As London basks in the Olympic afterglow, it seems jarring to think that this time last year the UK was under siege from widespread rioting and looting – with the capital at the epicentre of the destruction.
One year on and shops in Woolwich, South East London have joined forces with Ogilvy & Mather to reduce crime and violence in the area. Combining art and psychology, ‘Babies of the Borough’ has involved decorating shop front shutters with images of local babies. The project is part of an on-going behavioural sciences project, run by Ogilvy & Mather.
By adorning the drab, grey shutters of shops and businesses with baby pictures from local residents, the ‘Babies of the Borough’ project is an experiment to see whether findings from behavioural science can be applied to reduce crime in the area. Neuroimaging research suggests that images of babies’ faces can stimulate parts of the brain associated with more caring behaviour. This response appears to be deeply rooted as studies have shown that it occurs even when the baby in question is unknown to the viewer.
Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, believes this initiative presents a great opportunity to showcase the potential of behavioural science: “This project was borne of a desire to help re-inject a sense of pride back into the local community following the terrible events of last year. This is an experiment emphatically worth trying, since there is almost no downside: the existing shutters are an eyesore, but also send out signals that you are in a neighbourhood where a degree of lawlessness is the norm.”
Members of the local community were asked by Ogilvy to submit their baby photos. The agency then commissioned internationally renowned street artists to bring the pictures to life and onto the shop fronts of local businesses.
The success of the project will be determined by comparing official public crime figures for anti-social behaviour in the area pre and post the project. Secondary benefits the agency is hoping to observe is a decrease in litter, a qualitative increase in local pride and increased takings for local traders.