Belonging is one among many research topics that slip and slide, appear and disappear, change shape or don't have much form at all. Capturing a sense of belonging and transforming the experience into a concrete and playful approach to placemaking was the challenge I set myself. What kind of design fosters resonance between people?
My research was an investigation of how negative narratives can affect the confidence, identity and therefore sense of belonging within Govanhill. Govanhill is an area of Glasgow characterised by the many communities and cultures that have settled there, this mismatch of cultures has fueled a narrative of stigmatisation and mistrust.
I deconstructed these narratives by considering the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings, which is often not expressed in theoretical terms but is carried in images, stories, and legends. It is in the imagined social space that people form a common understanding, create common practices and share a sense of belonging.
My hypothesis was that designing playful activities which generate new rituals and symbols can define the area, mobilise the community to take ownership of issues that exist, whilst allowing a sense of belonging to be a heightened experience in the social imaginary. I considered that my approach must transcend temporality and be traced through imagery that can evolve alongside the community it serves, which lead to the conception of the initiative; Creatures of Govanhill.
Creatures of Govanhill is an initiative that involves an annual redesign of a mythical creature, which is the cause of a local problem and must be banished through local rituals and activities. The creature brings to life issues that are identified by the community council, heightening their position in Govanhill's collective conscious.
The creature itself is designed collectively, to give shared ownership, permeate barriers and raise awareness for the problems. The creature then evolves into recognised symbol of collective action, which can be supported to varying degrees; from buying a shirt at a street festival, to participating in community council campaigns.
The creature becoming an emblem for solidarity against fly-tipping and littering.