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People, Place, Planet: The Leisure Society Event Blog

Posted on 6 March 2024

Written by:

Sophia de Sousa

On 28 February, we were at Live Works in Sheffield, for The Leisure Society, our second in-person WEdesign event in this year’s series, People Place Planet. This event, in collaboration with tutors and students from the University of Sheffield’s School of Architecture and their urban room, Live Works, explored our cultural, social and economic relationship with leisure, and asked how this influences how we shape our towns and cities. 

In a room that brought together a diverse mix of participants from the local community, representing a range of ages and generations, cultural backgrounds and both lived and professional experience, we enjoyed a safe space for conversation about these challenging questions, and worked together to co-design propositions for change, through discussion and hands-on making.

As we welcomed our guests into the event, we asked them to start with their personal thoughts on the big picture of how we might better balance people, place and planet. Their ideas included: nature based solutions that start connecting children with nature; build shared stories about how we belong together; treat people, places, ideas, mistakes and differences with kindness; continually evaluating the balance between people, place and planet, recognising that it is a dynamic system; responding to the planet will naturally create solutions to human problems.

Postcard on balancing people, place and planet written by one of our participants

Once we had invited people to take their seats and welcomed them to the evening’s discussion, our partner Leo Care from the Sheffield School of Architecture introduced the theme of the Leisure Society and how it links to his students’ studies. In particular, Leo stressed that while the ambitions for a leisure society are not new, we are still grappling with clear imbalances, and inequities across gender, socio-economic and cultural divides, and that to many of us, leisure on our terms still feels out of reach.

With this provocation, we asked our four tables to explore these themes through the lenses of community, ecology, education, and practice. Our student facilitators had dressed their tables, with prompt questions, a rotating centrepiece, props and materials, and in the case of the ecology table, sticks, leaves and even woodlice who were allowed to roam freely on their table.

Here are just some of the great ideas that emerged from their discussion:

Driving Systemic Change

The Practice group talking through their model and propositions for change

The Practice group stressed the importance of practitioners taking responsibility for driving systemic change to tackle hierarchy both within design practice and in how practitioners work more collaboratively with communities and engage with diverse voices to shape our environments

The Practice group model, illustrating their desire to break down barriers and hierarchies in design and placemaking

They talked about the power of creating spaces to bring diverse people together through design and placemaking, the importance of breaking down the barriers and enabling better interaction between designers and the diverse users of spaces.

The Practice group advocated shifting from a traditional approach to consultation towards iterative partnership working with communities.  

“Creativity should enable leisure and social interaction”

“If people designed our spaces together they would be so much better!”

Spaces for Connection & Exchange

The Community table shares their model and ideas with the others

The Community table wanted to see the creation of more accessible shared public spaces that actively encourage connection and exchange of skills, stories and life experiences, cultures and generations. They advocated for free leisure spaces that should be within easy reach of everyone and offer potential to interact at different levels, both figuratively and spatially.  

The Community table’s model illustrated spaces for connection and exchange, as well as a nod to a famous example of local graffiti.

They spoke about the importance of creating space for local voices to be heard and respected and the power of flexible spaces that enable informal and opportunistic connections and exchange across diverse members of the community, across generations, and with nature.

“We must situate, assemble, realise, (en)act, include… Move from islands to archipelagos”

“ A space for all to exchange, including exchange with nature”

Learning as a Leisure Activity

The Education table shares their model and proposition with the rest of the room. 

The Education table was keen to shift the conversation from looking at formal education to instead considering learning in broad terms. They spoke of the joy of learning throughout every stage of life, and that spaces for leisure should offer the opportunity to learn new skills, learn from each other, to simply learn from new experiences. They should encourage learning as one of the key components of our leisure infrastructure. 

The Education table’s model illustrating their proposal for a “learning ground”

This group pitched the idea of a learning ground (as opposed to a playground) creating access to learning at any age as a form of leisure activity. They championed learning not just to prepare one for employment, but for the sheer pleasure of it, and the importance of creating those spaces to keep learning at any age.

“Learning is leisure. Leisure is for all ages and you never stop learning!”

“Education and community interaction with nature don’t need to have an end goal.”

The Right to Nature

The Ecology table shares their model and proposition with the rest of the room. 

Like the education group, the Ecology table was keen to ensure that we all have the right to access nature on our own terms, as a leisure pursuit that goes well beyond the more formal outdoor sports and health and wellbeing programmes. They spoke of the simple joy of connecting with nature, and that sadly, many people have limited access to nature, particularly as they get locked into the structure of working days and office life. We as a society do not value and protect our leisure time to connect with nature.  

The Ecology table’s model advocating our right to nature

This group pitched legislating for our right to nature, both in terms of access to natural environments and the time and space in our days to connect with nature. They also advocated any new development being required to build in natural environments for both people and critters. 

“Landscape and architecture should not be two separate entities but one holistic practice. Looking towards the future, should we take a step back and let nature dictate?”

“Leisure is perceived as a luxury, … something totally separate from work and being productive.” 

 Key Themes & Takeaways

Participants deep in thought during our stimulating discussion

The conversation that followed was a stimulating space to draw together some of the threads that wove across the various tables’ propositions and provocations. These included the role we can all play in:

When drawing our conversation to a close, one of our participants made the observation that when considering people, place and planet, “The fourth P is power.”  Who holds the power to shape our places and how we interact with them and can shifting that power help us create better, more accessible and equitable spaces for leisure? Another summed up our discussion nicely with their key takeaway:

“The importance of providing people with access and right to leisure – whether that be through learning new skills, being in nature, being part of their community or being in practice.”

In closing, I would like to express our enormous thanks to our partners The University of Sheffield’s School of Architecture and Live Works, Leo Care, our talented student facilitators and our wonderful mix of participants. I share the view of one of our our attendees who exclaimed:

“This felt like a really interesting ‘learning ground’ for me, with exchanges all over the place!”