Making maps

Thumbnail map

Much of my work uses informal map making processes, in particular to find out how people feel about the neighbourhoods and communities that they live in.

You can read about how I used this approach in the AHRC project Hidden Rivers and Daylighting and The Atlas of Human Kindness, or you can find out about other mapping projects here.

Mapping our way home
This project was suggested by local Muslim women who wanted a space to meet and create something together about home. I supported them to make a map of the neighbourhood using sewing and simple printing techniques. Their beautiful map marks their houses, friends, neighbours and other places of importance and stretches from Bristol to Liido beach in Somalia. Making the map acted as a focus for discussions about culture, gender, family, education, mobility and how we develop our sense of belonging.


As we worked on the map I wondered if I could capture the conversations that were happening over it, and how much of this content would be evident in their final artwork. I decided that rather than trying to bottle the conversations ‘for later’ I would just enjoy being part of the process and trust that as the women put on their coats and stepped back out into the world, they carried the seeds of more conversations with them.

Most people have a wish to belong and to ‘find identity in landscape and place’ (Taylor, 2008). Our surroundings take on particular meanings through our repeated interactions within them. However, to really feel at home a person needs not only to know but also to feel ‘intimately known’ (Ingold, 2000). Our relationship with landscape goes beyond our individual experiences. It is our shared understandings of a place that allow us to belong there, united with the ‘coherent identity’ (Said, 2000) within it.

‘In Africa we say hello to each other on the street. We chat and have conversations, even with people we don’t know – it doesn’t matter. We can ask each other for help or for directions to somewhere. When I came to this country I used to say hello to people I’d never met before. Some would say hello, but some would just ignore me and look away.’


‘This is my mum’s house. I want to go back and live with my mum but I can’t because I’ve got 3 children now. I’d like to go back to being 14 or 15, just for one day.’

‘I love this house, I live in this house. I love this area, everyone is amazing and they welcome us, what a wonderful area. My children go to the park behind my house.’

‘I would love to have a car because it will be easier with my children and for doing things. I’m looking forwards to the future.’

‘As we live next to the park we go there all the time, especially summer time. Elyas enjoys it. He expresses himself there. He does jogging, jumping, shouting and goes on the swings. I mean he really loves it. To go to the park is part of his routine. He even cleans the park! He tells people to look after it. In fact this park somehow belongs to him. He adores it. Compared to me when I was young we didn’t have parks or any leisure places. We used to play on empty ground. To be honest it was really fun to just run around or chase each other – no parents looking after us. We were free and absolutely nice.’


‘This is a picnic area in my village Bingol in Kurdistan. It’s really nice. I want to be there now, I’d love to go back there.’
‘I was nearly 18 when I came here. I went to school in Hartcliffe. The teacher was speaking and speaking but I just looked in her eyes because I couldn’t understand anything.’

‘Liido beach in Somalia Muqdisho. This is where I love most in the entire world; it is a beach near my hometown where I went with my family every Friday. It brings so many happy childhood memories of my family and I hope for you to enjoy it as much as I once did.’

The map was presented at the St George Neighbourhood Partnership Forum, accompanied by documentation showing the process of creating it.
‘Our group is so nice; we are all open to each other. We all learn from each other. We even taught some Somali words to Luci.’

Map making at St Barnabas Primary School, St Pauls
As an element of the Heritage Schools Programme being delivered by English Heritage, I worked in schools across Bristol, supporting children to map their individual experiences of their locality. The project aims to assist children to develop a sense of pride in where they live, understand their local heritage, and engage parents in their children’s learning.

‘I think that maps are supposed to show directions but there can be maps that tell stories. They have things that are important to you on them like landmarks.’ Ida

At St Barnabas Primary School in St Pauls I worked with two Year 3 classes over a four-week period.

Showing my maps
I began by showing two maps that represent how my own landscape is written through the physical, remembered and imagined traces within it. Conducting my own explorations allows me to experience and embody the practices that I am exploring with others. By sharing my work with participants I hope to stimulate discussion and give them a sense of my personal perspective.

The first map shows places that felt important to me when I was a child. Sharing it with the children triggered their memories, and allowed us to make a connection between our childhood geographies. Separated by many factors including time and location, we nonetheless found points of association and recognition.

Starletta and other Outllaws

My childhood map
Crayon and ink on watercolor paper

The second is a painting done on an old map of where I grew up. You can see the creases where it was folded away in a drawer. It shows the lighthouse at Dungeness, which we could see the beam of on our way home at night, shining across the Romney Marshes. It also shows stars, which I used to love looking up at, especially the Plough, probably because it was the only group of stars that I recognised.

Nightmap Acrylic on found map

Acrylic on found map

Personal narrative maps
We talked about the difference between a landscape and a map (in a landscapeyou can see the sky, whereas in a map you are the sky).
We discussed places where the children go and things that they do. We talked about shared and individual landmarks, and how we each write the landscape with our own stories. The students made their own postcard sized maps, locating sites of personal importance.

‘I learnt that you are the sky so you don’t put the sky and we all loved making maps. Now I’m good at making maps. Wow!’

‘What I think about making maps! I think it’s fun, and I learnt the difference between a picture and a map. I learnt that you can put stories in a map and a map doesn’t always have to be places that you know.’

Amira's map

Amira’s map

Ayla's map

Ayla’s map

Cleo's map

Cleo’s map

Hussein's map

Hussein’s map

Nacuma's map

Nacuma’s map

‘I really enjoy doing maps and which is in your imagination or in real life. I’m doing a big map at home that shows it.’

Reuben's map

Reuben’s map

Suaya's map

Suaya’s map

‘I think making maps is fun because people think maps are just direction, but it’s really like writing good and not so good memories.’

Giant shared maps
The following week we established the points of the compass on large sheets of paper and used them to locate and combine some of our landmarks. Our giant maps gave us an idea of things that people experienced independently and things they had in common with each other.

‘I think that it is very fun because all of them I had loads of fun and I enjoyed it. The best one I think is the big one.’


‘I’ve learnt lots of things about maps. Lots of words have helped me do maps. The directions: east,west, south and north helped me do lots of things. In all the ones we did with Luci I think today was the best because I could use all the things you taight me. I am proud of myself.’



‘Making maps is fun and I like making up new ideas and drawing them.’

Shared-map-3 Shared-map-4

Collective layered maps
Some of the children’s parents and carers joined us the following week. I printed large graphic and satellite maps, laid tracing paper over them, and the participants superimposed their own stories on top. Working across generations allowed a wide range of perspectives and stories that both differed and overlapped. We found that time was written into the map in a different way than it had been with just the children; for example, some parents had memories of the same play spaces the children frequent, but from around 30 years ago.


‘Maps are a bit hard to make when you’re making directions for people to go somewhere. It’s easier when someone helps you.’
Layered-maps-3 Layered-maps 1
‘I love making maps because it’s lots of art and fun. It sort of expresses my feelings. It’s very nice and fun and entertaining, everyone likes it.’
Layered-maps-7 Layered-maps-11
‘Super, good, fab, fun, interesting, exciting, enjoyed, experienced, excellent, memorable, cool.’
Layered-maps-4 Layered-maps-2
‘I think making maps is amazing because they show places around Bristol. Also they help us find things.’
Parents and carers shared their own perspectives, that were different to the students’ points of view, but overlapped with them as well.
Imaginary maps
In the final week the students made imaginary maps. Revisiting and reflecting on their original postcard maps, they charted changes they would like to see for themselves and their environment, and ideas they have about their futures.
‘I did not know what to do. Now I get it.’
‘Making maps is the best thing ever because you get to use your colours and you get to be creative and use your mind and create different things.’
Some of the students realised that they could fit their maps together.
Some of the students worked together specifically to make collective maps.
I think that making maps was wonderful.