View this email in your browser
Haxted Thinking is a periodic newsletter for anyone interested in how buildings and spaces are designed, made and used.

Edition No. 7: December 2021

“We should seek two things of our buildings - they should shelter us but they should also speak to us……of whatever it is we find important and want to be reminded of.”

John Ruskin

The Hardest Day
The 1970’s was an unforgiving time. Growing up with an Italian name meant a relentless stream of jokes about the number of reverse gears on Italian tanks and wind ups about whether I’d be happy to stick with one side in our street football matches or want to change if we started losing. But it was also a time of unbridled curiosity and adventure. Where I grew up, which was a suburban council estate built in the 1950’s, we played outside a lot. I mean a lot. There wasn’t much to do indoors – there was only three channels on the TV then and ours was black and white. But my mates and I were really lucky because although we all lived in modest flats and houses, we were surrounded by the woods. And the woods were thick and dense and exciting and easy to hideaway in. And they provided our fertile and restless little minds with an endless stream of possibility.
And we also had a famous World War II aerodrome a short bike ride away. It was one of the Fighter Command bases for the Battle of Britain where spitfires and hurricanes flew from. When the perimeter fence could be breached, and the remaining RAF men evaded, it became our forbidden playground. Douglas Bader had been based there. It had been home to a legion of heroic young men. The average age of a WWII fighter pilot was 20 and their average life expectancy was just four weeks. 
Shortly after 13.00hrs on August 18th 1940, nine Dornier Do. 17Z-2s of Luftwaffe squadron 9/KG76 appeared in the skies over the aerodrome - RAF Kenley - to undertake a bombing raid as part of Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion). This was the start of the proposed Wermacht invasion of the United Kingdom. Near the north gate of the aerodrome the Scots Guards were occupying a requisitioned private house. It was their detachment headquarters and they were providing artillery support and air raid protection. On the roof of the house, known as ‘The Crest,’ a gunner had his weapon fixed in action when at point-blank range, a Dournier released its screaming payload and delivered a direct hit, destroying the house. On that day, later to become famously known as the ‘Hardest Day,’ at Kenley aerodrome ten aircraft were destroyed and untold physical damage was occasioned to hangers, buildings and other military infrastructure. Ten Allied serviceman died. ‘The Crest’ wouldn’t be rebuilt until 1953.
How fitting then when two days later in parliament Winston Churchill paid tribute to these men, reminding everyone that:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” 
There was all sorts of bunkers and air raid shelters and gun emplacements up at the aerodrome. We co-opted them. We took them over and inhabited these old disused military structures and re-imagined them. They were special spaces for own concocted stories. Our thing was building tree houses and camps and secret dens. And that's pretty much where me and my best pals spent our entire childhoods between the ages of about 6 and 12. At the aerodrome or in the woods. We were fuelled by curiosity and the art of the possible.
On March 15th 2012, I returned to my childhood roots and purchased a house in Kenley. The house, in modernist red brick style with Crittal windows and beech parquet floors, had been in the same ownership – that of Fred Green and his family - since it had been built in 1953. After we’d bought the house my mother told me that it had been the house that my late father had loved most in the whole local area and had dreamed of owning. The house is adjacent to a former RAF aerodrome which closed as a Fighter Command base in 1959 and from which the last remaining RAF staff left in 1974. It had replaced a house bombed on August 18th 1940. The house we bought was called ‘The Crest’ and it had been built by Fred Green to replace the one obliterated by Goering’s Dorniers. Everything had come full circle.
The Forbidden Playground
Dolores Hayden, the American urbanist and poet, reminds us of the manifold connections between memory, place and the politics of space: 
“Place makes memories cohere in complex ways. People’s experiences of  the urban landscape intertwine the sense of place and the politics of space.”
In a psychological context, attachment is the deep and enduring emotional bond that connects us to each other across time and space. And our particular attachment to formative spaces and places is also tremendously powerful. We develop an identity with places that are important to us. Sometimes these are so tightly bound that they become hard to separate. Place attachment can influence real estate decisions throughout our lives in often sub-conscious ways. This most often happens in the context of the home where place-belongingness is most visceral, and the strongest emotional attachments are made.
I’m convinced that we also develop distinctive autobiographical narratives in special spaces outside the home. I’m convinced that deep rooted and subconscious place attachment to the aerodrome - my childhood forbidden playground - led me back to the Crest. The house next door. It was in this place that I found all the strong ties back to a complex personal history, and to my own childhood identity. As the son of an Italian immigrant and the grandson of an RAF officer, I grew up in an era when the aftershocks of World War II were still resonating. My identity was forged on both sides of the divide caused by a brutal and unforgiving world war. And it was forged in outside spaces as well as inside ones.
Spaces with soul
The aerodrome now is a place where monumental built relics of a complex past collide with the natural environment. It is what geographers call a fringe or edgeland space. For me personally the aerodrome is complicated and contradictory. A place of duration and transition, permanence and impermanence, new growth and decay, optimism and pessimism, playfulness and melancholy. A special space, a space with soul.
So what's the point of all this? Well back in the spring of 2020 I created a course called Making Space Work. It was designed to provide some (hopefully) useful insights into how to create spaces that maximise wellbeing and creativity. Because it's in spaces that maximise wellbeing and creativity that we get to live our best lives. One of the 7 pillars of space I considered was soul. It seemed to me that if the goal is to make spaces that maximise our creativity and wellbeing then these spaces are going to need soul. And we aren’t going to find soul in an average space any more than we are going to find soul in average art or average music. And what I think I learned looking back nostalgically at the aerodrome is that soul is both what we bring to space and what we take from it. So it’s inside us and we pour it into our special spaces, and if we feel it in a physical space or a building, and it moves us, then we absorb it. In coming to that conclusion I realised that as a developer I can’t actually do what I say Haxted does, which is to “create homes with soul.”  All we can really do as developers is to create the best possible canvas. A canvas for a buyer or user to impart their own unique signature.  

If you'd like to know more about these philosophical ideas and principles, and how they might help you fashion spaces that work better for your unique needs, please drop me an email.  
Join the dance
So in 2022 it’s time for change. While we’ll continue to do everything we can to imbue our spaces with as much goodness as possible, we’ll leave the soul to you. There’s a great piece of advice in Alan Watt’s 1951 book - The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety. He says:
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” 

It looks like the new year will bring with it new anxiety and uncertainty for many of us. I wish you all a peaceful and safe Christmas filled with love and goodness. May we all plunge into the dance of 2022 with our health and happiness intact.
Down the rabbit hole
If you find anything in these newsletters interesting or useful I will also be writing a weekly personal blog in 2022. It will be entirely random stuff fuelled by my greedy curiosity and effortless tendency to distraction. There'll be all sorts of rabbit holes. The first one is here:
Who is Haxted? 
Haxted is a real estate development company passionate about creating beautiful homes and workspaces at a fair price. Our business is grounded in the visceral belief that well-designed and crafted buildings can massively enhance the quality of peoples’ lives. Haxted came into existence during the 2008 global financial crisis, a time of great turmoil.  The tectonic plates of how to do development were shifting. We needed to be nimble and ready to change shape at short notice. So navigating disruption and change is in our DNA. Our thinking is that property needs less business-as-usual and more imagination. Less stuff and more soul. A little less conversation, a whole lot more action.  
The last few years have tested us all like never before. And the next few will too. The decisions that we make about where to invest and what buildings we choose to live, work and play in have never been more important. At Haxted we are fueled by curiosity and the art of the possible. If you’d like to see what we’re up to, or discuss doing something together please email me at I’ll generally respond within 24 hours.

This email was sent to <<Email Address>>
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences
Haxted · Unit 2 Charnwood Edge Business Park · Cossington , Leicestershire LE7 4UZ · United Kingdom