Neighbourhood Futures Festival: The Story So Far

In the summer of 2023, the Centre for Urban Wellbeing at the University of Birmingham collaborated with Birmingham Settlement to organise the first ever Neighbourhood Futures Festival.

The festival launched the opening of the Nature & Wellbeing Centre at Edgbaston Reservoir, a flagship site demonstrating the value of neighbourhood ecological developments. 

The festival aimed to support local participation in activities to improve community wellbeing and sustainability, building on the notion that wellbeing is essential for transformation in the face of global injustices and environmental crises.

"The Neighbourhood Futures Festival generates a new way for community organisations to work across the city, connecting wellbeing, green spaces and sustainable action. This relational world-view takes a more transformational approach to tackling the climate, biodiversity and global inequality crises."

The Neighbourhood Futures 2023 Programme

What was delivered

The festival’s main themes were neighbourhood, environment, urban wellbeing and climate action. The University of Birmingham’s Centre for Urban Wellbeing delivered talks, workshops, and activities on a range of topics including:  

  • Community action
  • Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs)
  • Sustainable building and retrofitting
  • Neighbourhood planning and regenerative cities
  • Youth mental health and mental health recovery
  • Visualising air pollution

In addition artists provided energetic, thoughtful, and interactive performances including The ‘Monster Clean Up’ engaging children with issues of waste and environmental harm, alongside environmental awareness activities delivered by Birmingham Settlement.

Around 50 free sessions were offered by a range of other organisations, including nature crafts and scavenger hunts for families, walking tours, a sailing trip and wellbeing activities such as mindfulness, Tai Chi, singalongs, upcycling workshops, food sharing and a walkalong on neighbourhood economics.

Neighbourhood Participation

Over 1,000 people attended the festival over the 6 days including residents, general public, existing clients and volunteers, local groups and educators.

Community Connectedness

Participants valued the festival for creating a sense of community, inclusion and belonging.

Nature for Wellbeing

Wellbeing sessions enabled participants to think more deeply about own health and ways it could be improved through nature.

Tales from the Red Shed

An active storytelling session was delivered by Giovanni ‘Spoz’ Esposito, the former poet laureate for Birmingham from The Word Association.

Spoz worked with University of Birmingham Researcher, Dr Hannah Absalom to develop a poetry anthology featuring the work of festival goers. Diverse communities told their stories about the site, locality, and connections with Birmingham Settlement, to create the ‘Tales from the Red Shed’.

The Augmented Reality Neighbourhood Toolkit

The ESRC Centre for Sociodigital Futures created a bespoke immersive experience for residents to try out an Augmented Reality tool, the Future Places Toolkit for publicly re-imagining the site and their local environment.

Intergenerational group participants were able to collectively imagine how the new buildings and site could be used as a community centre, how play could look like for children in the future, what trees could be planted, what sounds, smells, experiences we might encounter.

At the end many participants said they felt more hopeful about the future. 

What participants said

Lots of exciting ideas about community climate action and the ways we can work together and support each other to mobilise”.  

“I got to speak to other residents of the area who had great ideas about the neighbourhood”.

“We don’t have to lose hope, keep blooming like flowers”.

“We are more connected and living in the future we dreamed about”.

“It’s a beautiful, protected, safe space”.

“Community connections are valuable”.