The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the interaction between people and the places they live in, as well as the importance of community cohesion in improving overall health and wellbeing. Reflecting on the past two years, it’s clear we need holistic, integrated solutions that put people at the heart of our thinking across the built environment.
Countryside are taking a whole systems approach to improving the way they work with communities, to maximise social value in their projects and build sustainable, thriving places. Their Building Communities strategy goes beyond the provision of physical infrastructure, taking into account the wider aspects of the built environment that local people need – such as green space, social and digital infrastructure and transport.
The approach focuses on building relationships in order to deliver social value to the community over the long term. It’s a commitment to create and support strong and resilient communities within Countryside’s developments, through meaningful engagement, empowerment, partnerships and stewardship.
Through this approach, Countryside fosters greater aspiration for residents to engage in co-design schemes and how they develop. By creating the appropriate structure to encourage communities to come forward, Countryside’s role is to facilitate, rather than create, the community.
“Behind everything we do at Countryside is our unifying purpose to create places where people love to live, with sustainable communities built to last.”
Iain McPherson, Group Chief Executive, Countryside
The Building Communities strategy makes it clear what Countryside want from their partners, supply chains and key stakeholders in order to integrate this new approach into their developments. Internally, Countryside have worked to embed this new approach at all levels. And the strategy is deeply connected to the organisation’s other strategic priorities of sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion and technology.
Building communities in action
By working with members of the community who have traditionally struggled with education and employment, Countryside has delivered value in their developments by maximising the socioeconomic impact in the local area.
One notable example is the Dollis Valley Estate Regeneration in LB Barnet, delivered in partnership with L&Q and LB Barnet. The estate faced many of the issues associated with post-war estates, including economic deprivation, social exclusion, and low educational achievement and attainment.
A key commitment for the regeneration was making sure the development created significant employment and skills opportunities for the local area, so the partnership set up a bespoke Employment and Training Strategy. This enabled people living in the community to access these opportunities.
And in addition to delivering apprenticeships and work placements, Countryside worked with LB Barnet and the Department for Work and Pensions to fund a local enterprise that provides fully funded, accredited training programmes that support local people.
A second example is the Canning Town and Custom House area. Countryside led a major regeneration scheme here, delivering 649 new mixed-tenure homes, a new school and community facilities. To oversee the running of the development and make sure that it could be managed in a sustainable way in the long term, a company was set up with representatives from Countryside, LB Newham, local residents and Affinity Sutton. Having residents involved in the management of the development has helped to make mixed-tenure work for all, with services charges that are affordable and appropriate for the life of the development.
What can we learn?
Now more than ever, changing the way we do things is critical to overcome the widening inequalities in our cities. Looking to Countryside, what can we learn?
- For new approaches to work, external partners need to be onboard. Explain why this can be beneficial to them in their role, and learn the drivers and triggers for different partners.
- Embed new approaches to reducing inequalities across the organisation. Bring everyone along on the journey and appoint employees, such as fresh graduates, as ambassadors to be advocates and promote the approach.
- Implementing a new strategy in a large organisation is not a static process but a continuous evolution. Make sure you’re actively implementing new approaches in the planning of current and future projects.