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In April 2020, we started to discuss our local public spaces with people that use Manchester Central Foodbank, beginning to ‘Redesign Piccadilly Gardens’ in creative activity sessions. Reimagining the Gardens, which introduced policy-making in a fun and visual way, was responded to with lots of enthusiasm. Following this, we then opened up this conversation about public spaces (and how we can change them for the better) with other organisations across Manchester. 

 

The sessions began with a drawing activity to reimagine the Gardens, which produced hundreds of original and creative interpretations of the future space that you can see around the exhibition today. We grew this activity into group discussions reflecting on participants’ experiences of how inequalities, poverty or low income affect how we were able to use public spaces. 

 

These citizens are ‘experts through experience’, each bringing unique insights informed by using the space on a regular basis. Perhaps they are mothers with young children, visually impaired or facing financial difficulties, gathering all these different challenges and stories together helps us to create a space that reflects the needs of all citizens.

Ideas ranged from the serious (community-owned gardens and sheltered spaces) to the silly (water slides and wrestling rings to settle town disputes)!

We worked with a range of diverse groups across the city including Manchester Central Foodbank users, Invisible (Manchester)'s guides with experience of homelessness, adult learners at Back On Track, a mental health support group at No.93 Wellbeing Centre in Harpurhey, ACORN Housing union, University of Manchester Students' Union, local youth activists at our Changemaker Meet-up event and some members of the Disabled People’s Access Group. 

The responses from these sessions, both visual and spoken, are being translated into a series of tapestries by artist and campaign co-producer Freya Bruce. These colourful pieces weave together the voices of a diverse group of Mancunians into a piece of art.

“It would be nice to have a community garden with wildflowers and tomatoes, or a little pond with real fish. In the trees, I drew a little bird house, so wildlife can come back into the city centre.”

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“I drew a little stall which is an arts and crafts area where people can repair things and people can swap things and learn different crafts.”

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“Last summer, during lockdown I visited so many different green public spaces and it was a really valuable time. It showed me just how important free public space is. The thought of not having access to these spaces is worrying as they really are a solace.”

“I have seen old pictures of what Piccadilly Gardens looked like in the 70s and it was just so aesthetically pleasing!”

“Going to Old Moat Park is important to me as, due to my depression, sometimes it’s really hard to leave the house even though I want to. Having that space so close by is really important to me. The idea of having to travel far to public space is a barrier to me using it.”

“It’s really important to have benches in terms of accessibility for a variety of people to use the space so that it’s easy for a range of different types of bodies to use.”

“Green public space is of massive importance to me. It helps me a lot with my anxiety and depression. Just sitting in the sun and being out of my house helps my mental health so much.”

“Your income can affect the quality of public space you can access. For example, having to pay for curated public green spaces such as botanical gardens affects who can then access the space. In poorer areas, there is less money to maintain public spaces creating undesirable spaces and limiting access to the ‘high-quality spaces’.”

“There's an assumption from a lot of policymakers that people have gardens… and a lot of people, especially in bigger cities like Manchester, don’t. It’s important that people realise that public space is like an extension of your home… you feel a connection to it in like a whole new way that goes beyond just like 'oh that's nice park'…”

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“My mum is disabled and has to use a wheelchair. If you don't have a car you're limited in your choices of which parks you can go to depending on distance and the terrain of the park. Public transport routes have a huge influence in which spaces you can access when disabled.”

“I recently was witness to a stabbing In Piccadilly Gardens, it was so scary. It’s so important to make sure that we build a space that is safe and people actually want to spend time there.”

“I worry that the authorities don’t try to deal with issues, but push them out of sight. The key moving forward is actually addressing the root cause by putting money into community projects.”

“I think Piccadilly Gardens should be redeveloped with a community focus, rather than being a transitional space like it currently is. It always feels like you're moving through it, rather than sitting there. It’s a space to be moved through instead of enjoyed. It would help address all the issues we’ve spoken about and make it feel more accessible, feel safer, look nicer…”

“To design spaces that are safe and accessible for everyone you need to include everyone in the consultations. Whilst you can never include everyone’s ideas and opinions and they may be conflicting, it is important to let the community lead the designing and ensure everyone has a voice to make sure they can access the space. This is especially important when considering how people of different experiences interact with spaces, and how some will never have to think about certain issues. It’s important that we listen to individuals of all experiences so that barriers to their inclusion are overcome. Community-led discussion and planning is always the way forward!”

MEET THE PARTNERS...

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MANCHESTER

CENTRAL FOODBANK

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INVISIBLE 

(MANCHESTER)

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BACK ON 

TRACK

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UOM

STUDENT UNION

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MAN CITY

FOODBANK SUPPORT

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ACORN

HOUSING UNION

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NO.93 CENTRE

HARPURHEY

+ MORE...

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PARTNER SITES

Thinking about Piccadilly Gardens
Thinking about Piccadilly Gardens

ACORN mentioned how Piccadilly Gardens was dark, rundown and uncomfortable to walk through. It's architectural features seem like they are trying to hide or exclude things.

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Redesign Piccadilly Gardens
Redesign Piccadilly Gardens

The Manchester Metropolitan University Students' Union group focused on natural elements in their redesign of Piccadilly Gardens and added accessible spaces for people to sit.

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Tell us about your favourite public spaces?
Tell us about your favourite public spaces?

The student group described parks around South Manchester and the impact of not having a garden during the pandemic. Students were often vilified for overcrowding public parks.

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