Benches are interesting places.  When we sit on a bench we make ourselves ‘at home’. We might be waiting for a bus, taking a breather, changing a baby’s nappy, catching up with a friend or sneaking a quick nap. Benches are a public
benefit. A free place we can sit for as long as we like, without even having to pay for a coffee.

Our AHRC Connected Communities project explores how aspects of identity (ethnicity, gender, age) can shape how people are seen when they sit outside.

Though the urban bench can be seen as a delightful, sometimes even romantic, place the research also investigates aspects of confrontation and control. In particular, we are interested in growing concerns about gathering in public places (such as use of dispersal orders) and how places are often ‘tidied up’ by removing benches and even installing ‘anti-homeless spikes’.

The Bench Project is learning about social connections and the ways different groups use outdoor spaces. Our researchers have been chatting to people in two very different communities in London: St Helier in Sutton, a residential area neighbouring a busy hospital and Woolwich, where the local Nepalese elders spend significant amounts of time sitting outside every day.

Policy impacts include influencing agendas regarding public health, social experiences of living in city neighbourhoods, combating loneliness and isolation, community safety and policing, supporting participation of elderly and young residents, and addressing hate crime and harassment.

The research will be of benefit to academics researching social use of urban places and those working in the built environment such as architects, landscape architects, planners and open space managers.

The project will produce a 10 minute film and a report.

This is a collaboration with the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, Sussex University and the Greenwich Inclusion Project.

To read the press release, please click here.