Designing Speakers’ Corners

 What might a twenty-first century Speakers’ Corner look like and how should the design process ensure that local people can contribute? Can Speakers’ Corners be designed for people who live in sparsely populated areas or either don’t have access to town or city centres or would not choose to use one there?

Creating a Mobile Speakers’ Corner

The mobile Speakers’ Corner in action in Leicester

Creating permanent Speakers’ Corners is an exiting adventure. But for many, city centre sites may be inaccessible or intimidating. SCT has planned from the outset to create a mobile Speakers’ Corner which can be taken out into the community, urban or rural, to provide people with a platform in their own neighbourhood.   

A unique partnership has made this ambition possible. With the help of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, SCT launched a competition to design a mobile Speakers’ Corner which the Old Vic then constructed. The competition was advertised on the Theatre Bristol website as well as the Royal Society of Arts’ Arts & Ecology site and was won by local designer Ade Armstrong.   

Sir George Young MP, then Leader of the House, on SCT’s mobile Speakers’ Corner

Ade created a 1.3 metre square platform made of oak planks from a Bristol boatyard which provides elevation for the speaker and a focal point for the audience. But his design is more  than purely functional. It emphasises the power of words both in the struggle for freedom and at key historic moments in the long evolution of hunan rights.  Ade’s design rationale was X Marks the Spot which he describes as follows:  

 “The ‘X’ form is used here because of its currency as a symbol with a number of pertinent associations:

* traditionally denotes a place to which attention should be draw
* a widely recognised symbol of democracy and citizens’ rights – i.e. the ‘X’ placed on a ballot paper
* historically, the use of an ‘X’ to ‘make one’s mark’.

It also creates the impression of the speaker appearing ‘in the round’ – i.e. in being overtly open to 360 degrees, with neither speaker nor audience directed in how they orient themselves to it, the platform is welcoming to all. The platform itself physically elevates the speaker.  The X form is echoed in the platform’s construction and support.  It is simple in its form, given that attention should be on the speaker. The presence of text (on the runners and the platform’s supporting panels) is in itself reflective of the ethos of free expression: its content is intended to be stimulating and inspiring, reflective of the “precious nature of our rights and freedoms”. 

The X motif is accentuated by four intersecting quotations from key campaigners for freedom of expression in the UK which run across the top of the platform: 

  • “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
    John Milton, 1606-1664, poet
  • “Without free speech no search for truth is possible… no discovery of truth is useful.”
    Charles Bradlaugh, 1833-1891, social reformer
  • “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot”.
    DH Lawrence, 1885-1930, novelist, poet and essayist
  • “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
    George Orwell, 1903-1950, writer.

Excerpts from some of the great declarations on feedom of expression are featured on each side of  the base of the platform:  

  • “Our government is called a democracy because power resides not in a few people but in the majority of our citizens…We reach decisions on public policy only after full discussion, believing that sound judgement, far from being impeded by debate, is arrived at only when full information is considered before a decision is made.”
    Pericles’ Funeral Oration 430 BC
  • (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. (40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
    Magna Carta 1215
  • Article 10: The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may accordingly speak, write and print with freedom but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.
    Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen 1789
  • Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

The mobile Speakers’ Corner can be easily assembled and then folded away and can be transported in an average sized estate car. Click here for Assembly Instructions. If you would like to use SCT’s mobile Speakers’ Corner, please get in touch

A Truly Portable Speakers’ Corner

SCT’s mobile Speakers’ Corner provides a perfect platform for SCT events but local Speakers’ Corner projects may need something smaller, lighter and easier to transport and store.

As the series of photographs below illustrates, Audio Production Services (APS) has provided the answer. Commissioned by the Brighton Speakers’ Corner Committee to design and build a portable Speakers’ Corner which could fit on the back seat of a car and be assembled in minutes, Steve Borrill and his team created a three foot square, eleven inch high ‘flat pack’ Speakers’ Corner. While sturdy and weather proof, it’s both stylish (featuring SCT’s logo embossed on the platform) and intensely practical and can be finished off by staining and the addition of a banner bearing the local project’s own logo strung between the poles provided at the back of the platform.

APS, which is based in Partidge Green, West Sussex, specialises in building speaker cabinets and flight cases for the rock and roll industry. But, as its website declares, “whatever your needs…we can do it” – and in SCT’s experience, it certainly can.

Including the banner, which can be locally sourced, the portable Speakers’ Corner costs less than £300. If you’d like to consider commissioning one for your project, in the first instance please contact Peter Bradley at SCT.


A Permanent Speakers’ Corner for Stoneydown Park

A team of students from Central St Martins College of Art & Design, part of the University of the Arts London, won a competition to design a Speakers’ Corner for Stoneydown Park in Walthamstow, the first permanent Speakers’ Corner in London since the original in Hyde Park almost 150 years ago.   

The winning design, entitled Stepping Stones and designed by Hayley Clack, Stephanie Romig and Yoo Kyeong, is multifunctional, creating not only a Speakers’ Corner but also seating and tables, some of which feature board games such as chess. The design acknowledges the work of William Morris who lived much of his life nearby on Forest Road.

It was chosen from a very strong field of four designs by teams of CSM students each responding to a detailed brief in a different but no less impressive way. The presentations can be viewed here:

The winning design was installed in the park over the summer of 2010 and unveiled at the launch of Stoneydown Speakers’ Corner on 17 September.


The Speakers’ Corner Prototype

SCT has worked with Central St Martins College of Art & Design on the design of a prototype Speakers’ Corner which was successfully trialled at the Global Forum for Freedom of Expression in Oslo in June 2009. The story of its development, in a collaboration with students of Lichfield College, is told here.   

Central St Martins College trials its protytpe Speakers' Corner in Lichfield

Central St Martins College trials its protytpe Speakers’ Corner in Lichfield

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