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People, Place, Planet: Think Piece by Hajir Kheder

Posted on 26 February 2024

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People, Place, Planet: Think Pieces, are a series of online blogs which will take our event series theme as a starting point and will offer an external voice and provocation.

In this edition of our People, Place, Planet: Think Pieces, Hajir Kheder shares her thoughts and ideas about the theme through the lens of social value and collaboration.

The power of social value in harnessing the vitality of communities, neighbourhoods and  environment 

As an architectural studio working closely with communities through programmes of engagement, we know the vital role that social value has to play. For our public-sector projects it offers an important contribution in balancing the needs of people, place and our environment. It is now over 10 years since the Public Services (Social Value) Act became legislation in 2013 and we are now able to reflect on impact and ask; is this having the desired effect on the vitality of communities we work with? What are the experiences and legacies being created? The Social Value Act has had a significant impact on public sector bodies. By setting a requirement in statute that social, environmental and economic benefits and wellbeing are considered in connection with public services and contracts, the Act encourages clients to go beyond core service delivery in the  commissioning of works.  

Community Film Showcase Event at the Ledbury Estate_June 2023 – Christian Cross Photography

In terms of implementing social value, examples such as the Social Value Model (2020) offer good  benchmarking through a menu of themes that each aim to tackle current challenges, for example;  Covid-19 recovery, economic inequality, climate change, equal opportunity and wellbeing. However,  nearly four years on since the start of the pandemic, some of these issues continue to be  exacerbated; including rising living costs, mounting pressure for access to affordable housing and  decent homes, rising homelessness, inflation and job insecurity. With communities experiencing increasing pressure under the strain of these challenges, social value could not be more vital to  helping people that are struggling. 

Raising the standard of social and affordable housing in the UK has been core to the work at  Karakusevic Carson Architects and we deliver projects with local communities and believe in  collaboration as a fundamental part of the design process. Working day-to-day with internal design  teams across a number of neighbourhoods and estates in London and further afield to address social  equity through design has been key to my role and within my team. As an architect and engagement  specialist, this experience helps to bridge two distinct areas; the need to really understand the unique characteristics, demographics, cultures, needs and resources within a particular area; and  how communities can be supported to meaningfully contribute in shaping designs and ultimately raising the quality of life for local people.  

Resident Conversations at the Granville November 2022 – Ondre Roach

From the inception of a project we set out to understand what the needs and aspirations of a community are, set out through clearly defined Residents’ Charters and Manifestos and commit to  realising outcomes through regular interactions that span a range of different formats and feedback loops, from interactive workshops, meetings, exhibitions, site walks and study trips. By understanding the unique composition, features and dynamics of each community, we begin to develop approaches that can support much needed change, such as setting up IT hubs in estates to tackle digital exclusion, upskilling workshops on grant funding and retrofit measures, and targeting funding to local initiatives that are already having some impact locally to amplify efforts.  

An example of tangible benefits secured for residents and community groups during delivery is the  creation of a new temporary community hub on our St Raphael’s estate project in Brent, which has  helped bring much needed improvements whilst wider development plans come forward. The space has been a huge success, with the local residents group ‘St Raph’s Voice’ managing bookings and general running of the building. The space has provided a valuable ‘living room’ for the community; hosting children’s parties and clubs, workshops, resident meetings and training clinics, collectively attracting hundreds of residents overall. The building’s running costs have been minimal, owing to the solar panels that make up the facade, and secures revenue through bookings. Evidence of the value generated from this is a strong desire from residents to see this ‘temporary’ building retained, even after the permanent building is delivered across the road in the future. 

Opening of the Temp Community Hub at St Raphs Estate – Karakusevic Carson Architects

Across South Kilburn, we had the opportunity to visit a growing site occupying a piece of underused land at Newman Catholic College in Harlesden run by Let’s Grow Brent, who are doing  incredible work to help tackle food poverty for South Kilburn communities. By drawing on lessons learned and inviting co-creation for future growth in Kilburn Open Space, we wanted to make space  for a holistic approach to social value, maximising benefits through collective action and partnership  working while wider building plans progress. 

Lets Grow Brent Harlesden Growing Space

Elsewhere, we have collaborated with youth communities with Beyond the Box to build agency on a  grassroots level, empowering young people from diverse backgrounds to transform places that are  important to them and that bring value to what would otherwise be neglected spaces. In Enfield, we supported a 17-strong group of ‘Design Leaders’ to re-imagine a new youth space in Edmonton  shopping centre for the Youth and Community Connexions charity (NYCC). Key to success was their  ingenuity and ability to think creatively to maximise the potential of existing materials and resources.  Securing a donation of two second-hand, bespoke arcade machines was a symbol of one such victory.  

Ultimately, achieving meaningful impact for communities and neighbourhoods means working in a  holistic and integrated way to embed opportunities at all stages. It involves investing in outreach  work from early on and harnessing the valuable knowledge and experience that local residents have  to offer, building their capacity to continue to champion change.

About the Author

Hajir Kheder

Hajir leads community engagement along with wider outreach activities for a range of masterplanning and mixed-use projects at Karakusevic Carson Architects. She brings her combined background in stakeholder engagement and an architectural education, working with community members to develop design briefs and projects through open and creative collaboration.


About the WEdesign 2023/24 Series: People, Place, Planet

People, Place, Planet is our theme for The Glass-House 2023/24 WEdesign series. 

As we continue to shape our places, we are faced with the huge challenge of balancing our personal needs, the collective needs of our communities and those of our increasingly fragile planet.

This series will aim to identify and explore the opportunities and synergies that exist when we strive to balance people, place and planet in placemaking. 

How can we think differently about how we shape our places? How can we collaborate more through design and placemaking to value and respect people, place and planet equally?

To find out more about the full 2023/24 series, visit our People, Place, Planet page on The Glass-House website.

WEdesign is The Glass-House’s annual series of free interactive public events, held online and in-person in cities across the UK, where we explore collaborative design in placemaking through discussion, debate and playful co-design activities. 

To find out more about the WEdesign Programme, visit the WEdesign page on The Glass-House website.

WEdesign is supported by the Ove Arup Foundation.