10 Key Ingredients of a Successful Regeneration Project
10 KEY INGREDIENTS FOR A SUCCESSFUL REGENERATION PROJECT
By Lucy Webb, Managing Consultant at Inner Circle Consulting.
25 March 2022
On the back of a tweet last month, someone asked me the question ‘What is Good Regeneration?!’ It was a good challenge.
We throw the term ‘regeneration’ around without defining it much and 20 years into a career in doing it, I know there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every community is different, every place is unique and the assets and resources available vary from place to place.
Nonetheless, I have learned that every successful project contains some key aspects. Here are some of them:
- Start with what’s important. It’s not always housing. Sometimes we should be asking instead what other important community assets already exist, or might be missing. What has been shut down in years of austerity and underinvestment that has contributed to the community now being in need of regeneration? It’s often difficult to make the case for investing in community facilities, for example, but they bring massive benefits in safeguarding the true identity of the community or neighbourhood and giving it back the tools and resources, it needs to lead its own recovery. It took a combination of public sector money, brilliantly creative talent and the tenacity of the project manager at Peabody to see the Moorings Social Club restored to its former glory as central community hub for the Thamesmead community in the heart of a massive regeneration scheme.
- Ensure your design team looks and sounds like the community you’re designing for. Much has been written about the lack of representation in the architecture industry. Commissioners are part of the problem – and the solution. Make the effort to look for practices that better reflect the communities you are working with (clue: they may not be on your main framework) and you’ll secure a much more representative voice in the design. Procuring a representative architecture practice to take on the difficult topic of developing a Regeneration Framework for Purley paid huge dividends in ensuring all voices in the community could be heard: Purley Regeneration Framework.
- Make sure you are building housing that reflects local need. Ask the right questions and you’ll get the right data to give you the right response. Setting your housing mix on a spreadsheet that simply crunches the numbers of how many of each you can fit/afford does little to address local housing need and misses the chance to be part of an answer that speaks to root causes and community character.
- Don’t default to the wrecking ball. It may seem like the easiest and most viable option on paper, but wholesale demolition risks removing all of the identity of the area. It can be sterilising and gentrifying. Be creative. Work with creative architects. Look for the art of the possible in providing more homes whilst retaining the history of a place.
- Co-design, co-design, co-design. This shouldn’t be some tokenistic effort to make a community feel like it has been involved but, instead, real opportunities for residents to shape the outcome. Whether it be the types of homes, the way they look, the landscape outside them, the community facilities that support them, there are many ways in which the community can be involved and a diligent design team and landowner can find them. Deptford has been on quite a regeneration journey over recent years and the co-design approach taken by PTE Architects in providing the mixed-use Deptford Lounge was crucial to local people truly recognising it as their own.
- Give communities the agency to make their own difference. Regeneration takes a long time and a lot of money. But there are many ways in which local residents, community groups and businesses can get going successfully themselves via projects that might just need the OK from the local council, or the donation of a sliver of land to get something going. Developing a strategic and long-term plan for Thornton Heath was partly about harnessing the investment of the developers but it was also about recognising the agency local communities had in taking their own action to make immediate change.
- Sweat local assets for community benefit. Encourage local enterprise, community services and other community uses to high streets and shopping parades by offering units as peppercorn or discounted rent to those that can provide real social value. LB Haringey’s social value lease provides a systematic approach to such initiatives but there are many examples popping up that demonstrate the real benefit in sacrificing some property income for real investment in the local community.
- Or even hand over the assets. This should be about genuine partnership between the asset owner and the community to enable and support the community to take the lead. If it’s a failing asset, there will need to be capital investment. If it’s a successful asset, then it will need a full transfer of leadership to the community (that means handing over the income as well as the cost!). There are a lot of successful models out there, from community land trusts to creative land trusts to community asset transfer. They are not easy and this is not about saving money by transferring a failing asset to a community group to take the hit! But the time and money involved are worth it to give communities a real stake in the future of their neighbourhood and restore community trust in the landowner.
- There will need to be an investment of public money! I am yet to find a genuine ‘regeneration’ scheme that doesn’t include an element of public investment. Given the need for regeneration usually stems from market failure (housing, jobs, infrastructure, etc.), it is the injection of public sector investment (land, buildings, human resource, or other) that kickstarts change. Done well, public sector investment can attract money from other sources – but first and foremost these projects need public sector investment upfront. Regeneration works best when that public sector stake is used to maintain a level of control over what happens next.
- The common thread across all of the above is ensuring local residents, businesses and stakeholders all have a voice in shaping proposals for their towns, cities and neighbourhoods. Without those voices being heard and involved from the start, the risk is that we’ll keep creating places that local people no longer recognise. And while we continue to discuss what regeneration means – sharing and challenging each other to get it right – gentrification is alas all too clear to see.