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We all know that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and that is because bricks and mortar are not the only things that matter when it comes to building or creating something for the community. What matters most is that local communities are involved from the very beginning to decide what is needed for their neighbourhood. This takes time and the long-term aim is once you have engaged with that community and created your goal together, the community takes ownership and pride of the asset that they co-created to leave a lasting legacy.

This is certainly true with the approach that Better Start Bradford’s Better Place project took. They wanted to improve and increase access to parks and green spaces for young children and their families in Bowling and Barkerend, Bradford Moor and Little Horton.

In this blog our Better Place project shares the five steps the team worked through in 2018/19 with local communities to co-design and refresh urban green spaces all across the Better Start Bradford area.

How communities created their Better Place

Step 1: We learned about the community from the community

We needed to identify and prioritise outdoor sites that needed improvement, and this needed conversations with families in the area to establish what they wanted. We piggybacked on to lots of community events and did engaging fun activities at them such as creating cress heads, whilst getting feedback and families’ views.

We also organised our own community activities such as sunflower planting, birdwatching in the park and outdoor storytelling sessions, coffee mornings so we could meet different families where we also gave them the opportunity to nominate spaces where they felt improvement was needed.

In addition, we visited local community organisations and representatives from each location, such as SHINE in West Bowling and the Anchor project in Barkerend, to find out all we could about the local outdoor spaces that could be improved with our project.

Step 2: We engaged with the community and built their capacity to make their own changes

Once the sites and their associated communities had been identified, we set out to build trust and engagement with our communities. We often found that communities weren’t used to using their local outdoor spaces and often didn’t have experience of making change in their local neighbourhoods.

We worked closely with each community to build confidence and their capability to play, garden and maintain and take pride in local outdoor spaces. We hosted intergenerational gardening workshops at community centres, picnics, back street play sessions and litter picks. Members of the community even took part in Forest School training sessions to understand how to use and engage their children in natural play.

We successfully uplifted seldom heard voices and created a platform where every person was treated equally. “When the community gets together it is a fun and positive environment to be in. There is a sense of belonging and reassurance that you feel safe with your neighbourhood” – Marshfield Place resident.

Step 3: Co-designing a Better Place with the community

Once we felt that we had successfully engaged with the community (over 1950 people), we started to have conversations about what the community would like to see in their outdoor spaces and what that would look like. As each building project had different needs, characteristics and local people, we created bespoke co-design methods for each project.

For smaller projects, the co-design involved door knocking in the local area, discussions with community organisations and a range of craft events which involved children creating and drawing elements they wanted to see in their play areas. They got involved in lots of activities, including: chalking designs on the floor, making play dough structures and taking part in a metal work workshop to help design the children figurine metal sculptures that were placed along the path to mark it clearly at SHINE, a vibrant community-hub in West Bowling based at St Stephen’s church. This path through the grounds at SHINE means that parents/carers and their children no longer have to walk along the busy roadside to get to their nursery and school.

For larger projects, we created steering groups for core community organisations to represent their community and for the steering group members to consult with their neighbourhoods throughout the design process, these included the following:

  • Mayfield Centre Coffee Morning Group (local mothers)
  • Bowling Park Steering Group (local community organisations)
  • Peel Park Steering Group (local community organisations)
  • Bradford Moor Neighbourhood Steering Group (local community organisations)
  • Laisterdyke Steering Group (local community organisations)

 We also brought in Yorkshire based sculptor Dan Jones to make some sculptures based on local children’s artwork. He ran a workshop in late 2019 and got lots of amazing ideas for structures – you can’t miss the giant ladybird and snail at Kettlewell Snicket!

Dan said: “By including local people in the design of the work I hope it makes the finished sculptures more relevant to them. The finished sculptures will be in the Snicket for a long time, so it’s important to me that the local community have a sense of ownership of them and that the sculptures in some way reflect them.

“It was great to work creatively outside in the fresh air with local children, who focused really well for the 2 hour workshop, giving me some great ideas and material to work with in the final sculptures.”

Step 4: Building a Better Place

Once the community and landowners were happy with the final designs, it was time for the exciting bit – the building phase! Communities have been very patient with the disruptions made by the building works and have been thrilled to see their designs and plans come to life bit by bit.

Better Place is a Better Start Bradford project that is being delivered in collaboration with Bradford Council, Groundwork UK, Public Health, voluntary and community sector groups, local people and other Better Start Bradford projects.

Here are some highlights of recent work undertaken by the Better Place project and partners:

  • Jane Binns Park –This was an underused small Pocket Park with a youth shelter in the middle of housing.  Better Place installed play equipment aimed at 0-3s and playful sculptures, seating for parents and grandparents and planting to invite wildlife into the space.
  • Bowling Park improvements – there’s been a lot of improvements happening in Bowling Park. There’s a new wheelie track (balance bikes, bikes, scooters and prams), natural play area and story trail.  Beautiful new wooden sculptures have been installed at the Roughs in the park for little hands to explore. We’ve also improved access paths and entrances allowing access to the Roughs woodland directly from Bowling Park. 22 large trees have been planted and bat and bird nesting boxes have been installed. More trees to be planted in the new year with local residents and friends of Bowling Park.
  • Renovated and improved play area at the Mayfield Centre - Young children and their families living in the local BD5 area now have access to a much-improved playing space designed with babies and toddlers in mind. There are some new swings, a spinner, and a double accessible slide for young children and their parents to use together. In addition, there are newly laid softer paths, toddler height sensory planting areas plus a story seat.
  • Kettlewell Snicket – Local families and their little ones are enjoying their walk to Canterbury Nursery and Horton Park Primary School through the much-improved snicket. Improvements include: new paving for better access, engraved alphabetic and numerical stepping-stones and lovely stone sculptures – a ladybird and snail.
  • Burnett Avenue Pocket Park –new paths have been installed and stone carvings added, including a squirrel, an owl and mushrooms.
  • Toddler Play area at the Woodroyd Centre - The Woodroyd Centre has an attached nursery and many young families live in the surrounding houses. We have added specific toddler play equipment (a double slide, toadstool seats and play boulders) to an existing pocket park and added off-street access via shallow steps to avoid the only other access through a busy car park. There is also new boundary planting to allow oversight and wildlife interest.
  • Horton Park natural play area –There’s a bespoke caterpillar slide, a new sand pit, some hopping stones and the look-out posts and a range of animal play sculptures. We have also added words ‘to look’ on the peeping posts in different languages.
  • Horton Primary Field natural play area - gateway and side panels depicting the biodiversity of the site and the lifecycles of a dragonfly and butterfly have been installed. Robust and beautiful, they will make a treasurable addition to both of the Horton sites. There’s also a kick about area, boulder seating and a new footpath linking the Horton Park to Horton Primary field. We have planted lots of new trees and created swales which will collect rainwater temporarily for paddling…bring your wellies.

Step 5: Building a legacy for the community to be proud of their Better Place

As soon as each project’s building works finished, we ran sessions with families to give the community fun and inexpensive ideas for how to use their new spaces. For example, we had lots of fun colouring the new sculptures at Burnett Avenue with chalks. We also ran sandpit play sessions in the new sand play area at Newby School to share with families all the fun ways you can play with sand including making natural art, using our senses, finding hidden treasure and playing ball games.

We hope by involving our Better Start Bradford community from the very beginning, that they will take pride and ownership and increase their use of the parks and green spaces across Bradford. It is also hoped that this community ownership and increased use will reduce instances of anti-social behaviour and vandalism of theses spaces, making these neighbourhood greenspaces a fun and friendly environment for all and a better place to enjoy for many years to come.

Better Place is a Better Start Bradford project that is being delivered in collaboration with Bradford Council, Groundwork UK, Public Health, voluntary and community sector groups and local people.