Words for PLACED: On growing our next generation of educated dreamers and designers

We are incredibly pleased to provide our first focus to Ronnie Hughes, a true PLACED Ambassador in every sense and great friend. Ronnie is a name many in Liverpool, and indeed further afield, will know well. Perhaps from his wonderful blog A Sense of Place, which he only recently ended after many, many years. Or from his time in housing. Or perhaps from the films he produced with his partner Sarah. Or through directly benefiting from his generous time and support, such as that which he gave to inspirational organisations such as Granby 4 Streets, Homebaked and Kitty’s Laundrette, all of whom – I’m sure would agree – have benefited enormously from his wisdom.

We are very fortunate to be one of those organisations. Ronnie supports us as an Ambassador, in particular our work with young people. You will see from his writing below that this is something he, likes us, feels incredibly passionate about. He was also a key member of the Ed’s Place team, helping us to refine our vision for our mini Urban Room. Or, from my own personal perspective, from his being a listening ear, guide and friend who has helped in times of real challenge and reflection.

But perhaps Ronnie’s own recent journey – with his creative, challenging approach to his PhD, his joy from working in his allotment with his good friend Abi, to his recent renewed focus on the things that matter in themselves, is something that is truly inspiring. It reminds me that we can so often get lost in the business of life, and forget to reflect on what truly matters to us. We are very grateful that Ronnie feels we are one of those things that matter:

Well then, and a privilege it is as one of PLACED’s volunteer Ambassadors to be asked these two questions. Now PLACED is ten years old:

• What do you think have been the biggest challenges for the built environment over the last 10 years?

• What do you think they will be for the next ten years and what should PLACED be doing to address these challenges?

In answering them I’ve decided to focus more on the future than I have on the past. Firstly because I don’t think PLACED was ever going to turn out to be a Liverpool-only idea. What with the number of built environments and communities wanting better lives in better places for themselves all over the North West of England. But also because, by focussing in on PLACED’s potential in growing of our next generation of educated dreamers and designers I’ve ended up with an article that’s turned out to be naturally more about the future than the past. And is emotional about it too, for which I’ll make no apologies.

But anyway and to begin in Liverpool, let’s go back to 2011 and Jo’s founding of PLACED with all those investigations she organised of empty city centre buildings here going to waste. A clearly brilliant and needed idea, but what a time to have had it? Shortly after the global economy’s apparent collapse and in the still early days of the new coalition government in Britain reacting to that by imposing the austerity policies that would make life so difficult for so many of us here over PLACED’s first 10 years. Including Liverpool’s own local authority. In 2011 already labouring under the planning and regeneration difficulties later to be so exposed in the government inspector’s Caller Report.

Into this jumbled mess of a situation then, steps Jo with her brilliant new PLACED idea. Which, and just maybe, is my thought now created the space for PLACED to ask its core questions about “Couldn’t all this be done better then? This involvement of people in the designing of their own places, built environments and futures? Shouldn’t it all, in fact, be done better than it ever has been before?” A less disturbed status quo might have been less inclined to listen. But from 2011 onwards, and given austerity’s morphing into an even worse crisis, listen we in Liverpool and then well beyond increasingly did. Bringing us and my own thoughts to now, 10 years on. With PLACED in the good place I want to use up most of my remaining words thinking about.

Because right now I think that as well as us being as dependent on the young for our futures as we ever were, we’re also in the exceptional position for this generation and at this time of literally owing them the kind of special care and consideration that PLACED exists for.

It’s like this, and you can argue with me all you like, but from out of all the multiple class, race, gender and now Covid issues of this last decade, none of which I’m underestimating at all, absolutely no one has had it as hard through all of this as the young. Beginning with their Sure Start centres being shut, we’ve continued through tuition fees, homeschooling on Zoom and the whole pandemic mess to almost destroy the educational grounds their young legs were standing on. Grounds we now owe it to every one of them to make up. Or, I believe, we take the grave societal risk for us all that a lost and disaffected generation could well become. And yes, I realise this reads emotionally but emotional is how it feels.

PLACED then has got a job to do. And over the next 10 years I’d expect their work to be done right across the north-west where they already have more than a presence, a presence that’s been intelligently increased over these Covid times with the invention of their Academy Programmes. My own granddaughter Eleanor has been on and loved one of them and I turn up and help too whenever I’m asked. So I feel directly and hardwired into not just the need for but also the promise and the potential of these Academies as well as the rest of what PLACED does and might do. In all the places where our High Streets don’t work anymore we need the ideas and the practical, educated plans of the young, who’ll be needing these places for longer than the rest of us will. The same for the inner-city estates that never did work, through to the out of town commuter developments without shops, schools, parks or proper public transport we’ll need the educated ideas and energy of our young. It’s the least we can do, and besides we owe them.

In all the places where you probably are if you’re reading this, PLACED is as well positioned with its own ideas, ethics, experience and people as anyone to help do this over the next ten years. This growing of the next generation of educated dreamers, who’ll become the designers and creators of a north-west of England considerably fuller of better lives in better places that the ones they were born into.

And who wouldn’t want to help with that?

Ronnie Hughes
5th October 2021

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