Identity Crisis: Brand v Reality- Pidgin Perfect at Unusual Glasgow

by Marc Cairns, Director at Pidgin Perfect

Our workshop at the Unusual Suspects Festival in Glasgow ‘Identity Crisis: Brand vs Reality’ offered a new discussion around the ongoing regeneration of The Barras in the East End of Glasgow.

At the workshop we were delighted to be joined by some familiar faces from The Barras including local traders (Randalls Market), residents, councillors and MPs (Alison Thewliss). Importantly, joining the discussion was a diversity of ‘unusual suspects’ which included artists, designers, strategists, economists and policy makers from organisations from across the globe including; Inspiring Changes Makers, TAKTAL, Finnish Innovation Fund, Senscot, Goldsmiths University of London, Ben Spencer Consultancy, Institute of Design Innovate and Maverick & Co.

The workshop centred around the ongoing programme of urban regeneration in The Barras that has been re-identifying the function of the neighbourhood as an arts and culture quarter as well as a trading space for existing and new types of market. The ‘Vacant and Under Used Floor Space Fund’ has supported the development of a cluster of cultural and creative businesses within The Barras, all with their own unique identity and offerings such as St. Lukes Church, MANY Studios, The Telfer Gallery, The Pipe Factory and Barras Art & Design Centre. However, the current process of regeneration has not been a sensitive one nor has it considered a ‘place branding’ strategy for The Barras, something that is equally true to the overall strategy of regeneration across the East End post-Commonwealth Games.

Central to the discussion on the day, was a consideration of how to succeed in using creative productions to transform an area from a marginal urban space into a place associated with quality, a sense of future and the authenticity of its heritage, without generating social conflicts and dividing the community between ‘old and new’.

We invited three key ‘unusual suspects’ to join us at the workshop and present best-case models of practice and projects, which explore community, identity, place and branding. We were delighted to be joined by:

– Glasgow based artist Mitch Miller who presented his contribution to ‘Nothing Is Lost’, a residency which explore the social history of the East End,

– Programme Leader at The Young Foundation (London), Radhika Bynon who presented her work to build a community led ‘place branding’ strategy in Belfast,

– Founder of iSpace Ghana, Josiah Kwesi Eyison who gave details on his work to change negative preconceived perceptions of community through innovative creative projects.

Using these examples as a catalyst and forming a wider group, we then posited methodologies to genuinely regenerate instead of simply gentrifying The Barras. We collectively considered the aestheticising of place and the creation of a new people focused commercial branding for The Barras through the use of a design thinking workshop toolkit created and facilitated by Pidgin Perfect.

The conversations that arose from the questions posited about the future of ‘The Barras Brand’ became a broader dialogue that focused not so much on the existing trading community but looked towards the opportunities that could arise from strategically connecting traders directly with cultural activity. Incoming creative organisations would assist in this as a way of educating and encouraging better business practices as well as increasing footfall and interest in the area. Indeed, it was seen to be not about diluting the existing trading community of The Barras, but rather moving away from the tendency to associate the trading community with sentimentality and a nostalgia for what once was and instead refocus attention towards the innovative future that The Barras could generate from within the newly forming community. It was suggested that moving forward through the ongoing regeneration plans should not be particularly about physical interventions and cosmetic improvements but on focused conversation about the progression of the area, its identity, its offer and its brand.

The broader dialogues from the workshop have since fed into conversations and discussions with Nick Wright Planning and Willie Miller Urban Design who are currently finalising their masterplan for The Barras commissioned by Glasgow City Council in early 2015. The recommendations of this masterplan are due to be available to the public in early 2016.


With special thanks to the following people and organisations for supporting the workshop;

SIX, The Young Foundation, Mitch Miller, Chris Leslie, Alison Irvine, iSpace Ghana, Rachael Brown, David Stewart and Rock DCM.


by Marc Cairns

Director, Pidgin Perfect

The Unusual Suspects Festival Get Updates

Join Our Mailing List for Regular Updates

If you would like to learn more about the festival then fill in the form below for regular updates