As a parent I am always being told: ‘your children are growing up so quickly’. The cliché is true, blink and you miss it. Someone recently remarked on how Pop up Parks is growing up quickly. Eight months ago we were simply an idea and armed with a few props and lots of enthusiasm we popped up a prototype outside Surrey Quays shopping centre. Thanks to the incubation of the Design Council’s Knee High Design Challenge, supported with seed funding and foresight from Guy’s and Thomas’ Charity, we have been able to grow that idea into something very real and we have grown it rapidly.

Children learn through trying, testing and experimenting. They fail fast and move on quickly, the wiser for it. Pop up Parks has had a similar experience. We continually integrate our thinking, learning as we go and learning from child initiated imaginative play. At the half way stage of the third phase of the Knee High Design Challenge (KHDC) we are suddenly feeling very grown up. We have assets, organisations are approaching us to deliver paid contracts and our team is expanding. It’s appropriate, then, for our latest blog post to share an update on our programme that never ceases to amaze.



Going mobile

When we pitched for stage three of the KHDC we knew we needed to become more agile and mobile. Popping up a park is no mean feat and we needed a mobile storage space for our props and products. But we also wanted to create a mini ‘Fab Lab’, the ‘Fab’ standing for ‘Fabrication’. If we were to remain loyal to our service design principles, then co-designing spaces with the people who use them was going to be essential. When we pitched we said we would purchase an ice cream van but we went one better: we purchased a used Ambulance, an emergency vehicle that saved the lives of those critically ill. We hope now that this vehicle will save lives a different way through prevention. We are so excited about it that we think it deserves an entire dedicated blog entry so, as we put the finishing touches to it, we will be posting more on it.


Being commissioned and growing our business

At the end of stage two of the KHDC we were negotiating with Well London Southwark and Groundwork London on a contract to deliver parks in the Unwin and Friary Estates. This work is now underway and it has opened up opportunities to work with Groundwork more in the future. Alongside Groundwork we are forming partnerships with organisations like Sustrans and Lambeth Living. The KHC is enabling us to build relationships that we believe will result in contracts and new business for the future. We have also had meetings with organisations like Team London Bridge, who are actively involved in the continual public realm development of the London Bridge, and the Southbank Centre who we are hoping will involve us in their Cultural Festival of Children’s Rights this autumn.


Impact impact impact!

Perhaps not our strongest area of achievement to date, but one which we are working hard on, is measuring our impact. Anecdotal feedback has been strong but we know that is not enough. We are looking at three measures in this phase of the KHC. First, we are running playful activities in our parks to measure things like physical activity. We have teamed up with the Wellcome Trust to use their ‘In the zone’ kits which allow us to be scientific! We want to link these small measures to larger evidence that suggest that more playful outdoor exertion can improve health. Secondly, we are running an RCT, comparing the impact of our park on an estate in Southwark which has our park interventions, with another estate also in Southwark, that has a similar demographic, which will not have our park interventions. Finally in what we are calling our legacy work, we are forming partnerships and enabling opportunities for our pop ups to become more permanent spaces or help local communities own the pop up parks.


Pop ups ‘r us

We are now moving to a more delivery focussed stage of our work. Over the summer we are popping up 25 parks across Lambeth and Southwark so we need to be well organised and to ensure that everything is in place, from risk assessments and permissions through to charged MP3 players and fresh moss. We have been busy growing our team and were overwhelmed when we put out an advertisement to recruit two park assistants to help us deliver our parks over the summer. With over 100 applications we are thrilled to announce that Lisa Price and Helena Rice are joining our team. They both have backgrounds in early years play and art and design.


It has been a busy three months… there has been quite a bit of coffee drinking. At every turn we keep discovering and with each park we keep learning. Growing up quickly is both exciting and exhilarating and we have the Design Council and Guy’s and Tommy’s to thank for that.

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