Sense of Place advocates ‘humbler approach’ to regeneration

24dash recently reported on the Sense of Place event in Birmingham.

An innovative six-month scheme designed to uncover people’s aims and aspirations for their neighbourhood is set to benefit future regeneration plans in the Midlands.

The Sense of Place (SoP) Project, which was piloted in the Dudley and Soho Road areas of North West Birmingham, was delivered by a consortium of practitioners specially commissioned by Midlands-based housing market renewal Pathfinder Urban Living.

Designed to help residents understand how they can influence the content of masterplans by getting involved at the outset, the project used a variety of art forms including storytelling to capture people’s feelings about where they live.

Four local people were employed as ‘community researchers’ to help deliver activities and develop a ‘toolkit’ containing case studies and examples of how to use specific techniques to empower other local communities.

Community Researcher and Handsworth resident, Raymond Brown, explained: “This has been a great experience for the community researchers as the project gave us the opportunity to get to grips with local issues and start to work up plans for the future.”

Commenting on the success of the project, Nick Corbett, Urban Living’s director of urban design and enterprise said: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and volume of ideas we’ve received in the last six months.

“Critically, people have told us that they would prefer we work with them to improve their existing homes and streets, rather than introducing the wholesale change they associate with masterplans.”

To mark the end of the six month pilot project, partnership practitioners including representatives from Multistory, MADE, CUDOS, Architecture Sans Frontières, OO:/ Architecture, the Digital Native Academy and local authority neighbourhood managers met recently in Birmingham at a conference entitled ‘Is the Masterplan dead?’.

The aim was to share best practice and highlight how SoP has reinforced the vital role residents can play in shaping and delivering plans for their area.

Over 100 participants attended the sell-out event including local authority representatives from across the Midlands, architects, developers, housing associations, residents and community action groups.

Professor Nabeel Hamdi, emeritus professor of housing and urban development at Oxford Brookes university was the keynote speaker, delivering an engaging speech about UK and international community action plans that have helped inform masterplans.

He said: “Planning should stimulate social and economic change with targeted interventions rather than wholesale redevelopment, and with the participation of all stakeholders. Building relationships through existing networks, stitching things together and investing in public space are just some of the key ingredients”

Presentations were also made by various groups involved in on-the-ground, creative activities carried out as part of the six month project.

These included encouraging residents to put forward ideas and get involved via the ‘Do, Dream, Pledge’ campaign, setting up an outdoor ‘living room’ and creating a map of the Dudley Road area which was placed in several locations and used to spark conversation.

Children were also invited to participate in a ‘sight and sound workshop’. This involved getting year four primary school children to create and perform an aspirational piece of original music about their area.

The Sense of Place Project contributes towards Urban Living’s Design Strategy objective for creating an authentic sense of place, and it will help to ensure that housing growth is delivered in a way that meets the aspirations and choices of local people.

Nick Corbett concluded: “This project has taught us that a humbler approach to neighbourhood planning is needed.

“People’s memories, stories and emotional attachment to places can inform masterplanning decisions and ensure that local knowledge is reflected.

“The Sense of Place Project captures subjective information in a practical way so that it can inform decision making and we hope others will benefit from our findings.”

Heart of England – DNA Case Study

The company was recently featured in a set of case studies put together by the Heart of England Tourist Board to show the range of skills and expertise within the region. The case study summary stated:

The Walsall-based business is working on an interactive learning technology project called ‘Kliper’ which teaches schoolchildren about physics in a fun but absorbing way. Issues covered include such physics phenomena as gravity, inertia, mass and collision dynamics all explained as the user tries to dock the spacecraft with the International Space Station.

Director Geoff Henderson said: “We’ve been working closely with Professor Bob Stone of the University of Birmingham to show that serious gaming techniques have a role to play in education and training. Much of what we do is based around showing how important and powerful a tool serious gaming can be in so many different aspects of life and that it has a major contribution to make in the real world.”

The company which was set up in 2006 and, as well as teaching physics in a virtual setting also uses serious games technology in the physical world. Starting out with a small scale test project it has developed solutions that work in the area of planning and urban design and that allow residents to experiment and interact with 3D models to present their ideas on what they would like their neighbourhood to look like.

In recognition of this new approach to urban design the company was awarded the Innovation Award 2008 by Ordnance Survey for the creative way in which their data was used.

Geoff added: “Our core mission is to convince people of the merits of serious gaming.”

Soho Foundation Launch at Soho House

The Soho Foundation project raised its profile with the local community over a lunchtime event at Soho House which was kindly organised by Colin Hanno, the Neighbourhood Manager for Soho Finger and Gib Heath.

Geoff Henderson of Digital Native Academy presented an overview of the project to representatives of the local community who attended the event. He emphasised the aim of the project was to work closely with the local community and help create a more informed dialogue with planning professionals in the spirit of a co-production approach to regeneration.

It was good to see the community engaged in the debate representing an insightful view. The community members highlighted the importance of being involved in the projects rather than “being at the receiving end where things are always being done to them”.

The Soho Foundation is a resource which should be led by the lcoal community and they should have an active input in the development of the website. Nosheen Kosar, Digital Toolkit Project Manager, in attendance at the event has been appointed to communicate and make extensive contacts with residents and stakeholders from the local community.

Thanks to everyone who attended and to Colin for arranging the event, to the excellent Boat House Cafe for providing the delicious food and to the staff at Soho House for providing the venue and for making everyone feel welcome.

Handsworth Health Researchers Present Findings

After several months of concerted effort a group of Handsworth residents who were recruited as community health researchers have presented their findings at a launch event in Handsworth Library. Commissioned by Birmingham’s Neighbourhood Programme as part of the Handsworth Health and Heritage project the researchers looked at health issues of particular interest to them, their family or the wider neighbourhood.

Handsworth’s Heritage Comes to Life

Following the official launch of the Handsworth Heritage Trail by Handsworth Wood Councillor Paulette Hamilton at Soho House on 11th March it’s great to see that this vibrant urban neighbourhood is being put on the map for all the right reasons.

Community Health Researchers Reach Their Goal

After almost six months of effort a group of Handsworth residents saw the results of their health research featured at an event in Handsworth Library. As a key part of the Handsworth Health and Heritage project the community volunteers looked at health issues of importance to them.