gab were invited through Mapify, an organisation working in an area of Westminster looking at regeneration and development, to come onto the project to spend a couple of weeks with some young people who study at the City of Westminster College. The college itself is located at the bottom of Church St, Westminster; an area that is due to undergo major redevelopment.
gab and the young people involved in the project formed a group. We took to Church Street to explore, carrying out initial stages of community engagement to find out what some of its members think about the area: its history, current issues, and any whisperings about upcoming regeneration. We began this journey together, our latest collaboration, in order to inform and inspire our time in making some socially engaged art.
We started by pooling and questioning our own knowledge of the area, and decided the best way to go forward was to base our next moves on the thoughts, interests and ideas of people who live and work on Church street. So we drafted some bullet points for questions and took to the street for some informal chats.
Through this process we engaged with a wide variety of people, from business owners in the antiques stores, old time residents, OAPs at the soon-to-close community café, market stall vendors, young people, and locals in the pub, who varied in age and ethnicity.
Lots of opinions where shared, exposing people’s positive and negative understanding of their area.
“its dirty” “good sense of community” “multicultural” “it’s scum” “great atmosphere” “hostility to middle eastern community” “Homelessness/Begging” “nothing for young people to do” “not enough business” “i love it”
We collated our findings :
There were 2 keys themes that the group believed were most pertinent in Church Street’s development:
1 – How to bridge the gap between the wealthy and the poor.
On one side of the street, there are the antique shops that bring in a very wealthy clientele, and then there is the other side; a deprived and ‘run down’ market end, with issues of homelessness, begging, and a dishevelled appearance.
2 – To be a street that is a true representation and celebration of all the diverse cultures of the people who live, work in, and frequent the area.
We found that even though the area is highly multicultural, it is lacking services and provisions that represent and appeal to its whole community, this includes a lack of provisions for young people especially.
We also connected with the Neighbourhood Forum, whose chair informed us of the lack of young people’s voices in their process of engagement with the community. The young people of our group found that this resonated with them, and with the information they obtained they wanted to create something that would appeal to their contemporaries.
They wanted to do a visual response to what they had experienced and created some illustrations with the intention they can be used for future posters and marketing material to reach out to more YP.
We then discussed further ways to appeal to and reach out to young people in the area, to ensure that they have a say in the changes that will affect them. We came up with a few ideas for future engagement processes, as the group we formed are wanting to continue working together in order to develope this project further over the summer. In the moment we felt inspired and wanted to create a response through a short film that will go on the Mapify website and will also be shared with the Neighbourhood Forum. The piece is currently in its editing stages but here is a lil snip of what we we’re talking about:
*One final thought about Neighbourhood forums:
Under the Localism Act 2011, communities can create groups, Neighbourhood Forums, to work collectively with their local authority on issues concerning the development of their area. For more info on this act and these actions groups see here.
gab thinks there are both positives and negatives to this act and the process of forming community groups. It’s great that the council and government are wanting to work directly with people who are being affected by the developments and to allow them to input their thoughts and desires on the changes into the development plans.However the this process is not without its flaws:
Some groups are formed by just one ‘type’ of person, meaning the group is quite insular and does not represent the voices of the diverse groups of people that reside, work and study in an area.
There are power struggles; a group could be controlled by just some individuals, again not leading to a democratic process and leaving many people excluded.
Some criticism suggests that by the government forming this act that they are becoming lazy; relinquishing their responsibility to carry out community consultation and passing their jobs on to the community under the guise of it being a user-led process but where actually it’s that they are not actually interested, their resources are tight, and they are getting the community to do their job but for free.
Finally, as it is a new act, how much do the council actually listen to what the community is putting forward and what really gets put into effect?