A senior lecturer at UEL is helping to shape new neighbourhoods in the Blackwater Estuary in Essex.
Jamie-Scott Baxter started ‘Neighbourhoods Made’ because he wanted to support local communities shape the future of their neighbourhoods through design.
The work is carried out through Mr Baxter’s own architecture and urban design practice, vandelvelt, and with former UEL students. They meet regularly with developers, architects, academics and community members to develop a common realistic vision for the future of small rural settlements.
Many rural places are economically and socially vulnerable, with slow community growth and an increasingly ageing population.
“Where local services still exist they are often on a knife's edge of survival,” said Mr Baxter. “Yet some of these places, especially those we are working with in Essex- an hours train ride from London- are under increasing pressure to grow by providing housing.”
Engaging with the communities is an important part of the design process. As a means of creative engagement the team has created a series of events, workshops, posters, fridge magnets and scale models of each of the villages and are helping the communities developing proposals for the villages’ housing and civic infrastructure.
“It’s been great to get involved in a live project,” said Nosheen Rehman, a UEL architecture student who is helping to create a scale model of the village of Tollesbury. “It’s nice to be able to exchange ideas and techniques of information gathering, spatial ideas and be able to help find unique solutions with the communities.”
Neighbourhoods Made will ultimately lead to a new local planning policy in the shape of a Neighbourhood Development Plan for the next 15 years. But it has many other facets too.
“It is helping to bring members of the community together who otherwise may not be heard to discuss, often passionately, what they want for the future of their villages,” said Mr Baxter. “We hope that by sharing our experience and understanding of the process we’ll empower local people. We want them to realise the potential that exists not only to offer ideas but to take control and meaningfully shape the urban fabric of their localities.”
One of the goals of the project is to address the supply of housing. Although the idea of increased housing can often be unpopular, it can provide opportunities for communities when carefully considered.
“New housing can create revenue for otherwise under recourse parishes,” said Mr Baxter. “We are partnering with a unique developer to explore ways that parishes can develop their own housing catering for specific local needs and groups. It’s housing with a civic purpose.”
Overall the work that is being done fits well with UEL’s commitment to civic engagement.
“I’m sure with the right support the project can be grown into something really powerful, a civic tool to empower under-resourced places within UEL’s catchment area,” said Mr Baxter. “We’ve also carried out drawing events with local schools and there is some great talent there.”