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We are resilient

14 January 2020

Catherine Greig, Director

As each new year rolls around we start thinking about the habits we want to improve, the goals we want to achieve and things we imagine we might change. This year however, the make:good team are determined to do something different. We are actually spending more time reflecting and thinking about the characteristics make:good will need to survive in the current political, economic and social uncertainty and certainties we don’t really want to face. Both as a business and for me personally it always comes back to resilience. It’s a characteristic so often talked about and celebrated; it is the thing that has kept make:good going all these years, so we thought it warranted a breakdown of what created it for us in 2019.


I think people are familiar with the rollercoaster of any and every project, there are moments when it all feels lost but we work hard to acknowledge the difficulties whilst we keep it upbeat and can do. But, less talked about is the rollercoaster of pitching for work. We lose out on lots of work that we really want, work that we are foolish enough to emotionally invest in, that we imagine will be game changing for us and shine a light on what we can do.

Years ago somebody told me that they win 60% of work they pitch for and because I love a target, this was what I thought our success rate should be. It isn’t – it has never been anywhere near in fact, and so it has been a reason to feel like we are failing at times. We are lucky enough to get invited to pitch or have repeat clients where we are very successful but to respond to an open brief or enter a competition we lose lots of stuff. I have learnt to brush it off and can laugh at some of the feedback, a 2019 gem would be ‘our work was too impersonal and generic’. I know that this isn’t true – that doesn’t mean the proposal didn’t show the best of us, but that comment doesn’t need to be truth that I absorb and carry around as the narrative of make:good.

We pitched for 49 projects in 2019 and won 12 (24% if you want the maths); now we have a great mix of projects and are turning down work, but I still mourn the ones that got away at least a little. I would be lying too if I said the negative feedback doesn’t smart, but I am also very positive about our capacity to pitch work that we know will be a stretch and turn down things that won’t push us to learn or keep being ambitious.


Last year we had both directors on shared parental leave, maternity leave for a project lead, a sabbatical, new team members and multiple changes in client and partner teams. This amount of change means that it is even more important to focus on the relationships and network we build around ourselves both within the team and with external partners.

We keep the communication going, we talk, we take it in turns to make lunch once a week for each other, and so we know each other as humans and not just part of a machine churning out work. We need to be able to lean on each other, on project partners, on repeat relationships with clients and fabricators so that when we are in the present in communities we feel supported.

I remember saying to a colleague from another practice that I felt like I had an emergency pull cord where if I needed to say ‘I just can’t do this’, then I could. In reality, I never needed to use it but knowing it was there was a great pressure release.


I think everybody in team make:good knows what they stand for as individuals and what we stand for as a business. When everything is spinning it is comforting to know that we are on a collective mission to meaningfully involve people in change. Ultimately we know our boundaries, we know what we will and won’t do. We recognise when taking on new work would be at the detriment of existing work, and would be unfair on the communities we’ve connected with. So we say no sometimes, even when people think we are crackers.

I often think of my Grayson Perry tote bag that said ‘hold your beliefs lightly’ – great advice for life, but I do find great sanity, calm and steadiness in holding my boundaries firmly. I said no more than yes in 2019: no because I wanted to hold the boundary of my parental leave, no because the travel would mean we wouldn’t be present in an area in the way it’s important to be, no because the moment of meaningful participation had passed, no because we want a different balance of work in the studio and no just because it wouldn’t be the right cultural fit.


We take the time to think about what has worked and what hasn’t worked both on projects and in our systems. Actually, for a bunch of people who outwardly present as very positive, we have the capacity to be hyper-critical. We are still trying out different techniques for effective reflection (and don’t have the perfect tool yet) but the quest for learning and improving means that we are stretched and challenged but also getting better at articulating the how and why of what we do.

2019 taught us some bitter lessons: we were over ambitious on a couple of projects and over delivered in a way that was really painful to sustain at the time. We teetered on the brink of overwhelm a few times with deadlines overlapping and to do lists mounting – a particular sensitivity of mine, as I don’t want us to have a long hours culture. But subsequently we have been left more determined than ever to get some systems in place to help us manage the work flow more smoothly.

But 2019 also taught us that when we pull together with everyone working to their strengths we can do amazing stuff. We delivered some amazing projects and held a fantastic London Festival of Architecture event that felt truly authentic to what we are about.

Some of our 2019 Highlights were…

Team work makes the dream work for the Romford pop ups” — Kristel

The curiosity cart coming together in all it’s madness” – George

Team make:good being fantastic at all of their individual disciplines while I’ve been very part time” – Catherine

The process of workshopping, designing and building the mindfulness structures” – Rich

Designing all the lovely assets for LFA and pulling off a fabulous Food for Thought event” – Savannah

Plumstead workshops and the plans to put designs into the public realm!” – Jasper Sutherland

Knight’s Walk residents holding a chair yoga event after our role had finished, a wonderful legacy” – Nataly

Joining make:good and feeling like I have found my design home” – Terrayne


Almost all of our projects end at a completely different destination than initially planned, using a methodology that evolves as we go. I don’t know if that is us or if it is a universal truth but we are constantly adapting and shifting as we work out with client and community how a project will manifest.

One of the clearest examples of that in 2019 was our work in Plumstead where we wanted to work with a local secondary school but thought they might not have time. But they did! In fact, they pushed our plans even further and it culminated in a wonderful piece of business engagement along the High Street where sixth formers photographed shopkeepers for a ‘Portrait of Plumstead’.


We get in there and start doing, we practice doing things until we are seamless at them but we also practice adding in something new and unexpected so that we keep the work fresh. We get back up and try again and keep on going; we don’t practice just to maintain standards but we practice to improve and refine.

Last year we were commissioned to produce an engagement prop that would be used by others not team make:good. This meant we had to think about assembly and transport in a completely different way (as it turns out, we put up with quite a lot of awkward lifting). We changed our approach, worked out new ways of assembling things and we have actually incorporated these back into our own production processes.

& so what for 2020?

A lot of these characteristics come down to good will and attitude. Ultimately I think we are most resilient because we think that there is enough space for everybody in business; we don’t need somebody to lose to make our win satisfying. In fact we want everybody to win and this brings good energy our way which propels us through the inevitable tough bits.