New London Architecture

Community collaborators reach new digital audiences

Wednesday 23 September 2020

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ

Local authorities, housing associations and architects have collaborated with local communities on key initiatives during lockdown and beyond. But just how tricky has it been to have to integrate an online as well as offline route as a result of the pandemic? 

A special PechaKucha session gave an opportunity to find out, and to celebrate some of the best ways groups have found to push projects forward, more from a bottom-up rather than top-down perspectives, often using digital as a new resource bringing access to wider audiences. Mike Saunders, CEO and co-founder of Commonplace, spoke about the ParkPower project and the 47% of London that is green space. But how do people want to use this precious resource? ParkPower is led by the London Collective to crowd-source public sentiment about the future of the capital’s green spaces, allowing people to give their feedback and produce ideas and provocations for parks ‘from the ground up’. The key research theme emerging thus far is the correlation between access to nature and the wellbeing that derives from it being ‘huge’, said Saunders. Perhaps most surprising, though, was the theme of quiet being the thing craved by Londoners as a respite from the home. ’People see parks as a release from their working life’.

Mellis Haward of Archio shared how the practice has done an ‘about turn’ and moved participatory design and on-site engagement tools online, especially with an affordable homes scheme on a small site in Crystal Palace. This was done via a local residents’ design group acting as co-creators with the community land trust using a combination of digital and analogue work. ‘Communities are redefining how they relate to their neighbourhood and taking a new-found interest in their local area’, said Mellis. 

ParkPower © Commonplace
‘Perhaps a new era of community inter-reliance is manifesting’

Tom Venables of Prior+Partners and Helena Rivera of A Small Studio presented about developing a Norwood Green Town Plan, focused on how people in the area just down the hill from Crystal Palace could come together and use planning to get to zero carbon. Face-to-face consultation, a visioning exercise and workshops have been conducted through volunteer work, identifying things like poor air quality and traffic reduction measures. Rivera spoke about how it bought an empty off licence shop on a failing high street, turning it into a co-working space and community yard for external activities, ‘reinventing’ Norwood High Street through a community driven framework. 
William Chamberlain of Creative Wick talked through the loss of creative workspace in Hackney Wick and about the Olympic Park area, with big institutions coming into East Bank and perceptions of negative gentrification. Creative Wick aims to reduce that, with a cultural interest group for Hackney Wick and Fish Island offering newsletters and meetings online, with the creative enterprise zone also matching furloughed professionals with firms who needed business support.

© Archio


Finally, Barbara Brownlee managing director of the City of Westminster’s Westminster Builds spoke about consultation on the renewal of the 1930s Ebury Bridge estate in Pimlico, begun in 2017 with traditional resident engagement. By 2018, a decision was reached to rebuild the estate, with 750 homes including tall blocks and further consultation on options. But then lockdown arrived and all the feedback could not be actioned with the residents. It decided to keep going, reopening its ‘regeneration base’, retaining its professional team and going back to residents with design changes that were communicated through online platforms like Commonplace, and supported with written communications. This resulted in 800 phone calls and a 36% increase in consultation numbers. ‘People felt deeply reassured’, said Brownlee. ‘We began engaging with them individually and they really, really appreciated that’.

Other issues picked up in discussion included cycling provision and consultation over the reallocation of roadspace, and parking.

Watch the PechaKucha recording here.


David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ



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