Interview: Shape My City’s Amy Harrison


Last year the Ove Arup Foundation granted an award to a promising new pilot project, run by the Architecture Centre, Bristol, aimed at promoting design, architecture and urban planning among girls and Black & Minority Ethnic students aged 14-19.

The Shape My City project has now been running for a few months, and we caught up with Learning and Participation Manager Amy Harrison to see how things are going.

How much interest have you managed to generate with Shape My City?

We’re really oversubscribed with people wanting to take part, so we’ve taken a few extra, so we’re now working with thirteen students on ten monthly evening sessions, which will take us through to November.

Shape My CityHow are you structuring the sessions?

Each session covers a different element of the built environment. Each time we get an inspiring professional to come in and talk a bit about the route of their career, what inspires them. We’re trying to make sure the guest speakers reflect the ethos of the project.

What was the thinking behind the ethos?

We want to try to encourage girls and people from B&ME backgrounds to consider careers in the built environment sector. It came out of some work we did a couple of years ago with the Stephen Lawrence Trust. We have a formal partnership with the university of the West of England, and part of that is around widening participation in general, so they’ve come in as a partner on the project.

One of the reasons we were keen to do this project now is that in Bristol we’ve got an elected mayor who was an architect, and who is very passionate about the voice of young people in a democracy. We hope towards the end of the project in November we can combine what we’re doing with National Takeover Day where young people get to take over the running of things.

We have a Bristol Urban Design Forum, and we’d like our young people to take it over and do a design review session of a project that’s coming through the Enterprise zone. The recommendations that they give will be like a youth proofing of the scheme, and it will also hopefully chime with what the mayor is passionate about.

Wall of ambitionsWhat have you observed attendees gaining from the project?

A lot of our participants are at a stage where they’re dealing with UCAS forms and applying for university, so it’s really valuable for them to have conversations with real tutors and real students who are studying on the courses – it’s a big decision when you’re 18, especially with the financial implications now.

What sort of feedback have you had from participants?

They seem really keen, they keep coming back. We’ve set up a blog and a closed Facebook group so we can share things between sessions.

One element of the project is to try to empower young people to become more active and confident in place-making, and for them to become champions, and we’ve done a lot of work around trying to collect their views and opinions about this subject, and that’s been a really interesting process.