Up & Running
How can we create a welcoming space?
Urban Rooms aim to offer an open invitation to everyone, so that anyone can get involved in conversations about the past, present and future of their place. It is crucial, therefore, to do all we can to create a welcoming environment and consider the multiple ways that the space, the team, the communications, and actions of the Urban Room can embody this.
If we work within the areas of architecture, arts, planning, local development, community engagement etc. we are more than likely to feel a lot more comfortable in an Urban Room environment than others who don’t have that experience or expertise. It’s vital therefore to take time to deliberately identify, understand and design out the barriers that can often be present and can hinder or even stop people getting involved.
Here are some suggestions from past Urban Room experience:
walking through a door into an unknown space can be a barrier to many people - can the door be propped open and/or can a team member be there to greet visitors?
consider how you communicate visually, employ graphics that are clear and engaging and make sure any text is friendly, explanatory and jargon-free
although you and your funders may want to have their logos
on view in a prime location, this may cause visitors to read the
UR as institutional in a way that is off-putting. Consider placing these logos and clear information about sponsorship, funding etc further into the space. More generally, it can be helpful to ‘de- institutionalise’ the appearance of the space and the language used as much as possible
open up the space visually so that people can see in through the windows as they pass by, invite their curiosity by having tasters of the UR activities outside, invite them to play before fully engaging them in UR conversations e.g Watford UR featured a piano for anyone to play
have people on your team who are naturally welcoming and friendly, to act as ambassadors for the UR, to greet, invite and explain what’s going on
many successful URs take a work-in-progress approach - prioritising the processes of engagement and showcasing the material accumulated by these processes rather than focussing on the production of specific outcomes. This way of working also intuitively communicates the welcoming ethos of the UR - rather than a inflexible product, people can see that the UR is being built and shaped by people, and welcomes what they have to offer
offer a varied range of engaging and creative activities in the UR, some may be rooted in placemaking, but others may not and you could partner with other groups to deliver these, e.g Church St UR in Westminster hosted a multitude of activities alongside those that focused on the local environment, including open mic nights, a food festival and a capoeira workshop
be open to incorporating new ideas for activities, events and collaborations as people get involved - taking this responsive approach can help to tune the UR to become more locally relevant and welcoming. This approach can also create mutually beneficial exchanges - opening up the use of UR to new local partners can help to foster strong partnerships