Your Perfect High Street

As part of the 2017 Heritage Open Day events, artist Andrew Howe was invited to run a workshop at the Unitarian Church on Shrewsbury’s High Street.  The inscription on the frontage of the Church proudly proclaims it was built in 1662 and this was where Charles Darwin came to worship when he was a boy.

The suggested theme was designing a perfect High Street.  You might argue that Shrewsbury already has one, and so in preparation for the event Andrew began to explore by taking a series of photos of details along the street.  Details that may go unnoticed unless you really slow down and look.

Participants helped create a collage of photos as a grid during the workshop, and then people added their own thoughts, ideas and memories on sticky notes within the grid:

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Preparations also included a pen drawing of the elevations of both sides of the street to further illustrate the street’s character.  It was interesting to see the differences in scale of the buildings and see them without the dominating colours and branding of the retailers. The Unitarian Church, which can seem quite an impressively large facade from street level, actually appears to be one of the smallest buildings along the whole street.

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Ink drawing of Shrewsbury High Street, south west elevation
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Ink drawing of Shrewsbury High Street, north east elevation

The workshop was aimed primarily at families with children aged 8 and over, but many adults dropped in and got involved too.  There were around 35 participants over the course of 3 hours.  Besides the photo collage, the activities began with thinking about the kind of activities that might take place in the High Street and which are more important.

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Andrew made a few initial suggestions, and quickly realised just how many different activities already go on in the High Street.  Participants then added their own ideas, moved activities between “important” and “not important” and voted with red dots for the ideas they agreed with.  A few activities like shopping and gambling were omitted initially to see if there was any reaction, and surprisingly only one person added “ice cream shop”… and this was in the “not important” zone.  But isn’t ice cream a life essential?

Someone else added “independent businesses” as important and many people agreed with that.

The activities ranked in the highest zone of importance/votes were (approximately):

  • Homes for living,
  • green space,
  • learning,
  • seating,
  • street art,
  • a litter free environment,
  • having a strong community,
  • independent businesses,
  • walking/strolling/wandering,
  • healthcare,
  • theatre/street performance,
  • exercising democratic rights local political issues and public debates.

Other interesting suggestions included:

  • Temporary closure of streets to create play/community areas for events or festivals,
  • Interacting and co-operating,
  • Installations and performance platform for local artists.

Most of the workshop activity revolved around building a scale model of a High Street using card boxes and hand drawn frontages.  Participants could use the artist’s pen drawings and a montage of architectural design considerations as inspiration.  This was fun and there were some really lovely buildings.

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Finally, as an activity to take away, Andrew produced a sheet of some of the architectural details to go and find somewhere in the High Street.  Have a go yourself by downloading the activity sheet: Look Closely

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