Mark Smeeden, Chair of the Yorkshire & Humberside branch, reflects on the success of the Rethinking the Urban Landscape exhibition which is currently travelling around the UK.
The Rethinking the Urban Landscape exhibition was an opportunity for the Yorkshire and Humberside Branch to bring the hard work the LI team and exhibitors had put into this exhibition to Yorkshire, both for the benefit of branch members and as a tool which we might use to promote landscape architecture to the public and to fellow built environment professionals.
We are a geographically large branch, as are others, and we chose to mount the exhibition in both Leeds and Sheffield with a target audience of members, other designers, the wider public and also potential recruits for landscape courses.
The exhibition was advertised to the regional organisations of the RIBA, RICS and RTPI and we decided to mount a drinks and canapés reception at each venue as a focus for networking with these organisations and also to meet LI colleagues. To try and get the most out of the events Poppy Smith, the LI Education Officer, came to the Universities at both Leeds and Sheffield to introduce the LI to students, which was done with the branch student representatives. Following each reception Poppy with volunteers from the branch in conjunction with members of SLIC and university staff held Saturday careers events to present Landscape Architecture to both potential undergraduates and also to entrants at post-graduate level.
Both the advertised receptions were well attended and we were fortunate in having Noel Farrer come and give an address that was interesting and very well received on both evenings. The branch wrote to Noel to say that in our view much of the LI effort is not as well appreciated by some members as it ought to be, and having the LI President flying the flag in the provinces is undoubtedly good for both the LI nationally and locally. We were also grateful for LI funding to support the costs of the exhibition.
As a branch committee we valued the events and are now planning our contribution to the LI conference in Sheffield for 3rd and 4th of March 2016. There were some aspects of hosting the exhibition from which we might learn. We were only successful in getting one truly public venue, the Leeds event being within the Leeds Beckett University buildings and therefore didn’t maximise the potential for public information (but we were very grateful that it was free!). We utilised our existing connections with the other professionals in the region for them to advertise to their members, but it may have been more effective had we been able to advertise earlier. The events were attended by members for both the private and public sectors and ideally we should have targeted local politicians as I am sure this exhibition would encourage anyone to value the contribution of landscape architecture from both sectors to the urban environment.
Some members of our branch are acting as ‘LI Ambassadors’ and visiting schools, and we will be encouraging more to do so. As a committee we have few links with schools and career advisors, and we were surprised that as far as we could see (and this may be ignorance on our part) there wasn’t an existing well-oiled machine at either university to do this. It may be that our regional focus does not coincide with a broader perspective?
We employed a professional exhibition company to mount and move the exhibition for us – well worth the cost and our caterers were excellent but we saved money by providing drinks ourselves, which was logistically demanding. For similar events we would be tempted to try and outsource as much of the logistics as possible and to try and utilise the events and publicity support at the LI to a greater extent to ease the burden on volunteers.
I do hope that the exhibition will be as popular in Wales and Suffolk next year and that other branches will host this exhibition and make use of a resource that promotes both our Institute and profession.
The exhibition runs until 13 December in Sheffield and will travel to Wales in the new year (11-29 January).