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How can we make young people feel part of their built environment?

BBC Radio London, Robert Elms Show 10.11.20

If you live in a city, you’ve seen it happen. Young people being politely ushered on from one privately-owned public space to another. With a lack of inclusive, purpose-built spaces just for them, where are they supposed to feel like they belong?

This week ftwork Director Clare Richards sat down with Jason Solomons during BBC Radio London’s Children in Need coverage to discuss the role of youth clubs and other facilities in shaping communities – and how to amplify the voices of young people in the development process.

From Brownies in dusty church halls to the creative, fit for purpose creative hubs springing up around London today, read on below.


CR: In the past, there were much more formal institutions, like the brownies and the YMCA’s, where people realised that you needed to engage young people in doing something positive…

…The idea of building physical spaces – take a new development, if you’re doing a regeneration – there’s something really patronising about there being a financial deal, whereby a developer benefits. In the New London Plan, there’s something about developers providing ten square meters per child… that’s not about catering for young people’s needs, I don’t think. That’s much more about ticking boxes.

JS: That does sound very much like box filling.

Speaking about ftwork’s LFA film collaboration with Oasis Waterloo, Postcode, and the opinions expressed by young people about their local areas:

CR: They talked about how difficult it is to find spaces where they feel safe. They said we have no control over what’s being built around here, we see estates being pulled down, we see luxury flats going up, and nobody asks us. Nobody involves them in the conversation.

And the regeneration of North-East London’s Woodberry Down estate:

JS: It’s a huge area up there stretching all along the Seven Sisters Road. As you say it has been very much regenerated but only in parts…it’s quite an extraordinary coming together. Is it gelling there?

CR: Well I think that’s an interesting point. They’ve got a really good community development trust, that’s a local network that’s really well trusted by the existing community and has done a really great job trying to bring parts of the community together. The thing that really struck me, of the 16-18 year olds we spoke to, they would say we sit down in this lovely manicured area to talk to our friends, have a drink, play some music – and security guards come along and say you can’t sit here. It’s not really an open free space for young people to enjoy. And we create these places, there may be a playground, a ball court for slightly older children, but the main thing is we need to get talking to them. They’re a great resource with great ideas.

JS: You’re right, I know what you mean. It’s fine for little children but you don’t want older children sitting on swings not using facilities because they’re bored. But no one’s asking them what space would you like? No one’s providing the right space for that age group.

CR: We’ve sanitised spaces. Where people used to hang out unsupervised by adults, particularly in London where space is in short supply, we’ve got rid of those kinds of spaces, haven’t we? There are now some developers that are beginning to get with the idea. Like Grosvenor, a big landowner and developer in London, they’ve got together with Sport England and architectural practice ZCD to develop a youth engagement toolkit. And the idea is with that young people will get paid to come and take part in a series of workshops around a development idea, treating their knowledge with some value, because they’ve got really positive ideas too. Then together, they come up with a local manifesto. Now this is just being piloted, but at least you feel we’re giving young people a say, giving them some control, that has to be a positive thing.

Talking best in class examples for the youth clubs getting it right: 

JS: Do you know of some positive projects that are going on in town, in London maybe for after school, for children and young people? Any examples?

CR: There are some really good ones. For instance one that I know really well is Knights, on the edge of the Clapham Park Estate. It’s been a youth club since the 1950s and was purpose built. What they’re really good at, particularly because of covid, they know young people in the area so well. They get them together and they listen to what they have to say, and then they work with them to provide it. So they do an after school session, but equally they go and talk to young people on their doorsteps. They’ve just started doing that again during this lockdown. They’re really fleet of foot, and they listen. Then there’s another really good one in Brixton – We Rise – that do creative activities with young people particularly through filmmaking. These young people are able to express their views about the things that effect them, rather than just feeling that things are being done to them.

JS: I don’t know that one. We Rise in Brixton. Then there’s the Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick?

CR: Well the Yard Theatre’s another one. Hackney Wick is another great example, because there’s a place where, before the Olympics, there was a pre-existing creative community. And in fact an organisation called Creative Wick has managed to bring people from all parts of that community together – councillors, developers, young people. Yard Theatre is part of that. During lockdown it’s been opening up community centres teaching young people all kinds of creative skills. It’s been using theatre to reach out to young people. They identified there’s nothing here to engage young people, so let’s listen to them, hear what they think they need.

JS: It’s been fascinating hearing about those, such interesting projects, and how you, as architect and founder of ftwork are on a mission to create thriving communities. And you seem to have their responses at the heart of things, which seems to be the only way and the right way forward.


To listen to the interview in full, click here: Interview is at approximately 12.40


By Alex Prew

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