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Creative Citizen Student Challenge

29 Oct - 1 November 2012, Royal College of Art
Part of AcrossRCA interdisciplinary collaboration week at the RCA

Gail Ramster and Catherine Greene from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design ran a three-day cross-disciplinary project with students from across the Royal College of Art called the Creative Citizen Student Challenge. This was part of RCA's AcrossRCA programme, a week devoted to cross-disciplinary working at the college. The brief was based on work in the Creative Citizen project and 20 RCA students took part.

Four teams of students worked with three London based community groups. Each community group set a challenge for the students to respond to in order to kick-start ideas for their specific project. The challenges were launched at the RCA with a representative from each community giving a short presentation about their project and their challenge.

The process
There were only three days to respond to three difficult challenges. The teams, with students from nine RCA programmes: Visual Communication; Service Design; Innovation Design Engineering; Animation; Design Products; Information Experience Design; Design Interactions; Photography and History of Design, spent time with local residents and community participants as well as some 'hard to reach' groups identified by both of the projects. Based on these conversations the students developed ideas getting feedback from the community and, in one case, even prototyping their idea by running a games event with young people at the Mill (and this only by day two). These experiences and ideas were presented on the final day to RCA staff and students for discussion.

At the start of the three days the students had been asked to consider the role of technology in meeting their challenge, whether this was communication technology or more interactive digital intervention. However, it was interesting to see that after spending time on-site in each location, listening to those involved and understanding the needs of the respective projects, each team chose to respond with proposals that relied predominantly on small media and face-to-face initiatives, for example noticeboards, flyers and events, which were only supplemented with a simple online presence. Collectively the teams identified the need for media to be universally accessible, hyperlocal, cheaply reproducible and reliant on resources readily available, such as an A4 colour printer.

The community projects and their challenges

  • Streets Ahead is a group of neighbours in Stockwell, London, with the objective of greening their local urban spaces to create safe places for children to play and neighbours to meet. Their project, Grass Routes, has lead to a local street, once a space for parking cars, being transformed into a shared space with flower beds, trees and children's play equipment. Elaine Kramer, of Streets Ahead, spoke about how, during this process they uncovered local stories and social history – for example, the artist Van Gogh, once lived around the corner. Their challenge was for the students to look at how residents could connect their stories – past, present and future – to the physical spaces of the local area.
  • Tate South Lambeth library is a small, local library in Vauxhall, London, situated in a beautiful Victorian building. Once threatened with closure, it now offers film nights, language classes, gardening groups, and other events, as well as having an excellent library service. Daphne De Souza, from the Friends of Tate South Lambeth library spoke about their work to secure the library's future in this culturally diverse part of London, which includes people from Somalia, Eritrea and London's Little Portugal and is an area which is undergoing massive development. She challenged the students to look at how the library could attract, and be attractive to, more local people.
  • The Mill in Walthamstow, London, once a local library, was closed by Waltham Forest Council in 2007. Local residents finally managed to get access in 2011 and begin its transformation into a vibrant neighbourhood centre. With NESTA support it is now home to a poetry group, knitting club, film society, social innovation start-ups, community breakfasts, a mentoring service and many others. It has managed to reach most age groups in the area except the 16 - 24 year olds. In part due to the London riots in 2011, the Mill is very conscious that they must involve this very important age group in their neighbourhood. The challenge posed by Mill trustee and volunteer Ingrid Abreu Scherer, 'What new services, spaces, events could attract teenagers?'