Love Meanwood: Community as Designers

Love Meanwood is a community lead project that aims to enable and empower people to take part in improving their local environment. Meanwood is a suburb of north-east Leeds known for its park, beck, urban farm and community spirit.

I got involved in the project in November through my placement at Lemon Balm, who are a community interest company that specialises in horticultural therapy and landscape design. The end result of the project will be a Meanwood ‘vision’. So, what is Meanwood and why do we love it?

The first stage of the project was to figure out why people love it or perhaps what they don’t love about Meanwood. A community consultation was in order! Isabel from Lemon Balm led the project steering group to create the first consultation stage appropriately called “The Big Questions Event”.

The big questions we asked based around the principles of what made you: glad, mad and sad? We also had three themes for people to think about when answering these questions: Enjoying a healthy life; climate change, our environment and the landscape around us; and equal access for all members of the community to facilities, services and public spaces.

We wanted the big questions to be answered by as many people as possible so an accessible online survey was drawn up as well as face to face consultations and community mapping workshops.

Two consultation events took place at the start of the year (outside, in the cold!) allowing people to talk about and discuss what they loved about Meanwood and to fill in a paper version of the survey.

Putting the big questions to the people of Meanwood on a cold winters day

One element of the consultation events was the community mapping exercise where we encouraged people to draw their thoughts on a big map of the area. We also asked people to place a heart shaped sticker over their house so we could see the spread of contributors to the map.

The maps from the consultations were an incredibly valuable record of local people’s knowledge, observations, thoughts and opinions. They had all sorts drawn over them ranging from the regular flight of red kites to favourite ginnels.

It was also fascinating to see how people engaged with a map and seeing their local area from a cartographic perspective. People who may not have participated in traditional methods of consultation were interested in adding to and exploring the map.

Partially completed community map

We received around 400 responses from our survey which gave us a healthy (and fairly representative) dataset of answers to our big questions. We now know what people love about Meanwood, it is just a matter of figuring out what to do with it all.

At consultation events and through the online survey, we gathered the details of people who wanted to be further involved in the project and asked them what skills they could offer. We then invited these people to a further event to discuss specifically how we can use this information to make meaningful interventions in and around Meanwood.

An evening event was arranged in a co-working space in the centre of Meanwood. We had sorted the responses from the big questions into seven key topics which we felt could in the future become projects. We also put on a small exhibition showing the work we had undertaken to date, including the community maps.

Isabel from Lemon Balm introducing the evening

After an introduction, people were invited to join one of the round table discussions about one of the key topics. I facilitated the table discussing ‘The Heart of Meanwood’.

The heart of Meanwood is the term we have been using to describe the junction in the centre and the small square enclosed by shops (see map below for context). To facilitate healthy and productive discussion, I prepared three brief case studies to help explain and demonstrate what interventions are possible and how they have been done elsewhere. These were; Poynton in Cheshire, Oxford Street in London and Cirencester Market Place

Context map

Attendees had the opportunity to contribute to several discussions over the night and many gravitated towards ‘the heart’ table. I spoke to local business owners, residents and interested people from the surrounding area.

I was amazed by how much feedback we gained from the evening. At the end we had a wealth of knowledge and a selection of really good ideas to take forward into projects. Throughout discussions a car-free day was a common theme, along with other pollution reducing measures.

Round table discussions

The next steps from this event is to write up a summary of our findings ready for the Meanwood Vision due to be launched this summer.


More information about Love Meanwood can be found on their website: lovemeanwood.org.uk

Lemon Balm who organised Love Meanwood and the consultation events also have a website: lemonbalm.org.uk 

The photographs of Love Meanwood’s events are taken by Tim

The consultations were organised from and the event was held at Light Space which is a co-working studio located centrally in Meanwood.

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