London-based brand agency Alphabetical has created an AR-based app for the people in Thamesmead, south London, to uncover the area’s hidden “natural gems.”

The multi-sensory placemaking and AR learning app aims to encourage local communities by inspiring children and parents to discover local insects and animals of nature reserve Tump 53 and nearby Water Lily Walk, finding out about their habitats, the food they eat, the sounds they make and their different behaviours.

“The design is truly collaborative, having been developed with the local young people to encourage them to take pride in and ownership of the area,” says Alphabetical.

The app features a gaming area and integrates custom AR technology, character design, voice and sound recordings and animation, all created by Alphabetical in-house.

The agency was approached for the project by Peabody, which owns around 65% of the land in Thamesmead (including five lakes, seven kilometres of canals and 240 hectares of green parks). The housing association was concerned that the local community wasn’t getting the most out of these unique natural assets, despite the fact that Thamesmead has more than double the amount of green space than the London average.

It’s hoped that greater engagement with these areas will help create a sense of pride and ownership among local residents and school children. “This project is about placemaking and creating ways to help people connect with nature. From the outset, it made sense to collaborate with locals, especially children,” says Tommy Taylor, creative partner at Alphabetical, which created workshops for them focusing on discovering more about local critters.

“The kids were the real designers here. Through mimicking the sounds and movements of local creatures, the project enabled them to take ownership of their environment, becoming more and more invested as time went on,” he adds.

As well as creating the app, Alphabetical also designed a new brand identity for Tump 53 and looked to further encourage “discovery” through the use of bold typographic installations recessed within the undergrowth along the edges of Water Lily Walk.

The installations reflect the onomatopoeic sounds and movements Alphabetical recorded the children making when describing their understanding of the behaviour of each animal during the workshops, as well as acting as subtle navigation tools pointing people towards the entrance of Tump 53.

“We really want kids to investigate the brightly coloured letters and shapes along the walkway,” says Taylor. “So, where a sign says ‘Buzzzzz,’ for example, we’re hoping they’ll articulate the sound, and then ask their parents to use the app on their phones to find out more.

“We want them to think, ‘Wow! I didn’t know that’s what bees eat, or that’s how they see.’ The dream is that they’ll be encouraged to create small habitats – a few flowerpots on the front step – to encourage bees to visit.”

He adds: “The scheme has been developed to inspire children on their own learning journey. It’s a new, less didactic kind of approach. The AR element also encourages parents and kids to share the experience and use their devices to learn about local flora and fauna together.”

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