Astley Cooper School girls help design plans for inclusive park in new Spencer’s Park development

Schoolgirls are involved in helping to design inclusive youth spaces after a study found that public spaces are dominated by teenaged boys

Schoolgirls from Astley Cooper School in Hemel Hempstead have taken part in a four-day pioneering consultation to help make public spaces more inclusive to young women.

This is the first time that such a consultation has taken place in the UK with the year 9 pupils meeting with developer Countryside, the London School of Economics (LSE), HTA architects and the charity Make Space for Girls on Tuesday (July 12) to inform the design and development of an inclusive public spaces pilot scheme in Spencer’s Park.

Countryside’s Spencer’s Park in Hemel Hempstead development was started last year and will include 600 homes, a new primary school, shops, commercial buildings and open spaces.

From left: Kate Ives, Ms Deborah Collins, schoolgirls, Charles Addison, Dr Julia King and Imogen Clark.

Countryside wanted input from local teenage girls on how parks can be made more inclusive for young women by listening to their views – after a study in Sweden found that that conventional teenage activity spaces were used 80% by boys and just 20% by girls.

A Countryside-commissioned report from LSE and Make Space for Girls found that consultations with women and teenage girls is critical to prevent them being a forgotten group in parks and public spaces.

Dr Julia King’s and Make Space for Girls’ research has investigated the way that the design of public spaces impacts their use, looking at factors like gender and other demographics.

Dr Julia King, a research fellow at LSE Cities added: “Working with Countryside, Make Space for Girls, and HTA, this is a great opportunity to

Dr Julia King from the LSE and Imogen Clark from Make Space for Girls in a debate with the girls.

explore new methodologies of engagement to understand and imagine the future of new public spaces in the Spencer’s Park development in Hemel Hempstead.”

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Dr King added: “Through this partnership we hope to build on models of social research that can empower people to affect positive change by participating in the design and making of their own communities.”

Susannah Walker, co-Founder of Make Space for Girls said: “We are excited about working with Countryside and Dr King on this innovative project. It’s really important that the voices of teenage girls are heard in consultations so that their needs are included in designs.

She added: “We know from work done elsewhere that when public spaces are designed to be inclusive many other groups benefit from the changes - including old people, mothers, and teenage boys as well.”

Susannah explained that when a park in Sweden was designed by young women aged 16-24, the space was used much more evenly between boys and girls.

Deborah Collins, head of year 9 at Astley Cooper School, said that the initiative is transforming the way their female students look at public

spaces and has been a great learning curve.

Ms Collins said: “This opportunity to empower young women and promote engagement in local democracy has significantly enriched the curriculum we offer at Astley Cooper school.”

She added: “Our girls are developing their communication, planning and organisation skills while learning about the process of designing and delivering a building and public places.”