Since 2011, the practice has been acting as facilitators to a group of residents, the Neighbourhood Action Team (NAT), to develop a neighbourhood plan for the Well Street area of Hackney.
Our main successes and input have been acting as interlocutor with the local authority, providing advice and guidance, signposting relevant reports and studies, producing a comprehensive evidence base to support policy development and fundraising (we have secured £10,000 towards the group’s activities).
Our task has been to provide the team with the capacity and resources to make progress with this complex spatial document. Having developed the initial work plan for the project, we have helped the NAT maintain momentum and undertake key research work, most recently the development of an evidence base. This involved a process of extensive observational and statistical analysis combined with community engagement activities, through which a number key issues have emerged: building Well Street into a fully functioning local centre, improving the physical condition of the street, identifying opportunities for new housing, addressing the problem of over-parking and making changes to the open spaces to create more playable, sociable environments. These areas now form the structure for more detailed policy development by the NAT and the Neighbourhood Forum.
As part of building the evidence base for the Neighbourhood Plan, the practice designed a tailored programme of community engagement. An important test for any community centric planning exercise is demonstrably to reflect the views of all groups. Working through schools, places of worship and community groups, we designed activities such as creative workshops, interviews and street events specifically for and around these groups to generate a relevant body of qualitative and quantitative data. This material has been invaluable in developing relevant policy.
Well Street is located with a largely residential part of the borough. The community is a heterogeneous East London enclave, predominately people on low incomes but with a significant middle class cohort who have moved into the area in recent years. By a slim margin, the majority of the housing in the area is social, with the result that the area suffers from significant deprivation even compared with elsewhere in Hackney, itself one of London’s poorest boroughs. As a retail street, Well Street is in competition with a number of other key town centres and, having lost its once celebrated market, lacks a specific selling point in relation to other local hubs, such as Hackney Central and Broadway Market. As a street it has not been able to serve its catchment area effectively, with the result that many of the retail units are empty or threatened with closure.