Reconfiguring Place think piece: empowering communities to shape housing

by Melissa Lacide

How do we give communities a proactive role in shaping and delivering better quality and more sustainable housing for the future?

We have been witnessing different types of housing crisis shaped by various socio-economic factors, with no or little government funding targeted to help places and services, and with a clear divide between the prospects of north and south.  To name a few, this has included the:

  • under-representation and opportunity for diverse individuals and communities, including LGBTQ+, BAME, young people, and vulnerable
  • urban decay of buildings and empty plots, some undergoing regeneration
  • empty and derelict homes, some being sold off by local authorities for £1 to local people
  • high unemployment, homelessness, and loss of industry in regions, leaving many feeling isolated, stigmatised and marginalised

Voices from Reconfiguring Place: High Streets in Blackpool

Many communities are already trailblazing – proactively involved in ensuring that better quality and sustainable homes are created and on their terms.  The community-led design and placemaking approaches have supported the values of communities to shape and deliver this using other models.  To name a few, this includes housing cooperatives, environmentally friendly housing developments, community land trusts, and civic societies.  The vital role that communities can and do play – be it housing, spaces, buildings, neighbourhoods and services – is more often than not an after-thought or overlooked.

Each community has an array of assets that can be tapped into – sometimes these are visible but more often than not they are hidden with voices being left unheard and opportunities being missed.  Assets can range from people (their expertise and experience) to spaces (buildings, play areas and green spaces) to digital (online communities) and infrastructure (services that connect us).

Communities must be given the opportunity to play a key role to best meet the needs of their neighbourhood and be responsive to issues affecting them.  Co-design and co-creation are important within the brief, design, build and use stages of a process or project life-cycle, often enabling learning to be shared and the changes delivered being innovatively designedand of better quality.

Opportunity and tapping into assets must go hand in hand with embedding placemaking and social value in planning policy so as to not forget the people who use places and services.  Having local plans that positively shape the future of development, improve people’s accessibility to opportunities and sustainable places, and steer homebuilders to incorporate (rather than just think about) social, economic and environmental sustainability is an encouraging step forward.

Voices from Reconfiguring Place: Intergenerational Cities in Glasgow

The wellbeing of people is just as important as the houses and places themselves.  One example of how communities are being given a proactive role is through the role that social landlords can play.  Housing associations aren’t just tackling housing issues – along with their residents, community groups, contractors and community partners, they’re helping to unlock and create social value and social benefits.  This role involves investing in dispersed communities, supporting community-based projects and enabling interventions, which are interconnected with people, housing, green spaces, community hubs, and so on.

With a social ethos that extends beyond the construction of houses and regeneration the role cannot be underestimated.  To name a few themes, this includes:

  • resident involvement – in housing service improvements through the scrutiny of assets programmes and development of new homes
  • community groups – involvement in local project delivery via running community cafes and looking after allotments
  • social and/or financial exclusion – using art, sport and green spaces to help peopleto volunteer, manage health, gain confidence and meet others
  • employment and volunteering– supporting and promoting work opportunities and enterprisein local residents and businesses
  • digital access – reaching out to isolated communities and individuals
  • social action – working with resident groups, youth clubs and pre-schools in their community to improve green spaces and health awareness

The themes of this debate series have been ‘Connection’, ‘Diversity’, ‘Power’ and ‘Sustainability’.  People and places create an element of sustainabilityand social value – the hands-on role and collective ownership of communities can be positive and tangible.  Here are some ingredients to add to the mix:

  1. Empathy – this is linked to our understating of power. Having a human connection and building relationships will help to shift the power dynamics and enable all involved to value local expertise and experience.
  2. Stories – social value is also about listening to people to hear individual and collective voices and ensure power is shared.Capturing stories that are often not being told will help to shift language, tap in to local wisdom, and hear from diverse people who have lived the experience.
  3. Collaboration – genuine partnerships across groups and sectors are vital to facilitate behaviour change, learn from mistakes, and invest in assets plus buy-in.
  4. Language – a shared understanding must be developed without losing the diverse experiences and ideas that people bring.This will ensure that proactive roles and social value is more intentional and meaningful in opportunities.
  5. Conversations – open discussions and ongoing communication from the start will break down barriers, value equality and diversity, and tackle stigma and exclusion. It will also help to better understand the need and share power so there is transparency about intentions.
  6. Commitment – the right attitude is needed to include and encourage people to participate and share resources so that a shift can happen and this becomes part of everyone’s role and responsibility.

 

Melissa Lacide’s background is in sustainable design for the built environment, with a passion for working with various stakeholders in placemaking and social value.  She has worked as a consultant, practitioner and volunteer within architecture, charities, social change agencies, and social housing. Melissa previously worked at The Glass-House as a volunteer and then valued member of our staff team.

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