Creating bumping spaces where anything is possible

How many people do you meet, say hello to, or have a conversation with, during an average day? Where do you meet or see them? Do you take part in any activities together?

These places, wherever they may be, are more important than we often imagine. They are the bumping spaces, the places where people come together to meet, share ideas or local knowledge, relate to one another, get comfort, feel connected and have the potential to co-create a vibrant world.

It’s where the magic happens.

Increasingly, these bumping spaces have become less visible. In the UK, they have moved indoors and unless you look for them, you won’t find them. Many now seem to be largely interest based and require a fee to access them. Or they seem to cater for a particular group of people with a particular ‘need’ e.g. those with intellectual disabilities or mental health challenges.

Coin town squareThis feels particularly true to me at the moment as I am spending a week in the lovely town of Coin, in southern Spain. The main town, which you can walk around in about 30 minutes, boasts 4 open squares. Each square has shaded areas, water fountains and plenty of seating. They are inviting spaces that seem to be there without purpose or agenda. I fell in love with one in particular (pictured here) just outside of the Mayor’s offices which had a bandstand, communal gym and what looked to be the makings of a communal library. We made the mistake of visiting during peak siesta time which explains the distinct lack of people. But I tell you, come 6pm it was buzzing with life. And on a Tuesday.

Now, I don’t want to do the UK a disservice. There has been something of a revival, albeit a small one, of opening up and using public spaces across towns and cities. I think about my hometown, Kingston-upon-Thames. It has some really gorgeous spaces that are well-used particularly during the summer. But I can’t help notice they are often crammed with market stalls trying to sell me things. There are few places to sit. You’re invited to come in, buy what you need, and leave.

As I’ve been travelling around Nurture Development’s Learning and Working Sites, I have been on the lookout for the ‘bumping spaces’ in the different communities and have been introduced to some fantastic examples. From the South Ockendon Community Hub in Thurrock which finds a way to make anything possible, to the Yes @ The Edge Charity Shop that offers free hugs to anyone that wants one and the vibrant Millie and Me café that has cured loneliness for so many people over delicious cake, in Brixham. There are plenty of examples. And the fact that they’re indoors, takes nothing away from them. But for today, I’m interested in the outdoors.

Spain men sitting2There’s something fluid and natural in the open spaces here in Coin that I haven’t seen in the UK since I was a small child and my granny and her neighbours used to sit outside their houses chatting, sharing the latest news (aka gossip…) and exchanging favours. This is still an everyday occurrence here. As people began to emerge from their siestas yesterday, I watched as the benches filled up with the older people of the community. Each one with their particular spot that had been cemented after hours of manoeuvring. I watched as energised young people began running around the square, drinking from the fountain and chatting to the older folks nestled on their benches. I watched as tourists, sitting down for a breather with their great big ice creams, were invited into conversations with the locals and exchanged a few laughs despite, or as a result of, the obvious lack of a shared language!

I suppose I am drawn to these kinds of bumping spaces because they’re easy to spot, anyone can stumble across them and I can just be me. And in these spaces, anything is possible.

I am far from the seasoned traveller and so it is very likely that I simply haven’t come across these types of bumping spaces in the UK. Are there any near you? Where are they? What do they feel like? What goes on there? We’d love to hear from you.

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  • Having had a little community experience as a Chair of a small residents association, I think the reason why we don’t have it anymore is that the culture isn’t there anymore (if it ever was). There are too many groups who want their space to be *their space* or rival groups try to impose rules on the *others* who use that space.

    We live in a small village of under 100 houses or so and there were always complaints to deal with – mostly from the older age range – about how noisy the kids were on the play area that’s just been built, that the beavers and scouts are too noisy in their activities – they were banned from having fireworks because they were too *noisy*.

    There are now an increasing number of ‘no ball games allowed’ signs on residential roads – ostensibly in the name of safety.

    I don’t know how we can crack this open and rebuild it again. I’d love to have some sort of durable open (or convertible) community space where all are part of and welcome to use the space.

    In my area (and I kid you not) I am sure if too many were bumped then the bumper would end up with an ASBO or worse.

    September 5, 2013 at 5:56 pm
  • Linda

    Really interesting article , yes I ve seen those sorts of places when on holiday and the locals all come out and congregate in particular areas ,elderly chatting , children playing etc .
    I suppose in my own community it was common for women to sit outside their front doors , children to play outside 40 years ago .There was a huge fishing community of trawlermen and families .
    This communities were broken up when 2up 2down terraces with outside loos were deemed unsuitable .many were moved into high rise flats and council estates with little communal outdoor space .Many people who were moved still talk about the community that has been lost .
    In Hull we have some beautiful parks – great if you live near them , lovely areas along the foreshore of the river with benches ,the pier and marina areas but yoj have to travel to get there ,and personally i probably would nt feel that comfortable as a lone female in any of theses places at certain times of day .
    Areas with benches tend to attract teenagers after 8 pm – which sometimes creates a nuisance for others but to be fair there is nt really anywhere for them to go .
    Cut backs are now affecting our local area with a local swimminig pool and golf course being closed.
    Sitting here listening to pounding rain – maybe our climate does nt help !
    As i ve been writing this i m remembering odd benches dotted around where i live maybe i should make the effort to go and sit on one for a while and see what happens ?

    September 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm
  • Here’s a short bog on Bumping Spaces I posted on ABCD Europe in February 13. Bumping spaces are key places for Asset Based Community Builders to be, they can be outside the chippy, the bus stop, the school playground for example.

    Forever Manchester’s Community Builder James Hampson wrote this blog back in 2012 Creating Creative Community Space

    During his time with us Gary Stanyard wrote this:

    I hope you find the articles useful



    September 8, 2013 at 7:47 am

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