The designerly Walking Workshop was a full day of collaborative and creative activities held at the Latin American House community centre and its members, which provides services, social and cultural activities to newcomers who find difficulties in starting a new life in London, operating from the heart of Kilburn since 1983.
The workshop aimed to engage with community members interested in, working and/or living in Kilburn (London Borough of Brent and London Borough of Camden) to: (i) explore and reflect upon their past and present experiences and their feel about different places in Kilburn neighbourhoods.
Inspired by transec walks and from Lynch’s (1960) investigation on mental images of the city, we devised a walking workshop which could enable us (researchers) to access natural settings and build trust and rapport; invite community members to record place-related affective values and hence being able to better understand and foreground participants’ own experiences, stories and memories about Kilburn.
The workshop drew Kilburn dwellers and people who work and/or enjoy the equipment, facilities and public open areas of the neighbourhood. We began with an icebreaker, aimed to build horizontal relationships and gain trust amongst participants, also, bring to the fore participant motivations to participate. Most of the participants came seeking to meet new people and to support sociocultural activities within the neighbourhood, but also to get involved in community development and help to make the neighbourhood thrive, as one participant said:
I would like to get involved in more community development here in London, especially in the region where I live.
After that, we gave the participants an A4 map of Kilburn. The map was designed with the venue of the workshop hub (Latin American House) at the centre, with a line indicating a 15-minute walking distance from the hub, and 20- minute walking distance from the centre. Participants were then invited to identify on their individual maps, and using post-it notes and stickers, their five favourite places in Kilburn, or places that are in some way ‘special’ for them and might be places that they would walk to later in the workshop.
Once the participants completed their individual maps, a much larger map that we displayed on the wall, was used to create a ‘collective map’ based on everyone’s individual choices. The participants placed their individually chosen places onto the collective map, and shared with the group why they had chosen this place. Places selected included local restaurants, shops, churches, pubs, Kilburn Theatre, the Latin American House, and green areas. One of the prime reasons for highlighting and identifying a place was based on the possibility to engage in social interactions with local businesses and entertainment venues, as it can be abstracted from these participants’ quotes:
I go to the theatre because it has a main show, and they support independent artists as well. So, I think it’s a good point to catch up with the community as well.
On the corner of Willesden Lane and Torbay Road, there is a fairly new coffee shop that opened up during the pandemic… it’s more like a community space. It seems like a lot of people from the neighbourhood just go and hang out there.
On the walk, each participant was provided with an engagement tool-kit clipboard, pen and sheets of paper to reflect on each place on the journey, previously designed by the research team to capture participant insights and enable reflection-in-action. The walk took the group to the local coffee shop, bookstore and cemetery. The walk lasted approximately one hour. During the walk, the group also spent time in each of the local shops, chatting to the owner for the bookstore and the barista at the coffee shop. In these conversations, difficulties in coping with the Covid-19 pandemic were discussed, individual backstories of the shops, and some experiences of the neighbourhood and between local organisations.
After the walk, we went back to Latin American House, where we could have a break, eat and get some hot drinks and reenergise to begin the last activities. Around a table, we reflected upon the walk. Discussions focused on several topics such as the role played by various community centres in the area (not least the Latin American House where the workshop was held). Participants shared the kinds of services different community centres offer, and the importance of this was also confirmed when one of the local shop-owners we spoke to during the walk shared that she had done language classes at one of the centres. In our analysis of these issues, it seems important to recognise these centres as crucial community hubs, providing both this intermediary support between local residents and councils, but also a social connection point within the community itself.