Communities and stakeholders very rarely have a say in what happens to the spaces which they live in and around. Ultimately, it is these people who choose to occupy and utilise these spaces, or not. Most spaces become disused when the sense of purpose or relevance is lost. This mainly happens as a result of change. In Blackburn’s case, a series of significant industrial, structural and economic changes have occurred over the last few decades, which have left the town almost unrecognisable to the surrounding population. No one is really quite sure what to do with, around, or in the town any more, except for shopping. A consequence of Blackburn’s identity crisis is that people have found new purposeful and relevant spaces in which to spend their time, and they aren’t in Blackburn’s town centre.

The Festival of Making aims to bring back Blackburn’s sense of purpose and reinstate the town as THE place for making. The ‘Take up Space’ project aims to bring people back to Blackburn, to reimagine its purpose and relevance through placemaking, for a new and future generation.
A crucial factor when considering any regeneration project is how to instil a sense of ownership back in the community. The title of the project ‘Take Up Space!’ aims to work as a call to action amongst art and design students and the wider community and stakeholders. A sense of ownership instils a sense of responsibility and pride. A sense of responsibility and pride creates thriving, community-led spaces which promote cohesion and interaction… Most importantly, they are almost always self-managed and sustainable if they meet the communities needs.


As part of the National Festival of Making (NFoM) 2017 held in Blackburn (https://festivalofmaking.co.uk/), we conducted extensive research to rediscover Blackburn’s identity. We then applied this research to reimagine disused (or misused), and overlooked, abandoned, empty or under-used spaces. Our focus was on the empty space across from the Museum and Art Gallery, mainly because it is the only public community green space in the town centre, but also because it would enable us to extend the footprint of the museum and gallery space. Students from the University Centre at Blackburn College creative arts department proposed concepts and ideas for this space (based on their research findings), and then showcased their solutions for public consultation and community participation at the NFoM in 2017. Over 350 votes were cast and the public voted a ‘community art space’ as the preferred use for the space by a vast majority. We then used this pilot study to apply for Arts Council England funding in order to run this project at full scale and involve as many people as possible. We were successful and have been working towards producing a series of design proposals for the space and we unveiled these at the NFoM weekend in Blackburn 2019, 15-16 June for voting (public consultation). The most popular design plans were developed and visualised, as part of the ongoing social and physical restoration and regeneration of the town. You can learn more about Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and the fantastic work they do here: https://blackburnmuseum.org.uk/


Blackburn has low participation in the arts (Active People Survey, 2016/7) and therefore the proposed space is perfectly situated to function as an outdoor extension of the museum and art gallery, and enhances the visibility

of art and cultural forms within the town centre. Blackburn is also a pilot area for the ‘Social Integration Strategy 2018-2020’, and this space would be an open-access, shared integration space for the community.

This research and development project, is the second stage of a longer term project to fully transform the space. In order to ensure that the community and all stakeholders have a say in how the space is developed, we used co-design approaches. This method of working meant that all participants were equal, and therefore able to contribute to the project, at all stages. This is a truly co-designed space, led by stakeholders and not by higher governance.

Following training; creative arts degree students became ‘co-producers’ and ‘student researchers’. They performed the role of ‘creative facilitators’ through a series of co-design workshops, in which they worked alongside community participants and stakeholders to generate ideas and suggestions for the space.

Workshops were held across various public buildings in the town centre; Blackburn Market Hall, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and The Making Rooms Blackburn (https://makingrooms.org/), and these were accessible to all. Working with academic and museum staff, a design-led architect team, and The Making Rooms in Blackburn, participants then began to realise their ideas into basic models and drawings which were showcased within the space, at The National Festival of Making in June 2019. This constituted wider community consultation; as members of the community voted for their favourite proposals.


Create a shared, flexible space that can be used for a variety of artistic and cultural activities;

Create opportunities for stakeholders to have a say in the way their public spaces are developed, used and designed;

Connect and engage communities through art and design;

Generate viable proposals for a town centre green space.


In your application you told us that you wanted to focus on: undertaking professional development, trying out new approaches, reaching new or different audiences, creating or commissioning new work, working with new people

Did your project achieve this? The project fully met its aims and exceeded these in many ways.

Professional development was undertaken in several forms; these were:

Project lead attending SPSS training sessions (data analysis training) x 6 1 hour sessions

Project lead presenting at Blackburn University Research and Scholarship Conference entitled Take Up Space! Reimagining social and public spaces in Blackburn with Darwen through placemaking and co-design

Project Lead submitting a Conference Abstract, Paper and Presentation and Panel Discussion ‘Take Up Space! The Reimagining of Public Space’ at the CDSS International Conference, Blackburn University.

Project Lead and Co-Producers creating the Take Up Space Exhibition. An open and interactive exhibition of research and design outputs at the National Festival of Making 2019. The community were invited to vote on their favourite proposals and learn about the year-long research project through the exhibition. June 2019, Blackburn town centre.

https://festivalofmaking.co.uk/whats-on/ and https://co-design.blog/

Project Lead attending WordPress training at Blackburn University in order to develop the online blog which disseminates the outputs and outcomes of the project to a wider audience (3 hours).

Trying out New Approaches was achieved through working with a leading Professor at Lancaster University and through the PhD research process to develop approaches which responded to the latest research in the field of co-design and creative exchange and facilitation. These were then developed into a series of facilitation training sessions and were delivered to the co-producers. Some of these areas of focus were: developing questioning techniques, developing toolkits which promote ideas generation and experimenting with idea-framing techniques.

Project lead attending co-design facilitation training events and one to one supervision meetings at Lancaster University with Leon Cruikshank, Professor of Creative Exchange (1.5 days).

Project Lead developing and delivering three Facilitation Training Workshops with Co-Producers These were delivered at Blackburn University, The Making Rooms Blackburn and Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and following the training the co-producers were ‘qualified’ to lead community workshops and facilitate the development of ideas with community participants.

Reaching new or different audiences was achieved through delivering community workshops in community owned spaces such as Blackburn Market Hall, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and The Making Rooms. Beyond this diversity of community participation; is the engagement of a wide range of art and design degree students in projects and training that they would not normally undertake as part of their formal study. One of the most rewarding aspects of the project was the collaboration between artists and designers from diverse subject areas and disciplines and the quality of ideas and outputs that this created.

Creating or commissioning new work came about through working with the community to develop tangible and intangible outputs in idea and in physical forms through the open community workshops. From creating models of art gardens to discussions between participants; the ideas and outcomes were carefully recorded and integrated into the co-producers understanding of the project and the needs of the community and all stakeholders. These were then handed over to a visual designer to create and produce the visualisations of the space, and also the designed artefacts that the community participants and the co-producers developed. The design-led architect drew up plans from these visuals which will be submitted as part of a subsequent funding application for the capital build of the space.

Working with new people was achieved through the open community workshops but also through engaging with professionals in the public and private sectors. The trips and visits to new spaces, and meeting new people came to have more of an impact than originally anticipated. These workshops, sessions, tours, observations and discussions became a significant aspect of the ideas development process. An unexpected outcome of reaching out to communities occurred when we were attempting to discover what the space had been used for during the 1980s and 1990s just before it was closed and demolished. It had been a teenage disco venue named Peepers, and through the use of social media a student uncovered a virtual space where attendees of Peepers were still engaging as a community group. A reunion disco and interactive art performance is currently being planned and will be hosted in Prism Gallery, Blackburn during the summer of 2020: https://www.instagram.com/christianbell91/


Student researchers from Blackburn University Centre received creative facilitation training, and were classed as Co-Producers for the duration of the project. They received three training sessions on creative facilitation practices and co-design techniques, so that they were able to facilitate community co-design workshops with support from the project co-ordinators and associated design and architect teams. You can learn more about the range of creative arts courses on offer at Blackburn University Centre here: https://www.blackburn.ac.uk/courses?ageGroup=&programme=Degree+Level&studyMode=&category=Creative+Arts&search=creative&page=1

They were responsible for ensuring that participants could safely and positively put their ideas forward in group situations. They also nurturured and encouraged participants to develop ideas in a range of ways. The qualities or attributes required from a successful co-producer were to:

• Lead and motivate people
• Be encouraging and supportive
• Enjoy learning from, and working with others
• Be creative and imaginative
• Be enthusiastic and energetic
• Be a good problem solver
• Have an interest in participatory art and and design practices • Have an interest in community art and design
• Make a difference through your art and design work


An essential aspect of the project was to provide training for Blackburn University Centre students to become ‘Co-Producers’. The role of the Co-Producer was essentially to facilitate creative exchanges between stakeholders. One of the main aims of the Arts Council England funded Take Up Space! project was to try out new approaches. This was achieved through working with a leading Professor of Creative Exchange at Lancaster University (Prof. Leon Cruikshank) and through my PhD research process to develop approaches which responded to the latest research in the field of co-design, creative exchange and facilitation. These were then developed into a series of facilitation training sessions and were delivered to the co-producers. Some of these areas of focus were: developing questioning techniques, developing toolkits which promote ideas generation and experimenting with idea-framing techniques. Images below:


We started the community co-design project by researching into how other museums, galleries, community centres and organisations had engaged the public in their missions and work. We visited Howarth Art Gallery in Accrington, The Whitworth in Manchester, NOMA in Manchester and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. They all offered very different perspectives on engagement and how they involved people in their spaces. Read more about each visit below:

FEBRUARY 2019 HAWORTH ART GALLERY ACCRINGTON: The visit to Haworth Accrington was an eye opening experience. Haworth Accrington staff Gillian and Yvonne provided a presentation and tour followed by lunch. A number of years ago I had the pleasure of developing the identity and branding for the Art Gallery with a team of students, as part of their launch of the Artist’s Stables project. The footfall had increased significantly over the last five years, and commercial opportunities had meant that Haworth Accrington has become a well visited and sustainable venue. The key aspects of development for Haworth were the opening of the Artist’s Stables where local artists, craft makers and designers rented space; the opening of The Gallery Kitchen cafe and restaurant and The Potter’s Shed – the old greenhouse was converted into a children’s potting shed and party venue. These developments gave us ideas about how Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery might also expand to increase footfall and create sustainable commercial opportunities, that would be meaningful to the people of Blackburn. You can read more about Haworth Accrington here: https://haworthartgallery.org/. Images below:

MARCH 2019 THE WHITWORTH GALLERY MANCHESTER: The Whitworth is a very special place in Manchester City centre that houses an Arts Garden in addition to the indoor gallery. They also have a Cultural Park Keeper who manages the gardens and the activities and programming that happen within the space. We met with staff who showed us the cafe, gardens, and community spaces that have been developed over the last few years. The key learning points for us were the need to have regular programming, meaningful content developed with the community, spaces that simulate a community centre atmosphere, wellbeing activities linked to the use of outdoor space and growing, activities that attract a diverse audience. We also liked how they had created an outdoor storage shed which had multiple functions for the garden; it could be used as a cafe area, a ticket office, a shop in addition to storing the garden equipment. Finally, the link to the University provided strong links to education and world-class research activity. You can learn more about The Whitworth here: https://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/. Images below:

MARCH 2019 NOMA MANCHESTER: We visited the NOMA cultural development site in Manchester City Centre. It is an area that used to house the Co-Operative head offices. Overnight, a huge part of the city (20 acres) was vacated as their thousands of staff moved into a new purpose built office building a few hundred yards away. The beautiful old buildings were costly to maintain and to run on a day to day basis. What began was a huge community project to repurpose and reimagine the area. Using co-design approaches, the NOMA project engages local artists, designers and communities to develop ideas, proposals and ultimately to make those ideas a reality. A great example of this is The Pilcrow Pub, which was not only conceived by the community but built from scratch by them. Once the main structure was up, the space was used as an artists workshop to create and cast the bar tiles, to build the wooden bar stools, to produce metal work, the tables and all of the objects within. It took a lot longer than if the building had been constructed by professionals but the sense of ownership, pride and belonging from the local community would never have been established. The key learning points for us were to involve the community in the physical development and construction of the space and not just the ideas and development stages. You can learn more about NOMA and the ongoing cultural redevelopment project here: https://www.noma-manchester.com/ and you can also visit the Old Bank Residency site here: https://www.oldbanknoma.com/. Images below:

MAY 2019 TRIP TO YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE PARK: This trip provided the opportunity to explore a vast parkland which is entirely dedicated to artistic and creative artworks and activities. Experiencing art in this outside context was inspirational. We viewed art which worked with and against the natural environment; we observed art works created to be experiential, and some that were not to touch. We worked with an artist in residence, Paul Mason, to create artworks which responded to key themes observed in our research of the space. We then discussed how these responses connected with people or expressed ideas. The key learning experience for us at Yorkshire Sculpture Park was to create opportunities for people to be able to make art within the garden across from the Museum and Art Gallery. Images below:

MARCH 2019 COMMUNITY OPEN WORKSHOP AT BLACKBURN MARKET: We held the first community open workshop at Blackburn Market Hall. We had over 330 engagements in a day! We were overwhelmed by how enthusiastic the people of Blackburn and beyond were about having a community owned garden and space in the town centre. We collected people’s ideas for what they would like to see in the space and worked with them to expand upon these ideas. The Co-Producers were brilliant and used all of the techniques they had learned during the facilitation training sessions. Engagement ranged from some people spending hours with us to some spending minutes; however all of the engagements were valuable. The ideas shared at this event laid the paving stones for subsequent workshops and development sessions. Images below:

Key themes: green space, play, education, planting, growing, sensory, health.

MARCH 2019 COMMUNITY OPEN WORKSHOPS AT BLACKBURN MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY: The last two workshops were aimed at capturing more intimate experiences through craft and making, and it was fitting to undertake these events within the museum and art gallery (after all, the space being developed is across from this building and is essentially an extension of it!). We advertised outside that there were free miniature garden making workshops being held in the museum and art gallery and despite the terrible weather outside we had 70 gardens drawn, made and developed from a range of families. It was great fun and gave us tangible visual clues as to what people wanted within the space. Some of the key ideas were: colour, vibrancy and brightness; spaces to play; spaces to sit and relax; spaces to grow and plant; opportunities to make art and music; spaces to learn; and smells and sounds (sensory), amongst many more. Images below:

MAY 2019 IDEAS DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOP AT LANCASTER UNIVERSITY: We worked alongside Sharon Summers and Prof. Leon Cruikshank to develop the key aims and considerations for the space (check out Imagination Lancaster here: With the support of colleague and ILLUSTRATION LECTURER at Blackburn University Centre, Talya Baldwin (http://talyabaldwin.com/), we developed the following core considerations – the design for the site and all artefacts that were designed to go into the space should be multi-use and should fit within the notion of a community garden. We also started to consider how we might fund these developments as we need to secure capital (build) funding and this is notoriously challenging to obtain, especially as the space is owned by the Council. Exploring our key considerations enabled us to focus what pots of funding might be available to us.

Summary ideas mind map developed at Lancaster University

MAY 2019 BID WRITING RETREAT: Following the trip to Lancaster University, I attended a bid writing retreat, supported by The Funding Accelerator (https://www.fundingaccelerator.org/). It was at another event like this that I first secured the Arts Council England funding for this project. I developed the next funding application to make the proposals a reality. Images below:

MAY 2019 IDEAS DEVELOPMENT AT THE MAKING ROOMS BLACKBURN: After the open community workshops and our visit to Lancaster University, we were ready to develop these ideas into tangible solutions, outcomes and proposals for the space. We worked with specialists Julia and Tom at The Making Rooms Blackburn to realise some of these ideas. The technical support enabled us to understand how some of the ideas might actually work or be created and produced. They gave us advice on health and safety considerations and appropriate materials, even sustainability and environmental considerations – they were amazing! The Making Rooms are open to the public and free to use Fridays and Saturdays: (https://makingrooms.org/). Images below:

MAY 2019 IDEAS DEVELOPMENT AT BLACKBURN UNIVERSITY CENTRE: We developed rough ideas for the way the space might look using 3D visualisation software to display at the Festival of Making:

JUNE 2019 THE BIG EXHIBITION BUILD FOR THE FESTIVAL OF MAKING: We started to prepare for the National Festival of Making and finalised the designs that we would showcase for voting and conversations. It was hard work, but the Co-Producers and staff all worked tirelessly to meet the deadline. Once the surfaces were plain and painted back to grey it was time to add the timeline and project milestones. Overnight a graffiti artist came along and created an interesting acid house style artwork. I suppose we were asking for it really considering the encouragement many artistic and cultural projects have given to street artists in the area, Blackburn Open Walls being one such project (https://www.blackburnopenwalls.com/). It was a real shame to cover it back up again but we had to do so in order to display our exhibition. The only frustrating aspect of the artwork was that the grafitti artist(s) had dropped paint all over the floor instead of taking care; this generally doesn’t happen if a professional artist has visited a site. I quite liked the fact that someone had felt empowered to use the space and it demonstrated to me that pockets of the local community were activists and were prepared to reclaim space in such a prominent place – it was a positive sign of ownership and cultural activity. Images below:

POST EXHIBITION DEVELOPMENT AND FINAL PROPOSALS: The exhibition provided much perspective and generally the proposals were received positively. There were concerns around vandalism and anti-social behaviour but our response to this is that if the space is owned by the community and used regularly then it will be respected and kept well – this is what we found in other similar sites. In the next funding application for the build and use of the space, a proposed ‘Cultural Activator’ role would ensure that regular programming and use of the space occurs.

A mind map of the final key aspects for the Take Up Space area.

Artist and 3D Visualiser William Card visualised the final designs for the space, you can visit his site here: https://vimeo.com/showcase/5323929

VIEW THE ANIMATIONS OF THE SPACE HERE: https://vimeo.com/383284830

The following visualisations are the outcomes of the community open workshops, and have been developed by the Co-Producers into final design proposals for the space. Artist and 3D Visualiser William Card visualised the final designs for the space, you can visit his site here: https://vimeo.com/showcase/5323929

Crafty Hawker designed by Mark Thistlethwaite
Glok designed by Ian Fletcher
Artists drawing tables inspired by Old Bank Residency, Manchester
Seating ideas developed by Jenna Gardner
Artist drawing tables and play object designed by Jenna Gardner
Seating ideas developed by Cath Casey
Seating ideas developed by Cath Casey
Cotton Reel light up art installation by Morris Jones
Timpani musical instrument designed by Ian Fletcher
Tubular bells designed by Ian Fletcher
Wishing Tree concept developed by Kelly Wallace

It is important that Blackburn has multi-use public spaces that can bring communities together. As this is the only public-owned open green space in the town centre, it makes it even more crucial. We need spaces to meet, to socialise, to grow and develop together.

The project concludes in January 2020 with architect drawn plans for the space and a topographical survey being performed. This will then be used to apply for capital funding to develop the space. So… WATCH THIS SPACE!