Training for Housing Association Design Review Panels

We were recently commissioned by First Wessex Housing Association in Southampton to deliver a two-day training course for members of three design review panels.

Some of the group (a mixture of staff and residents) had just joined the panels and others had been involved for years.  I worked closely with our Glass-House Enabler Matt Lally to develop a programme which would give this group of mixed experience the knowledge and tools needed to undertake design reviews.

During the course we explored ‘What makes a great neighbourhood?’ and helped the group to understand the basic principles of neighbourhood design.

To help the group better understand how to assess plans for proposed schemes, we gave them drawings of Chapel Road – a completed housing scheme in the locality and asked them to identify various features. This exercise was much more difficult than expected and really demonstrated the challenges of reading plans.

We then visited the scheme and assessed it according to the Building For Life Criteria. The group had very different impressions of the development after visiting it; it brought the plans to life, whilst highlighting the things you just can’t tell from a drawing such as the atmosphere of a place.

By the end of the two-day course, all of the members of the design panels had:

  • Learned how to read and analyse a variety of architectural plans
  • Grasped the key principles that make up good neighbourhood design and gained practical tools to help them during future design reviews
  • Explored the difficulties of home design and the challenges in creating internal spaces that are practical
  • Gained confidence in their own ability to make a really positive and meaningful contribution to the design of new homes and neighbourhoods
  • Become aware of the various criteria and standards that relate to home and neighbourhood design
  • Been inspired by visiting two housing schemes that are up and running
  • Gained a full appreciation of the need to consider the wider context of a scheme in order to assess it accurately

Some of the residents now feel that they need to be much more demanding and be more involved at an earlier stage so that they can have greater say in the design of future First Wessex schemes. It was fantastic to see participants’ confidence grow over the two days and see staff and residents learning together.