Since development began in 2010 in east Harrow, Berkley Homes has built 768 units. A well-established Resident’s Association now exists, as well an events programme run by volunteers,
“Neighbours know each other, socialise and take real pride in being part of a proactive and close-knit community”. (1)
Berkley has created a series of monthly activities for residents. This includes a Photography Club to generate more positive feedback loops about the development and counteract the photographic reporting about complaints that may cause tensions between neighbours. There is also a Parents Club and a Senior Citizens Club and events supported by residents such as a street party, Easter egg hunt and crafts workshops.
On each of their sites, Berkeley assessed social sustainability using criteria grounded in academic research. (1) They prioritise the factors that are most important in the local context and create plans to deliver against them. In Stanmore Place, a functional community space, links with neighbours and the ability to influence were identified as important.
A community room was created to host regular committee meetings, clubs and arts and craft sessions. An on-site nursery is another meeting place for families and the lake attracts both people and wildlife. The Residents’ Association and estate management team bring these community spaces to life. Berkeley worked with residents to develop a Community Plan. A budget for events was provided; the on-site estate management team was tasked with encouraging residents to get involved. Clubs, events, and participation have grown. Residents’ parties have become local traditions, bringing everyone together.
A key Community Plan objective was for residents to have collective control over how things were run. Berkeley offered residents control over the events budget and programme as the initial incentive to get involved. This helped form the Social Committee before a leadership team emerged and the Stanmore Place Residents’ Association was officially formed. This influences parking, service charge spending, street lighting and much more. They have also secured sponsorship so community events are no longer dependant on funding from Berkeley. (1)
Consultant support was needed to convene workshops, analyse materials and support the local Berkeley team and partners to agree a way forwards. The initial events budget was important in getting residents to experience having control over local initiatives.
Community engagement is fundamental to this example and boosting neighbourliness, and residents’ sense of agency and influence is likely to increase individual wellbeing and collective community capacity.
What are the risks and challenges for initiating and also maintaining this initiative?
Mainstreaming this type of resident involvement and sustaining it after initial agency support and funding has ended is likely to be a challenge.
This example shows how a capable residents group has sustained involvement.
Berkeley have articulated their lessons:
First: create inviting, useful and convenient places where people can mix and meet.
When residents arrive, let them advise you on the events and activities that would draw people into these spaces. Big annual events are important, but so are smaller get-togethers.
Once people start getting involved: look out for the natural leaders who might gradually take over and put the community on a sustainable footing.
To achieve all this you need an attractive, relevant plan so that everyone involved understands what they are working towards.