Researchers used workshops and street trials to increase Newcastle residents' engagement in redesigning their neighbourhood, leading to the launch of a mini-sized 'pocket park'.

Impacts

  • The researchers stimulated resident participation and 'co-production' by testing participatory design approaches. The project enabled the residents to actively shape a redesign project and initiate community ideas and actions for change.
  • Involvement in the research strengthened the resolve of residents and other stakeholders to make the plans for a permanent public play and relaxation space become real, spurring them to work together to seek public funding.
  • Local people and the Fenham Association of Residents were awarded £15,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government to build a mini-sized 'pocket park' for public access which opened in May 2016.
  • Feedback from users confirm that the park is regularly being used by residents, with one commenting that it is 'starting to look more like a community centre'.
  • The pocket park has increased the environmental value of the area, with the planting of fruit trees attracting insects and bees.
  • The project facilitated the set-up of the Friends of Pocket Park community group, which contributed to creating the park and being responsible for its maintenance to assure the area’s future.
  • Several other Newcastle wards have contacted Fenham to share process and practice in developing the park.

"This has been a real coup for Fenham. To have so many prominent professional and academic representatives all pulling their specialist skills together, to create a wonderful conversation piece that will add an extra dimension to the local community – it is forging invaluable working relationships that could prosper in years to come." (Councillor Marion Talbot, City Council ward member for Fenham)

About the research

Pocket Park opening. Photo: Daniel Mallo
Pocket Park opening. Photo: Daniel Mallo

Research on community engagement and socially engaged design was used to involve Newcastle residents in thinking beyond preconceived ideas and to transform their perception of the area. Daniel Mallo, Armelle Tardiveau and colleagues at Newcastle University arranged a series of design workshops and street trials to help people imagine how they could improve Fenham Hall Drive, a street in the Newcastle ward of Fenham.

The pocket park concept sprang from a co-production project between sustainable transport charity Sustrans and Newcastle University social scientists entitled DIY Streets, which involves local people in making design and facility improvements in their neighbourhoods. Sustrans contacted the researchers at the university's ESRC Impact Acceleration Account launch in September 2014.

During one of the workshops, the research team provided a scale model of the street that gave residents a chance to picture what might be possible. People sketched on large photographs of the street and expressed their ideas for changes, and in a short trial, full-sized temporary wooden seats were placed along the street instead of parked cars. This allowed residents to try out different changes and assess the impact, triggering community discussion about additional improvements in their surroundings.

"Our approach to the design process was open-ended, enabling residents to think beyond perceived limitations of what community action can achieve in transforming environment," says Mallo, joint principal investigator with Armelle Tardiveau. "The research unearthed skills and assets in the community in a process where citizens become committed stakeholders, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project."

During focus groups residents identified that a little-used pocket of public land between the buildings could be the site of a small park. In response, the researchers set up a public/play space on the land for four days, giving passers-by and residents the opportunity to experience the impact of a public space in the area.

As a result of the research project and increased community engagement, residents and local stakeholders worked together to apply for a government grant to establish a pocket park. They were granted £15,000, and the pocket park was built and opened to the public in spring 2016.