Digital BenchCommunity Cohesion | Digital Inclusion | Environmental Sustainability | Place-based Approaches | Poverty | Young People
What is the project?
A park bench is, in many cases, a home for the homeless; a place they can claim as their own for the night. But, with an increase of “anti-homeless” benches popping up around town, the most vulnerable people are being sent a discriminatory message. We wanted to reverse that negative message by creating an area that invited them to take shelter, have accurate information on local support services and to let them know that there are people out there who care and can offer help. The project was as a result of a group of disengaged youths recognising the increase in homelessness, as well as lack of charging facilities for members of the public for free in the locality.
Who is the project targeted at?
The project brought together the disengaged youths that normally have had a negative stigma associated with them amongst local residents, homeless people, church members, local PCSO, builders, contractors, industry leaders. The project gave the youths essential skills, and a chance to break down the barriers and stigma associated with them to ensure an opportunity for community cohesion was utilised.
For the young people in particular, it gave skills, confidence and experience that enabled some to gain qualifications, access to work or access to further education and apprenticeships. It also gave them the memory that they committed and stuck to something and made something amazing that others are talking about, giving them self-esteem and a new starting block for whatever comes next.
For the service users, as a result of the bench containing information of services which would be of benefit to the user, we believe it has increased awareness and the number of calls received. Furthermore, as local organisations and support services have been made aware of the bench and its location outreach support can target the area. We hope this will therefore address the preventative element by providing the beginning of a strong safety net for the individual to get back on their feet as soon as possible.
For the wider public, the bench has enabled them to not only enjoy somewhere to sit but also have the opportunity charge their electronic devices for free throughout the day.
Why did the project come about?
We started the journey with a group of disengaged youths giving them the opportunity to engage with their local environment and learn new skills around upcycling and woodwork, to find a hook that would inspire them onto their next steps in life.
After a year of hard work of everyone involved, this group of young people are not so disengaged having improved confidence, resilience, skills, social awareness, future opportunities and have a sense of pride.
They had an idea of Wales’s first digital bench and with support from a web of partners explored concept, challenges, options and then considered it in the wider community context. What was created was a comfortable place to sit whatever the weather, it has a roof that self-waters the edible food and plants on either end, a solar panelled roof powering the phone charging station, wind proofing elements and pull down information and curtains that provide a safe and private space for rough sleepers to use.
How was this project implemented?
Young people at a local youth club noticed the increase of homelessness locally whilst engaged in the local youth provision they wanted to do something to help, as they were participating in a woodwork project they suggested a bench of some sort. As a result, an initial consultation took place in the local youth club where we discussed features and possible locations. Following this, staff at Newydd volunteered with homeless charity and discussed and consulted the concept with service users that attended. Once the design was approved, a workshop was set up to construct the concept. Due to the complexity of the work, specialist organisations were brought in to upskill the young people on specific aspects of the build. Once completed, the build was taken to St Catherines Church where the young people rebuilt the digital bench onsite.
How was this project funded?
The project was funded through Newydd youth engagement program and monies secured through social Community Benefits clauses within our tendered contracts with Willis Construction & TR33.
The project was delivered in partnership with HAPI, RCT Youth and Participation Services, Eggseeds, Renew Wales, RCT Interlink, St Catherines Church, Roofbase Cardiff, Willis Construction, Pedal Emporium, and TR33
Outcomes so far
Since the digital bench was erected, staff at St Catherine’s Church have reported that on several occasions there has been people taking shelter at the digital bench overnight. The Church’s homeless café has seen an increase in attendance, and as a direct result of the digital charging facility service users are staying on site longer to charge their mobile phones resulting in higher levels of engagement and support.
For those involved in the project it has provided a variety of practical and purposeful activities, developing a range of expertise and skills in order to increase their confidence, basic literacy skills and problem solving skills, while making them more desirable and job ready to work within the solar energy and construction industry.
Furthermore, the bench has enabled the public to not only enjoy somewhere to sit but also have the opportunity charge their electronic devices for free throughout the day.
Following the success of the digital bench, we are now working with staff and service users at Velindre Cancer Centre Fundraising to build a be-spoke digital bench on their grounds for their patients and families to sit and enjoy rest bite.
- Article on Newydd website: https://www.newydd.co.uk/news/young-tenants-build-wales-first-digital-bench
- Digital Bench – video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2aQ5e0zrVI