EC1 needs more community hubs

DAVID WILCOX thinks EC1 needs new inclusive spaces for neighbours to meet, chat and make connections and he’s got an idea for how it might happen

An image of two hands shaking hands made from white neon tubes
Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Community drop-in sessions at Barbican Library this year have highlighted the need for inclusive spaces to meet and chat, activities for different ages, mental health support, residents giving tours to make connections, ways of telling stories. These in-person activities could be supported by online communities, calendars and maps. The Barbican Centre Communities and Neighbourhoods team, who ran the sessions, have now said that, an information hub could be created in display space on the ground floor of the Centre, which you pass on the way to Barbican Kitchen. What an opportunity. This offers people the chance to engage not just local residents and workers, but visitors from London and beyond.

I shared some initial ideas- and was delighted to do some work for the Communities team building on my previous experience in the field, including consulting for The Peel, and have suggested that different panels might be used to show local walks, articles from the ECI Echo, maps of the neighbourhood, and a calendar of activities. In addition, we could create a “shop window” of printed and digital information cards in the hub and online. The printed cards could be about places, people, resources, and projects like those supported by Culture Mile’s Imagine Fund and QR codes could provide a link to more information.

While the display space isn’t good for meetings, it could provide a rendezvous point for people to connect and then have a chat in the Centre’s other spaces, bars and restaurants. It could even be made into a community learning project. Barbican Centre’s Open Lab programme supports artists developing new projects. How about a Creative Communities Lab to help people contribute content to the hub -and/or to start their own hub space with a Hub Kit?

Sometimes these ideas are bit theoretical, so I’ve asked whether there are any elements that could be practically useful, and whether it might realistic to develop a network of linked information hubs, in libraries, community centres and other public buildings, “One of the big challenges for communities is how they create or access opportunities to connect with each other,” said Olu Alake, chief executive at The Peel. “David and the Community Team at Barbican have rightly recognised that they have there a space that could be used very interestingly to address this issue. I am particularly intrigued at the idea of an interactive information board, where and people can find out what is going on in their localities. 

“This can be developed further using emerging Al technologies to place Barbican’s rich cultural offer within the local community in more accessible ways that resonate more tellingly with their own social and cultural backgrounds and areas of interest. This could be the start of something very special indeed.”

There would be great benefit in an ideas session and development that combined the resources of the Barbican Centre, Library, and other City organisations with the inspiration and expertise of The Peel and other centres in south Islington. The hope is that it could lead to an ECI network of hubs for Creative Communities.

You’ll see a rather ambitious vision for the hub on a new blog I’ve created to support and expand on this column. Do get in touch with any ideas.


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