This summer we will be taking our first step in a community self-build project in Hackney: local young people will redesign & rebuild our community hall, reimagining what it could be and learning the architectural and engineering skills in the process. It has been planned with the Doughnut Economics Principles of Practice, and provides a model for a green democratic design process to roll out across our borough as we rebuild our high streets, communities and city centres in the after-math of the pandemic.
The project will invest in a community asset, our dilapidated local community hall, and nurture local talent through an education programme that will teach a group of local young people who are not in education or employment the architectural, construction and green engineering skills in the process of redesigning and rebuilding the hall.
The first part of this project is an architectural summer school that takes a learning-by-doing approach, where the participants will work along side professional architects and engineers as they redesign the hall in collaboration with the local community. The summer school will cover architectural skills: research & consultation, prototyping & building & renewable energy technologies, providing the skills needed for the green economy.
This project was in large part inspired by an artist placement up in Bradford and Leeds that I went on in 2013. There I met an incredibly inspiring man, Claude Hopper Hendrickson, who had, in response to the lack of diversity within the construction industry, built a street of 12 houses with a group of unemployed black men, learning the skills along the way, so that by the end of the project the men not only had a share of a house, but also a whole new set of skills. I was really impressed by his work, both with this project and with subsequent community youth projects he has been involved in. His project has all the internal logic and coherence, all the beauty that a great work of art has. Since learning about it I have been really keen to do something similar, and find the right people and the right way to do a self-build project like this.
Meanwhile in 2016 the referendum results left many people in our community questioning their sense of belonging, wondering what it means to be British and whose culture counts, and this inspired me to set up Mountford Growing Community as a means by which to support community cohesion, reduce social isolation, and to facilitate residents greater autonomy over their immediate environment. The organisation began as a community gardening project, which enabled residents to grow foods particular to their culinary and horticultural traditions. The garden has flourished, and also enabled residents to start conversations with each other that might not otherwise happen. One of those conversations was with the young people on the estate, who felt that with the closure of so many youth clubs over the last 10 years there weren’t any spaces for them to meet and socialise, and that the community hall wasn't suited to their needs. There is a fitness trainer who lives on the estate and he had been doing an amazing job with the younger people, giving them football training but was frustrated that they didn't have access to any of the kind of social spaces that he had used when he was growing up. So the impetus for the project and my wish to pursue it really came from speaking with the young people who live on the estate, and a desire to do something about the lack of social spaces for young people.
When I spoke to the community participation team at LB Hackney what I had learnt through speaking with the young people really resonated with what they had heard through a commission with young people looking into their engagement with housing and regeneration.
With the pandemic there is significant additional concern for local young people and what the future holds for them. We know that unemployment and under employment due to Covid has impacted young people the most. As of June 2020, 34,000 workers had been furloughed from businesses registered in Hackney. While this accounts just for those jobs registered in Hackney (not jobs Hackney residents hold in other boroughs) it illustrates the scale of the furlough scheme and the potential impact, both now and as the scheme comes to an end. In mid 2021 as the aftershocks of the pandemic ripple outwards, we expect this to change for the worse. There will be significantly fewer of those vital opportunities that give young people their first opening to professional avenues. Meanwhile this bleak outlook for the possibility of future employment adds further risk to the debt burden that higher education incurs.
We are really thrilled to have Sahra Hersi, a black woman in architecture and a graduate from The Royal College of Art leading the programme. She has an amazing practice which explores shared spaces, the public realm, collaboration and community engagement. She will be able to make transparent the otherwise obscure and daunting process of becoming an architect. She will also be able to show all the career paths to which an architectural education can lead. Just through the planning of this project I have been learning a lot myself about the process of becoming an architect. To be honest while I realised that with a BA and MA it takes a long time and is expensive, I had no idea just how much it depended on having financial backing beyond the MA phase of the journey and if you're lucky, the right connections. Which explains why the architectural industry is so lacking in diversity.
The Doughnut Principles of Practice fit very neatly with what we would like to achieve through this project: keeping a regeneration project local, putting sustainability and the community at the centre, and nurturing human nature. The project becomes about nurturing talent, and strengthening the community rather than putting a regeneration job out to tender for companies and businesses that are driven by growth and are outside our local community.
In consultation with local residents this will:
nurture community talent to rebuild a community asset
foster a stronger post-covid community while addressing the climate crisis
provide new skills for local young people whose employment prospects have been hardest hit the pandemic
redesign the community hall with the community so that it meets community needs.
This Summer School will be:
INVESTING IN THE COMMUNITY: this is an opportunity not just to make a better space for the community by giving residents greater autonomy over their environment and design of the building but to educate local young people. The consultation process, led by the young people, will nurture community cohesion and intergenerational exchange. Collectively redesigning the building with the community will put community interests at the centre of the design process and will ensure a design plan that fully meets the needs of the community. This community participation will ensure more civic engagement and democratic outcomes.
TACKLING STRUCTURAL INEQUALITY: not only will we be working through the councils Hackney Works team recruiting Black, Asian and minority ethnic participants but the programme will be led by Sahra Hersi, an architect who graduated from the Royal College of Art, providing a positive role model in an industry where Black women are underrepresented.
ADDRESSING SUSTAINABILITY: participants will be introduced to renewable energy technologies and sustainability solutions, preparing them for employment in the new green economy.
PROVIDING EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT: This project will provide a segue for young people into employment or education, young people's employment prospects have been hardest hit by Covid and education is increasingly expensive. The young people will have architectural and design skills that will build their portfolios for employment or further education.
The design of the community hall will draw on the activities that already happen in the community including the afterschool drawing club, fitness training, choir and gardening. It will incorporate aspects that minister to these activities (rainwater harvesting for example), while also making a space that can foster new activities, and expand the scope and possibilities of what these might be. It will transform the community hall into an active, creative social space and community hub. It is these kind of non-profit spaces that we truly need if London is to remain a thriving and flourishing creative city, and retain its reputation as a global beacon for culture and art.
We are really pleased to have received backing from The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for this project, but are still fundraising to reach our target to make it happen.