Relearning Place: Student Blogs are a series of online blogs by our WEdesign students, giving a taste of their experience of planning and facilitating the live event. We have invited student participants from each of our partner universities to write a short blog about taking part in WEdesign from their perspective. In our first student blog of this series, Architecture and Urban Planning students from Newcastle University have co-authored their thoughts, feelings and experiences of taking part in WEdesign.
Newcastle University students in Architecture and Urban Planning: Co-producing Space
The WEdesign public event in February 2023 provided us with an opportunity for a safe space to learn from The Glass-House and engage for the first time with the wider public. To help situate our project on Re-valuing Clayton Street, we designed participatory activities which included a drawing ‘in progress’ of Clayton Street on large tablecloth showing a few landmarks to help orientation. Using this interactive prompt helped participants share what they would like on Clayton street – using playful elements that allowed to create shapes – and what they would like to see more of (placing green wooden blocks) or less of (using red wooden blocks). As the conversations unfolded, we jotted down participants’ views and reasoning thus creating an open page with a multitude of voices and views.
We were all very nervous initially however, these introductory activities acted as an ice breaker and helped us feel gradually more comfortable in our role. Moving on to our respective themed tables, a variety of resources was at hand to facilitate ideas and reflections on ecology, practice, education, community. Although never quite in our comfort zone, we felt that, as we all sat around the tables, we had established our position as student: neither as novice nor professional but able facilitators.
Our experiences were varied, yet we concurred in that:
- We initially had to prompt participants to engage in the conversation. Some of us jotted words on the table, others started to use the resources available by way of inviting others to do the same and express their ideas about the theme with them. As soon as a couple of participants responded, it created a snowball effect. We encouraged participants to be playful. We ensured that everyone was respected with their different of views. We were surprised and pleased to see that despite the diversity of geographical, professional backgrounds as well as ages, participants were willingness to share.
- The resources on the table similarly to our initial activities were very helpful in sparking conversations and imagination in unusual ways that brought about ideas that may have been suppressed otherwise. While not all members were at ease with creative material, everyone contributed to visualising ideas and assisting one another. As the discussions progressed, more and more ideas were exchanged and created, a sense of togetherness, of building a communal space through making, emerged. Relaying ideas at the end of the workshop was difficult but we successfully managed. Not having expectations helped the process, but also as it was a Glass-House event, we didn’t feel we had to justify our engagement with the participants or win their trust.
- The exercise was challenging but the experience was invaluable, many of us felt that this is the kind of practice we hope to pursue. The visual and making methods chimed with our abilities and how we wish to engage with people. We take away the playful aspect which we all feel is very important. The ‘in-process’ aspect that facilitated dynamic conversations and ideas. This first experience helped us gain confidence in our first designed intervention on Clayton.
The positive feedback on the event provided by The Glass-House team the following day helped us build confidence, as only a month later, we designed and installed a temporary intervention in Clayton Street to enable conversations about the future of the street. We are deeply thankful to The Glass-House for this meaningful opportunity and experience.
Newcastle University students in Architecture and Urban Planning: Co-producing Space (APL3001)
About the WEdesign 2022/23 Series: Relearning Place
Relearning Place is The Glass-House’s 2022/23 WEdesign series which combined free, interactive events and co-design activities in person in Glasgow, Sheffield, London and Newcastle, with a range of online events and think pieces. This year’s series finished in March 2023.
WEdesign is kindly supported by the Ove Arup Foundation.