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Our Future Foyle

Improving the experience of the river Foyle surroundings

How can design reimagine an area that has come to be associated with poor emotional wellbeing?

In February 2016, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design joined the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland in a project which aims to revitalise the banks of the River Foyle which courses through Derry/Londonderry. The river has, for a long time, been associated with being a divide, cutting through the city, with only three bridges (Craigavon, Foyle and Peace) to join the Western and Eastern halves. The surrounding banks of the river could be utlised more by the general public, as spaces to socialise or spend time  in, reconnecting the disjointed spaces and increasing the positivity of the local area.

We hope to change this with ‘Our Future Foyle’, which is currently being developed by Lizzie Raby and Ralf Alwani.In order to change the public’s perception of the River Foyle, Lizzie and Ralf have been working on ways that will transform the river banks into sites where people can socialise and relax, while improving the overall sense of emotional wellbeing in the area.

The Foyle and its surrounding areas are a place of potential – where a shared platform for social and cultural interventions to be used by the whole community can be created. Extensive research was conducted with different communities along the Foyle, with a number of research interventions including a wooden recreation of Dopey Dick, a killer whale who swam up the Foyle in the 1970s and became a local celebrity, onto which visitors were invited to write their hopes and aspirations for the future of the River Foyle. These engagements have helped us better understand how local residents feel about the river and develop strategies to tackle poor mental health.

 Interventions and Outcomes
Our approach to redesigning the area has three elements: to introduce sculptural barriers and increased public presence along the river. ‘Foyle Reeds’ is an interactive art installation, inspired by local flora that grows along the riverside, which will span the length of the Foyle Bridge creating an aesthetic barrier. In its current utilitarian state, the bridge is open to the elements which means residents are uncomfortable with making the crossing.

By creating a sheltering barrier, the reeds will allow for less exposed passage between the west and east of the city. A key feature of the installation lies in its use of interactive lighting to provide a sensory experience for the visitor: the tip of each reed will contain an LED light which can change in brightness and colour. An app that allows a member of the public to ‘adopt’ a reed for a small amount is being developed alongside the installation, to increase the public’s sense of ownership (and therefore a shared responsibility) of not just the reeds, but the bridge itself. It’s hoped that the lighting installation will help the bridge to become a bright landmark for the city – an icon that the community can relate to. ‘Foyle Bubbles’ are a series of satellite spaces designed to house arts, commercial, educational and wellbeing initiatives along both sides of the riverfront. These portable pods offer the opportunity for enterprise and community engagement while at the same time those occupying the pods will undertake mental health training in return for reduced rent. It is hoped that teaching a community to care for one another, within less clinical but rather more everyday environments, will have a positive effect on overall mental health of local people.

Moving Forward
The increased footfall that both the ‘Foyle Reeds’ and ‘Foyle Bubbles’ would generate also works as a barrier – the more people who are present in the area, the less likely it will seem a place that is lonely, isolated and associated with poor mental wellbeing. The presence of people injects life into an area, creating a positive sense of community and cohesion. The urgent issue surrounding the poor mental wellbeing of many residents has led to Lizzie and Ralf designing interventions that can be put into place within a short timeframe. Prototypes will be in position for further community feedback through city-wide events by the end of 2017 to measure their effectiveness and secure funding for city scale procurement. Further research and design work is being undertaken; a media campaign on the awareness of health and wellbeing within the community and also how design interventions can effect cognitive behaviours of individuals within place. These elements alongside a digital platform form a holistic and measurable approach to the riverfront.    

See 2016 project

Research Associates:
Lizzie RabyRalf Alwani

Project Leaders:
Jonathan WestDr Jo-Anne Bichard

Research Partner:
Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland