New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Matt Griffiths-Rimmer

Monday 22 May 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Matt Griffiths-Rimmer

Director of Communications and Partnerships
Hadley Property Group

David Taylor catches up with Hadley Property Group director of communications and partnerships Matt Griffiths-Rimmer on some new metaverse technology by SpaceForm it is using to get more immersive and better collaboration responses from the public.

David Taylor  
Hi, Matt. How are you doing?
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
I'm doing very well, David. It's a very grey and overcast, rainy day in London, but I'm in good spirits!
 
David Taylor  
Snap! I wanted to chat to you about something you're doing in the digital consultation codesign in the metaverse space, if that's not too much of a mouthful...
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
It is indeed!
 
David Taylor  
(laughs) I hear you're working with Squint Opera using a platform called SpaceForm. Could you, for the lay man and woman, tell us about that from first principles, and how you're using all of this?
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
I will certainly try, David. In fact, I'm not far away from layperson myself. I am on the same NLA panel as Jan from SpaceForm. And whilst talking about digital engagement and consultation methods, we were talking about potential ways to push things forward a little bit and try and do something a little bit more inclusive and engaging than standard polling and walk-arounds, etc. whilst at the same time trying to speak to younger demographics. Because that's an area traditionally, that our industry has struggled with getting hold of. We had something of a perfect storm in our IQL North site in LLDC's zone just on the edge of the Olympic Park, which means we have a really proactive local authority and some interesting partners to work with. So yesterday was our first push at it really. I wasn't quite sure how it was going to land because we've never used tech like this before. It's essentially a digital twin of the scheme and the surrounding area. And we wanted to give the opportunity for people to walk around the 3D representation entirely of their own accord, and reaching certain points within it, where there's different options for different kinds of play space, public realm, F&B provision, etc. But there's quite a lot that people can really get into. And the feedback was incredible. I think it was probably because of the quality of the room, as much as the tech, which landed really, really well. It was working with LLDC's Elevate Group, who are between 14 and 30 years old. And so quite a broad spread – all people with an interest in Stratford. Most of the people live within a stone's throw of the park, so they all know the sites, and they've all been consulted to death! So we're the sort of the perfect people to talk to in this way…
David Taylor  
…and, sorry to interrupt; what's the building?
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
…it's IQL North, which is a mixed-use development, just opposite Stratford International. We will submit planning later this year. We bought it from London Continental Railways last year. Amazingly exciting because of everything that's happening across the park and in the area. So it's a really great time to work in in Stratford.
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. And so whose views you trying to get? 
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
Mostly the local residents who perhaps don't feel as if they have a space within the park. When we started our research after buying the site, it was pretty clear that not everyone feels a connection to the Olympic Park, and there's still an element of it landing like a spaceship on the ground. And so, trying to reach out to people has been something that has been challenging, but we've been helped by the fact that we've got the lighthouse and gardens on site. So, we've had a permanent presence on site. We can keep going back to people, keep talking and keep on engaging. But you still don't necessarily pick up a conversation with the youth too easily. We've got a bit of history of working with digital engagement and trying to do things a little bit differently in that sphere anyway, but this was just a brand new opportunity. And so, we are set to roll out to a programme. I think we'll do some online-only sessions next time where everyone has their own avatar, can leave notes around the site, leaving their thoughts and comments. Maybe do some sessions around safety, in particular for teenage girls, because that came up quite a lot last night. It has just made the news recently, and it's a pretty timely subject. And yeah, leading towards some physical, AR and VR work on sites with the wider community, probably in about six weeks’ time from now.
 
David Taylor  
And forgive me for asking another stupid question. But people wear headsets, do they? So they go to a physical space that you have. And they put on headsets to 'walk around’ your proposed scheme, with a view to providing comments about it? Is that essentially it, in a nutshell?
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
That's one way of doing it. But we haven't done it with the headsets, we've just done it with laptops. So last night we met with the Elevate Group in person. And then we just situated a bunch of laptops around. So: it wasn't a kind of full-on Lawnmower Man experience. It was more about people sat around a table moving it around together. Now, at the next session, which will be entirely online, people will just be able to access that through their laptops at home. So, we'll just do a remote session where everyone logs in. And then we can meet at different points around the digital twin essentially and just walk the site together.
 
David Taylor  
And what sort of feedback did you get that you might actually react to and implement?
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
There's two large squares, sort of civic community spaces, within the development that are very much in the infancy of what we're trying to provide there. So, a lot of the feedback we got last night was around different types of F&B offerings that could go there. There was a lot around whether we should use Astro, where there was sports provision, what kind of gym, play space, etc. How to work the different level changes within the site, what to do with water, and then a load of feedback around connectivity, around ensuring digital inclusion, people visiting the site and showing us things for people to do there, who aren't just going to pay; people that aren't visiting restaurants and coffee shops, etc. To make sure there's something for everyone. You get some amazing details back. Like, we had a lot of information about how to provide for local families that we wouldn't really have thought about, however much we might sit in a room and go, 'how do we really cater for local people here?'. Tons of the stuff that came out last night was super high-level detail on that kind of work. So: really easy to incorporate strains of design.
 
David Taylor  
And when you contrast this to 'ordinary' consultation, what is the extra benefit that this has?
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
So, I guess, the inclusivity of it – the amount of people that we can reach – is significantly increased. But then also, the visualization that it gives us, the digital visualization, means that people find it a lot easier to imagine themself in a space. Yeah, so they can walk around, we can talk accurately about sizes, we can talk about walkways, we can talk about the safety of different routes through the site, etc. We can change the day, night, perspective, so we can see what it's like after dark. What it might be like if you can under-light certain areas of the square etc. I think the amount of detail that you can show people really gets their imagination going. And as a result, you get a much more engaged conversation.
 
David Taylor  
And am I right in suspecting, however, that, although this is potentially more attractive to the gamer generation and gamification people, i.e. a younger set, it's less of a turn on for the older set? So, it's actually perhaps a bit more excluding to that sector of society? 
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
No, I think it's pretty inclusive, to be honest. Because it's operated through a standard browser, the remote one is. What we found when we first started working in digital engagement, full stop, was that the highest levels of increased engagement were coming from women over the age of 65, who were getting all their adverts through Facebook and then visiting the polls and the exhibition spaces online through that. So, although this was geared specifically towards a youth group, as in, that was the partnership with LLDC and who we were trying to reach with this, we would anticipate the technology reaching a pretty broad cross section, to be honest. And people that are time-poor – people that have mobility issues. There's a number of inclusivity positives about it, definitely.
 
David Taylor  
Excellent. So, you'd recommend this to other developers?
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
Oh, 100%. Yeah, yeah. And if anyone wants to talk about it, then we would happily recount our experiences with them definitely.
 
David Taylor  
Magic. All right. Thanks, Matt. That's really fascinating. I'd love to try it myself.
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
Yeah, I'd love that too, David. Yeah, I'll send you a link after we've got off the phone. 
 
David Taylor  
All right. Nice to speak to you. 
 
Matt Griffiths-Rimmer  
Alright, brilliant. Take care mate.


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Matt Griffiths-Rimmer

Director of Communications and Partnerships
Hadley Property Group



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