Public Interest Design

Design is meeting needs

We recently attended a ‘design quality’ conference for the built environment. One workshop titled, ‘Winning the hearts and minds’ was subtitled, ‘Engaging the community to obtain a YIMBY instead of a NIMBY (not in my back yard),’ or ‘How to assure you get your design through planning without local opposition’.

There is a disconnect in that thinking that says quality design is not a result of quality engagement, but rather, engagement is simply a tool to gain people’s favour (and that we already know what quality design is, so why would we need to learn from those who live and work in the context we’re designing for?)

What our project with Emmaus St Albans shows is that quality engagement at the outset of the design process is vital for a design that eventually does what it’s supposed to do - meet users needs.

In 2014 we began working with homelessness charity Emmaus UK in collaboration with Ryder and CRASH. We led a participatory design process to define the brief for an expansion of their building in St Albans. This building is responsible for housing, training and employing 33 formerly homeless people.

Emmaus UK supported over 700 homeless men and women in 2017, known as companions. In the same year the social enterprise arm of Emmaus UK - their shops - recycled or reused 3,302 tonnes of items. The shops are central to the charity’s success. They provide opportunities for companions to rehabilitate, learn and grow, while supporting the financial sustainability of the charity.

We gained insight into the experience and needs of those using the building - the companions, staff, leadership and trustees through a range of human-centred research methods including co-design workshops, participatory photography and in-depth interviews.

As a result of the engagement a consensus was reached to expand the storage and shop floor space, something that came as a surprise to then Chief Executive, Tony Ferrier, who believed the companions would have chosen first to expand their own leisure space.

Companion
Companions

We evaluated the project at the end of 2018, nearly 18 months after the building opened in its new form. Since the completion of the expansion, “profitability went up 23%”. Tony believes this is a result of simply having more items to sell. The expanded space and storage has allowed staff to better look after and store items, creating an improved experience for them and for customers.

The St Albans location has added resiliency to the greater Emmaus Hertfordshire branches. One staff member shares,

It’s taken a bit of pressure off. We have another shop that isn’t doing quite as well. It still means that we’re keeping steady. [It’s] a safety net.

Our early design workshops revealed that there was a fundamental issue with loading furniture and other goods into the shop. There were between 7 and 10 tonnes of furniture going through the front door each year, which caused “havoc” one companion described.

It’s made a vast improvement on the shop. I could remember one time we were having to lug an item, trying to stack it in there and trying to lift [sofas, king sized beds and stuff like that] past customers without hitting them... trying to get it through that front door, which is not exactly the biggest.
Companion

Friction with customers before the extension led to tense altercations. This friction was aggravated by the physical and psychological state the companions may be in at any particular time. One companion shared, “a lot of people that come in here they suffer from anxiety, depression… not able to talk to people. When I first moved in here, I had really bad anxiety”.

What we heard in our evaluation is that the new space has gone a long way to address the range of needs for the range of users. As a result of the building “you’re not banging around so much, you’re not trying to dodge customers” and “we don’t have customers diving on us before the furniture’s even been put up”.

Since construction, companions and staff have noticed a range of positive outcomes. Aside from, “it has made life a lot easier” the expanded space has ultimately resulted in:

  • Increased safety in the management of stock coming into and out of the shop - greater ease of working

  • More opportunities for companions to work and grow

  • Fewer mistakes, particularly around merchandising - greater confidence working on the shop floor

  • Reduced friction between companions and customers

  • A greater sense of place and belonging in the building

  • More professional layout of goods

These outcomes came to be because we facilitated a participatory discussion, reaching a consensus which served everyone - financial sustainability and dynamism for the organisation, an expanded and coherent shopping experience for customers and physical and psychological security for companions.

To learn more visit the project page >>

 

Author: N. Ardaiz

Our community-driven approach

Over a quarter of Bangladesh's population now live in towns and cities. Rapid urbanisation, coupled with limited financial and physical capacity, has put significant strain on these areas.

To date, the Government of Bangladesh has mostly ignored the growth of informal settlements, or reacted by evicting squatters. New approaches to the urban context are needed.

Throughout the world, slums upgrading is often done through investments in neighbourhood improvement that result in de facto security of tenure for the urban poor. This in turn allows families to incrementally improve their shelter conditions, thereby improving human capital, and leading to synergies in savings, employment and poverty reduction, and gradually incorporating informal settlements into city development.
— Pro-poor slums integration / The World Bank

Global experiences show that slums upgrading requires strong engagement from urban poor communities for a number of reasons.

  1. Slums and informal settlements are dynamic and variable. No single solution is suitable for all situations. Engagement is essential to create locally relevant and contextually appropriate solutions.

  2. Government delivery and private sector engagement can crowd out the poor. A community-driven approach ensures that those involved in designing and implementing initiatives are also the beneficiaries.

  3. As governments are slow to address urban improvements for slums, community-driven approaches are often the only alternative.

Our current project will pilot a community-driven approach to improve living conditions in an urban slum of Bangladesh. This will be achieved by mobilising the community, supporting committee capacity building, facilitating access to banking facilities and improving infrastructure.

We're working with a group of 50 households in Jogen Babu Maath slum, in the northwest of the country. We've worked with the community since 2010, but now we're taking our engagement to the next level.

 

Author: J. Ashbridge

Meet Tarindaro

Tarindaro is the head of a family of five in rural, northwest Bangladesh.

When we met him in 2012, he was working as a day labourer in agriculture. As the sole income earner, he brought in 100 - 250 taka (85p - £2.14) per day. The work was seasonal and unreliable, which meant he often took out loans to cover the cost of basic food items such as rice and vegetables.

The family lived in a one-room earthen house, only 7.5m2 in size with no personal water source, no access to sanitation facilities and no electricity. They were chosen by their community to work with us and co-design a new prototype house to improve living conditions.

(Photo: J. Ashbridge)

(Photo: J. Ashbridge)

Tarindaro worked full time on the project, alongside our construction staff, to build his own home. He was involved in all stages from design and purchase of materials to construction and finishing. Tarindaro is now the biggest advocate in the area for improved building techniques. He also has the skills and expertise to work in construction ensuring a consistent source of income for his family.

Read more about the project >>

 

Author: J. Ashbridge