Today the BBC Reports ‘Leeds loses bid to give 1950s robot Cygan a home’ Yet that doesn’t make us in the slightest bit sad really. Two weeks ago we couldn’t have imagined a headline like it could we?
So what’s the story?
Why attempt to win a large, kitsch, defunct robot called Cygan, or Gygan?
Since Playful Leeds hosted ‘Playspace: without Borders’ in September 2012 we’ve been plotting something rather huge and daunting. Starting with a question ‘what can bring the widest population of Leeds together being creative, resourceful, imaginative and manifest itself in a great explosion of civic pride’? At that time and event a number of conversations led us to think Robots were worth pursuing as an answer to that question. Since then we’ve been creating relationships, seeing how people want to get involved and developing a year long exploration called March of the Robots.
Out of the blue an old one tonne, 8ft tall, rust bucket of a Robot from the 1950s was announced as coming up for auction at Christies auctioneers. You only have to watch the video clip to see why we fancied him! (Plus I had the words of Geoff, Don of the Yorkshire Mafia ringing in my ears about bringing a mega Japanese Robot to town to wake everybody up) Despite Cygan not being Japanese, he fit the bill in many other ways, who wouldn’t want to dance with a Robot who could lift skirts and crush cans with their hands? So instead of the quiet R&D period we had planned for March of the Robots, and operating on a zero budget type of adventure we thought, let’s see if bringing Cygan to Leeds will capture the imagination and see how far we get.
We had 2 weeks to get our campaign off the ground, and try to meet the suggested guide price of £8-12k and then factor in travel, commissions and storage. So the rather eye wateringly high target of £15k was reached. We choose SpaceHive over Kickstarter and IndieGoGo as our crowd-funding platform, even though it is less well known because it’s all about civic spaces and projects, and that’s kind of our interest. Though our project was rather unusual for them they have been immensely supportive throughout the campaign and I think we’ll work with them again…We’ll share our learning about crowdfunding in another blog shortly.
We asked designers Lee Goater and Chris Van Niekerk to have a little fun with Cygan to spearhead the campaign. Ryan Davies and Carl Milner came up trumps with the images we played with of Leeds Town Hall and Broadcasting Place
Not being a PR guru I asked for help from Dom Burch at Asda in crafting something attention grabbing. I also leant heavily on a number of playful people like Leanne Buchan, Tim Inneaux and Fran Graham who asked great questions, like WHY? Our first pledge of £500 came from Dr Adam Beaumont of aql an amazing business located in the Old Salem Church. Yes they are the company behind the plans for those Wifi enabled free Blue Telephone Boxes in Leeds.
Our campaign fast forwarded our relationship with The University of Leeds School of Electrical Engineering, who were incredibly quick to help out when BBC Look North said just prior to the bank holiday weekend, that they needed other robot related stories. So Professors Martin Levesley and Andrew Jackson of the School of Mechanical Engineering put off their holidays for a day to demonstrate iPam, their amazing cutting edge rehabilitation robot that helps people who have had strokes to develop their arm movements again.
Keen to uncover more about Cygan’s past we made contact with the brilliant History Blog based in Georgia, Atlanta and enjoyed their kind support, and through them discovered the work and writings of Lancastrian Animatronics genius David Buckley, who we now really want to work with during March of the Robots. He, as a young man and lover of robots, heard about Cygan being in Leeds during the 60′s and took the long bus journey across the Pennines to come see Cygan at the Ford dealership he was a mascot in. Known as Mr Moto in those days. We asked for help on Twitter to fill in the missing pieces and up stepped Chris Hope Smith who got the bit beneath his teeth and started digging to discover which dealership and where, narrowing it down to a potential four. We’re still keen to discover which, it’s always gratifying to tie up the loose ends of a fabulous story. Dan of The City Talking was inspired by the decline of saucy Cygan and wrote this really great evocation, asking what next for Cygan…
Who do we have to thank?
After an initial slowish start the pledges started to come in, from kid’s pocket money, to businesses pledging in the thousands and the University of Leeds pledging a further £2k. We spoke to a lot of people within businesses who are keen to get involved in various ways during the year of March of the Robots, and met huge generosity from those who couldn’t process pledges quickly through the business but put their own personal contributions in. We were really touched by every single contribution, every bit of interest, likes on Facebook, tweets, shows of support. One particularly poignant pledge was of £3 ‘kids ice cream money’. And all the way along we’ve had tremendous support from our local authority, with personal pledges from staff and councillors. I suspect given the amount of tweeting and personal coughing up of funds from Nigel Richardson, head of Children Services, that he has a secret collection of robots at his house…
During this rather high octane period there were a number of nights I woke up in a cold sweat thinking I’d gone a bit dolally, but even those non plussed by robots or the campaign were generous enough not to wade in and say unkind things!
What great things occurred as a result?
Well we found 120 people who seem to think Cygan and the idea of March of the Robots was worth a punt! That’s incredible. That’s 120 more people than 2 weeks before. We raised a pretty good sum in all of £7221.99. We put in for the Experian pledge of £5k a day before our deadline knowing it would make all the difference but to be fair they were unable to work at such speeds. Luckily Spacehive broke with convention as our project isn’t like most building based that they host and said on the day of the auction that we could indeed bid with the funds we had collected. So working back from £7k we estimated our maximum bid would be £4k, which was still worth a punt, and was an amazingly exciting end to the 2 week campaign. We asked experienced auction bidder Adam at aql to bid for us, as I feared I might just remortgage the house in a fit of devil may care-ness! And unbeknownst to us he continued bidding right up until £10k with the intent of making up the shortfall. How incredible is that?
As the bids went up in the £1000s quite rightly Adam stopped, and Cygan eventually went for £14 + tax and commission (£17.5k) We wish to extend our congratulations to the new custodian of Cygan and would like to catch up with them with the hope that if they are UK based we can host them during March of the Robots and show Cygan his old haunts…Furthermore we’d also like to pick up with one of the previous owners of Cygan, a Nathaniel M Goldstein of Dover Street, London as he alluded to a rather fabulous and exotic past, and said there should be a film made of Cygans adventures. Mysteriously he declined to go into detail until after the auction…
Why are we not sad?
So as an old acquaintance put it succinctly in an email to me, this was ever so slightly gloriously bonkers, and that’s just how we want it! It’s not for everybody, but Cygan and our attempt to crowd source the funds to bid for him certainly helped us find new friends, create new opportunities, understand how far we’ve got to go in describing what March of the Robots will be about, and gives us confidence that there’s an appetite for getting involved. Our mission is to be resourceful and creative and we hope we proved that with a little bit of imagination and a lack of embarrassment there are fun ways to go about exploring robots, technology and how we can all play a part in shaping a playful city we enjoy living in.
Sure we think there are things we could have done better, to reach our goal, and one might argue that making public your highest bid is no way to go about winning at auction. In fact we owe a debt to Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity in giving us some tips and hints about how we might succeed at future auctions should we come across another must have collectors item.
Well it’s heads down to the launch, and a couple of events you might like to come to are during Light Night and Morley Literature Festival. But more importantly we’re working up those plans on how we make a robot together that’s of the people of Leeds and for the people of Leeds.
Want to play with us?
*Since our campaign for Cygan we’ve had interest from the Yorkshire Evening Post, BBC Radio, BBC Look North, BBC Futures website, The City Talking, The Yorkshire Times and Leeds Trinity News Journalists ! Not bad for a Gloriously Bonkers Adventure