Community-led Regeneration

Case Study - The Coal Line, Peckham

It began as a university project for architect Nick Woodford, while studying at Central Saint Martins: the sight of some disused coal-truck railway lines running along a well-used commuter train route that could link Brixton, Camberwell and the two halves of Peckham currently divided by a large arterial road. It made him wonder if something similar (albeit on a smaller scale) to New York’s High Line could be achieved here. If so, it would knit these disparate pockets of south-east London together in a life-enhancing landscaped pedestrian route, and bridge a gap in the area’s cycle pathways. After posting his speculative designs on social media sites, a small team of local professionals with useful skills to share (from PR to landscape design) volunteered to help create a long-term strategy to make it happen. ‘We dared to dream,’ says Woodford. And the dream is gaining momentum.

More than 500 people have attended the campaign’s various public events, from guided walks along the 900m route to beer-themed fundraisers, staged by a Peckham microbrewery. In this way, support and funds have been mounting, culminating in a successful Spacehive campaign in September 2015 to raise the £60,000 needed for a full feasibility study.

Bolstered by £10,000 from The Mayor of London’s High Street Fund with another £10,000 from Southwark Council, the target was hit, and the feasibility study is now concluding. If the outcomes are positive, there is every hope that further Heritage Lottery Funding could be secured to turn this dream into reality.

Case Study - Livesey Exchange

Named after the great Victorian industrialist George Livesey – who set up a quasi-cooperative energy company, the South London Gasworks, off the Old Kent Road – the Livesey Exchange is the brainchild of Peckham social entrepreneur Nicholas Okwulu, aimed at bringing life and hopefully new skills and livelihoods to a neglected corner of south-east London. Currently a 1,290 sq m garage at the base of a large, mid-20th-century, mass-housing tower block, a staged renovation is due to begin in February 2017, turning this basement into a vibrant community hub, with the help of local architect Ulrike Steven, of what if: projects.

The vision is to have two runs of workshops and studios along the length of the basement, either side of a wide corridor that takes advantage of unusual hexagonal rooflights in the existing structure to bring daylighting into the workspaces; glazed frontages will allow more light in, and views into and out of the studios. Messier, large-scale workshops for wood and metal work are planned at one end, with access to a ramp, parking and turning space. In the centre will be studios, smaller workshops and meeting rooms. At the front will be a multifunctional space with large, catering-standard kitchen, opening out on to a courtyard.

Okwulu anticipates it will cost around £800,000 to transform the garage over time, including the spaces above and around it, which he wants to improve with landscaping, seating and the restoration of a currently derelict sports area. He says: ‘At the front there could be wi-fi space, and you can sit and use it as a community hub or workspace. But it could also be hired out. The kitchen could be run as a training kitchen, or people could use it to make small batches of produce for sale or street vending.’

The Livesey Exchange, Okwulu feels, needs to be run as a social enterprise, rather than as non-profit, to bring a professionalism and momentum to the programming and operation of the space, and ensure that the Exchange delivers on its ambition to increase opportunities for local training and self-employment.

‘I understand the need for something that’s a community-led approach. But because of the amount of funding needed you have to change the model. It‘s looking at how we can engage local people to encourage business,’ he says.

Okwulu has a strong track record in running transformative, locally focused employment schemes through his non-profit organisation PemPeople, with successful schemes in Peckham, Camberwell and Brixton (including the BMX Shop at Burgess Park – Pempeople Bikes). And he is just about to launch a screen printing hub on Peckham High Road. If £400,000 can be raised through local council and business investment, the hope is that the Heritage Lottery Fund might provide match funding.

Case Study - Bombed Out Church, Liverpool

St Luke’s in Liverpool is an Anglican parish church, built around 1832. But since an air raid attack in 1941, when bombs rained down over the city, it has been a roofless shell. It remains a roofless shell, but a loved and fully used one since 2006, when a local youth theatre staged a show there. Living With History used recordings from an sound archive, gathered by local musician Ambrose Reynolds, of Liverpudlians’ childhood memories of the Blitz.

The reconnection with this neglected building drove Reynolds and others to launch a series of events, from 2007 onwards – from film screenings, dance, poetry, art and music events to weddings and yoga classes, supported by a trickle of funding from the City Council and Arts Council. The latter ran out in 2012, and the former in 2014, when the Bombed Out Church organisation decided to successfully crowdfund to support their programme, borrowing what they need for productions and paying it back into the community kitty from takings on the door and from event hires.

Performances have been halted temporarily while Liverpool Council make some much-needed repairs to the fabric of the building, while also conducting a survey to find out what Liverpudlians would like to see happen to it. The citizens of Liverpool have come back with a resounding thumbs up to continue with more of the same. Says Reynolds, who is now the curator of the programme: ‘It confirms to us and the council that owns the building that we’re on the right track.’ Despite the refurbishment, no roof replacement is planned – people love the open-air experience, though there are transparent marquees for events that cannot be conducted in the wet. But running water and some decent loos will be a welcome addition. ‘People love this place,’ says Reynolds. ‘They believe in what we’re doing – everyone from Paul McCartney who has endorsed it on his website to homeless guys who sleep on the step outside. They all love the Bombed Out Church.’

Case Study - Incredible Edible Todmorden

Incredible Edible Todmorden was born in 2008, out of a community’s desire to galvanise its town and people at a time of great economic distress. What started with some guerilla gardening – planting veg and herbs in underutilised civic spaces, from station planters and flower beds at doctors’ surgeries to spare plots in cemeteries – has blossomed into a worldwide network of communities that see the value of growing locally, eating in season, and supporting each other and local growers through networks, markets, cookery classes, educational activities and events.

The Incredible Edible movement begun in Todmorden now has 100 affiliate projects around the UK, some 700 worldwide, and two spin-off social-enterprise companies: the Incredible Farm, a not-for-profit that teaches small-scale commercial food growing and marketing skills to young people; and the Incredible Aquagarden, run in partnership with Todmorden High School, based on its premises and offering live science teaching on futuristic growing systems such as aquaponics and hydroponics, as well as traditional agriculture and food science.

Over the seven years Incredible Edible has been going its campaigns have involved local communities and schools in every aspect of food husbandry and issues of local sustainability, galvanising support for bee-friendly plantings, as well as broadcasting the benefits of healthy eating and community connectivity.

The Incredible Edible team has decided not to scale up and take on the corporates, but to become a Community Benefit Society, remaining a fluid, not-for-profit entity, with no staff, no offices and no tiresome bureaucracy to navigate. ‘We are not hoop jumpers,’ says founding member Mary Clear. Instead, money made through giving tours and talks is ploughed back into the kitty to fund further work for the good of the community, near and far.

Luckily there is so much interest in the work they have done that there is no shortage of engagements in the diary, or people wanting to work with them. For example, the Incredible Edible team recently supported the Garage Sale Trail (see FX Brief Encounters, October 2015). ‘That was just a hoot,’ says Clear. ‘If someone comes to us with an idea that we love and meets our values then we’ll go for it. And…if we think it’s a laugh we’ll do it.’

Case Study - Access All Areas – Open Works, West Norwood

Civic Systems Lab teamed up with Lambeth Council to test out a new platform for promoting and facilitating ‘participation culture’ in a way that could potentially have positive benefits on health, prosperity, employment, entrepreneurialism and even crime reduction. Called Open Works, a pilot scheme kicked off in 2014, and lasted a full year.

With a strong presence on West Norwood high street, the Open Works shop invited any and all locals in to discuss their ideas on everything, from how to make a better neighbourhood to craft workshops, employment and start-up schemes. The Open Works team then worked with the community to try and turn these ideas into real projects that had the potential to achieve long-lasting change, both for individuals and the wider area.

More than 1,000 people dropped in during the year, with a programme of events that covered opportunities to get involved in bulk cooking, food growing, trading, making and repairing, supper hosting, workshops, new company/start-up incubators, and festivals. Some 20 projects emerged that created opportunities for sharing knowledge, skills, space and equipment across a very diverse demographic.

Many of these projects have stalled due to the removal of Lambeth Council support at the end of the year-long experiment. But the projects that survive are those where infrastructure is now established and costs little to maintain – such as with a bee-friendly planting of flowers and veg in planters along the high street (‘West Norwood Bzz Garage’, situated next to the Bus Garage) and a new public orchard of 100 fruit trees – or where existing infrastructure has been given new life through programming. For example, says Laura Billings, project leader and one of the founders of Civic Systems Lab: ‘There’s a Stitch Club that meets at local craft cooperative Rock, Paper, Scissors. Some of the projects were strong enough and connected enough to each other that they’re keeping going.’

Client - Lambeth Council
Designer - Civic Systems Lab
Schedule -  One year

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