front view Conningbrook Lakes Copy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Artist Commission Tim Norris 

In spite of the latest lockdown this month we’ve enjoyed getting out to visit the site of our current project with Ashford Borough Council where we are working with Tim Norris to develop a sculptural bird hide in Conningbrook Lakes Country ParkThe public art for this site aims to celebrate the unique environment of Conningbrook Lakes with particular focus on the diverse and abundant wildlife. Tim’s work draws its inspiration from the surrounding landscape, and where possible uses materials that have a direct significance with its location. Rather than produce purely furniture or sculpture, he is interested in creating inspirational commissions that interact with people to help them to relax, playenjoy and appreciate their environment. 
As we are in a second lockdown, now more than ever country parks and green spaces are so important. They provide access to spaces helping us to exercise outdoors, time for quiet contemplation and connection with nature in contemporary busy world during Covid.
Whilst non-essential shops remain closed it’s worth remembering that we have a wealth of green space across the UK that we all have access to – including National Parks, Country Parks, urban parks, National Trust, English Heritage, woodland, forestry commission and rural farmland, byways and waterways, coastal areas etc. plus privately owned estates and sculpture parks and gardensIt was great to see Yorkshire Sculpture Park promote their grounds remaining open to visit and enjoy sculpture in the open air, connecting with nature and art.
Venturing Northour work with Great Place: Lakes & Dales reminds us of the role of public art in a rural context. Our chapter in Public Art Now! explores how artists engage within rural settings and communities and how public art can be an effective way to reconnect with nature and our green spaces.  In the Lake District National Park,‘the UK’s most visited National Park’an emphasis on family –friendly activity and engagement is the driving force behind their public art commissioning.  Public art needs to incorporate high-quality design, stimulate, educate, be relevant,be appropriate, be interactive,be functional and be elemental.  
Closer to home (for us) in Ashford, Kentartists Julia Clarke, Tim Norris and Outdoor Studios have been selected for their specialisms in creating large-scale outdoor sculptural works and outdoor activities, drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscapes and using natural materials such as locally sourced timber, willow and foraged flora and faunaOnce installed at Conningbrook Lakes, these artworks will be on the doorstep for new residents, workers at the local factories and visitors to the park.  Perfect to take a ‘local commute’ to help break up home-working and signal the start or end of your business day or to refresh your mind and body during a lunch break.
Have you discovered local places and got out and about more than usual this year?  


Chatham Placemaking project

                                                                                                                                                              Image: Film still 'These Are Our Streets' by Simon Williams with designs by Xtina Lamb.
Together we're stronger: collaborating to create more sustainable developments and communities for our post-Covid world.       
Much of our role as public art consultants involves collaboration. 
This month’s Kent Construction Live Virtual Conference reminded us of the power of connecting with a wider industry network beyond our usual day-to-day partnerships with construction companies, developers, local authorities, housing associations, architects and artists. One of Kent’s first big online events for the construction sector, it was a day to get together via Zoom and hear how others are navigating the current challenges and finding opportunities to build more sustainable developments and communities as we emerge from the Covid crisis.
It was great to listen to local industry professionals like Guy Holloway and Mark Quinn talk about their work and particularly to hear Guy remarkBy creating projects where communities come together we will develop a much richer society. The value artists, makers and creatives bring to place is astounding. The creative industries should be seen as the leader in regenerating towns because they have so much to contribute.
The work we are doing for the £400 million Rochester Riverside development with Countryside Properties (UK) Ltd and The Hyde Group is a perfect example of this, with commissioned artists and architects working together to produce fully integrated and embedded public art. 
It has been particularly rewarding to engineer a successful pairing between artist Chris Tipping and BPTW architects practice. As Public Art Consultants we are often hidden in this process, negotiating and facilitating a place at the table for artists. Public Art is often overlooked and it’s fair to say we’re tenacious in ensuring that artists commissioned by FrancisKnight work closely with the design team to fully integrate and embed the public art through a meaningful creative collaboration. Fostering a way of working between artists and architects at early stages of a development scheme can lead to thought provoking art and moments of joy. 
As part of the London Festival of Architecture last year we shared some insights from our inter-disciplinary work facilitating this particular collaboration with an interview between Chris and Peter  Sofoluke,  Associate Architect  at BPTWClick here if you’d like to read more.
We look forward to sharing more about this project as we reach completion of the latest phase. We will be sharing more of our own top tips for how we make collaborations like these work effectively in future posts.



Neighbourhood counts

As the pandemic continues to toy with our everyday life, disrupting the way we work, social engagement and the places we visit, at FrancisKnight our thoughts have turned to the opportunities and challenges for reimagining public spaces in our post-Covid world. 

It seems that a lot of changes have already been happening. Locally here in Kent, our road system is being adapted with the introduction of new cycling lanes. In Sevenoaks, proposals for a Cultural Quarter to promote more outdoor events such as food festivals and film screenings have received support to help the town recover. 

Nationally, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries, has called for an ambitious multimillion-pound public investment to enable cultural institutions to create a new generation of artists. Internationally, the influence of a public art per cent policy, introduced in the late 1980s in Western Australia, has seen an increase in public art policies being implemented by Perth Councils, leading to a rise in art and sculptures being installed at schools, hospitals, train stations, apartment buildings, public spaces and commercial buildings across the state.  Recently vacant buildings and empty shop fronts have been transformed in Houston, Texas with 18 public art installations dubbed windowWorks to prevent the Downtown District from looking empty. 

From our own more personal perspective, we’ve watched countless webinars and contributed to many discussions exploring how best to work with artists in the current situation, with a particular focus on placemaking. There seems to be an increased appetite and greater recognition that people want more and will demand more from their high streets, town and cities and the public spaces they encompass than ever before. We were particularly pleased to contribute to a Visioning Day with Dover District Council in preparation for their Local Plan. Debates focused on the area's uniqueness, and how to be braver, more radical, ambitious and aspirational in their approach. We posed the question: How can we look to ‘elevate the local’ through the use of public art? A phrase that seemed to resonate and became adopted through the ensuing discussion. Other contributors reflected the need to be inclusive, to listen to the younger voice, embrace digital communication and reflect the past with contemporary solutions– all valid points that chime with the way we like to work too.

Lockdown and social distancing have enabled many of us to reconsider how we should use our time, our urban spaces and how we interact with the natural world around us. Climate change and ecological drivers demand that we review how we use materials and create sustainable places, striving to create more livable and usable public realm, which add greater value to human experience. We’re determined to utilise this new way of living to consider how we could influence the pedestrian, to take more time to look and see and ultimately appreciate what is already around us.

How does this impact on our role in delivering public art? Well, we work with artists in helping to shape places and tease out the character and identity of local areas. We do this by matching the right artist to the right project and creating consequential and transformational engagement with local people and communities. Artists never fail to question, surprise and delight us every time with their responses and ideas. 

We recently unveiled new public art murals at Wivelsfield Railway Station Bridge with artists Maria Amidu and Lionel Stanhope. A project delivered during lockdown restrictions in a fun and imaginative way, created with and overwhelming supported by the local community. “Because Neighbourhood Counts” a new moto for the community has greater significance than ever before.  

If CoVID-19 has taught us anything it’s how to enjoy and connect with our own neighbourhoods. It’s so important that we live in places that are loved and looked after, that are well designed, accessible and are life-enhancing places to spend time.    

We would like to see more artists invited onto design teams with commercial developers, housing associations and local authorities to authentically collaborate as equals alongside architects, regeneration officers, masterplanners and construction leaders to help shape new developments and public open space. If social distancing is the new norm, let’s create more interest and connection in the hard and soft landscaping, in meaningful artworks and the spaces between buildings.   

It doesn’t always have to be permanent either, some of our most interesting projects have been temporary interventions, artist-led walks, performances and pop up workshops.  In fact, this is where true creative thinking and collaboration starts for many artists: talking to people and thinking about how communities can be engaged in new developments and regeneration schemes.  

With the Prime Minister calling for Britain to ‘build, build, build’ our way  out of the Covid crisis, and a new Government White paper ‘Planning for the Future’ currently out to consultation, it’s encouraging to read that; “This Government doesn’t want to just build houses. We want a society that has re-established powerful links between identity and place, between our unmatchable architectural heritage and the future, between community and purpose.”   

As a public art consultancy, FrancisKnight has always placed the emphasis on those powerful links. The question is, how will the decision makers rise to the challenge?   


Lost Without Music


It was a great sadness to receive an email from the music manager at Pizza Express Maidstone to say that they would not be re-opening the restaurant and music venue. 

It has been a lifeline for world class music in Maidstone since it opened in 1989.

As we reflected on the great times we have had there both individually and as FrancisKnight, it reminded us that we have had a relationship with this venue in all sorts of capacities since 1993.

Highlights include:

Showcasing Maidstone based visual artists in 1993 when Pizza Express gave us free room hire.

Performing two gigs in 1995 and 2008 with 8 piece bands squeezed onto the tiny stage. 

Featuring the venue in our legendary Artist Quarter Quarterly booklet written by Mark Hewitt.  Pizza Express ‘Singer’s Night’ made number 1 in our 10 top things to do in Maidstone. We also interviewed the hosts Clare Durling and Claire Louise Harris in an article about the venue.

We have celebrated birthdays, enjoyed Christmas do’s and great nights out. Our last visit was for a boozy smooze with co-worker Roger Williams and the jazz funk band playing was fab.

A Friday night in Pizza Express Maidstone always set the right tone for the weekend ahead. We are gonna miss you!


It’s been a week since #blackouttuesday, a week of thinking and reflection.  Last Tuesday was a busy day for FrancisKnight and it wasn’t until the end of the day that I checked in on our social media accounts.  I was completely taken aback at the black squares that came up. I had obviously completely missed something, not listened, not understood.  I hadn’t missed the brutal death of George Floyd but what should I do? I didn’t know how to respond, I didn’t know what to say. Posting a black square with a hashtag wasn’t good enough.  I started to educate myself, read more, listen harder, ask more questions particularly of myself and how we operate our business. We are a female led business rooted in the arts but positioned within the construction industry.  Let’s be clear, this isn’t an easy route, it’s a predominantly male sector with its own set of working practices and networks and we have worked hard to meet the challenges of building our business in this sector.  But perhaps that’s the point, we’ve still had choice, encouragement, opportunities alongside hard work and determination.  We are as a business a continual work in progress, finding our voice in a male dominated sector. So, here’s where we start. We question our own practices, can we do more, can we do better? Undoubtedly.  I started to digest information, it was overwhelming, I signed petitions, donated to funds, sought out trusted resources suggested by friends and colleagues.  Action, that was what was needed, actions speak louder than words, don’t’ they? It started with conversations in my own family and within FrancisKnight.  I’m thinking about it every day. To start, some great resources shared by my good friend Kate Chapman, and if theatre is your thing she directs you to a collection of work by leading writers and performers. An emotional Vlog post ‘Leaders are Not Silent’ from Dr Wayne Wright, business coach and mentor from our home town, the impassioned and highly charged speech from Clara Amfo and revisiting Dave’s performance at the Brit Awards this year.  So where to start, well, it was a colleague we’re currently working with at bptw. Architect Peter Sofoluke, who gently suggested a couple of books. I’m an avid reader, so although Why I’m not Longer Talking to White People about Race Reni Eddo-Lodge, was temporarily out of stock  it is downloadable from Audible, which has a 30-day free trial. If like me you love a podcast, the High Low by Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton offers up Anti-Racism Resources and an Author Special with Candice Brathwaite. So that’s me at the moment, listening to Reni as she talks me through black history and systemic racism. This is what I had missed, not listened to, not understood.  This is how I wake up, listen, try to understand and respond.  Louise

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