Starting a dialogue

At the core of this research is the investigation of the role of art, design, and other ‘creative disciplines’ and their relationship with community social cohesion, organised participation, and community development. Over five months (July–November 2016), we explored the means, modes, and practices that artists, designers, and architects could employ to engage with multiple actors connected to a specific place by a variety of interests and attachments. These activities were integrated into the framework of the Mapping Nottingham’s Identity project. The main aim was to investigate how art/design and other creative approaches could be used to empower citizens to engage with the places in which they live. Therefore, the main research questions are:


  1. How do creative practices and processes facilitate the identification and appreciation of material (public service provision, heritage) and immaterial (memories, perceptions, imaginations) local culture and heritage?

Moreover, the first phase of Mapping Nottingham’s Identity (2016) explored how artists and designers can empower citizens to engage with processes of co-creation and co-design of public life where they live, which introduced a second main research question:

  1. How does the creation of new artefacts and experiences promote a more meaningful connection to the locality? How do creative practices support the co-creation of new tangible and intangible heritage, encouraging community ownership and sense of belonging?


The project started as an initiative focused on encouraging public engagement activities, exchanges, and conversations in three different areas of Nottingham: Carrington, Sneinton, and West Bridgford. Research was conducted in close collaboration between Nottingham Trent University (Architecture Subject Group), city authorities (Nottingham Heritage Strategy), and local communities and key stakeholders, including Sneinton Alchemy, Carrington Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, West Bridgford Infant School, and Carrington Primary School, alongside volunteers and members of the general public who contributed their time, expertise, skills, and good will. The interactive exhibition at Nottingham Central Library (3 September–1 October 2016) showcased the beginnings of a collaboration between the university, neighbourhoods, and the general public, providing the chance to create a platform for dialogues between communities across Nottingham.


This JAR exposition follows the structure of the research project – you are now at the starting point, a dialogue between people, places, and experiences. The section Context and relevance explains the scientific and social relevance of this project, focusing on four main themes: place, identity, heritage, and co-creation. The section A participatory methods’ toolkit provides a detailed explanation of all methods used during the project. Why would I get involved in this? is an overview of the different profiles of participants in the project and the motives behind their involvement. Results showcases the outcomes of the methods used, as they were presented in the final exhibition at Nottingham’s Central Library. Finally, the Discussion in Pictures is a visual overview of the project, including comments gathered from the participants involved. It is important to note that the methodology, results, and discussion are intentionally presented to engage in a new dialogue with all those interested in community projects: academics, creative practitioners, students, and the wider public.

Note: Ethical committee review clearance for this research was obtained from the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, Nottingham Trent University. All images and data have been included with the kind permission of all participantsUnless acknowledged otherwise, all pictures are ours.



I am aware that I don’t need to own the space to be able to have it. Public space belongs to everybody, not to nobody.

My presence gives a form to a place,

my memories sustain continuity.

We build ourselves

out of our stories.

‘Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others’

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

I am aware that the space in which I live is something bigger than

the space I occupy.