Social Value in South Acton

Awareness of and interest in delivering social value in regeneration schemes is picking up pace among local authorities, housing associations, and private-sector delivery partners. With numerous methods of maximising social value emerging, Future of London’s project on Social Value aims to showcase different approaches to our network.

On 25 April, Future of London visited South Acton to learn how host Countryside Properties and their joint venture partner L&Q (the JV is known as Acton Gardens) are delivering social value at Ealing’s largest estate regeneration projects. Mark Ludlow, Associate Director (Development) at Countryside Properties, kindly led the field trip.

Originally built in the 60s and 70s, the South Acton estate comprised 1,800 homes across 21 hectares. In 2010, LB Ealing selected the Countryside/L&Q JV to deliver a 20-year regeneration scheme, replacing the previous estate with 2,500 homes and new commercial and community spaces. Now around halfway through the multi-phase project, there’s evidence of the scheme’s social value throughout the estate.

Housing and design

Despite a 39% increase in the number of homes, high-rise blocks are being replaced with mid-rise blocks, mostly between six and 12 storeys. New blocks have courtyards and play areas. Maisonettes at the ground floor of each block bring pedestrian movement back to street level, and a new north-south boulevard will connect two parts of the estate which were previously disjointed.

All residents are offered an opportunity to return to a new home and the regeneration is phased so they only move once. The JV partners also take account for residents’ preferences as to where within the estate they’d like to live; for example, residents at the east end of the estate expressed a preference to stay in that area, so the phasing was reworked to accommodate them.

The site also provides temporary accommodation using buildings awaiting demolition and a ‘pop-up’ shipping container block which can be relocated.

Public space at Acton Gardens
The ‘Gardens’ aspect of Acton Gardens is a nod to the green space throughout the area

Community assets

In 2011, Acton Gardens set up a Community Board, a resident-led forum to shape development and give feedback to the JV partners. The Board is also responsible for administering funding from Acton Gardens for community projects (part of the Section 106 agreement), with £50,000 per year available for various local projects—sewing clubs, after school programmes, IT clubs and the like—which receive up to £5,000 each.

At the centre of the estate, the new Acton Gardens Community Centre is operated by Manor House Development Trust, which also runs the Redmond Centre in Woodberry Down. Chief Executive Simon Donovan explained the ambition for the Centre to become a platform for people to build community. A major part of that will be through local people running their own activities and clubs with support from the Trust where needed. Its location is also important, as it’s in the middle of the estate and surrounded by open space which can be used for outdoor events.

Although only open for a few weeks at the time of our visit, the Centre already had a long list of people wanting to use the space. Funding for running the community centre comes from Acton Gardens and hire fees.

Employment

Like many regeneration schemes, Acton Gardens derives some of its social value through supply chains and construction, aiming for 20% local labour and at least six apprenticeships per phase.

They also work with Cultivate London, a horticulture social enterprise which receives free space on the estate in exchange for preparing long-term unemployed people for work. Operations Manager Auberon Bailey explained that placements at Cultivate familiarise people with workplace routines and tasks, and offer opportunities to gain commercial experience by selling plants at markets. The goal is to give people skills and confidence to transition into the regular job market. Cultivate is also involved in managing the estate’s green spaces, building roving gardens on meanwhile spaces around the site, and upcycling excess wood and metal from surrounding construction to build planters.

They take referrals from organisations like the NHS, housing associations, and schools and receives funding from the referring group, small grants, college courses, or commercial contracts like at Acton Gardens.

Cultivate South Acton
Cultivate London operates in derelict and meanwhile spaces in west London, offering training in horticulture and landscape gardening.

Monitoring success

Seeking to understand the relationships between people and place, Acton Gardens is funding surveys every few years for the duration of the regeneration. Developed by Social Life in partnership with the University of Reading, surveys consider how residents feel about amenities and infrastructure as well as social aspects of their community like inclusion, networks, cultural life, and influence.

Most questions have been adapted from nationally recognised surveys to allow for benchmarking and comparison1. Surveys are conducted with residents of both pre- and post-construction parts of the estate as well as neighbourhoods next to the regeneration area. Including the latter group not only provides localised benchmarking but assesses wider impacts of regeneration and Acton Gardens’ integration with nearby areas – a key goal for Acton Gardens and LB Ealing.

Sample survey questions

  • Do you feel like you belong to this neighbourhood?
  • If you needed advice, is there someone you could go to in your neighbourhood?
  • How safe do you feel walking alone in the day? After dark?
  • Can you influence decisions affecting your local area?
  • How satisfied/dissatisfied are you with your local area as a place to live?
  • From what you know about the regeneration plans, what do you think about them?

Nicola Bacon, Director of Social Life, said that respondents to the survey in 2015 identified a sense of neighbourliness around the estate and were keen to retain this throughout and beyond regeneration.

Mike Woolliscroft, Managing Director at Countryside Properties, noted that some people requested more communication and engagement to complement existing measures (e.g. Community Board, quarterly newsletters, project website, independent resident advisor). Residents due to relocate in the later years of the project were especially keen to know more about the process and timescales.

Acton Gardens created several initiatives in response: morning and evening surgeries in marketing suites and other local venues; pre-moving events for residents to learn about the relocation process and meet the builders, developers, and their new neighbours; post-moving social events such as barbecues; and more bespoke information for resident groups.

The most recent surveys took place in autumn 2018. Results aren’t available yet, but the report from 2015 is available here [PDF]. In the longer term, accumulated data will give unprecedented insight into the social impacts and value of regeneration, both within and beyond the project area.

Notes

[1] Understanding Society, Citizenship Survey/Communities Study, Crime Survey, and the Taking Part survey