Across RCA student challenge

November 13th, 2012 by Catherine Greene in Community-led Design | no comments

At the end of October we ran a three day cross-disciplinary project with students from across the RCA on the Creative Citizens project. This was part of the college’s AcrossRCA programme, one week devoted to cross-disciplinary working. Twenty students chose to partake in our Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design brief which was based on our work in the Creative Citizen project.

Four teams of students worked with three London based community projects who we had met through our media mapping workshop in September. Each community group set a challenge for the students to respond to in order to kick-start ideas for their specific project. The challenges were launched at the RCA with a representative from each community giving a short presentation about their community project and their specific challenge.

Streets Ahead is a group of neighbours in Stockwell with the objective of greening their local urban spaces to create safe places for children to play and neighbours to meet. Their project Grass Routes has lead to a local street, once a space for parking cars, being transformed into a shared space with flower beds, trees and children’s play equipment. Elaine Kramer, of Streets Ahead, spoke about how during this process they have uncovered many local stories and social history, for example, the artist Van Gogh, once lived around the corner! Their challenge, she announced, was for the students to look at how residents could connect their local stories past, present and future to the physical spaces of the local area.

Tate South Lambeth library is a small, local library in Vauxhall, situated in a beautiful Victorian building. Once threatened with closure, it now offers film nights, language classes, gardening groups, and other events, as well as having an excellent library service. Daphne De Souza, from the Friends of Tate South Lambeth, library spoke about their work to secure the library’s future in this culturally diverse part of London which includes people from Somalia, Eritrea and London’s Little Portugal and is an area which is undergoing massive development. She challenged the students to look at how the library could attract, and be attractive to, more local people.

The Mill, once a local library, was closed by Waltham Forest council in 2007. Local residents finally managed to get access in 2011 and begin its transformation into a vibrant neighbourhood centre. With NESTA support it is now home to a poetry group, knitting club, film society, social innovation start-ups, community breakfasts, a mentoring service and many others. It has managed to reach most groups in the area except the age group 16 to 24 year olds. In part due to the London riots in 2011 the Mill is very conscious that they must involve this very important group in their neighbourhood. The challenge posed by Mill trustee and volunteer Ingrid Abreu Scherer, ‘What new services, spaces, events could attract teenagers?’

Three difficult challenges, only three days to respond to them. The teams, with students from visual communications, service design, innovation design engineering, animation, design products, information experience design, design interactions, photography and history of design, spent time with local residents and community participants as well as those hard to reach groups identified by both the library and the Mill. Based on these conversations they developed ideas getting feedback from the community and in one case even prototyping their idea by running a games event with young people at the Mill (and this only by day 2!). These experiences and ideas were then presented on the third day to both communities and RCA staff and students for open discussion and feedback.

At the start of the three days the students had been asked to consider the role of technology in meeting their challenge, whether this was communication technologies or more interactive digital interventions. However, during the final presentations it was very interesting to see that after spending time on-site in each community location, listening to those involved and understanding the needs of the respective projects, each team chose to respond with proposals that relied predominantly on small media and face-to-face initiatives; noticeboards, flyers, events, these only supplemented by a simple online presence. Collectively the teams identified the need for media to be universally accessible, hyperlocal, cheaply reproducible, and reliant on resources readily available such, as an A4 colour printer.

Two teams responded to the library’s challenge each with a new approach to their communications and branding.
One team focused on the library as a wider network of activities that extend beyond the boundary of the physical building and provided a way for local organisations to communicate their association with the library through an “I am a library” kitemark symbol. Credit: Huishu Jia, Jiayu Liu, Felicity Hammond, Sarah Borup.


The second group responded with a new communication campaign, inspired by the library’s original name “Tate Free Library”, to highlight the fact that the library is a free service available to everyone. Credit: Stephanie Johnstone, Lana Porter, Alexandra Theunissen, Jewon Kim, Amy Lee.


The response to the ‘Streets Ahead’ challenge was a series of events based around the seasons with the aim of collecting, creating and sharing local stories amongst residents. The students proposed ideas for each suggesting novel props and ways of exchanging stories using seasonal references. Credit: Gabriele Meldaikyte, Jennifer Forakis, Melissa Kim, Giulia Garbin.


The group working with The Mill identified many barriers to young people’s involvement. Their response was a new sub-brand for the Mill aimed at encouraging young people to set up their own ‘pop-up’ project and a step-by-step guide of how to go about doing this supported by leaflets and posters.
Credit: Diana Simpson Hernandez, Kali Ratcliffe, Matthew Lydiatt Elton, Elizabeth Raby, Lais de Almeida dos Santos.













































With thanks to:

Elaine Kramer, Lucy Swanson and Rebekah Ford of Streets Ahead.

Daphne De Souza and Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library

Ingrid Abreu Scherer and Russell Hargrave of The Mill

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