Coordinators: Lawrence Sherwood & Rhea Shepherd
In 2011 we advertised and ran a series of design and build workshops in Dover Arts Development’s (DAD) studio space.
For this event, we brought together local unemployed with no formal skills in design or construction and set them the task of designing and constructing a space for the upcoming ‘This is England’ exhibition out of the donated materials. Integral to the project was the idea that the participants should decide for themselves what they would produce, rather than simply following pre-determined instructions.
Through involvement in all aspects of decision-making, people not only have a greater affinity with their creations, but also tend to input more positively and show a greater degree of care and interest.
The underpinning principles of the workshop were as follows:
- Encouraging people to engage with tasks that they had little previous experience in would boost their confidence in their own abilities to ‘be creative,’ if done in a careful and supportive way.
- The workshops could be run for free by making use of the kindness of those at Dover Arts Development, persuading the tool hire company that the event was worthy of their support through free tool hire and arranging the delivery of the pallets from a haulage company - on the proviso that we disposed of them afterwards.
- Through the use of upcycling, participants would think imaginatively about ways to make use of the materials, as they do not drive conventional typologies.
- New social crossover would be created in the building, and the participants would no longer feel excluded from the events taking place in the arts space because they have been involved with these activities.
We set about coordinating the events on a budget of zero. Expired shipping pallets became the main source of construction material; delivered to us by a freight lorry on its way to the port of Dover. The tool hire company agreed to support the event by lending us the tools required free of charge.
Whilst at first many of the participants were sceptical that they could contribute anything valuable to the process – saying “I can’t draw” and “I’m not a designer”, as the project went on, enthusiasm and confidence of those involved grew and they successfully decided upon, designed and constructed an exhibition space. The main feature of this was a space for video projections, with secondary functions of holding booklets and flyers and an ‘ideas wall’ for the artists.
By working together to formulate ideas, the participants also had an opportunity to work with people with whom they had no previous interaction, despite occupying the same building. They worked well together, and in many cases it was precisely these new relationships between people of different skill sets and backgrounds that drove good ideas. This supports the thesis that striving for greater inclusion in the deliberative process can promote better and more meaningful ideas, enhance solidarity and result in more creatively discerning designs.
Most tellingly of all, these workshops proved a successful route to inclusion, since most participants subsequently attended the exhibition – feeling a level of involvement with the event through their contribution.
Overall, the successes of this project were an ability to utilise the untapped resources of local people who didn’t believe they had anything to offer the project, the development of new skills and confidences in participants and the way in which it brought together different areas of the community - young unemployed, architecture students and visitors to the exhibition - to enjoy the collective fruits of their endeavours.
Visit the DAD website for more information: