A report by Maria Brenton
Your roving Londoner recently attended a seminar on Community Led Housing, organised by the London region of the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (www.housinglin.org.uk) which I was, in a past life, employed by. The seminar was held at the Design Centre in the Angel Building – a stylish venue. The main reason I was there was because I and Patrick Devlin (architect at Pollard, Thomas, Edwards – who also worked on the Cohousing Woodside design) were reporting on progress on the OWCH (Older Women’s Cohousing) development in High Barnet. Patrick took them through the visuals for a building that nearly has its roof on. I followed my usual themes which are that participating in design helps develop a sense of ownership and togetherness in a cohousing group and, more importantly, that group-building needs to have a higher priority than bricks and mortar.
The theme of the seminar was ‘Design benefits of engagement’, kicked off by a representative the Design Council on efforts to produce a better class of design in housing where people are enabled to feel connected with where they live and able to shape and improve it. Various schemes for tenant and resident involvement were described. These aimed to empower and build capacity to counteract the break up of communities through gentrification and pricing people out of their area.
A really interesting presentation from the Central & Cecil Housing Association gave an account of the regeneration of their Dora House, near Lords Cricket ground. Replacement of 200 bedsits by up-to-date flats is challenge enough, but doing it in meaningful consultation with their elderly occupants is really praise-worthy. Said occupants are now almost all decanted around alternative accommodation in the area but are bussed back at regular intervals to be briefed on how the regeneration process they have helped shape is moving on. The involvement of these tenants in such practical issues appears to have acted as a catalyst in community development. They got to meet and know each other better in the course of deliberating on the design and shape of their new building, which promises a better sense of community for those who move back in in 2018.