Social media continues to raise the bar here, giving consumers the ability to organise and call out anything perceived as being less than faithful to itself, or which lacks care and responsibility. It gives individuals and groups a voice, and therefore access to media and political influencers.
It follows that the successful delivery of any complex, large scale urban regeneration schemes today relies on genuine community engagement, and a degree of humility that goes with it; a willingness to listen, learn and respond.
Some developers embrace community engagement more effectively than others. In the best cases, it’s not a box-ticking exercise but an authentic values-led belief and a genuine passion to make places better for people shines through. This can be contrasted with what one leading property figure calls the ‘seagull approach’ to development. The cleaned-up version of this is…coming to an area, feeding from it, ‘depositing’ on it, and then flying away. Authenticity in stakeholder engagement means the process has to be driven by the need to achieve the active involvement of residents from the outset.
Ensuring community groups such as residents’ associations are encouraged to play an active part in consultation and engagement sessions is a first step. Staging exhibitions and meetings in the community, at accessible times, is another.
The work of Glass-House Community Led Design, a national charity that supports communities, organisations, and networks to work collaboratively on the design of buildings, open spaces, homes and neighbourhoods, is particularly praise-worthy.
Sir Howard Bernstein, the former chief executive of Manchester City Council and the driving force behind more than two decades of investment in the city, says effective engagement with residents is an “essential element” of regeneration.
For individuals he argues that it “equips them to take greater responsibility for their own social and economic outcomes”, and from a civic perspective it matters because “the long-term sustainability of plans and investments depend on residents taking advantage of new opportunities in their city”.
One project Influential is supporting is the £1.4bn regeneration of Mayfield in Manchester.
Mayfield, a 24-acre site brimming with potential but mostly derelict for the last 30 years, will be transformed over the next decade into a new neighbourhood, with 1,500 homes, a hotel and offices built around a 6.5 acre managed public park.
Here, the developer, U+I, which is working in partnership with three public sector partners, Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester and LCR, has strived to engage with the local community from the outset after its appointment in late 2016.
U+I places community engagement at the heart of its approach. It has gone further than many other peers by creating a dedicated Community Challenge Panel to ensure its public-private schemes deliver the necessary social and economic benefits to the local community.
Similarly, our client Morgan Sindall Construction does not expect anyone to just take its word for the social value it can achieve on projects around the country – it has created a Social Profit Calculator. This is a mechanism that allows the business to demonstrate exactly where the benefits are being generated – whether that’s through job creation, spend in the local economy or education and training opportunities provided to local people.
The company can also evidence its commitment to cultivating healthy supply chains – integral to this is thinking outside traditional hiring models and working with social enterprises, businesses that operate with a profit-for-purpose ethos.
Social enterprises also often consist of more diverse workforces and in some cases exist or can be created to positively impact upon the working lives of marginalised groups. By integrating such groups into a supply chain, the project can ensure the social, economic and environmental impact of its operations can be felt by a wider range of people.
These are just two examples of how two of the leading players within the built environment are looking to innovate and change the model in an effort to ensure that the regeneration game is not one of winners and losers, but a win-win for all.
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