Dwellbeing Shieldfield is a community benefit society and co-operative of 30+ community members of the estate of Shieldfield in Newcastle upon Tyne. Over ten years Shieldfield’s ward has seen a 467% increase in student housing numbers in the form of large blocks of purpose built accommodation. This has affected the character and social mix of the neighbourhood – pressures that have occurred alongside a degrading urban environment and a lack of community resources as a result of austerity. Community members are increasingly concerned about the long-term future of the estate, fearing that its close proximity to the city centre will create continuing development pressures which could displace existing residents. In response, Dwellbeing has built knowledge of urban development, housing and land issues and actioned community-led responses through workshops, trips, research, artworks, a food growing scheme and a community publication (‘zine’), using Participatory Action Research and arts-based methods.
We are now focusing on two aspects of our work, which aim to develop and share skills and knowledges existing in the community:
Youth and children’s activism programme (in collaboration with The NewBridge Project)
In response to the lack of youth provision in the neighbourhood, Dwellbeing and The Newbridge Project are working together with young people to initiate a programme of activity to develop their skills and talents, and to shape alternative futures for themselves and others. Through a focus on art and activism, the programme will develop new leaders/stewards for Shieldfield, for the city and beyond. All activity will be responsive to the needs, wants and issues that affect the lives of youth in Shieldfield being led by a Steering Group of young people and delivered with a youth worker, supported by community volunteers, and including weekly sessions, monthly skills workshops, residentials, trips, events and detached youth work.
Shieling: Reconnecting to land in contested urban space (in collaboration with Shieldfield Art Works)
As Dwellbeing’s work is growing, we want to help improve public understanding about urban development processes, learn from Shieldfield’s experience, and raise awareness of ecologically and socially sustainable alternatives. In 2019 we launched ‘Shieling’ which derives its name from Shieldfield – once being a shieling ground, where people would come and graze their livestock in the summer months. The word ‘Shieling’ refers to the huts that farmers would live in – self-built huts that would be constructed using turf, timber, earth, heather or peat. Shielings were built from the earth – from the roots of place and so Shieling is a powerful tool to understand how we might take ownership over Shieldfield’s public spaces and create new community-owned spaces, using Shieldfield’s natural ecology and drawing upon its people, materiality and histories. We aim to do this through:
- Public space improvements and interventions;
- Educating about sustainable approaches to building, planning and development;
- Growing food and associated activities, such as seed saving, storing produce and cooking;
- Building new community spaces.