How can we collaborate better with communities to deliver housing?

Collaborating with communities panel

The panel explored how built environment practitioners can involve communities in assessing the housing that Londoners want and need, as well as in the design and delivery of housing.


  • Hanna Afolabi, Managing Director and Founder, Mood and Space (chair)
  • Kyle Buchanan, Director, Archio
  • Simon Donovan, Chief Executive, London Development Trust
  • Jackie Fearon, Executive Director of Resident Services and Community, Housing Solutions
  • Olaide Oboh, Director, Socius
  • Anita Whittaker, Local Community Coordinator, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation

Key insights

  • Don’t just speak to the likely candidates, and don’t sacrifice depth of engagement by treating engagement as a tick box exercise
  • We must set a standard of accreditation in terms of social sustainability and embed this in our organisations
  • Upskilling both developers and the community is essential to effective engagement and development processes
  • Flexibility and open dialogue are paramount to changing our approaches during times of crisis

Doing engagement the right way

There needs to be reflection on how we are consulting people and who we are consulting.

Kyle from Archio explained that here is a tendency to speak to the likely candidates. We need to be innovative in how we are reaching all voices in the community. Creative examples of engagement from the London Development Trust include a ‘Ministry of Complaints’ and street theatre sessions.

In spite of this, Olaide from Socius made the point that while we should be trying to engage with as many people as possible, we need to make sure it doesn’t end up “being a tick box exercise” with the depth of engagement being lost.

“When we’re collaborating with communities, I think we need to recognise that we don’t always know what all of the problems are until we asked the community themselves.”

Kyle Buchanan, Archio

Residents should have better knowledge, experience and understandings of their needs than developers. Provide residents with the tools to build their community, “you don’t build it for them” added Simon from London Development Trust.

Setting a standard of empowerment

“The key problem in regeneration is that there is a lack of standard around social sustainability,” said Simon, pointing out that there are plenty of standards for environmental sustainability.

But we need the same for social sustainability, an accreditation developers can apply for to ensure a standard of empowerment is being met. We need to create something akin to environmental standards that considers:

  • Understanding place (its history, what’s gone before)
  • Who’s involved from the community
  • How to connect to what’s already there
  • Design and management of community spaces
  • The need to have influence throughout the process
  • Who’s going to manage the space(s) in the long term

Upskilling developers and the community

It is essential to empower people to actively play a role in the decision making that affects their lives and communities.

As an industry we fall into acronyms and jargon,” explained Olaide, adding that we should upskill communities in regeneration and development processes. We cannot dumb down language when consulting with communities, it is important people know how things will affect them.

Upskilling should include creating meaningful opportunities and contributing to local economic development through employment and training opportunities. Train people in skills that lead to new opportunities.

Some may never have considered employment in the built environment sector. For example, the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation hired Anita as Local Community Coordinator, providing an invaluable connection to the community and highlighting their genuine commitment to community engagement.

 Upskilling the community in regeneration projects is important. But developers need training too argued Simon. “From a developer point of view there is a real lack of understanding about what social stewardship is.”

The London Development Trust is currently developing an MA course on approaching social sustainability and community development with Middlesex University aimed at developers.

Collaborating with communities in times of crisis

The way we engage with communities needs to change in the face of increasing deprivation and economic hardship.

Jackie shared Housing Solution’s approach. They use data to target areas of high deprivation, with workshops to understand the evolving needs of different communities they work with.

The housing association are aligning their priorities with those of their residents. Key to responding to different needs is flexibility and understanding what they can do to make a difference.

Anita highlighted that communities are not going to be thinking long term if they’re struggling. “A lot of the people that I engage with are in survival mode, they’re thinking about whether they can keep their roof over their head.”

It is important to show communities how these projects can help them moving forward and what they can get from it, she said.” This is where having a relationship matters. As Kyle highlighted,  good dialogue enables you to be clear about issues that can be tackled through existing projects.

Affordable Housing: Overcoming crisis through collaboration is a cross-sector research and events programme that aims to make practical recommendations.

Contact Anna Odedun, Head of Knowledge, to get involved. Thanks to project sponsors Countryside, Montagu Evans, Pollard Thomas Edwards, Potter Raper and Trowers and Hamlins, and our conference sponsors Altair, Inner Circle Consulting and Big Society Capital.