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Making public spaces welcoming for young people

Amy Foster from Croydon Living Streets Group describes how a creative engagement project with young people is helping them to feel safe and welcome in local public spaces. 

photos spread out on a table

In collaboration with Stanley Arts, Croydon Living Streets Group has been running the Our Voice Our Streets workshops, developing a Community Playbook with Olivia Bellas, funded by the RSA Catalyst Award. The Community Playbook engages students to tell stories and build new skills in a supported, co-produced environment.  

Young people, girls and those identifying as non-binary can feel excluded in certain environments. The disadvantages that girls and young women face in public space are not often obvious and we have been looking to centre their voices and work alongside them to create change, so our streets and neighbourhoods work for all.

Everybody should feel safe and included in public spaces and the work Living Streets does with marginalised communities, supported by the European Climate Foundation, to empower their sense of safety and belonging is vital to this mission. As Stanley Arts say in the Community Playbook – ‘The cornerstone to our engagement is about ‘uplifting community’... experiencing each other thriving leads to healthier and happier lives.’  

two girls lie on the floor and work together using pens and paper
a girl is writing on a piece of paper that says 'me!'

Art inspiring change  

The Our Voice Our Streets workshop sessions built on a previous project which identified that young people felt they were viewed as disruptive, dangerous and untrustworthy when they are in local parks and on local streets. 

We worked with a grassroots collective of inspiring London based female artists who were passionate about empowering one another and the young girls and non-binary people involved. It culminated in a street art mural in the local park showing their manifesto for change, which defined what they wanted to see in their neighbourhoods.  

Taking back space 

Writer and freelance facilitator Sharon Kanolik (pictured) and Sylvie Belbouab, who coordinates our Manor Park Living Streets group, worked with young people in Croydon using poetry and photography to get their feedback on their neighbourhood. As Sharon explains, “The students told us that the workshops helped them to dream up new ideas about their local area and how they might change it moving forwards. They also visited new locations, interpreting them differently through the camera. One of the participants had newly arrived in London and had not seen much of the local area so this was a chance to explore it further.” 

What became clear is that walking or being together in local public spaces was not something the students were used to. When walking alone, safety was a concern to the young people, with different physical and social barriers to walking such as unsafe crossings, lack of places to sit and poor lighting all seen as challenges. 

Sharon is holding up a piece of paper and is talking about it

Working with communities is important for us in our Croydon Living Streets Group. Through this work we have discovered that young people often feel excluded within their own neighbourhoods because there isn’t enough provision for what they need to socialise, connect, stay healthy, and travel from key locations through walking.  

We are continuing to work with the young people, to give them the skills and confidence they need to advocate for change with the local authority.