Reflecting on our two days of delivering training, hosted at the Open University in Camden Town, it has been notable how valuable and valued the time spent together working, thinking and creating has been. The event took place on the 9-10 July, and was an opportunity for the architects and students present to explore some aspects of working with places of worship to help enable their clients to design collaboratively, and engage their communities in the process.
The community of St.Peter’s finds itself at a crossroads, both literally, as it is located at the intersection of the main roads that pinpoints the centre of Chester, and more broadly as the community plans to make changes to the building, acting as a catalyst for engaging and growing participation within and with-out the space we work in.
We enjoyed a burst of creativity at the start of the day, making our own interpretative model of the centre of Chester. This briefing/locating task generated a lively discussion of how the church extends out into the streets, down the road to the historic racecourse and out through the ancient walls bounding Chester.
As we gathered as a group at the end of the day it was revealing to note some themes that participants, both architects and ‘clients’ found most important:
1. Enjoying being out of their comfort zone: it was evident that the tools and exercises, and also conversations, were not familiar to all. There was a real appetite to participate and learn to understand what skills in the group we could help to unlock.
2. Better understanding of clients’ needs: having a full two days to work together and listen to the viewpoints of people from diverse backgrounds, ages, and experience stressed the importance and value of listening better to our clients, and enjoying the relationships and prompts this can make to deepen the quality of the design.
3. Be more confident as an enabler for good design and conversation: it is not always easy to launch into a new project and make time for community and client engagement activities. By sharing some approaches and methods that have worked well, it was wonderful to see the groups presenting back with humour, intelligence and a feeling of passion and confidence.
We look forward to taking the learning from the days into the next stage of the research project. Going back to some points raised in a lively round table session on day one, our Historic Places of worship often are in very urgent need of change, by working collaborative and openly as architects, designers and clients we have the opportunity to build resilience and pass on a lasting legacy to the coming generations.