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Spacemakers, Hartcliffe, Bristol

Location: Hartcliffe, Bristol, UK.

Artists: Kathrin Bohm, Cleo Broda, Calum Stirling.

Landscape Architect: Greg White of Loci Design.


Spacemakers was a two-year project in which young people, aged between thirteen and fifteen, designed a public space within their own community in the Hartcliffe and Withywood area of Bristol. The young people gained a real knowledge of the issues involved through visits to public spaces, workshops and field research. They were the clients for the scheme and made key creative decisions throughout its progress.

Spacemakers led to the creation of an impressive public space that includes a futuristic shelter, a slide, a water channel and hard surfaces and benches on different levels. The scheme also resulted in the considerable social development of the young people involved.

The Spacemakers' public space is heralded by a dramatic custom-designed stainless steel shelter, co-designed by Greg White of Loci Design and sculptor Calum Stirling, and fabricated by the latter, which sits on stilts at the highest point of the site. A stainless steel slide, also custom-built, has been set into the slope below, and this leads into the central area of the park, a bound gravel area dissected by the meandering white concrete watercourse and sheltered by ancient oak trees. Here, seating is provided and there are opportunities for meditation, enhanced by the sound of moving water. All elements closely follow the brief set by the Spacemakers and were designed to be both robust and elegant.

Mark Rooney, Project Manager, said: "There's a real element of play you can't help but see that young people were involved in the scheme."

Adele Sadd, one of the sixteen Spacemakers, said: "It's really good to see what we've made. People of all ages use the space, and I take my friends there. We really got what we wantedit was our project, it was in our hands, it was for ourselves." She also said that the scheme is holding up, in terms of vandalism: "There's a bit of graffiti on the shelter, but you can expect that, and some of the turf has been dug up, but that's all."

An equally significant outcome of the project is the change in outlook of the young people who participated, who are now likely to consider more ambitious education and career options. Adele Sadd said, "we've got more confidence. We did a lot of public speaking and we got better and better at it."

Remarkably, all sixteen Spacemakers remained involved with the scheme until its completion, and they are keen to extend the activity.


Spacemakers resulted from discussions by like-minded individuals within The Architecture Centre, Bristol, The Glasshouse, London, Bristol City Council and Hartcliffe Community Campus. Funding and support-in-kind was given by these organisations, and further grants were awarded by ERDF Urban 2, The Home Office, Living Spaces (ODPM) and various departments at Bristol City Council.

The area of Hartcliffe and Withywood was chosen because it has all the indicators of deprivation, including high levels of crime, high unemployment, poor schools and poor public spaces. Spacemakers emerged, essentially, as a result of a shared commitment to the genuine involvement of disenfranchised young people in the shaping of their environment.


Key objectives, which evolved during the project, were:

  • to involve disenfranchised youth in shaping their environment;
  • to create a sense of ownership, and develop feelings of community;
  • to improve the young people's feelings of self-worth and career prospects.

The Project

Representatives from the Architecture Centre, Bristol, The Glasshouse, London, Bristol City Council and Hartcliffe Community Campus formed the project steering group. In July 2002 they appointed Mark Rooney, an architect with experience in marketing and as a football coach, as project manager. A month later, Kathrin Bohm began work as project artist. Other partners included local schools and youth clubs.

The recruitment of the sixteen Spacemakers was a painstaking two-month process. Open evenings for young people and their parents were held at schools and youth organisations in the Hartcliffe and Withywood area of Bristol, and the young people were required to put themselves forward in writing to indicate their seriousness. Hartcliffe and Withywood is a deprived area, and the group included young people from a range of backgrounds, and an equal mix of boys and girls. Adult representatives from the schools and youth clubs that had helped recruit the group became part of the project team.

The Spacemakers then met every two or three weeks, mainly in the evenings and at weekends. To begin with, they made research visits to a range of public spaces and buildings, firstly in Bristol , then to nearby Westonbirt Arboretum, and later to locations further afield such as Glasgow and the Eden Project in Cornwalland eventually to parts of The Netherlands. They took part in a three-day course about the design of public spaces at Trafford Hall, the National Tenant's Resource Centre in Manchester, where they learnt about regeneration issues, public speaking, planning and negotiating.

Having been "armed with knowledge" in this way, the Spacemakers took part in workshops in which they mapped the area of Hartcliffe and Withywood in terms of its history and social conditions. They also talked about where they liked to 'hang out' and why, and what they liked to do, and they spoke to people from other generations in the community.

In February and March 2003, the Spacemakers identified their 'Top Ten Sites' for a new public space. Their final choice, by vote, was a prominent site in part of Wilmott Park, opposite one of the youth clubs and near to roads and a shopping centre. What clinched the site, however, was the presence of a group of mature oak trees, which they wanted their scheme to celebrate.

The young people then worked with Kathrin Bohm in the area of Wilmott Park they had chosen, creating a temporary timber shelter and a painted concrete plinth. This work helped the Spacemakers understand the design and construction process, and developed their understanding of the site, and was a crucial part of the process of developing the brief. Kathrin Böhm describes her work as being "concerned with setting up a process of active participation where the given roles and procedures within a design project can be questioned".

As an adjunct to the project, artist Cleo Broda produced a set of postcards about the culture and everyday life of Hartcliffe and Withywood.

An advertisement was placed in Building Design, to which seventeen landscape architects responded. The Spacemakers shortlisted three landscape architects, and later made a presentation to them when they came to be interviewed. The Spacemakers were present during the interviews, which were conducted by the steering group. The Spacemakers made the final decision to appoint Greg White of Loci Design.

The Spacemakers worked with Greg White over a period of about three months. They created a 'Wish List' that included a shelter, a stream and a bridge. Workshops were held which explored each of the elements they wanted, as well as the park as a whole. They did a lot of sketching and made a series of plasticine models. Greg White says that his role in the process was to "refine their desires into something workable".

They consulted disability access advisers and also considered the safety and maintenance of their designs.

The Spacemakers had particularly strong views about materials. They were concerned about vandalismand in particular, arson. No timber was to be used, and everything was designed to be as indestructible as possible. Market realities were very much in play, too, when the price of steel suddenly doubled and they were forced to rethink elements of the scheme.

A watercourse was a realistic possibility due to the unexpected discovery of moving water 2.5m beneath ground level under manhole covers at the site. The water was tested and proved to be clean, and Engineers ARUP were appointed to devise a way of bringing the water to surface level without the use of pumps.

Although much of the practical work was undertaken by the Project Manager and Landscape Architect, including fundraising and hiring contractors, the Spacemakers took on key roles throughout the realisation of the scheme. They made presentations to funders, including Bristol City Council. They gave a speech to fifty members of the community during the consultation process. And they were interviewed on a regular basis by local radio and TV during the construction of the public space and its launch in November 2004.

The total budget for Spacemakers was approximately £202,250, with £150,000 allocated to capital costs.

Key issues

  • Keeping the young people's interest - Mark Rooney worked hard to ensure that the sixteen young people remained involved throughout the whole of the two-year project, especially as Spacemakers was additional to their school commitments. Every activity was designed to be enjoyable, and off-putting specialist terminology was avoided. The research trip to The Netherlands took place at a late stage of the project, and was used as an incentive to keep the young people involved. During the lengthy fundraising period, Mark Rooney and artist Kathrin Bohm worked with the Spacemakers on practical projects that helped to keep their interest. And if a young person was absent for a while, Mark Rooney would visit their homes and talk to them and their parents.


  • Child protection, Health & Safety - The safety of the participants was described by Mark Rooney as being the biggest issue, especially as so much travel was involved. It was essential to gain the trust of parents from the outset, and key to this was the involvement of adult representatives from the schools and youth clubs in the project team. Enhanced Disclosure was required of all adult participants.


Mark Rooney, Spacemakers Project Manager. Mob: 07779 809877

Greg White, Landscape Architect, Loci Design. Mob: 07980 622673; Email: [email protected]; Website: www.locidesign.info

The Architecture Centre: www.architecturecentre.co.uk/education/spacemakers.htm

Spacemakers was awarded Best Practice status by CABE.

© Copyright Angela Kingston, 2005