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ExploreStation: Creative conversations about the future of British railway stations and local places

Posted on 10 June 2022

Written by:

Elly Mead

Rail travel is as British as crumpets and tea, an iconic feature of the landscape which connects our cities, towns and villages. From steam trains to HS2, rail shapes how we think about travel within our shores, and now Network Rail is building on this historic relationship with rail through ExploreStation. 

We were invited into the ExploreStation partnership by Design Council, alongside Commonplace and Digital Urban, to deliver a series of engagement activities across the UK which aimed to facilitate a conversation with the British public about the new HUB station design being developed for small to medium-sized stations by 7N Architects for Network Rail.

Our ExploreStation story starts back in 2021, when we delivered our first round of interactive exhibitions and creative workshops in Sheffield, Bristol, Cardiff and online. You can read more about these workshops in our blog here. The feedback and ideas we collected during these sessions were fed back to the design team at 7N Architects and Network Rail to help to inform the continued design development of the HUB station.

A New Round of Conversations

Round 2 saw us deliver another series of open workshops to the general public, this time to understand how these stations can land in local places, and how local people can be involved in the conversations that make these stations possible. We held workshops at Bluecoat Chambers in Liverpool, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, the Grand Parade in Brighton and online, and then delivered a closed workshop with children and young people at High Trees in South London to ensure that we were also making space for younger voices in ExploreStation.

Young people at our High Tree workshop in South London thinking about what they would want to include in a mural to reflect their neighbourhood. Image Credit: Eddie Macdonald Photography

Digital Urban toured the country with their immersive VR experiences during this round, visiting Shildon, Manchester, Paisley and Hereford with their immersive virtual reality experiences. Using VR headsets, attendees to these sessions were able to look and walk round a proposed HUB station, modelled using the latest information from 7N Architects. The ExploreStation Commonplace platform was also open for this second round, allowing anyone who has access to the internet to explore the proposed HUB station and feed back their opinion.

Facilitating Diverse Conversations about Local Places

Our Glass-House workshops invited a diverse range of 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 open workshops each started with an information presentation which talked people through the proposed HUB station and the kit of parts approach to creating a design standard for small to medium-sized rail stations, which creates a clear national Network Rail brand whilst giving space to showcase local identity. The HUB station is a complex proposed design solution, so we produced our ExploreStation Guide booklet as a print resource to support this element of the workshops, providing attendees with a copy of the information to take home with them. We then used a series of conversation prompts and a creative activity to dig into what community activities, services and amenities people wanted to see in their local stations, before unpicking how the proposed HUB station design could support these initiatives, alongside the local relationships and conversations needed to help make them happen. 

Participants at our Brighton workshop getting stuck in. Read more about the session from an attendee’s perspective in our guest blog from Emma Charleston. 

Our workshop at High Trees had to be structured slightly differently, not only to invite younger people into the conversation with us, but also to fit with High Tree’s open access play session. This is an after-school session where the children and young people at High Trees, whose amenities include a large adventure playground, are free to explore and play as they would like. We created several ‘stations’ across the centre, each looking at a different aspect of the HUB station and inviting the young people to draw, write, paint and model what they would do in each of these unique station spaces. We also produced a series of playful resources, including an activity book for the young people to record what they had made, to support this workshop.

Image Credit: Eddie Macdonald Photography

Feeding into the Future of Rail Stations

The engagement activities for ExploreStation are now over, and in the coming weeks and months our partnership will be hard at work pulling together the varied opinions, ideas and responses from all of the wonderful attendees and participants who lent their voices to the ExploreStation journey. This report will be fed back to Network Rail and 7N Architects, who will be launching the new proposed HUB Station model later this year, which will include guidance for how they should be implemented in locales.

Keep an eye on our blog for project updates in the coming months, and a huge thank you to everyone who attended an ExploreStation workshop or event. 

Read more about the ExploreStation Journey…