Students build giant Lego house in project to highlight key community issues

Students in Whitley built a life-size house out of giant Lego blocks with the help of architects as they constructed a vision of their ideal ‘home’.

The John Madejski Academy (JMA) hosted the first Whitley for Real project on Wednesday 10th May. Students from Years 8 and 12 worked together as a team – named by them as ‘The Royalty’ – using 1,500 ‘bricks’ measuring up to 75 cm long to construct their home.

Whitley for Real is a partnership between Reading Borough Council, JMA, Reading Girls School, the Whitley Researchers and the Whitley Community Development Association (WCDA), Whitley Big Local, the University of Reading’s Participation Lab, Reading UKCIC  and a range  of stakeholders including Bewley Homes, Whitley Excellent Cluster (WEC)  primary schools and the community.

The home-building project, funded by Reading UKCIC and with support from Bewley Homes, the Whitley Researchers and involving academics from the University’s Participation Lab, focused on young people’s attitudes to what makes a ‘welcome home’ in Whitley.



A team of six students were given an open brief to design a home of their choice, including features that represented ‘home’ to them, before building it for real. They had the enthusiastic support of industry experts and their peers. During and after construction they discussed the issues they faced and the priorities and views of the JMA school community.

The project highlighted the wealth of capabilities and capacities of young people in Whitley. This was a practical ‘finding out’ exercise where the students themselves led the generation of knowledge on what ‘home’ means. It also connected them with job and apprenticeship opportunities in the construction industry, inspired their understanding of social housing designs and promoted the importance of teamwork.

To see the students work and the finished project click on the link below:

JMA HomeBuild Video

Following a workshop with stakeholders at JMA, facilitated by the Whitley Researchers (a participatory action research partnership between the University of Reading and the Whitley Community Development Association) and Reading Borough Council in October 2016, four key themes were identified:

  • Families and schools
  • Barriers to employment
  • Aspirations and ambitions
  • Stigma

The steering group agreed that the first two themes should form the focus of the subsequent participatory research with local residents and young people.

The next stage in this ’voyage of discovery’ will involve students exploring their neighbourhood through an interactive photography project to learn about the local landscape and wider environmental issues. A large-scale street representing the local area will be created from billboard-size photos, complete with houses, shops and green spaces.

“Engaging the community in a creative research process can be just as meaningful as what is produced at the end” – Dr Sally Lloyd-Evans, University of Reading Participation Lab

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Dr Sally Lloyd-Evans, of the University of Reading’s Participation Lab, said: “Co-designing this home-building process with students was a great way of exploring and understanding how they view the world and their future lives. The event showed how engaging the community in a creative research process can be just as meaningful as what is produced at the end.  It was inspiring and educational for us all.”

Laura Ellener, Principal of JMA, said: “We are delighted & privileged to be involved in such an exciting community related project. To give our students at JMA the opportunity to be part of this project has allowed them to learn valuable team building and leadership skills, as well as realising the importance of their contribution. Being able to offer this experience to our students supports us in continuing our journey of improvement.”

Steve O’Grady, Head of Technical for Bewley Homes, said:  “This is a fantastic opportunity to engage young minds on an interactive task in which they are required to use and develop essential core transferable skills including teambuilding, planning, negotiation, strategy and process.

“It was amazing to see how these skills developed and improved throughout the course of the day and the sense of pride and accomplishment which all the students felt by the completion of the task. Giving back to the local communities in which we live and work is central to our ethos at Bewley Homes and we were delighted to be able to assist in this project.”

John Ord, Big Local Representative, said: “We wanted to start our research journey with young people at the same point where our journey through live begins – at home. It’s our origin and creation so why not celebrate and affirm it in a most practical way – build it!”


For further information on this major local project, contact Sally Lloyd-Evans at the University of Reading on

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