Community Led Regeneration: the London Case
UCL has a long-standing relationship with Just Space, an umbrella organisation for community groups across London. Whilst the WHIG project is not explicitly working with them at this stage, their work is highly relevant to understanding the planning context of London and the resistance movements which exist.
Last week I attended a workshop hosted jointly by Just Space, and UCL BSP colleagues Daniel Fitzpatrick and Pablo Sendra, on community-led regeneration in London. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the historical and current community projects currently trying to shape London regeneration agendas and get involved in some of the discussions.
The evening began with a series of presentations by people working to actively resist demolition and regeneration across London. They spoke of the victories and difficulties they have experienced over nearly three decades of community led change in their communities. The West Ken and Gibson Green speaker highlighted their People’s Plan for the area which includes 250 new homes, a sentiment echoed by Cressingham Gardens’ resident-activist-academic Tom – the value of People’s led change. Meanwhile, PEACH in East London have seized the political momentum offered by local mayoral elections to help gain support for a community land trust and to get residents involved in council regeneration plans. Nearby (same local authority, different estate) the Greater Carpenters residents talked about the impact of the Olympic Park and how they are building their own plan which aims to keep the existing properties, and add where possible. But regeneration isn’t always about demolition and mass reconstruction as the Alexandra and Ainsworth residents explained: on the plus side they had received a grant to address their community gardens, but at the same time faced new challenges in the face of new heating systems the local council want to install. Responding to these examples and importantly, in the context of the changing nature of London, in the Q and A which immediately followed the presentations residents raised points around race.
These activists’ lessons add to and advance the academic discussion on regeneration. The next session was two excellent presentations by academics with long term connections to London: Loretta Lees and Joe Penny. Loretta highlighted the breadth of places people in regenerated estates are relocated to, whilst Joe outlined his emerging research agenda on local authority housing companies.
After the panels and a short break, the group divided to deal with key issues in community led regeneration. I joined the group of finance – an important dimension of regeneration. The key issues raised are around where people can or do get money from? How have their experiences unfolded? What are the biggest challenges (expertise, time, money) in applying for grants? How can grants be assembled to complement one another? What can knowledge sharing between academics, practitioners and activists do to aid this?
The event was incredibly thought-provoking for our project – it raises questions around how projects can be financed differently and how the governance contrasts with top-down, often institutional, investment as a funding strategy. It also reminds us of the importance of existing communities and the people-side of researching investors. In much the way Desiree Fields’ work on the unwilling subjects of financialization centres the voices of renters in a New York context, there is a need to always be aware of how the investment strategies of the global elite are directly shaping the housing market in London.
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