Red Path Blog: Faith

My name is Faith, I’m 22 years old and have lived in Hackney all my life! I have lived in Homerton for over 16 years and am very interested in community engagement and social action.

Reimagining our reality is not easy, but it is the first step towards innovation and change. Growing up in Hackney as a young woman, my reality has always been an acute awareness of the dangers of walking alone, particularly at night. There have always been routes that are ‘no-go’ zones despite their time-saving benefits. The Red Path was once one of these forbidden routes. However, through my involvement in the Red Path Project, I have begun to see things in a new light, and embrace the opportunity for transformation. Every community has its problems. But even long-lasting, deep-rooted issues can be addressed through collective engagement and the reimagining of an undesirable reality. 

I got involved in the project because I know what it feels like to be troubled by an issue, yet feel somewhat powerless about changing it. I’m sure many people feel that way about a whole range of issues in Hackney. In particular, attending the Hackney Wick Town Hall community meeting and facilitating our community engagement sessions have revealed that local residents have always had concerns about the Red Path, but have just lived with them. This may be because of a lack of time to do anything about it, or because of disillusionment with the powerholders or processes which could be doing more to maintain and improve the path. But it became clear that local people had a lot to say about issues with the path and had many ideas for how to improve it.

I saw a similar enthusiasm for change every single week during our project design workshops. Every week, there was a room of local young people sticking idea-filled post-it notes on maps, drawing elaborate sketches of design plans, and creating cardboard models for a new path. Each of us were consistently trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zone to try and reimagine the reality of the Red Path. We were fuelled by our own experiences of living in the area, but also by the new knowledge we gained through consultations with a range of experts in areas such as active travel, accessibility, and women and girls’ safety.

During our workshop on women and girls’ safety, Julia King asked us: ‘What would you do if there were no limitations at all?’ For me, that question signalled a shift in how I approached the project. Before that point, myself and others in the group were afraid to bring bolder ideas and often caveated our more innovative thoughts due to our perceived ‘reality’. For example, initially, we presumed any art exhibition along the path would probably get stolen or vandalised, or that a new public toilet could be misused or mistreated. However, by the end of our sessions, we were able to see beyond our own pre-judgment and begin to design with the freedom of optimism (but not delusion). 

As someone with absolutely no background in creative arts, design or engineering, I knew that this project would pose some challenges for me and really take me out of my comfort zone. But this was a major reason why I wanted to get involved. I found new ways of expressing myself through sketching and got stuck in with scalpels to create things that I never thought I could. Moreover, as someone who doesn’t cycle, I never thought I would have any ideas on active travel. As someone without a physical disability, I never thought I would have any ideas about improving accessibility. As someone who has never really thought about the surface of the floors that I walk on, I never would have thought that I would have any ideas about surfacing and materiality, and its implications for people with mobility needs. But the project pushed me to think about these things in more depth and now I often find myself pointing out examples of tactile paving when I walk down the street!

The creation of a new and improved Red Path would be an amazing outcome from this project. If we could implement all of our ideas for its transformation, there is no doubt that it would lead to a Red Path that local residents can celebrate and be proud of. But even if we can’t get everything done exactly how we have imagined it, the project should serve as a reminder that we don’t need to just live with issues in the community, we can actually do something about them. All it takes is a bit of reimagining and the centring of the community’s voices and concerns.

The Red Path Project is an innovative community co-design initiative, which puts local young people and residents in charge of the redesign of an important pedestrian and cycling path in Hackney Wick. The project is being delivered by urban design collective Space Black, youth construction and design specialists Build Up, and youth charity Hackney Quest.  The project is funded by the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Red Path Blog: Freddie

My name is Freddie Beresford, I am 18 years old and I have lived on the Gascoyne estate for 3 years. I am an aspiring political journalist with a passion for social justice.

I first heard about the Red Path redevelopment project in August 2023. Living about 10 minutes from the path, I had used it many times as a convenient cut-through: coming off Mabley Green to head towards Stratford; walking from Homerton to meet friends on the green; getting home from Hackney Wick. Like so many people, I paid it very little mind, just viewing it as another run-down, neglected walkway I’d steer clear of in the dark. No-one else seemed to care about it, so why would I?

Learning that there was a committed partnership of local and specialist charities working to improve the path was a surprise at first. It’s easy to get used to the idea that our streets aren’t worth working to improve; that no-one would really bother putting time and effort into a public works project like this. Reading about the project, it was a pleasant reminder that there are people who care, and that with the right focus of resources, it is possible to improve our own communities. The more I learnt about the project, the more excited I felt about its potential. I have a keen interest in accessible design, particularly tactile paving. I envisioned a path that was not only technically accessible, but easy and pleasant to use for all. My initial designs were relentlessly practical- I had a lot of ideas about how the path could be resurfaced to improve accessibility. After the site visit during our first session, the ideas of the rest of the team inspired me to think of the bigger picture more creatively: to consider how we could make walking down the path feel safe, comfortable and enjoyable rather than simply necessary.

From the beginning, this project was unusual. The idea to redesign at all was put forward by a young adult from the local community, who was also part of our design team. The community has been centred at every stage of the process, rather than given a tokenistic consultation with minimal impact on the actual final product. Although some elements of the project were much harder for me than they likely would have been for a professional architect (amongst many other things, this project has taught me that I am not cut out for technical drawing), the final product, a design concept born out of an authentic local collaboration, is infinitely more valuable than something that could be drawn up by someone with no care for the area or how it is actually used by the community. Allowing local people to create our own spaces means an increased emotional investment and pride in them; a major issue with the path was that it felt neglected and poorly maintained. What better way to increase the number of local people who care about the space than have us design it ourselves?

Working on the Red Path project, I felt empowered and valued. Although we had support from professional urban planners from Space Black and Build Up, and sought expertise from various external consultants, the design concepts drawn up were entirely drawn from the community: from us, as a team of local young people, but also from people we met at the community sessions we ran alongside the design sessions. We adapted our designs to consider what is valuable to the people who use the path. We met a local resident, for instance, who works to maintain the corner of Mabley Green that backs onto the path, and on his guidance we were able to design a new pathway into the green, which would make the Red Path feel more pleasant and open, without damaging the existing ecosystem.

I hope that the success of this project is part of a new movement towards urban planning which honestly centres communities. With a little faith and the right support, we have proven that local people are capable of creating bold, yet practical designs that meet the diverse needs of our neighbourhoods.

The Red Path Project is an innovative community co-design initiative, which puts local young people and residents in charge of the redesign of an important pedestrian and cycling path in Hackney Wick. The project is being delivered by urban design collective Space Black, youth construction and design specialists Build Up, and youth charity Hackney Quest.  The project is funded by the London Legacy Development Corporation.