Spotlight: Islington young person’s design competition

In our Spotlight series, we cover innovations in regeneration, community engagement, ways of working and more being undertaken by Future of London members. This Spotlight is focused on the operation and outcomes of LB Islington’s young person’s design competition, which invited young people to create a masterplan for a local regeneration site.

Finsbury Leisure Centre is located in the St Luke’s area of south Islington. Completed in 1973, it provides a wide range of amenities for the local community, including football pitches, badminton courts, squash courts and fitness studios. Now over 40 years old, the centre requires significant investment and refurbishment to remain operational. It is a good opportunity to redevelop the site: the building does not use space efficiently or interact positively with the streetscape, and the grounds feel impermeable and difficult to navigate.

In 2014 Islington Council’s planning team developed a a planning brief to guide redevelopment of the leisure centre site. The council aims to redevelop the site to provide new housing, leisure facilities, a nursery, a GP surgery, a new location for the Bunhill Energy Centre and improved public space. Given the complex nature of the site and the council’s aspiration for an exemplary design, the planning team chose to run a design competition to find the best possible design team for the site. Concept design ideas were submitted by five shortlisted architects in early 2016. Finsbury Leisure Centre
Finsbury Leisure Centre; photo courtesy LB Islington

Getting started

Prior to opening the professional design competition, in summer 2015 the planning team organised a shadow design competition for young people. Adam Barnett, Principal Planner at Islington Council, explained that the young person’s design competition grew out of the planning team’s desire to extract greater social value from the planning and design process. Compared to other parts of the planning process that manage to procure social benefits from new developments — such as S106 stipulations for using local labour and apprenticeship schemes during construction — it can be difficult to reach young people during community consultations and engage them meaningfully.

The young person’s competition mirrored the professional competition, with the same brief and redevelopment goals. On the advice of Islington’s Youth Council, the planning team opened the design competition to young people aged 14-18 throughout London. To deliver the competition, LB Islington partnered with Open City, owing to their experience of running successful architecture programmes with young people, such as the Accelerate into University programme.

Encouraging participation

The initiative was mostly promoted through the council’s media channels. These included screens at the leisure centres and housing estates, the ‘Heatwave’ summer magazine, the youth-oriented Izzy website and bulletins to local schools. Open City promoted the competition through their own network.

The planning team arranged a variety of incentives to attract interest. All professional entrants to the design competition agreed to grant a two-week internship to the winning shadow team members, while the runners-up were offered an internship at the council. The runners-up received gift vouchers and a month long-leisure pass. All participants received a goodie bag and a certificate.

Running the competition

To introduce participants to the concepts in the project brief and the process of creating a masterplan, Open City developed a one-day workshop, delivered in July 2015 to four youth club locations throughout the borough. Around 40 young people from across London attended the workshops, and six team entrants were formed. After working on their design ideas over the following weeks, the teams attended a critique workshop to receive feedback on their designs from local architects. The final submissions offered a diverse range of design considerations and configurations.

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Islington junior design competition Islington junior design competition
Designs for a new leisure centre (top, bottom left) and housing (bottom right) from submitted masterplans


Submissions were reviewed by a jury comprising staff from Islington’s planning department, the chair of the Islington Society and the chair of Islington’s Design Review Panel. The winning design was announced in February 2016. Produced by four young women, their creative approach, ability to work as an effective team and high level of detail throughout their design won praise from the jury. Their masterplan featured combined football/basketball pitches, Dutch-style terraced houses and a pocket park with opportunities to grow food.

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Designs for the new leisure centre (left) and housing (right) from the winning masterplan



Several of the participants were interested in architecture and design as a career option and intended to use the competition as part of their portfolios when applying to university. The young person’s design competition contributed to their understanding of Islington’s strategic planning goals, as well as the processes behind creating a masterplan that satisfies numerous community needs — all important skills for embarking on a career path towards architecture, planning or design.

Adam Barnett feels that the competition helped to change the dynamic of the design process, giving a traditionally hard-to-reach group the opportunity to take an active role in design, develop an interest in the planning process, and have a stake in the future of the community.

Replicating success

Based on the success of the competition, the planning team is looking to embed the approach in all major development sites that come forward in the borough.

Adam Barnett is positive about the potential for other local authorities to organise their own shadow design competitions. He advises to start planning as early as possible and to secure an experienced partner to facilitate workshops. Colleagues in youth services, housing services and education can help publicise the competition. To provide a valuable experience for participants, they should be offered a clear but challenging project brief and attractive, tangible rewards.  Finally, organise a high profile event to give participants an opportunity to meet professional architects and to celebrate the participants’ work.


The winning professional practice will be selected in summer 2016. For more information contact Adam Barnett (