Co-creation of Places to Community Led Design


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)

Architect in the House 2013 – Get a free consultation in exchange for a donation to Shelter

For the third year running, Cave is part of the Architect in the House scheme.
It is a collaboration between RIBA and Shelter. For a small donation to Shelter, you can have an RIBA architect give you a design consultation. 

So, always wondered about that extension?

Wanted to make your home more comfortable? Build that new house? Had questions about self-build? Want some planning, building or conservation advice? Why not support a great charity and get in touch with Cave and we can arrange a meeting to discuss your home improvement/ development queries. or 02085497532

Clever Cockles!

Above are some lovely shots of our cockles recently poured into the void under a timber suspended floor on one of our current jobs on site.

The project is to extend,  refurbish and repair an existing Victorian terrace building, which has suffered terribly under the hands of many previous owners who thought they were making ‘improvements’, or thought that cutting some corners wouldn’t hurt. Decades later, this once beautifully constructed brick and lime mortar building with suspended timber floors, had had all it’s brick work, inside and out, covered in cement or ‘waterproofing’ paint. Its timber floors stripped out and concrete poured in as an ‘economic’ replacement, and in this case with no damp proof membrane between it and the very high water table!

As you can imagine, soon timbers swelled, walls went mouldy, pipes corroded and plants started growing up through the floors…

We, along with our client and Stratos Construction Ltd have been working to put all that right, using traditional and sustainable techniques and materials. One of the measures to help balance the very high moisture levels on this site is the use of cockle shells in the floor void under the new re-instated suspended timber floor. The cockle shells absorb and release moisture levels dependent on their surrounding conditions. If it’s wet they soak it up and when it’s dry they let it go. “Just like lime!” I hear you cry, well, yes. It is lime in essence. If you burn shells in a kiln at the right temperature you get Calcium Carbonate, yep, you guessed it, Lime!

In Europe cockle shells are used quite widely for this purpose and they are also used as insulation in closed unventilated voids to soak up excess moisture and add to insulation levels. On our site we were unable to utilise the cockles warming properties due to having to vent the timber floor.

But, what a great use of a natural, non-toxic waste material!

Lime render splendour!

Above are pictures of our load bearing strawbale project in Ham, Richmond. Far right you can see me ‘persuading’ the straw wall into line on the curve of the walls with Strawworks extremely large hammer, known as ‘the persuader’.

Next along is a shot of the inside, receiving its first coat of lime plaster with some of the course participants from last weekends lime rendering course and far left is a picture of the outside taken yesterday with the second coat of Lime/hemp render applied.

The final finish coat will not be applied until the spring now and normally we wouldn’t advise using lime this late in the year, but due to unavoidable site delays we have had to in this case. We’ll be protecting the walls from any cold snaps in the next few months by wrapping the building in a protective layer to keep out any frost. Ideally you would stop using lime outside at the end of September.

Next step on this BREEAM excellent project will be the living roof. We are insulating the warm roof using 150mm of wood fibre board with a ventilation gap above to regulate any moisture build up in the insulation due to the living roof. The sky lights need to installed with their raised kerbs and then the living roof will be installed next week, exciting stuff!

The lime for this job was supplied by Ty-Mawr and Womersleys and the straw walls were built by Strawworks and willing volunteers!

(No-one needed to be ‘persuaded’ to join in with this build!)    Sorry…


Strawbale Building Course this weekend!

Come and get a chance to work on Kingstons first load bearing strawbale build!

Cave has worked with Chas and Danielle to develop this BREEAM ‘excellent’ project featuring limecrete foundations and ground floor slab, brick and foamglas plinth, loadbearing straw walls with lime render and lime/hemp plaster internal finish, a living roof, compost toilet, rainwater and grey water recycling system, solar panels and thermo-dynamic water heating system.

WOW! All of that in one project! Talk to the home owners Chas and Danielle about all of the sustainable systems they are including in their build. This isn’t just a strawbale course, as you’ll be able to ask questions about everything!

Course details are as follows:

Strawworks Strawbale Build Course

Saturday 6th October – Monday 8th October

Course fee £195 (including vegetarian lunch and those all essential tea and biccie breaks!)

To book contact:

or contact us at:

Grand opening of Newlands Hall

Our guest blogger this month is Melissa Lacide of the Empathy Collective.

Melissa took on the challenge of consulting the diverse community of the Putney Vale Estate as part of her Masters (which she passed with distinction!) on Sustainable Development at Kingston University. Cave met Shirley of the Putney Vale Residents Association at a research symposium at Kingston University and well, Melissa can tell the rest…

“Newlands Hall community building on Putney Vale Estate was derelict for many years and due to be knocked down by the council. But, after much campaigning, the building was saved and residents proved to the council that there was a need and a want to keep this building.

Last week Liz Crisp, from Cave Co-operative, and I joined the Putney Vale community in their celebrations of the long awaited reopening of Newlands Hall. This day was also a celebration of the community of Putney Vale… past, present and future. One of a few, Shirley Price gave a heartfelt speech – she talked about the community and their journey, both good and bad, to get to this point in the history of Putney Vale.

Shirley, treasurer of Putney Vale Residents’ Association (PVRA), has been a resident on the estate for decades. Along with many of the other residents, she is what I would describe as a genuine example of a community champion – someone who loves being a part of where they live… gives and receives a huge amount from everyone they meet… makes the links… and, passionately crusades to the very end for what they believe in.

The PVRA very kindly presented a copy of my report as a gift to the Mayor of Wandsworth, Jane Cooper. Hopefully this report will provide them, and perhaps, other community groups too, with a valuable insight in to sustainable communities, design thinking and community engagement. This project is just one example of how the built environment has an impact on how we, as human beings, interact and engage with the places we live in and people who live around us.

This project was made possible by the generosity and support of Cave Co-operative and Putney Vale Residents’ Association. Thank you!

Melissa Lacide”

No, Thank you Melissa!



Cave & The Glass-House community workshop

On Friday, 23rd March, The Rt Hon Andrew Lansley MP, Secretary of State for Health and South Cambridgeshire’s MP, officially opened the newly refurbished Gamlingay Eco Hub. The new community centre is one of the early projects to receive support from The Glass-House, and throughout its development has been a true community led project. It is also a truly sustainable building designed by civic Architects Ltd – sustainable on an environmental, social and economical level. First and foremost is the social aspect. It was a project devised, led and managed by the community. As all of those involved acknowledge, the key figure was Bridget Smith. She rallied around to get the whole community on board to realise the £2m refurbishment of the original community centre.

Together with their architects (civic Architects led by Dan Jones) they established the right brief to help regenerate the building and give it a new lease of life. The new functions added to the centre are the council offices, library and extra multi-purpose spaces to enhance the potential of the building and to increase the use and opening hours of the centre. These features have made the centre a real asset for the surrounding community, but also make it a viable investment, using it to its full potential.

The building has a new welcoming entrance that leads onto a library area and to the council offices on the mezzanine floor. From there the spaces flow into one another. With daylight entering most of the building, it leads you effortlessly from room to room. But all spaces can be separated to suit the requirements of the events. The original main hall is retained as it was cheaper to refurbish it than to build a new. At the rear, there is new square space with a beautiful timber roof and overall the whole building has a nice contemporary finish with great detailing.

Great energy saving technology is also employed in the building which will save the community money in future maintenance costs. It is kitted out with a ground source heat pump, which generates the heat for the underfloor heating in the new extensions. Photovoltaic panels on the roof generate the electrics to run the pump and other electrics in the building, with the surplus sold back to the grid. There is a rainwater harvesting tank installed that supplies the toilet cisterns and a solar thermal to supply the changing rooms with warm showers. The whole building is super insulated and creates a high level of comfort for the interior. During the build only two skips left the site according to architect Andrew Siddalll. Re-using as many of the materials as possible and with good detailing, waste was minimal.It was a long journey to get the project realised. The initial contractor went bust and they had to be very resourceful to get all the funding together. But through sheer tenacity and community collaboration, they created a fantastic community centre which they can be proud of.

Cave researches!

community consultation work

‘Good places are never bought off the shelf, but arise in an inclusive process built on local ideas, imagination and aspiration’(00:/, 2011, p.181)

Since October last year Cave has started a fantastic collaboration with The Glass-House, community led design. Vera has started the AHRC funded collaborative PhD at the University of Sheffield. 3 years of research will look into the merits of community participation not only for the community, but also look at the benefits for the built environment professionals engaged with citizen participation.

It will examine how ‘social capital’, can be regenerated and captured to assist in developing systems for participatory action and more inclusive and representative ways of neighbourhood regeneration, creating more sustainable spaces and places for an increasingly fluid contemporary society. It will also look at the value of this ‘social capital’, what kind of economic benefits that it can bring and for who.

After this initial 4 months we hope to keep you up to date with some of our findings along the way. So watch this space for reviews, events and interesting things that we’d like to share with you.

If you have any ideas please get in touch with us, we’d love to hear your thoughts in Community Led Design. We also will keep you up to date via our twitter account @cavecoop.

00:/, NESTA, CABE, Compendium for a civic economy London: 00:/, 2011


The Glass-House

Sheffield School of Architecture



A new addition to the Cave team!

Mariona Oliver the new Cave member!

Cave has a new member!

We’ve been so busy in the Cave office lately that we’ve not had time to write a blog! But as you can see, we now have a fantastic new addition to the Cave team, so we can get back to our blog writing! Her name is Mariona Oliver and she is a Spanish Architect from Barcelona.

In Mariona’s own words: “I met Liz when we were both studying at the University of North London and since then I’ve had in mind that I would love to work with Liz. A few years later I met Vera Hale through Liz and thought I would like to work with Cave even more!

I feel that Cave has the features I look for in my place of work: a strong focus on sustainability, social concerns and a cooperative way of working. I am very happy to have joined this great team”.

All of us in the Cave team would like to wish Mariona a very warm welcome and we’re looking forward to more Cave expansion and all the fun we’re going to have working together!


Yorda planning application approved!

Yorda-planning-appGreat news in the Cave camp this week as the planning application for the Yorda Adventure Playground for young people with disabilities is approved! Above you can see Laura from Yorda and I very scientifically testing out existing pieces of kit in the borough. All in the name of R&D you understand and absolutely no fun was had in the process…honest ; )

The application was quite a tricky one with 11 overlapping pieces of legislation on the site! The site is a nature reserve and has 3 protected species; the Common Pipistrelle Bat, The European Water Vole and the House Sparrow. An important part of our application was how we were going to improve the existing habitat and biodiversity on the site. To this end a new hedge will be being planted this October as well as many native flowering and fruiting species of flowers, shrubs and trees. If you’re interested in plant lists then please drop us an email or call and we can forward the info on to you.

Sustainability was a key feature of the success of our application and with many of the pieces of equipment being built from reclaimed or recycled timber as well as coppiced timber. The play equipment itself will be organic in its design and will allow for a variety of experiences around the site. There’ll be a zip slide, a long wide slide with tree canopy platforms and crawl spaces, a round about, basket and cradle swings for multiple occupancy!, a sunken trampoline, a water play area and a sensory den. All of these pieces of equipment will be bespoke items built specifically for Yorda’s clients and designed to create an exciting, outdoor play experience that is challenging and stimulating as well as calming and beautiful.

The first two pieces of equipment going in this year will be a sunken trampoline and the sensory den. Due to funding finding the building work will be phased and will happen as and when funding is found. On that note! If you or your company would like to be amazing enough to fund a piece of Yorda play equipment, or even a little donation to the cause then please click here and please accept Caves and Yorda’s warmest Thank yous!

There are also lots of groovy ways you can support Yorda, they have a fantastic monthly ‘The More, The Monier’ cash lottery starting in September, they will be having one of their famous quiz nights in November (details to be up soon on their website) or you could do your own imaginative sponsored event (forms can be downloaded from their website).

We’ll keep you posted as pieces of equipment go in, so watch this space!