Outdoor space with buildings, trees and people walking

Kate Batchelor, Peabody’s Head of Landscaping and Placemaking, highlights the importance of meaningful community engagement in co-creating shared spaces in Thamesmead.

Published: 23/03/2023

This spring, a stretch of land in Thamesmead is to undergo a major transformation. More than three hectares of underused green space will turn into flourishing parkland and welcoming areas for people to sit, meet and play. It’s the final and largest part of the £3.9m South Thamesmead Garden Estate, a four-year programme, supported by the Mayor of London and Groundwork, and run by a design team including a diverse and dedicated group of specially recruited, trained and paid residents – the self-named Community Design Collective (CDC). The programme is contributing to a European-funded research project called CLEVER Cities, which looks at how nature-based solutions can help address the effects of the climate crisis, increase biodiversity, and help tackle social and economic inequalities.

Dedicated to ensuring green spaces in South Thamesmead work for everyone, the CDC has together invested more than 1,000 hours in design conversations, site visits and client meetings over the last four years. They’ve shared their lived experiences to shape the design and delivery of a new pieces of the local landscape, including an edible garden, recreation areas, and places to simply sit back and relax. So it’s no wonder that this final phase of change is so keenly anticipated by the South Thamesmead community.

Prioritising community engagement with local people has been a key part of our work for many years and has deepened over time. Our at Claridge Way (commended in RIBAJ in 2022) saw local residents outline their priorities to change a bland tarmac cut-through into a wonderful green space they could all use and enjoy. This was soon followed by a magnificent community-led project involved 400 people to breathe new life into the Moorings Sociable Club, a much-needed community space which had been empty for almost two decades. This beautifully renovated building – a prime example of modern conservation – was highlighted in the AJ as one of the top 10 spaces to visit as part of Open House Festival 2022.

Thanks to the input of local people throughout these projects (and to ongoing support from the Mayor of London who has part-funded every project), we’ve helped create spaces that work for everyone. And thanks to the work of the CDC on the South Thamesmead Garden Estate, we’ve created a governance structure which will ensure community members are integrated into decision-making as we co-design other spaces in the future. It’s a governance model we’re now using for our latest project, Pathways to the Thames, which will see the co-creation of welcoming, accessible green routes connecting Thamesmead and its residents to the river, just one mile away.

Collaborative working is both resource-intensive and at times challenging, as we come together to solve problems and seek consensus. That is to be expected. But the benefits of democratised design are huge, as local people are not only listened to, but heard and responded to. We’re really pleased with our achievements to date. And we’re inviting anyone with an interest in strengthening their own approach to co-design to talk to us. There’s so much more we can achieve when we work together.

The final phase of the South Thamesmead Garden Estate is set to complete in Spring 2024. The South Thamesmead Garden Estate is being evaluated and findings will be published following completion. If you have any questions on our co-design projects or would like to visit us, please contact us on ThamesmeadNow@peabody.org.uk

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