Working with young women in the public realm in Brent
Putting the voices of teenage girls at the heart of making change is central to the work we do at Make Space for Girls. This means engaging with them in the design and co-production of spaces. And it also means ensuring that girls and young women are at the heart of research into the barriers they face to using green space and what the solutions might be.
As a result, peer research is incredibly important. This involves people with lived experience of the issues directing and conducting the research, rather than the traditional model of “outside researchers” coming in to study a problem, extract information and then return to base to write up their research. The voices of the peer researchers are allowed to shine through in the research. If you want to know a bit more about what peer research involves, the Young Foundation have produced a great introduction.
Towards the end of 2022, Make Space for Girls, LSE Cities and Countryside Partnerships, as part of our continuing collaboration, worked on a peer research project involving 10 girls and young women in the London borough of Brent. Brent is probably best known outside London for being home to Wembley Stadium - but it is so much more. Home to about 330,000 residents with large and vibrant Asian and Indian, Black African, Black Caribbean, Irish, and Eastern European communities, by country of birth, it is the most diverse locality in the UK. It is also a relatively young borough and it is a fantastic place to explore how girls and young women relate to their local public space.
The research programme ran over 6 weeks. It involved the researchers taking part in a structured curriculum, developed to support their research and focussed on their experiences of public spaces in Brent.
We are very excited that this work is now described in a new report: ”Evidencing local girls and young women’s experiences of and aspirations for public space in Brent”.
The aims of the work were twofold:
- To provide an evidence base on how girls and young women use, feel about and articulate for change in their local public spaces; and
- To suggest ways in which those involved in designing and building the public realm can engage meaningfully with girls and young women.
The key findings from the research were as follows:
- Young women do not feel safe within their local area. This feeling is worse in green or outdoor spaces compared to indoors. This sense of insecurity is exacerbated by poor lighting, lack of footfall, media narratives, and parental opinions.
- Young women feel they need a purpose to venture out to public spaces.
- Young women feel they are not adequately provided for in public space. They do not feel that spaces, such as parks and highstreets cater to their needs or wants.
- Young women do not use MUGAs (nor football pitches or basketball courts), BMX tracks, or skateparks. None of the young women had interest in using these and felt that such spaces were male dominated and they would be out of place there.
- Young women feel judged in public spaces. They feel awkward and out of place when in public space because they feel they are using facilities, spaces, and events that ‘aren’t for them’ or that they ‘shouldn’t be there’ (eg. playgrounds or MUGAs).
- Young women take issue with many typical design elements and want these to change. For example, seating, lighting, outdoor gym equipment and shelters were consistently identified as problematically designed and areas where improvements were needed. For example: lighting should not take shape of spotlights but instead be continuous lighting for safety and enjoyability; benches should have different configurations to invite different demographics, such as social seating for groups of teens; outdoor gyms should not only be designed for male users and bodies but instead cater to various bodies(eg women’s) and other fitness choices (eg. yoga).
This is a great report. Please do read it. Yes, of course it tells us about Brent but many of the views that the young women express will be echoed by young women across the UK. The evidence base is getting stronger and stronger: it is time to change; and it is time to make space for girls.