As regular readers of our blogs know, one of the things that Make Space for Girls goes on (and on and on) about is the importance of putting teenage girls and young women at the heart of every part of changing parks and public spaces: communicating what needs to change and why; researching the issues; and at the heart of designing solutions.
Which is why we’re so happy to be blogging about Greenspace & Us, a project funded by Natural England which has just published a full report on its work.
While not (yet) a truth universally acknowledged, there is an increasing awareness that current methods of consultation about greenspace and the public realm don’t engage effectively with teenage girls and young women (for example in this short video from RTPI and Cardiff University on A Grangetown to grow up in).
Led by the team at Name it Project (Oxford Youth Enterprise) the project was the result of a partnership between a number of national and local bodies, including Natural England, Oxfordshire County Council, the University of Oxford, RESOLVECollective, Fig.studio, Common Books and Oxford City Council,
The central part of the work involved recruiting 20 young women aged 10-16, from wards in East Oxford with high levels of deprivation and identified as having sub-standard publicly accessible greenspace. Six workshops, based in a local community garden, were held with the young women, with the aim of understanding:
- how the young women used green spaces;
- whether these spaces met their needs; and
- what the barriers and enablers to that use were.
The structure and content of the workshops had an element of co-production (as far as was possible in the available timetable), which was informed by ongoing feedback via “Check-in” and “Check-out”sessions with the participants. One of the key outputs - along with designs for a shelter in the nearby Cowley Marsh Park - was the young women’s Manifesto
And what did this excellent work tell the world?
That the key principles in improving access to greenspace for young women in East Oxfordshire were:
Prioritise equity in decision making. When it comes to making better green spaces we have to rebalance power so that young women are included in the decision making process. The workshops revealed that some participants appeared unconvinced that local politicianswould be interested in listening to their perspective, even though they enjoyed reflecting on what needed to be changed to create more inclusive public spaces. As the young women pledged in the Manifesto: [we will] “tell you our ideas when you ask”.
Ensure meaningful co-production. As the report states: we can, and must, get better at listening to young people and involve them in an age and gender appropriate way. This doesn’t mean expecting teenage girls and young women to become architects or designers; but it does mean design professionals creating space for a stronger partnership between themselves and girls and young women throughout the design process, and ensuring that the final design reflects what they have said. For an great example of what co-design can produce when this space is made, see the case study on Umeå, Sweden on our website.
Take safety concerns seriously.Safety was highlighted as an issue that disproportionality affects young women and girls. Greenspace & Us allowed young women to highlight physical characteristics that contributed to real and perceived risk of harm. For example, open football goals next to walk ways or seating areas: as one participant put it “These boys got angry and kicked ab all at me”.
Make nature normal. Build access to greenspace and conversations about nature into the daily lives of young people. We can’t simply rely on exposure in early childhood/primary school to maintain a connection to nature throughout teenage years.
Recognise the right to play.The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child creates a right to play for all children and young people up to the age of 18. But so much of the focus on“play” is on facilities for younger children. This needs to change.
Deliver connected green space. Being able to safely access green space in a way that fits with the (often highly regulated) lives of young women and girls is essential. We can design the most wonderful and inviting space: but if the access is sketchy or it is too far away from school/shops/home/transport links, its value as a space for young women falls off a cliff.
If you have time, we really recommend reading the report. The voices of the young women emerge clear and strong in a way that we can’t do justice to in a blog. They articulate the case for change in an irrefutable manner. If only we can get people to listen.