Individual commissions – Floral Repeat No 19, Richard Wooods, Bracknell Housing, Berkshire

Theme: revitalising a housing scheme for young people

Floral Repeat No 19, Richard Woods, 2007, commissioned by Look Ahead Housing and Care. Photo by: Michael Franke

Floral Repeat No 19, Richard Woods, 2007, commissioned by Look Ahead Housing and Care. Photo by: Michael Franke                     

Best practice in: involving a recognised artist in a social housing scheme to benefit the environment for service users and the local community.

Look Ahead Housing and Care housing association commissioned this project during the refurbishment of Mabley Court, Bracknell, into a series of flats for vulnerable young people. The brief for the artist was to create a work on the exterior of the building that would make a positive visual impact and be a lively intervention that residents could be proud of. The artist was also expected to engage with young people living at nearby Rain Forest Walk in order to help create a sense of ownership and ensure that the work reflected what they wanted.

The final commission, by artist Richard Woods, is a large-scale external hoarding at the side elevation of the building. It is a wooden, hand-printed ‘skin’ with a simple graphic image of a trellis of flowering foliage, intended to symbolise something that is nurtured and tended. Woods also created brightly coloured bespoke furniture for the surrounding garden to support the overall scheme.

A second artist, Deborah Jaffe, was also commissioned to run a series of related workshops with young people living at Rain Forest Walk. These helped give the young people more confidence and trust in the process of the refurbishment and the new permanent commission. Artworks made during the workshops were exhibited at South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell as part of the planning consultation for Woods’ work.

The aims were to

  • Commission a recognised artist to produce a work in association with the housing project
  • Individualise the building
  • Provide residents with something they could be proud of.

Approach and Development:
Richard Woods was directly invited to undertake the project as time was limited and an appointment had to be made quickly in order to maximise opportunities within the construction process. Artist Deborah Jaffe was appointed following interviews with four artists.

Woods’ proposal was developed through a series of site visits and discussions with the Steering Group for Mabley Court and the local residents, including at a presentation evening led by him. The Steering Group included representatives from South Hill Park (the local arts centre) and the Arts Development Officer at Bracknell Forest Borough Council. Feedback from the residents influenced Woods’ decision to make the work black and white and to locate it to the side of the building.

Look Ahead has used the arts as an integral part of its work supporting vulnerable people for over 15 years, and the team is experienced in commissioning with the involvement of service users. In addition, a close working relationship with the Tenancy Support Worker at Rain Forest Walk meant the project had an effective advocate and skilled facilitator at grassroots level.

Facts and Figures:
Key factors for success:

  • An experienced team with expertise in commissioning and working with artists, as well as expertise in with working with vulnerable young people.
  • Engagement and inclusion of residents in the design of the artwork.
  • Strong links with local partners through the Steering Group (Bracknell Forest Council, South Hill Park, Bracknell’s arts centre), which helped ensure local support, and also with Rain Forest Walk, who helped facilitate on the ground.

Funding streams:

  • The budget for the project was £35,000 and was provided by Look Ahead Housing and Care capital budget, and grant funding from Arts Council England and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Louise O’Reilly, Arts Manager, Look Ahead Housing and Care, 1 Derry Street, London, W8 5HY  Email: louiseo'

Positive Places: Five Art Commissions for Supported Housing, Look Ahead Public Arts Catalogue, 2008.