Radical Innovation… at the coal face

As an innovator, I hadn’t expected to find myself sweeping away broken glass and disheveled chicken bones from a neighbouring chicken shop to prepare the ground for a Pop up Park on the streets of Peckham, but radical innovation is not only about the great idea, but also about raw implementation.

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As we cleared the canvas of Atwell Road last week, a wide alley separating Rye Lane from the Bouremouth Close estates, my team and I contemplated the street fabric and the challenge which lay before us: can we really transform a Southwark street into a Pop up Park and will this park help children and their families think about the benefits of being outside and of visiting their local parks?

Our answer lay in design and creativity. On our journey through the Knee High Design Challenge we have placed the importance of good design married with service user experience at the heart of our development. We believe our challenge is great – changing behaviour and habits is never a comfortable option for society – but we also believe that creativity and innovation create doorways that can disrupt and inspire.

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Our colourful and engaging Pop up Parks have had very positive feedback but our challenge is to give evidence to our theory that parks, wonderful, free and open resources, need people to thrive. We need to break the cycle of thinking that parks offer a silo experience, like visiting the confined playground or walking the dog, and start to think about the huge potential for children and families: from imaginative play and physical activity through to creating comfortable environments that promote wellbeing.

We have been prototyping these ideas, rapidly fabricating props for the street to engage with children and families away from parks but close enough to signpost them. We have been augmenting the benefits of parks with our park sounds and our moss pit, a great sensory space for under twos, or a squidgy trampoline for slightly older children. We have created large polystyrene blocks with sound-proofing foam, allowing children to create playful dens to hide away from the busy street and our patterned street tiles help children reimagine the pavement through play. Even the simple activity of potting a plant and taking away a polaroid ‘selfie’ image to stick on the fridge, is providing children with an opportunity to engage in activities which, we believe, will inspire them to think about parks and park ownership in the future. Our long-term aspiration is to develop communities of ‘park makers’ who can bring spaces alive with creative and engaging activities.

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As we overcome the challenge of implementation we are now working hard to engage with Lambeth and Southwark Local Authorities. We are teaming up with Well London Southwark and Groundwork to engage with children centres and families from the Friary Estates close to Burgess Park. We are also hoping to collaborate with a GP surgery in order to give credence to the health benefits to the under-fives of engaging in play in outside spaces.

You can track our progress, check out our ever growing gallery of Pop up Park photos and get in touch with us here: www.popupparks.org.uk or here @popupparks