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18 Mar 2016

Delivering Homes Differently: Understanding community-led housing in high demand urban areas

On 16 March 2016, the day that George Osbourne made a budget announcement of £60 million pounds for community-led housing, we brought together community activists, designers, funders, academics, local authorities, housing associations, developers and policy advisors to explore the current landscape for community led housing in high demand urban areas.

Here are some of the key themes that emerged throughout the day’s discussion and activities.

Why community led housing?

Why community led housing

Housing is not just a matter of providing a building in which to live. Housing touches on all aspects of life, our social and economic wellbeing, our family and social networks. The quality and qualities of where we live has a profound impact on us as individuals and as communities.

In this country, the production of new homes is dominated by private developers and volume house builders. However, there is a growing movement of communities leading a different approach to housing development. Housing cooperatives, community land trusts, custom build and self build all sit within a wide spectrum of locally-driven models and approaches to developing new homes that address local needs and aspirations.

Many of our workshop participants stressed that community-led housing does not start with a site, but with a local conversation and the recognition that new housing and development are needed in the area. Community-led housing is not about the speculative commercialisation of a parcel of land. It seeks to weave new housing provision into the local context in order to increase local opportunities and connections, to think more holistically about place and our connection with it. It is driven by its local social and economic context and delivered by the people who want to inhabit it.

Meaningful participation

Access to land
That said, community-led housing cannot happen without access to land, which is particularly challenging in high demand urban areas such as London and the southeast. Land values are high and there is fierce competition for sites when they become available. At the same time, there is growing demand for homes and dissatisfaction with the housing market offer in high demand urban areas, and many feel that the community-led approach could help diversify the housing market and enrich the offer.

The recent Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act (2015) has made some ground towards addressing this. It requires every local authority to keep a register of individuals or groups who would like to undertake a self-build or custom build project and to make provision for those interests in developing local housing and plans. This is undoubtedly a useful bit of legislation and an opportunity that those interested in delivering community-led housing should seize.

However, access and ownership of land is not just a legal issue. Where do power, democracy and fairness stand in the decision-making processes around who should take ownership of public land, and at what cost? When there are competing interests and divergent views about the best models and governance structures for housing development, is it ever simply not fair to hand over public land to one group over another?

Because housing is for homes

Show me the money
In a housing market dominated by financial values, do we need to give greater weight to the social and economic impact of any new development? And how can the financial policies, lending and grants better support community-led development to become a credible and viable alternative to the current market-driven approaches? What does the fact that the Chancellor’s support for community-led housing focuses on rural and coastal areas mean for progressing new models in high demand urban areas?

Has the commoditization of homes made us forget that a home above all, is a place to live, work, play and thrive? Are we allowing the supply side to dictate the rules?

If this country is to make a cultural shift towards a more diverse approach to housing provision and development, it will take not only more flexibility in policy, financial models and land allocation, but also a greater public awareness that there are alternative approaches to those we have come to accept as a given. It will also rely on people taking up their rights and powers, and demanding new ones, in order to proactively contribute to that change.

Deciding for ourselves

One voice
Do we need a more coherent and unified voice for the demand side of housing?

This unified voice remains one of the greatest challenges for the community-led housing movement. While it is growing and gaining momentum, there are divergent views around the value of defining clear models and the replicability of bottom-up, organic processes led by local people, each working within their own local context. Community-led housing is, in many ways, the antithesis of formulaic models.

However, it is clear that there is a great deal that we can learn from the many groups around the country both succeeding and failing to deliver community-led housing. We must share stories and learn from them. And we must, in the spirit of organic and bottom-up development, consider how best to influence and use policies and targets, but not to be limited by them. We must convince investors, be they government, financial institutions or local people, that the numbers can stack up, and with them the social, economic and environmental value in the long term.

CLH workshop

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This event builds on a long-standing relationship with LCNC, who have been involved in training, events and action research led by The Glass-House, as well as receiving hands-on support to explore their housing co-operative project.

A short film on our exploration of community-led housing will be released in mid April, along with further knowledge resources.

Our knowledge exchange initiative is part of a wider programme to support the growth of affordable, community-led housing projects through greater understanding of the opportunities and a wider awareness of methods, resources and support. Coordinated by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF), it is funded by the Nationwide Foundation.

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2 Mar 2016

Place: who belongs here? Think piece #3

Designing material infrastructures to facilitate common belonging

What does it mean to belong, and how are feelings of belonging recreated and shared? Particularly in anthropological traditions, which form a part of both our backgrounds, social and cultural belonging has been a central question. The boundaries of the social group, divides between human and nonhuman, structures of kinship, class, gender and age have all been questioned and examined by anthropological traditions in terms of how belonging is formed. The area of questioning appears as cultural, about something that is to some extent immaterial or subjective, something like a habitus—a structure and set of dispositions.

What we’re interested in is the materiality of belonging. We would like to explore the importance of the materiality of the spaces in which we live, work and play and our engagements with them in creating a sense of empowerment and community.

In some of the projects of which we’ve been a part in New Cross, London, including The Field and the New Cross Commoners, we have in different ways sought to explore the notion of ‘commons’ and ‘commoning’—the creation of spaces and communities of care and commonly held and maintained resources.


What resources do we have? Mapping resources collage
People's Kitchen New Cross: a mapping of local reources and things to build on/change

These enquiries have made us aware of the importance of being able to materially engage with, control and effect environments. For a community to form, persist and feel empowered, it often requires a material foundation on which it can be built and maintained. This material foundation cannot be temporary; the community being created cannot only be involved in one stage of its constitution such as a brief period of consultation before a build. Rather, for communities to create lasting senses of belonging, they need on-going material access to their environments — they have to feel empowered to effect change in their areas.

Working together to renovate the derelect Field Building
Coming together for common good: working to renovate a derelict building for community use

In urban environments this sense of engagement with the materiality of the city is often hard to find. Decisions regarding urban environments are made by specialists, behind close doors, and opportunities for people to feel like they in someway own their environment are rare. The question then, is how this can be changed and what the role of design would be in such an approach.

To allow people to take collective ownership of their environments and feel empowered to effect change in their areas design can’t be thought about in its more traditional sense. Rather than being a limited period before building, the conceptual process of design coming before the material process of construction or making, design needs here to be thought of as a means of facilitation. Consulting a community for a brief period prior to building is not enough to give people an ongoing sense of belonging.

Informing a neighbourhood planning process
Working together to identify possible development sites for a Neighbourhood Plan

The question is about how to design material infrastructures of resource management and distribution that allow people to play a more active and ongoing role in defining the places in which they live, work and play, collectively owning them and feeling empowered to affect change within them. This is a question that Common Agency asks, and it is a question that recasts design as an ongoing process of facilitation aimed towards empowering people to materially effect, alter and own their environments. This would mean developing platforms, tools, structures and forms with different logics written into them, devices that can intervene in the top-down, economically-governed production of the city, supporting participation, diverse community, self-governance, self-sufficiency, and a more intimate relationship to ecology and place. Such an approach to design can’t stop at building, but must continually interrupt and intervene in the processes that construct our cities.

Toby Austin Locke and Lawrence Dodd are co-founders of Common Agency.

Place: who belongs here? The Glass-House London Debates takes place on Wednesday 9 March at 6.30-8pm.

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13 Jan 2016

New knowledge exchange programme on community led housing

We are delighted to announce that The Glass-House and London Community Neighbourhood Co-operative (LCNC) are jointly working to increase the knowledge and understanding of community-led housing nationally.

Focusing on urban areas of high demand for housing, we will deliver a series of knowledge exchange activities in Spring 2016 including an event, a film and supporting materials that will be widely disseminated from April onwards.

This joint initiative builds on a long-standing relationship with LCNC, who have been involved in training, events and action research led by The Glass-House, as well as receiving hands-on support to explore their housing co-operative project.

Our knowledge exchange initiative is part of a wider programme to support the growth of affordable, community-led housing projects through greater understanding of the opportunities and a wider awareness of methods, resources and support. Coordinated by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF), it is funded by the Nationwide Foundation.

Watch this space for more information and contact us if you would like to know more.

LCNC workshop

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9 Nov 2015

Communities shaping places: Castlefield Forum

Castlefield Forum is a great example of a community shaping a place in a city-centre conservation area. It is a voluntary, community group established with the key aim of making Castlefield an even better place for local residents, businesses, workers and visitors. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works or has an interest in Castlefield. Over 280 members receive regular email updates on Forum activities and projects and are invited to meetings and events.

Castlfield forum

Castlefield is located in the south/west of Manchester city centre. It is a distinctive and historically significant urban landscape.  The birthplace of Manchester, Castlefield holds the city’s Roman origins, the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world and the canals that drove the Industrial Revolution.

Once populated by families in closely packed Victorian terraced houses, wartime bombing and general dilapidation brought the properties to the end of their useful life and the families were moved out to new estates in the suburbs in the mid 20th century. City centre living is of course popular again now with a new generation of residents living in modern apartment blocks and converted mills and warehouses.

Our elected Committee meets every six weeks or so and feeds back to the wider Forum. The Committee has an Action Plan with wide-ranging aims, events and activities.  A number of Action Groups deliver various elements of the Action Plan including Events, Marketing and Media, Neighbourhood Plan, Garden Maintenance and Signage.  Recognising that not everyone wants to attend meetings, social media is a popular communication tool and we have over 1,900 followers on Twitter (@OurCastlefield). The Forum meets quarterly and meetings are open to all.

castlefield clean up

Whilst membership consists primarily of residents, many local businesses are active and supportive to our work. The three Ward Councillors for Manchester City Centre are also closely involved and supportive of our work.

Good relationships have been developed with the Local Authority, particularly in Neighbourhood Delivery where the Forum assists and often leads on environmental improvements and has a key role in maintaining the green spaces in the public realm. Resources such as Council community funding initiatives have been used to design and deliver new and replacement interpretation, an information leaflet for visitors and the development of a website www.ourcastlefield.co.uk

A Forum-led multi-agency group has turned around an overgrown, unsightly piece of land, rife with anti-social behavior into a delightful canalside green space with grow boxes of edible planting and an ‘Outstanding’ award from the Royal Horticultural Society ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ initiative.

Castlefield forum granary garden

A Crowdfunding initiative raised £19,000 in 90 days to progress plans to completely transform an area of public realm. The funding has enabled the Forum to commission the professional help needed to submit a credible planning application and ultimately, it is planned to submit a bid to Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out the significant works proposed.

The Forum is currently consulting locally on proposals for a Neighbourhood Plan as a community-led framework for guiding the future development, regeneration and conservation of Castlefield.  We actively encourage development in the area but also want to ensure that sensitive areas, such as the central canal basin, are treated appropriately.  We would want to influence urban design, the much-needed provision of affordable housing anfamily-sized accommodation. We also aspire to guide the provision of infrastructure such as community facilities, paths and open spaces. We are at an early stage but there is a strong desire to influence the long-term future of the place we work so hard to care for. This is practical placeshaping by an enthusiastic community.

Carol Middleton is the Chair of Castlefield Forum

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2 Nov 2015

Place: the sum of parts? Think piece #1

Place for a community to live

The upcoming Glass-House Manchester debate on ‘Place, a sum of parts?’ has made me reflect on my own particular arc of experience as a layabout, activist, parent, and now a community capacity builder. Manchester is my home, a place I have raised my kids, earned my living, and acted out that greatest of dramas ... living ‘in community’. Throughout this journey some questions continually return ... Who owns this? Who holds the power? Who has title... and who cares? Who enjoys the city and who enacts our inalienable right to the city? Who is my city for?

My Manchester journey began in 1981, a greenhorn student, newly arrived from London, with a youthful sense of liberation. Now I would choose my community. Who I engaged with, and they would all be just like me. Flocking, first to the student halls on Oxford Road, and then, by happy accident into the messed up paradise of 1970s deck access Hulme.

Wind it forward 10 years. I live opposite a little wooden shack. Levenshulme community centre, a home for the young and old, abandoned by a council that had other priorities. Run by single parents, the unemployed, do gooders and amateurs (like me).

Jez Hall Manchester

A place for a community to live. Births, deaths and marriages (well, a bit of snogging in the alley after the youth club.) Then our false hopes of a regeneration, of a partnership with the community. £9million of pounds of regeneration. We had such hopes. That the ‘power that be’ might take our need seriously. I watched the diggers go in. The nursery pictures still fluttered on the walls. The promised new community centre never came. Well, until a community eventually made it happen, years later, at the Inspire centre.

And another 20 years. My kids have flown the nest. Are doing what I did ... just somewhere else. And I am doing what I have always done. Taking part, joining groups, learning what makes others happy, because it might also work for me. My interests have changed, but my belief remains that ‘we can do that here’. Whatever that is. We have permission to act if we believe it enough. I’m never cynical. I refuse to be. For it is people that make place. Levenshulme today is little better looking in the physical sense, but living within this community is still vibrant. Good people still doing good things. Exploring new (and old) ideas, making relationships and caring for others. We believe we own our places and so we make them better.

I have learnt some things along the way... I’ll name a few and you can explore them for yourself.

Whole Earth catalogue: access to tools. The internet before the internet was conceived.
Community Technical Aid Centres: where architecture and a community intersected.
Participatory Budgeting: rebuilding our democracy from the bottom up by making people count.
Homes for Change: a vision of Hulme re-fashioned by Hulmites, that works.
Community Land Trusts: a movement for collective ownership for our common cause.

In a settled village or traditional community we can take time to build relationships and find ways to accommodate our differences. A big city is far more messy, complex and contested. Living ‘in community’ in a messed up city like Manchester is an art. One we have to learn and then practice. We must work out how to get along with strangers. Finding mutually agreeable boundaries, and then finding a way to reach over them and share what we have in common. Cities are magical places where new ideas and new possibilities flourish. Full of secret corners where ownership is uncertain. Maybe one day I’ll let you into a secret... a magical hidden place I love. Can I trust you not to muck it up?

Jez Hall is a founding director of Community Interest Company Shared Futures and a freelance consultant http://www.sharedfuturecic.org.uk/

Place: the sum of parts? The Glass-House Manchester Debate takes place on Wednesday 11 November 6-7.30pm.

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7 Oct 2015

Place: designed for sharing? Think piece #1

A place for everyone: socially engaged design and spaces

“The true purpose of architecture is to help make human existence meaningful”
Keith Bradley, The Happiness Inbetween, essay in Building Happiness.

The creation of places for everyone, socially engaged spaces and the people to inhabit them is something that has had somewhat of a revival recently – a renewed interest and growth in different ways of thinking and creating urban areas has developed new ways of improving and building neighbourhoods which rely on less.

Building socially sustainable places relies on environments that make us smile, that engage and encourage the acts of gathering and conversation. Driven by crisis, the trends towards openness and ownership: community led, open source, and co-creation; have not escaped the architectural profession. New approaches are redefining our roles and forcing everyone to think creatively about the way we work.

One of the most visible problems in the urban realm has been the inexorable rise in vacant land, which has the opportunity to allow imagination and creativity to explode. Derelict spaces offer unique moments for participatory urbanism, helping to support and grow socially sustainable approaches to the urban renewal process.

Producing projects within “stalled” sites has led to interesting outcomes, including a pop-up cinema with Glasgow Film Festival on the banks of the River Clyde, the development of permanent and temporary artworks along London Road for underused public realms; researching “Wastelands” with students across Europe; and, the development and build of a community garden in Glasgow with Maryhill Integration Network (mIN).

The ‘Many Hands Community Garden’ was developed with a core group formed of mIN service users and other local communities. The vision was to create an aesthetically pleasing, ambitious and aspirational garden space designed through conversation with the end users, including those who use the neighbouring Maryhill Community Centre as a base. The strategic design was developed as a masterplan for the community garden to be grown over phases in line with funding access, ensuring continual community involvement in the process of design and production.

Through workshops and direct contact with the gardeners, Pidgin Perfect allowed the community to visualise their ideas for a new external gardening area and generated designs. Our approach used a design-thinking approach to gather aspirations, from the practical to the wishful – including the hope for more tropical weather to grow dates and pineapples! Whilst not all of the outcomes of these workshops could be incorporated into the final designs, they were vital in the development of the core needs: variety of growing space, storage, shelter, flexibility and performance space.

The space was designed to be flexible and adapt to changing needs, in this vein since “completion” the community has been experimenting with the space and developing new areas within the wider strategy, this includes murals, an outdoor “xylophone” for use by the crèche and musical therapy groups, and additional planting areas as the skills of the gardeners has grown.

The finished garden creates a high quality permanent, mobile and adaptable planting, seating and storage elements that have a clear and simple aesthetic drawn from, and clearly identifiable as Maryhill. Planting includes a wide variety of flora, including sensory elements: smell, taste, sight and touch. The garden introduces seasonal and year round planting elements, enabling an annual programme of workshops and skill sharing as well as an interesting and pleasant outdoor space all year round. The space helps to promote local urban ecology including birds, urban animals and a wide variety of insects and other creepy crawlies, as well as providing a pleasant and relaxing, learning space for gardeners of all ages and needs.

Becca Thomas is a Director at Pidgin Perfect, an award winning multi disciplinary creative studio based in Glasgow, bringing together people, clients and place to help build better communities for everyone.

Place: designed for sharing? The Glass-House Edinburgh Debate takes place on Wednesday 21 October, 6-7.30pm.




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9 Sep 2015

New video! Workshop with London Community Neighbourhood Cooperative

London Community Neighbourhood Cooperative (LCNC) are a women-led group based in north west London who want to make a real difference to urban living through a holistic and sustainable approach. Recently, we supported the group with a one-day workshop to explore the design of their housing project and its relationship to the neighbourhood (LCNC are aiming to create a straw bale apartment building which will be intergenerational, with fair rent levels). The workshop also empowered the group with tools and skills to engage and involve their wider community in the project. This video shares their story and the impact of the workshop on their members.

Learn more about LCNC on their website.


Placemaking workshop with London Community Neighbourhood Cooperative from Glass-House Community Led Design on Vimeo.

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5 Aug 2015

Reflections from the Fifth Desk

Today is my last day of work with The Glass-House Community Led Design.

During my time with the organisation, I have learned about a wide range of topics related to placemaking, including the work of housing associations in the UK, the role of beauty and aesthetic appeal in neighbourhoods, asset mapping and play, devolution in local politics, urban farms, green spaces and parks, walkability, housing affordability and the ins and outs of working for a charity supporting participation and collaboration in the design of places.

Prior to arriving at The Glass-House office, I had only studied the theoretical notion of citizen involvement in the design of places without actually understanding the mechanisms to empower and inform residents to successfully transform their spaces. Although I praised development programs that prioritised community input, such as the widespread participatory planning in Salt Lake City, I was challenged by professors and peers who insisted that citizens are often not equipped to take active roles in design processes. Thanks to Lucia, Sophia, Louise and Maja, I now know about working with housing providers and developers to empower and engage communities and learned about the value of supporting people to uncover and mobilise assets in their communities.

As I became more and more familiar with London’s diverse regions, building my own sense of place composed of my favourite running routes and art exhibits, I was able to apply the concepts discussed in The Glass-House, to the streets around me. My mental map of London does not solely feature typical tourist destinations, but also a series of analyses regarding the places that I have considered with a critical lens.

I have found many places that I appreciate as high-quality hubs for safety, greenery and inclusion:

  • a walk on the Southbank at night with bustling animation and activity
  • a playground in the courtyard of my housing estate
  • a community centre in Bromley-by Bow that gives the local community a place to connect

I have also found places that I think could benefit from The Glass-House approach to become better resources for the people who live, work and play there:

  • a roundabout near our Old Street office that does not create a safe environment for pedestrians
  • gentrification in Brixton that is pushing out residents that have lived there for decades
  • a luxury apartment building in south London that disrupts the walking paths of residents

Although I have spent the last two months contemplating these places, I know that there is so much more of London left to be discovered. In fact, there is so much more of the world that is left to be explored - more people that care deeply about their places or could benefit from community-led design. But for now, I feel invigorated to have had the chance to sit at the additional desk that four dynamic women added to their power-filled pod of design skills, creativity, innovation and empathy. I will return to the US with a renewed passion for putting people into the heart of urban planning and seek to inject The Glass-House ethos into my continual quest.

Martha Learning Series

Martha Isaacs is a student of Geography of Human Activity and City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is interested in the built environment’s effect on mental and physical health, and has just completed a two-month internship with The Glass-House to learn more about placemaking in the UK.

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3 Aug 2015

To a More Ambitious Place: looking back to look forward

As we warm up for this year's Glass-House Debate Series, let's take a final look at where we ended the last Series, in March this year:

'To a More Ambitious Place' gave us ample scope to delve into our what we want for our places, bringing forward a range of voices and views, in four cities:

  • Glasgow / Does practice make perfect in place?
  • Sheffield / Do the right people have power in place?
  • Bristol / Is our view of place too short-sighted?
  • London / Do we accept the status quo in place?

The Series saw some strong advocacy for the need for experimentation and risk in placemaking. Academician and Bristol Strategic Director of Place, Barra MacRuairí told us that an over reliance on rules curbed creativity and innovation, with the audience reminding us that ‘buildings are for life, not just the planning process.’ It was suggested that a more value-based approach could unlock value in place. In London we heard that policy sometimes drives out innovation and experimentation.

Consensus formed across the debates when the topic turned to collaboration. Audiences shared their experiences of the failure of infrastructure to value participation by local communities – with structures that ignored it and sometimes worked against it. Leslie Barson of London Community Housing Co-operative reminded us that ‘community leadership makes power disperse and diffuse.’ And at the Bristol debate we were reminded of the recipe for success: An inclusive conversation = a good brief = good design.

Can communities lead a process? Pauline Gallacher, Convener of the Scottish Community Alliance, declared ‘We have proven we can do it [lead process]’. Also on the Glasgow panel was Head of Mackintosh School of Architecture, Chris Platt, who lauded the ‘heroes’ like Pauline who can speak the different languages necessary to make things happen in different places (community, local government, private sector…). In Bristol the panel and audience discussed the value of the ‘pop up’ concept as a way to answer the call to innovation and enable greater participation.

Moving to the barriers to participation, the Sheffield debate suggested there is a need for civic governance to support diversity in community leadership: ‘people struggling to earn a living are further disadvantaged by not even being able to contemplate participating’. In London, we heard about the ‘emotional toll’ that leading projects takes on volunteers and how unrewarding processes can feel. We also talked policy and democracy – with Leslie Barson telling us that cities were not for people, but ‘for investment’, with all the impact this has on communities and projects.

Many felt the systems in place didn’t enable communities – and that the solution was more openness, collaboration and creativity. Some also lauded the value of rules and regulation in supporting the creation of great places and advocated starting from the top to change outcomes. Barra MacRuairí questioned whether the public really trusted the people in power to be experimental and innovate.

Other speakers and audiences felt that we need not rely on local government – that they could enable processes without doing them. And in Sheffield, our speaker Tony Stacey, Chief Executive of South Yorkshire Housing Association and Chair of Placeshapers, argued for the need for local organisations that support communities and understand what makes a particular place unique and special.

A hum of agreement rippled through the room in our London debate when an audience member told us that deferring to the state, not taking up the mantle of community-led work undermined our capacity to function as real communities. And Andrew Carter, of the Centre for Cities, left us with a question to challenge the placemaker in all of us: ‘Who is going to be the maker of change?’

 A version of this article recently appeared in the spring edition of the Academy of Urbanism Journal, Here & Now.

The Glass-House Debate Series 'A Place for Everyone?' 2015/16 will take us to Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham and London, and starts in October 2015. Contact our Marketing and Events Manager, Lucia for more information or to get involved.




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20 Mar 2015

Do we accept the status quo in place? A round-up of our London debate

“We are both too ambitious and not ambitious enough” opened our first speaker, Alastair Donald on Wednesday at our fourth and final debate in this year’s Series To a More Ambitious Place. The British Council Director for the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale told us firmly that design in placemaking was suffering from "mission creep", by embracing the doctrine of “salvation by brick” and entering the realm of social engineering. By doing so, designers have lost ambition to drive design solutions that can “accommodate” the choices people want to make. Our other two speakers - Andrew Carter of Centre for Cities and Leslie Barson of the London Community Housing Co-operative, also questioned our ambitions for places. Andrew was clear that it is self-determinism and not the state that will encourage ambition, and innovation. Whilst Leslie questioned carefully the nature of ambition - is it always good? “We should use our ambitions to help the not powerful”, she declared, to a receptive room, “it doesn’t matter how much we demand if we demand the wrong things.” 

London debate 18 March

Our debate quickly moved into a discussion of democracy and the politics of place. Andrew critiqued a bland and neutral “average policy that drives out innovation and experimentation”. His solution? Decentralisation. But not all the audience (in the room and on twitter) were convinced this was the magic wand we need, citing amongst other things, London as an example of devolution that hasn’t worked for place. We debated the merits of governing authorities in creating great places and some in the room felt rules and regulation did make for a pleasant status quo. Stronger were the voices calling for less managerialism (which they argued was often undemocratic) and for an approach led by the community.

And what of communities? Leslie argued they were priced out of place by the cost of land and the power of the “elite” - we are “playthings in a game, the rules of which we often don’t even understand and have had no part in making”, she stated, “The city isn’t for people - it’s for investment”. We talked economics and the role of cities in our national economy, but our audience also reflected on the human cost of the status quo. We heard the stories of people ground down by inadequate engagement processes that made taking ownership in a place feel like a battle. Placemaking can take an “emotional toll” on communities engaging in these processes said one audience member, another told us “I feel beaten down by having to engage on so many levels to achieve something”.

Yet, all our three speakers, with supportive nods and noises from the audience, agreed that people deferring responsibility to the state undermined our capacity to work as real communities. We addressed the role of individual agency and its influence on placemaking and communities: “Leadership by a community makes power disperse and diffuse” Leslie told us. Alastair argued that the primary issue was not matters like the privatisation of public space and ownership in this way, but a more fundamental question of our culture. We have “undermined” individual autonomy and have become more “suspicious of fellow citizens”. To regain a sense of the city "we need ambiguity, tolerance and citizenship” he concluded. Andrew asked the room “who is going to be the maker of change?” and it was clear that Leslie’s comment that when she got frustrated by the system that she “just did something” resonated in the room.

Have we accepted the status quo? Clearly many in our audience are and have been battling it. Yet it seems we agreed that we have as a community taken a back seat at times - leaving things to someone else. If we want places to change, our speakers, and audience, sounded a call for us to stand up and challenge the status quo. Taking a very small daily example of how we accept what’s happening and don’t take responsibility, Andrew told us: “Next time someone on the bus has their headphones on too loud, ask them to turn them down.” Then - maybe next time things will be different.


This was the final Debate in our 2014/15 Series. To a More Ambitious Place explored the barriers to realising our ambitions for great places in four cities; Glasgow, Sheffield, Bristol and London.

We are currently preparing our 2015/16 Debate Series. if you would like to contribute as a sponsor, partner or speaker or would like to share thoughts on the possible content, email our Marketing and Events Manager, Lucia das Neves

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16 Mar 2015

To a More Ambitious Place: Do we accept the status quo in place? Think piece #2

An amateur planner: asset or a hazard?

Challenging the status quo by using the tool of neighbourhood planning could involve making amateur planners of us all. But are we an asset or a hazard?

I’m 63 and until very recently had never been involved with planning – although the concept of ‘place-making’ has always had appeal; you know it when you see it! But three years ago, faced with plans for 600 new houses in a Vale of White Horse village of just 1000 homes, I decided to show an active, probably over-active, interest. This, very briefly, is my experience of an adventure into the status quo of placemaking.

Ours is a much more mixed community than the ‘Oxfordshire Village’ might imply – with a large and poorly integrated chunk of 1950s council housing stuck one side of the former A34 and a more affluent conservation area well hidden on the other. The result is a poor demonstration of the planner’s art. The naked truth is that placemaking was an accidental business which preceded the planners and which is only now being relearnt.

Faced with the option of leaving things to the professionals it took a group of ten of us – 50 per cent from the Parish Council and 50 per cent from a village charity – just minutes to decide that we’d create our own ambitious Plan (a Neighbourhood Development Plan in the jargon). It’s taken three years, thousands of hours and hundreds of folk involved in every sort of consultation imaginable. Here, in a nutshell, is what we’ve discovered.

It’s now unimaginable that we’d ever go back to the old system whereby landowners, developers and planners agree things between themselves. Add ‘the folk who live here’ to this cocktail and everything changes – most of it for the better.

Our four-way coalition has been local democracy in action and consequentially difficult. But the result – including 254 new homes to be built over 16 years – has been achieved by consensus (91% in favour on a Referendum turnout of 34% just last week).

Our partners, and in particular the developers and planners, are unanimous that the new ‘super bits of village’ which we have designed together are simply better places than if the professionals had been left to their own devices. The ‘amateurs’ may have been aggravating or worse but the professionals have certainly enjoyed the experience. ‘What I came in to this business to do’ would be a typical assessment.

Planning legislation and the way it is applied in practice makes it almost incomprehensible to outsiders. We have a community that has thrown up professional people of all disciplines and we have an outstanding Parish Clerk. Without them we would have been lost. Things can certainly be made more transparent and user-friendly and some of the interminable jargon eliminated; planning is not something best left to university trained professionals.

The next phase of Neighbourhood Planning methodology must find ways in which less than 600 pages of NDP Report and Appendices are required for examination by the independent examiner. These were written by us, amateurs, on the insistence of professionals. They were read in their entirety by less than a dozen individuals.

Our three-year investment has been achieved on a shoestring (somehow most of the government cash stuck to the local authority), but has left behind a plan and a ‘can-do’ climate in our community that could not have been achieved pre-localism. By responding to the status quo, we have changed things for the community.

And to the question about the hazards of amateur planners I would simply say that planning is too serious a matter to be left exclusively to the professionals. Us amateurs, are once again, essential ingredients.

Sir Tom Shebbeare is Chairman of Virgin Money Giving, Virgin StartUp and Spring Films Ltd. Tom also chairs the board of the Royal Parks Foundation, and until 2011, was Director of The Prince's Charities, the largest multi-cause enterprise in the UK.

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13 Mar 2015

To a More Ambitious Place: Do we accept the status quo in place? Think piece #1

The question put forth is 'Do we accept the status quo in place?' My question is what status quo do we refer to? The status quo that place is intrinsic, characteristic and essentially emerges from our own humanity? Or the status quo that has become so prevalent due to our misunderstanding of what it means to plan and build a city, forgetting about the human and cultural element?

Facing these two questions I have always taken the stance for the first against the second. Cities and place are not self-functioning, self-governing mechanical entities that get planned and built through the will of architects, planners, politicians and developers. Cities are living entities as diverse and irrational as the people who live in them and build them as time passes. Cities are not just brick and mortar, infrastructure and transport. Cities only become cities and places with the people and cultures that get layered over the architecture and inhabit the white spaces in between. Cities are the framework where the memories of the people are written and the senses intermingle to create experiences that form our cultures. They are vibrant, alive, diverse and amazingly ever-changing.

We should not forget that spaces and physical environments fashion and force behaviours, and behaviours eventually become cultural norms. The way people behave in a manipulated space is to adapt to the constraints of the space they are in.  Nevertheless, this power to adapt and transform should not be taken as a form of consent and acceptance. Traditionally, culture formed the built environment and cities, and these elements formed an intrinsic link that bound them together.

With the advent of modernism, culture and the human element seem to have been taken out of the equation while designing the city and the built environment. This forced people to live in cities designed in the minds of the planners and architects, rather than fashioned through the stories and lives of the inhabitants. This shift has forced people and cultures to adapt to the constraints imposed upon them by the container of their experiences. These spaces and cities have been slowly transforming cultures, making them more uniform, more flat, less diverse and less unique.

To add to the effects of modern and contemporary architecture and planning, we also have the advent of technology, which has managed to isolate people from each other, especially in the cityscape, rather than create social networks. So the human and cultural engagements that used to take place in the squares, the plazas, the buildings and the street, pretend to happen in a virtual space which has been rendering our streets more and more like transient arteries rather than beating hearts.

Through the way we have been designing, planning and engineering our cities we have been systematically erasing our cultural diversity and turning into ‘Metropolis’.

As we look at enhancing and building the cities for our future and the future of the generations to come, we should not accept the current status quo we have found ourselves in. We should put people and cultures (since the city is never a monolithic culture) at the heart of the equation, and exercise and design our cities for them and through their perspective. We should take the risk to imagine a different place, a better place and stop thinking that it is acceptable to do it in one particular way, since this is how it is done, the ‘Best Practice’. Best practices are what kill any potential inventions and innovations which will lead us to creating places that we only dream of.

Let’s be a lot more demanding, a lot more imaginative and even more humanistic. Let’s look for the answers in where we have stopped looking: at the people who have been there and will still be there. Let’s listen to their needs and their ambitions, to their histories and cultures, to their stories and memories. Let’s encase all that knowledge and all that life in what are the cities of our future. And THEN imagine how smart our cities will be.

Semar blog image

Samar is Creative Director at Factors Ltd, focused on building place-based user experiences that are collaborative, multidisciplinary and holistic. She has worked on projects across the world including China, Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK.

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6 Feb 2015

To a More Ambitious Place: Is our view of place too short-sighted? Think piece #2

If places are designed to be both people-centric and environmentally resilient it’s difficult to be too short-sighted. However, there can be a gulf between aspiration and delivery – as the performance art that opened Bristol Green Capital 2015, challenged us – how do we 'bridge the gap'?

There is almost total synergy between places that foster human interaction, support active travel and create joy and delight, and places that are environmentally resilient. This was no more apparent than in my recent visit to Antwerp, where I met with public and private sector city planners, urban designers, architects and residents.

In Antwerp’s Groen Kwartier (Green Quarter), a garden city approach has turned a good place into a great one. This former Ministry of Defence site, has been re-developed to reach residential densities of 80-90 dph. Contemporary design blends effortlessly with the rejuvenated and restored listed military hospital. But most strikingly, 50 per cent of the site coverage is green - green roofs, garden terraces, wildflowers, trees, and lawns replace the often dominant car parking spaces and tarmac.

Cars are parked underground, but the cycle and public transport offer is now so good that many of the new residents decide they no longer need to own a car. Landscape Architect Michel Desvigne has carefully selected tree species ideal for summer shading and spring blossom; ornate metal trellises provide support for vines that form summer canopies and shelter personalised front yards and orchards have been planted for children to pick fruit together in the autumn.

Groen Kwartier2

In Antwerp’s Park Spoor Nord is a stunning 24 hectare new public park created from former railway land, a deal was struck with developers to provide a huge amount of public open space alongside residential development,. Central to the park is Cargo Zomebar, a café which looks out onto a public water feature which is both a play space and a mechanism for hugely effective summer cooling.

Park Spoor Nord

Many of Antwerp’s existing public spaces have undergone dramatic transformation, parts of Theatreplein, a large public square that hosts markets, have become an urban forest, with tree canopies and forest floors replacing 1970s brutalism. The microclimate is transformed, and problems of flash-flooding resolved. Rainwater collected on the market square canopy waters the plants, rather than filling the drains. The space has been reinvented and the results are stunning.


Antwerp Stad (City Council) distil their approach to urban development in their manta of 'slow urbanism'. Their idea that incremental change (often started small scale, by individuals), and initially small deviations in design approaches can have a high cumulative impact, is a powerful one – plus it works! They built their city-wide cycle network from nothing on this basis over the past 10 years. I think this mantra resonates strongly with Bristol, a city where grassroots community activism on green issues has culminated in the City being recognised as European Green Capital. I’m optimistic that by creating places that are environmentally resilient, we can do a lot to improve places for people – for the long-term.

Cleo is a Town Planner and Urban Designer, based in Bath. Cleo is one of the founders of Bath Green Homes, and co-chairs the West of England Sustainable Construction Network (WESCON). She is a visiting lecturer at Geography Department at Bath Spa University, and a member of the Bristol Green Capital Place Partnership.

All images © Cleo Newcombe-Jones

Is our view of place too short-sighted? The Bristol Debate takes place on 11 February from 6-7.30pm.

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6 Feb 2015

To a More Ambitious Place: Is our view of place too short-sighted? Think piece #1

Today we continue to see a trend of one mega structure replaced by another; we go from one quick-fix to the next. This is an approach quite visible in London today, when rather than attempt to rehabilitate what we already have, demolition is often the favoured response; this has been the source of the recent protests in the city.

Projects with predetermined fixed time lines also dominate – they are unflinching and inflexible – with still not enough (sincere) focus on process, or on trying to coax out the pre-existing qualities of place.

Why is this the case?

Is this political? Are these quick-fixes, or big solutions in an attempt to simplistically demonstrate that ‘we’ are taking action – attempting to tackle whatever problem or need resulted in the then response?

Or perhaps our short-sighted tendencies are the result of institutional constraints? This can be seen in the way in which we are forced to compromisingly quantify projects and development plans - with a focus on product rather than process - in order to secure funding. 

Or is this in fact the ego of the master planner – the council, the architect – wanting to oversee the project from start to finish; leaving their own branded mark?

In order to truly collaborate it is necessary to rid oneself of the human desire to wholly control or possess. We must cultivate instead a culture of sharing, of open-source. We must push towards more transparency and better ways of communicating. For this to occur, we must establish a common language that transcends disciplines and professions. This is necessary for true collaboration – between councils, developers, architects and community groups. We must come out of our silos and see ourselves as contributing collaborators in a long-term process, with citizens at the core.

We should go to those inherently in possession of a long-sighted vision – communities – after all they will remain once the project is 'complete'.

For communities ‘legacy’ is as important as the planning and delivery, and their involvement in a project can work to foster a collective sense of ownership and responsibility for the long-term stewardship of place. When developments are top-down, the funding and wages tend to go, in the large part, to the delivery, and to the ‘product’, rather than to legacy – this is essentially a ‘short-sighted vision’. 

Providing a point of comparison to the approach taken in the UK are progressive Netherlands projects, such as the Kleiburg apartment block in the Bijlmer Estate, Amsterdam. Planner-strategist Martijn Blom, partnering with NL Architects' Kamiel  Klaasse, devised a DIY self-build strategy to rejuvenate the building and assign it a new lease of life. This was steered by the people living within. They combined re-use with participatory processes.

Martijn Blom Klieburg apartment block Amsterdam

Indeed creative ‘re-use’ or ‘renovation’ is an exemplary form of long-sighted thinking. It looks to the past and present, and attempts to mimic an organic, evolutionary process in the built environment fostering a sense of the evolving identity of place. Characteristic architectural features remain, whilst updating enables present-day demands to be met. This is not only the source of much local character, but also works to reassuringly provide a sense of stability to citizens, that is most welcome when everything else around is changing at such a rapid rate.
An alternate long-sighted approach is to attempt to build in flexibility into a plan - so that the plan is able to adapt with changing needs or societal fluctuations. This is visible, for example, in the urban development process for the de-funct Berlin airfield Tempelhof that now exists as a public park.

The time-phased nature of the redevelopment process - responsive and flexible as it endeavours to be – allows interim creative activities and uses. These have in turn been assigned the agency to influence the long-term planning process and future development of the park.

Berlin airfield Tempelhof

For long-sighted approaches to be able to flourish, we need our structures reassessed. ‘Process’ must be put on par with ‘product’. This is about a fine-tuning of a long term process, one that is continually updated in accordance to feedback and interventions. This is the mindset that can then enable a number of long-sighted approaches.

Katy Hawkins completed a Master of Research in Inter-Disciplinary Urban Design in 2014, where she conducted research into community participation in Peckham, South London. She is an Associate at Something Good, Something Useful and is Events Executive at The Academy of Urbanism.

All images © Katy Hawkins

Is our view of place too short-sighted? The Bristol Debate takes place on 11 February from 6-7.30pm.


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6 Oct 2014

Does practice make perfect in place? Glasgow debate round up.

“Places are what happen when you’re busy doing other things,” told us Pauline Gallacher at our Debate in Glasgow titled Does practice make perfect in place? Pauline, recently confirmed as Convener of the Scottish Community Alliance and previously of the Neilston Development Trust, talked of the collision of ritual and conviviality in place – the feeling was that that the creative chaos of placemaking necessarily needs trial and error, “of course practice makes perfect, but there’s no point if there are no opportunities to practice” chimed Head of Mackintosh School of Architecture, Chris Platt. And our vocal audience agreed.

Etive Currie, Senior Planner at Glasgow City Council, told us that people need permission to fail, if we are to create opportunities for dialogue and progress. But we don’t give them that opportunity. Why? We were reminded that communities are often coming to placemaking on the back foot – responding to opportunities and threats and not necessarily working in a structured way. Then they fall foul of our bureaucracy.

Our speakers and audience (including many public sector professionals) reached the consensus that the public sector does not value dialogue and collaboration, and that even when they have the input from communities to inform activities, it isn’t always used. Risk aversion and the fact that we often reward it, was seen as stifling creativity and preventing us nurturing the talent coming through. “We don’t provide our young practitioners with opportunities,” Chris Platt told us, “we have a whole generation of talent with limited opportunities because of the policies we have in place”. And when the journey to create something in the built environment is so long and hard, Chris went on, our procurement methods disable us.

On the effects of policy on individuals and communities, we heard that they “have allowed people to become passive recipients, rather than active agents” in their society, again, they disable.

How could we change things? Pauline was firm: “We [communities] have proven we can do it – that we can move mountains, now we need to move to the next level – ‘modest institutionalisation’”. There was a call for us make the case better for participation and a different way of doing things. “We need more scientific evidence” said one voice in the room.

Chris lauded the ‘heroes’ we have in communities who can speak the different languages necessary to make things happen in different places (community, local government, private sector…). But those polyglots can’t exist in evenings and weekend only – we need to stop being “complicit in the lie” that it can be done for free. “It should not be charity”, concluded Chris, with much support in the room from those with experience of community-led initiatives. There seemed to be a distinction emerging between what’s always been termed ‘capacity’, which many in the room felt is already there, and the way our processes enable funds to be directed to enable that capacity to realise itself.

How can we make this happen? There was consensus that if the political will existed, money would be directed to allow the necessary structures and scale to develop. We must “shake the tree of local government” declared Pauline, suggesting we need to unlock and unleash the layers of power that will enable progress and achievement.

But the culture change required is “massive” emphasised Etive and “a slow process”. There was plenty in the Glasgow Debate that challenged the status quo and that we can move forward as this Debate Series progresses. Chris left us with a clear parting call to action: “If we care enough, we will just do it.”

Our Debate Series To a More Ambitious Place continues in Sheffield next month, with the question Do the right people have power in place? Join the discussion in person or online.

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8 Sep 2014

Towards a more open dialogue around place

Recently many place organisations and institutions have met to discuss the desire for collective action and stewardship on place, prompted by The Farrell Review of Architecture + The Built Environment (1). Emerging from this is the idea of a new Place Alliance.

My vision for a Place Alliance is an open network of people and organisations that are passionate about the quality of place. This alliance should connect ideas, action and resources, creating a shared space for open and inclusive dialogue, encouraging and supporting cross-pollination and collaborative action, and drawing on a holistic view and experience of place. 

It should invite the designers, users, custodians, managers and those who maintain place to be part of the conversation and part of the solution to improving the quality of our places. It would bring together built environment professionals with those who have led community-based initiatives, local authority chief executives or officers, parks maintenance providers, academics, students etc. Anyone who is passionate about this should simply be able to sign up and join in, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, profession and so on.

This approach is based on the notion of cultural change, of a movement of people and organisations standing up and saying that place is important and that they want to work together to make great places a reality for everyone.

To be free of any one organisation’s agenda, the structure to support this alliance should not sit within an existing body, though any new body should be small, nimble and there to support, rather than lead the alliance.

At a time in which we are all striving towards sustainability, and towards making the most out of our ever more challenged resources, let’s look at what we have and how best to use it. All over the UK we have individuals and organisations leading by example in place. The question is how best we can harness that energy, knowledge and action and help it grow.


(1) The Farrell Review of Architecture + The Built Environment was undertaken in 2013 by Sir Terry Farrell by invitation of Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. The review looked at collective efforts in the UK to plan and design the built environment and engaged government, institutions, agencies, industry and members of the public. farrellreview.co.uk.

In July 2014, The Big Meet event was held at Bartlett UCL, convened by Professor Matthew Carmona.  This event brought together representatives from some 80 organisations with an interest in quality of place to explore the recommendations of the Farrell Review and what a new place leadership for England might look like.

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21 May 2014

New partnership between The Glass-House and The Open University's Design Group

We’re delighted to announce that The Glass-House and The Design Group at The Open University have embarked on a strategic partnership that will innovate, support and promote community-led, participatory and co-design practice for the benefit of better places for all.  This partnership will bring together the skills, resources and outreach of the University and our national charity through collaborative action research, public dialogue and support for projects within communities across the UK.

The Glass-House/Open University partnership benefits from a firm foundation of three years' collaboration (on eight different projects) in participatory action research funded under the Connected Communities Programme, by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The Glass-House Team has been granted Visiting Fellow status at The Open University, and we have identified a number of joint projects through which both our organisations can extend learning, reach and impact through collaboration.

Speaking about the partnership, Glass-House Chief Executive Sophia de Sousa said:

“The Glass-House sees this as an opportunity to embed our learning within a university of international acclaim which shares our passion for design practices that empower people, as well as our values around access and empowerment. Our work to date with the Design Group has shown that there is enormous potential for to create new opportunities for innovation and shared learning.”

From Professor Jeff Johnson of the Design Group, The Open University:

"The Design Group at the Open University is very excited to be working with The Glass-House on a variety of ideas and projects. Our organisations are both complementary and synergetic and we look forward to working on many new joint projects in the future."

Some of the work we've done collaboratively with the Open University to date:

Community Design Exchange

An ongoing exploration for an online platform that allows communities to celebrate their projects and achievements and share knowledge and learning with others embarking on a collaborative project to improve a local open space, community building, housing or a neighbourhood. Visit the beta site: www.communitydesignexchange.org


Scaling up co-design research and practice:

In a spirit of experimentation, collaboration and skills exchange, we’ve worked with Silent Cities, a social enterprise based in Sheffield that builds creative environments where silent voices can flourish. The Community Journalists who emerged from the 2013 Silent Cities programme then co-delivered an innovative workshop with young people in Elephant and Castle to help them explore their local neighbourhood and notions of place through photography, filmmaking and interview skills. We also injected place thinking and expertise into the work of MA students in Design and Innovation and Design and Branding Strategy at Brunel University.

Scaling upOU
Students making a film with Silent Cities and The Glass-House during our media workshop

Unearth Hidden Assets through Community Co-Design and Co-Production:

We’ve been supporting Tidworth Mums, an incredibly proactive voluntary group of army and civilian mums based in the garrison town of Tidworth, in Wiltshire in their efforts to improve the experiences of local people with children in the area. With the support of the project, the group continue to increase their influence and voice in local decision-making and placemaking and we've also helped them connect with other advocates and groups who support the value of play for families.

Children create their ideal play spaces at the Mega Soft Play day in February 2014

For more information about the partnership please contact Communications Manager, Louise Dredge on louise@theglasshouse.org.uk.

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14 May 2014

Secrets of Buildings - The Glass-House featured in FX Magazine

In this month's FX Magazine, writer Veronica Simpson reviews "a few pioneering consultancies [who] have helped to ensure more people-focused practices and better outcomes."

The Glass-House was delighted to be included as one of the "secret agents" and we shared views on our practice and experience, and the value of putting people at the heart of design processes.

Download the article here.


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15 Nov 2013

Place Potential Think Piece Series: Can young people be placemakers?

As a Town Planner by trade, I know all too well that placemaking isn’t easy for anyone anywhere.  It involves a lot of discussion, evidence, consultation, involvement and most importantly decision-making.  In recent years, the government has continued to apply pressure to engage people in planning ensuring they are involved and have their say.  The pinnacle of this has been the Coalition Government thinking around ‘Localism’, ‘Big Society’ and ‘Community Rights’.  Never has the planning system been so open to community involvement with the option for people to initiate and take part in Neighbourhood Planning, Community Right to Build Orders, Community-led Developments and many more.  The whole aim is for communities to become closer to the action.

All of this sounds heartening, but what has any of this got to do with young people?  Young people are part of our communities but they are rarely given the same opportunities to get involved in such matters as adults are.  In my opinion, this needs to change.

Jen 3

Engaging young people in planning is an important and worthwhile task.  Young people are as much a part of our communities as anyone else and they’re going to be living in our cities, towns and villages for a long time.  Young people also have plenty of useful comments to make about their area – they do genuinely care and want to be involved.  It can also benefit young people through raising their awareness of planning issues, helping them feel more connected to their communities, developing a sense of identity and developing their skills and knowledge.  We need to make sure that people (not just planners) realise the need for young people to be involved. 

Last year, I spoke with around 60 children aged 13-14 to find out their thoughts about town planning and their responses astounded me:

My question:  Do you think it is important for young people to have a say in the area in which they live, play and go to school?  If yes, why?

Response:  96% of students said yes, it was important and their top 5 responses were:
-    Improve the area for future generations
-    They live there and so should have a say
-    To improve the area
-    Young people should have the same rights as adults
-    Everyone’s opinions should count

 Jen 4

The students wanted to know more about transport, heritage and conservation, open spaces, environment, neighbourhood planning and much more.

Is that what you were expecting?  Their responses speak for themselves – they want to be involved and they have things to say.

Jen 2

I’m not saying it is always an easy process – engaging any community isn’t easy – but attempts to engage young people in the past have often made the situation worse.  Steaming into a place with a top-down approach where young people aren’t valued as equal partners to adults and generally aren’t trusted, creates a very difficult situation.  It not only damages that particular project, but also their interest and willingness to become involved in other initiatives.  It’s also important to recognise the value that young people’s opinions have and ensuring they are all taken into consideration or it risks becoming tokenistic and young people can sense that pretty quickly!

Jen 1

I think people jump to conclusions that young people aren’t interested and wouldn’t know what to say but if we just ask them, you’d be surprised at the answer.  The next step is to then engage them in the right way, using the right methods that speak to young people that they can connect to and be part of.  This brings me back to my own work to do more research into the topic and to champion young people’s involvement in my working career too which should hopefully raise awareness of the importance of engaging young people and allowing them to be placemakers.

Jen Marriott is a young planning graduate working in the third sector on community involvement in the historic environment at North of England Civic Trust.

Our Newcastle debate on Wednesday 20 November 2013 asks 'Can young people be placemakers?'.

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13 Nov 2013

Place Potential Think Piece Series: Can young people be placemakers?

This question makes me want to shout a resounding YES! I believe that the people best placed to shape change in their neighbourhood are those who live, work and play there and this includes people of all ages, from all backgrounds.  To me this is a little like asking ‘can anybody be a placemaker?’ Well of course they can and they should be encouraged to.

Very often it is young people who are using our public spaces at all times of day and all seasons of the year – even the days when we are safely tucked up inside staying warm, they fearlessly brave the outdoors. It is certainly tough being at an  age without money of your own, and with no definitive place to spend free time outside of the home, so where are they meant to go? Many people feel seriously concerned if young people are out in public ‘loitering’ in groups of more than two - I find that almost discriminating. It is no small coincidence that shopping centres act as informal meeting places for young people; they provide a warm and dry alternative to being in a park or on a street corner.


The mistrust of young people influencing anything concerns me.  If we really want people to have a civic voice to get involved in change in their neighbourhoods, why would we dictate that this can only start once considered an adult? I am sure I am not alone in wanting better quality places but I think we need to encourage more demand for such places and support people to raise their awareness of what is possible at any age.


If we really want to change the way that people influence the public spaces that are created and embed a philosophy of community led design then I think we need to map out how we get this to happen and what better place to start than with young people?  ‘The youth of today’ will be looking after public places in the future so we need to involve them and have them share the responsibility rather than creating spaces people feel no attachment for in the future.


Often the vibrancy and ‘people watching’ we enjoy in our public spaces is generated by the young - okay perhaps my parents and their friends are just as capable of providing some gawping opportunities in public! Yet it is young people that society seems to feel the most collective concern towards being outside and yet they provide so much joy, energy and fresh experiences when they are given permission to use public spaces in a public way.

One of the best feelings for a designer is seeing something you’ve drawn or modeled realized, but it is even better when you have worked closely with a group of young people whose voices are so often ignored and you see their pride when a project finishes and they say ‘I made that’.


Catherine is a Glass-House Enabler and Founder and Director of make:good, a design agency that puts people at the heart of change in the neighbourhood.  Working with people of all ages, Catherine is particularly passionate about engaging young people in projects and ensuring that their often ignored voice is heard.

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4 Nov 2013

How can we learn something from every experience with place and the communities that shape them?

The irony of it. The day after returning from our debate in Edinburgh exploring the relationship between place and health and wellbeing, I found myself with a cast on my foot, having to navigate London on crutches. While tackling patched up pavements, I was reminded of one of the key themes from our conversation in Edinburgh. Simply put, we have the knowledge and technology to make places better accommodate our needs, improve our quality of life and bring us delight, yet so often we choose not to use it. 

Why do our places not support healthy, happy people? There is quite often a lack of will, be it political will, the commercial will to invest in quality or our own will as consumers of place to demand more.

Recently, we delivered a collaborative workshop with Silent Cities’ Community Journalists programme in Sheffield through the collaborative research project Scaling up co-design research and practice. Working with a diverse group of people facing isolation and exclusion, we used their newly acquired media skills to explore our emotional and sensory relationship with place, and its ability to influence social inclusion or exclusion. Our expert witness, George Perfect from the Bespoken network, shared his personal experience of how his relationship with place changed following a debilitating stroke that left him in a wheelchair. I realise now, in my limited and only temporary experience of disability, that so much of the access provision for wheelchairs, visual impairments and other mobility issues, creates new obstacles for those on crutches and canes.

Where should that balance lie to support different and often conflicting communities of interest? Much of our current work is exploring that. With that same research project we are helping young people in Elephant and Castle explore their role in placemaking, not merely as consultees but as ambassadors and enablers of a dialogue that engages a diverse representation from their community. I also think of Tidworth Mums, a community-based organisation of predominantly army wives who are actively engaging with their local authority and local garrison to improve the relationship they and their children have with a place that has taken them away the family and social networks most of us take for granted. I am thrilled that The Glass-House participation in the collaborative research project, Unearthing hidden assets through co-design and co-production, means that we are able to work with Tidworth Mums to unlock the potential of playful environments to improve health and wellbeing in Tidworth.

And now as I head off to Japan, to visit communities whose family networks and physical infrastructure were devastated by the tsunami in 2011, I wonder about that balance of what is possible and what is sustainable in terms of reconstruction. Can the Japanese government (both national and local) work collaboratively with both the young and ageing populations of the affected communities to ensure the wellbeing of the people who want to rebuild their towns and villages, while tackling the practicalities of rebuilding the necessary physical infrastructure in a place at high risk of future natural disasters?

I also wonder how we ensure that we learn something from every experience with place and the communities that shape them.  Despite the fact that every place and every person within it is different, how do we ensure that there is something that is relevant and useful to extract and share with others?

On this trip I will take what we have learned supporting participatory design and collaborative placemaking in the UK to an entirely different social, economic and environmental context. I will endeavour to bring back stories from Japan that inspire and challenge us to do all that we can to improve the quality of our places in the UK.

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27 Aug 2013

Volunteer Voices: How collaboration can help a community transform derelict land into a thriving green space

One of the most exciting aspects of community-led design projects is being able to witness the process that turns a conceptual idea into a vision, its development and implementation. Celebrating a group’s achievements is always a delightful moment, but even more, is the opportunity to share the narrative of the journey, the ups and downs, the challenges and the learning outcomes with people embarking in a similar project.

How can collaboration and participatory engagement help a community transform a derelict piece of land into a thriving local green space that welcomes a diverse mix of users?

FFoG blog 2

Last week we had the pleasure to visit Fortune Green as part of The Glass-House Hosted Study Tours.  Mark Stonebanks, the Friends of Fortune Green group leader and Gerald Openheim, an active member, presented their experience to a group of ten attendees, a mix of community groups looking for some insights, tips and inspiration to feed into their own community projects, and professionals involved in community-led design.

The day started with an overview of the Fortune Green project, its different phases and how the collaboration with Camden Council was crucial for the completion of each of phase and the overall success of the process. Even though every project might start with an end goal, design is an ongoing journey rather then the end result. One of Mark’s top tips was to proceed step-by-step. Have a big vision but start with short-term feasible objectives, especially if the funds are tight.The group’s experience showed that small achievements can serve to reboot the motivation of a group, increase participation and unlock further funding.

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The walk in the park was a striking proof of the inclusive mix of users that the project has achieved. At the beginning of their community-led design journey the Green was an underused derelict place where no one would want to spend their time. Now it is a beautiful and welcoming place for local residents, parents with children, joggers and elderly people. Over time the community developed a strong sense of ownership for the place, resolving in a set of positive unwritten rules of civic and mutual respect.

The afternoon of our event saw participants actively involved in a workshop led by Katerina Alexiou, a researcher from the Open University, with the aim of getting attendees to share their own projects’ narratives through Community Design Exchange, a peer-to-peer digital network to showcase, celebrate and inspire community-led design projects.

FFoG blog

The activity fostered engaging conversations between the different community members and professional in the room, which we hope will be carried forward and inspire future collaborations and peer-to-peer support.

If you want to read more about Friends of Fortune Green and the other participants’ stories or share your own community-led project –no matter at which stage - go to www.communitydesignexchange.org


Orsola de Marco is Network and Research Volunteer with The Glass-House.

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29 Jul 2013

What makes for a successful community led project?

Earlier in May we revisited the Gamlingay Eco Hub in Bedfordshire for the second of our new Hosted Tours. Supported by The Glass-House in 2005, we were all struck by how much the community had achieved and how well the building works. Not only has the team vastly improved the sports facilities of its previous incarnation and accommodated many other local needs and interests, but they’ve done so with a strategy for engaging local business that supports their financial viability well into the future.

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Bridget Smith, who led this community project inspired us all to consider what we can achieve when we collaborate and look at the bigger picture. The building certainly lives up to its name as a Hub – bringing together diverse groups: sports teams, theatre groups, parents and toddlers, local businesses and the local library, to name a few. One person comes to use the kitchen for her baking business, some come to log on to the internet and others pop in to have a chat and shelter from a rain shower (as happened during our tour!). And new uses they could never have imagined are coming about because of the flexibility the space allows them.

Gam LdN 2

Raising the funds, bringing together all those different needs and groups, and then sticking with it through a long journey was clearly no small task. Our tour gave us space to think about being aspirational with ideas, fusing community needs with a business head to deliver funding and choosing the right architect.

What makes for a successful project?

Bridget summarises “every project needs a vision and someone to carry it”. What are we waiting for…?

Our next Hosted Study Tour takes place in London on Tuesday 20 August when we will visit Fortune Green, a thriving public green space in West Hampstead which was recently renovated by Friends of Fortune Green with Camden Council. The tour is free to attend for community groups and organisations!

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24 Jun 2013

How can American Pragmatism support community led design?

Recently, as part of the AHRC Connected Communities Bridging the Gap research project, we participated in workshops at Keele University and the New Vic Theatre, exploring bridging the gap between academic theory and community reality and applying an American Pragmatist approach to do this.

What exactly is American Pragmatism?  In a nutshell, the complex philosophical movement explores ideas around obtaining knowledge through experience – the belief that ideas should not just to be reflected on but must be put in to action, evaluated and developed by experiencing things.

So, what has this got to do with design for the built environment and community led design?  How can this be tangible and what can communities draw from their experiences? 

American pragmatists also discuss the importance of ‘human community’ in order to counterbalance ‘individualism’, including aesthetic experience, human behaviour and social value.

At the conference, a range of academic and community members shared their different perspectives on obtaining knowledge through experience, bridging the gap between people, and enabling academic knowledge to be relevant to communities, through addressing:

•    what enables or inhibits people sharing and networking (transferring knowledge, encouraging social interactions, approaching problems, and sharing understanding)?
•    creating spaces that enable a shared language and social hub environments as well as stimulate creativity and widen communication;
•    people creating stories about the place that they live in, with different ages and cultures coming together;
•    the role research can play in bridging the partnerships of NGOs and corporations in community involvement.

Establishing priorities during the Design by Consensus workshop

The afternoon ended with an interactive Design by Consensus workshop, run by Glass-House Chief Executive Sophia de Sousa, where participants explored different stakeholder roles in the design of a space. 

Stakeholders communicated their priorities and needs, as well as negotiated with others, to create a vision for their space, which resulted in 3 very different outcomes: local services with a social focus; a vibrant space with a focus on solutions for intergenerational activities; and a community led focus informed by action research, a collective vision and stewardship.   

Glass-House beneficiaries, Lois Muddiman and Helen Thompson, attended the workshops and provided a synopsis of how this exercise had helped them with their community led design project for Cutteslowe Community Centre in Oxford.

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5 Jun 2013

Enabler Voices: A journey of design and community at Gamlingay Eco Hub

The Glass-House recently re-visited an 'old friend' for a very special hosted study tour: the Gamlingay Eco-Hub. This pioneering community centre was an early beneficiary of Glass-House project support in 2005 and was completed in 2012. Located on the edge of the village, the entrance frames a view to a new wind turbine, a keynote of the group’s ambition for 'greening the community.' It is already a remarkable journey; the opening of the building is a landmark moment with the promise of much more to come.

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© Stephen Smith

By embedding the former community hall in the heart of the plan a continuity of associations and memory of community use on the site was established. The former hall was dark, constrained and difficult to navigate. New spaces are bright, warm and welcoming, reaching outwards to long views. Memorable features such as the 'Aalto-inspired timber-lined scoop' over the library area, which floods the space with light, are part of a barn-like vernacular that is non-institutional in character. Light and colour create a calming and inspiring atmosphere, the tactile timber lining of the volumes and purpose-made furniture gives a homely feel and consistency throughout.

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© Stephen Smith

On the tour, our guide Bridget Smith, took us through the innovative approach to the integration of renewable energy sources – with the incredible result that they have no need for fossil fuel back-up at all. That such a laudable feat has been achieved is the result of a close collaboration between client and architect. The site is favourable in orientation for photovoltaic installations, located on the deep-plan roof. Open playing fields have permitted a generous ground source heat loop to be buried beneath them. The overall ‘greening’ of the project was a key strategic move for initial funding, not to mention removing the potential burden of on-costs for future energy bills.

Bridget, as the champion for the client team throughout, retains an infectious enthusiasm for sharing her team’s approach to chasing and securing funding and a real pride in the finished building. It is notable that some renewable options were not taken up: a sedum roof would have brought ecological benefits but would have had a on-cost on the weight of the structure needed to support it, not to mention attendant maintenance costs to factor in to overheads.

One overriding driver of the brief was to bring young people into a secure and welcoming community environment. Has this worked? Certainly early signs are positive and it really does feel as though the spaces provided have a multi-generational appeal; the clear volumes mean no hidden corners; clear sight lines and the large areas of glazing help with passive monitoring. Parents have the benefit of watching their children through the large glass screen doing dance classes while they search for a book in the library.

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© Stephen Smith

It has taken around 10 years for the project to reach this stage from the initial brainstorming and 'what-if' stage. A second phase of building is programmed and the community centre is being hailed as an exemplar of its type. The key lessons and inspiration of the project are based around communication.

Perhaps the move to engage the community and to ask hard questions about how together they could bring about change helped to establish good foundations?

Perhaps persevering on several design iterations allowed an architectural language to develop that is uplifting and welcoming.

Perhaps the ambition for the Eco-hub to create a secure emotional boundary for all users and to make them part of the journey is also the basis from which it can continue to grow and flourish?


Stephen Smith is a Glass-House Enabler and an architect with Wright & Wright Architects.

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24 May 2013

Gateshead community building is our first Hosted Study Tour

Two weeks ago, on Friday 10 May we visited sustainable building project The Davidson Building, home of Gateshead Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for the first of our Hosted Study Tours, a new peer mentoring activity to enable Glass-House beneficiaries (and clients) to showcase their achievements while supporting other groups in their community led design journey.

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The entrance to Gateshead CAB

Although the original Trustees and staff involved in the building project have since moved on, Alison Dunn (Chief Executive) and David Carr (Building and Finance Manager) provided an engaging and informative tour of their building, including a presentation about the different stages of the design process where they openly shared their learning, experience and knowledge about the trials, tribulations and successes of this project.

This community led design project has enabled Gateshead CAB to provide improved and increased services and facilities to communities in Gateshead, particularly those who are most in need. The new location of the building has provided a positive, unexpected and impact, enabling the organisation to form new relationships, reach other communities and access networks in the area.

The learning from this tour has been invaluable for all who attended and we left Gateshead feeling both inspired and fortunate to have been at The Davidson Building to celebrate their achievements. Below are a few of the photos we captured on the day.

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In the basement space with Building and Finance Manager David Carr

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David talks about the working office space for CAB staff

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The focal point of the building, the inner, outdoor courtyard space

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Exploring the sanctuary of the courtyard space

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It's in the detail! Attendees investigate the finer details of the exterior of the Davidson building

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22 Mar 2013

People, place and value: the golden triangle?

The day after our debate ‘People, place and value: the golden triangle?’ I spent the afternoon at Goldsmiths Community Centre (in Grove Park, South London) with some of the centre’s members and I was struck by the value of this group of people to their place, and the value of their place to them. ‘Place matters’, is how our chief executive Sophia de Sousa opened her provocation at the final debate in our Putting People in their Place series (in partnership with The Academy of Urbanism). She shared the frightening statistic given to us at our Glasgow debate by panellist Christopher Rowe, that life expectancy in his Glasgow neighbourhood Milton, is 20 years less than another neighbourhood only 3 miles away.

Over the course of this series (in Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool) we have tackled each one of the themes of people, place and value and drawn out some key questions, asking chiefly:

How can great places create value for local people? What value do local people bring to placemaking? Does involving local people in placemaking make good business sense?

But what is the golden triangle and how do we get there?

London debate 1

What process?

On a day when the government were announcing their latest fiscal manoeuvres to tackle the country’s economic troubles, the challenges and frustration with processes (particularly their Localism and neighbourhood planning policies) unsurprisingly took centre stage.

In his provocation, speaker Josef Ransley (a West Sussex district councillor and chair of a neighbourhood planning forum) emphasised that placemaking is an evolutionary, organic process, something which policy makers need to recognise and make space for. Sally Rawlings of Local Trust, echoed this from the audience, as she shared the experience of their Big Local resident-led programme, which has given communities in 150 areas across England £1m to make a positive and lasting difference to their place. Sally spoke passionately about the value of participative democracy, and how it is now as important as elective democracy.

“We’re in a different place”. As speaker Kevin Murray shared his reflections on the Glasgow debate, and the value of great places, he also spoke of the great need for change, to reimagine and move on – rethink local authority roles, recast education and embrace the opportunities of our open information age.

Sophia warned of the danger of processes working in isolation from each other: ‘Why are we not bringing people into the room together?’ and prompted by chair Tom Dyckhoff revealed that her message to Chancellor George Osbourne on Budget Day would be to invite him to sit in a room with those different people working on a local project – community organisation or group, local authority officers, developers, businesses – to experience the reality of delivery.

The advent of Localism has removed a significant regional tier from the shaping of our cities, towns and neighbourhoods, putting a greater spotlight and responsibility on our local authorities. There were many contrasting views on the value and ability of local authorities in the placemaking process but as one attendee put it - ‘they are absolutely the glue in this’.

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Who is ‘local’ and how do you engage them?

More than once the question ‘How local is local?’ was raised by our panel and audience. One audience member expressed his frustration that he doesn’t have a voice to affect change in the place he cares most about, which is not where he lives. Ensuring that our vision of local brings in not only those who live in a place, but also those who work, study and play is key.

Speaker Pam Alexander expressed the importance of bringing language back to basics. In placemaking, language is often a great barrier when it can be one of the greatest resources. Indeed many placemaking professionals in the audience agreed that their professions need to redefine language. Kevin Murray, drawing on the experience of the Kings Cross regeneration project (in which our Central Saint Martins venue is situated), said that one of the great skills the developer and designer should possess is the ability to listen. Added to this, Pam made the point that ‘It costs a lot of money not to talk to people’, which came with the warning not to forget those groups who can’t organise themselves as well as others.

“We assume everyone is a NIMBY. It worries me.” Pam Alexander expressed concern over the lack of trust of local communities and their ability not just to engage, but to contribute meaningfully.

And where do we need to get to? We need to build places and spaces that are life affirming (and not the crap places discussed at every debate in this series) to transform the NIMBY movement from opposition (Not In My Back Yard) to demanding – QIMBY (Quality In My Back Yard).

We ended with a ‘What if?’ – what if you could change or reimagine how we make places? What do you think would make a real difference?

Our annual debate series gathers expertise from the ground, and draws out the aspirations and frustrations of people about the places where they live, work and play. This conversation will continue…

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19 Feb 2013

New online network Community Design Exchange launches

The Open University in collaboration with The Glass-House Community Led Design have developed a new site for individuals and groups involved in local placemaking projects called Community Design Exchange (CDE).

CDE is a gallery and social network site specially developed in order to directly source individual stories and experiences from people who have taken part in community-led design projects (including photos, videos and text). Groups can use the site to showcase their achievements and make their voices heard. We also hope the space will provide a space for sharing and learning and allow people to network and build on each other's experience.

The homepage of Community Design Exchange

We welcome contributions from individuals and communities around the country, no matter how small and at what stage in their journey. Visit the site to Find Community Projects, Share your Stories and Discuss with others in the site forum.

Community Design Exchange is part of the activities of a project called Valuing Community-Led Design, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under the Connected Communities program. The aim of the research project is to collate, articulate and disseminate evidence about the value of community-led design and bring the relevant stakeholders together to share good practice and form a research agenda for the future.

In developing the site we worked closely with The Glass-House and held focus groups with nine different community groups involved in transforming their local areas to develop, test and evaluate it (Friends of Barnfield Estate, Kirdford Community Led Plan, Canterbury Society, Wards Corner Community Coalition, LCNC, Hackbridge and Beddington Corner NDG, Goldsmiths Community Centre, The Mill and Peckham Vision - to whom we are very grateful!).

We believe that the medium offers the opportunity for wider dissemination of evidence about the benefits of community-led design in an open, intuitive, and visual way. The focus on image, video and storytelling allows making a distinct contribution to the theme of valuation, where emphasis is on articulation and communication rather than measurement.

We hope you enjoy exploring Community Design Exchange and that you share it with your friends and colleagues.


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3 Dec 2012

"People have a lot of assets that they don't realise they have"

“People have a lot of assets that they don’t realise they have.” - Sophia de Sousa

Last week we took part in the Open University’s Valuing Community Led Design workshop, a research project in which The Glass-House is a partner. The participants were a mix of community group representatives, professionals and academics all interested in, learning about and involved in Community Led Design (CLD).

The first part of the day explored how CLD is captured and looked at each individuals invaluable CLD projects, how they value CLD and how they have been involved in CLD.  One question that arose was: “What is Community Led Design?”   

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The shared experiences, knowledge, skills and efforts of everyone, particularly the community group representatives, answered this question: it is an approach to design that puts people at the heart of placemaking.  The conversations touched upon social spaces, belonging and a sense of place alongside meaning, understanding (local) values and interpretation.  
As three groups participants were then asked to create a poster that described community led design and the results were very different!

“What can we make?”

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One group adopted an angle that focused on COMMUNITY AND PEOPLE, which included sharing stories, community involvement, bringing people assets together and a sense of belonging.

“Bring people together to unlock potential for things to happen”

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Another group adopted an angle that focused on PEOPLE AND STORIES, which included stories, bringing people together, shaping spaces and people, and the changes that take place in people throughout the process.

“Value is in the process toward sustainable development”

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The third group adopted an angle that focused on PROCESS, which included the reality of conflict and compromise, the process towards sustainable outcomes, and the need for different expertise (community, professionals and facilitators).

The second part of the day explored different methods for asset mapping, which is part of the Creative Citizens research project in which The Glass-House is also a partner.  In the context of community led design, participants were encouraged to think of this in terms of a network of communities, a community group and an individual.  

Following this, participants explored the different processes, assets and tools that they use, know of or have experienced.  One group focused on STORIES (for processes), CONNECTIONS (for assets) and PERSPECTIVE (for tools).

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Many interesting ideas, perspectives and experiences were shared throughout the day.  One thing that came to light at the end of the workshop was that each project is unique and there is not one tool, process or asset.

“Everyone appreciated other people’s assets.” - Participant Vera Hale (talking about asset funding for communities in Manchester where groups voted for each other’s projects instead of their own).


Community Design Exchange is a new bespoke social network and research tool, created by Open University with The Glass-House as a space for people to share and celebrate their experiences of community led design.

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28 Sep 2012

Learning from the front line of community led design

After four fantastic years at The Glass-House, I am leaving at the end of this week to start a new challenge. Here’s what I’ve learned from my experiences:

  • Design heals all wounds - coming together to work on the fundamentals of how to make a place better has the power to resolve tensions within a community.
  • Everyone is creative - no matter how much they argue to the contrary, everyone is able to respond to our creative activities in a positive way and use them to come up with exciting and solutions.
  • Community Led Design happens regardless of the agenda - it doesn't matter what's happening politically, people will always be working at a local level to improve where they live. Even when there is no money, community groups make changes happen.
  • Collaboration is key - Our most successful projects are those which a wide range of people have meaningfully contributed and respectfully worked together.
  • You can’t beat a cuppa – I’ve found that creating an informal atmosphere is the best way to make people feel at ease to explore their true feelings about their vision for their project.
  • Small is powerful – considering it’s size, The Glass-House manages to support an overwhelming number of groups and individuals and have a big influence on the sector. I am proud to have been part of such a small team with such huge successes.

HG leaving

It has been an absolute pleasure to work for The Glass-House and collaborate with our Enablers, community groups, academics and other professionals over the years.

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17 Jul 2012

BEEs among us!

 Design Council Cabe have launched a new network of Built Environment Experts (BEEs) who will support the work of the organisation in delivering high quality design to places and spaces across England.

We're delighted to announce that among the 250 BEEs are Glass-House Chief Executive Sophia de Sousa and Strategic Projects Manager Maja Jorgensen.

Sophia is a leading advocate and enabler of participatory design as a means of informing high-quality inclusive and sustainable design that benefits local people. She works tirelessly to promote cross-sector partnerships which she believes are essential to the success of regeneration and of community empowerment.

Maja's background as an urban designer informs her ambition to enable inclusive and meaningful design processes. In her current role she works to develop and deliver design and community engagement training, as well as building partnerships with other organisations.

The Cabe BEE network brings together a multi-disciplinary groups of specialists who will act as mentors to design procurement, deliver design training and play a role in the Design Review process. BEEs will bring valuable support to communities, local authorities and other groups involved in built environment projects.

More at: www.designcouncil.org.uk/bee

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6 Jun 2012

The Glass-House workshop at LFA 2012

LFA event

We're very excited to be hosting an event as part of this year's London Festival of Architecture (23 June - 8 July 2012) which will bring architects and communities together to examine how we can make London a better place.

The theme of the festival this year is 'The Playful City' in response to the hosting by London of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Glass-House will present the 'Playing Perspectives' workshop on Monday 25 June from 2-5pm to explore how engaging people in designing buildings, spaces or indeed whole neighbourhoods can lead to more playful, creative solutions and more delightful and sustainable places.

We believe that playful cities are those that allow all those who move through them to engage with their city’s delights, nuances and quirks. This hands-on workshop will actively involve all participants in thinking creatively about place and exploring the playful side of participatory design.

You can sign up for this free event via the LFA website

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2 Apr 2012

Gamlingay Eco Hub: Community's dream is realised

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. 


Gamlingay Launch 1


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. 


Gamlingay Launch 2


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. 


Gamlingay Launch 3


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.


Gamlingay Launch 4


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.

Watch a video of the opening of the Eco Hub here.

Vera Hale is a co-founder of the Cave co-operative and is undertaking a collaborative PhD at Sheffield University with The Glass-House and bureau - design + research, investigating the merits of Community Led Design. 

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28 Mar 2012

The National Planning Policy Framework and Community Led Design

Yesterday, the final version of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was released. I would like to draw attention to three very simple points that Minister Greg Clark makes in his foreword to the document:

1.    Our standards of design can be so much higher.

2.    Planning must be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the way we live our lives.

3.    This should be a collective exercise.

Community led design aims to do all of this, and the support that The Glass-House has given communities leading built environment projects over the past decade has been founded on these principles. We firmly believe that a participatory design process that places local people at the heart of changes to their neighbourhoods can lead to neighbourhoods that are more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. With the right support, community led design and planning can lead to more creative and better informed solutions to local problems, and to places that are both functional and delightful.

However, let us be under no illusion that this is a quick simple process. In order to achieve great placemaking, the emerging neighbourhood plans will have to grapple with urban design principles and planning legislation, feeding them into an inclusive and participatory design and planning process. They will need to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of their plans in the short and long term. Their community will need to include those who live, work, study and play in the area.  It will need to consider and include local residents, businesses and government, as well as those who manage, maintain and service the area.  Each neighbourhood plan will have to fully understand and respond to issues around land ownership and to the local (social, historical, economic, environmental etc.) context. It must also consider how the neighbourhood links to and complements the neighbourhoods around it. Neighbourhood plans must begin with a thorough understanding of place, a collective vision for change and an informed and aspirational brief.

So Minister Clark, we agree with your declaration of the importance of design quality, achieved through a creative and collaborative process, as a means of improving quality of life. We hope that the application of this new National Planning Policy Framework, and in particular the presumption in favour of sustainable development, creates the space for inspired and inspiring design and planning by, with and for communities. And we hope that adequate time, resources and practical support will be made available to help make this happen.*

Read the whole National Planning Policy Framework document here

*The Department for Communities and Local Government made a commitment to providing up to £50 million until March 2015 to help make neighbourhood planning a success. As one of the organisations delivering the 'Supporting Communities and Neighbourhoods in Planning' programme this year we look forward to hearing more about how government intends to carry forward this commitment and to exploring how The Glass-House can work with DCLG and other partners to continue to support community led design and planning within our new National Planning Policy Framework.

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23 Mar 2012

The Glass-House Debate Series 2011/2012: London

Our final Glass-House Debate of the 2011/2012 series was held earlier this week with our partner Design Council Cabe providing the venue for a discussion on the topic ‘Community Led Design: what is it and does it work?’. With four dynamic and diverse speakers and an engaged audience the evening took us through the many issues and perspectives involved in any community led process.

Dave Smith of London CITIZENS and East London Community Land Trust (ELCLT) outlined his concept of community led design which he summarised as creation (not placation), ownership and management. The priority of ELCLT is to provide affordable housing the residents of East London, a massive challenge in the context of a major global city.  Agreeing with the difficulties faced by the ELCLT, property developer David Roberts of Igloo Regeneration injected what he declared was a “dose of realism” to proceedings, with the hypothesis that community led design is not viable. Roberts qualified this with an addendum that it cannot be a reality on publicly owned land in London because this is prime land that will always sell quickly (where there is a high return on investment with no long term approach).


London Debate 4

Should we be despondent? A slide from Dave Smith's presentation.

Johanna Gibbons, a landscape architect who has long practiced deliberative planning in her work as part of the firm J & L Gibbons, gave numerous examples of green infrastructure projects she has been involved in where communities and their health and wellbeing have been at the heart of the whole process. As a key member of Southwark Council’s Planning Department, Alistair Huggett discussed some of the creative engagement techniques employed by planners, while acknowledging that their approach is largely community responsive design, as opposed to community led design.


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Alistair Huggett, Framework & Implementation Manager with Southwark Council

Chair and Glass-House Chief Executive Sophia de Sousa was keen to explore the business case for community led design, questioning developer David Roberts and a developer audience member about why it makes good business sense for them to engage with communities in the design and planning process. David Roberts asserted that working with the community generates more value. Igloo Regeneration, according to David Roberts, takes a long term view of their investments and engaging with the community deals issues such as security concerns and identifies the right kind of development to carry out in the first place to ensure a sustainable, viable place emerges from the process.


London Debate 2

Thoughts from audience members

The advent of Localism could not help but pervade the entire discussion with one audience member enquiring as to what each speaker hoped or desired from the Localism Act. Unsurprisingly, the issue of funding was raised as a key barrier to real community generated and community led processes. Johanna Gibbons pointed out that while new planning policy demands demonstrable community engagement there is no zone of funding allocated for this to occur, with Alistair giving the example of his own borough, where residents of Camberwell aspire to develop a neighbourhood plan but there are no funds available to support this. David Roberts also cautioned that community led design doesn’t fit the legal processes that we have at present in the UK.

Overall, the theory of Localism was welcomed but as one audience member affirmed, we will need a massive cultural change among local authorities, developers and communities that may take twenty years or more to occur. The following advice seems appropriate:

“As an organizer I start where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be.”

(From the book ‘Rules for Radicals’ by Saul Alinsky as quoted by Dave Smith)

Accepting our present reality, how can we collectively transform our future?

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5 Mar 2012

Guest Blog: Building Consensus in Oxford on Leap Day!

The Glass-House marked Leap-Day with a workshop at Cutteslowe Community Centre in Oxford. Chief Executive Sophia de Sousa was joined by Glass-House Enabler Stephen Smith of Wright & Wright Architects and research partners from the Open University.


DbC Stephen Smith 1

Located at a seemingly commonplace residential edge; several complex contextual emerged – the sense of a gateway building to a Primary School and Children’s Centre; an expanse of parkland both adjacent to it and beyond the bypass footbridge to allotments; and the proximity of the site of some nationally significant cartographic scars – the spike-topped Cutteslowe Walls – that previously divided streets between Council Houses and Private Ownership.


DbC Stephen Smith 2

The group were engaged in a series of activities to begin to evolve a project vision for the transformation of the Centre. Discussion was animated and thoughts were articulated about creating a warmer and welcoming threshold, cross generational activity and planning and an understanding about further outreach and engagement.

DbC Stephen Smith 3

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29 Feb 2012

Glass-House Debate - Newcastle

Once again the topic – Community Led Design: what is it and does it work? – was tackled in the latest Glass-House Debate, held on 21st February. The event was hosted by partners, Northern Architecture, at the Bond Centre in central Newcastle. Sophia de Sousa, Glass-House Chief Executive, introduced the theme and said how glad she was to return to Newcastle, where there is always such a lively response to Glass-House Debates. 

As with all the Glass-House Debates, there were contrasting experiences from speakers of very different backgrounds. The first speaker was David Stewart, of the Allendale Community Housing (ACH), a community company, which is run as if it were a Community Land Trust. He spoke about the process of developing Allen Gardens - 1 family house and 2 apartments - for much needed social housing in Allendale, a small town of 3500 people in Northumberland.

Time, effort and the right skills were contributed at all levels from within the community, from the ACH Board to the developer to those working on all aspects of the project. It was possible to not only create housing with high environmental standards, meaning they cost very little to run for the tenants, but to employ local companies in the construction process too – thus ensuring that financial benefits circulated locally too.

The project was driven by clear evidence of need within the community, and allowed for lots of engagement and empowerment of the community, with open meetings throughout. There was too, a ‘mysterious ingredient’ – the passion and commitment, which helped the project complete in such a successful way.

Allen Garden residents

Image courtesy: ACH

Carinna Gebhard, of space_architecture, continued the evening with her account of two projects that she had been involved with designing. Both were educational buildings, though for and with very different communities. The first example was the Evenwood Surestart and Community Centre, in a small mining town in County Durham – with high unemployment, especially amongst the young male population, many of whom were also carers. Although Teesdale Surestart was the client, the whole community was recognised as having a stake in the centre and were involved in workshops, organised so that many people could have a say in the whole building, not just the Surestart part of it. Carinna reflected that, although young people became, on completion and opening of the Centre, very proud and protective of the new centre – a higher level of involvement throughout the process could have made for fewer broken windows during the construction phase.

Her second example was a Special Educational Needs school. There was real engagement with all staff, many of the pupils and their families and carers, the medical community and wider community, as well as the client -  Knowesley Council. They listened and learnt from one another and continually reviewed and discussed the design. Collectively, the children, the wider stakeholders, client and designers, were able to come up with a beautiful and successful building designed very specifically for the range of needs of the user group –  the children themselves. 

LC9 school                                                                                           

Image courtesy of space_architecture

Last but not least, Nigel Brewer, of Places for people, talked about the engagement with existing and new communities. As one of the largest property management, development and regeneration companies in the UK – with assets in excess of over £3 billion, Places for People (PfP) still believe that every place requires a unique approach to design, and needs more than just houses to thrive – it needs schools, jobs and training opportunities, shops and leisure facilities too. For each development project they engage with both existing and future stakeholders in neighbourhood  and project planning and design. Mixing aspirations with realism, Nigel felt the process is creative and engaging. But PfP also pride themselves in providing local employment opportunities as a result of the developments  The immense social benefits of community led design, he felt, were greater ownership and respect, which in itself leads to safer communities; the raising of aspirations amongst local people and an enhanced environment for all.

Sadly, our last scheduled speaker Phil Jones from Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council was unable to attend due to poor health, but he contributed his reflections on developing a neighbourhood plan as one of the pilot Front Runners. He felt that whilst it will continue to be challenging, he felt that they had made some good progress and that in genuine partnership and collaborative effort, plans and aspirations could be achieved.

Newcastle audience      Image The Glass-House                  

The debate that followed was passionate and heated at times. The audience was unusually ‘professional’ – usually there are many more community members in attendance. We debated the difference of scale that had been highlighted by the speakers and the impact that this had on community involvement; the different types of ‘communities’ that might be involved as users and clients, and indeed the differing nature of involvement and ownership. Once more, the breadth and importance of community involvement in the design process was eloquently emphasised by our speakers and audience.




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16 Feb 2012

Building Community at Eden's Core

Earlier this month we joined our Building Community partners - Eden Project, Locality and communityplanning.net - at the awe-inspiring Eden Project in Cornwall for the Building Community Planning Camp, an event which aimed to help communities get their heads around neighbourhood planning.

Groups from all over the country came along to participate in three days of creativity, skills development and experience sharing.

The Glass-House ran a number of workshops and we were delighted to meet so many passionate, engaged and dynamic individuals working towards positive neighbourhood change!

Here's a sneak peek of what we got up to:


Eden Biomes

What a sight on arrival! The marvel of Eden..


Eden BC visual minutes

Visual Minutes at work


Eden Jargon group

Jargon busting session - with cake!


Eden Eco Town

A site visit to a proposed Eco Town site near St. Austell in Cornwall


Eden Dinner



Eden DbC detail

Developing a shared vision at The Glass-House 'Design by Consensus' workshop


Eden Arch Drawings group

Participants get some hot tips and tricks on architectural drawings from The Glass-House team


Eden biomes interior

A quick look inside the Mediterranean biome before departure!

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14 Feb 2012

The Value of Community Led Design - another success!

Great news! The Glass-House and partners - the Open University and Architecture Centre Network - have been successful in gaining another grant of £40,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Counci (AHRC) to carry out a piece of action research into The Value of Community Led Design.

This piece of research will use creative and collaborative methods to collect and share the many examples of good practice, aiming to articulate the benefits of community-led design for dissemination to the wider public. The research will also explore and assess ways to measure the impact of community-led design and understand the barriers to wider acceptability of community-led design, and how these can be overcome.

As supporters of the Glass-House will know - community led design goes beyond the one-dimensional process of consultation, helping involve people in decision-making throughout the design process, from visioning to implementation. We contend that there are many benefits from this approach, from improving civic participation and ensuring more democratic outcomes, to creating a strong sense of community and strengthening people’s attachment to their place and to each other, to producing more sustainable solutions.

However, 50 years after the first community-led design initiatives (and although the practice of professionals and organisations involved has matured and spread) community-led design is still far from being mainstream in design and planning practice.

Grappling with this problem is of special relevance at this particular time, with the emerging Localism agenda and the National Planning Policy Framework, which acknowledges an increased need for early and meaningful engagement and collaboration with communities.

The Value of CLD RM Eden

Participants during our 'Design by Consensus' workshop at the recent Building Community Planning Camp

At the recent Building Community* Planning Camp at Eden Project in Cornwall, with a large group of neighbourhood groups from across England working on neighbourhood plans, a demand was expressed to be able to share and understand what was going on across the country and learn from one another – this piece of work should be a significant step towards achieving this request!

The project is funded under the Connected Communities strand connecting all research councils. We are thrilled to be part of this wider and holistic network of creative industries, communities and academics working alongside one another.

* Building Community is the 1-year Department of Communities and Local Government funded project that The Glass-House has been delivering on this year (with partners Eden Project, communityplanning.net and Locality) to support communities to take a more active role in place-shaping and the development of plans at a local level to ensure they reflect local needs and aspirations.

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20 Dec 2011

Season's Greetings from The Glass-House Community Led Design!

We'd like to wish all of our supporters and friends a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Our office will close from Friday 23 December 2011 until Tuesday 3 January 2012.

In the meantime, check out some of the events we have coming up in the New Year on our Training and Events page!

Best wishes,

The Glass-House Team

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9 Dec 2011

Groups gain design confidence in Basingstoke


On a chilly December morning, the Glass-House team arrived at a frosty Basingstoke for our first Neighbourhoods by Design training course this year. Despite a brief hiccup involving a faulty projector and a fruitless trip to ‘Computer Exchange’, we had a really great 2 days and were so impressed with the imaginative and coherent designs the groups produced. 


We had a great range of groups, from large scale projects involving whole towns to design panels working on an individual regeneration scheme at a retirement home. All had clear aims and objectives and thought about the practical ways to achieve these ambitions – be it for a retirement home to have an ‘old peoples playground’ (think University campus for the over 60s – amazing!) to make it a livelier place, or to create better transport links with neighbouring Chichester for another group.  


NbD Basingstoke Group Table


The two days gave succinct introductions to various design concepts and urban planning thanks to engaging presentations from our Glass-House Enablers, architects Alex and Matthew. The field trip to Oakridge village gave us a chance to chart the narrative of a project, from funding, to design, to buildings maintenance and community involvement. This gave a useful overview of how similar projects work from start to finish, reminding us of how little steps can contribute to the overall goal. Oakridge also participated previously in Glass-House design training, so it was really inspiring for us to see how the project has developed since its early stages.


NbD Basingstoke Visioning


 Matthew gave an impressive presentation on the Community Land Trust in Albuquerque that has successfully built and maintained affordable housing with intelligently designed community spaces, that I think got everyone thinking about the possibilities of their projects. He really highlighted the importance of well-designed public spaces – in terms of community hubs and linking walkway, reminding us how simple design choices such as planting flowers and shrubbery along a pavement can transform the feel of a neighbourhood. 

NbD Basingstoke Pianoman


The groups also were able to spend plenty of time sketching out a design brief – so all left with something they could show to their architects and council members. These were done with the help of some impressive plasticine models – and of course motivated by Matthew’s impromptu piano playing!


* Imogen Willetts has been volunteering with The Glass-House since September 2011

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28 Nov 2011

Exploring the Neighbourhoods of Stroud and Bristol

Last Thursday we led a group of local community members and support workers on a Neighbourhoods Study Tour around Stroud and Bristol.

The aim of the day was for groups to witness first hand how local people have made a positive and lasting impact on their neighbourhoods: physically, socially, environmentally and economically.

Neighbourhoods Study Tour Stroud Group 1

We visited two  co-housing schemes, Springhill and Ashley Vale, and learnt about the work of Stroud Common Wealth (SCW), a social enterprise group who are gradually regenerating parts of Stroud by revitalising old buildings and setting up Community Land Trusts.

Neighbourhoods Study Tour Stroud Group 2

At each site, we were guided by a community member who had been involved in the project. We heard about the challenges encountered by groups and how they were overcome. It was so inspiring to meet people who have designed and built their own homes, and to find out how an unconventional approach has had such a positive impact on the lives of people living in these neighbourhoods.

Neighbourhoods Study Tour Stroud Group 3

The groups who came along on the tour left feeling motivated and inspired by our hosts and by each other!

We have three more Study Tours coming up before the end of March 2012 (see www.theglasshouse.org.uk/training-and-events for more info). The Glass-House can also create a tailored tour to suit your groups’ needs.

Get in touch if you’re interested.

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16 Nov 2011

The Community Led Design Debate continues in Bristol

From the concrete jungle on arrival in Bristol to the thriving regenerated docklands and to the home of our hosts and partner Architecture Centre Bristol, we gathered in the ground floor gallery for the second debate of the 2011/2012 Glass-House Debate Series. A tightly packed group of thirty community led design enthusiasts ready to hear and discuss the practice and realities of community led design in the UK today.

Bristol Debate 1

The four enlightening presentations had a common heart – people. None more so than Sandra Manson, a Youth Media Coordinator from Knowle West Media Centre who spoke of how a group of young people became the fearless drivers of a new community facility for their local area. Sandra demonstrated to us how the process of community led design brings far more transformative effects than the designed outcome. Her stories revealed that these young people developed a confidence from their engagement in this process that has propelled them in their personal and professional lives, while the wider community developed a pride of place that has had an impact far beyond the boundaries of the new building.

Bristol Debate 2

As a design professional Greg White admitted that the designer doesn’t always know best, as he has been shown on many occasions of involvement in community led design projects. Embedding a sense of ownership and pride in one’s area was key to the success of a project and Greg included an evocative example from Glasgow, where two parks were linked by a series of trees, each one planted with a ceremony of its own in memory of a young person who had died in that community.

Oona Goldsworthy, CEO of Bristol Community Housing Federation gave her reflections on community led design after over thirty years of being involved in such processes. She insisted that honesty, feedback, respect and listening be at the heart of any process, while she cautioned design professionals to be cognisant of scale and function, to ensure that the smallest details are considered and that every space designed has a function (the latter point relating to ongoing issues of management which cause problems long after the built project is completed).

Bristol Debate 3

Cleo Newcombe-Jones from Bath & North East Somerset Council revealed the changing nature of community engagement by local authorities, which has seen planners become involved more and more in enabling work. And the tide is turning for the local action groups as Cleo revealed how groups once set up to oppose the decisions of the local authority were now working in partnership with them, and with other groups who they may have been (or still are!) ideologically opposed to.

This theme of shared support pervaded the experience of all of the speakers and many of the audience members who discussed their own experiences of community engagement in the built environment. Community led design is a collective responsibility – to be inclusive, accessible, to communicate clearly and constantly. As put simply by Oona Goldsworthy, “It’s not ‘other’, it’s us”.

A clear definition of ‘community led design’ may once again have eluded us in Bristol but it was an audience member who reminded us of our ultimate responsibility to all in society - to inspire.

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12 Oct 2011

The Glass-House Debate Series 2011/12: Glasgow

'What is Community Led Design and does it work?'

Yesterday evening, on a crisp October evening in Glasgow over 40 guests gathered at The Lighthouse venue (a former newspaper office designed by Glasgow’s master architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh), to explore the mixed perceptions of community led design and what it really means in practice. Four distinct stakeholders  - a resident, a design professional, a local authority planner and a developer - presented their own personal views and experiences of community engagement in the design and planning process.

Glasgow Debate 1

Speaking as a resident, Anna Stuart, Chair of Cassiltoun Trust, charted decades of community engagement in urban regeneration, outlining the path from protest against, to collaboration with, the local authorities. Anna discussed the transformation of a community asset, Castlemilk Stables, an inspiring example of how community led projects can deliver the best in design quality and bring about economic and social regeneration.

Matt Bridgestock, an architect, planner and urban designer (55 North Architecture Ltd) shared much of his practical experience of working with communities in the design of places and spaces, emphasising the need for the community to participate as an equal stakeholder (something which planners can ensure) and as an expert in their own right. Transparency is key and as one Tweeter observed, communication must be delivered in a language that communities can understand and respond to.

All of the speakers were convinced of the need for community engagement in the design and planning process, with Ron Smith of Glasgow City Council unpicking the degrees of engagement from the point of view of the local authority. Ron’s presentation showed the disparate attitudes of different local authorities to community engagement in design and planning processes, highlighting the lack of leadership on community engagement in local, regional and national planning policy.

Jonathan Strassberg of the Ethical Property Company pointed to a lack of understanding among developers of what community led design is, admitting his own ignorance of its practice until relatively recently. He highlighted the realities of the developer’s priorities and the financial risk and unpredictability wrought by community involvement (in the minds of financiers). Jonathan referred with disdain to the developer’s view that they can bring ‘community’ to their development, as if they were delivering a pizza, which raised the question of how to engage with communities where there are none?

Glasgow Debate 2

While none of the speakers directly answered the question, ‘What is Community Led Design?’ it was already clear when Chair, Glass-House Chief Executive Sophia de Sousa asked the audience to think about the three words that made up the theme of the debate – ‘Community’, ‘Led’ and ‘Design’ – that they were each loaded with meaning and that reaching consensus on their definitions is a challenge in itself.

Perhaps Anna’s reminder to us that buildings and the spaces around them are to be used and enjoyed was what left most of us convinced of the importance of the active and full participation of communities in the design process to deliver the needs of local people.

Plenty of food for thought!

We invite you to continue this discussion and share your views and experiences with us below.

* The Glass-House Debate Series 2011/12 continues in Bristol in November, and in Newcastle and London in the New Year. Click here to find out more.

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2 Aug 2011

The Secret Life of Buildings

The Glass-House was really pleased to be a part of the first episode of The Secret Life of Buildings last night. It was fantastic to see Tom Dyckhoff looking at how our buildings and spaces affect us and challenging us all to be more demanding about the environments in which we live. Design does matter, and though there will always be a strong element of subjectivity about what we like and don’t like, we must work harder and more collaboratively to create places where people feel happy, safe, confident and inspired. We look forward to watching the next episode.

If you missed last night's episode, watch it on 4OD  

We’re keen to hear more about how your home is affecting your quality of life. Send us your comments.

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8 Jun 2011

Upcoming events

ATU Manningham Mills

The Glass-House and partner organisations are holding a series of lively and informative events all exploring the built environment from various perspectives. Below is a bitesize overview of each one with link to book your place. 

The Glass-House and Architecture Centre Network (ACN):

Community Engagement: Quality Design or Design Compromise?

A debate which discusses and explores the different approaches to ensuring design quality, and the importance of listening to responding to the community voice. There will be presentations from:

  • The Glass-House
  • The Building Exploratory
  • The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment

with a chance to discuss key points and raise your queries after the presentations.

Where: The Gallery, 77 Cowcross St, London, EC1M 6EL

When: Tuesday 21 June 2011

Time: Refreshments from 6.30pm, debate 7-8pm

Cost: £5/£3 for students inc a glass of wine

More info: Event flyer

To book: www.eventelephant.com/communityengagement21june


A Planning in London Conference in association with The Glass-House

Community and Planning, The New Relationship

Communities are being empowered to shape and direct the future of their neighbourhoods. How will property and built environment professionals, local authorities work with communities to achieve the best outcomes?

This special one-day conference is designed to create opportunities for debate and discussion about how communities and professionals can engage collaboratively with neighbourhood planning, to create new Neighbourhood Plans.

Join us to debate the key issues with developers, architects, planners, local government authorities, politicians and community organisations.

Where: The Royal College of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London W1G 0AE

When: Thursday 7 July 2011

Time: 8.30 to 5.30pm with evening drinks reception

Cost: Standard ticket price £239.00 + VAT

NEW: If you are part of a community group/ organisation cost per person £20.00

More info: Programme

To book: Community and Planning, The New Relationship website 


The Glass-House and Design Council CABE  

Design Planning Workshop - Community Engagement

The Localism Bill presents a new role for urban planners as facilitators of neighbourhood plans. This half-day workshop will highlight the challenges and opportunities for planners and communities to prioritise design in the new planning system. The session will discuss the links to core strategies as well as local practical projects. Speakers will present a series of approaches to community planning through inspiring case studies. A practical exercise will help you develop a new approach to talking to local communities about the value of good design in the context of neighbourhood plans.

The workshop will be an opportunity for you to question our expert panel, who have years of experience on community planning projects. We will also encourage you to discuss your experiences with other local authorities, to discuss common problems and solutions.

Confirmed speakers:

  • Paul Watson – Paul, Strategic Director for Regeneration and Development
  • Shankari Raj – Shankari is a community activist from Bristol
  • Sophia de Sousa – Sophia, Chief Executive of The Glass-House

Where: Design Council CABE, 34 Bow Street, London WC2E 7DL

When: Wednesday 13 July 2011

Who: Local authority planners

Time: 10am-1pm followed by lunch

Cost: Free

More info and to book: Design in Planning booking info and booking  

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3 Jun 2011

Glass-House and University of Sheffield AHRC Collaborative PhD Studentship in community led design

Great news! The Glass-House and Bureau – Design + Research (a research unit within the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield) have been successful in securing an Arts and Humanities Research Council (www.ahrc.ac.uk) funded Collaborative Doctoral Award. The topic of this research will be community led design. It will investigate, within the context of community involvement in the design process across the UK and Europe, the practice and projects of The Glass-House since its inception.

The award:

  • funds the UK/EU tuition fees and a maintenance stipend of approx. £14k for one person to undertake a 3 year PhD 
  • both the University of Sheffield and The Glass-House will oversee the research collaboratively

What we are looking for: 

A person with a passion for community inclusion in the design process. The candidate could come from a range of fields – you might be a sociologist, an architect, urban designer, a cultural geographer, or have other knowledge and experience.

You will be creative and passionate about the future, as well as the history and impact of, community led design, and feel that this is the right time for you to commit to the research over the next couple of years

Now more than ever, with the ‘Localism’ Bill currently going through parliament, communities are potentially being given the opportunity to play an active role in the physical and social regeneration of their neighbourhoods. However, far too many development and regeneration projects still fail to really include the community or develop an effective brief that draws on the aspirations and potential of local people. 

It is now well recognised that allowing the public to have a say in the shaping of their environment leads not only to better physical outcomes, but also to empowered communities that are active in enlivening and managing their regenerated places and spaces. Indirect benefits can also include increased employability, improved physical and mental health and more cohesive communities. Surprisingly, very little study into this field has been undertaken at this level. 

The collaborating partners are keen that the research should produce a tangible resource to support design practitioners in their work with communities, as well as informing future policy and practice. 

Application info:

If you are interested in applying for the PhD studentship please apply via the Postgraduate Application Form at http://www.shef.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/apply and mention in your application that you wish to apply for this project.

Applicants must be UK or EU citizens and be ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom. Further information on eligibility requirements is available from the AHRC website (Annex A): http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/FundingOpportunities/Documents/GuidetoStudentFunding.pdf

If you have further questions about the area of research, please contact:

Prue Chiles at the University of Sheffield +44 (0)114 222 0312  p.chiles@sheffield.ac.uk

Rebecca Maguire at the Glass-House t: +44 (0)20 7490 4583 e: rebecca@theglasshouse.org.uk

Deadline for applications 15th July with interviews at the end of July, with a view to beginning the studentship on 1st October.

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24 Mar 2011

London debate, the final in our Sustainable Community Building series

We recently finished our Sustainable Community: Refurbishment vs New Build debate series at The Abbey Centre in London on 15 March 2011. We were delighted with the panellists presentations and thought provoking discussion from the audience.

Throughout the series audiences have focussed on everything from capacity building to the political, social and economic implications of the Big Society and Localism Bill. There was clearly great concern over the expectations being placed on communities to provide services for local people and to take on greater responsibility for the community buildings that can host them. While there is a great emphasis on the importance and potential for partnership working, it is clear that finding strong and confident partners in the current climate is challenging. Particular concern was expressed over the role of local authorities. The decisions they make around the disposal of assets currently in or potentially for community use and their relationship with community partners will be a key factor. But many have argued that new relationships, new models and more creative approaches are crucial, and that we must have the courage to see opportunities in the changing landscape.

The Sustainable Community Building debate series raised a number of issues that bear further investigation.  We welcome your comments and questions on our blog, and invite you to continue to bring us your experiences, learning and recommendations.

More detailed outlines of the key themes from each debate are available on our website at www.theglasshouse.org.uk

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4 Mar 2011

The Sustainable Community Building: Refurbishment vs New Build, Newcastle Debate

The third debate in our lively  series took place in Newcastle on Tuesday 22 March at Northern Stage, we were fortunate to once again have a diverse and interesting panel of speakers who shared their thoughts and experiences on the subject.

Our panel of speakers were Christine Morrison, North East Coordinator, Community Matters, Tim Mosedale, Director, Mosedale Gillatt Architects, Tom Johnston, Trust Director, Glendale Gateway Trust and John Dawson, Treasurer and Trustee, Lemington Community Centre.

As with our previous debates in Edinburgh and Cardiff, the community representatives (John Dawson and Tom Johnston) provided frank and insightful accounts of their experiences when taking on the owenership of a refurbished and new build community building and talked about how trying to incorporate sustainable concepts were not as easy as they had anticipated. 

Tim Mosedale (architect) shed light on the various issues architects face when taking on the development of a community building. Its often seen as a 'them' and 'us' process and Tim was able to explore this area in more detail, explaining that this preconception is far from his way of working with community groups. 

Christine Morrison, Community Matters presented her views on the subject from a political perspective, exploring how the Coalition's Big Society agenda, Localism Bill and cuts to local budgets will have a direct impact on the future of the community building.

There is a dedicated page on the Glass-House Sustainable Community Building page where you can download the key themes from the event.

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6 Dec 2010

Cardiff debate - The Sustainable Community Building: Refurbishment vs New Build


The second debate in our series took place at Chapter in Cardiff on Thursday 25 November 2010. Once again the panellists and audience members raised and discussed a range of issues relating to the sustainability of the community building in the contexts of new builds and refurbishments.

Our panel of speakers in Cardiff were David Tyler, Chief Executive of Community Matters, Alan Gillard, Principal, Gillard Associates Architecture and Design, Kelvin Jones, Chief Executive, Gorseinon Development Trust and Marco Gil-Cervantes, Chief Executive, ProMo-Cymru.

Marco and Kelvin provided honest and frank accounts of their own experiences of taking ownership of a community building and highlighted the challenges and opportunities that they encountered. They each showcased their journey and the effect their community buildings have had on the local people and neighbourhood. While their experience and the buildings themselves were quite different, Marco and Kelvin's stories demonstrated how important sustainability is not only for the local environment but also to reduce running costs. They were also able to give clear example of the impact of design decisions on the way the buildings are used, managed and enjoyed. Alan was able to explain the challenges faced by architects when taking on a community development project and how important it is to work collaboratively with local people throughout the design process. He was also able to point to both the opportunities and challenges of both new build and refurbishment projects, making it clear that it is essential to assess each project individually. David discussed the importance and value of community assets in the current climate and the impact the current Big Society agenda and emerging Localism Bill could have on local communities and community buildings.

There is a dedicated page on The Glass-House website which captured the points from the presentations and discussion. 


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25 Oct 2010

Edinburgh debate: The Sustainable Community Building: Refurbishment vs New Build

On Thursday 21st October 2010 The Glass-House and partner organisations held a lively and interactive debate in Edinburgh looking the sustainability of the community building in the contexts of new builds and refurbishments. The debate was the first in series of 4 taking place across the UK over the coming months.

Our panel of speakers included David Tyler, Chief Exec of Community Matters, Charles Strang, Principal of Charles Alexander Strang Associates, Rob Hoon, Co-ordinator of Out of the  Blue Arts & Education Trust (a community centre which went through the process of a refurbishment) and Catherine Martin, Development Manager of Croy Miners' Welfare Charitable Society (for which a new community centre was built).  The debate welcomed a mixed audience which included design professionals, community organisations, local authority officers, funding bodies, academics and students who contributed to a lively discussion.

The discussion highlight the importance of the community buildings for local communities and explored some of the key opportunities and challenges that buildings bring with them. It also highlighted that community centres generally cater for a number of different interest groups and communities who have both shared and conflicting needs. Getting the building right for for those existing and future needs is crucial. There is a dedicated page to the themes raised from Thursdays debate which can be found at: 

Some questions that emerged in the discussion with the audience include:

  • How can we ensure that the design process involves a broad section of the community yet gives the design team a clear and representative client with whom to engage?
  • How can you keep communities engaged and interested during the design and build process when it takes an average of 7 years from inception to completion? 
  • How can we improve the relationship between the local council and people, who we believe want many of the same things but are not sure how to engage with each other?
  • Is it a good idea to produce new community centres using a kit/ modular approach? Would this produce centres that are appropriate for the local context and that are sustainable in the long term? 

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