Barking Riverside Limited
Barking Riverside is a large development in east London along the River Thames. Work began in 2003 and the scale of development means that it would take a minimum of 20 years to complete and provide 10800 new homes, two new schools, a community centre and two retail centres set within existing marshland.
We were commissioned as part of the Section 106 agreement with London Borough of Barking & Dagenham. Our role was to engage residents and businesses around the 443 acre site and begin to understand how this huge local change could positively impact existing residents and how we could begin to blur the boundaries between old and new so that people saw new public spaces and facilities as available for them to use as well.
We quickly realised that the scale and duration of development made it difficult for people to see the relevance to their day to day lives so we needed to make the engagement fun and rewarding in its own right. We set up in an empty shop unit in the centre of the existing housing to start a conversation. We used a popcorn machine and projected a live feed of the Thames onto the shop window. This encouraged local people to stop and speak to us about their local area.
Phase 1 – understanding the context February – September 2011
Phase 2 – project delivery and handover October 2011 – September 2012
Our starting point for the engagement strand was to map out existing groups and services in the area so that we developed a good understanding of the existing social infrastructure. We held a series of one–to-ones with members and leaders of these groups to understand the area from their perspective and look for opportunities to knit in the new facilities. We quickly realised that people were unsure of the details and exact location of the development - and the sheer size and duration of the scheme meant that it felt intangible to many.
We developed a strategy to make the engagement work fun and rewarding in its own right. We utilised an empty shop on an existing shopping parade and set up a live stream of the river Thames and offered to swap popcorn for people's thoughts about the area: what was good about it and what opportunities for improvement there were. This spectacle attracted lots of attention and got people curious about what we were doing. Having a consistent visual presence allowed people to become familiar with us and our intentions.
By analysing all the data collected we developed projects that worked on the most common themes such as: ‘We can’t find anything’, ‘We want outdoor programming’, ‘We need a well managed facility.’
We responded to these themes by running a series of mini projects to test out ideas from outdoor cinema screenings, Easter egg hunts, temporary way finding interventions and building the world’s largest bee hotel to get as many people mobilised and interested in what this new urban development might mean for them.
The final outcomes included a bold new way finding system, a network of community mobilisers to continue to programme events we had initiated with people and bringing local stakeholders together to think about the management and business planning of the new community facility.