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Girl's head with a banana on top and Trash Can written above
Girl's head with a banana on top and Trash Can written above
TrashCAN logo
Written by
Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date
14 May 2021

Igniting sustainable entrepreneurship, this project connects young people from Somers Town Youth Club with students studying BA Product Design.

When the TrashCAN project came along it was a no-brainer. Our first project with Central Saint Martins was about film which is something young people really understand. But product design? It would really challenge them and open their eyes to another way of thinking about businesses and entrepreneurship.

— Jamie King, Youth Leader at Somers Town Youth Club

Leading the project, Professor Adam Thorpe of Public Collaboration Lab (PCL) mapped out the people, places and materials that could be creatively combined. He identified possible mutual benefits of connecting the young people at the local youth centre to the new Buck Street Market offering stalls for local enterprise and sustainable products (with proceeds shared between the Youth Club and the young people). The MAKE space and a group of BA Product Design students could be the conduit, helping bring new products into being.

"We connect people and place to resources. We co-design with our partners to create a project that works for all the different people involved in it."
Adam Thorpe, PCL


Several of the third-year students involved had already worked on collaborative and socially engaged projects. Ruth Styan, for example, had participated in Design Against Crime’s Makeright programme introducing design skills to prison education:

I love what DAC and PCL stand for. As a designer, I don’t think we need a new sofa; I think we need to be the face of change, putting our brains together to make an impact. If we can do that through design then I’m all for it.

— Ruth Styan, BA Product Design student

So, in early 2020, Styan and her fellow students began spending time at the youth centre. The aim was to create a connection before introducing MAKE, a making space at the Story Garden that most had never visited before. “I grew up in Camden so it’s not a strange environment for me,” Ruth says, “I know that kids might not be engaged from the start (when I was a kid, I would tell my mum that I was going to the youth centre… I was not going to the youth centre). So, I remember the dynamic… A lot of the challenges we faced were how to get the kids engaged in the first place.”

With guidance from Youth Leaders, Jamie King and Shazna Ahmed, the group devised games as a gateway into design. They created a pack of cards, dice and grab stick through which one could easily create random combinations of material, process and context as a speed design challenge. For example, waste glass bottles + kiln + domestic product = ?.

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    TrashCAN on social media
  • Trash-Can-Photos-pdf-4.jpg
    TrashCAN cards

Just as the groups were getting to know and trust each other, coronavirus lockdown arrived. Everything had to change fast. Though physical making had been central to the project, TrashCAN became digital. The student group translated their games onto an Instagram account, connected to the existing social platforms of the Youth Club. They would challenge their audience to design something in 24 hours using a specific combination of material, process and product type. Submitted designs stretched from efficient food slicers to discourage waste to Shakespearean dog collar ruffs made from upcycled denim.

Thorpe was impressed how the students managed to transform the project. “There was a huge amount of designing,” he says, “In these projects they have to ‘design to discover’, ‘design to share’, ‘design to co-create’. But here they had to do it remotely, drawing on digital tools, working on new platforms, there was a huge amount of learning for the students and for ourselves.”

When lockdown was lifted and restrictions allowed, members of the Youth Club arrived at MAKE to put some of their ideas into practice. Products like an indoor hanging planter and a self-assembly smartphone project came out of those collective workshops.

  • Trash-Can-Photos-pdf-5.jpg
    Work in progress, TrashCAN
  • Trash-Can-Photos-pdf-15.jpg
    Work in progress, TrashCAN
  • Trash-Can-Photos-pdf-9.jpg
    Work in progress, TrashCAN
  • Trash-Can-Photos-pdf-16.jpg
    Projector, TrashCAN

With the students now graduated, TrashCAN moves into a new phase. Through the twists and turns that the project had to take, it has developed into an open-source online resource sharing how-to films and guides for designing with discarded materials. While MAKE is open regularly for members of the Youth Centre, this digital presence offers the learnings and assets from TrashCAN to anyone, inspiring others to get designing and making.

This project was something completely new to the young people we work with. They have a lot of ideas but often don’t have opportunities to bring those ideas to life. Having the MAKE space is the chance to do that.

— Jamie King, Youth Leader at Somers Town Youth Club

TrashCAN is a collaboration between Somers Town Community Association, MAKE and Public Collaboration Lab. The partners continue to explore ways in which the project might be further rolled out in the local area.


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