Establishing a resident-run enterprise to manage Barking Riverside's community assets.
The project aims to build social capacity amongst the Barking Riverside community in form of a Community Interest Company (CIC). It seeks to actively engage residents in the design, management, and maintenance of local mainly green but also social assets. However, as the project is looking for multi-dimensional long-term benefits and a slow but sustainable build-up of the company, and as the local situation is constantly evolving (e.g. because of a change in local actors or based on experience from TURAS) the short-term objectives (e.g. fostering green roofs) and nature of the CIC (including its composition) are reassessed and adjusted on a regular basis.
Already the original master plan envisaged the direct involvement of residents in the maintenance of local common areas as a way of fostering a sense of pride. The 'Community Interest Company' offers a vehicle which includes all key stakeholders and empowers local residents through self-management to support and create a sustainable community - socially, environmentally, economically but also institutionally.
Local Task Force
Having committed stakeholders with a clear understanding of how to engage effectively with residents and community groups was essential to build the required networks and relations at different levels, from the strategic to the practical and local. In this context, the process was initiated and is still facilitated by the local London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. They commissioned the original masterplan, drawn up by external planners (Architects Maxwan) with heavy consultation.
The continuously built-up local task force consists of a changing and mixed team including, amongst others, resident groups, the developer 'Barking Riverside Ltd.', a local social housing association, the 'Sustainability Research Institute' (SRI) of the university of East London (UEL), the local school's headteacher or the chair of the resident association.
These days, all local authorities try to find ways to involve their citizens more actively in the governance of the area, and LBBD is no exception. The CIC is not only the logical outcome of these measures, but it takes it one step further in passing entire control - without any known end result, except for a set of stated goals.
The overall vision was set over a decade ago and despite changes in the political and fiscal climate, as well as changes of personnel, has been very resilient. The presence of a strong public sector partner (The Greater London Authority) as well as the local authority (in the shape of the planning authority) has been in part responsible for this.
After the initial master plan, and when the political agenda provided a more favourable atmosphere, a "shadow" board for the Community Interest Company was established, with its meetings open to residents: This enabled residents to learn how such boards were run and to become familiar with the range and scope of activities open to the CIC. Furthermore, the leader of the council and another senior elected councillor are members of the CIC board.
Having the right institutional representation at the CIC board level - representing the local residents through elected councillors and representing the developer - meant that decisions could be taken and input could be directed at the most effective outcome.
The project did build on operational experiences from another local pilot project, the Creekmouth Heritage Trail (http://turas-cities.eu/pilot/2). But in terms of "institutional links", the enterprise drew upon lessons learned from the Barking & Dagenham Planning Forum in order to ensure that participants are well-equipped to follow proceedings, to ask meaningful questions and to reach decisions. In other words - an investment in citizen education. Case studies showed that if developers, planners, and others did not take the Forum advice, planning consent was likely to be refused. So the Planning Forum provided a strong basis.
In the light of the recession, initially, the concentration was on achieving the built structures, which led in turn to a lack of political urgency to establish the CIC. The differing setbacks caused by political changes and economic recession, but also the change of the private partner within the CIC and Barking Riverside development delayed many decisions. Thus, opportunities were missed and the CIC is not as advanced as anticipated.
The CIC is currently funded from the proceeds of the ground-rents and these economic resources are mainly used to support community events. However, it is expected to become self-financing (and to cease to be a "shadow") when sufficient units have been built.
The emerging resident groups allowed for channelling support and resources (also from TURAS) to the community level, while the new partner within the joint venture also supported community engagement and facilitated community-facing relations.
Strokes of Luck
While the change of private partner within the CIC and Barking Riverside development delayed many decisions and opportunities were missed, the advent of a new structure for BR Ltd. also means that the implementation process can be revisited and adjusted. At the same time, the emergence of active residents groups provided a way for the CIC to effectively connect and relate to the community level. The changing private partner within the joint venture supported and took on this community engagement angle also from the developer's side.
The main tangible output is the visibly active CIC supporting regular community activities which promote ecological and social goals at Barking Riverside. In this context, a new garden for children has been created at school to grow food and foster contact with nature.
Residents are now actively suggesting activities they would like to have at Barking Riverside and opportunities are made available through the CIC to enable them.
Engaging existing residents in understanding the innovative green and social infrastructure will make it easier for them to be active residents and in turn engage future residents through activities and clubs.
This sense of ownership potentially leads to a feeling of "belonging" and taking on individual and societal responsibility - an important step in regard to become sustainable and resilient in the long term.
Key Lessons Learned
Jo Sinclair, LBBD:
"This is a long-term project lasting at least a generation; it will be a number of years before the "shadow" gives way to the real thing. In order to have real ownership, citizens must feel and know that they are in control - through all this time. In order to achieve this, people must be equipped with the tools to do the jobs. Here TURAS has been helpful and will leave a lasting legacy in how the CIC goes forward from here."
"In order to empower local residents through self-management to support and create a sustainable community, it is important that the Community Development Trust includes ALL key stakeholders."
Paula Vadergert, UEL:
"The importance of having committed stakeholders with a clear understanding of how to engage effectively with residents and community groups is essential to build the required networks and relations at different levels, from the strategic to the practical and local."