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Creating community through shared experiences


Love and Light. Optimism and hope. The zeitgeist of our times. How do we recognise what we are all going through? How do we draw closer to the new world of sensibility and consideration our customers and end users are increasingly inhabiting? 

When Modern Retail invited us to say a few words about our work with communities, we jumped at the chance! Shortlisted for the Good Retail Awards 2020 Community Award, Paperstarlights specialise in high impact displays made from natural and sustainable materials. And – with our background in UK Festivals, Events, Community Arts and Christmas Markets – what we love most is putting on a show!   

Dishoom and Streetfeast

Décor and displays are a magical and creative way to bring people together through the mutual appreciation of sensory experience. By creating an emotional response, a good display can build community, create a relationship with location, engender a shared ownership of space, and create a dialogue with the end user.

As a company which has always aspired to trade fairly and sustainably, the only certainties we can have lie in our values. What makes us tick. Why we do what we do. We are determined more than ever to understand our supply chain and customers as a community. A community that links suppliers of materials, designers, makers, distributors, clients, and customers. A community that stretches all the way from source of production through to the end user. 

By understanding supply chains as communities, it becomes possible to make interventions in existing business models. This particularly applies to sustainability initiatives. How can we improve, as a community? Get better, support one another? Become more sustainable – environmentally for sure, but also in terms of our understanding of mutual benefit, of trading for deeper reasons other than the bottom line?   

Love and Light at Princes Mead

Between October and December 2019, we experimented with one such initiative in partnership with Princes Mead Shopping Centre in Farnborough, Hampshire. The project was a radical experiment in opening up retail spaces for wider community use. And to do so in a way where the brand values of both partners could be reflected in their engagement with the wider community. The initiative explored how a retail location could actively share Love and Light with its local community and was subsequently shortlisted for the Good Retail Awards Community Award.

The project had two key objectives: the creation of an environmentally sustainable decorative display for Christmas 2019, alongside parallel activities to enhance the centre’s role within its wider community. 

The anchor display for the centre used the full breadth of our product range – star lanterns made entirely by hand from natural and sustainable materials, ranging in size from 20cm – 2 metres in diameter. A multi-dimensional hanging display of stars within the centre’s iconic glass tower ensured that the display was visibly effective from 300 yards away and created a shared experience which extended beyond the footprint of the building. A bespoke unit was fabricated in-situ to install the display in this high glass-sided structure with no rigging points. Designed to create a high impact welcome to the centre, the main installation became a local landmark for the duration of the Christmas season. 

A social hub was also created within an empty unit in the centre for community groups and charities to use, free of charge – to meet, celebrate, plan for the year ahead, hold their own fundraising events, and to pursue their own community objectives. Light, colour and geometry were used to transform the empty unit into an atmospheric space to bring people together.

Local students designed and prototyped their own star lanterns as part of a college initiative to connect with local business.

The stars created a theme for the centre for the entire season – for use across advertising and social media. Liz Marsden, Princes Mead Marketing and Promotions Manager, said: 

‘Working with Paperstarlights to create our community hub has meant that we have been able to not only develop existing relationships within our local community and community groups, but also to help engage with new organisations.  We have been able to work with colleges, charities in particular and open up more personal conversations with our individual customers.

This partnership has allowed us to create a sustainable model which has not only shared the entrepreneurial risks and costs but more importantly the benefits.  For us these types of projects are sustainability in its broadest and truest sense.‘

The project also had a demonstrable impact on the centre’s footfall, with visitor numbers increasing by 19.8% over the equivalent period in 2018.

Love and Light in Lockdown 

During the initial Covid lockdown of 2020, project infrastructure was re-used and installed in care homes for the elderly and Ashgate Hospice, Derbyshire, in honour of the work done by these key agencies throughout this period. Our main display unit was also used to create community-focused displays within Morrisons Supermarkets to celebrate their support of key workers.   

As we move ahead, we continue to explore how both our products and projects can be used to increase sustainability – financially of course – and also in the broader ways highlighted by Liz Marsden.

So – what about the future?

We are ready with UK stocks, and an open approach. Our sustainable products can be used and re-used to create your own unforgettable experiences and build your own communities, wherever you are, and whatever your location.  And with our background in UK festivals, events and Christmas markets, we are also ready with our fleet of mobile Pop Up units and installers. Whatever the season brings: planned, last minute, dynamic, responsive – we’re getting ready.

We wish everyone all the best as we look to the future.  Love and Light.

Image courtesy of Bath Christmas Market

Contributor: Paperstarlights

Established in 1996, Paperstarlights specialise in high impact displays made from natural and sustainable materials. With a background in UK Festivals, Events, Community Arts and Christmas Markets, the company understands how the shared appreciation of a good visual show can create unforgettable experiences and produce environments where good things happen.

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