How design could help shape the future of historic York

The trio behind York Design Week hope it will get people exploring how creativity can shape the city’s future and help tackle societal issues. Laura Reid reports.

Think York and it is a city of history that comes to mind - Romans, Vikings, ancient walls, cobbled streets, historic buildings packed with independent shops and eateries. Its reputation for heritage and culture has long been established. But now a collective of creatives are hoping to add design to the list.

Rebecca Carr, Owen Turner and Richard Corrigan are the brainchilds behind the forthcoming York Design Week, a festival that they hope will tap into the creativity of residents, visitors and designers.

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York Design Week will explore how creativity and design could shape the city's future and tackle societal issues.

It aims to explore how design can help the city and its communities to adapt and grow and can also play a role in tackling societal issues including loneliness, mental health, poverty and social injustice.

“What we are trying to do in York is pioneer a new way of thinking about design,” says Carr, who set up Kaizen Arts Agency in March this year. “I think a lot of people think design is high end - really good quality objects you can buy for your home or graphic design with people sat on computers drawing stuff.

“What we are trying to say is that it is more about creativity in general and trying to support the idea of cultural democracy. Everyone has creativity and we can all come up with solutions to problems. Design for us is about creativity with a purpose, trying to solve problems by using creative thinking. And that can be for absolutely anything.”

One event, for example, will explore how systems design and digital technology can be used to improve health and care. Another, What is the problem and whose problem is it?, will look at how people can use design to influence their own futures and work together to solve big problems through creative thinking and practical action.

Rebecca Carr, Richard Corrigan and Owen Turner with Ben Porter (right) and Civer-Ter Orga (left). Photo credit: Olivia Brabbs

“The week is aiming to bring top down thinking and grassroots movements or organisations together to bridge the gap between the two...We hope it will engage and empower people to know they can make change.”

Turner and Corrigan say there has been a “groundswell” in York’s creative scene over the past decade but much of it small-scale and independent. They hope this event will promote collaboration.

“There are so many creative people and explosions of creativity here there and everywhere in York but no one is actually tying them together in an event,” says Corrigan, the founder of the Dog Eat Cog collective of illustrators and designers. “That was the impetus for was born out of the want for more connectivity and collaboration.”

It is also hoped the programme of events will engage the community with design and culture and put York in the spotlight when it comes to creativity.

“We are hoping it will draw people in from the surrounding communities,” Corrigan says. “What we’ve seen recently, as with everywhere, is a lot of shops shutting, a lot of businesses closing in the centre of York and people have less reason to visit than ever before really.

“One of the key things for me is to draw people into the centre and get people using it - or at least thinking about using it - in different ways.”

“I think it’s also about changing perceptions,” adds Turner, managing director of United By Design brand and design agency. “The creative economy is something that is very powerful in the UK and is bringing in a huge amount of money. We need to keep hold of that.

“We have a huge amount of tourists in the city of York, which is fantastic, and heritage and culture is a big thing. We want to weave all that into some of the innovation and progressive digital stuff going on to make the perception of the city a bit more open.

“It’s not just we have got history, this is about what is going to be the next ten or 20 years for the city.”

York Design Week runs from October 23 to 30. For the programme, see