To create a sense of wonder, gain people’s trust, do less and reframe ‘value’ for all

By Dominique Staindl

In the first Quality of Life Foundation Associates workshop of 2021, we asked how a sense of wonder could re-energise places post-lockdown. We discovered that the key lies in doing less, gaining people’s trust and placing value in more than just pounds and pence.

Guests Martyn Evans, U+I and Michael Dale, founder of the Glasgow West End Festival, joined QoLF Associates in May to share how they advocate (and agitate) for culture, play and distinctiveness when bringing people together. Chaired by Jonny Anstead, founding director of TOWN, our guests shared the challenges around their initiatives.

Manchester Mayfield

For Martyn and the development team at U+I, this required extensive campaigning to assure locals that a large public park in the yet-to-be-built Manchester Mayfield development would be a benefit to the community, then securing the funding to support the idea.

Affected by anti-social behaviour in the nearby Piccadilly Gardens, residents were concerned for the maintenance and safety of the city’s first new public park in over 100 years. But with success, Escape to Freight Island, a sizeable pop-up concept with cafes, bars and restaurants, welcomed 30,000 visitors through their gates last summer.

Glasgow West

In Glasgow, over a number of decades Michael Dale had been bringing large-scale volunteer groups and unpaid artists together to put on one of the city’s biggest, and largely free, local arts and culture festival. Post-COVID, the festival has been on hiatus.

The organisation requires critical-mass attendance to be worth making requests to the council, organising street closures and coordinating hundreds of local acts across the area. The containment of the festival to one part of the city and subsequent proximity between attendees has been the key to its success. It is unsure how big the programme can be in the future.

Findings

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both guests spoke of the enormous economic benefits for the immediate traders and those in the surrounding streets to these initiatives. But the discussion between associates provided further food for thought:

  • One thing agreed on by everyone was that for ventures to be their most successful, community and council trust is key. Pavement pounding, social listening, stepping into community forums to understand sentiment are all critical to understand what exists and how to build on it. Buy-in should be made early, and well enough for those all-too-critical opinions to make a difference.
  • After a year of strict measures on everyone’s lives, less is more. When you control spaces with traffic lights, signs and rules telling us what to do, people tend to do what they wish anyway. Let’s close streets to traffic and set people free. Skateboarders may argue that some of the best places are created without commodification or permission. And the process of creating — or recreating — that space, rather than the finished product, can often be the source of ‘Wonder’ itself.
  • And if the way we feel in shared spaces post-COVID is different, what will we keep and what will we throw away? Do we need to reframe how we measure value — something else besides footfall and economics? And how does the commercialisation of some public spaces fit in a post-COVID world, where the sanctity of green space and fresh air gave us a new sense of freedom?

A pipeline of QoLF Associates’ workshops will be held throughout the year, each focussing on a Framework theme or relevant industry topic. If you would like to learn more, contact dominique@qolf.org

Making wellbeing central to the way we create and care for our homes and communities. www.qolf.org