Why design can change a community

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The Independent Online

Sir Terence Conran and Tara Bernerd are asking the public (and celebrity friends) to nominate community spaces in need of renovation for the mydeco YourSpace competition, reports Annie Deakin

Imagine if you will, a police station designed by Sir Terence Conran; the boys in blue chilling on Eames' lounge chairs, slurping coffee from a stainless steel Luca Trazzi espresso maker with doughnuts piled high on a chic Noguchi table. Keep daydreaming and picture a futuristic library with white lacquered desks and leather armchairs handpicked by Tara Bernerd.

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It's quite some stretch of the imagination, isn't it? That is because unloved libraries, knackered police stations and tired town halls, which emit depressing vibes, are all too common in Britain. 'If a space isn't working for all that use it, it is failing the community it serves,' says Conran. 'Design is about problem solving, identifying the issues and finding innovative solutions on a given budget.' The doyen of British design has partnered with Bernerd, Head of Design at Target Living and mydeco.com to launch the competition YourSpace inviting the public (and celebrity friends) to nominate rooms in their community that need a revamp.

'Intelligent design has a tremendously positive effect on all of our lives,' says Conran. More than ever in these challenging times, community spaces should promote creativity, keep local residents optimistic and help students stay focused. Decorators and architects have long intuited that our surroundings affect our thoughts, energy levels and temperament. Competition entries are as varied as Snitterfield Village Hall and Grimsby's Dock Tower. Conran and Bernerd will breathe new life into whichever community room is deemed most deserving of a revamp.

Celebrities have entered YourSpace keen to raise the profile of design in the community. Kent-based comedian Vic Reeves, who sells art through Eyestorm, describes the local Charing school as 'very good but it's a disgrace. It's very shabby and desperately in need of some attention.' Notting Hill resident designer Lulu Guinness nominated the Army Salvation Hall. Priscilla Carluccio, founder of interior shop Few and Far, wants South Kensington tube station to be revamped while Kelly Hoppen is fed up with the dilapidated waiting room at her dentist.

Meanwhile, 77-year-old Conran says, 'I have got a real desire to re-do police stations, not that I spend much time in them - but the police do. If the place that they lived was optimistic, rather than deeply depressing, they might come onto the streets with a smile on their faces. It might cheer the police up.' Partner-in-design-crime Bernerd shares his vision, 'I have to admit I fell in love with Terence's suggestion of a police station. Although I don't go there often, I always feel guilty when I walk in there but I'm not sure they'd go with my colouring…' It's an astute point; I can't imagine the chief constable 'getting' the pink stripes in her hair.

More Bernerd's style would be to tackle a rundown public library; 'They're often poorly lit, badly laid-out, and understaffed for lack of admin, poor computer terminals added as an afterthought. Now, imagine the library in the next Bond movie. Think bright white, lacquered book shelving, with colours that clearly categorise subjects. The latest technology, dimmer areas with big leather armchairs, terrific long tables set up for lap tops and high backed stools. Get me a library card!'

Be it Conran's modish police station or Bernerd's super-slick library, the intention is obvious; community spaces should represent the optimism of today, not the gloomy past. Conran reminded me of the Festival Hall which is the only building left over from the Festival of Britain. 'They went through a terrible stage of dreariness and it got grubby and down-at-heal. Now it's been re-done with a new team of people running it and it's absolutely uplifting.'

Without our realizing it, interior design has a profound effect on our mood. 'I know that people who live in a good, thoughtfully designed environment have a happier life,' asserts Conran. 'Why should policeman and policewomen have such a dreary life?' The fashion police have competition; introducing Conran the design police.

Enter the YourSpace competition http://mydeco.com/competitions/yourspace/

Annie Deakin is Editor of mydeco.com