During June, we took prototyping to the next level. Going beyond workshop contained, model making and pipe-cleaner environments into the real world.
It was stressful and uncomfortable. We didn’t have funding at this stage, so were trying to find low cost ways to bring ideas developed in our Her Barking workshop into real life — to exist on the street.
We hoped that in the process we:
Didn’t get sued or in trouble with any authority
That none of the things some people thought might happen did (e.g. hang themselves on festoon lighting)
Bring some DIO (do it ourselves) joy to local residents through our interventions
Spark new conversations about how spaces could be — ignite a flame for reimagining
Build a bigger movement of local people to take Her Barking forward
Why bother? LBBD Council data tells us over half the population of Barking (mostly women, older and disabled people) don’t feel safe in the Town Centre. There’s a big gap between the perception of safety and actual crime figures when compared to other boroughs with similar crime rates.
We want to harness the creativity of everyone and use a collaborative and human centred-design approach — applying it to the built environment. Our behaviour is shaped by the conditions and environments around us. We want to explore the impact of temporarily transforming spaces, identified as not feeling safe, in the town centre, on how safe people feel — and therefore — how open they are to social connection. If you don’t know already, Street Space are in the business of building community through changes to streets and spaces.
In a borough where building trust both between citizens and between citizens and authorities is recognised as one of the biggest challenges, we think that creatively addressing the narratives of fear and perceptions of (un-safety) through temporarily providing a new narrative or experience in a space could be the first step.
We know that the stories we tell ourselves are what we become…If for twenty years you’ve been walking down this alleyway scared for your life of being raped, attacked or robbed then no stats or evidence about crime levels or the likelihood of this is going to change your reality. We have to try something different. Equally if someone asks you in a consultation — how would you improve this space — you’re unlikely to be able to imagine something different. You’re living in fear, operating at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — fight or flight mode on standby.
“Two people were raped here a few years ago”
“It’s just an alleyway — there’s not much you can do”
Throughout our collaborative design process we changed the question and applied a new context: ‘If you were holding your best friend’s birthday party in this alleyway — how would you change it with £50?’ It’s this question that prompted a huge richness of ideas for us to explore. We couldn’t leave the ideas here. We had to try and bring them to life.
After months of talks and meetings with the local authority representatives and other landowners we found ourselves live prototyping the ideas across four spaces in the Town Centre.
These prototypes weren’t perfect. They didn’t look very ‘professional’ or ‘polished’, they were installed by a merry band of passionate volunteers all keen to explore the same question — can we change collective narratives of a place and individual perceptions through low cost, temporary interventions? How does this impact on people’s sense of safety and openness to connection? How can we capture this?
We don’t have all the answers and this is very much a work in progress. But surely — if we want a world where people share a collective ambition to make change and feel a part of that change, prototyping (in the built environment) can provide that link — literally showing people that it’s ok to have a go. To look at problem and bring something of yourself to try and fix it. To apply our creative ideas and agency to our local spaces and places — to show that they are not fixed — we can reimagine and use our skills and talents to re-shape, reinvent and repurpose.
“I rang my mum straight away when I saw the lights, and said oh my god, it looks like they’re doing a festival here!”
Through the process of being in the spaces, setting up our experiments and monitoring any changes in behaviour through surveys and observation we met with over 50 residents who want to be a part of this movement. Who want to get involved and make change.
By offering the invitation and opportunity by showing up and doing what we can, we can work towards something much bigger. When a fancy designer comes in, or the local authority with a new plan for regeneration, or a consultation consultancy with their expensive boards on easels — a little bit of each of us loses agency. We believe and are told, it’s not up to us. This alleyway is someone else’s problem, not ours.
By putting something out into the world in its nascent form — an idea, waiting to be shaped, iterated and adapted in public we can truly see what it takes to make change and believe that maybe this too is within our capacity as citizens and members of a community that can thrive.
“People are talking to each other — it’s friendly and colourful!”