Making maps

Layered-maps-7“I think that making maps was wonderful.”

Our surroundings take on particular meanings through our repeated interactions within them, and I design and deliver informal map making processes to find out how people feel about their neighbourhoods and communities that they live in. Here are two examples of this work: one with children and the other with adults.

By making a personal narrative map we can record what our experiences have written on the landscape, marking where stories, memories and imaginings intersect with place.

Night house Painted cardboard house on found map


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 work here was done with students at St Barnabas Primary School in Bristol. 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.
Amira's mapCleo's map Hussein's mapNacuma's map

‘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.’
‘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.’

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’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.’

Parents and carers joined us the following week and we used satellite maps with tracing paper laid over them so they could superimpose their own stories on top. Working across generations allowed a wide range of perspectives and generated stories that differed and overlapped; for example some parents had memories of the same play spaces the children frequent, but from 30 years earlier.
In the final session the students revisited their original postcard maps and charted changes they would like to see for themselves and their environment, and ideas they have about their futures.
Some students realised that they could fit their maps together and worked together specifically to make collective maps.

‘Super, good, fab, fun, interesting, exciting, enjoyed, experienced, excellent, memorable, cool.’

Mapping our way home
This project was suggested by some mothers of children at Speedwell Nursery School who wanted to create a piece of work 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. The mapping process acted as a focus for conversations about culture, gender, family, education, mobility and how we develop our sense of belonging.

‘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. 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.’

‘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.’