The Population of the UK

Second edition                             by Danny Dorling, cartography by Benjamin Hennig



An exercise for 6 to 600 players

You do not need a computer, or even a piece of paper and pen, to draw a map. Human bodies themselves will suffice. Here is a recipe for drawing a map of the geographical origins of a room of students. ‘Cooking time’ is about 10 minutes, although allow slightly longer when undertaking this exercise with over 100 students.

1.Each student needs to decide where they ‘come from’ (were born), i.e. their home city and suburb. If a student comes from outside the UK, that is fine – they will simply be appended to one of the edges of the map we are about to draw.

2.Determine the four corners of your map. Who comes from the furthest North East, North West, South East and South West? These four students need to move to stand at the top right, top left, bottom right and bottom left of the classroom/lecture theatre respectively.

3.Now all the other students must begin to sort themselves out in the map of where they come from. Begin by sorting yourselves out from North to South. The further North you come from, the further back in the room you need to be. Ask your neighbours directly in front of and behind you where they are from to work out if you are in the wrong place.

4.Now sort yourselves out from East to West. The further East you are from, the further right you should be along the row you are in. Again, by asking your neighbours (either side of you) where they are from, you should be able to work out if you are in the wrong place. Here left and right are as viewed by an observer looking at you from the front of the room.

5.Now check with all four of your nearest neighbours (those to your left and right and those in front of and behind you) to find out if they come from further East of you, further West, further South and further North of you respectively. If they don’t, you need to move around a little more.

6.Finally, all shuffle in towards the centre of the room to end up with just an arm’s length between you and your four nearest neighbours. Once you have done this you will have created a map of the country in which the area in the room is arranged in proportion to the population of students in your class by their areas of origin.

Having created your own map of the country, what you next use it for is up to you. If you are undertaking this exercise in an ‘old university’, your map is likely to include most of the country as people tend to travel further away from their areas of origin. However, what are the geographical biases in your distribution? Where does the person in the centre of your map come from? Further South or North than most people in the country?

For reference, the central constituency shown in the book in Figure 1.2 is the Peak District in Derbyshire (area 50). If you are undertaking this exercise in a school, then your map is likely to be of a only very small part of the country – but it is still a map drawn in proportion to you. Does the person in the centre of your map live closest to your school? If not, why not? Next you could begin to look for geographical differences among yourselves. If at university, then sit down if you took a ‘gap year’ before starting your studies. If at school, sit down if you intend to go to university (or take a gap year). Did more students to the South or North of your particular map of Britain sit down?

You could divide the class into groups depending on where they originate from and then poll those groups to see if there are differences in their attitudes, say, to voting. These polls can be done anonymously on scraps of paper. The point is that even within one room there are likely to be geographical patterns. These are patterns which cannot simply be explained by the social, economic or political backgrounds, statuses and beliefs of those being counted.

[Note: This game can easily be played for other countries and regions in the world if students have some link to those. If playing this game in the Southern Hemisphere, it is customary to place South towards the back of the room rather than north. An advanced version of the game, designed to simulate the panic that can ensue following epidemic disease outbreak, involves all students forming the original map as described above, but then trying to move to be as far away from their four geographical neighbours as possible while still remaining in the room. This version is best not played with students under age 18 or classes of more than 60 given the consequences.]


Related material for Chapter 1

PowerPoint Slides

Excel Data

  1. Figures

All available data and further material can be found in the Data section.


Chapter 1
Maps…a different view of the United Kingdom

Published by Sage