The Glass-House delivered a series of online and face-to-face workshops for ExploreStation, a project in partnership with Design Council, Digital Urban and Commonplace to engage the British public in shaping the final stages of a new design standard produced by 7N Architects for Network Rail

project date: 2021 – 2022

The Story

In 2021, The Glass-House was invited into a partnership led by Design Council, alongside Commonplace and Digital Urban, to deliver a series of engagement activities across the UK to facilitate a conversation with the British public about a new design standard being developed for small to medium-sized stations for Network Rail. This station design framework was designed by 7N Architects, an Edinburgh-based practice that won the 2020 RIBA international design competition, Reimagining Railway Stations, in collaboration with ARUP. The brief for this competition was informed and shaped by a passenger and stakeholder engagement project, ThinkStation, commissioned by Network Rail and delivered by Design Council in 2019 and early 2020 through a series of workshops across the UK.

Comprised of two rounds of engagement activities, ExploreStation aimed to unpack the design proposals from 7N Architects with the Great British public, exploring the kit-of-parts approach and gathering opinions, ideas and reflections about how this adaptable design framework could be applied to the wide range of unique communities and localities across the UK, whilst meeting the diverse needs of the public. By partnering with a range of engagement specialists, ExploreStation was able to offer a wide variety of engagement opportunities to suit different audience needs and wants. It was also able to provide differing levels of engagement opportunities, ranging from light-touch feedback to stimulating deeper conversations about people and place.

Starting a National Conversation

The first round of ExploreStation activities consisted of a series of exhibitions and workshops led by The Glass-House, alongside the launch of the ExploreStation Commonplace platform, which invited people from across the UK to explore the design online and respond with their feedback through a series of interactive questionnaires. 

The Glass-House visited ISRAAC Centre in Sheffield, EngineShed in Bristol and Cardiff Town Hall in November 2021 to deliver our creative workshops, alongside hosting our online session via Zoom. At each venue we curated an open exhibition which consisted of a series of informative boards and engaging activities that invited visitors to reminisce about their memories of train travel and stations, think about their ideal station and share ideas about sustainable travel behaviour. The aim of the exhibition was to tell the story of ExploreStation, highlight previous station design iterations and give some historical context to the journey Network Rail is embarking on through this ExploreStation.

We also delivered a creative workshop in each city, inviting members of the general public to join us for a playful evening session. Through the evening workshops, we explored the current design proposal from 7N Architects, delved into the diverse stakeholders who use stations and their unique, varied needs and used a collaging activity to understand how the new station design framework could respond to and be embedded into local places and communities. 

The wide range of feedback, conversations and opinions gathered from this series of activities within the first round of ExploreStation were then collated and fed back to Network Rail and the design team at 7N Architects to inform the next phases of the design development. Feedback was also collected through design reviews and sessions with BEAP, Network Rail’s built environment accessibility panel.

Landing Hub Stations in Local Places

The second round of ExploreStation offered a wide range of  activities from each of our partners, including a second round of creative workshops from The Glass-House, a series of immersive virtual reality experiences from Digital Urban and an update to the Commonplace online platform. Digital Urban visited Shildon, Manchester, Paisley and Hereford during Round 2, offering immersive virtual reality experiences that enabled visitors to look and walk round a proposed HUB station using VR headsets.

We delivered our workshops, open to the general public, in the Bluecoat Chambers in Liverpool, The Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, The Grand Parade in Brighton and hosted our online workshop via Zoom. Through our second round workshops, which took place throughout May 2022, we invited participants to have creative conversations about how the HUB station could land in local places and communities, and how local people could be involved in the planning, delivery and future of HUB stations to ensure they are activated as successful points of connection between local communities and the British rail network. 

Our second round of workshops fed back the influence of ExploreStation Round 1 on the updated design from 7N Architects, before using a series of discussion prompts and creative activities to dig into what community activities, services and amenities people want to see in their local stations. We challenged our participants to consider how the proposed HUB station design could support these local initiatives, alongside the local relationships and conversations needed to help make them happen.

Bringing Younger Voices into the Conversation

We were conscious of the need to ensure children and young people’s voices were also represented through ExploreStation, so we also collaborated with High Trees, an adventure playground and youth organisation in South London to deliver a closed workshop with their children and young people. 

Our workshop at High Trees was designed to fit into their open access play session, which runs every day after school. We designed a series of ‘stations’ across the centre, each exploring a different aspect of the HUB station design. We invited the young participants to draw, write, paint and model what they would like to see in the landscape design, what activities they feel should happen in the activity framework and how they would like to see art and local character reflected and integrated across the station. We asked them to think about what was important to them, what they loved about where they lived and what they would like visitors to their area to know.

Moving Forward from ExploreStation

The range and breadth of feedback, ideas, feelings and thoughts that were gathered through both rounds of ExploreStation have now been fed back to Network Rail and 7N Architects, to inform their final version of the HUB Station design framework.

The range and breadth of feedback, ideas, feelings and thoughts that were gathered through both rounds of ExploreStation have now been fed back to Network Rail and 7N Architects, to inform their final version of the HUB Station design framework. 

In September 2022, Design Council hosted a series of panel talks at the London Design Festival as part of the Global Design Forum 2022. Sophia de Sousa, Chief Executive at The Glass-House spoke at the ‘Come Together’ panel on 22 September alongside Alisha Morenike Fisher (Migrant’s Bureau), Fara Muneer (Design Council), Ben Watson (7N Architects) and Diana Ibáñez Lopez (Central St Martins) to discuss how design can build resilient and sustainable communities. At the festival, Design Council launched the ExploreStation public-facing report, which is available to download on Design Council’s website here.


Feedback from the first round of ExploreStation has been crucial in helping 7N Architects and Network Rail to continue to develop the proposed design to cater for the diverse needs of the Great British public, and to accurately understand what people need and want in their local stations. 

Round two of ExploreStation has helped Network Rail and 7N Architects shape how HUB Stations should be delivered in local places with local communities, and what elements will be crucial to their success as an interface between a national travel network and local places.

ExploreStation marks a departure from previous forms of project design and development, both from within Network Rail’s body of work and across the wider infrastructure landscape, inviting in the voices of the Great British public to help shape the future of HUB Stations, and with them, local places across the UK. The multi-faceted approach to design engagement was of particular interest to the partnership group, and through the project we were able to explore what each of the different approaches offers to an engaged design journey, and to test their complementarity. 

We hope to see the continued impact of this shift in culture around public spaces and design, and believe the impact of ExploreStation’s diverse engagement programme could help inspire other organisations to follow in its footsteps to create more design processes which bring communities into the heart of their conversations.

Participants engaged through our creative workshops as part of ExploreStation were invited into design conversations, and stepped away with not only an understanding of the HUB Station design but also of community-led design processes. From feedback received from our workshops, participants learnt about the “positive outcomes of good, constructive collaboration” and the good future of small stations”, whilst “Listening and being listened to”.  One of our Brighton workshop participants, Emma Charleston, wrote a blog about her experience, which can be found on her website here, and on our blog here

The ExploreStation Report was published in September 2022 at the London Design Festival. It captures an overview of the engagement opportunities and activities, alongside key recommendations for the future success of the HUB Stations. We are excited to see the next step in this project, and how HUB Stations are tested, prototyped and eventually brought to places across the UK as hubs between national travel and local communities.


Find out more about ExploreStation:

  • Read and download the final ExploreStation report from Design Council here.
  • Through Design Council’s website here.

Read about Round 1 and 2 of ExploreStation:

  • You can read about our Round 1 workshops in our blog here.
  • Read a blog from Emma Charleston, participant at our Round 2 Brighton workshop, here.
  • Read our Round 2 workshop blog here.

Browse through the ExploreStation guides:

  • Round 1’s Exhibition guide, here.
  • Round 2’s project guide, here.