In early 2021, we launched a Glass-House blog series called Inspired which invited contributions about community leadership and/or cross-sector collaboration in design and placemaking. We wanted to hear anecdotes from our amazing network about inspired approaches to creating places which looked beyond the usual red lines of traditional design processes.
To kickstart our year at The Glass-House, I want to return to this series to talk about a place Jake and I visited on one of the last frosty mornings of 2022. In late December, we headed out to Bromley in South London to visit the Greener & Cleaner Hub, located in the upper mall of The Glades shopping centre – just a 5 minute walk from Bromley South station.
Greener & Cleaner (G&C) is a charity established in early 2019 by Parisa Wright in response to her own growing anxiety around the climate situation and inspired by the need to promote achievable, sustainable living. The Hub occupies what would usually be a commercial lot in the shopping centre, with close neighbours McDonald’s and Waterstones. Parisa says the location is perfect for them, as it sits on the walking path many visitors to the centre take between shopping and nipping into McDonald’s for a break. Passers-by, intrigued by the open layout, signs inviting them in and comfortable sofas, are then drawn into the Hub to explore more.
What they find upon entering is very different from the other shops in the centre. Brightly coloured banners welcome you into the space, alongside information leaflets full of top tips and ideas for sustainable living, local community groups and events. A beautiful mural of Bromley, painted by a local artist, occupies the back walls. Shelves at the back of the space are full of handmade things from local makers, with one display dedicated to greener gifting ideas. It is really a physical celebration of green living and the local area.
The Hub challenges the idea of traditional shops, and although there are a few things for sale (our favourite were these blocks for solitary bees to nest in made by a local gentleman), the main purpose of the Hub is to create space for a community of people, connected by their passion for sustainability and green living, to be together, share ideas and create action. As public spaces are becoming increasingly threatened by commercialisation and privatisation of land, and communities are rethinking the role of the high street, spaces like the Hub, where anyone is free to come and sit, have a conversation or look around without an expectation of buying anything, are becoming harder and harder to find in our town centres.
Another challenge to traditional shops, the Hub also features Bromley’s own ‘Library of Things’. Looking like a cross between a sophisticated bookshelf and display cabinet, the Library of Things is made up of larger and specialised household items that we all might need once in a blue moon, but are often too expensive for many families to invest in or tricky to store/maintain. Bromley’s includes a carpet cleaner, a drill, a projector, hedge trimmers, an ice cream maker, gazebo and sewing machine (to name just a few). The idea is that you can borrow these larger items, either for a day or a week, at a much smaller cost than outright buying the item. The hope is to reduce waste, as people are buying less of what they don’t really need, whilst giving people access to useful, maintained tools at a lower price. It also helps normalise and popularise the whole concept of borrowing rather than buying, helping make a societal shift towards greener living practices.
The Hub has a variety of functions, and hosts a range of community-based activities. As we were winding up our visit, the Hub was being rearranged for their monthly Parents and Babies Meet-up. The sessions always include a maternity, baby and toddler clothes and toys swap, as well as workshops and talks on topics from reusable nappies to self-love poetry for new mothers. A therapeutic counsellor and parent coach is also sometimes available for chats with parents throughout the morning. This sustainable approach to support for families and individuals, whilst creating community opportunities and activities, encapsulates what makes C&G’s Hub so inspiring.
Outside of the Hub, G&C also works with local and national businesses, delivering talks to help people and businesses explore how to live, work and play more sustainably. They are also currently undertaking a piece of research to explore sustainable living for all, in order to understand current views, attitudes and behaviours around green living, finding hooks in for more people to start living sustainably. You can read more about their research here.
This place-based approach to the challenges of climate change is an inspired approach to cross-sector collaboration which empowers people to make changes in their lives and inspire those around them. Through the creation of the Hub, a physical space in which to explore, communicate and share these ideas for greener living, C&G are co-creating the infrastructure for a green community to flourish within. They are community building while providing sustainability skills training and advice for Bromley, Lewisham and South East London – but are also treating the Hub as a Pilot.
Alongside satellite events and community collaborations, their community Hub Pilot will act as the base for vital behavioural science research (alongside Imperial College London) on improving diversity and inclusion in environmental communications, volunteering and practical support.They hope to empower thousands of charities and public servants with the findings of this research in order to help significantly boost the inclusivity and effectiveness of national communications on the subject.
Finally, they also hoping to empower hundreds of community groups and charities by creating a Blueprint for community support Hubs across the UK, with their research on improving accessibility and inclusion at the heart of that Blueprint
If you’ve been inspired by this blog, you can find out more about Cleaner & Greener on their website here, or drop by to visit the Hub in The Glades Shopping Centre, Bromley.
To explore more of our INSPIRED series click here, we are always on the lookout for inspiring stories and would love for you to contribute. Find out more here.