Posted: Fri 25th Mar 2022
Enterprise Nation has partnered with Dell Technologies on the UK Top Towns for Business competition. The aim is to celebrate local businesses and the towns that allow entrepreneurial spirit to flourish.
As part of that drive, we like to showcase businesses and business owners we find interesting and inspiring. Here, we speak to Ahmed Mahgoub, co-founder of Space Black, about his business, his motivations and ambitions, and his use of technology.
What motivated you to set up your business?
We're a collective and we co-founded Space Black together. It came about because we're all involved in the built environment. I'm an urban designer, and we have architectural designer and artist Rayan Elnayal, civil engineer Heba Tabidi and infrastructure engineer Mo Gaafar.
Collectively, we understood that if you're from an ethnic-minority background, diversity and inclusion, the pathway to the built environment is particularly difficult. And that's one of the reasons why we set up Space Black.
It isn't just about raising awareness of the importance of diversity within the profession. It's more guiding the future of the built environment, especially with students, children, and people who want to study and actually excel in their fields. We try to advocate for a diverse and socially inclusive approach to design.
You're only a year in. What have you learned in those early weeks and months?
We've really been selective with the types of events and projects we take on because diversity and inclusion – I hate to say it – is still quite a taboo topic. People don't feel comfortable talking about it.
For example, I work for a company that, on average, is staffed by white males aged 40 to 50. For someone of an ethnic background – I was born in another country, migrated here, got an education – there's that feeling of disconnect, and having to push your own views and opinions but in a positive way. And this is our feeling collectively.
So that's why we're actively undertaking small projects and growing organically. One example is our recent architecture and engineering workshops. It's really exciting to work with children and introduce them to those fields through a series of drawing workshops.
And encouraging them to socialise with people from their own background, people who they can relate to. Because there needs to be that representation.
What main issues is your business looking to address?
The representation of ethnic people within the built environment accounts for roughly 10% of the overall workforce. And it's really sad because if we're supposedly designing places for the future – places for people to live, work, play – shouldn't they be designed to include all races?
We're using our workshops to create a conversation in the local communities. Letting people know their opinions matter.
If you consider how we design urban spaces, it usually follows a Eurocentric model, using few colours and a Scandinavian style of architecture and development. But if you spoke to someone from an ethnic background – Asia or Africa or even South America – in these places, they see colour as quite a vital part of their life.
By having these workshops, especially with children, we're giving them the understanding and knowledge to move forward and ask questions about their future and what they want to do.
How can urban design and architecture be more inclusive?
Having worked on a lot of big schemes in my role as an urban designer, if the client doesn't understand the importance of what the project is delivering, they will never really understand your point of view.
I always approach projects from the top down. If you don't engage with the local community from the offset, what tends to happen is you get enormous pushback. Because naturally as humans, we're quite sceptical of change.
If you take that first step of engaging, you'll find they actually give you a lot of ideas to consider. From there, we try to incorporate workshops where we encourage local residents and people who have a stake in the development to bring along items from their cultural backgrounds.
And from these little personal items, we as designers try to incorporate elements of them – colours or different patterns, for instance – in our developments.
All of these things can influence design. Looking ahead, we'd love the opportunity to put together a socially inclusive design guide. There are some publications out there already, but they're not doing enough.
Let's talk about technology. How does it factor into what you're doing at the moment?
Currently, because we're still quite young and we don't have the resources to invest heavily in a lot of technology, we don't use too much of it. However, one crucial piece of kit is the Dell Latitude laptop we have. We actually take it into the workshops and use it to engage with the children.
Some of these kids don't have access to a laptop or computer at home. So by giving them the laptop and a couple of tablets and all sorts of other materials, they have the opportunity to play around and experience something new.
Through that, we're also trying to encourage them to follow a professional career route into the built environment. Because without them, nothing's going to change. My profession, urban design, changes very, very slowly. And the whole political conversation about developments and whatnot is very draining.
We're in the process of creating a website and we're also starting to invest in some podcasting equipment. We feel that with a lot of the topics we're discussing, not a lot of people are actually aware of what we're doing. So it's another way to get ourselves out there.
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