Den Building

An example of a co-designed den

In 2011 Community21; staff and students from the University of Brighton and the community of Barcombe in East Sussex used Lottery funding to explore a project that aimed to engage the community in co-designing and co-producing their own recreational spaces and places.

The 'Wild About Barcombe' project supported our co-designing a research and development process that addressed issues and enhanced opportunities identified by the community. These included the need to develop alternate recreational spaces for young people that did not participate or enjoy with sport. To engage young people in nature and their natural environment and empower them to make change in their local environment through methods that they would enjoy.

The Community21 team devised the Den-Building programme. This trailed a mixed-methods approach to ascertain the ways in which the young people would best benefit and engage with the project.

The images below demonstrate these processes in more detail.

The model and co-design and engagement methods

The initial den-building project plan

We used a range of methods to engage young people and older people in an intergenerational exchange of knowledge and ideas that explored what dens could be developed using sustainable local resources.

The aims were to:

Gain engagement from disengaged and disparate parties in the community to result in a more meaningful set of outcomes

Generate experiences that promote co-learning and intergenerational exchange between the different participants

Encourage safe but exciting interactions with the natural environment and to embrace the physical nature of working with materials and making processes

Promote health and well-being through a cohesive community initiative that forefront clear principles

Co-produce a brilliant community recreational resource!

Method 1 - Co-design woodland workshop

Young people onsite
Co-making prototypes
Co-making prototypes
Co-learning in the woods
Co-making prototypes
Learning how to manage sustainable materials
Co-making prototypes

Having scoped the opportunities with the community we used two approaches:

  1. a creative workshop in a local woodland (thanks to permission with a local landowner).

We provided expertise in woodland management (which meant using really noisy chainsaws) to help teach the community about their local resources and how to use them safely and sustainably. We felled some trees to use in the project which was really exciting!!

The young children, our older students and older people then worked together to co-create prototype spaces and learn some making and crafting techniques to apply in their final designs.

The community really enjoyed this process and were exhausted by the end of a really brilliant day. What was interesting was how much craft and attention to detail was applied to the process. The participants embraced the sustainability messages from the workshop staff and interacted across ages to form collaborative ideas. It was surprisingly competitive and yet inclusive of all ideas co-produced.

Method 2 - Computer aided design workshop

Co-making prototypes
co-making prototypes
  1. a codesign workshop with young people using computer aided technology to model possible dens and recreational spaces. They used their knowledge of woodland management and sustainable materials to design the computer renderings.

This really engaged the young people and they worked enthusiastically with our team to imagine some really exciting spaces and co-created really compelling and animated computer models of their ideas.

The final den-building and recreational spaces

final co-producing dens
Final co-producing dens
Outdoor classroom and meeting space

The final process involved co-producing the final dens onsite on the wild area of the community recreation ground.

The project produced a range of spaces that promoted and delivered the aims of the project and provided a meaningful and distinctive community asset.

Soon it will be time to do it all again for the next generation!

Den-building team

The project was lead by Nick Gant, Jim Wilson and James McAdam (community21 and University of Brighton) in collaboration with Wild About Barcombe and Barcombe Parish Council supported and funding from the Big Lottery and Groundworks.