Woods in Ealing by the Grand Union Canal. The view from Alexandra Palace, looking south across #London.

We are Crafty Explorers

Over the last few months I have been working with an outstanding team on Crafty Explorers, an innovative project to improve the health of children aged 5 and below. A response to the Knee High Project design challenge that is run by the Design Council and funded by Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity, Crafty Explorers is a friendly and affordable place for families to make clay creatures.

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Other than boogly googly eyes all of the materials we use are natural and could be found for free with a bit of foraging. Acorn tops and pebbles make great eyes too though, so some are 100% natural. After making their crafty creatures we challenge children to complete missions with them in local parks. Challenges include going outside into green spaces to fly, climb, make a nest, find a worm, hide from pigeons and many more.

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The pop-up shop that we opened to trial our ideas in Nunhead (Southwark, south London) was a massive success. Parents reported that we were having a positive influence on the physical and mental health of their children, as well as helping them to connect with nature and learn new skills. Many families came back several times over the six weeks that we were open and a few visited us daily for periods. This is high street, popular and engaging “learning outside the classroom” and “fieldwork” that we have linked to local schools, but is independent of them.

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The building was provided by Southwark Council who are doing some great work to lift Nunhead’s village high street. With many central shopping areas in the middle of identity crises, we can see a role for Crafty Explorers not just in helping to improve the health of children, but in being an alternative centre for communities.

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Helen, Carolina, Lesley, Tom, Alan, Pete and Mark are just a few of the excellent people from Explorer HQ, The Geography Collective and City Farmers who have come together to work on Crafty Explorers. A blend of great design, simple ideas, deep thinking and positive energy made the shop the success that it was.

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The pilot shop is now closed, but the project lives on. This week we present our research, ideas and plans to the Knee High Project panels. With a blend of skill, hard work and luck we may just get through to the next stage of the design challenge. This will give us some added support to help bring Crafty Explorers to the next level.

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There was an accident on the M4 today so we were forced to leave the motorway at Slough and take the A4 back to Ealing. When we got to Heathrow we saw a sign for Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centres, my wife’s research focuses on women, migration, detention, health and home… so we thought we’d turn off and have an explore. It was not just the barb wired buildings that look like they could be logistical distribution centres for a supermarket that struck me, but their positioning to and relationship with their neighbour…

The building on the left looks like it could be a detention and removal centre with it’s concrete walls, small windows and… if you look closely.. two-way surveillance including CCTV cameras and loud speakers. This is actually the Sheraton Hotel at Heathrow Airport. The building behind it is Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre. Separated by just 50 metres, the ‘visitors’ of each of these dormitories are so close and yet ‘worlds apart’. It looks like they may even be able to look out of their (in)secure bedrooms to one another.

Looking north, in this picture you can see Colnbrook on the left (and west) and the Sheraton to the right (and east). Check out this map.

In their own words, here’s a quick comparison of these two different establishments:

“This centre, near London’s Heathrow airport, holds up to 383 detainees on behalf of the UK Immigration Service plus a further 20 people on behalf of HM Revenue and Customs. Sheraton Heathrow Hotel’s 426 guest rooms are warm, inviting, and designed for your comfort and convenience. Whether you choose a Classic room, Club room, or suite, you will experience the celebrated “ahhhhh” of The Sheraton Sweet Sleeper™ Bed. Since it opened in 2004 – ahead of schedule and under budget – more than 40,000 detainees have passed through the centre, making it one of the busiest removal centres in the UK. Most detainees are awaiting removal abroad, with more than 30 nationalities on average being held at the centre for an average of seven days. Our third floor includes dedicated Starwood Preferred Guest Rooms, as well as Club Rooms. Club Rooms feature King-sized beds, bathrobes, slippers and LCD screen televisions as well as upgraded amenities, free bottled water, complimentary wireless High Speed Internet Access and fitness center access. The short-term holding facility within the centre is used to hold people immediately after their detention by UK Immigration Service. They are usually only held in this facility for 72 hours. Colnbrook also provides a separate custody service to HM Revenue and Customs. Club guests have special access to the Club Lounge. A relaxing, upscale space, the Club Lounge offers complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a variety of beverage options. Take advantage of the private Club Lounge where you can connect with friends, meet with your team, or simply relax by catching your favorite TV show. The majority of those detained are suspected of smuggling drugs inside their bodies into the UK.The centre was designed and built by Serco and operates on an eight-year contract (with the possibility of a two-year extension) with the UK Immigration Service. Need to get some work done? A copier/fax/printer and complimentary office supplies, internet access and computer stations are ready to go. We pride ourselves on providing the best possible environment for our detainees.”*

*The bold extract is quoted from Serco’s Colnbrook website (1 July 2012) while the words in italics are on the Sheraton’s room description page for their Heathrow Hotel.”


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