Made at UCL


S3 Ep5: New Beginnings - UCL East


This month, the team has stories from an anthropologist who believes in the power of immersive storytelling, a social researcher trying to improve the health opportunities of young people, and a PhD student whose research is bringing greater access to green spaces.

Below, you can also discover more about the stories and access the transcript

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Act 1

Prof Dinah Lammiman

In Act 1, hear Taqwa Sadiq's converstation with Prof Dinah Lammiman.

Dinah Lammiman is Professor of Immersive Factual Storytelling in UCL Anthropology.  She leads UCL’s MA course In Immersive Factual Storytelling.  Previously ImFaS was a studio within the Ethnographic Documentary Film making MA.  Since the studio was introduced in 2017, many of our alumni have gone on to senior positions in the VR and AR industry.  

She is also co founder of immersive storytelling company PastPorte.  PastPorte creates stunning and thought-provoking installations bringing to life historic stories for national and international attractions.  Clients include Hampton Court Palace, the National Trust for Scotland, ss Great Britain.

From 2017 -2019 she was also part of the team at the BBC VR incubation project producing and distributing award-winning VR content, particularly noted for its compelling narratives and popular appeal.  Dinah also led a widescale project to push VR out to over 170 public libraries around the UK, thereby introducing a large new audience to VR and its possibilities. Previously Dinah Lammiman had a long and successful career as a producer and reporter for BBC News and Current Affairs – majoring in parliamentary stories.

Dinah Lammiman headshot

Act 2

Dr Alexandra Albert

In Act 2, Maria Bunyun speaks with Dr Alexandra Albert.

Dr Alexandra Albert is a social researcher based across the Thomas Coram Research Institute, in the Social Research Institute at University College London (UCL), and the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) research group in the Geography Department at UCL. She is currently a post-doctoral research fellow on the ActEarly UK Preventative Research Programme (UKPRP), supporting the Healthy Livelihoods, Healthy Learning and Co-production and Citizen Science themes, in the London site of the project, in Tower Hamlets. ActEarly seeks to improve the health and opportunities for families in Bradford, West Yorkshire and Tower Hamlets, East London.

Prior to ActEarly, she worked on the EU H2020 funded Coordination and Support Action: Doing It Together Science (DITOS), helping to organise and deliver citizen science activities across Europe. She completed her PhD in citizen social science in 2019, taking a critical investigatory approach to the practices and processes of citizen social science – namely how people can be mobilised to engage in conducting social research, and the challenges and opportunities of using the data generated to tackle social issues. Her research interests include citizen science, participatory inventive methods, public sociology, and inclusive development.

Alexandra Albert headshot

Act 3

Maryam Bandukda

In Act 3, hear Katie Davies' conversation with Maryam Bandukda.

Maryam’s PhD research explores agency and participation of blind and partially sighted people in open space leisure activities and the impact of orientation and mobility training on self-efficacy and participation in leisure activities. She is supervised by Prof. Catherine Holloway, Prof. Nadia Berthouse, and Dr. Aneesha Singh.

Maryam's background is in Human-Computer Interaction and Computer Science. Prior to joining GDI Hub as a PhD student, Maryam has worked as a Business Analyst and Project Manager for over 10 years in the United Kingdom and Pakistan.

Maryam Bandukda headshot



Cerys Bradley  00:06
Hello and welcome to series three of Made at UCL, the podcast. 

Cerys Bradley  00:09
My name is Cerys Bradley and I'm here to share with you UCL's groundbreaking research and its impact on the world. Each month the Made at UCL team and I will be exploring a research theme and gathering stories from all over the UCL community to try and understand it. 

Cerys Bradley  00:25

For the fifth episode of the series, we're thinking about new beginnings. It’s the start of a new term here at UCL, and this academic year will see us starting to open up our brand new campus, UCL East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. In time, nearly 4000 students will be studying in new state of the art accessible facilities across two new buildings on the site in Stratford in east London. Our UCL East Campus will bring together disciplines as diverse as robotics, ecology, heritage studies, and global health and focus on multidisciplinary, collaborative and community led research. To mark the start of what will be the biggest expansion in UCL's history, we've spoken to three researchers who will be based at UCL East about their research and how it embodies the vision for the new campus:

Cerys Bradley  01:08
This month, the team has stories from an anthropologist who believes in the power of immersive storytelling, a social researcher trying to improve the health opportunities of young people, and a PhD student whose research is bringing greater access to green spaces. For our first story, we’re starting over in East London in Leyton, before heading to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for our other two stories. This is Taqwa Sadiq.

Theme music  01:28
curious music and the sound of walking

Taqwa Sadiq  01:36
About a 15 minute drive from the new UCL East Campus is the Avenue Road Estate. Along its white exterior walls are rows of blue and white front doors to each flat and if you happen to walk past flat 1A in Rosewood Court will be greeted by a lovely impressive collection of plants and different colored flowers.

Barbara  01:58
My name is Barbara and I live at 1A Rosewood Court. A lot of things in this garden have been given to me. Most of them not - they've given me in a bad state and I like to sit and paint them and stick them in the garden, stick flowers in 'em. Some people give me flowers some I bought and I'm not green fingered everybody thinks I am but I'm not they just come up every year, I add a few more to 'em. And it just looks like that.

Theme music  02:30
mouse clicking

Taqwa Sadiq  02:30
As Barbara talks I have to drag my cursor down a bit to get a proper look at the pink flowers peeking through the metal gate near my feet. Well, I say my feet. I'm looking around the Avenue Road estate via a VR film. This film was made by UCL students in the immersive storytelling studio on the MA Ethnographic and Documentary Film, or MA EDF under the mentoring of Professor Dinah Lammiman.

Professor Dinah Lammiman  02:31
So I'm Dinah Lammiman and I lead the immersive factual storytelling MA in Public Anthropology. I worked at the BBC for years and years, and I worked at the BBC at the VR hub. So I came on board to set up a studio within the MA EDF and that has now developed to a point where we're setting up a new MA this autumn in immersive factual storytelling. So Avenue Memories was part of an initiative to engage with stories in East London ahead of UCL moving to UCL East. And as our immersive factual storytelling MA is going to be based at UCL East, I was really keen to start building relationships locally, and to start really engaging with people and their stories in that area.

Taqwa Sadiq  03:43
On the surface of it, the Avenue Road Estate story seems all too familiar. The start of the VR films sets a typical scene of East London gentrification and regeneration projects.

Avenue Road Estate documentary  03:55
The Avenue Road Estate Leytonstone, East London was built in the early 1960s to help solve the severe housing shortage after the Second World War. The flats no longer meet the standards for modern living and cost a lot to maintain.

Taqwa Sadiq  04:12
But there is a twist to the story.

Avenue Road Estate documentary  04:15
In January 2021 95% of residents voted in favor of a full regeneration of the Avenue Road Estate.

Taqwa Sadiq  04:24
It was very striking that the film opens with the fact that 95% of residents did vote for transformation.

Professor Dinah Lammiman  04:31
Yeah, unexpected. And I think in a way that gave it a unique flavor, which made it possible for the students to see it and make a film that was very optimistic rather than something which was quite sad, which is, as you say, is often the regeneration story is that the community is somehow being lost. Whereas as we know, if you look around the world, you know, there's lots of places where residents are on the crest of that wave and they can be absolutely part of the future and that they remain in that place. They don't get forced out, but they stay there, but they benefit from the new affluence coming in. And to sort of figure out why that happens in some places, and why it doesn't happen in other places is really intriguing. But also to explore this question of regeneration, and who are the winners, and you know, are there losers?

Taqwa Sadiq  05:21
There's another layer to that Avenue Road story that is particularly intriguing to me. It could be seen as almost ironic that VR filmmaking students who are soon to be based in the new UCL East Campus, are making a film documenting a regeneration process, that is, in some ways, a result of the building of the new campus.

Professor Dinah Lammiman  05:48
It is a weird situation in a way that in that UCL is one of the main factors in this regeneration process. But I think it's really important to kind of address that head on and, you know, really engage with people about what it means and, and make it a really dynamic conversation. It's not a one sided or a one way thing. There's so many opportunities for academics and students to benefit from this relationship and for it to change the nature of what we're doing and what the stories are telling and, and how we're telling them. So it's not just a one off that we just popped down and made a film, but really want to make sure that we continue to form that relationship and form that bond of trust. So that actually, it's working, you know, this, this regeneration that UCL is so much a part of, is working for everyone, not just you know, the institution, but also the people who are being impacted by going there. And I think that Avenue Road, I felt like it managed to capture the sense of the future, as well as looking back and really celebrating the past and what that place had meant to the people who lived there for so long.

Taqwa Sadiq  06:58
I'm also struck by the way VR has been used as a way to archive things, including physical spaces that are on the cusp of being lost or no longer accessible to us. It's a bit funny to me that in a sense, you've got very new tech being used to preserve what is seemingly outmoded or outdated infrastructure. What was it like to try and explain to the residents and the people around the estate that you were using this still fairly unusual piece of tech to document that turning point in their lives and turning point in that community? 

Professor Dinah Lammiman  07:36
I think people are really intrigued by this element of archiving that is, so it's so much a part of our society now. I mean, obviously, it always has been, we've always taken pictures and... but it's so much more in the foreground. Now, the way we talk about things when people talk about making memories and social media encourages so much of it capturing those moments or capturing maybe not real moments, but capturing aspirational moments, that we're doing it all the time. And, and VR offers another dimension for that in that you can do it in a 360 space, which, which gives you a different kind of experience. Because when you put on a VR headset, you're in a 3D world, we all live in a 3D world. So people get it and the fact of being able to put people right inside the story, and they can see it all around them, gives them a very different experience. And it can be very memorable. So yeah, VR, I think is a really useful way  particularly in when it's a place that's going to be changed radically or is deteriorating radically.

Taqwa Sadiq  08:38
Did they watch the film after it was completed and give any feedback? 

Professor Dinah Lammiman  08:42
Yeah, I mean, we... our vision from the beginning really was to go to this community, say what would you like to see what do you what would you like the film to be about, kind of get a brief from them, then go away and make the film and then come back and show it to them and get feedback. And so that we sort of managed to do that it was it was the sort of first time we'd we'd attempted it. And it never works quite as smoothly as you'd hope. But they did. They watched it. And they I mean, it was pretty much universally delight and excitement at seeing that their community being sort of celebrated in in this new medium.

Taqwa Sadiq  09:23
VR is often still seen as a relatively new and inaccessible medium, something that belongs to the world of tech startups and exclusive art exhibits, rather than local communities. But Dinah's projects at UCL are consciously trying to address this. 

Professor Dinah Lammiman  09:38
And we got a small amount of funding to to mean that we could really do this in the way that we wanted to so we could run a VR workshop in the community. We could take some headsets, take some students set some things up and show people what VR is. And so I'm really keen that we'll start doing that again, as part of our just as a part of our normal activity. It's not some sort of special event but that students will be taking VR out, showcasing it in different communities. So libraries, other institutions, other places, you know, with a focus on East London because kind of why not because that's where we're going to be and those are the relationships we really want to build. But in a way that is very much beneficial to both both parties. I think that's, I think that's the way we should be looking at this and the way that we want to develop it and I really hope that we can do that in our program.

Taqwa Sadiq  10:39
If you would like to watch Avenue Road Memories and see the estate for yourself, more information about this project is in the shownotes.

Cerys Bradley  10:52
Part of the creation of the new campus has been the effort to embed it into the local community. UCL staff and students will be collaborating with local businesses, schools, colleges and community organizations on events and research. Maria Bunyan brings us a story of one such collaboration.

Theme music  11:07
Exciting music

Maria Bunyan  11:17
This week, I spoke with Dr. Alexandra Albert, who is a research fellow on the ActEarly program, which aims to address the impact of childhood poverty by intervening early. Factors associated with childhood poverty are vital to understand because of the impact they can have on children later in life. There is a lot to unpack here. Experiences in education, access to health care, and impacts of the built environment can be compromised. And all of these factors interact. As for example, health issues aggravated by the built environment can make school even more challenging if sufficient health care is hard to access. And so researchers like Alex are studying these factors to make changes, advise councils and put policy in place to support children affected.

Dr Alex Albert  11:58
My main role is as a postdoc Research Fellow on the ActEarly UK Preventative Research Partnership. ActEarly is a five year Medical Research Council and Wellcome funded project. And it's part of this type of project. It's called a UK PRP or Preventative Research Partnership Program. And so we're about halfway through. The aim is to improve the health opportunities for families with young children in Bradford in West Yorkshire and in Tower Hamlets in East London,

Maria Bunyan  12:36
to areas that experience high rates of child poverty. Alex explain that the initiative works with the local authorities and other stakeholders to understand child poverty and learn how to "act early" to prevent these inequalities at childhood impacting development. This requires a whole system's approach,

Dr Alex Albert  12:52
but also it's kind of working very kind of locally on the ground in both areas.

Maria Bunyan  12:59
Alex explains that there are three core pillars of act early first healthy livelihoods,

Dr Alex Albert  13:04
looking at how to basically get more money for families, so that they can decide how best to spend it. 

Maria Bunyan  13:11
Secondly, healthy learning

Dr Alex Albert  13:14
education and support for families in both areas.

Maria Bunyan  13:18
Thirdly, healthy places

Dr Alex Albert  13:20
and the impact of the built environment on family's health.

Maria Bunyan  13:23
These themes put families at the heart of academic research and allow researchers to unpack for example, how healthy livelihoods increase skills and control over community resources, how healthy learning means the enriched education leads to have better access to attaining qualifications at school, and in turn increases access to opportunities in the future, and how healthy places can be open spaces that support mental health and well being.

Dr Alex Albert  13:47
So there's lots of different aspects and the work is kind of loosely grouped around these themes. 

Dr Alex Albert  14:00
My role is yeah, as a research fellow across healthy livelihoods and healthy learning themes in London, and then also the citizen science and co-production theme in in London.

Maria Bunyan  14:13
Citizen science and co-production was a new concept to me. So I asked Alex to explain exactly what this entails.

Dr Alex Albert  14:19
I see citizen science as involving people, anyone in different parts of the research process and kind of undertaking scientific inquiry. So that could be involving people in kind of crowdsourcing data and submitting observations or data to a to a project that's already organized or it could be, you know, kind of more involved approach to asking people about kind of what sort of research questions would be most relevant or important to them, and then actually involving them in the kind of research design phase and that kind of data collection phase and also potentially the analysis.

Maria Bunyan  14:59
So citizen science can be classified by the level of participation and we can understand co-production as a more values based approach.

Dr Alex Albert  15:07
But actually, we've been working quite hard over the last sort of couple of years to develop a co-production strategy for how partners and stakeholders in actorly should do co-production. And we did that by actually going and asking different organizations, community groups, individuals in the two areas about their experience of doing co-production and kind of what works well and who does it work well for.

Maria Bunyan  15:31
And so what does this look like on the ground in Tower Hamlets?

Dr Alex Albert  15:35
I guess I've been working in a kind of more involved way, I would say. So in the first year or so of the project of act early, I actually worked really closely with a really interesting Health Partnership in Tower Hamlets called the Bromley by Bow center. They have a kind of GPs practice, but they also have a lot of other kind of activities and events in around the center, which is a physical center in Tower Hamlets in Bow. And so during the well yeah, I guess it was in 2020, so it was during the pandemic, we were trying to understand what makes the best start in life for families, with children in Tower Hamlets, and kind of recruited a community research team of different community researchers from across the borough, and then kind of worked to develop lots of different activities and different ways to engage with residents in Tower Hamlets. To better understand yeah, what makes the best start in life.

Maria Bunyan  16:34
This included providing activities for the children, which gave the researchers opportunity to open up conversations with parents, the goal was to engage the whole family, because they were working collaboratively researchers were also asking members of the community to help interpret and make sense of these findings.

Dr Alex Albert  16:49
With ActEarly, it was one of the things that we were most concerned about was kind of not wanting to reinvent the wheel and actually going to communities and, and understanding what they'd already done before and kind of building on that learning. That's why we were using this kind of appreciative inquiry approach. The idea was to kind of share what had gone before and in the hope that was kind of more engaging for people but also to kind of yeah, not just like helicopter in like a researcher and, and then also to leave again, like one of the good, or like one of the great things about ActEarly is the fact that it's this kind of longer term project and a lot of it is around is focused on kind of building relationships and and it's kind of thinking about things in a much longer term, much more of a longer term way.

Maria Bunyan  17:33
Alex makes it very clear and interesting point here. Research centered at the heart of the community that it serves, is more likely to be representative of the community itself. In addition to the researchers bringing their own academic expertise, it's the role of the researchers to listen to members of the community and give them ownership. This makes for a more sustainable research cycle. Alex's approach requires researchers to become part of the community which in a way she already is. 

Dr Alex Albert  17:59
Well, I actually live in Tower Hamlets as well and I kind of moved here, yeah, just after starting work on ActEarly. So I think for me, it's about like, you know, getting to know a lot of my of the local area, and lots of organizations and lots of amazing individuals and kind of groups. I mean, I think there's loads of potential for UCL to have like a really important role in engaging with residents but also like neighbors, neighboring communities, and to kind of yeah, build on the relationships I've been talking about in terms of like, I mean, yeah, what we've been doing with ActEarly in Tower Hamlets.

Maria Bunyan  19:51
What stood out to me when speaking with Alex was her compassion. I feel like when we're working with people, we're often taught to be impartial and often a little bit distanced. However, the compassionate insightfulness that Alex brings from being engaged and living in the area means that her research gains an extra level of depth. This is particularly important when working with children and families and when trying to make a positive impact in people's lives. Progress is no mean feat and can't be achieved, in Alex's own words, by helicoptering in. The work is only as valuable as the communities perceive it to be and if citizen science and co-production are used, this is how research can put its best foot forward. 

Cerys Bradley  20:50
By expanding to East London and creating a new campus UCL was presented with an opportunity to make it's campus more accessible, something that is desperately needed but can be difficult with the kinds of historical buildings the university has traditionally occupied. One of the organizations moving to UCL East next year is the Global Disability Innovation Hub, which focuses on making the world more accessible through inclusive design and assistive technology. Last year, the GDI Hub was named the World Health Organization's first official Collaborating Center on Global Disability. For our final story, Katie Davies has looked into one of its projects.

Maryam Bandukda  21:26
When we think of being around green open spaces, we tend to think visually, we think of the panoramic views, the different colors of countless flowers and watching the wildlife. But being in nature is so much more than just a visual. It's a place where we can

Maryam Bandukda  21:44
really breathe in the air. Really listen to the sounds of the brds and smell the flowers, or smell the grass even or the rain that has fallen, you know the night before.

Theme music  21:54
nature sounds

Maryam Bandukda  22:00
Being in green open spaces is a multi sensory experience and one of the perhaps unsurprising consequences of several years of lockdowns and restrictions is that many of us rediscovered the power of this experience, nature's ability to help soothe our stresses and reconnect us with the world.

Maryam Bandukda  22:19
There is a lot of research in environmental sciences and in psychology on the impact of open spaces and nature and green spaces blue spaces, for example, on sort of attention restoration on relaxation and general mental and physical well being.

Maryam Bandukda  22:34
This is Maryam Bandukda, a final year PhD student who is exploring navigation strategies for people with visual impairment in green open spaces. Despite the importance of experiencing open green space. These spaces present a new set of challenges for blind navigation due to their unique layout. Mobility and orientation techniques, for example, using a cane rely on built infrastructure references for successful navigation. 

Maryam Bandukda  23:03
What people do is generally they follow the curb line, or they follow the building line so that they know they're walking in a straight line in the middle of the payment and are not colliding with the wall. But when you go to an open space, it's a huge open space, right? Generally we don't have perfectly built pathways or you know if if a person for example, wanted to go from the entrance of the park to the play area or to the cafe, there isn't generally a clear wayfinding.

Maryam Bandukda  23:30
The lack of landmarks makes it difficult for blind individuals to navigate large spaces independently. This is where Maryam's research comes in looking at assistive technologies to facilitate outdoor nature exploration and engagement for those with visual impairment.

Maryam Bandukda  23:47
When you say assistive technologies is technologies specifically designed to meet specific needs of a population that is disabled, how can technology create that impact? And how do we create technology that for disabled people,

Maryam Bandukda  24:05
one example of the type of this assistive technology is

Maryam Bandukda  24:09
AI soundscape. What it does is that as the person is walking along the route, it would read out the street names on their left and right around them. It would read out shop names, it will read out bus stops. So it's essentially creating a three dimensional soundscape of the environment, which is not visually accessible to that person.

Katie Davies  24:35
In addition to reading out key locations. The drumbeat tells the user which side of them the destination is located, something you'd only be able to notice if you're wearing headphones. Here's a short extract from AI soundscape recorded by Henshaw's Society for Blind People in a project where they tried out the app.

App  24:56
Beep Lancastrian office center drum beats Lancashire county cricket drum beats beep Talbot road/Warwick road bus stop drum beats Tesco Extra 180 meters beep Parking Lot drum beats.

Katie Davies  25:25
It is assistive technologies such as AI soundscape that help empower people with visual impairments to be able to be independent. But as Maryam has found, they need to be adapted for green open spaces where there is no built environment. Could landmarks such as trees or rocks be used to facilitate exploration and route learning.

Maryam Bandukda  25:46
We take our learnings and expertise from brain sciences and our learning from Computer Science and Engineering Sciences, and sort of bring that knowledge together to understand how can we create the best experience and interaction for different types of users with different types of technology.

Maryam Bandukda  26:04
When speaking with Maryam, I was struck by the fact that an estimated 285 million people live with visual impairment worldwide. And I wanted to find out if this meant that her work had a global focus.

Maryam Bandukda  26:17
My PhD research has it's been global, you know, I had that global focus. But then I was fortunately given a few opportunities by UCL public engagement to focus much more, you know, on East London community and how do people access and how do people use it? How do people generally feel about you know, Olympic Park open space? What kind of activities are there? How do they envision or how do they imagine the space it can be more inclusive? How is it serving the purpose that it was designed for? How is it the space a hub for the communities around it?

Katie Davies  26:53
With a growing age population in the UK, it is estimated that the number of people living with sight loss in the UK will double by 2025. Maryam's research at the new UCL East Campus is vital for creating a world accessible to those with sight loss.

Cerys Bradley  27:14
The UCL East Campus has a lot of potential. Today, we've told you about just three research projects, but they barely scratch the surface of what is made possible by the new site. 

Cerys Bradley  27:23
Our first building is opening in autumn 2022 and we're welcoming our first cohort of students with more development coming over the next few years. 

Cerys Bradley  27:30
For more information on UCL East visit www.ucl.ac.uk/UCLeast or stay tuned to #MadeAtUCL to find out about the research happening through our stories. 

Cerys Bradley  27:46
Thank you for listening to the fifth episode of season three. We'll be back next month with more stories from the UCL community. In the meantime, if you want further information on any of the projects featured in today's episode, you can check the show notes for links, pictures and more. 

Cerys Bradley  28:00
You have been listening to MadeAtUCL, the podcast to listen to previous episodes or find out more about life at UCL visit www.ucl.ac.uk/made-at-UCL, or subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast. 

Cerys Bradley  28:17
The episode was presented by myself Cerys Bradley with stories from Taqwa Sadiq, Maria Bunyan and Katie Davies. It was produced by Halle McCarthy with support from UCL and features the music from the blue dot sessions. For a full list of audio credits, please see the show notes. 

Cerys Bradley  28:33
Special thanks to Dina Alex and Maryam for sharing their research with us. This podcast is brought to you by UCL minds, bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content and activities that are open to everyone. See you next month.