Meaningful community engagement has the potential to reshape our neighbourhoods. The NLA hosted webinar ‘Working together: collaborative regeneration
’, part of their Communities Programme, explored examples of projects that worked with the community to create considered new places.
The presentations spoke about the realities of consulting with communities, the challenges faced, and the lessons learned on significant projects across London. It was especially interesting to hear about how community engagement is managed on projects of various scales, picking up on many similar themes of successes and challenges.
Even with such a wide range of engagement strategies, lessons learned and project scales, there were many similar conclusions drawn from each of the presentations and project examples.
A key reflection of the day was the importance of involving the community as early as possible, for a variety of reasons: it allows the project team to identify the groups that need to be engaged with, understand how to make the engagement process accessible, and communicate the scope of influence and the consultation framework for the project. Nicola Rochfort’s presentation really captured the importance of engaging with the community early on to build trust and help set a robust engagement framework.
Phil Askew’s presentation drove home the importance of training. Local communities are not experts in engagement themselves and at times may not be able to express their thoughts and know what to look out for, they don’t always have the skills to act as spokespeople for their local community when required. To really have meaningful collaborative engagement, communities need to be armed with the tools to fully participate. This seemed to be brilliantly managed with the Community Design Collective.
Marie Bak Mortensen’s presentation captured the importance of continued community collaboration, even after the project is considered complete and handed over and the importance of sustaining relationships with the local community over time. This offered a different perspective from the other presentations that were more focused on the early stages.
The power of engagement was re-iterated across all projects and mentioned in Hilary Satchwell’s closing reflections. It is important to be honest about how the community can influence projects, what parts of the projects they can influence and what they cannot. This was evident in my presentation on Bells Gardens. Giving false hopes around the scope of change or influence can end up damaging community relationships, rather than building trust.
It was great to get such a range of lessons learned from a wide suite of project examples, but each bringing synergy with similar themes and conclusions.