Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
Portsmouth School of Architecture
Public or community group
Brook Club (Youth Club) Somerstown; Pupils Priory School, Somerstown; Chat Over Chai BAMER Group
Identifying the need for the project
The needs of the different communities were identified at different times through dialogue with Portsmouth City Council (PCC), the Somerstown Health Development Officers, and the coordinators of each of the community groups involved.
Building trust and a relationship with PCC in the first instance has been key to their engagement with the University.
Once we had the trust of PCC, the community groups have been engaged via the council. At the initial meeting held with each of the community groups, a very thorough and detailed presentation and explanation of the intentions and the aims of the project was delivered. In those meetings we explained our role, the community role and we ensured the community was free to decide whether they wanted to join or not. A clear explanation of our objectives and what would they get out of their participation was essential to gain their participation. The presentation of previous similar projects gave a good grounding for the community groups to get a clear understanding of the intended achievements.
In the case of pupils at Priory School, we ran a series of taster sessions to capture the attention of the pupils and gain their participation in the longer term project. We ran a “Towering Tower” session, where they had to build castles with cards and a “Junk Music” session where they had to play as an orchestra a series of junk music instruments. Approximately 80 pupils participated, out of which about 10 participated in the project. The organization of all of the sessions was coordinated with the Arts Head of Priory School via a series of meetings that included people from PCC.
- Dr Guido Robazza, Senior Lecturer, Sept 2015-present
Recognition from the University
Five hundred pounds (£500) was given as a reward for the first installation back in 2015. The following activities have been funded by the CCI Faculty Research and Innovation awards. No official recognition has been given to the installations after their delivery.
Examples of the activity delivered
All of the community groups were involved in the co-design and construction of public art installations in neglected areas of the city. These activities were aimed to support the health and well-being of the community groups, and the community resilience. These projects demonstrated that participatory processes can strengthen resilience. They can expand the boundaries of local communities and facilitate inclusiveness.
The act of making can also bring out creative energy that would otherwise stay dormant. Comments gathered by participants suggest that the involvement of people in playful activities has the power to change attitudes and bring people out of engrained behaviours effortlessly.
Without noticing it, groups of people involved in these projects achieved two objectives:
- The first one is self-trust and trusting the other. Children and adults learned that they can channel their creativity and that they are indeed creative. They also learned that it is possible to collaborate with people (i.e. students and tutors) who do not belong to their communities.
- The second one is that public space (all public space, not only the streets of their neighbourhoods) is theirs too, provided that it is occupied with positive actions.
These projects ultimately strengthened interpersonal bonds, channelled new perspectives and pushed the local groups away from their isolation. In other words, they contributed to reinforce the invisible, soft infrastructure of social networks built upon future perspectives and social relationships.
The project promotes and develops tactical small-sized co-created temporary interventions in public spaces and tests how they can be instrumental for the positive transformation of public life in contemporary cities. It builds on the assumption that, in cities, there is an abundance of under-used spaces.
Empowering local communities living in deprived areas to take ownership of such urban spaces, decide on their use and take action, can at the same time re-activate the public realm through a process of appropriation, define new forms of civic participation and regain individuals and groups to it, create synergies between diverse urban actors and raise awareness on and establish new alternative ways for public realm planning.
With the words of David Harvey, the “Right to the City” is “the freedom to make and remake our cities” and this is one of the “most precious yet neglected of our human rights.” The project brings together the City Council, local communities and charities, the University and its students, and develops a long-term strategy comprising several sites across the city mapped as opportunities by the citizens. It subsequently attempts to measure quantitatively and qualitatively the impact of co-created interventions in terms of engagement and empowerment of the communities, investigating the differences caused in their relationship with the public realm. The methodology, starting from an extended literature review and relevant case studies, develops a comparison between the use and perceptions of the spaces before and after the temporary interventions.
At the moment the project consists of 6 temporary interventions (I Don’t Roll; #IHeart- Pompey; Secret Garden; Sound Garden, Edge Pavilion, ChatterBox Multicultural City), working with as many different communities, testing different working processes and progressively adapting and improving the co-production methods. Below you can find a more detailed description for the three of them with the highest Knowledge Exchange achievement.
#IHeartPompey installation brought together the community of young people from the Brook Club in Somerstown, and students of the School of Architecture in an attempt to create a playful and inclusive space, open to welcome different people and allow for their interaction. Architecture students from all years were called to take part in a design competition. This ensured a wide voluntary participation (60 students grouped in 12 design teams) and a great variety of design ideas to choose from. To design their propositions, architecture students embarked in a co-creational design process with young people from the local community. Through a series of workshops the two groups inspired each other.
This long co-creative process generated several inspiring ideas that the design teams subsequently interpreted and technically developed in architectural outcomes which were submitted as competition entries. The selection of the winning proposal saw the ponderation of the vote of several jury members based on five essential criteria. The jury was equally composed by the young people from the community and a panel of experts from the School of Architecture and Portsmouth City Council. The winning entry was then developed into a final design through several meetings between the community and the students who collaborated in the design process and built the structure together in just a few days at the end of May 2016.
The “SoundGarden”, a co-created temporary installation located in an under-used open space of a socio-economically deprived area, aimed at providing an accessible and user-friendly structure to provide a musical playful space for local children. A group of local young pupils co-designed and built the installation with Architecture students, over a series of creative workshops. Pupils actively engaged throughout the process, building small models, fabricating musical instruments from reclaimed objects and spending a residency week sawing, drilling, hammering and playing music. Creativity inhabited the entire process which also promoted an environment of genuine collaboration between different groups, learning from each other. The activity was “inspirational, educational, fun, exciting, and a life experience” for the pupils.
Amongst other things, they enjoyed “meeting lots of really nice and funny people” and “learning many new things…building confidence…”. They felt proud to “build something that people will use…and may inspire some people to help the community”. The project contributed to build trust: trust that collaborating with other groups outside their community is possible and helpful; and trust that acquiring new knowledge is possible. It also helped to open new perspectives in the way in which pupils understand the context they live in.
Another initiative similar in methodology, the “Multicultural City” was designed to offer a new public space celebrating diversity and local culture whilst promoting multicultural integration. It aimed at creating an accessible, user-friendly, interactive and playful environment, able to encourage the active and inclusive use of an abandoned space. People from Chat-Over-Chai, a BAMER group whose members join to combat loneliness and socially integrate, were the protagonist of the entire process, holding direct decisional power in designing the new space and effectively ‘crafting’ it.
The process facilitated learning of creative skills from arts to engineering, through designing and making. It fostered multicultural integration by involving the group in a complex activity of production, which required mingling with many other urban actors and city dwellers. Activities were designed to be inclusive, enabling all participants to interact regardless of their age, gender, nationality, occupation and education. It actively questioned established structures of exclusion and allowed Chat-Over-Chai to develop a sense of ownership and right to access public spaces. The group witnessed their ideas become reality and their choices impact other citizens. Chat-Over-Chai were very proud of their achievement, surprised of having learned unexpected skills and enriched by spending much time with people from very different backgrounds. This experience stimulated new relationships and new perspectives, and helped Chat-Over-Chai escape isolation.
How activities met the identified needs
We have collected extensive feedback on all of the activities carried out with the community. The ways we collected feedback varied from group to group. In the case of the Brook Club we have a series of focus groups before and after the project. In the case of Priory School we collected more paper based feedback after each of the activities that we carried out with them.
We also collected feedback in a creative way, asking them to write it on the floor with chalk. With the Chat Over Chai BAMER group feedback was gathered using a variety of methods including semi-structured community conversations, structured and filmed interviews, written feedback, continuous field observation, and several casual conversations in personal capacity and also at unexpected moments. Feedback has been collected not only via participants’ feedback but also in conversation with the community leaders that coordinated each of the groups.
As part of the research process we have also collected data regarding the impact of the installation on the wider public, and monitored the usage of the installation and the perception of the citizens who pass by, before and after each of the installations were built.
Outcomes and impacts of the activities
1. Impact on beneficiary communities
The project has encouraged four different local community groups from socially deprived backgrounds to take ownership of marginal urban spaces, decide on their use and take action. The process has directly involved in total approximately fifty vulnerable people from the following associations: a) twenty-five members of the BAMER group Chat Over Chai; b) fifteen young people from Somerstown Brook Club; c) ten pupils from Priory School.
They highly benefited from the creative process of designing and making urban installations through the process of creative co-design conversations, model making, clay making workshops, junk playing activities, painting and timber construction sessions. These activities enabled all the groups to think about public space design and channel their creativity through making. The projects also contributed to the integration of the beneficiaries –deprived and marginalised youth and ethnic minorities – in the decisional process of the future of urban public spaces, allowing them to have a voice on the use of crucial spaces in the city.
This process has reactivated the public realm through people's appropriation, defined new forms of civic participation and regained individuals and groups to it. Participants in the project actively contributed to adding ideas and tangible applications to improve the quality of the public space in their city. The result has encouraged awareness of public life and active citizenship.
a) The Chatterbox installation (2019) was co-designed and built with twenty-five members of the BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee) group "Chat Over Chai". The installation was designed to offer a new public space to celebrate diversity and local culture while promoting multicultural integration. Through the creation of an accessible, user-friendly, interactive and playful environment, the installation encourages active and inclusive use of the space. Chat Over Chai members channelled their creative energy and had an opportunity to speak out, decide, take action and craft an underused central area of the city, transforming it in a meaningful place, full of memories, that talks about the positive, vibrant energies hidden in Portsmouth. The project had a crucial role in helping the participants to improve their mental wellbeing by involving them in the making activities, almost with therapeutic benefits, helping them to put aside their worries by focusing on the work.
They felt this was, overall, a very inclusive process which allowed them to talk to and get involved with students, providing a means of integration between people of different ages and different cultural backgrounds. One of the members of the Chat Over Chai group said: "We are all excited to see the fruits of our collective imagination and endeavour. Whatever the outcome will be, and however the installation will be used, this remains an interesting, motivating and unifying project; the process and the final product has been valuable for us all". During the unveiling community event, a few speeches from the beneficiaries, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson CBE, Councillor Matthew Winnington and MP Stephen Morgan, praised the project and defined it as a very crucial example for the city of Portsmouth. MP Stephen Morgan said "how important initiatives like these are at a time of national crisis as we see such division in our society and rise in hate crimes. Projects like this do so much to change people's narratives about our society.". Cllr Darren Sanders, Cabinet Member for Housing at Portsmouth City Council said “It's great to see so many groups come together to create such a useful and interesting piece of art, which transforms this unused space at the end of Guildhall Walk”.
b) In the case of the installation co-designed with the Brook Club, #IHeartPompey, the creative process of producing clay objects has also proved to be successful in bringing a sense of ownership for the participants. Their full enjoyment and engagement in following the entire process of crafting a public art installation was of a positive impact and contributed to acquiring new skills. Jodie Blankson, manager of the Brook Club said: "It was important for the kids to understand the whole process and they understood it from playing with clay and the making workshops and also by seeing the final timber installation. They loved the real thing that was eventually built".
c) One of the temporary installations, The Sound Garden, was designed and built with ten pupils from Priory School to expand and integrate their school curriculum with outdoor music classes. They co-designed with architecture staff and researchers a playable music installation which held classes for the spring teaching block in June and July 2017. This experience was very significant to their education. The Head Teacher of Priory School Dan Barrow said that the project "not only was an unforgettable educational experience for the pupils involved in the process but has also benefited all the children of Priory School because helped us to improve the curricular offer on music subject". Cllr Donna Jones said: "This installation is all about musical inclusion. It will be an accessible and user friendly space for people to get involved with music and collective playing and I am glad that our partnership with the University and Priory School has helped to make it happen".
Impact on public policy consultation practice
The project began from a series of temporary art installations on the public space and, by iterating and constant improvement, it has developed a robust methodology of work. This procedure is now being integrated as a component of PCC public space programme. It is also being used as a mainstream tool for the regeneration of the public realm. Portsmouth City Council is using this project as a standing platform for the creation of the “Portsmouth Public Art Strategy” which aims to define and control a vision for the quality of the public realm of the city.
The project also created the opportunity to start establishing an ‘Urban Room’ in Commercial Road, a permanent physical space dedicated to the citizens' consultation on the ongoing public plans for the public realm and other major interventions planned in the city. The project significantly improved the level of accessibility of public consultation processes by the citizens.
The project has also influenced local stakeholders in Portsmouth to develop a series of public space participatory activities, creating a critical mass in the city that is attempting to enhance this practice in the city. The project methodology has been used by Portsmouth Festivities Artreach and Maker’s Guild to create a series of artists co-created workshops to deliver a series of small artistic installations around the city iteratively. Art Council England funded Artreach and Maker’s Guild with £15K to develop a set of co-designed community seating benches.
2. Impact on wider public
The project has developed a long-term strategy comprising several sites across different cities internationally and contributed substantially to the improvement of the perception regarding the use of public space in the city. The research recorded - via an extensive survey - dramatic shifts in attitudes towards the space following the construction of the installations. The overall quality perception of the space across the different structures – and their impact on the wellbeing of the citizens – have substantially improved the sociability, use, comfort and image of the space. In some instances, quality indicators such as “appreciation”, evidenced by the responses to the sentence “I like this space” falling in the agree and strongly agree category, has passed from 28% to 83%. The presence of public art installations in urban spaces significantly impacts the perception of the citizens on the overall quality of space and quality indicators such as safety, liveliness, and maintenance.
The research also monitored the footfall in the public footpaths surrounding some of the installations in the centre of Portsmouth and recorded an average of 3000 people per day, which approximately account for just above 1 million people per year. This result shows a substantial reach of the project in terms of affecting the perception of the public space and the citizen's well being.
The art installation built in a small town in the south of Italy in 2015, The Secret Garden, impacted the citizens by generating a healthy injection of multiculturality in a very local context. Campi Salentina is a small city, and the presence of 30 international students and researchers from a UK university was remarkable and did not pass unnoticed. The mayor of the city, Enzo Zacheo was very proud of the event and said: “The collaboration with the University of Portsmouth for the creation of a temporary structure in the main square has had significant results in valorising the historic centre of our town and contributed to the effective achievement of the objectives of the Participatory Plan part of the PUE/R/CS public policy”.
Once left in place, the local young people used the installation to socialise with their friends and play within it. Children of the area used it for racing with bicycles, and older generations gathered to socialise around the pavilion after mass, discuss the structure, entering it and sitting nearby. From an extensive survey, it became clear that there was broad acceptance by the local population: most local citizens knew about it and thought it was beautiful and embellished the main square of the town. About 40 people were surveyed randomly in any area of town with a radius of 2 km from the location of the structure and 84% of them either heard or went to see the structure in the main square and of these, 75% responded that they liked it and it was a positive addition to the city.
3. Worldwide outreach
The project outreached widely in the architectural sector and beyond. The research was selected to be part of the Venice Biennale of Architecture, the most prestigious exhibition of Architecture worldwide. The research was included in the ”Guidelines for Resilient Communities” and the “Manifesto for Resilient Communities” publications and contributed to the international debate on temporary appropriation and resilient communities.
The publication “Guidelines for Resilient Communities” has sold 20,000 copies. The curator of the Italian pavilion of the Biennale and editor of the publications mentioned above said that “the research significantly contributed and brought new knowledge to the international debate on the temporary appropriation of public space” . The project was exhibited at the Biennale of Architecture which has 300,000 visitors per year, including specialists, the general public, decision-makers, institutions, government institutions, NGO’s, industries.
Several of the art installations obtained a broad appeal and were shared online via different networks, specialist platforms and magazines, the leading social media platforms, YouTube and were extensively covered by the news and TVs. The #IHeartPompey installation in Portsmouth was published in the AJ online journal and the Architectural Review and was included in an art exhibition at the Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth.
Evaluating activities against project objectives
No formal evaluation of the activities has been put in place. The positive feedback from the community is an indication of success as this is the main objective of the project. Furthermore, PCC is inviting us to deliver another installation as part of their High Street Fund project which could be considered an indicator to measure the effectiveness of the project in terms of urban regeneration.
Learnings from the project
I continue learning from every activity and designing the following one by applying what I have learned. This is a practice based research process that relies on experimenting and testing creative methods and evaluating their effectiveness. Every project has evolved and built upon the previous one.
There are several lessons that I have learned and I am currently working on elaborating those in a more formal way and they will be part of a publication in an academic journal.