The Glass-House collaborated with arts organisation Cement Fields to deliver a workshop with young people exploring design engagement and to host a webinar with speakers from across the industry to explore youth-led design
project date: 2023
In 2023, The Glass-House collaborated with Cement Fields, a visual arts organisation based along the Thames Estuary that works with artists and communities. The collaboration sat within their This Must Be the Place programme of work in Ebbsfleet, a three-year arts-based placemaking project tied to the emerging garden city, that has seen Cement Fields working with a wide range of local people and artists in the area surrounding Ebbsfleet.
Part of their work has included creating the Ebbsfleet Design Group, an opportunity for young people from the local area to get involved in the design and planning of the new garden city in Ebbsfleet. The group, led by artist Harun Morrison, is made up of young people aged 15 – 21 who meet weekly with professional artists and designers to learn new creative skills, explore a city under construction and contribute to the design of the new garden city as it emerges.
The Glass-House was invited to deliver a workshop with the Ebbsfleet Design Group to explore how we design spaces, what design engagement is and why it is so important when thinking about how we shape current and future spaces and places. We then hosted a webinar, Young People Making Places, where the young people from Ebbsfleet Design Group were invited to speak about their experiences, alongside a panel of professional speakers from across the built environment and community-led design landscapes.
Exploring Design Engagement with Ebbsfleet Design Group
We travelled along the Thames to Swanscombe for our workshop with Ebbsfleet Design Group, which was delivered as one of their weekly sessions. We explored how we design places through the lens of form, feeling and function, before introducing the term ‘design engagement’ and exploring with the young people what this means, and how we can involve local people in the design of the places around them.
We then tasked the young people with designing an engagement activity to inform a future building in Ebbsfleet for other children, teenagers and young adults. We asked them to reflect on their own experience of being in the Design Group, considering why and how they would want to be engaged and what might attract them to be part of other engagement opportunities.
Working in two groups, the young people used arts and crafts materials to co-create their engagement propositions. The first group created a ‘tunnel’ activity, which attracted people using bright colours, music and places to linger. The second group, reflecting on the opportunities that being part of the Ebbsfleet Design Group has provided them with, built upon this idea and designed an activity which invited local young people to build together. They thought that by getting people stuck in learning new building techniques, they could also simultaneously explore how they might want the building to look and function.
We rounded up the workshop by inviting each group to share their ideas and conversations with the other, before facilitating a discussion about design engagement, how we can get more young people involved in the design of places and what opportunities they would like to see in the future.
Facilitating a Conversation about Creating More Opportunities for Youth-led Design
Just over a month after our workshop with Ebbsfleet Design Group, we hosted the Young People Making Places webinar. The evening brought together a range of inspiring voices from across placemaking, built environment design and community landscapes for an online conversation exploring how we can make more room for youth-led design.
Our first speakers were Aleyna, Precious and Harry, young people from Ebbsfleet Design Group who shared their reflections on being involved with the group, how they first heard about the opportunity and what their favourite part of the programme to date has been. They rounded up their slot by sharing why they felt it was so important to include more young people in design conversations, and how their opinions, thoughts and feelings are so crucial as the current and future of our towns and cities.
We were also joined by; Larry Botchway from POor Collective, a socially-minded organisation that focuses on the development of communities through the elevation of young people; Anna Francis from The Portland Inn Project, an arts and community-led organisation in Stoke-on-Trent that addresses inequalities of access to social, cultural and sporting activities for people of all ages; Sahra Hersi, an artist, spatial designer and educator who works with young people with an methods of care and participation; and Huan Rimington, founding director of Build Up, a London-based charity running practical construction projects with young people.
Our speakers provided a fascinating glimpse into a variety of youth-led design, architecture and placemaking projects and offered a provocative invitation for others to make more space for young people within their work and processes.
You can watch a recording of the webinar here.
Through working with young people from Ebbsfleet Design Group, we wanted to help the young people understand the context of the engagement journey they were a part of in Ebbsfleet, and reflect on their experience to propose new ideas for getting more young people involved in design thinking. We made space for the young people to develop ideas about bringing people into design conversations, as well as explore how places are shaped and why bringing multiple voices into design journeys is vital in making places.
Inviting Aleyna, Precious and Harvey into the webinar space as speakers gave them a platform to share their ideas and thoughts, and for students, professionals and others in the online space to get a view into a young person’s first-hand experience and perspective or being involved in built environment projects. It helped to develop the young people’s confidence and public speaking skills, which will serve them well as they progress on their educational and professional journeys.
Hosting a webinar with diverse voices from across different placemaking sectors created an opportunity to influence youth-led design thinking and engagement across different disciplines. It was important for us to include young professionals in this space, whose practice is pushing the boundaries of youth-led design and engagement. We were joined by a varied audience from across many different backgrounds, and we hope the webinar served as an inspirational space which will inform others’ approaches to working with young people.
More from the project:
Other Glass-House projects working with young people:
- Workshops with The Baytree Centre here in summer 2022.
- In May 2022, we worked with a group of children and young people at High Trees Adventure Playground in Tulse Hill, South London, as part of our ExploreStation project, which explored a new station design from Network Rail. Read about the workshop in our blog here.
- Our State of Play workshop, which used Roblox Studios to introduce children to design principles. Read about our workshop in Sheffield in 2022 here, and in London in 2023 here.
- We also worked with another group of Year 6 students at The Willow School at Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham, North London, exploring design through our gaming workshop. Read about the workshop here.
- Read about our digital workshop with Year 6 Students that explored the heritage at Union Chapel, in our report here, our Innovating Practice story here or from the perspective of Barbara Basini, Head of Conservation and Building Projects at Union Chapel, in her blog here.
- Our work with St James and Secondary School Phoenix High School, to give local young people an opportunity to engage in design thinking and build their employability skills, here.
- Our work with a group of young people in Ludgershall to explore how they could champion and inform the provision of a new skatepark in their local area, here.
- Our Scaling Up Design Champions project, which saw us work with young people in Elephant & Castle to explore their relationship with their environment and share ideas for the future of their place – here.