Healthy Neighbourhoods case study: Health at neighbourhood scale

As part of our Healthy neighbourhoods: working together programme, we are looking at how a collection of neighbourhood scale projects by Pollard Thomas Edwards (PTE) in Islington is having a cumulative impact on health in the community.

PTE has been working in the St Luke’s area in Islington over the last decade on three distinct neighbourhood scale projects:

  • St Luke’s Community Centre – Redevelopment of the centre. Completed 2013. Client: St Luke’s Trust and Higgins Homes
  • King Square – Award-winning housing development within the existing King Square estate. Completed 2021. Client: LB Islington
  • Finsbury Leisure Centre – New leisure centre. Awaiting planning approval. Client: LB Islington

Map of projects in the area (Image credit: PTE)

Creating a healthy neighbourhood and addressing health inequalities have been inherent to the brief and objectives of all three projects. They are contributing to a shift-change in the neighbourhood to a place that encourages health both actively (by promoting sport and leisure) and incidentally (by creating a connected, walkable neighbourhood with opportunities for more healthy behaviours). Despite very different briefs for all three projects, both of PTE’s clients are working towards the same goals of creating spaces and places where the local community can live healthy, happy lives.

These projects include:

  • A nursery – A safe and secure space for care of local children
  • Community allotments – Redevelopment of courtyard space into allotments for community food growing
  • 50 new homes with 15 for affordable rent – more and better homes for the existing community
  • Once complete – a new leisure centre with affordable housing provision and a health surgery
  • Improved public realm that is greener, safer and more accessible

Collaboration for health benefits

King Square had an incredibly engaged resident group which made the process of development relatively straightforward. Residents had concerns about loss of character to their estate and had a level of suspicion about the changes. But early on, they decided it was better to collaborate with the project team and play an active role in the process, rather than oppose or work against the changes. This saw PTE develop a proactive relationship with residents – speaking candidly about the parameters and working out preferred options together.

Older people were the dominant resident group at King Square and therefore issues relating to their needs such as loneliness and social isolation were front and centre.

Older resident of King Square

Resident at King Square (Image credit: PTE)

Residents now feel comfortable taking part in community activities and you see more people out enjoying public space. In the case of King Square, LB Islington set the tone for engagement from the outset, by setting up a Steering Group involving the council, estate management, local politicians and the residents themselves, who had the final decision in choosing their preferred architects. It was PTE’s role to keep the residents involved and informed, listen to their views and then provide realistic ideas, balancing viability alongside the objectives of the project.

In the case of St Luke’s community centre, it was the role of the Trust to both set the vision and to work with Higgins and PTE to connect them with the community and advise on how residents would likely respond to different proposals. A public consultation event was held prior to the planning application, where users of the Centre, neighbouring residents, and council members were invited to see, comment and discuss the proposals with the design team, the developer, and the Centre. The proposals generated support, and concerns about disruption to the Centre were addressed through collaboration.

Impact

PTE believe that health and wellbeing isn’t something that only happens within a designated building. The St Luke’s neighbourhood provides a holistic offer of health for everyone – from the formal (e.g. going to book a squash court) to doing some gardening and saying hello to your neighbours while you do it.

The community centre is an important lifeline for many local people – providing a setting for developing and nurturing social connections. Over the years, the predominantly white British neighbourhood has become more diverse. St Luke’s Community Centre is welcoming to everyone living in the area and is now helping those who have a language barrier to overcome before accessing support services.

“St Luke’s as a community centre is a very, very special place. Every place should have a St Luke’s. It’s a modernised building, spacious and well ventilated. It makes people feel safe even coming back from Covid.” Cathy Carpenter, Deputy Director of Services, St Luke’s Community Centre

Since 2019 St Luke’s has adopted an ‘all age approach’, recognising that issues such as food poverty, lack of confidence and loneliness affect people of all ages in the local community. It has now set up a wellbeing hub at the centre which provides services such as a food hub, mindfulness activities, skills training, befriending, job readiness and signposting to other services such as AgeUK and Help on your doorstep.

St Luke’s has a proven track record of supporting people in a crisis, but it wants to build community resilience. It works with local people to understand what services are required and uses its building so that people feel welcome – for example, operating an appointments system for the food hub so that those who come to the centre to collect donations of food don’t have to queue in the street (which happened at the beginning of the pandemic).

Workshop in edible yard

Mindfulness activities in the Edible Yard (Image Credit: St Luke’s Community Centre)

The developments provide spaces for healthy activities to happen. As part of the changes to King Square, older residents were moved from a tower block down to ground level where they say they feel more part of the community and better able to see and get involved with things going on in the neighbourhood.

“Incremental improvement of the public realm is adding up to a really liveable, walkable neighbourhood” Patrick Devlin, PTE

The public spaces around King Square are inviting and encourage people to linger and chat.

The Edible Yard is a really positive presence in the neighbourhood – described by Cathy Carpenter, the deputy director of services at St Luke’s Community Centre as “a haven of quiet and peacefulness,” it is widely used by a diverse group of people and provides an opportunity for them to develop skills they otherwise wouldn’t.

Learning points from neighbourhood scale

Masterplans aren’t always the best way to create healthy neighbourhoods. Incremental change can have a bigger impact, allow local partnerships to flourish and avoid a sense of loss of control from residents. A lot of the places that successfully promote healthy lifestyles haven’t been masterplanned.

Energy from the community and third sector, combined with professional design skills, creates places that are healthy by design. Listen to and work with local charities and organisations who understand community need and what is likely to work.

The provision of healthy spaces and places won’t work by itself so building relationships with the community and making residents part of the process is essential. If people feel the space is for them, they will use it and gain the health benefits.