Park Life

Miss Represented alumni tackle the city’s parks


Evie Martin and Caitlin Smith have been part of Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival’s flagship Creative Learning project Miss Represented for several years, touring their show Can You See Me Now in 2017. Moving on now, they have set up a resident-run parks project in Whitehawk, to create better facilities in the playgrounds and open spaces in the area. See their film here

What is the Park Life campaign all about, and how did it start?

E: It started with us when we were on tour with Miss Rep. We were in the changing room and we were talking about how bad the area was where we live, all the parks and stuff like that. Jo, who works with Miss Represented, told us about how we could make a campaign and how we could challenge the council as well as work with them to try and get it sorted.

C: It’s a resident run campaign that me and Evie started up. We started speaking about it probably November last year, but we started getting the ball rolling about March. Then we had a public meeting in May where we got all the residents together to talk about what the problems were, what they’d like to change and what they’d like to see happen. And then we did some petition forms and got people to sign to support our campaign.

E: We’ve also set these playdates up. Like when you meet your friend for a playdate, we put our playdates out on Facebook so everyone can come along, doesn’t matter if you’re friends or not, we’re all neighbours.

Why are resident run projects important?

E: Because you’re the ones who are actually living there and you’re actually at the forefront of it. The council don’t get to see it first-hand like we do.

C: And being young people in the area, we noticed the problems from when we were growing up and noticed the things that we didn’t have. So this is what we’d like to see now for the children because the area’s not had it for so long, and we’ve got kids now ourselves. Why don’t they deserve it? All the other areas, like Hove and Saltdean, they’ve all got nice parks, whereas we’ve got nothing – a park with a swing frame but no swings and holes in the floor.

E: With the amount of highrise blocks we have in the area, there’s so many people without gardens. The outdoor space is crucial to them, to get out and about. The statistics are that the area is the most deprived in Brighton & Hove and you can see it.

E: Within Whitehawk there’s only ever been 1 resident run organisation, whereas everyone else has always come from either a library or doctor’s surgery or something… but they live around the area, not actually in the area. So when we set up, it was the first resident run group in ages.

C: We’ve been at a few neighbourhood meetings and they’ve said we’re the first young people in so long that have actually wanted to make a change. So many people want a change but don’t do anything about it. Whereas we’ve come up with this idea and we’re actually following it through, and we’re not doing it for ourselves, we’re doing it for everyone else as well.

Who have you been working with in order to make this all happen?

E: Miss Represented mostly, because that’s where we came from. They were the ones really supporting from the get go.

C: We’ve had lots of support from other networks. We’ve had some funding from Brighton Police, we pitched to Brighton Soup. We didn’t actually win the money but somebody offered to match what was won and gave us £480. A lot of people have been really supportive. We’ve been working with our local councillor Nancy Platts, we’ve got a council meeting on Friday to see how we can work together and collaborate.

The Big Picnic event you’ve organised sounds amazing. What will be going on?

E: We wanted to get everyone together, because there’s lots of talk about expanding one of the existing parks, so we could be like - if this was an amazing park, this is how many people would access it. But also to just have a picnic as a community. So we’ve got the church doing a BBQ, we’ve got two performers, Boudicca and Tommy Sissons.

C: We’ve got people from Brighton Table Tennis Club, a smoothie bike, and Whitehawk Boxing Club. And then we’re doing a raffle. Loads of people have donated prizes, people from nurseries and stuff. We’re organising a hamper from Brighton Dome with things like tins, cupboard stuff that would come in useful for some people. We’ve also got a fire engine coming for the kids! We’ve had lots of offers for things like bouncy castles but because it’s our first time doing it, we wanted to keep it small. Next year, we can make it bigger and better.

E: We’re also going to have our petition forms, and membership forms so people can sign up. And we’re doing consultations with people on the day.

C: We’ve got a map and people can mark where their ideal park would be and what changes they’d like to see in different areas.

How can people get involved and help?

C: Come to us – email us ([javascript protected email address]) or we’ve got a Facebook page. We’ve also got a website

E: As well, people can help by coming to our events and signing our petition.

C: Even an extra like on Facebook and sharing our posts will help to get the word out a bit more, and give us just a little bit of extra support.

How has being part of Miss Rep helped you take the step to run your own campaign?

C: Me and Evie have done so much in this last year that we don’t get nervous anymore.

E: Yeah I think with the tour, it definitely built up our confidence. And even public speaking generally.

C: Through Miss Rep and the staff, it’s given us so many connections that we would never have had if we’d set it up ourselves.

E: It’s all about networking

C: I don’t think we’d be as far as we are now. To be honest, I think if it had been me and Evie on our own, we wouldn’t have known where to start.

E: We had that support of someone saying actually you can do this, giving us that push.

And you’re also co-facilitating the Miss Rep Satellite Sessions in schools and The Connected Hub. How are those going?

C: They’re going really well I think. We were ready for the next step. We didn’t want to cut ties with Miss Rep but we were ready to come out of the youth centre membership. We still wanted to do what we were doing but in a different kind of way. To help people rather than people helping us… there’s a lot of younger people starting and we realized we weren’t at that stage anymore. They needed the help that we didn’t need.

E: The time was right when Park Life and the Satellite Sessions came up, it helped the transition into something new. It’s a way to be apart from it, but still part of it. What we learnt, we have a chance to show that, to go in as workers. It feels better.

C: It’s also our first step towards working, because I’ve never worked before. I did want to be a maths teacher, but now with the campaign and the satellite sessions, it’s opening up new ideas for me and new opportunities. I’ve got other options there.

The work you’re doing is extremely inspiring. What does it feel like to be leaders in your community, especially as role models for younger people?

E: I do feel proud of us. Ten years ago, I never thought I’d be doing something like this.

C: We’ve lived in the area for so long and nothing’s changed. Now that something is changing and it’s because of us, it makes me feel a sense of responsibility.

E: It makes us carry on.

C: It’s the area we grew up in, and our kids will grow up in. We want to break that stigma of Whitehawk being a bad area.

You’re building something very special for your community. What are your dreams for the future?

E: One big massive park in the area. Park Life having ownership of the little parks around and having our own space. We’re doing all this campaign on our phones, so it would be amazing to have an office space, and also a room for our play dates. There are so many community rooms around Whitehawk, it’s about actually using them.

C: Having an indoor space for the winter. Stuff like a giant connect 4 and snakes and ladders, we could take it all inside and the kids could still play. They could still meet each other and get their exercise. There’s nothing indoors to do in the area. All the kids are just sitting indoors on their own. Doing what we do in the park, but in a community room, would give them something to do.

E: With youth clubs, some kids get bored of that stuff. And with us, it’s not just about the kids, it’s about the community as a whole getting together, we’re not just a kids drop off place. We’re all together, we’re all gonna talk. I wouldn’t mind having a playgroup, I think that is one of the big dreams. We’re already facilitators within the arts. It would be good to have something similar, but a bit more within the community, working with families and young people.

The Big Picnic is on Sat 1 Sep at 12pm

Find out more about the campaign, the play dates and get in touch

If you want to find out more about Miss Represented or be added to the mailing list please contact [javascript protected email address]

Thank you to Big Lottery Fund, The Chalk Cliff Trust The Goodall Foundation & John Thaw Foundation for their kind support on the Miss Represented project.