CTC Project Showcase

Showcase Tales

By Nick Gray, 8th November 2023

In this blog post, CTC Researcher, Nick Gray, invites the CTC community to reflect on our project showcase: a whole day event at the Watershed, in which we told the story of our research and our six prototype teams presented their work to the world.  

On 17 October we held our Connecting Through Culture As We Age Showcase at the Watershed. In the morning session we heard from lots of different people involved in our project, including academic researchers, our older adult co-researchers/co-designers, our project partners and our creative partners. After lunch, it was all about the six prototype teams, who unveiled their creations to a large and enthusiastic audience. 

The corridor connecting the two rooms housing the prototypes also became an exhibition space where we were able to show the co-researchers’ films and display their poems and our wall hanging, consisting of fabric squares embellished by CTC researchers and co-researchers and assembled by Fanny Eaton-Hall. In this post, I have attempted a similar process by requesting that various people involved in the showcase record their reflections of the event, which I have stitched (hopefully as seamlessly as Fanny!) together into a narrative that captures the experience from a range of different perspectives. We have been, and continue to be, on such an incredible journey, so it seems fitting to frame each response as a series of tales that unfold as we travel together.  

The Co-facilitator’s Tale by Fanny Eaton-Hill

The Showcase was such an exciting event – so much to see and do! Recycle City were encouraging people to be creative with reclaimed `trash’; my team at Expressive Pockets were helping people make a pocket; Murmurations’ blanket was a joy of stories. Tabletop Travels’ beautifully designed boxes of flavoursome Asian sweets were tempting, but not for me. The projected book from Retirement Reloaded was fascinating with glorious illustrations. Anyone Remember the Washhouse? brought back memories from my childhood and was a poignant history lesson.  

Personally, I was delighted to be in conversation with Alice Willet and Jess Linnington, talking about the early workshops at KWMC Factory, and I particularly enjoyed talking with Paul Clarke and collaborative designer Becca Rose about Expressive Pockets, the prototype where I was co-designer and co-facilitator, often needling the team on possible participant reactions to our ideas.  


The Principal Investigator’s Tale by Helen Manchester

This day had been long in the planning. I was really delighted with the morning session where we told the story of the project, adopting a narrative approach, and including a lot of our co-researchers and partners, which really seemed to work for the audience. I liked that the process of discussing the showcase with partners had led to some fascinating reflections and discussion which will help us to move forward. Having so many co-researchers, partners and friends in the audience, I felt the warmth, and sheer joy and knew we’d all achieved something special.  

I spent the day having conversations with practitioners, policy makers, other academics and partners about what the project had helped them to see or understand. They commented on the long term, slow co-design approach, on the prototype projects that challenged ageist approaches to technological design and on the sheer scale of what we had achieved together. I felt full of pride for the whole project community and what we have made happen.  


The Newbie’s Tale by Nick Gray

As the newest member of the CTC university research team, I could not have asked for a better introduction to the work of our talented co-designers and creative partners than them telling the story of the project in the morning session. What struck me most in the afternoon was the sheer range of the projects on display at the showcase: some intimate, some celebratory, some multisensory, some immersive, some reflective, but all thought-provoking and challenging commonly held (mis)conceptions of ageing.  

Being a film teacher, I loved the co-researcher movies, particularly the poetic ones and the animations. Just as the prototypes were a wonderful celebration of the work that can emerge from creative group dynamics, the films of individual co-researchers offered fascinating and engaging insights into their personal interests, concerns and stories.  


The Filmmaker’s Tale by Tot Foster

I loved the positivity and warmth from a huge range of people. It felt like a community around the project. One of my old friends who came commented that the listening to the story of our work made her think about her own practice and validated her ‘slow design’ approach. It was interesting to really see, for the first time, everything in one place. I thought, “Wow! Haven’t we all done so much together and had so much fun. So many people have been involved.” It struck me how there was such a strong narrative around the project; in research terms but also a narrative that is based on care, and on respect and value for all participants. I guess it was that that really instilled pride and emotion for me. Long live the CTC community!  


The Early Career Researcher’s Tale by Alice Willatt

It was the first time we have told the full story of the project from start to finish, which was exciting. It was also fantastic to see all the people invovled in different elements of the project in one space and having the chance to interact with the protypes for the first time. It was the first time I had seen some of the prototypes, and having them all in one space with the chance to move around the room and interact with each one was really magical! I also particularly enjoyed watching the prototype project teams share their protypes with such diverse audiences, in some cases for the first time. There was a real buzz and celebratory atmosphere across both the showcase rooms, which collectively offered such diverse sensory cultural and connective experiences. There were also pockets of quiet reflective spaces, such as with people interacting with the Murmurations blanket and audio stories, or pausing to look through the collection of co-researchers albums. One of the highlights for me was seeing the response to the co-researchers wall hanging, which hung in the centre of the corridor. It felt like a real centrepiece of the project, the way it came together with each co-researcher contributing a uniquely designed square, with Ruby’s fabric scraps connecting everything together, and the skill, dedication and care that Fanny took in bringing it all together.  


The Co-researcher’s Tale by Carmeletta Groves

I enjoyed the day. It’s so nice just talking to everybody when people come up to me and say, “ooh I like your movie” and just to say hello. I really liked listening to the book [Retirement Reloaded prototype] that they wrote my poem into. I liked that, that sounded good. It’s everything else too, it was good watching the movie, watching the clip from everything. It was very interesting, and I learned a lot and it let me feel good that there are various things that I can do.  


The Evaluator’s Tale by Karen Gray

The morning session felt like a genuine and useful account of the co-design process in the really engaging and accessible form of a narrative. There were so many sides of the research presented by a range of different people, which, I thought, really captured the involvement of all the stakeholders in this project. It was both celebratory and really useful for fellow practitioners, who could take away a host of new approaches to working with older adults as co-designers.  

In the afternoon, I was involved in developing our evaluative tools with two groups of enthusiastic volunteers. It was wonderful to work with people whose responses were so insightful and thoughtful. Their input will most certainly be incorporated in future iterations of our evaluative process.  


A good day out? Sensory excitement and storytelling 

A good day out? Sensory excitement and storytelling

By Tot Foster, 1st September 2023

In this blog post, CTC Researcher, Tot Foster, describes two recent co-researcher trips – what worked well and less well – and finds that the visits underlined how experiences may be at their most powerful when they combine something for the senses with relatable storytelling.  

This summer co-researchers have been on two very different trips. Firstly, to the M-Shed and a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of storage areas; a mish-mash of everything from domestic appliances from 70 years ago, ceremonial carriages, train parts and chocolate moulds. Our volunteer guides took round two separate groups and when we compared notes at the end, our tours had totally different feels. One group were all excited by the idea of seeing Bristol heritage that isn’t on show to the public and were full of questions – their tour overran by some time despite sore feet! Some members of the other group were not so engaged – they saw shelves of dusty unrelated objects piled high, with little that made sense to their lives. Some people were perhaps expecting precious items behind glass; the idea of ‘museum’ was hard to relate to this scene that was poorly lit and labelled with paper tags. The ennui continued until one co-researcher spotted an early calculating machine that her mother had used in an office, bringing memories back into vivid focus. When we saw a huge horn-type object the volunteer said that had been used in early talking cinemas – you had to line up the needle on a record with the action on the film. One of the co-researchers said her mother had done that in a Bristol cinema – timed the roar with the image of the MGM lion at the start of movies. At these moments these objects suddenly embodied personal histories, shared experiences of past work, intense nostalgia, family. They told stories beyond their physical presence, beyond the facts relating to origin and function that the guide could provide. Laundry items made me think of the Anyone remember the Washhouse’ prototype project that is currently being co-produced by co-researchers and artists, and how those memories of our mothers’ labour needs celebrating – just as their tools demand to be preserved in M-shed. On the way out, the statue of Colston – still brightly coloured with spray-paint, reclined in front of the double doors we left by. I thought to myself this would open a complex conversation but in fact everyone by this point just really wanted a cup of tea!  

Our second visit, a month later, could not have been more of a contrast – a sensory overload that grabbed everyone….but with little story or moments to relate to. We went together to “Wake the Tiger” – billed as an ‘amazement park’, built inside a warehouse in the light industrial zone of St Philips. As the first visitors of the day we were greeted by two women painting a car to make it appear as if it had sunk into a huge blue puddle in the car park. On the surface a series of quirky spaces inside exuded steampunk hippy vibes – secret doors, dizzying visual effects, tiny details inside books you could take off the shelves, infinite mirrors. The experience was kicked off by a five-minute explanation about how the place was a future housing development that had been abandoned. But there the story ended – it was almost impossible to match up the disorientating walkways and the sci-fi doorways with any narrative at all. Everyone was ready to be taken on a journey, told a story, but instead this assault on the senses was just that – and only that. The experience wowed for a moment but then was gone.  

Two researchers from Connecting through Culture are exploring new ways of evaluating cultural experiences. But in the meantime, and for me personally, these contrasting experiences made me think that for a cultural experience to grab and hold my attention (and from what the co-researchers said about the visits I am not alone in this), experiences need to have some powerful sensory component but also tell a story and be relatable to my life. I felt, in that moment of reflection, that our research approach which began with co-researchers reflecting on their lifecourse, is one which offers learning riches. And taking older co-researchers life experiences as a starting point to co-designing the cultural services and products that are the six prototype projects has got every chance of leading us to a good day out.  


A Trip to See Project Zulu Choir

A Trip to See Project Zulu Choir

By Tot Foster, 20th July 2023

In this blog post, CTC Researcher, Tot Foster, describes her trip to see a lunchtime performance of the Project Zulu Choir at St George’s, accompanied by Tim Senior and CTC Co-Researcher, Miss Edwards.  

Project Zulu are a group of young people aged from 8 to 15 from the Madadeni township in South Africa. Performing traditional Zulu songs and dances they are raising funds for their schools in KwaZulu-Natal, on a tour organised by UWE and their schools. Miss Edwards has been a co-researcher on Connecting Through Culture since late 2021 and has been open to new experiences. Knowing of her love of gospel music, her concern for young people’s welfare in Africa, and enjoyment of children singing what could be a more perfect opportunity to go to St Georges for the first time. Tim has been collaborating with a group of co-researchers and co-investigator Kirtsy Sedgman to develop a new evaluative tool for cultural experiences which he worked through with Miss Edwards whilst we were there.  

We took our seats amongst an expectant, mainly white, older audience – the chief exec. of St Georges, Samir Savant, said this was the biggest audience for a lunchtime concert he’d seen. Miss Edwards was sat on her mobility scooter on the end of the row and I felt she was a little uncomfortable in this new-to-her space. But then a man in the row in front turned round and she recognised him from her social club and they said hi – I could feel Miss Edwards relax and then the show started. The stage was filled with young people in traditional dress singing powerful gospel – not the fast-paced energetic music I was expecting but haunting versions of songs which Miss Edwards knew. She moved her body and softly sang next to me. Miss Edwards caught my eye and nodded – a gift of her approval for what I had brought her to. I found myself emotional – the music and being there with Miss Edwards enjoying herself. The second half was much more lively with dancing – the young people kicking unbelievably high then stamping their feet down again to traditional folk songs and some remarkable solo singing. The young people’s energy, talents and innocence charmed the whole audience who gave a standing ovation when it was all over.  

We went to the bar for a lemonade and a cup of tea afterwards to talk about the experience together and try out a new approach to ‘meaningful measurement’ that we’re developing at Connecting Through Culture. As part of our new approach, Mis Edwards had chosen the theme ‘Enjoyment’ before the concert as being most important to her. We then talked together about the significance of the experience for her and explored different ways of capturing that feeling using descriptive tokens (‘My spirits were lifted’, ‘That was just simply brilliant’) and what it might mean for her immediate future (‘Seeking more moments like this’, ‘Remember this feeling’). Rather than being an imposition on Miss Edwards, our new approach seemed to offer a quick and beneficial way to reflect on what we’d just experienced together.  

The Project Zulu tour is now finished but you can find out more about the project by visiting  


Welcome to Expressive Pockets

Welcome to Expressive Pockets

By Malcolm Hamilton, 6th June 2023

In this blog post, Malcolm Hamilton – lead of the Expressive Pockets project, offers a window into the project’s progression through their emotive fabrics co-design workshop process. Throughout their work so far, the team have been collaborating with a number of Connecting Through Culture as We Age co-researchers online and in-person at Knowle West Media Centre Factory Makers Space.  

Our prototype project draws on shared cultures of embroidery, knitting and other making and adapting of fabrics. We’re using the embellishment of fabrics as a medium to express our identities and hold conversations related to identity as we age. The team is made up of designers, facilitators, creative technologists, textile artists and co-researchers with lived experience of later life who are interested in fabrics. The whole wider project is immersed in the ethics of codesign and gives us an opportunity to really lean into that context and challenge ourselves- where process and inclusion are at the heart of the work, rather than using it as a term to allude to community cohesion.  

We have been exploring the theme of ‘Age Rebellion’ through the process of making a personalised pocket for a jute bag. The idea came from Fanny- co-researcher and linchpin of the project. “Once a shopping bag was loaded with groceries, my keys always sank to the bottom and were hell to find, rummaging through the shopping when I got back to the front door!” She sewed a pocket onto the outside of the bag to hold them. 

Having developed an in person workshop process at KWMC Factory Makers Space we are now playing with a hybrid version that could involve anyone at home, using a box of materials we send them and anything else they have to hand. It’s a process many of us played with over lockdown- we loved inviting people to utilise the ‘craft materials’ contained in that kitchen drawer full of gubbins we all have. (You can see Play:Disrupt version of that here)  

For Emotive Fabrics, participants choose an image and 3 words linked to a conversation starting theme (Age Rebellion for instance); we UV print the image onto a fabric patch at the KWMC Factory and make iron-on vinyls of the words, plus a few themed icons. We post the kit to participants, then in the workshop embellish the image- ironing on vinyls and attaching whatever else one has to hand, in whatever way one can. All the while we facilitate a conversation around the subject matter. People feed into the conversation and share discoveries on the craft process.  

Half of the participants were online, half in person at the factory makerspace. All participants were co researchers on the Connecting through culture project – older, marginalised citizens.  

The impact the process has had on participants, has been really illuminating. For Amy it brought back memories of working in textiles in Hong Kong as 15 year old. Erica had been hesitant to join as she imagined fabrics meant sewing- inaccessible to her with failing eyesight, but the process was inclusive and she really enjoyed it. In Ruby’s case, she wanted to emulate peace and calm as a way to cope post stroke. It was a simple process, with easy to access tools at home, that allowed for deep conversations about identity and ageing and offered a hands-on, enjoyable creative experience and end product for the participants.  

One of the most interesting elements in terms of codesign learning has been through conversations around Age Rebellion. We had been looking for a focus- a provocation or theme to provide inspiration and a starting point for the pockets. Drawing on the idea of Craftivism we had been looking at gentle protest and activism, but none of these words felt right for this participant group. We settled on Age Rebellion as it had been a theme in an earlier CTCAWA workshop. For some this worked well- what do we mean by Age Rebellion? But to others it was challenging and felt inconsistent with the direction of the project. This is where codesign gets really interesting- it holds space for our lived experience, our heritage and life journeys and how they affect our relationship to the connections and crossovers we experience all the time. Age Rebellion can link to Extinction Rebellion- protest and non violent activism- but for some of the group, Rebellion is really about war, blood violence and death. Carmen-a Jamaican participant voiced this really well – “This is deep, it’s deep for me, this is where I came from. If it wasn’t for the slave rebellions in Jamaica I might not be here”

For another, of Chinese Hong Kong background, Rebellion also felt uncomfortable in terms of ageing. As a conversation provocation it was rich and useful, but going forwards we might look at subversion, expression or something else. There is a balance of being mindful of the impact words can have, and creating a space where all feelings can surface and be shared. Carmen had two images- one of her playing music with the words ‘I am Here’ – visibility and identity and life- and one of Paul Bogle -a national hero who led slave rebellions. She had found the word rebellion tricky, but when showing the pictures connected them. “I am Here’ is also linked to Paul Bogle- because he is why I am here.”  

The invitation to take different roles in the project has been refreshing. From a personal perspective- although I am ‘project lead’ – I am not designing and facilitating workshops- which at Play:Disrupt is one of my main duties. The team is full of skills in these areas, so I am able to step back, have an overview, and put time into ensuring team members- particularly co-researchers- are comfortable, have transport, refreshments and that the lines of communication are clear. One of our researchers started in the role of ‘tester’- she did not want to be involved in the planning and design or developing the business case- she wanted to play with the toys. Now, roughly half way through the project, she has asked to be more involved and is joining the core design team. This was about confidence building and about understanding what the new role might require. We are all able to flex in the roles to make it work.  

Connecting through Culture as we Age is the name of the wider project and it has been beautiful to observe the myriad of ways that participants find to connect, particularly in a hybrid setting where the initial foundation of a video call is already somewhat stilted.  

  • Poem in a pocket – Karen is a poet and based in north Wales, some distance from the rest of us in Bristol. It transpired that the day of the hybrid workshop- 4th May was Poem in your Pocket day in the US. Fanny was delighted at the coincidence and wrote a piece which she then read to the group.
  • Scarves. One of the participants is of Hong Kong origin and uses a translator to support her in the sessions. For her ‘Age Rebellion’ theme, she had chosen an image of her scarf collection and the words ‘Classic never goes out of style’ Jeanne was concerned that Amy may feel somewhat distanced from the group with communication obstacles of Zoom and translator, so suggested that we all wore scarves in the workshop to connect with Amy.

Our aim is to develop a process, with helpful assets, that organisations connected with ageing populations use as an activity to connect. We’ll also include simple tips for hybrid workshops, such as sitting with light in front of you and placing the camera on a table where viewers can see what you are making with your hands- this presenter style set up really helps to connect the group via interesting moving image, rather than a grid of heads facing forwards. Assets will include video demonstrations and walk throughs, Flow charts and Miro boards to take you through the process and perhaps even packs to post out- drawing on our Balance Box work with KWMC in 2021. There will be many more discoveries I’m sure, as we develop the process, the assets and find the best way to share it with the world.  

A Pocket full of Memories

Youths’ vivid golden days

Filled with new adventures

Learning Life in myriad ways.

A pocket full of memories

Some secrets never told

Hints at past misdemeanours

When foolish but bold.

A pocket full of memories

That created the now me

And future escapades and follies

Risk falls and damaged knee.

Fanny Eaton-Hall

The ‘Expressive Pockets’ team is:  

Annie Lywood,; Becca Rose,; Fanny Eaton Hall, Carman Groves; Ruby Bennet; Dani Hale KWMC – Knowle West Media Centre and me – Malcolm Hamilton


An Introduction to Design Justice for Older Adults

An Introduction to Design Justice for Older Adults

By Stuart Gray, 29th March 2023

In this blog post, we introduce an approach that we have used in the Connecting Through Culture as We Age project, Design Justice. Here we provide a basic summary of the theory, outline its 10 guiding principles, and illustrate why we’ve found it useful when working with older adults in design processes.  

Design justice is a growing movement that seeks to ensure that the design of products, services, and spaces is equitable and inclusive. This movement recognizes that design has historically been used to exclude certain communities and perpetuate systemic injustices. By centering the needs and experiences of marginalized communities, design justice aims to create more just and equitable outcomes for all.  

In total, design justice offers 10 principles to guide design:

  • Centre the voices of those who are directly impacted by the design process
  • Acknowledge and challenge power imbalances within the design process
  • Seek to undo and resist systemic inequalities and forms of oppression
  • Frame design as a tool for collective liberation and social justice
  • Honour and uplift traditional and indigenous knowledge and practices
  • Engage in relationships that prioritize care, trust, and accountability
  • Build sustainable, community-led solutions that do not exploit or extract from communities
  • Work towards equitable distribution of resources and benefits
  • Recognize the intersectional nature of identities and design solutions
  • Practice reflection and self-critique throughout the design process

At its core, design justice is about using design as a tool for social change. It involves actively working to understand the experiences of minoritised communities and designing products, services, and spaces that support what matters to them. This includes considering factors such as accessibility, affordability, and cultural relevance. This is especially important when working with minoritised older adults, a group with expertise and knowledge as well as challenges and experiences that are too often treated in a homogenous way. In the Connecting Through Culture project, we’ve worked with co-researchers over time to build relationships and trust, including through creative lifecourse mapping activities that can recognise difference and take account of lived experience of structural inequalities  

Design justice also involves recognizing and challenging the ways in which design has been used to perpetuate systemic injustices. For example, certain design choices can reinforce discriminatory practices or exclude certain groups of people. For older adults, systemic ageism can lead to exclusion and marginalization. By actively challenging and dismantling ageist attitudes and practices, designers can help create a more inclusive and equitable society for older adults. In the Connecting Through Culture project, we’ve advocated for the existing capacities our co-researchers have in a number of ways – by granting the co-researchers opportunities to run their own creative workshops that showcase their talents and supporting others to learn; by ensuring that their voices are heard, not just within the co-design process, but at a range of events involving external partners, with funders, and the public, as well as through our co-researcher-produced films.  

Community engagement and participation is another key principle of design justice. When co-designing with older adults, it’s essential to involve them in the design process and actively seek their input and feedback. This enables us as a team to place their expertise and passions at the centre of the design process and also helps build trust and respect between designers and older adults. In the Connecting Through Culture project, we’ve attempted to build in opportunities for community to flourish around the project by: facilitating special interest groups – for co-researchers with shared passions (e.g., the Zoom poetry group), as well as by arranging community excursions to sites and events that are representative of different cultural interests, and by using social media channels.  

In conclusion, design justice principles can provide valuable guidance when co-designing with older adults. By centering their expertise and passions, challenging systemic injustices, and actively involving them in the design process, we have been more able to create ethical, effective, and inclusive processes and designs for older adults. Design justice is a theory that the Connecting Through Culture project has embedded within its practice, and we look forward to providing our own insights that can further inform its use with minoritized older adults.  


Co-Design Series Part One: What is Co-Design?

Co-Design Series Part One: What is Co-Design?

By Stuart Gray, 29th March 2023

In this two-part blog post, CTC researcher, Stuart Gray, reflects on what he has learned about co-design through the Connecting Through Culture project. In this first post, he revisits what co-design is and what it is not, drawing on literature that has informed the co-design approach taken by the Connecting Through Culture project.  

So, what is co-design? Well, co-design can take many forms. Typically, it concerns projects where designers, who hold professional expertise, collaboratively design with people who are “experts of their own experiences”. Yet, there are wild differences in approaches as well as what “collaboration” means. These are not limited to differences in the methods used to facilitate collaboration, but also concern fundamental differences in the dynamics of power held by designers and the experience-expert individuals they are collaborating with.  

The words ‘participation’ and ‘co-design’ are often used interchangeably, and while participatory design has a long and rich history (with its own debates around power and equity), the latter term implies a more equitable power relationship between designers and experience-experts. Where this fails to happen, it risks collaborative approaches being overly performative and co-design in name only (“more ‘faux design’ than co-design,” as described by one of our project partners). At their worst, this is incredibly extractive of individuals – in other words, designers prioritise what they can gain from engaging with experience experts. This happens when collaborations are insular, where they fail to properly support the individuals involved to exhibit their existing talents, build new capacities, feel agency within the design process or equity in designed outputs.  

In contrast, co-design approaches should invest in the individuals and collectives involved. The early goals of participatory design, for example, sought to involve individuals in the design of technologies as a means to their political empowerment beyond design alone. More recently some have spoken about co-design as a form of care, where designers must consider the needs, values and well-being of people involved [1, 2]. Within this, designers must be reflexive to consider how power, social relations and roles can adapt and change throughout a design process, as the individuals involved evolve. There must be recognition that involving individuals in co-design processes has the potential to change their daily lives and longer-term life trajectories. Hence, collaborations should not be viewed as transactional.  

‘Care-full design’ advocates for the consideration of the speed and scale of design processes. It may not be feasible for all experience-experts to have the confidence towards design straight away, and thus, there may need to be a period for capacity building and gaining familiarity with design activities. The concept of fuzzy-frontends to co-design, a period of time before formal design activities begin, is deemed essential to build social connections and trust between designers and experience-expert individuals, to support their creative confidence, and establish the resources they need to take part.  

Thus, the dominant idea of the “maverick” professional designer as the arbiter of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ design, while guiding participating individuals through the process is inappropriate for co-design. Instead, designers in such processes may serve their collaborators better as ‘facilitators’ rather than design decision makers. Here there is an emphasis on honouring the different forms of localised and embodied knowledge that experience-experts bring and making a commitment to long lasting community-led and controlled outcomes.  

This is not just a more ethical approach to collaboration, but also serves to benefit design outputs. For instance, fuzzy-front ending also recognises that sites for design, such as labs and hack spaces, are often far removed from the lives of some experience expert individuals (as well as the end users of technology). By spending time understanding the spaces, places, people and routines in their day to day lives, it enables us to garner a richer picture of how technology may affect and be affected by the real lives (e.g., daily routines, contexts, social relationships) of the people it is designed to serve. All of this is beneficial for creating technology ‘that fits’ within people’s lives.  

In the second of this two-part reflection on co-design, we will describe how these co-design ideals have manifested in practice through the CTC project.  

[1] Light, A. and Akama, Y., 2018. The nature of ‘obligation’in doing design with communities: Participation, politics and care. Tricky Design: The Ethics of Things, 131. Vancouver


Overcoming Reliance on Gatekeepers: Addressing Racial Equity Through Meaningful Partnerships and Collaboration with Black and Minority Ethnic Communities at a Local Level

Overcoming Reliance on Gatekeepers

By Tot Foster, 1st December 2022

On 8th December I went to a one-day conference ‘Overcoming Reliance on Gatekeepers: Addressing Racial Equity Through Meaningful Partnerships and Collaboration with Black and Minority Ethnic Communities at a Local Level’. This was organised by Fidele Mutwarasibo, the Director of the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership at the Open University. The event explored projects overcoming one particular barrier to participation in all sorts of social structures and organisations; the actions of ‘gatekeepers’ rather than ‘bridge-builders’. As Fidele and several other speakers emphasised; no-one is ‘hard to reach’ – the real problem is not making enough effort to access or include them – and gatekeeping makes that access more difficult. Yaina Samuels advocated for the power of one to one conversation: ‘You want to build up trust… then everything else will come’.  

One project really resonated with Connecting through Culture. This is a collaboration between the Open University and SASS – Swansea Asylum Seeker Support. Marie Gillespie and Tom Cheesman spoke about how they wanted to find a way of sharing creative responses to living as an asylum seeker or refugee in the pandemic; connecting people through their smartphones. ‘Cov19: Chronicles from the Margins’ has received many and varied artworks; photos, paintings, poems, videos. These are presented on a public facing website cum gallery. And what started as local to Swansea, including digital skills development, grew to be truly international. The project acknowledges and draws on the huge expertise held by asylum seekers and refugees – in international migration, international law, local support etc. In academic terms it’s the co-production of knowledge about the lived experiences of those with precarious migration status during the pandemic. On another level it is an outpouring and connection between those who share painful experiences, and for those of us who haven’t been close to those experiences, a compassionate but stark window onto what’s going on for individuals living in our communities; as Marie described it ‘a collective mobilisation of everyday experience’.  

It was interesting to hear the very varied ways in which the idea of gatekeepers was represented – from Fidele talking about community leaders, through local government anti-racism practices that in the past emphasises reports rather than implementation, or relied on consulting with large organisations rather than at the grassroots, through to the ethics procedures at the Open University that put barriers in the way of the SASS collaboration being able to be agile and responsive. But what all the speakers had in common was the importance of getting to lived experience, involving and listening to what people say about their daily encounters, practices and emotions, and then building that understanding into projects and services. Charlotte Amoss from Cardiff Council spoke of ‘collaborative solutions…locally owned’. At Connecting through Culture our co-research is based on a lifecourse approach; and empowering the participation of minoritised older people in tech innovation; a sphere which has tended to overlook their experiences. It does feel that, 18 months in, the project has been breaking down some barriers.  


Co-Researcher Film Screening

Co-Researcher Film Screening

By Tot Foster, 1st December 2022

Over the last few months the co-researchers working with Connecting through Culture have been making films, and on 9th November we held a screening at the Watershed Cinema 3.  

Initially these videos were going to be a small activity that emerged from the Connecting through Culture poetry group; motivated by the desire to record some co-researchers thoughts on ageing, to make videos of poems and simply to have fun being creative together. But it grew and grew through the enthusiasm of co-researchers until, supported by the Thinking Futures festival, we had 14 videos ready for screening.There wasn’t a specific brief other than to put out something into the world that the individuals involved would like to say and be heard. Some co-researchers made their own films and sent them in as finished articles for the screening, some short animations were made at two workshops held this autumn, but most of the videos were made as a collaboration between co-researchers and myself; with the co-researchers initiating the ideas and having final editorial say too. In between we negotiated, played and chatted our way through production. There was even tea and cake.  

So, at ten o clock I arrived at Screen 3 at the Watershed cinema to check that the file I had sent in earlier in the week would play smoothly. The projectionist started the first film and I was alone in the auditorium. All the films had been shot on phones, generally fairly old with cracked screens – and the projected quality was….mindblowing! Who needs fancy hardware when old phones can do this! Slowly people started to arrive – I wasn’t sure how many would come, but in the end 45 people settled down to watch. Some of the co-researchers had brought family and friends – their fan clubs – and had dressed up for the occasion. There was such a great atmosphere and between each video everyone clapped and, on occasion, whooped. Afterwards many stayed behind for a drink in the Watershed café – catching up, meeting new people, asking questions about the films, offering congratulations. What a fabulous morning – I went home re-inspired by the positive vibes.  

You’ll be able to see the films soon on our website. Several address ageing and ageism; the disservice that being defined as old brings. Others are a celebration of personal creative pleasures or the natural world around us. And there are also films to make us think: about Bristol’s dark past of slavery, about missing the help and companionship of a guide dog, and about hopes for the future.  

You’ll be able to see the films soon on our website. Several address ageing and ageism; the disservice that being defined as old brings. Others are a celebration of personal creative pleasures or the natural world around us. And there are also films to make us think: about Bristol’s dark past of slavery, about missing the help and companionship of a guide dog, and about hopes for the future.  


Intergenerational Connection Through Culture

Intergenerational Connection Through Culture

By Sid Tagg Foster, 26th October 2022

Intergenerational connection through culture is proving to be a key element of our work on the project. This blogpost was written by 16 year old Sid Tagg Foster) who attended both events alongside some of our team and co-researchers.  

A few weeks ago, I attended two events targeted at creating an inclusive space for disabled people to connect with and experience the arts in a more intimate and satisfying way.  

The first, a dance in the Bristol Beacon called ‘Prehension Blooms’, was prefaced with a ‘touch tour’; an introduction to the performance in the form of allowing the audience to handle the costumes, the set and even the dancers to accommodate those with visual impairments. This was a really enlightening experience for me in multiple ways; at first, I thought about how difficult it must be for the visually impaired to navigate daily life, but then I considered the simplicity of the adjustments made to the performance to enrich the experience for them and it made me realise how simple so many improvements to our society could be while enhancing the lives of the visually impaired to such a high degree. I felt confused at why I hadn’t seen more events like this advertised or attended them myself as, to me, it is so important for everyone in society to be able to have such enriching cultural experiences. I felt that I really gained something from this type of introduction as well, especially to the dancer’s costumes, and it added so much depth being able to imagine the textural sensations which the dancers themselves were experiencing. This introduction also allowed me to glean much more meaning from the dance as well and get a much better understanding of the artistic technique and dynamic nature of the stage, props and dancers all collaborating.  

The second was a ‘lie in’ at the Bristol Arnolfini in an exhibition exploring human’s relationship with the natural world and the false dichotomy of the urban and natural . I really enjoyed this event, and I thought it was an interesting and unique way of experiencing a gallery show: something usually so rigid and formalised. There was something mollifying about the freedom to lie down and relax in a place which, to me, should always be so tranquil but is made overwhelming by the rigidity and pressure of rules and social expectation. With this exhibition the experience was particularly effective as much of the art was on the gallery floor, encouraging, in this context, a much closer examination and analysis of the artworks. I especially enjoyed the clay figures and me and my sister spotting our favourites; something I never would’ve experienced without this opportunity. The event made me think about how lucky I am to be the kind of able-bodied person whom society caters for and the ease with which I can experience art and culture and how fortunate I am for that.  

Additionally, though, these experiences emphasised to me the falsehood of so much regressive argument against progress today and throughout history: if something benefits one group in society, it benefits us all. These experiences welcomed those who would’ve otherwise had difficulty and allowed the inspiration of these pieces to reach a much wider, more diverse audience, both increasing their cultural impact and improving even my own experience, despite being able-bodied and not visually impaired, and allowing new connections and ways of thinking to form which would have been impossible otherwise. Increasing the accessibility of the arts through multi-sensory experiences creates a welcoming environment and enriches the experience for everyone.  


Celebrating the work of our project partner, WECIL

Celebrating the Work of Our Project Partner, WECIL

By Alice Willatt, 17th October 2022

In today’s blog post, Connecting Through Culture researcher, Alice Willatt, reflects upon her day running a project stall alongside principal investigator, Prof. Helen Manchester, and CTC co-researcher, Elanora Ferry, at WECIL’s 2022 Access All Areas event. We would like to say a big thank you to WECIL, one of the project’s project partners, for all of their support and advice so far.  

Helen and I had a fantastic time running a stall at WECIL’s (The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living) 2022 ‘Access All Areas’ event. WECIL are a Bristol-based user led organisation dedicated to supporting independent living to create a more inclusive society. As a community partner on our project, they have provided valuable support in recruiting older adults as co-researchers and advised us on how to ensure our research and co-design practices are inclusive to those involved.  

During the event we were joined by Elanora, one of our project co-researchers. Elanora shared a fascinating selection of albums and journals created during her involvement in the project, which document her love of arts and cultural activities across the City of Bristol and beyond (see photos). It was great to meet others at the event and tell them more about our Connecting Through Culture project, including representatives from Bristol City Council. We also enjoyed hearing about WECIL’s exciting 5-year strategy and the launch of their Business Support Services (check out Disability.Inc.!).  

The highlight of the day for us was the fantastic selection of talks. Penny Germon (Bristol City Council, Neighbourhoods and Communities) spoke about the impacts of the Cost of Living Crisis on disable people, and the community-led response in the form of the ‘Can Do Bristol’ campaign (website and volunteer opportunities available here). We also heard from two generations of disability rights campaigners, Jane Campbell and Ellen Clifford. Ellen spoke about how today’s cost of living crisis follows over a decade of government austerity measures in which welfare reform and cuts to health and social care have had a profoundly disproportionate impact on the lives and rights of disabled people.  

The talks brought home the importance of collective action in fighting for disabled people’s rights and building a fairer and more just society where diversity is valued.