Wayfinding in Canada Water

After many years of working primarily in King’s Cross we are now spreading our Global Generation wings, to begin working with schools and community groups on the south side of the river in Canada Water, which is on the Rotherhithe peninsula. This almost island like part of London, is formed by a huge bend in the Thames. 

The invitation to travel south has come from Roger Madelin, our long term friend and former CEO of Argent, the King’s Cross developers. Roger is now heading up the Canada Water Master Plan for British Land. He is a champion of our work with young people, and other parts of the community, who don’t always feel a natural home in shiny new developments.

“Very soon after the skips arrived I knew that Global Generation were doing something really exciting. Not only were the children and young people seeming to enjoy working in or learning from the gardens but seriously senior locally employed adults were wanting to become involved and physical participate alongside. The interrelationships between the young people, nature, food, dirt, work and with business people has created something very special.” – Roger Madelin

Our involvement with the people who live and work in Canada Water, is an incremental process of getting to know each other. It is a privilege to visit local schools and many great projects, like Surrey Docks Farm, Stave Hill Ecology Park, Russia Docks Woodland and Time and Talents. They all in some way or another combine ecology and community building. We have visited them and we have invited them back to the Skip Garden to share a taste of what might be possible amidst the intense and not always welcome construction of a new development.

“If the goal was to create an alternative to the reality then you done it with bells on. It is so peaceful a true oasis in the middle of a building site. A paradise within a development. I really hope that we can, have a working friendship that will plant some of these wonderful seeds over our side of the Thames.” David Eyles, Rotherhithe resident, edible Silverlock after a visit to the Skip Garden.

Siw and Dave from Global Generation with Jemma and James at Surrey Docks Farm   

Siw and Dave from Global Generation with Jemma and James at Surrey Docks Farm


Rather trying to impose a pre-determined plan, the process has been one of wayfinding. Listening for common ground, being curious about obstacles and putting the sails up as the winds of shared excitement begin to blow. In this process, I have found it helpful to contemplate the attitude of early pacific explorers, who are referred to as wayfinders. They made incredible journeys in double hulled canoes. Rather moving forwards along paths laid down in maps, they stayed still and imagined the land coming towards them. With no instruments to measure, they relied on intuitive ways of knowing; navigating by the stars and the changes in the currents of the sea.  Māori Leadership scholar, Chellie Spiller who writes about wayfinding describes how this kind of navigation requires us “to set sail beyond the scope of our own knowing.”

In Canada Water, as with all of our work, we are trying to find that delicate balance between having an intention and holding it lightly. It is well known for the docks and also the large Print Works where some of London’s well known newspapers were printed. Through some of our early meetings the idea of growing a paper garden as a participation pathway emerged. The theme of paper is proving to be an open but purposeful narrative through which to gather stories, make paper based products and grow plants for food and paper making. Some of the ideas from this community participatory design process will eventually be taken forward into the designs for the public realm. 

“Working on the Paper Garden idea makes me think about the whole area as a book, the different organisations are different pages, but in the same book” – Jemma Bicknell, Time and Talents.”