“Build Up is about cities being something done for and by the people who live there— representing their communities.”
In 2018, the “Hackney Wick Through Young Eyes” report—organized by London youth and community organisation Hackney Quest—determined that local young people “didn’t feel that they had a place in the borough’s future,” says Huan Rimington, the founder and director of Build Up. Hackney Quest contacted Build Up, and the organisations worked together to raise funds for a new space to be designed and built by local young people, aged 10 to 21. The result— Build Up Hackney—located on a formerly littered thoroughfare, is now a beloved community space with seating, swings and wildflowers.
Build Up runs design and construction projects led by Londoners between the ages of 10 through 23 to empower them with new skills and a role in shaping their neighborhoods. “The reality is, for young people, they’re completely shut out of both the economic and the statutory government-led process of creating cities,” says Rimington. “This results in cities that aren’t functional for young people, that aren’t functional for everyone.” Furthermore, he adds, school systems and curriculums continue to become limited in their values, which ultimately “leaves behind a lot of young people and doesn’t recognize them for who they are.” Build Up establishes an alternative through which these youth can be valued for their abilities and contributions to society and subsequently develop the recognition that they should have a say about the world they live in. “Young people can have power and influence over their built environment and shift the balance in the society as a whole,” Rimington explains.
Giving those who will ultimately inherit their city the tools to make it better seems like an obvious necessity—especially considering the inherent awareness of today’s youth regarding our collective need to heal the planet. “For our young people, climate resilience, biodiversity, and sustainability are fundamental to their design work,” says Rimington. “By virtue of being a youth organization, there’s a bottom-up push on centering climate justice and the environment.” The ways the environment mirrors those living within it is palpable in what Build Up works to address: how the mistreatment of one reflects abandonment of the other. “The standard approach to regeneration and building is basically that resources, people, and structures are disposable and, when you don’t like them anymore, you push them all out and rebuild,” Rimington observes. “We are not bulldozing and trying to start afresh, but working with people to make relatively small but impactful changes to their existing built environment.”
During the construction of Build Up Hackney, young people on the team spoke about what it meant to directly impact the environment in which they grew up. Their words were shared broadly—at City Hall, on BBC, during the project’s opening. While today’s young people may not be responsible for the way their cities are shaped, they are its future inheritors and their needs matter—and so does fostering the awareness that they, too, have a vision. “It can show you an alternative for what can happen in cities,” Rimington adds. “By working on these small, targeted projects…it creates an example that a different future is possible, and together with many allies and collaborators, this is slowly bringing about a culture change in attitudes towards young people in cities.”