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Volunteer Voices: How collaboration can help a community transform derelict land into a thriving green space

Posted on 27 August 2013

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By Orsola de Marco

One of the most exciting aspects of community-led design projects is being able to witness the process that turns a conceptual idea into a vision, its development and implementation. Celebrating a group’s achievements is always a delightful moment, but even more, is the opportunity to share the narrative of the journey, the ups and downs, the challenges and the learning outcomes with people embarking in a similar project.

How can collaboration and participatory engagement help a community transform a derelict piece of land into a thriving local green space that welcomes a diverse mix of users?

Last week we had the pleasure to visit Fortune Green as part of The Glass-House Hosted Study Tours.  Mark Stonebanks, the Friends of Fortune Green group leader and Gerald Openheim, an active member, presented their experience to a group of ten attendees, a mix of community groups looking for some insights, tips and inspiration to feed into their own community projects, and professionals involved in community-led design.

The day started with an overview of the Fortune Green project, its different phases and how the collaboration with Camden Council was crucial for the completion of each of phase and the overall success of the process. Even though every project might start with an end goal, design is an ongoing journey rather then the end result. One of Mark’s top tips was to proceed step-by-step. Have a big vision but start with short-term feasible objectives, especially if the funds are tight.The group’s experience showed that small achievements can serve to reboot the motivation of a group, increase participation and unlock further funding.

The walk in the park was a striking proof of the inclusive mix of users that the project has achieved. At the beginning of their community-led design journey the Green was an underused derelict place where no one would want to spend their time. Now it is a beautiful and welcoming place for local residents, parents with children, joggers and elderly people. Over time the community developed a strong sense of ownership for the place, resolving in a set of positive unwritten rules of civic and mutual respect.

The afternoon of our event saw participants actively involved in a workshop led by Katerina Alexiou, a researcher from the Open University, with the aim of getting attendees to share their own projects’ narratives through Community Design Exchange, a peer-to-peer digital network to showcase, celebrate and inspire community-led design projects.

The activity fostered engaging conversations between the different community members and professional in the room, which we hope will be carried forward and inspire future collaborations and peer-to-peer support.

If you want to read more about Friends of Fortune Green and the other participants’ stories or share your own community-led project –no matter at which stage – go to

Orsola de Marco is Network and Research Volunteer with The Glass-House.