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Canal Dream

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Canal as a moving dreaming and dream-making space.

MA 2022
Wellbeing, Creative Practice, Asset Regeneration, Arts Prescribing, Green Prescribing, Environmental Theatre

Canal Dream synthesizes post-pandemic wellbeing, creative practice, and asset regeneration. Connecting the UK's most vibrant creative assets to declining canal assets through a moving Dream Boat. Using London's canal network as a frame and the Regent's Canal as a place to implement measures, we unite different disciplines of Dream-makers (freelance creatives) to develop a range of dream services (creative practices) along the waterways, including moving theatre, moving workshops, moving events, moving movies... in order to bring comfort to residents, vitality to the community, and care to the city; and also to give freelance creatives the opportunity to create and connect to the society; in addition, to explore the possibility of transforming the canal, an industrial asset of the past, into a creative and cultural space of the future.

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Research areas

Canal Dream focuses on post-pandemic well-being, creative practice, and asset regeneration. First is well-being. COVID-19 has potential mental health impacts across the life course. And after the pandemic, there is an urgent need for comfort and recovery. The second is creative practice. The creative industry, among the most important economic forces in the UK, was hit hard by the pandemic. Freelance creatives need platforms to create and connect with society. The third is asset regeneration. Canal’s rich past, silent present, and beautiful metaphors are the reasons why I chose it. 


A city editor said.:“Few things symbolise the way our cities are transformed better than canals.” The role of the canal has changed several times, from post-medieval as a transport system, to the Industrial Revolution, to welcoming a golden age, to declining in competition with railways and roads, and then to the growth of the leisure industry in the 1970s. Now, In this age of pandemics, these old assets can take on new roles, from transporting goods for industrial purposes to transporting well-being for recovery purposes.


Now, there are 2,000 miles of canals in the UK and nearly 9 million people live within 1 kilometer of canals and rivers. Also, this linear wetland is a valuable habitat for wildlife. This means that canals are so accessible green spaces. So I believe that the canal network has a huge hidden value in promoting wellbeing.


The city is an extension of the body. And the canal is an extension of the vein, they carry the tired people slowly forward, just as the veins carry the deoxygenated blood back to the heart.


In terms of research methods, I’ve combined the deficit approach commonly used in service design with the asset-based approach commonly used by local authorities.

Deficit approach: Start with Needs. Response to problems.

Asset approach: Start with Gifts. Believe in Potential.


Green Prescribing

Green prescribing links people to nature-based interventions and activities and includes both green and blue environments.

Art Prescribing

Similarly, Arts prescribing links people to local art & cultural activities.

Environmental Theatre

Environmental theatre means not performing in a standard theatre, but in an unconventional space. It breaks down the boundaries of space between actors and audience, between movement and stillness. Gives immersive interactive experience.


How might we develop a range of Arts in Nature services on the canal, based on green prescribing, arts prescribing & environmental theatre, in order to create opportunities for wellbeing, creative practice and asset regeneration?


Canal Dream: Canal as a moving dreaming and dream-making space.

Dream-making & Dreaming Service

Dream-making means developing a range of dreamy creative practices in nature 

and telling emotional & poetic stories. Dreaming means that people can engage in it, have personal and cultural resonance, aesthetic experience, emotional engagement and empathy.

Dream Users

One group is the dream makers, the freelance creatives and students from art colleges. The other group is dreamers, people who have access to the canal network. 

Dream scenes

The canal as a dream space. The waterway as a dream diffusion path. The narrow boat as a moving dream station.

Dream come true

Bringing London's bountiful creative assets into the canal, a lost industrial asset, through a moving narrowboat, that carries dream-makers to make dreams and attracts dreamers to dream.

Dream Iterations 

Our Dream service is an iterative process, as dream makers with different skills gradually come on board. Currently, our services include Moving workshop, Moving Theatre, Moving Movie, Moving Event, Moving Fabric, Moving Zine.

Dream Vision

Provide a space for engagement through art in nature.

Create an opportunity for creative practice, well-being & asset regeneration.

For Dreamer: To give comfort to people, vitality to communities, and care to the city.

For dream-maker: To provide opportunities for freelance creatives to create and contribute to society.

For dream asset: To experiment with the possibility of transforming the canal, a past industrial asset, into a creative cultural space.

Dream Ecosystem

In the future, as a dream charity, we plan to develop boat organizations, businesses near the canal, canal management, culture and heritage, the health sector and the nature sector as dream partners, working together to provide stages for dream makers & dreams for dreamers.


I used London's canal network as a frame and the Regent's Canal as the place to implement the measures. Along the canal, we developed a range of dream prototypes.

Dream Station 1, as a designer, I developed a paper boat tale workshop, inviting passers-by to create stories along the canal.

Dream Station 2, I worked with my project partner Ran, an artist, and we developed a body theatre workshop to guide people in self-expression through movement.

Dream Station 3, several dancers, and musicians gradually joined and we had our first audio-visual performance at a lock of the Canal.

Dream Station 4, we had our second audio-visual performance on a community narrowboat.

Dream Station 5, Inland Waterways Association invited us to participate in Canalway Cavalcade 2022, which is the largest waterway festival in London. Then IWA awarded the Marcus Boudier Trophy to Canal Dream.

Dream Station 6, During June 10-12, with the support of Slash Arts gallery boat & Aranya Theatre Festival 300 Migratory Birds, we held a 2-day, 1-night event with 84 dream-makers presenting 44 dream pieces of 8 dream categories.

At each stage, based on the dream materials or resources I could find, I developed different dream services to connect different dream stakeholders in order to gradually integrate myself into the dreamer community (the canal community) and the dream maker community (the creatives community). 


Judah, my tutor, my captain, he guides me inward to explore and the courage to be myself.

Qian, she was generous in offering me lots of time, advice and support.

Clive, he supports me in an ''unrealistic'' dream project, which makes me feel that SD is free and has many possibilities.

John, he gave me a lot of support at my final show.

Ran, my project partner, we have sailed a long journey together.

All the Dream-makers, Yuan, Yuwei, Minghao... you are like elves waking up the canal.

My canal friends, Mark and Christine from Inland Waterways Association, Joanna from London Canal Museum, Lorriane from Laburnum Boat Club... you are so kind and generous.

The boats that have carried our dreams, the little paper boats, Regent's Canal, Lock 5, the Opportunity, Rachel…

My family and my friends, my mum and dad, my aunt, Jianning, Shiming, Jiayi, Peng Shao, Fei, Stefanie, Jiayi…

Thank you for accompanying me on a long voyage and brightening up my first spring in London. :)

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