In the early 1990s I was working with Ghazwa Alwani who was completing her PhD on ‘Users’ Perceptions of Hospital Accident and Emergency Departments’ and Peter (now Professor) Hopkinson was completing his PhD ‘Environmental Assessment of Major Rail and Road Project Infrastructure’ in Leeds University, Institute for Transport Studies. At that time little work had been done on users’ perceptions of environments, how environments were in fact used and user’s levels of satisfaction with what had been created on their behalf. From my work on Facilitation and Counseling it seemed to me that the skills learned and practiced in working with individuals and groups were key to making aspirations, preferences, objections and prejudices more explicit and hence more able to be dealt with cooperatively, rather than by confrontation. So frequently the environmentalist’s efforts were spent in undoing misapprehensions about future proposals or by correcting specialists misunderstanding or overriding user’s needs.
The use of inter-personal skills to pre-assess these issues and of computer imaging skills to represent concepts yet unfamiliar to users, formed the basis for the creation of ‘Changing Places’ whose intention was to provide this service to environmental implementors.
These objectives were set out in Changing Places’ literature and were assisted in the very early days by Johnathon Silver, who re-vitalised Salt’s Mill. Johnathon allowed us the use of empty office space within his wonderful enterprise of transforming the empty Salt’s Mill complex into a great new workplace, gallery, retail outlet and community asset.
External personal difficulties, the economic conditions at the time and the lack of awareness of the potential of the approach meant the project was unable to evolve. For example it is comparatively recent that Transport Planning has included Psychologists in their teams and studied more subtle ways of presenting future projects. Dr Alwani-Starr is now Director of Property and Facilities Management at University of Roehampton, Professor Peter Hopkinson is now Professor of Innovation and Environmental Strategy at the University of Bradford School of Management and Director of the new £6M University of Bradford Re:centre (Re = re-think the future).