This week I spoke to the London Development Conference about how First Base place local residents and stakeholders at the very heart of proposals to revitalise communities.
First Base is a privately-owned mixed-use developer specialising in placemaking. Collaborating with leading architects, we create a mix of workspace, modern retail, hotels, homes and cultural uses to regenerate high streets and town centres across the UK.
Partnerships are our strength, First Base works with local residents, businesses and stakeholders to create places that are future-enabled.
It’s not easy though.
There is often distrust. This can be down to disappointing previous experiences of poorly-run public consultations, lacklustre engagement or complicating planning processes.
Throw in a vociferous minority who are anti-development, alongside some overt and subtle politics and you have a real mountain to climb.
That’s why we lay the social groundwork as soon as we can, embedding ourselves in the community to find out what the local issues are and meeting with as many people as possible to develop relationships and build trust.
The tools we use are nothing new – engagement, consultation, social value and local partnerships – but used effectively, they help us to get to grips with local needs, enable us to work with community groups and allow us to tailor bespoke responses to hyper-local challenges and ambitions.
As early adopters we have also embraced innovation in consultation, supporting the Built-ID’s dynamic ‘Give My View’ consultation platform. This online tool has revolutionised how we engage with communities.
It has enabled us to be much more progressive than communities have often been used to experiencing from developers. For instance, rather than simply reacting to a vocal minority, we have become more proactive in reaching out towards the silent majority.
Who are the silent majority?
They are the busy parents, family carers or full-time workers who often can’t make it along to community meetings or exhibitions; either because they don’t have the time or capacity to do so. They are the young people who are often disconnected from the planning process because they don’t think its anything to do with them. They are those people who speak another language, who are often left excluded and unaware of proposals.
We are seeking to redress the current imbalance in consultation and engagement, by re-focussing our consultation and engagement activities to a much wider audience.
This includes holding an exhibition at an Islamic Cultural Centre, like we did in Romford this summer.
This includes writing consultation questionnaires in a different language, such as Somali, like we did in Bristol this autumn.
This includes utilising online consultation and receiving responses from thousands of people, like we did in both Romford and Bristol this year.
As I explained at this week’s conference, this all sounds like a lot of work and it is! But it’s worth it because the feedback we receive is more representative of the communities we serve.
By investing a little more time and effort, we are able to better respond to local needs and deliver a higher quality development that the community can really get behind.
Written by Liam Ronan‑Chlond, Stakeholder & External Relations, First Base