A new community-led project shows how design can change lives for the better, writes V&A Dundee’s Peter Nurick
What does design mean to you? And would you consider yourself a designer? I’m very proud to have spent over a year working with local Dundee communities to create a new garden in the centre of the waterfront, and to give people the opportunity to become designers.
Our Community Garden sits in one corner of Slessor Gardens, the wonderful new green space that has transformed the waterfront and brought life and activity into that part of the city well before V&A Dundee opens next year.
From the start, we wanted to use the garden space made available by Dundee City Council to have a positive impact. Gardening is a great way to think about design, as it involves collecting ideas, testing them out with friends or family, and then turning your design into a physical space to be enjoyed and shared with others.
Gardens can also be very calm, safe spaces for anyone to relax in, and many people find the process of gardening helpful for relieving stress and improving their state of mind.
Working with design studio kennedytwaddle, designer and lecturer Linsey McIntosh and landscape architect Glen MacFarlane, we planned a series of workshops to enable a group of individuals from across the city to design – from scratch – the V&A Dundee Community Garden, with sessions in the Botanic Garden and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.
We made clear from the start that we wanted to jointly create a world-class public space for people to enjoy and spend time in, a garden created by the city and for the city.
Our volunteers included people living with – and recovering from – a range of health and wellbeing issues, as it was crucial to have their input to create a community space that worked well. We also worked with Art Angel, a wonderful organisation which uses design, creativity and art to support people living with mental health difficulties in Dundee.
The impact of the project has been incredible, well before we open the garden to the public later this year. Taking part in the project has had a positive impact on our participants, improving their self-confidence, giving them new skills and creating a new support network for them.
Members of our community design team were also invited to meet the Queen when she officially opened Slessor Gardens last summer, which was a huge honour. Her Majesty was even introduced to the word ‘funusual’, one of the team’s favourite ways of describing their sources of inspiration for the garden – things that are both fun and unusual, at the same time.
The sense of ownership our whole team has felt over this project is exactly how we want people to feel about V&A Dundee – this is a museum for the people of Dundee and Scotland, and as well as the incredible exhibitions and galleries we will want you to come and get involved. From drop-in family sessions to after-hours performances, the new museum will be buzzing with creative opportunities for people of all ages.
Our architect Kengo Kuma describes V&A Dundee as a ‘living room for the city’, as he sees it as a space for people to feel comfortable, somewhere that is theirs to relax in, share special moments with friends and family, but also to be active and creative.
And if the museum is a living room, then we’re already building the garden! Work on construction started recently, with the experts at Careys kindly offering to do the garden’s groundwork and hard landscaping, while the whole project couldn’t have happened without the generous support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
We’re now looking for more volunteers to help plant the garden this summer, and I’d love to hear from anyone interested in taking part, whatever your age or level of physical activity. The garden will be a place for everyone, so it’s important that everyone can help to create it too.
Peter Nurick is Communities Producer at V&A Dundee.