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24 Hours in Brussels: young Londoners win a European-wide award for designing public spaces in Brent

In June, we were lucky enough to attend the Eurocities Awards in Brussels on behalf of the Seen and Heard project. Although our trip was just 24 hours’ long, we had an amazing time, and came away having won the Award for ‘Young people co-creating public spaces’. 

To give a little context: Seen and Heard was the brainchild of Brent’s London Borough of Culture programme. Commissioned by Metroland Cultures and delivered in partnership with LSE Cities, it consisted of young people across the borough of Brent collating ideas and perspectives to shape public spaces around us through workshops and debate.

It culminated in a final set of policy proposals, presented to the Mayor of London in 2020. Following this, LSE Cities, in partnership with the development company Quintain, offered apprenticeships to five young people, allowing us to design public spaces across Wembley Park. Across three years we worked with architects, developers and artists to turn our designs from ideas into a built public space. The first, fondly named Samovar Space, opened in 2022. 

On the day itself, we travelled via Eurostar and arrived in Brussels around 4:00pm, using our free time to visit the Brussels Urban Summit and hear talks from professionals across the public design industry. We were also able to soak in the unique and historical architecture of the city, sitting at the steps of the Mont Des Arts, which gave us an incredible view of the skyline and the Jardin which had just bloomed. We were so captured by the views that we had to race back to our hotel to prepare for the awards ceremony!

The ceremony was held at the Gare Maritime; an old station that has been transformed into a hub for shopping and eating out. It was a fantastic location and demonstrated how repurposing older infrastructure can be hugely beneficial. We entered to an audience of approximately 700 guests. We had the chance to speak to other nominees and learn about other cities across Europe that are making waves in architecture and public realm design. The range and diversity of projects was impressive, as cities had utilised museums, local councils and even VR technology to create better social impact for citizens.

Finally, it came to the announcement of awards. As we heard the words ’Seen and Heard’, we looked to each other in shock and joy! We walked onstage and were handed the trophy and certificate from the Brussels Capital Region’s State Secretary, feeling immensely proud of the team of young people and other collaborators who made the project what it was. An important theme within ’Seen and Heard’ was the idea of reclaiming the public space which we felt no longer fully reflected the colour and culture of our vibrant and multicultural borough, which we named ’Brent in Brent’. After winning this award, we had also created ‘Brent in Brussels’! 

After the ceremony, we conversed until the night grew late with representatives from cities across the globe, discussing how the project was conceived and the thinking behind it. We hope other organisations see the impact and strength in projects such as ours which can bring communities together, empower young people in public spaces, and speak to key issues such as sustainability. 

As well as pride in representing our city, our main takeaway from the event is being glad to show that young people should be active participants in conversations around public space and design. Young people should be encouraged to get involved in their local area and not be afraid to give opinions on its design. Because, after all, aren’t we the people who will be using them?

Keshav Harivardhan 
Keshav started working with Seen and Heard during Brent Borough of Culture 2020, and was part of Brent Youth Parliament at that time. He served as London Youth Assembly member for Brent 2019-21. He is currently a fourth-year medical student. 

Loshini Subendran 
Loshini is currently a final year student at the University of Warwick studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics. She held the position of Member of Youth Parliament for Brent 2019-21, and is one of the UK delegates to the Y7 (youth group of the G7) focusing on economic resilience. 

Source: london.gov