Joyce Hannah Cuthbert and Colin McFawns – Co-designing a public garden

September 12, 2019

V&A Dundee’s Community Garden opened in September 2017, a year before the museum opened to the public. The project highlights how design can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing. The 100 square metre plot in the south-western corner of Slessor Gardens is the result of a creative co-design process, involving local people in every aspect of the design.  

Colin McFawns studied architecture at the University of Dundee. “Due to mental health issues I reluctantly departed from higher study in my third year,” he says, “but my interest in design and architecture never left me. When I heard of the opportunity to be part of the Community Garden, which was supporting those with health and well-being issues, I leapt at the chance.” 

Joyce Hannah Cuthbert works in garden design as well as mental health recovery design. She says, “I was a primary school teacher for a number of years and inspired young people through design and was equally inspired by their ideas. I did a short horticultural course at Dundee and Angus College and had designed a ‘blank canvas’ allotment plot. 

A 3D model of the V&A Dundee Community Garden final design.

The process of designing the garden involved sharing ideas and turning 12-15 people’s concepts of a garden into one vision, and then into a reality. Joyce says, There was more involved than I imagined! The one aspect that amazed me the most was that the end result was not a mishmash of ideas but a fluid and vibrant garden that I was proud to be part of. 

The input from design studio kennedytwaddle and professional designer Linsey McIntosh was incredible, as well as the planning and support from the team at V&A Dundee,” she addsI also really enjoyed being at the Dundee Botanic Garden and working with the landscape architect Glen Macfarlane. He showed us that emotive words can be displayed in plants; a total revelation to me!” 

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The team attended a series of co-design workshops, including visiting City Road allotments to learn how people use gardens and the Botanic Garden to learn about various plants. Colin says, “We initially researched what it meant to sit in a garden – what it felt like for each individual – and developed core themes from that session: some imagined their garden as a place of ‘rest’, or to ‘create’. We then began sharing design ideas at Duncan of Jordanstone through sketches, and then finally concept models, incorporating our various thoughts and feelings into a final design. 

“What was most exciting was how everyone brought something uniquely different to the project and seeing their confidence grow after bouncing ideas off each other. After construction, you could identify various ideas that were incorporated into the final design, including a water-butt and a green ‘living wall’, which visitors could add messages to.” 

The co-design team and Peter Nurick, V&A Dundee Communities Producer, cut the ribbon at the official opening of the V&A Dundee Community Garden. September 2017.

The team also worked with professional designers and a landscape architect on disabled access during a co-design workshop at the University of Dundee. 

The project convinced me even more how helpful horticulture can be to improving a mental health recovery journey,” Joyce saysDesign matters, mainly because life matters and how many people contribute to designing spaces, from our own living rooms to public spaces like V&A Dundee.” 

Pic Alan Richardson Dundee, to Use from V&A Dundee..

Anyone can design,” Colin adds. “You don’t need a design background to be a great designer; to be a genuine creator of new opportunities for others. The act of designing for participants, as seen here in the Community Garden, can be transformational.” 

We are delighted to welcome Joyce and Colin, representing the whole community co-design team, as V&A Dundee Design Champions, recognising their contribution to creating a peaceful, inclusive public space for the people of Dundee.  

To find out more, visit our website.

The V&A Dundee Design Champions are inspirational designers creating high-quality work and helping to enhance people’s lives, or champions of the power of design to improve the world.


V&A Dundee’s Design Champions project is working with Dezeen as its media partner. 

Dezeen is the world’s most popular and influential architecture and design magazine, with an audience of 2.5 million unique visitors each month.

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