Good participation is when community, market and politics work together and collaborate to create the setting for place, the stage for daily life to happen. As practitioners, we need to ‘create’ inclusive design processes that allow local people to play a clear and direct role in informing changes in their own environment and making decisions throughout the projects development. By listening to the people we can make informed decisions and actions in creating the right setting (Hamdi, 2010). It is all about knowledge sharing from the professional to the people and from the people to the professionals. But present day public engagement is still mostly an invitation to be informed and not a collaborative process of placemaking for the people by the people, with help of the professionals.
We need to support this knowledge transfer and look at the everyday, at what people actually value. We need to create locally, before we can think globally. Then the community can ‘lead’ the knowledge transfer to making their own locality.
To create a holistic Community Led Design process, we need to support communities to have this capacity and willingness to act (Evans, 2002). Ultimately, there is a need to establish an active civic society that has a sense of agency to start changes from within, without waiting for external agents to initiate action or change (Hamdi, 2010). Good enabling is providing the means with which people can open doors and create opportunities in order to build their own neighbourhoods (Hamdi, 2010), with the right circumstances for it to occur and to be able to sustain its development.
One of The Glass-House success stories of a true co-creation of place, was a project on the Ravenscliffe estate at the edge of Bradford City Centre. The Ravenscliffe estate was one that faced a number or social and economic challenges, with a large percentage of the homes unoccupied and boarded up, and a community physically and socially divided. The Ravenscliffe Community Association led a project to build a new multi-purpose community centre. The idea came from a consultation exercise involving 250 residents in 2001, where the community expressed the need for “a place where people could gather”.
Despite the challenges they faced, from the start the group had the makings of a successful project – an idea, a site for the project, a group of committed residents, some funding opportunities and the support of the Ravenscliffe Community Development Project. But no one in the group, including their Community Support Worker, had knowledge or experience of developing a design, securing funding for the construction and producing a viable business plan for the long-term use of the building. The Glass-House provided the group with a range of support and services. This included supporting a fun day to get feedback from residents about the proposed centre; training on how to get involved in regeneration and how to design buildings; support in brief development; a study visit; and on-going help from a Glass-House advisor about the technical aspects of the building process.
This knowledge empowered the residents to be involved all the way through the development of their community centre ‘The Gateway’. From establishing a brief, to fund-raising and selecting the architects, they were leading the process. Local people were even employed in the construction of the centre, which was negotiated into the contract with the developer. They were employed as builders and when theft on the building site became an issue, the use of local people in securing the site eliminated theft as an issue.. The whole collaborative process and a mutual goal brought a previously divided estate together. The Communities Fund described the group as “exceptionally well organised” with “exceptional tenant involvement”. The awarding officer said it was the “best project ever approved”.
The building benefited from an exceptional architect, who worked with the groups to create a building that felt welcoming, aspirational and that created spaces for real social change. Since the project was completed in February 2005 local people have secured employment within or through help of ‘The Gateway’. The Gateway currently has over 300 users per week and has become a real focal point on the Estate. The new facility is a catalyst for change in the neighbourhood, training young and old, facilitating workshops and just a place to meet and chat to other residents, increasing local engagement on a whole.
(Adaptation of a part of the paper ‘Putting people in their place, the value of great placemaking’ for The Production of Place Conference 2012 at UEL, collaboratively written with Sophia de Sousa)