Sophie AUMAILLEYTransforming communities through innovative use of space
by Sophie AUMAILLEY for Northern Ireland Foundation
14 October 2016

As part of the Unusual Suspects Festival, Richard Good, a Streetcraft Scholar and Special Adviser to the previous Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, led a debate about “Public property: How can we transform communities through unused space?”

The event took place at Hydebank Wood College and Young Offenders Centre.

A welcome speech was made by the College Governor, Richard Taylor.

He emphasised the progress made in this particular location, as the college has been successful in creating job and life opportunities.

Then, Eddy Adams, festival curator and SIX consultant, presented the Unusual Suspects Festival.

This annual event tries to explore innovative ways to tackle chronic social problems.

For this third edition, over 18 events were held, in partnership with 40 organisations.

Adams stressed the importance of keeping the momentum going after the festival, to create sustainable relationships and new ideas.

Norrie Innes, from Barras Art & Design, made the first presentation.

He demonstrated his experience in Scottish projects, transforming the East End of Glasgow through the refurbishment of the old Barras marketplace.

He underlined competing forces in architectural space.

For example, Glasgow East is a good and authentic location but has poor infrastructure, intergenerational poverty, and is disconnected.

He showed a few projects that helped regenerate this area.

For example, Homes for Future allowed to use community space for regeneration, Action Barras Calton aimed at ending district perpetual poverty, and the transformation of the Barras marketplace led to art exhibitions, first firewalk fashion show and other trendy events.

Innes highlighted different keys in regenerating spaces.

The most important for him is to find skilled and motivated people and connect them together.

According to him, the limit is people’s self-censorship, which tends to lower goals.

He concluded by encouraging us to see space from a different perspective, to innovate in the way we use it.

During the Q&A session, a participant asked him about the tension between authenticity and the gentrification process, taking place in most cities.

Innes answered by emphasising the need to protect family businesses as well as finding a balance with newcomers.

Another question raised the issue of genuinely involving communities in regeneration projects.

From its own football experience, Innes thought that the solution is to speak with the key players in the community.

He recognised the constant struggle against negativity and distrust amongst the population, but was optimistic about the possibilities to find people that are capable and positive about changes.

A woman in the audience shared her experience of conducting translation sessions for communities, in order to connect with planners’/traders’ jargon and therefore make communities feel they can truly participate.

The second presentation was made by Richard Good, who spoke about the Turnaround Project.

In this project, they want to use the Shannon House, next to Hydebank Wood College, to help people leaving prison to find jobs.

Richard claimed that only 27% of people leaving prison actually find jobs.

Yet he also emphasised that while 61% of ex-prisoners reoffend, only 19% of ex-prisoners with a job reoffend.

He saw the Shannon House as an unused space with a potential to help in employment opportunities: It is “a blank page waiting to be filled in”.

The project is to combine the use the Shannon House for social enterprises, employing people leaving prison (for example through a transition of 6 months), and using Hydebank Wood College for social enterprises employing people within prison.

The idea is that these two buildings could become small parts of a larger campus, where people of the prison can interact with people from the community.

They have come up with lots of ideas to make use of the buildings and the park, such as café, meeting space, cycling and walking trails, public parkland, etc.

The project is a co-design structure, with a critical importance of private-public partnership, as private funding is needed.

In the end, they want to create connections within the community by innovative uses of space.

This project shares the will of regenerating space for better community relations with our own Northern Ireland Foundation project of the restoration of Carnegie Oldpark Library.

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