During our Building recovery programme, we have heard time and time again about the impact of housing on inequalities. Creating enough good quality, affordable housing is seen by many as the key challenge to overcome if we’re to make our cities fairer and more inclusive. We know that our sector is constantly wrestling with how to make housing affordable, yet viable. The redevelopment of Friary Park in Acton provides inspiration on both of these complex and fundamental challenges and was Highly Commended at the 2021 Planning Awards. We spoke to Mount Anvil and Catalyst Housing – joint venture partners on the scheme – to see what we can learn from their approach.
Friary Park is a residential-led mixed use development in Acton, West London. There are currently 225 social rented homes and a diverse community with low turnover – it’s a place people want to live and to remain. Catalyst have been working on redevelopment plans since 2013, with the aim to provide more homes, improve housing quality and wellbeing for the existing community and improve connections and safety. 990 new homes will be built with 265 for affordable rent, 107 shared ownership, and 618 private sale. Making the housing tenure blind is a key principle of the development. In addition, there will be a new community facility, improved public realm and a cycle hub. Catalyst is the landowner and manager of the estate, working with Mount Anvil as joint venture partners.
Early in the process, Catalyst established that Friary Park wasn’t suitable for refurbishment and that total redevelopment would be required to meet the Lifetime Homes standard. The vision for Catalyst was to create a tenure blind neighbourhood and ensure Friary Park remains a place where people want to stay – whilst ensuring the existing community is comfortable during the regeneration process. Mount Anvil were aligned with this from the outset and felt that partnering with Catalyst was an opportunity to build in a ‘respectful’ way.
The future of Friary Park (Image credit: Mount Anvil)
Establishing relationships with the community
Working with the community has been intrinsic to the project. Both partners recognised that residents may be worried about a developer joining the project, so they took an honest and transparent approach– outlining the nature of the partnership and the role of each organisation to allay fears. From the outset of the partnership, Catalyst and Mount Anvil presented themselves as a team and committed to complete transparency with the residents whose neighbourhood they are working on. They set out a clear structure together to determine the level of resident involvement for different aspects of the project as follows:
- Create – things residents could help shape in creative ways – such as the design and activities for the new community square.
- Select – things residents could be given clear choices on – such as what sort of improvements to make to the public spaces.
- Inform – things they wouldn’t expect residents to have to do but they should know about – such as the design options for their homes.
The project team recognise that at times they’ve got things wrong – at first they were too heavy with their communications and residents said they felt overloaded. Now they take a different approach, trying to fit in with other things going on. They’ve held BBQs to get people out and talking, helped at community projects and used these as an opportunity to talk to people about the future of their area. And they’ve upped their game when it comes to online consultation. The result is a strong relationship with residents, based on mutual respect. There is an established Residents’ Steering Group who meet each month with the regeneration team and represent the views and aspirations of customers on the estate.
“[Mount Anvil] has been very actively involved in our RSG meetings. They’ve been very transparent, they present information clearly, they answer all our questions honestly and ask great questions to find out what we love and hate the most which is great. They want to know what the residents think they always put residents first.” – Friary Park Resident
Catalyst used their Covid-19 response outreach to residents as a further opportunity to talk to people about the redevelopment. At this stage, the scheme has planning consent but the partners are looking again at the approved designs in response to the impact Covid has had on residents. They are considering how to incorporate home working spaces and different approaches to shared and outdoor space which residents have said is now a higher priority.
Resident engagement at Friary Park (Image credit: Mount Anvil)
Making affordability work
From a financial point of view, Catalyst and Mount Anvil have managed to make the numbers stack up while sticking to their affordable home commitment. Both partners recognised that some services on the estate such as screening rooms and gyms wouldn’t be wanted by all and that it would not be fair to burden residents living in affordable homes with the service charges relating to these. Mount Anvil say they learnt lessons from bad practice documented in the press of poor doors. At Friary Park, following discussions with the Residents’ Steering Group, it was decided that facilities like the gym and cinema screening rooms will not require a contribution by those in affordable homes, but they can opt-in if they choose to. Being able to have these conversations and reach a compromise that works demonstrates the strength of partnership between Catalyst, Mount Anvil and the residents.
Improving lives beyond housing
Another partnership that demonstrates how the scheme is seeking to improve residents’ lives is with Sustrans. They were engaged early on to make sure cycling infrastructure was adequately considered and to make cycling an easy choice for residents. There will be a cycle hub as part of the scheme and the plan is for Sustrans to continue to promote walking and cycling at Friary Park on an ongoing basis. Serena from Catalyst reflected that they are working with children on the estate now who will grow up as the estate is built out. The project team recognise that they are having a huge impact on people’s lives and long-term partnerships such as the one with Sustrans demonstrate that they are taking the care to consider how they can help people in Friary Park live healthier lives.
Top tips for inclusive development
Throughout the Building recovery programme we have heard from our network that to address inequalities in our cities, we must find financially viable models for tenure blind developments. Reflecting on success at Friary Park, here are some top tips to effective partnerships for reducing inequalities:
- Don’t underestimate the value of a joint venture – each organisation brings different strengths and can learn from each other.
- If the culture is right and the vision is shared, it will work – it just might take some time to get there!
- Tenure blind developments do work – challenge questions about viability and work with residents on what works best for them.
- Listen to residents – they know their space, they use it, take the time to understand their views.