This month, we turn the spotlight on community-driven change in north-west London’s Cricklewood. Spread across three wards in three different boroughs – Barnet, Brent and Camden – Cricklewood faces issues common to town centres across the Capital, but which are exacerbated by the difficulties of providing services to an area crossing borough boundaries.
Issues such as street cleaning, rubbish collection, parking management and anti-social behaviour become more difficult to manage when there is no unified authority dealing with them. This can lead to confusion and inaction, which impacts on the quality of life of residents and the viability of businesses.
Residents and businesses in the area worried that the lack of unified services was having a detrimental effect in Cricklewood, with confusion over policing, amenities, parking, and anti-social behaviour. As in other boundary-straddling areas, local businesses and residents were often unclear as to who to contact to resolve issues, and found differing regulations and service arrangements confusing.
To address the situation, Cricklewood residents have taken the initiative by establishing a community group to deliver improvements to the local high street and promote a distinct identity for the area.
The Cricklewood Improvement Programme has been working with councils, businesses and residents to tackle the problems which stem from Cricklewood’s awkward location. The group has provided a one-stop shop for locals of all three boroughs, helping them to address common issues. CIP recently celebrated success in organising a Joint Action Group on community safety to enable a common approach to policing in Cricklewood; they hope to reach similar agreements for street cleaning and rubbish collection.
CIP began in 2009 as an umbrella group for the five residents’ associations around Cricklewood Broadway, the area’s high street, which is also the border between the boroughs of Brent and Camden (the border between Camden and Barnet runs perpendicular). Inspired by the Big Society campaign, its aims are to improve the quality of life in Cricklewood, promote the high street, engage and empower local residents and businesses, and build greater community cohesion.
CIP is supported by homeless charity Ashford Place (previously known as Cricklewood Homeless Concern), which saw the goal of promoting community spirit as a broader aspect of its work with vulnerable people.
In November 2011, the group successfully applied for £1.67m in funding from the Mayor’s Outer London Fund, established to “nurture long-term growth, and to improve the vitality of local high streets and town centres.” Round One of OLF had only been available to local authorities, but Round Two was opened up to a range of local interest groups, as long as the relevant local authority was willing to act as the accountable body. Barnet Council supplied technical advice to CIP in preparing the bid, and the OLF grant was administered by the council, which appointed CIP as project chair. The boroughs of Barnet and Brent also matched the £1.67m with a combined £590,000 for improvements.
The funding enabled CIP to engage Robin Lee Architects to implement a series of public realm improvements for the high street, with Gort Scott Architects as design partners. When complete, Cricklewood will have a unified design across its streetscape (including paving, lighting, and bins), more trees, less street furniture, and better road crossings.
Danny Maher, Cricklewood Improvement Programme’s CEO, is keen to stress the impact of improvements on the feel of the area. While the physical improvements will appear incrementally up to 2015, cultural and community events have given locals reason to be optimistic about the direction the area is going in.
In Autumn 2013, a novel project by regeneration agency Spacemakers sought to bring attention to the lack of designated public space in Cricklewood, to highlight the benefits such spaces provide, and show that they can be delivered – sometimes literally! – even with limited resources.
Spacemakers created a mobile Town Square (designed and built by Kieren Jones) which was moved around by bike and acted as a venue for nine public events in September 2013. The presence of the Town Square transformed underused and abandoned spaces into vibrant venues for community activities – a car park was used as a cinema, a railway terrace as a library, and a stretch of waste-land as a dance hall.
Tom James, Project Manager for the Cricklewood Town Square, noted that, “Cricklewood … is a community with no public space: no town hall, no library, no square, not even a single bench.” This lack of amenities meant people had less reason to visit the area, and less reason to stay once they were there. Such amenities bring benefits to local businesses as well as residents – indeed, CIP’s Danny Maher is keen to stress that the two groups are not mutually exclusive.
Spacemakers Director Matt Weston believes that to foster resilient local economies, change must be rooted in an area’s existing characteristics and invite engagement from local residents and businesses. The Town Square was intended to address a specific need in the area (for public space) and incorporated amenities that have disappeared from Cricklewood over the years, such as the public library and a dance hall.
Weston hopes the project can inspire similar schemes to reactivate unused spaces across London, by showing what is possible even with limited resources: the entire Cricklewood Town Square project accounted for less than 1% of the OLF funding allocation.
Danny Maher believes that cultural initiatives such as the Town Hall and the annual winter festival (also realised with OLF funding) help locals to engage with change in the area and feel part of a defined community.
This approach puts place and local identity at the heart of development – CIP has proven that a sense of place gives people a reason to invest time and effort in improving an area and gives them a vision to work towards. Bolstered by their success with OLF funding, CIP is continuing to lay ambitious plans for the area and build on local support for what they have achieved.