Spitalfields City Farm
Spitalfields City Farm approached The Glass-House in Autumn 2009 for support with the development of a community building to replace their existing offices and other facilities. A programme of project support was generated to help the group develop a design brief and explore ways of involving the community in the process of developing a self-built, energy-efficient building.
The farm has needed a building like this for a long time. There are very few places for the community to get together in Spitalfields.
Spitalfields City Farm is a community farm in the heart of London’s East End. The farm was started in 1978 by local people wishing to convert wasteland into allotments, having lost their land to developers. The farm is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee, managed by a voluntary management committee drawn from its membership.
The farm receives over 18,000 visitors a year on its 1.3 acres of land, where they keep a selection of farm animals and have developed growing areas in every available space. The land is owned by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Railtrack.
Spitalfields City Farm currently makes use of a collection of small, worn down buildings and old port-a-cabins as office and accommodation space for employees, volunteers and users. The buildings were acquired over the years to suit immediate needs for educational facilities etc., and are now not fit for purpose, nor do they cover the needs of the changing communities of Spitalfields.
The farm is developing a project to self-build a new community facility to provide community space for local users and purpose-built office space for the farm’s staff. The community building aims to be accessible for use by anyone for meetings, occasions and educational purposes and would serve projects at the farm and in the surrounding area, as well as provide an affordable cafe.
The farm would like the building to be cost effective, inspirational and designed to promote sustainability thinking and use - an exemplar sustainable community building. Ideas put forward from staff and local residents include: natural light, natural materials, ergonomically correct, environmentally friendly, affordable, straw bale construction, two levels, rainwater harvesting and harnessing natural energy.
By having a suitable building the farm hopes to be better able to achieve their objective of engaging with the surrounding communities by encouraging participation in the development of the farm and encouraging and providing support and space for community projects.
Spitalfields City Farm had already carried out a preliminary questionnaire with local residents, volunteers and service users to begin assessing the needs of the community prior to approaching The Glass-House.
The farm came to The Glass-House to find support for developing the project idea into reality and shaping the initial steps of the project. They hoped that it will give them the momentum to start this project as it felt very overwhelming at that moment and very complicated.
Following a visit by Glass-House staff to the farm, the group’s application for Project Support was approved in December 2009. The Glass-House Project Support programme started with an inception meeting on 3rd February 2010, attended by Spitalfields City Farm (SCF) staff and the emerging steering group for the project. The outline programme for the project support was explored, as well as beginning a skills mapping of what the attending community members could bring to the project.
Before further workshops took place, SCF staff attended two Glass-House scheduled events - three SCF members took part in the Glass-House design training course, Buildings by Design on 24-25 February, gaining valuable understanding of the process of community led design, as well as beginning to think about the building as a communal undertaking. Two members of the group took part in The Glass-House Buildings Study Tour on 10th March, exploring good design solutions for community projects and community engagement in the design process.
On the 10th of April, The Glass-House took SCF members on a study tour specifically tailored to their group and open to members of their communities. The group visited St. Paul Church in Bow, The Ecology Pavilion in Mile End Park, The Shoreditch Trust’s offices and Freightliners City Farm’s café building to see at first hand, a wide range of approaches to and design of community buildings.
On the 19th May, a Design Brief Workshop explored the need for a design brief and how to develop one. The workshop started with a walk around the farm discussing pros and cons of various internal and external spaces, as well as histories of former and present activities of the farm. The group then discussed learning from the Study Tour, heard about the basics of a design brief and brainstormed their aspirations for the new building.
The Glass-House also supported the group during their Sheep and Wool Fair on May 30th to invite the wider community to get involved in the building project. Using the popular annual event as an opportunity to communicate the group’s emerging ideas for the project to the wider community, engagement activities included:
Straw bale den building to start thinking more spatially about the new building; creating an ‘Ideas Daisy’ – a way of collecting the wider community’s ideas on what were the most important things about the farm, and more specifically about a range of issues including water usage, community, transport and ecology; collecting email addresses from visitors to the farm and asked them how they might like to contribute to the project.
At the 6th of June Action Planning workshop, the group thought about how to use the material they had generated to date, and how to use the input and ideas to inform their design brief. The continued involvement of the community was also explored and the next steps for the farm mapped out.
The open and inclusive attitude of Spitalfields City Farm is reflected in their commitment to engaging the diverse ethnic and social communities that surround the farm.
A questionnaire survey was undertaken prior to The Glass-House working with SCF to raise ideas and get people thinking.
The steering group for the project is “open”, meaning that anyone who is interested can join the project and contribute.
The Sheep and Wool Fair provided hands-on engagement activities to allow people to contribute, as well as providing information on project progress.
Consultation/focus groups/meetings have been held, with more to come, with external groups on their potential needs for the building.
Project Support Outcomes
- Project ownership by group
- Raised design aspirations
- Strengthened desire and skills to engage wider community in the project
Response from the Group
"I think the whole idea [of Project Support] is a great concept and should be essential for all projects of this kind."
"Thank you. You’ve made it manageable and ACHIEVABLE."
"Gained confidence in challenging conventional ideas on architecture."
In the final session, the group expressed that they felt empowered and have taken full ownership of the project through the process of Project Support.
Through the range of activities, the group has been inspired by different ways of thinking about the whole process of developing a community facility. Visiting inspiring projects and meeting the people who have completed them has raised the group’s aspirations in terms of design and the degree to which members of the community can contribute time, skills and ideas. The community has been actively involved and the group intends to continue this involvement as the building is developed, built and brought into use. The group said that the process of doing their community building has become a lot clearer through The Glass-House Project Support programme.
Latest Update from the Group
Spitalfields City Farm
- Design Brief Development
- Self build
How The Glass-House helped
- Design brief development workshop
- Advice from an independent professional
- Inspiring Study Tour
- Action Planning workshop
- Community involvement design activities
Project Support Outcomes
- Project ownership
- Design aspirations
- Better engagement with wider community
Project Support Dates
Winter 2009 - Summer 2010
Other Glass-House Support
Attended Buildings by Design