advice
Chances are there are a lot of people around you feeling the same way. Talk to them, talk to students a year ahead of you, talk to the person next door, talk to your family and talk to your lecturers/personal tutor. It is important that you don’t keep your unhappiness and anxiety to yourself – there are lots of people who can advise you. Remember that it is important to seek advice, but in the end, it is your life and your decision. Don’t let others persuade you to stay for the wrong reasons.

3 Research your options
What are you going to do next? Do you need to retake your A-levels? Choose another course? Take a year out? Or are you going to forget about university completely? If you need to research careers or look for an apprenticeship, check out the government’s National Careers Service website.

4 What about the money?
There will be some financial implications – a percentage for tuition fees, your student loan and a percentage towards your accommodation will have to be paid. You will need to discuss this with your university – your personal tutor or the university’s student services department will be able to help you with these.

5 Alternative to leaving
At many universities, you have the option of pausing your degree and taking a year out. This can be a great compromise if you want to take some time to explore your options without shutting the door all together. But if the university you’re at is the main part of the problem, this will just delay the inevitable. You will need to arrange to speak with your personal tutor to explore whether this is an option open to you.


Farris (21), from London dropped out of a university in Hampshire to study at MetFilm School’s ScreenSpace. His experience of racial profiling put him off from the start.

He said: “It was only on my third night it happened. I’d never been to an open day, but I went after they gave me an unconditional offer to study film production. As I walked down the high street, two guys who looked like students came up to me and asked ‘mate, do you sell weed?’ No I didn’t. After that, I felt uncomfortable.

“I was uncomfortable from the start. I felt that I didn’t fit in; there aren’t many black students in Winchester. The whole place didn’t suit me. I didn’t do any freshers’ stuff. I was just unhappy.

“As soon as I made my decision to leave, I looked up vacancies and applied to MetFilm School, London through clearing. I didn’t know then, but that was the last day I could have got on the course. I emailed and heard back within the hour. They were really supportive and told me what I needed to do.”

Emily (19) decided to drop out of a university in Berkshire and retake her A-levels. She is now studying Law at Birmingham University.
Emily knew she’d made a mistake right after Freshers’ Week.
She said: “I was desperately unhappy. Reading wasn’t the right place for me, and the course wasn’t right either. I knew I couldn’t stomach three years there.

“I called my mum one night, quite late, and told her how unhappy I was and she came to get me. I’d been there for seven weeks and hadn’t even met my personal tutor.

“I decided that I needed to retake a couple of A-levels and reapply to a different university. I got a conditional offer from the University of Birmingham and started here in September.

“My experience at Birmingham couldn’t be further from what I experienced at Reading. This is the right place, the right time and the right course from me. Dropping out was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

‘Socially engaged art can promote good mental health’

by SHARON GILL (Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance chief executive)

IT is a testament to Rotherham that it can not only attract but retain creative talent to live and work here. Visual artist and mental health advocate Leigh de Vries fell in love with Rotherham and has made it her home since 2007.

Born with a Dutch father and a South African mother, she moved from Cape Town, South Africa to London in 2003. While she loves her home country, at that time it was going through a lot of turmoil and she felt unsafe. London offered a different life, giving Leigh the possibility to discover more of her potential and express her creativity, within the excitement and possibilities that a big bustling city can bring.

My experience of working with Leigh is she gets things done – once she has decided on a course of action, there is no time like the present, and she works with such authenticity it is difficult to not be carried away by her determination.

It perhaps came as no surprise that she almost apologetically confesses to being a self-taught computer programmer, learning from the mighty Google to code in multiple languages which enabled her to stretch her credentials and secure employment, subsequently funding her own art practice. This clear demonstration of independence and self belief gives Leigh an inner strength she comes to explore later in her life.

From the age of 16 years, Leigh has cultivated a public persona, starting as a singer in an all-girl Death Metal band called Misery. It was here she began to write music, create costumes, and construct the visual impact of the band. It began the interest in the crossover areas of art, technology and science. It was while making music in London that Leigh met her future husband, a music producer local to Rotherham, which got her to make the move.

Having always lived in big cities, moving to Rotherham and being surrounded by the beauty of Yorkshire and the warm-hearted friendly people, to be able to slow down the pace of her life and remove the unnecessary distraction that a big city life entails and really focus, made Leigh feel she had found her home and even managed to encourage her parents to move here.

Leigh has struggled with a mental health disorder called Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD). Having been born with a lazy eye, bullying and humiliation were childhood companions which caused a deep trauma, and as a child she believed there was “something wrong with me”. The lazy eye was corrected but this did not fix the impacts of 26 years of traumatised self identification, which has manifested as BDD.

Leigh’s public persona, like everything she applies herself to, was professionally successful. She won the People’s Music Award in 2011, an amazing accolade. However, this only served to further polarise her public image where you give yourself and your energy away, against the inner personal recluse, where you believe the world sees you in the same way you do, and you have created a distorted self image.

In 2012, Leigh’s BDD was at its worst and she found it difficult to leave the house, sometimes self isolating for up to two weeks. It was at that point that Leigh realised that she needed to create a project where she could understand the distorted self in reality so that she could have some sort of mental mending. That’s when she contacted Shaun Harrison, one of the UK’s most celebrated make-up artists, to create a prosthetic for her face.

“I realised if I could create the distorted self and wear it out in public I’d be able to make some sense of what was going on in my mind,” she said.
With two of her friends armed with secret cameras, Leigh spent the day in Manchester capturing her own experience as well as the candid responses of the general public to her disfigurement. Unknown to Leigh at that time, she was applying what psychiatrists refer to as “flooding or exposure therapy” to herself, albeit in the extreme. After a long day of filming, it was the act of taking the prosthetic off when Leigh felt a real sense of recovery and had a realisation for the first time that there was nothing wrong with her.

She said: “The mind can really convince us of one thing and then to create it in physicality and to understand that it’s not real is huge and I think that was a big part of my learning.”

The radical exposure therapy has helped Leigh’s BDD immensely and although she still has moments she is able to better understand in her mind what is real and what is not real. This ‘artwork’ was created for intensely personal reasons, but it felt important and significant too.

Leigh had an art studio at ROAR during this time and went to the team there to talk through her film and see if it had a life beyond her own purpose. I recall quite clearly the resolution and commitment from Leigh that she had found a direction for her life’s creative work. This led to a successful Arts Council bid to create an installation, My Broken Reality, in the Old Market Gallery. Consisting of two stark black and white video viewing rooms conjoined by dark maze-like passages with the use of sensory deprivation, and enveloping soundscape, the installation simultaneously deprived and overloaded the audience’s senses. Inviting reflection and serving as a sort of right of passage for many of the audience allowing them an opportunity to transcend their identities and experience themselves differently, amplifying their own situation and experiences back to them.

This work was only open to the public for one day; on the other days Leigh had arranged to work with different youth groups and settings, with pre-visit workshops and post-experience on-site workshops exploring identity through the use of masks. This was as a result of her research and communications with the National BDD Association, where she learned BDD tends to manifest during adolescence between 12 and 22 years of age.

We might be more comfortable now talking and recognising the difficulties people face with mental health conditions, but in 2015 it was not so prevalent, making this a groundbreaking and life-changing work for many of the young people involved. Being able to openly discuss abnormalities, fears, and to access those emotions opened up curiosity and it was often the first experience of visiting a gallery or experiencing high-quality art. Fundamentally Leigh wanted to express to any young person that if they felt valueless, there is help and information available.

The piece provided art as a healer, increased people’s self awareness and the awareness of others, contributed to the education around the disorder BDD, increased people’s awareness around what it is like to live with a disfigurement, exposed people to high quality art experiences, and allowed people to open up communication around self image, self worth and body image.

Due to Leigh’s London connections the project received a visit from the Dazed and Confused media team which sent the projects profile stratospheric. Attention came from all over the world and the story has been translated and broadcast by news websites in over 30 countries. There were over 11 million hits on her website. What this experience did teach Leigh is the empathy the experiential effect of her work has could not be replicated remotely through digital formats. That would require a different approach, but now there was clear evidence that art can be a healer.

The BDD Foundation hosted its first ever conference in London on May 30, 2015, aimed exclusively at people with BDD and their families. Leigh’s work Exposure was included in the day’s programme and played to the audience as a short film. The support and encouragement of this community enabled Leigh with her new understanding to reach out to BDD expert Dr Jamie D Feusner at the University of California (UCLA) as she wanted to open up discussions around creating a form of art therapy using this radical exposure therapy for BDD sufferers.

Leigh was awarded an O1 artist visa and travelled to Los Angeles to start the discussions around the potential growth of the project and for Leigh to open her project up to a wider audience. With the support of Dr Feusner, she co-programmed an exhibition with two UCLA undergraduate groups – Active Minds and the Student Wellness Commission Body Image Task Force. The event revolved around Leigh’s short film Exposure: The Broken Reality Tunnel and talks from Dr Feusner and Leigh, followed by a Q&A session. This event was heavily publicised in the US press and featured on the homepage of LA Weekly.

Leigh spent a lot of time travelling to and working in Los Angeles but found the big city life too distracting and not suited to her reclusive creative needs. When Covid-19 hit, like many of us Leigh was forced to remain still, to get off the hamster wheel, and she feels it has given her a chance to rethink her approach to how she had been working and how her focus had been affected with how busy she had made her life. It has become clear to her to do her best work she needs to slow down and remove all of the distractions. Her life in Rotherham provides her with that space and environment to do just that. To be home, to be happy, and to be near her parents where she can take stock and build on her USA experiences.

From her lived experience Leigh has come to really understand the importance of positive art exposure and the social efficacy of art, how strategies from the field of art participate in transforming a given situation, and have the potential to positively impact a person and a community. Leigh’s new work has evolved from her time in the USA and she is now focused on understanding trauma and how we store and carry trauma in and around our bodies and how the reactivation of a past traumatic event influences our central nervous system.

She said: “I am very interested in exploring and understanding the various parts that we develop over time within our consciousness to protect us and are triggered at any sign of danger causing extreme fight/flight responses in the body.

“Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilise disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions, intense physical sensations and impulsive and aggressive actions. These post-traumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often begin to fear that they are damaged to the core and beyond redemption.”

This is all leading towards her own manifesto, where she asks three things of her work:
1 Does the work create change in herself, to help her move forward?
2 Does the work create change in society, the tribe, and or the community?
3 Does the work create change in the universe?

Using this framework, Leigh can define a problem and develop a creative action that addresses that problem, always putting people at the heart to generate positive change. This is immediately recognisable in what she calls “Leighisms”, questions meant to provoke and challenge that can be large-scale projections, or in the digital field.

Leigh now has Rotherham in her focus and is looking to help make it a town of resilience. To that end, she shares a few words of wisdom: “In uncertain times, connect to each other, rebuild trust, forge new ways for understanding and unity. Socially engaged art can coax a new shared understanding that promotes good mental health.”

Expect to see some new opportunities to collaborate in the very near future.

You can find out more about Leigh on her website
A direct link to the film My Broken Reality is at
Information about BDD can be found at

The lights and noise are fun – but not for pets


PEOPLE of all ages just love Bonfire Night. It is one of our most enduring annual traditions. The flashing lights, the sparklers, the big bangs…

But pets of all ages will absolutely hate the annual festivity of noise and colour. It isn’t much fun for cats, dogs and other pets at all.

The event can cause stress and fear to our pets who don’t understand what the bright lights and noise are all about.

Research has shown that three-quarters of pets are afraid of fireworks, with 60 per cent hiding away and nearly one in ten hyperventilating when they hear loud bangs and see flashes.

But there is help at hand to reduce the problems for both animals and their owners.

There are strategies to keep pets both safe and calm.

Dr Samantha Butler-Davies, vet and clinical services manager at Vets4Pets, said that animals can be stressed out not only by Bonfire Night itself but other occasions when fireworks might be employed.

Dr Samantha Butler-Davies

She said: “The upcoming months are easily one of the most nerve-wracking times of year for our pets, as many experience stress induced through Halloween, Bonfire Night and even Christmas and New Year festivities.

“Bonfire Night brings with it fireworks that can reach up to 150 decibels when they go off, which is as loud as a jet engine.

“Cats, dogs and other pets have very heightened senses compared to us humans and so are incredibly sensitive to sudden loud noises and flashes in the dark.

“As smart as they are, pets just don’t understand the concept of our traditions, and so noisy fireworks are just confusing and distressing for them. They just cannot comprehend what they are or understand that they won’t hurt them.

“It is therefore understandable that the research we carried out revealed that 75 per cent of pets are frightened of fireworks.

“To help keep pets calm and stress-free, it is key that owners are able to understand the signs of distress in their pets, so they are then able to help calm them.”

Dr Butler-Davies said that there are clear signs that a pet is not having a good time on Bonfire Night or other noisy occasions which owners can look out for.

She said: “Dogs often show obvious signs of distress such as shaking, panting, drooling and excessive barking, but other pets like cats show more subtle signs which can include ears pricked forward or back, acting withdrawn or trying to hide away.

“Reports of missing pets can rise across the firework season, with our research finding that 70 per cent of cat owners notice that their cat hides away from loud noises and crowds of people.

“If they are outdoors when fireworks begin and become scared, cats will often try to hide in sheds or garages and can then become stuck, or they can run away and become lost. It is therefore important that people bring their cats indoors before it gets dark and keep all doors, windows and cat flaps closed throughout the night.

“Ensuring your cat is microchipped also means that if they do become lost or stuck, there is a better chance of you being reunited with them.

“It is also useful to walk dogs before it gets dark and the fireworks begin, and to bring hutches with rabbits and guinea pigs indoors.

“If bringing the hutch inside isn’t possible, owners can provide their pet with more hay and bedding to hide and burrow away into. You can also cover the hutch with blankets to hide the bright flashes and muffle the sound of the fireworks.

“Inside the house it is vital to make the atmosphere as calm as possible. Owners can create a safe den in a secluded corner of the house and surround it with blankets and other bedding to create a safe, soundproofed place for your pet to retreat to when fireworks are going off.

“Playing music, turning up the TV and closing all curtains will also diminish the noise and flashes of the fireworks.

“One of the key things to remember is to keep calm yourself, as pets can sense fear, and to never punish your pet, even if your dog will not stop barking.

“Our research shows that 20 per cent of dogs bark, yap or howl when they hear the fireworks, but scolding them will only make them much more stressed.

“Products such as thundershirts or pheromone diffusers can also help to keep pets calm, and we would recommend that owners stay in with their pets to keep them company if possible.

“If none of the above steps work at calming your pet, then you can always visit your vet for further advice or for them to prescribe medication that can help to calm your pet.

“Prevention is key and it’s important for pet owners to think about how they can reduce their pet’s stress ahead of any event that could potentially cause issues for them.”

Tips to help your pet cope with fireworks:

  1. Don’t react to the fireworks yourself
  2. Ensure your pet is microchipped
  3. Walk your dog earlier in the day and bring your cat, rabbit and guinea pig indoors if possible
  4. Shut all windows, doors and cat flaps at night
  5. Keep curtains and blinds closed
  6. Create a safe den or hiding place with familiar toys and blankets and allow your pet to hide there if they wish to do so
  7. Play music or turn on the TV to cover the noise of the fireworks
  8. Use products like a plug-in pheromone adapter or thundershirt to soothe them
  9. Provide rabbits and small animals with extra hay and bedding to hide in
  10. Ask your vet about medication if your pet suffers very badly during firework season

An historic building with a notorious resident

Shibden Hall in Halifax (Picture courtesy of Calderdale Council Museums)


A NINETEENTH century businesswoman has become something of a 21st century icon, thanks to a popular TV series.

The growing interest in the controversial – for her day – woman has also inspired a renewed interest in her West Yorkshire home which has seen visitor numbers swell.

Actress Suranne Jones’ portrayal of Anne Lister in the BBC TV drama Gentleman Jack brought to our screens a fiery, irascible, certainly challenging character who very much speaks to modern women for her firm intention not to be pushed around in a man’s world of business.

The real Anne Lister was as fascinating a character as her TV version suggests, and her home at Shibden Hall halfway between Bradford and Halifax is similarly interesting.

Shibden Hall (Picture courtesy of Calderdale Council Museums)

Prior to the TV series last year, the old building was a reasonably popular visitor attraction for the area but most people perhaps went there to enjoy the open grassland and boating lake that surrounds it.

But now the Grade II*-listed hall itself has become a focus of renewed interest, and quite rightly.

The building was started in the fifteenth century, believed to be around 1420, when it was inhabited by William Otes. It was then owned until the early seventeenth century by the Savile and Waterhouse families.

Indeed, a window at the hall bears the families’ armorial symbols.
But between around 1615 and 1926, the estate was owned by the Listers, who were mill owners and cloth merchants.

The famous Anne Lister was one of this clan. She was born 1791 and died in 1840.

She ended up owning the hall and made improvements to the house and grounds.

Additions included a tower and terraced gardens, rock gardens, cascades and a boating lake.

Anne Lister died abroad in 1840 and the estate passed to her partner, Ann Walker, who herself died in 1854.

Portrait of Anne Lister

The property went back to the Lister family who donated it to the Halifax Corporation in 1933 who made it into a museum with the estate becoming a very pleasant public park.

The park is a popular attraction for local families and the hall has always been something of a draw, but since Anne Lister became a modern-day TV personality Shibden Hall has hit it big.

But what was Anne Lister like?

She always dressed in black, she had sexual relationships with women quite openly, and wrote millions of words in a diary, much of which was in code.

Portrait of Anne Lister

She travelled widely across Europe and beyond – unusual for a woman at that time – and also thrust herself into business, again putting male noses out of joint.

In her relatively short life – she died aged 49 and is buried in Halifax Minster – she could perhaps be said to have laid the foundations for many of the more positive gender and sexual norms we see in modern life.

Her ‘marriage’ to the love of her life – the pair took communion at Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate, York, on Easter Sunday in 1834 – may not have meant a legal partnership as such but they regarded themselves as a couple because of it. It took more than 100 years for the UK to recognise same sex marriages. The York church has been regarded as “an icon for what is interpreted as the site of the first lesbian marriage to be held in Britain”.

The couple even ignored the norm of the time by openly living together at Shibden Hall.

It is an impressive example of someone living her life as she wished, which certainly speaks to people today.

The staircase at Shibden Hall (picture courtesy of Calderdale Council Museums)

Much of what we know about Anne Lister come from the four million words in her diaries, much of the more personal and raunchier parts written in code.

The hall is a popular attraction, not just for the well maintained building itself but also the adjoining farm buildings, including a 17th century aisled barn.

Workshops are home to a carriage collection and displays of crafts such as a blacksmiths and saddlers.

The delightful gardens around the hall are well worth a wander through. Colours, scents and an air of tranquility make them pleasant to explore.
For the kids there is, in the surrounding park, a boating lake, a miniature railway (really great fun for children of all ages), trails, a play area and a woodland to explore.

It really is a great day out for all ages, even without the Gentleman Jack connection.

The hall was also used in the Mike Leigh film Peterloo.
Inside the hall, attractions include a music room containing a square piano dating from 1769.

There is also a stunning oak-panelled staircase which gives some insight into the high standards enjoyed by the families who inhabited the house over the years.

It seems odd then that Anne Lister spent so much time away from home travelling the continent. Perhaps she found provincial Halifax life a little too dull for her roving and adventurous spirit?

What would she have made of this sudden interest in her life? She would probably have appreciated the fact that the law has moved on with respect to same sex relationships, but she may have also been frustrated that the glass ceiling for women still exists in many respects.

A visit to Shibden Hall is an inspiring thing. It can be seen as a journey to an old house offering a glimpse into how life was in the past for landowners and their servants, but given the notoriety of one of its residents it also encourages a visitor to think about the issues she inspires.

And when you have finished at Shibden Hall there are plenty of other attractions in Halifax – such as the Bankfield Museum, Heptonstall Museum and Smith Art Gallery – and in Bradford – such as the National Media Museum, Cartwright Hall and Bolling Hall Museum – to spend some time exploring. It’s a great part of the world.

Address – Shibden Hall, Lister’s Road, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX3 6XG
Telephone – 01422 352246
Email –

The garden at Shibden Hall (Picture courtesy of Calderdale Council Museums)