I have now attempted my guest blog more times than I am willing to admit. I have typed and typed and deleted and reworked and restarted but I’ve decided to go at this in one take. My thoughts as they come, on an organisation I have grown up alongside of.
I met Jo Harrop before PLACED was born, when Jo was leading the North-West sector of a nationwide project to introduce young people to architecture. At 16, I was studying for my A-Levels and somewhat melting under the pressure of deciding whether to study the academic route that was expected of me or the creative route that I desperately craved. One morning, an A5 flyer was dropped on my desk during registration, I can still remember the colours, design and imagery of that print to this day. I seemed to read the flyer a little longer than those around me and slipped it into my bag to hold on to. This project was exactly the kind of thing teenage me wanted to take part in but wasn’t brave enough to.
Eventually and somehow, I built up the courage to enrol and was offered a place on the course, it was incredible. Even now, the first thing I thought to type about it was ‘we met real-life architects’?! I remember telling my friends about my first day on the course and them questioning what ‘architect’ meant, explaining what their jobs were to my Mum and Dad, being in awe of their roles. No one I knew had met an architect before. They felt like giants to me.
The course website read: ‘Open to 16–25 year olds from socially deprived or black and minority-ethnic backgrounds’ and I recall spending a bit of time thinking about that. I did at each session. It was a sentence that stuck with me, I think because it was the first time I had realised I fell into that category. It was definitely the first time I realised that our ethnicity and socio-economic status has an impact on the opportunities we have access to. A fire was lit inside me during the months I spent on that course, working with Jo and I have no doubt that period of time had a profound affect on how I approached everything that came to follow.
After a few detours, I went on to study graphic design and illustration at university, but this required a year of Art Foundation first. One afternoon at City College, an email landed in my inbox from Jo Harrop and I could not contain my excitement. My first shot at some real-world design work. I put on my smartest clothes, best trainers and headed to Costa in Clayton Square to meet with Jo, arrived way too early, randomly ordered my first ever coffee (as that seemed like the ‘meeting’ thing to do) and jumped at the opportunity to be involved with Jo’s new venture, PLACED. Fast forward a few weeks and my design work donned the walls of the old Taskers on Renshaw Street for PLACED’s first event. Fast forward a few years and PLACED would become solely responsible for my in-depth knowledge and much improved taste for coffee.
This first event was it, I was on my path. The empowerment I felt that day is what I always think about PLACED and it is an empowerment I have seen spread to hundreds of people first-hand through PLACED’s work — whether a young person taking part in PLACED Academy, presenting their ideas for the first time or an elderly person extending their thanks to the PLACED team for taking time to listen to their views at an Ed pop-up — empowerment is what I think of PLACED and that empowerment usually stems from ‘conversation’.
If you too are familiar with PLACED and played a rapid round of word association, you’d probably jot down ‘conversation’ pretty quickly. Throughout my early days with PLACED, I never really stopped to question this ‘conversation’ that Jo was relentlessly fighting for in our city. I was about 19, naive and part of this exciting new social enterprise and could see it was needed, it was obvious! Of course people living in any particular area should have an input into what happens to it?! It’s THEIR local area?! What I hadn’t realised was how this conversation had previously not been encouraged or facilitated, that many in our society were overlooked, dismissed and their lives were being impacted by those in power, regardless of their views or what initiatives had taken place in their community, at ground level.
The disruptive nature of PLACED and the innovative, deeply creative approach and determination of its Director is why I have remained a supporter, probably ‘superfan’, of the organisation throughout the duration of its existence so far. I have seen PLACED bring communities, stakeholders and decision makers together, I have seen PLACED help to create better places and I see the work put in every single day. It is happening.
At each PLACED event I have attended, there are always one or two conversations that really stick in my mind — and they’re always with those who are, if we put it plainly, undervalued. The people who do not hold ‘high power’ jobs but instead run or have ran the services we require to function as a society, every single day. The retired school teacher, the local lollipop man, carers, shop owners, builders, dog groomers, respectable people who care about where they live. People we and those at the very top depend on, people who are shocked when PLACED is there to tell them their opinion does matter.
I guess what I’m trying to say in my one-take, first-hand ramble is that Jo made me feel valued as a creative whilst I was still at college and showed me that I deserved to share a room with professionals much further on in their careers. The force Jo created in PLACED gave me the courage to chat to those architects that seemed like giants, made that soldier at their London Road pop-up feel comfortable enough to share his views on the area he had worked so hard to return to but didn’t feel supported by, empowers young people on their Academy courses to unapologetically throw ideas out to industry leaders for the highest grade feedback.
And that is what we need over the next ten years — a playing field that is more level, where every player is ranked equally, where everyone can share a little bit of the ‘power’ and feed into crucial decisions.
If I could make a wish for a branch of PLACED in every town in the country, I would. Maybe with a little coffee corner, where people could sit down, feel that PLACED empowerment, share their views and have input on their local area — but then again, I’m sure PLACED has a much more innovative plan. And better coffee.
Thank you PLACED and Happy Birthday x