Prototyping public realm with local young people

24 August 2023

Through workshops, events and design, we’ve been bridging the gap between communities and empowering often- marginalised, young people in Bexleyheath.

We Made That were appointed to lead a team to deliver Bexleyheath’s High Streets for All programme. The team included POoR Collective leading on the prototyping of public realm interventions with local young people and Bohemia Place Market curating a programme of night markets.

Here’s some background:

In a context where the town centre serves as an important hub for several communities of varied backgrounds, pressures resulting from their differing needs causes tension between these groups. Bexleyheath Broadway is home to a large shopping centre - until 2pm the majority of users of this space are retired local residents, but as the hour shifts to 3pm there is a gradual influx of students hailing from one of the 5 local secondary schools beginning their commutes home. Many of the students choose to spend time in the shopping centre before making their way home, partially due to the lack of youth infrastructure in Bexleyheath. In reaction to their presence, many of the elderly residents choose to leave the town centre before the students arrive, which in turn has an impact on the local businesses.

Racial undertones also haunt this dynamic, as most of the elderly residents are white. The students, on the other hand, are of Afro-Caribbean descent, which further adds to the tension in the area.

“The High Streets for All programme allowed us the opportunity to test new approaches and solutions to some of the challenges faced in Bexleyheath Town Centre. By working collaboratively and building a network of stakeholders including local community groups, schools and businesses we were able to test various approaches and design possible solutions to some of the challenges faced. Now that the project has ended, we are looking to ensure it has a legacy by trying to ensure that the stakeholder network built as part of the project is maintained and continues to meet and work to find solutions to Town Centre issues.”
Neal Hawkley, Bexleyheath Town Centre Manager

What we did:

Recognising their differences and joint needs within the town centre, the team ran a series of Inter-Generational Co-Design workshops designed bring these two groups into the same space to build solutions together. Through 4 fantastic workshops run in Townley Grammar, Bexleyheath Academy, St Catherine’s Catholic Girls Schools, and St Columbo’s Catholic Boys School, the participants proposed a series of improvements that ranged from intergenerational community events to design proposals, such as new seating areas.

A key proposal forged through the workshops was a new test route to mitigate the influx of young people in the Broadway by encouraging students to take alternative routes to the Broadway. Using wayfinding flags and prototype street furniture, this test route passed key public infrastructure, such as the local parks, filtering the volume of students heading directly to the Broadway after school, whilst encouraging them to discover and make use of the public infrastructure available to them.

Through the night market programme, the team was also able to challenge perceptions of Bexleyheath Town Centre, including hosting a Young Entrepreneurs’ stall and a Young Curators’ night which included a talent show and local artist performances.

The public realm prototypes have been installed and now sit on Bexleyheath Broadway, testing the ideas brought forward by local people, whilst standing as a monument to collaborative design. There is potential for the approach and designs to be replicated and applied to other parts of the borough.

This process illustrated the value of dialogue particularly between groups that do not formally interreact and the potential co-design could have in shaping the spaces of the future.