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The Alternative Seating Guide

The Alternative Seating Guide (for the elderly) maps out the improvised use of alternative sitting spots in public space in older age where formal provision for seating is lacking. Based on six months of repeat visits to a pensioner's lunch club in Canning Town, the project locates those spaces (low walls, commercial seating, borough-wide bollards) that are regularly appropriated by the elderly as informal, ad hoc seats where standard street furniture is not available.
A series of conversations in the lunch club identify the location and use of these spaces (past and present) revealing, in turn, an articulate knowledge of public space as it meets up with the changing physical and psychological needs of older age. The otherwise invisible 'use' of these alternative sitting spots is mapped out and made visible as a useable borough-wide resource (uploaded onto a dedicated Ageing Facilities website and recorded in an ongoing video project animating these sitting spots).

Artist Verity-Jane Keefe (an emerging artist with a practice rooted in socially engaged public art work) was commissioned to construct a bespoke cushion for one of these alternative sitting spots. Her brief, to create a portable, pull-on, pull-off cushion for the generic borough-wide Abacus bollard, generates a playful, prototype device that temporarily formalises and gives value (as it makes more comfortable) the autonomous appropriation and adaptation of the alternative elderly seat.

The reversible 2-sided (fair and wet weather) cushion with handle, and standard orthopeadic 800 mm cushioning is tested out on-site with Eileen (from the lunch club). The prototype cushion becomes a prop for conversation, enabling an on-site design crit (on the way the cushion sits on the bollard, its feel, the quality of the fabric for sitting on, its desirability, its useability). Feedback from this cushion test is recorded and will serve as the basis for future production of a bollard-specific cushion with broader application. The evolution of the prototype cushion will be visible on the Ageing Facilities website.

You can read Sophie's full report here.

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