Read about Freddie's thoughts on and involvement in redesigning the Red Path

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.