Open Works – building a participatory platform

| Helen Sharp

Open Works is a pilot project by Participatory City in collaboration with Lambeth Council, South London.

Some of the initiatives that particularly interest me are those which encourage a participatory culture. This approach appears to achieve a greater depth of inclusion across a community. It attracts many different types of people, reaching further than more traditional community programmes which often focus on active citizenship and engage those who have the time and inclination to give something back.

Participation can embrace all those simple and intangible interactions which build a strong community, sharing tools, chatting at the school gate, helping someone across the road – the sort of activity that anyone can do, even if their capacity is limited.

Participatory City is an organisation which is bringing this idea to life and one of their first pilot projects, Open Works, was tested a couple of years ago in West Norwood, in collaboration with Lambeth Council. It started with a shopfront on the high street, which acted as an ideas station where citizens could walk in and share ideas and passions, spaces and resources, creating a library of assets and potential connections.

“It’s far more empowering. You are not just giving your opinion which could be drowned in a pile of paper and never acted on. It is you going out there with your ideas and your hands and making change happen.”


Open Works mobilised and united over 1000 residents across a range of activities which were intrinsically appealing to others, whilst keeping legislation and other barriers to a minimum. As a result 20 new community-led initiatives were prototyped including a trade school, open orchard, batch cooking club and a library of things.

One reason this project stands out for me is their creative use of space in the neighbourhood. These initiatives don’t need meeting rooms or event spaces; instead they require more functional spaces like kitchens, gardens or workshops and if this kind of participation is to become the norm, the current way of thinking about space needs to be challenged. In West Norwood, citizens were enabled to think beyond the usual hired community spaces and untapped resource was identified including wasteland in front of the bus station, schools and kitchens.

You can read more about the theory, implementation and evaluation of the platform here.

Following the success of Open Works, it seems that there is sufficient evidence to upscale the platform and create a participatory culture across a much larger area and this is something that Participatory City are currently working on. Watch this space, as we hope to interview one of the founders, Tessy Britton and hear more about her plans.

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