By putting local young people at the centre of planning its improvement, the Red Path project aims to show what community-led urban transformation can achieve. Hear all about the project from Faith, one of our young people.....

The Red Path Project is a collaboration between urban design collective Space Black, youth construction and design specialists Build Up, and youth charity Hackney Quest. The Red Path Project aims to set anew benchmark for community co-design – handing over power to local young people and residents to decide how Red Path should be transformed, with the help of relevant experts. Red Path is an important pedestrian and cycling path in Hackney Wick which has been neglected and under-maintained for decades. By putting local young people at the centre of planning its improvement, the Red Path project aims to show what community-led urban transformation can achieve. Hear all about the project from Faith, one of our young people.....

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 maybe 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.