“You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a lifetime of conversation” – Plato
Carole Clark, Leeds City Council Ageing Well Officer, tells us about her experience using LEGO® Serious Play® to help design an age friendly Leeds and also how she got on redesigning death.
Last Friday I went to the Designing with Older People workshops at the Civic Hall run by Cori Moore, an innovation consultant based in Berlin. Cori describes herself as bridging the gap between research & innovation; she uses LEGO® Serious Play® to get people to think creatively. LEGO® Serious Play® is a recognised practice developed by LEGO which aims to unlock imagination and innovation.
The morning workshop was all about redesigning cities to make them more Age Friendly. We sat at tables in groups of 5 or 6 and were all given a bag of LEGO with the same pieces. The LEGO is very small but for people whose hands cannot manage the tiny LEGO bricks, they also do workshops with larger DUPLO bricks.
Cori started us off with some skill building lessons. We had to build a tower, as tall as possible, the point being, we all had the same LEGO pieces and we all created something different. Next we had to create a scene to represent our idea of a bad date, and then present our creation to our colleagues around the table. Again we all used the same LEGO pieces but we all had different ideas. Check out my LEGO man drunk on the floor after too many cocktails before his date had even arrived!
With our newly acquired skill building techniques we then used our LEGO to build something which represented an age friendly city where older people would feel safe and able to join in with city life. It was all about releasing your imagination and creativity and it was great fun.
I chose to focus on the basic essentials, having a sit down for a rest and finding a toilet, vital to a successful outing to the city centre. My LEGO creation used a recognisable symbol (an eye, because we had lots of small bricks with an eye on them) to identify cafes and restaurants where older people are welcome to use the loo or just have a sit down on a seat without feeling obliged to buy anything. The same symbol was put on seats and public toilets. Information about where these friendly places could be found was readily available on an electronic information board displaying the same symbol.
Once we had explained our idea to the rest of the table, we combined our creations to create an Age Friendly city. Ours had ‘City bug’ electric cars, Age Friendly places to go, walking stick pit stops, a park, and plenty of seats. There was even a dragon which represented law and order; keeping the city safe for people to enjoy. (We liked the dragon and couldn’t think of any other way to include him). We also created an Age Friendly Whitby with a travelator taking people who can’t manage the 199 steps up to the Abbey.
It was a great way to express our ideas, and generated a lot of discussion about what was important about an Age Friendly City. It showed that when a group of people sit around a table, each given a little box of fairly unremarkable plastic bricks, and start building as a way of exploring a topic of common interest, what happens really is magic. Whilst some of the ideas were pretty wacky, they highlighted serious issues that older people face when visiting the city centre.
In the afternoon, we moved onto redesigning death. A workshop focused on getting people to talk about end of life issues and think about them in a different way. This was of interest to me as my job involves co-ordinating the Dying Matters campaign for Leeds and I was interested to see how people would interact with this topic.
We started by creating a funeral for a famous fictional character. Our table had Darth Vader from Star Wars. We organised a low key affair, conducted by the protocol droid C-3P0. The service focused on his early life as Anakin Skywalker before he fell to the Darkside and served the evil Galactic Empire. We played ‘The Imperial March’ (the only acknowledgment to his career) adorned his coffin with flowers from his wife’s planet of Naboo and buried him in an unmarked grave, known only to Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, on his home planet of Tatooine. Other tables had Ron Weasley, Don Draper from Mad Men and James Bond. This was all great fun, but it had a serious side, with some positive learning about personalising a funeral.
Further conversations were prompted by a prototype board game where we had to read out a question, think of our personal answer and ask the other players to guess the answer. ‘What have you told your children not to do for your funeral?’ was my question; no-one guessed the answer which is that I’ve told my son and daughter not to put my ashes in a rocket and fire me into the sky – I don’t like fireworks, and I’m not great with heights. Some of the questions were very personal and at times almost uncomfortable, but it definitely got people talking, and prompted a lot of conversations and planning for end of life.
Overall I really enjoyed the day. These workshops help people think outside the box and sometimes this is where the best ideas come about. I liked the practical, hands on approach and I hope that we can use some of the learning from it to shape our ideas for Age Friendly Leeds, and to improve on our Dying Matters Campaign, ready for next year’s campaign week which is 9th – 13th May.
Carole Clark, Ageing Well Officer, Leeds City Council