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Map with markers showing where CCC projects took place across the country. Nudge Community Builders in Plymouth, Devon is on the south west coast and highlighted with a pink markerUnion Street in Plymouth connects the city centre to Devonport, the site of Plymouth’s naval base and docks. Dating back to the early 19th Century, Union Street was the home of Plymouth’s Theatre Royal and was world-famous for its clubs, bars and entertainment venues.

In recent years, the historic and once lively centre of the city’s nightlife has struggled to keep up with the widespread and extensive regeneration in other parts of Plymouth. Many entertainment venues have closed down to tackle growing anti-social behaviour, and although it is a designated conservation area it was considered by many to be dilapidated and tired.

Nudge is an ambitious community benefit society making Union Street a hub of the community once again by repurposing abandoned and neglected buildings.

Here, members of the Creative Civic Change project Nudge Community Builders share their experiences of the programme.

Reopening Union Street

Nudge Community Builders was set up in 2017 by local people living in Stonehouse, Plymouth, many of whom had been volunteering in the community for over 10 years already. We wanted to listen and respond to what the community wanted.

We were successful in unlocking 25% of the empty buildings along the street and spaces for local people to grow in surprising and enterprising ways. Nudge has created spaces for local businesses and people in five buildings along the street.

Our mission is to nudge lasting change in surprising and enterprising ways to build a strong local community and economy. We want to create buildings and spaces for local people to grow and make connections.

I have received some amazing opportunities; working with schools, creating workshops, building up my commissions and fully establishing myself as an artist.”
Azza Gasin, local artist

How creativity changed our community

We were granted the Creative Civic Change funding to help with our vision of bringing joy and colour to the street in ways that would strengthen our community and local economy.

Our three-year plan included activity that would seek to create voice, visibility and possibilities around complex issues in our neighbourhood in constructive and empowering ways for individuals and spaces. We wanted lasting physical change where creativity and innovations would be easy, encouraged and permitted.

A street with bunting, and children learning circus skills

Over the three years of the project we worked with over 54 local artists and designers who explored their creativity with a little bit of Nudge support. We saw a variety of performances, music, creative writing, markets, parties, pop ups, workshops and visual arts. 17 of these projects are ongoing and many local artists have gone on to be commissioned by other organisations across the city.

All projects have proudly included local people. The markets, workshops and events were very popular and saw school children, families, and individuals come together. Many felt encouraged to lead or partake in performances, help paint murals, take part in the conversation, or quietly be in the audience.

Through supporting artists and creatives, we saw the strength of the community shine through, which in turn supported the vision for the project. Local businesses saw growth, children now see bursts of colour on their way to school, and families have become more aware of free activities that they can be involved in.

Despite continued challenges, local people now feel the street has become brighter and more colourful through immediate and lasting changes that have been made. These included providing lighting throughout the street for local retailers, meaning people feel safer walking home. There are also other exciting initiatives, including helping local businesses by linking them with creatives to produce crazy Christmas lights.

Many of the projects have had a lasting impact on both the artists that were commissioned to create them and the participants. A woman artist who was commissioned to paint a directional mural to help people locate one of Nudge’s buildings, The Plot, has been further commissioned to paint more murals throughout Stonehouse and create graphic identities for local organisations.

So much colour and love on the street.”
Local resident

Azza’s story

Azza Gasin, a local artist and Plot tenant who we recently commissioned for a piece of wall art outside of The Plot, has shared her reflections with us. Azza has been further commissioned by local organisation Diversity Business Incubator to extend the mural and secure employment with them.

Azza said: “As an artist, it’s important for us to take big risks to have our artwork seen by the public, which is how I felt about this mural on Union Street.

“Originally created in 2021 as part of a university project, I created an abstract piece with bold colors, prints and unique shapes and had it hung in our apartment for a few years before moving back to Plymouth.

“However, it wasn’t until late last year, when I was rebuilding Azza’s Gallery and I was approached by Nudge Community Builders that I managed to use it for something greater and more meaningful and we started the journey of creating the mural itself.

A group looking at a wide, colourful mural

“The design on Union Street is just one strip of the bigger picture that was used and I am thankful to the Nudge Community family and the team from Big Ups for assisting me with it. During the summer, I developed the stencil, put it up and painted each section, as this was my first big piece, which is now being seen by many people in Plymouth every day and I’m finally getting the recognition I deserve after many years.”

Looking to the future

We wanted to find an interesting way of documenting the process and collecting people’s reflections on what has been achieved over the past three years.  We decided to produce a one-off newspaper that was fun and creative, as well as informative and a pause for thought.

As some of the artists have been commissioned for other projects and are flourishing, we wanted to find out what they thought about their time with us. We also wanted to know what the street thought about the feel of their immediate environment and the impact the project has had, as well as what its future looks like. We asked what they wanted to see and experience next.

Three people carrying large beachballs down the street

Our ambition was to create a paper that would be considered a collector’s item as well as being a celebration of the Creative Civic Change project.

It’s great doing something close to lockdown with the community in an open space which added spirit and good vibes”
Nudge participant

We plan to continue to build on the joy and colour throughout the street, with more diverse local artists. We have big plans, including a sequin wall. But we also hope to continue having our pop ups and events on the street.

Our Creative Civic Change project has made an incredible difference to the community. It’s also made a change for them to be listened to and it’s been a great way of coming together to be part of something bigger.

We love being on the street. Our legacy is our presence and we intend to continue that as well as embrace all the future changes and come together to tackle the challenges our community face.