CONSULTATION

WORKSHOPS

The pandemic has brought the reality of inequalities and poverty in our neighbourhoods and cities into sharp relief in a wide range of ways, with drastic differences seen in working practices, government support, and health outcomes. The importance of access to freely available, high quality, healthy, and safe public space for everyone, regardless of income, the area they call home, and their housing situation, has become particularly apparent.


Piccadilly Gardens are such an important space for a whole number of reasons – a site for relaxation and play in the fountains and park, a site for outreach and support, for protest and public discourse. It is also a place where Mancunians of all backgrounds regularly confront difficult and unsettling results of the inequalities present in our city.


So when Manchester City Council announced a public consultation in early 2021 on a proposed redevelopment of the Gardens we decided that we would take inspiration! As part of Can You Hear Me Now?’s work to challenge and create new conversations around poverty and inequalities and inspire change in the city we are conducting a series of creative drawing and discussion sessions with foodbank users and a range of collaborating community groups.

“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!”

We spoke with ACORN Manchester about their opinions on public space. Their redesign of Piccadilly Gardens included shelter, entertainment and rewilding the Gardens. ACORN spoke about the importance of community in public spaces, including Alexandra Park in Manchester and how its diverse population adds to a sense of safety and community. ACORN discussed how there are no spaces in the centre which are non-transactional i.e. where you don't have to buy something to be there like coffee shops. They discussed the importance of creating these spaces where people don't have to pay for access. 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.

 

The University of Manchester Students' Union group focused on natural elements in their redesign of Piccadilly Gardens and added accessible spaces for people to sit. 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. Students discussed again the impact of not having private outdoor space. They also discussed how disabilities, cars and not having money impact on accessing public spaces. Students described Piccadilly Gardens as a generally unsafe place, where they see it more of a transit corridor. They discussed how increasing police in this area wouldn't work, as police officers can exacerbate discomfort in an area.

We are looking forward to more sessions coming soon. If you are part of a community or group based in Manchester please get in touch and say hello here. We would love to discuss your opinions on public spaces further.

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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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.

press to zoom
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.

press to zoom
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