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[25 Mar 2022]

Bus Stop Portals – Engaging New Areas

This week we’ve been working on Bus Stop Portals with the Hull City Council Riverside Neighbourhood Team, starting to engage audiences on Thornton Estate – a new area for us – in a project about what artwork local residents want to see painted on their bus stops. 

What do we mean when we say ‘a new area’?

The Back to Ours team know Thornton Estate well. Our office was on the estate for a few years before moving to Bransholme, our host organisation Goodwin Development Trust, is based there, and we’ve programmed a number of well-attended shows in the church hall in the heart of the neighbourhood. But we still don’t feel we’ve properly engaged, Back to Ours style – that’s in-depth, with care and time. 

We’re really interested in the idea of journey and moving around; we’ve got a theme of bus journeys in our hero imagery, reflecting our concept of shows moving around the city in a touring circuit using community assets in local areas. The Bus Stops on the estate are also very distinctive, making an obvious connection and talking point. 

For our initial engagement this week we’ve created an event over two days, taking over a patch of grass next to a bus stop and opposite the local primary school with live music, artist Andy Pea painting, documentary photographer Jason Shipley capturing portraits, live music, hot drinks and snacks, chat, drawing and listening to sounds from other Walker Streets around the world.

The idea of Bus Stop Portals is about creating a beautiful immersive experiencing while you’re waiting for the bus, so the aim of the pop-up event’s been to initially find out what people think and want. We didn’t do any marketing because we wanted to experience it completely organically in terms of footfall and on the ground engagement, looking at who’s out and about, who wants to chat, and what they want to chat about. 

Here’s what Lou, our Director, has to say: 

“We’re going to have to spend time on this estate for people to know us – it’s about trust and people knowing we’re here for the long term, not just a flash in the pan for a couple of days and they never see us again. People engage quite easily on the surface which is great, but getting people to re-engage is far more difficult.

“We’re here and we really want to know what people think, but we can’t just take what we want from it. People want to open up about a wide range of subjects – personal stuff, religion, politics – so we have to navigate some difficult topics, and it can sometimes be quite challenging on their side.

“It’s so important to take your time with engagement. It hasn’t always been busy over the last couple of days, but that’s fine – how busy you are isn’t what makes good engagement. The quality of that engagement is what matters, and not having a solid end goal in mind before you’ve started. I’ve got ideas for what these bus stops could look and sound like, but it’ll all be shaped by local residents and we’re taking our time to see what that’ll look like.”

Hull City Council Riverside Neighbourhood Coordinator, Lauren Murtagh, adds:

‘It’s been a great couple of day talking to people, and it’s been fascinating watching how people engage and from there, how the Back to Ours team deal with lots of different conversations.

“We spoke to a gentleman who had some strong views about race and different communities living on the estate, and Lou managed that difficult conversation really well. It was all done very conversationally discussing different life experiences and circumstances and unpicking some of the more generalised ideas he had; you’re never going to change someone’s opinion in one conversation, but the way Lou navigated it in a really chatty, informed and skilful way was really interesting to listen to.”  

So what’s next? Well, we’ll be back to paint the ceiling and then it’ll be on to the next stop and the next…this is just the start.