Last Wednesday, for the first of our Study Tours under the new Building Community Consortium programme, we took 6 groups based in London on a tour of 2 neighbourhoods to give them ideas and inspiration for their community led projects. These groups ranged from Transition Towns groups to co-operatives and people working to improve an open space, high street or garden. Olivia Tusinski of Architecture 00:/ came along to help facilitate and posed some excellent questions about how the design of neighbourhoods affects how people feel.
We spent the morning in Bonnington Square, Vauxhall hearing about all of the initiatives there that started up in the 80s and are ongoing. Vine Housing Co-Op and Bonnington Square Gardens Association are made up of local volunteers who continue to work to make their neighbourhood a great place to live. Residents here have been involved in developing and maintaining housing, a community centre and various open spaces. Our groups were particularly impressed with the Paradise Project. This initiative literally grew out of the Bonnington Square Garden – residents dug up the corners of the road (with the council’s permission!) and have planted along the roads to make the entire street greener. This has a calming effect on the whole neighbourhood, although our hosts did mention that some find the planting an obstruction so negotiation has had to take place to make sure that it remains accessible.
We had our lunch at the Bonnington Café where local people cook fresh and healthy meals – so much of what makes this a thriving neighbourhood is thanks to residents’ hard work.
We spent the afternoon in Dalston where the initiatives are much more recent. We had a tour of Gillet Square with Dominic Ellison of Hackney Co-operative Developments. We talked about just how many local voluntary, private and community organisations have come together to create a space for all kinds of people to use. The square is an incredibly flexible space and has hosted a huge range of events since it opened in 2006. We stopped off quickly at the Farm Shop which has been transformed by volunteers into a space for growing, cooking and eating and is using some innovative methods to demonstrate how farming can be done in the city. Our final stop was the Eastern Curve Garden which aims to be ‘A meeting place for people and plants’. There was some discussion in the group about how inclusive the garden was, but judging by the range of people we saw using it on our sunny day, it has managed to attract all kinds of local people.
All of the groups who came along found inspiration from the places and people we visited. They were particularly struck by the range of management styles we heard about, and were comforted to know that all of these appeared to be working. Both the Dalston and Vauxhall examples demonstrated how local people taking control and creating places and spaces that people genuinely want to look after and spend time in can have a dramatic impact on way a neighbourhood looks, feels and works!
Any community group can come along on our Study Tours for free. If you’re interested, click here to see if we have any scheduled in your area or get in touch to see if we can arrange one especially for you.
If you want to read more about a couple of the groups that came along, please visit their websites:
London Community Housing Co-op
Robin Hood Community Garden