Deadly Allstars Healing Garden Co-Design

  • 2020

  • Social Impact

Designed By:

  • Justin Barrie - Design Managers Australia
  • Katie Martin, Sharon Williams - Barnardos
  • The Deadly Allstars - Nicky, Kato
  • Dwaine, Andy, Blake, Mundarra, Chloe
  • PJ, Sy, Theodore, Dylan

Commissioned By:

Barnardos Deadly Allstars Cultural Group

Designed In:


The Deadly Allstars Healing Garden Co-Design brought together the award winning Deadly Allstars Indigenous Cultural group from Barnardos Australia and the service design expertise of DMA to create a genuine co-design process where young people in foster and kinship care researched, designed and built a physical healing space in Canberra.

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  • The Deadly Allstars is a cultural support group for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in care. In 2018-19 the group conveners decided to take a 2015 project that created a series of story poles one step further with a project focused on self-determination, where the Allstars were guided to research, design and implement a full garden for the centre – a place for yarning and healing. The dual challenge was to establish a formal co-design process based on self-determination of the young people and for them to design an outcome at a building with many varied uses.

  • Working with Justin Barrie from DMA, the Deadly Allstars embarked on a full service design approach. The group undertook a qualitative and quantitative research phase including deep data analysis and prototyping, culminating in a detailed design report created by a group whose ages ranged from 5–15. Following the design phase the group worked with First Nation professionals and cultural leaders including four Indigenous-owned businesses to realise the garden. The solution exceeded the brief as the co-design process transferred skills and self-determination to a group of young people, supported diverse cultural needs and resulted in a dedicated, useable community space.

  • The co-design process aimed to move beyond ‘engaging’ indigenous young people to guiding them to lead the process. The group conveners reported that social impact of engagement with the process and the young people’s sense of worth at leading the process was extremely high – as exemplified by the pride the team showed by hosting the launch and describing the process and outcome. The physical environment itself is a lasting legacy, used now and into the future as a cultural and healing place; replacing an aged grassed area with a functioning garden including native bush tucker and other environmental improvements.

  • The project took place within an environment of formal community service delivery as the garden is located at a Barnardos Centre which houses staff, is a place for care and birth family contact visits and a range of other functions. Service design was used as support for cultural exploration, not a determining discipline or process with known outcomes. This approach and evolution in practice DMA was intentional. It was key to meld formal design methodology with deep cultural reflection and practice. The final design report was arrived at through the organic growth of the design process. DMA set a scaffold of what ‘design’ might be looking for, the design team responded and then evolved that design expectation through play, storytelling and exploration. Innovation in a physical sense was achieved by considering how the Allstars cultural artefacts could be used in place. Practical innovations – combining cultural norms with design outcomes – were driven by the young people; sandstone blocks were re-purposed to form Yarning Circle seats, cultural plantings were combined with garden beds to form a protective barrier for young children from the road and wall art was used to both inspire and to mark the project’s place in the surrounding community.