Celebrating 30 years of the Women’s Design Service
8 December 2017
2017 marks 30 years since the formation of the Women’s Design Service. To celebrate this anniversary we have two articles below on the Women’s Design Service and the London Women and Planning Forum. We also have six copies of papers by the Women’s Design Service available below.
Women’s Design Service
In the ferment that was the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s all kinds of women’s groups and organisations sprang up:- from the 300 Group working for equal representation in Parliament to Women in Nalgo concerned that unions were not championing women’s issues to the National Abortion Campaign. Similar awakenings were happening in the area of the built environment, with women raising concerns both about women in the various professions and the way that the built environment was largely designed for white able-bodied men.
Women’s Design Service was developed out of the Technical Aid movement. In those days there were many voluntary groups in receipt of grants and many needed help with premises issues. WDS focused on helping the many women’s groups then in London, most of whom were funded by Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council. WDS worked with all kinds of organisations, advising on planning and structural issues, drawing up plans for improvements and improving accessibility.
When Thatcher government abolished the GLC, many of those groups lost their funding and folded. However from the experience of working with women and hearing about their problems with the built environment, WDS re-invented itself as a research organisation. We investigated all kinds of issues; toilets, transport, creches, parks, housing, offices, tenant participation and running as a thread through all these topics – women’s safety from male violence. This is the period when most of WDS’s publications were produced.
In the early 1990s Women’s Design Service started to assist London Women and Planning Forum (LWPF) by organising public meetings on their behalf and publishing the Forum’s discussions as broadsheets. Men were welcome at the events, but the policy was always to engage women speakers. Topics included race, disability, routes for women in construction, older women, art, cctv, environment and many other issues that were topical in that particular time. After every event a broadsheet was produced (in print, no internet in those days!) and some of these are still available.
In 2001 WDS was facing ever more severe funding problems, and it looked as if the organisation might have to close. At that point the LWPF was handed over to Queen Mary University of London where Alison Blunt in the Geography Dept. continued to chair the group until it lapsed a few years ago.
It was in 2002 that I came in as Director, and given the ongoing loss of grant funding to the voluntary sector started to build WDS up as more of a social enterprise, offering consultancy with our Making Safer Places project and on the Gender Equality Duty. Trustees agreed to leave LWPF with Queen Mary’s although WDS continued to be an active member. Many highly informative and productive events were organised during those years with an emphasis on bringing together academics, practitioners and users.
More information on WDS led projects, events and publications can be found here http://www.wds.org.uk/projects_current.html
Wendy Davis was a founding member of the Women Design Service and a Director from 2002 -2008
London Women and Planning Forum
Discussions on gender and planning have been on the urban agenda for a long time.
Early examples include gender specific policies of the Greater London Council (GLC) Women’s Committee, academic research on gender bias in built environment and RTPI’s planning advice note on Planning for Women. Similarly, discussions have also focussed around how planning policies and practice affect women’s lives, and how planning departments can be more representative of the population they serve.
It is important to touch upon this rich history in the WiP blogs. It is our history and it is important to remember the pioneers. This will also remind us how much progress we, the planning community, achieved (or not) on gender issues in planning over the last 30-40 years.
One group who committed time and effort to gender issues in 1990s was the London Women and Planning Forum, a network for women planners and planning students who were interested in discussing a wide range of planning issues from a gender perspective.
The group were meeting roughly four times a year to discuss women and planning issues, identify good practice and provide support and advice to women planners. The meetings often had challenging and thought-provoking presentations followed by discussions, and attracted a wide audience with people working in local authorities and academia, as well as other sectors and community organisations concerned with planning and equality issues.
The support from the Women’s Design Service (see our previous blog on WDS) played a crucial role in keeping the Forum going. In fact, the Forum probably would not have survived so long if it didn’t come under the WDS umbrella.
Meeting notes were published as Broadsheets by the WDS. The topics included designing out crime, town centres, planning education, housing and women’s position in planning departments. You have to bear in mind that the discussions and views in these Broadsheets are a reflection of the social, political and planning context more than 20 years ago. Some of the views and solutions may feel out of date or not relevant anymore. But you will also find that some of the issues and challenges discussed then are still relevant.
In 2001, LWPF came under the umbrella of Queen Mary University of London where Alison Blunt in the Geography Department continued to chair the group involving academics, practitioners and users.
You will find below a selection of the Broadsheets as records of London Women and Planning Forums discussions and presentations. We feel it is important that this history is not lost. We are where we are because of views and actions of many women before us who committed time and effort to make life better for those who experience inequality in the built environment. We leave it to you to decide how much, if any, progress has been made since the Forum put these issues on the agenda of the planning community in London and beyond over 20 years ago.
Author Dr Sule Nisancioglu is a member of Women in Planning – London Branch
View some of the London Women and Planning Forum Broadsheets below: