Placemaking field trip: The Westway

Ladbroke Grove is an iconic place in London, with markets, independent businesses, nightlife, arts, festivals and a diverse resident population animating the area against the backdrop of the imposing Westway flyover. On 23 May, Future of London visited the area as part of our 2017 placemaking programme. Regeneration charity Westway Trust started the field trip with a tour of upcoming schemes developed through co-design and community engagement; while Catalyst Housing Group accompanied a walk round their Portobello Square estate renewal programme, closing with a discussion on engagement strategies.

Westway Trust

Westway Trust manages 23 acres under and around the Westway, including shops, green space, markets and event space. For the last two years, Westway Trust has consulted residents and businesses on schemes to improve experiences of the area while protecting its authenticity and independence.

Thorpe Close & Portobello Green

Improving experiences starts at Ladbroke Grove station, where arrivals tend to head south rather than north towards the Westway. Head of Environment and Local Economy Marie Monaghan explained that Westway Trust wants to change this with better wayfinding to Thorpe Close, to be designed by local artists this summer. Thorpe Close itself is being transformed from a car park to eight pop-up units, further drawing people into the area. Developed through a community co-design process, the pop-ups are for short-term community use, such as workshops, performances and retail.

Portobello Green is along the northern edge of Thorpe Close, but boundary wall and railings sever the two spaces. Consultations highlighted concerns about anti-social behaviour on the Green and a desire for better connectivity and safe spaces for play. In response, Westway Trust is removing the railings, adding stepped seating along Thorpe Close, removing dense vegetation and arranging family-friendly events.

Portobello Green and Arcade
Portobello Green and Arcade

Portobello Arcade

Portobello Arcade houses several independent retailers. Designed with units facing inwards rather than onto the street, the Arcade is uninviting, obscured by market trader vans and impacted by anti-social behaviour. Rosie Carpenter, who has operated her shop Sasti from the Arcade since 1995, noted that although trade has increased in recent years, these issues make running a business difficult.

In 2015, Westway Trust engaged the community to rethink the design of the Arcade. Several shops will be refitted with frontages facing Thorpe Close, and others will be re-provided in a new market hall. Rosie appreciates that the plans will reduce anti-social behaviour and create a more open shopping area, but she’s concerned about construction impacts. Temporarily relocating is costly and construction vehicles risk further blocking access to shops. Marie noted that Westway Trust is considering options for supporting tenants during construction.

Acklam Bays 55-58

Across Portobello Road, Acklam Bays 55-58 are located under the Westway and are currently used as market storage, a bar and theatre. The bays enliven the area on weekends but are closed during the week. Responding to strong community demand for performance space and a desire to activate the area throughout the week, Westway Trust is refurbishing the bays to provide event space, shops and studios. Keeping the DIY spirit of the area, a steering group of 15 locals are determining how the performance space will be used and managed.

For Westway Trust, measures of success will include delivering schemes that are acceptable to the community as well as retaining the tenants and markets that help establish the area’s identity.

Future plans and existing space at Acklam Bays
Future plans and existing space at Acklam Bays

Catalyst Housing Group

Portobello Square

Wornington Green Estate was built between 1968 and 1982, providing 538 social rented homes. In 2006, RB Kensington & Chelsea concluded that improvements to the quality of homes would be best achieved by redevelopment rather than refurbishment, and published a planning brief to guide redevelopment, undertaken by estate owner Catalyst Housing Group (CHG). CHG’s External Affairs Manager Chris Patterson discussed some of the design and development considerations for the scheme, renamed Portobello Square.

Key tenets of the brief have been embedded into the Section 106 agreement for the site. For example, RBKC-owned assets must be re-provided, including lock-ups for market traders, green space (with 50% of the total green space retained throughout construction) and the Venture Centre community space. Social housing units are also being re-provided alongside over 330 new private units.

CHG is integrating the estate with surrounding areas, taking inspiration from – but not copying –  building materials and housing types on neighbouring Victorian-era streets (e.g. yellow brick, terraces). Mature trees on Bonchurch Road are retained as a link to the previous estate layout, while the new street network will re-link Wornington Road with Portobello Road for improved permeability. Within the estate, CHG commissioned new maps to improve wayfinding.

New & Old at Portobello Square
New & old at Portobello Square

Community engagement and support

Sue Hannah, Head of Neighbourhoods, discussed the importance of supporting residents throughout the 15-20 year development schedule. An on-site engagement team coordinates a residents’ charter and steering group, drop-in sessions, newsletters, a website, events and outreach teams. The latter has included working with Age UK, hiring an Arabic interpreter and using links with established community groups. Residents themselves convene a design working group, which recently secured projecting balconies for Phase 2 units.

CHG also funds local community groups, such as the North Kensington Women’s Textile Project (NKWTP), which offers sewing classes. NKWTP manager Esther Ngo Mangoung explained the group’s important social function, providing space for women new to the country to practise English and meet people. Group members look after one another, with external support contacts in place for issues such as mental health or domestic abuse. CHG also funds the Goldfinger Factory, an artisan workshop based in nearby Trellick Tower. Its Co-Founder Marie Cudennec explained that tenants recycle landfill-bound materials for use in community projects. Established artisans work with local young people on paid traineeships in exchange for free rent.

Ian McCann, Head of Community Enterprise at Catalyst Gateway, explained that supporting these social and economic opportunities is part of a Community Investment Strategy which aims to improve social capital and help people into work. CHG uses HACT’s Value Calculator to measure impact of these schemes. Whilst not perfect, the tool has helped them to measure the social and well-being impacts of the programme.