An #UPFRONT conversation with Phillippa Banister

Phillippa Banister is the founder and director of Street Space, a social enterprise dedicated to community engagement and collaborative design based in the eastern London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. She has over a decade of combined interdisciplinary experience, having worked in community development, sustainability, and service design.

Phillippa is passionate about the streets as potential mini eco-systems where support and community can take place. She started Street Space so she could work with local residents to reimagine their streets and spaces to make them feel safer, bring more joy, and increase openness to social connection, with the hopes of creating more liveable places where everyone can feel like they belong.

Phillippa has a degree in English and Drama from the University of Birmingham, a Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development from Forum for the Future, is a member of the Placemaking Leadership Council and a Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts. She joined us for a confidence workshop, and we’re thrilled to feature her on our blog where we spoke to her about what confidence means to her, the different challenges she’s encountered on her journey, and much more. Here’s her story.

What does confidence mean to you?

Confidence means the ability to own your power – (the power we all have inside of us) and not care so much about what people might think, to believe you have a place at the table. I think this is a lifelong project.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered?

I’ve struggled a lot with my sense of privilege as a white, middle class woman – this sounds ridiculous, I’m extremely fortunate. But working often in so called ‘deprived’ communities, be it overseas or in the UK, I see my role as a channel or bridge – amplifying voices that often don’t feel heard and ensuring that everyone feels safe and welcomed to take part in a collaborative design process.

However, overtime, I realised I didn’t know what my own story was/is – I started to wonder how I could balance my voice and story, when I found myself discounting myself as not mattering.

I’ve learnt a huge amount working on projects with a lot of conflict at their heart – wrestling with the desire to facilitate a truly collaborative approach whilst balancing the top down funding and policy agendas, for example, managing street design projects to benefit the most vulnerable. Even when done in a temporary, playful and collaborative way, you can’t please everyone, and I found this a hard lesson to learn when dealing with transformation in the real world. It’s been challenging, but these experiences have helped me realise the difference between leadership and facilitation, and practise stepping into these at different times.

How did you overcome these challenges? Can you share some of the strategies with us?

This year, I started Improvisation classes which has been huge in terms of my own realisation that I have permission to play, to be, to feel how I feel and go with it. I really recommend this – even though it can feel terrifying, I assure you – it’s not about performing but letting go of all the pressure we put on ourselves. Through play we can find new ways to relate to one another and ourselves again.

‘Learning more about myself through coaching has really helped me understand and navigate better through difficult times.’

For example, discovering I enjoy operating in an ‘in between’ space has helped me feel more comfortable with the pain and isolating periods that this space naturally brings with it.

Surrounding myself with strong women has helped me a great deal – it makes such a difference to be part of inspiring networks such as ‘Urbanistas’ where I’ve seen, with my own eyes, examples of other women running their own businesses, succeeding time and time again. When you see people who look like you achieving amazing things, you allow yourself to think maybe I can do that too. Liane Hartley, the founder, has a motto of ‘start by starting’ and is probably the reason I was able to set up Street Space and start many of the projects I’m working on today.

When I moved to London I couldn’t believe the number of people I met who were hustling their side project, or just confident enough to try stuff out with no money – I’m grateful to my first side project partner Hannah who I started Give A Damn Dating with – this was a key step for me in thinking – woah, it’s actually not that hard to start a company?!

What are some things you have on the horizon for building or challenging your confidence?

Running a business, there are constant firsts and new things to wrap my head around and hurdles to overcome – from public speaking and pitching to asking for help (I really struggle with this one) and powering myself on a usually isolated rollercoaster of emotions.  I take comfort from wise words like growing is meant to feel uncomfortable (like a lobster out-growing its shell) and have recently started writing some poems to help me let go of my limiting beliefs, or just pour out my fears and worries onto a page.

What would your advice be to people reading who want to be more #UPFRONT?

My advice would be to get yourself a mentor – someone who can support you to set goals and help you to articulate what success is for you – I found a mentor through the Aspire network who I’m very grateful for.

‘Find your way to play regularly and let go – that might be through volunteering, spending time with animals, singing, writing or improv – whatever it is – experience how it feels to let go and give yourself permission to play – you never know what might emerge.’

This sounds the opposite of good advice, but I’d also say to say no more. I’ve worked through being a consummate people pleaser and realised that taking time to know if I really want to do something, see someone or go somewhere before answering ‘yes’ helps me to get in touch with what I really want. 

Acknowledge what your fears are – by writing them down or speaking them aloud to a friend or colleague often helps to put them in perspective and you can then assess whether they are good fears (something that is scary but will help you to grow or learn) or bad fears (telling you to genuinely avoid something or someone).

Why do you think organisations like #UPFRONT are important?

I think sitting #UPFRONT and all the work you do is hugely important in supporting women to feel heard, but more importantly to feel worth hearing.

‘I enjoyed the recent #UPFRONT workshop I took part in – meeting other women and giving time to listen to everyone and their stories was hugely inspiring and very confirmatory of the fact – we’re all better than we think we are, all of the time!’

From practical tools on how to stand tall and breathing from your belly to ways to practice how to step into your power and take up space, it was a packed day with Lauren and team powering up the mood at every opportunity.

My main takeaway – I have permission to feel what I feel, to do what I do, to sing my song – people may listen or they may not. But that’s not going to make me stop doing my thing, speaking my truth. And secondly, I’m going to work at not apologising for myself – for the small things when ‘sorry’ just immediately slips out or when I catch myself making that weird ‘apology for being here’ face. That’s definitely got to go.

Thank you to Phillippa for sharing her story with us! 🙏

To learn more about her work, visit her personal website here. You can also follow her on Twitter @phillybanister.

Our next confidence workshop for women will be held on July 5th in London. All self-identifying women are welcome, and you will leave feeling the most confident you’ve ever felt. Secure your spot here.

Here’s to being #UPFRONT!