COMMON ROOM ENGAGEMENT REPORT
ROMAN ROAD TRUST Â© 2018
INTRODUCTION Executive Summar y
About The Common Room
CONTEXT Histor y & Topogr aphy
Space & Social In fr astr ucture
C ASE STU DIES Over view
The Green, Nunhead The Green Room Pavilion, Tottenham
M ET HODOLOGY Flyer
Sur vey One-to-One Consultation Banner & Suggestion Box
C O N S U LTATIO N Over view
Geor ge (St Mar garetâ€™s House) Lizzy (Cr anbrook Community Food Garden) Si Mohamed (Ability Bow) Riar na (Communities Dr iving Change) Manon (You Make It) Susy (Globe Community Food Garden)
C O N C LU SION S RECOM M ENDATI ON S B IBL IOGRAPHY ACKNOWLEDG E M E N TS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Building upon the findings of InterAct Repor t #1 (2016) and more contemporaneous research findings, this repor t evaluates how best the Common Room can serve the local community through events and active par ticipation.
ABOUT THE COMMON ROOM The Common Room is a small community space, located just off Roman Road, that promotes the ‘discursive creation’1 of local identity. In 2014 - in association with the design practice public works, the Cass School of Ar t, Architecture and Design (London Metropolitan University) and Clarion Housing - the Roman Road Trust (RRT) ‘turned an anti-social fragment of the high street’2 into a ‘civic hub’3. This hub, known as the Common Room, is a simple wood-frame structure-cum-community space. And since its creation it has sought to be the following: • a space to promote diverse local identity • a space to promote ar tistic and cultural projects / programmes • a space to suppor t community initiatives and entreprises • a space promoting community meet-ups
HISTORY & TOPOGRAPHY The topography of Roman Road has, historically, spoken to the needs of its residents and those who frequent the area for work, play and all manner of other purposes from prayer to public ar t; bridging the gap between the sacred (e.g. London Buddhist Centre) and the profane (e.g. Four Corners Gallery).
Roman Road Market, for example, has offered generations of locals access to essentials - from fresh produce, baked goods, clothes and antiquities; bridging the gap as social reformer Charles Booth noted in 1887 - between ‘good quality’ and ‘cheapness’4. The Roman Road Trust (RRT), since its inception in 2014, has served to bridge the gap between the local authority and the local community - offering a model for ‘citizen-led regeneration’5 that aims to be sustainable, flexible and inclusive.
SPACE & SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE An example of a ‘meanwhile use’6 space, built on a site with a multiple possible futures, the Common Room is reflective of the change and (population) growth Roman Road has seen in recent years. It has been predicted that the number of residents in the area will increase by 10% over the next three years, rising to 17,000 people by 20217. This is in line with the overarching trend for both the borough and the city: Tower Hamlets is expected to see the greatest increase in its population of all London boroughs; and London, as a whole, is also expected to see a notable surge in its population - reaching 9.3 million people by the same year8. Population growth is inextricably tied to the increase in the demand for space. In recent years, meanwhile use spaces have not only become more commonplace, but an integral thread in developing the socio-spatial fabric of the city. In its present state as a meanwhile use space with the potential to become a permanent space, the Common Room is a good example of what sociologist Eric Klinenberg terms ‘social infrastructure’. In his book, ‘Palaces for the People’ (2018), Klinenberg unpacks the role social infrastructure - loosely defined as ‘the physical places and organisations that shape the way people interact’ - plays within contemporary society.
‘It influences seemingly mundane but actually consequential patterns, from the way we move about our cities and suburbs to the opportunities we have to casually interact with strangers, friends and neighbors. It is especially important for children, the elderly and other people whose limited mobility or lack of autonomy binds them to places where they live… And while social infrastructure alone isn’t sufficient enough to unite polarized societies, protect vulnerable communities or connect alienated individuals, we can’t address these challenges without it.’9
A space like the Common Room - whether it remains a meanwhile use space or, as are the hopes of public works, becomes a permanent feature on the landscape of Roman Road - cannot, within itself, address the corollary concerns that come with population increase. Nor can it address present concerns regarding Tower Hamlets having the highest rates of child pover ty in the country.10 But it would be unwise to claim - especially in light of other precedents for recently constructed examples of social infrastracture (see: Case Studies) - that a space like the Common Room does not have the potential to shape and reshape individuals’ connections with the urban environment and to one another.
OVERVIEW Prior to appraising the merits of the Common Room - as a meanwhile use space; as a potentially permanent space; as a centre for community cohesion; as a blank canvas awaiting a coherent programme of events hosted by local stakeholders to colour its structure - the merits of precedents were evaluated. AOC’s The Green and MARK Architecture’s The Green Room Pavillion were selected for evaluation because of their situation in historically diverse areas, their differing approach to outreach and engagement, and their oppositional forms (The Green was conceived to be a permanent community space, whereas The Green Room Pavillion was conceived to be space of short-term use but has - due to a degree of neglect and initial confusion - become a de facto permanent space).
THE GREEN, NUNHEAD In 2011, design practice AOC were appointed by Southwark Council to conceive a masterplan, developing two sites within the Nunhead Green Conservation Area. Out of the this masterplan, grew The Nunhead Community Centre - also known as ‘The Green’. The Green was built by AOC - in conjunction with Southwark Council - and is run by community group, Nunhead Voices.
THE GREEN ROOM PAVILLION, TOTTENHAM Over the course of two weeks in August 2014, a volunteer team - consisting of architecture and engineering students, and one local resident - designed and constructed a temporary pavilion structure on Tottenham Green. Led by architect Mark Smith, the team worked on a site owned by the local authority and the neighbouring Holy Trinity Parish Church Nursery.
THE GREEN, NUNHEAD (AOC) SUCCESSES • locals were the ‘driving force behind the project’11 • well-integrated and in keeping with the vernacular of the area • based around ‘low energy principles’ in order to ‘minimise running costs and assist its economic viability’12
THE GREEN ROOM PAVILLION, TOTTENHAM (MARK Architecture) SUCCESSES • unique yet subtle intervention that interacted well with its surroundings • conceived and built to budget
FAILURES • locals were not engaged with the project • was conceived as a temporary structure, but - because of the lack of community engagement - it could not be taken down and is now an under-used structure with no concrete future • inaccessible • not weather-proof
FLYER PROS: • offers illustrated suggestions of how stakeholders can use / configure the Common Room • presents the process (of requesting to use the Common Room) as a simple one with a finite number of steps • text is clear and jargon-free CONS: • a form of passive engagement • could offer a few more photographs of the Common Room - the sole photograph offers a general view that does not provide much of a sense of the structural / spatial qualities of the Common Room • no way of ensuring people will interact with or even respond to it CIRCULATION: • to local business owners and representatives of local organisations
SURVEY PROS: • a form of direct engagement • can be selective about who the survey is distributed amongst • can address concerns and queries in tandem with stoking interest CONS: • text-heavy - absolutely no visual component is offered • better serves those who are already acquainted with the Common Room / the RRT • no way of ensuring people will interact with or even respond to it CIRCULATION: • to representatives of local organisations and RRT trustee
1-1 CONSULTATIONS PROS: • a form of direct engagement • can address concerns and queries in tandem with stoking interest CONS: • conversations can become quite diffuse IMPLICATIONS & OUTCOMES: • must be responsive, flexible and have some prior knowledge of the organisations
BANNER & SUGGESTION BOX N.B. This was a discussion for a collaborative project that did not come to fruition. PROS: • whilst not strictly a form of direct engagement, it still has the qualities of an artistic intervention thus making it less passive than the flyer • not text-heavy • reaches those who might not yet have a proposal (and would, therefore, feel alienated by the language of the flyer) and those not already within the RRT’s network (and who would, therefore, not have been sent the survey) • can add a social media / interactive / nonverbal component to the suggestion box - i.e. people can tweet their thoughts to the RRT’s Twitter account with a specially designated hashtag; or instead of people writing down suggestions / proposals, we could offer stickers which people can put in the box to indicate how they feel about the space / what they would like to see there in future CONS: • depletes time + resources • as the Common Room is situated just off Roman Road, it might be difficult to install a banner that is visible from the High Street on the site • no way of ensuring people will interact with or even respond to it
OVERVIEW In mid to late November, the RRT reached out to eleven representatives of local community organisations to gauge their thoughts on what the Common Room could be used for and what a par tnership between the Common Room’s custodians and each organisation would look like. From the initial outreach pool of eleven, six consultations were organised - making the overall success rate of initial email outreach 55%. Below are some of the ideas generated, suggestions proffered, and salient words on outreach and active par ticipation from those consulted.
GEORGE ST MARGARET’S HOUSE
‘For me, as an employee of St Margaret’s House, I was thinking it would be a great opportunity for us as a community-based charity to broaden our reach and continue the conversations and messages we feel are important to us, but decentralise it - take it somewhere else…’ • intimate acoustic concerts • platform for activist-based conversation
LIZZY CRANBROOK COMMUNITY FOOD GARDEN & PLASTIC-FREE ROMAN ROAD Lizzie spoke of the importance of any and all projects that run in the Common Room being a) interactive and b) creative; this way, participant agency is built and they are shown they ‘do not need to rely on passive consumption’. • community meals • ‘any workshop that entails skills-building’ -- i.e. carpentry, upcycling, fix-it project
‘To see an individual change, to see people gain confidence [after] giving them a little support… It’s visible - you can see the impact you have on others… And that’s my attachment to Ability Bow… we just hope that we have more spaces like this in the borough [that say]: “if you wish to engage - well, here’s the environment to do it”’ • mindfulness talks • open days
RIARNA COMMUNITIES DRIVING CHANGE -- BROMLEY-BY-BOW CENTRE Riarna spoke of lack of affordable, accessible space as something that has not always been a problem, chalking it up to latter-day austerity politics: ‘we used to get into a lot of great centres, but because of cuts it’s become difficult’. • coffee mornings • informal catch-ups (held inbetween the dates of the CDC’s main project sessions - allowing par ticipants not only to go over advances made in the project, but to get to know each other and create a network of suppor t and mutual trust)
MANON YOU MAKE IT
Manon spoke of the vision of YMI’s founder, Asma Shah, who launched the programme to do the following: to counter the effects of austerity measures; and to engage with the gentrification of Bethnal Green (and the surrounding areas) in a positive way by harnessing the talents of ‘young people in the borough who were [unable to] access’ these new, trendy places to work, play and convene due to their financial standing or class status. • workshops • exhibition space
GLOBE COMMUNITY FOOD GARDEN
Susy spoke of her background in education - as headmistress of Sir William Burrough Primary School, Limehouse, during a six-year period in the 1980s wherein the area saw a substantial influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, she witnessed ‘[racist] backlash playing out in our playgrounds’ - and advocated instructional projects (specifically those that teach hor ticultural and nutritional skills) as a way of promoting community cohesion. • socials • harvest fairs
ABOUT THE COMMON ROOM ‘Ownership’ was a recurrent theme -- interesting as one is inclined to see that as antithetical to ideas of ‘community creation’, but evidently this not true and it would be wor thwhile to underscore notions of ‘ownership’, ‘agency’ and, even, ‘right[s]’ to prospective stakeholders.
ABOUT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT 1-1 consultations were the most successful and flexible form of outreach. That having been said, the outcomes have been variable, and it is somewhat difficult to extract the quantitative from these rather qualitative discussions.
OTHER More needs to be done - as a preliminary step - to engage business owners, and actively demonstrate the mutually beneficial nature of community engagement. Business owners - by in large - were reluctant to engage with the outreach for this project, citing time constraints and a lack of prior knowledge of the RRT’s events, ethos and purpose.
1... GET TO KNOW US Get the businesses on Roman Road - especially those around the Common Room site - engaged with the work of the RRT before endeavouring to get them on board for this specific project - perhaps through a casual ‘Get To Know Us’-type event
2... PEOPLE POWER Reach out to individuals as well as organisations and businesses - perhaps through flyering. Asma launched YMI in 2011 as a funding-free pilot from her kitchen table because hiring a venue was not financially viable; similarly entrepreneurial individuals in the area might be looking for a free space to launch or trial projects, and it would be sybiotically oppor tune for the Common Room to become a space that suppor ts and cultivates the nascent endeavours
3... public works COALITION There have been some notable discrepancies in the outreach materials - for example, the public works flyers ask for a 300-word proposal, whilst the RRT survey only asks for a 50-word proposal. And whilst this difference has provided people with more options and variance in the way they respond to outreach, such a discrepancy can be jarring and might speak to a lack of uniformity in agenda and aims of the Common Room’s custodians. Forming a coalition with public works should prevent any glaring inconsistencies in future
1 Catenaccio, P. and Khonsari, T. (2017) ‘Construction of a Civic Neighbourhood as/through Cultural Production: A Discourse Analytical Approach to Participatory Art and Temporary Architecture’, Languages Cultures Mediation Journal, p. 17. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.7358/lcm-2017-002-cate 2
Khonsari, T. and Novella, C. (2016) ‘InterAct Report #1’
3 Catenaccio, P. and Khonsari, T. (2017) ‘Construction of a Civic Neighbourhood as/through Cultural Production: A Discourse Analytical Approach to Participatory Art and Temporary Architecture’, Languages Cultures Mediation Journal, p. 17. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.7358/lcm-2017-002-cate 4 Wikipedia (no date) Roman Road (London). Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Road,_ London (Accessed 22 November 2018) 5
Roman Road Trust (no date) Available at: http://romanroadtrust.co.uk (Accessed 22 November 2018)
6 Centre for London (2018) Meanwhile, in London: Making use of London’s empty spaces. Available at: https://www.centreforlondon.org/publication/meanwhile-use-london/ (Accessed 21 November 2018) 7 Issuu (2018) Globe Town Common Vision Report. Available at: https://issuu.com/romanroadtrust/docs/ globe_town_report_march_20180509.co (Accessed 15 November 2018) 8 Trust for London (no date) London’s population over time. Available at: https://www.trustforlondon.org. uk/data/londons-population-over-time/ (Accessed 27 November 2018) 9
Klinenberg, E. (2018) Palaces for the People. London, UK: Bodley Head, pp. 5 - 14
10 Tower Hamlets (no date) Income, poverty and welfare. Available at: https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/ community_and_living/borough_statistics/Income_poverty_and_welfare.aspx (Accessed 14 December 2018) 11 RIBA - Architecture.com (2017) The Green, Nunhead. Available at: https://www.architecture.com/ awards-and-competitions-landing-page/awards/riba-regional-awards/riba-london-award-winners/2017/thegreen-nunhead (Accessed 4 December 2018) 12 AOC (no date) Nunhead Green Housing. Available at: http://www.theaoc.co.uk/docs/nunhead_green_ housing/nunhead_green_housing_text.html (Accessed 14 November 2018)
Roman Road Trust would like to extend thanks to all the individuals and organisations who graciously shared their time, space and resources in order to have a stake in the on-going conversation regarding the future of the Common Room: George Paris. Lizzy Mace, Si Mohamed Dahiri, Riarna Pinnock, Manon Dolet and Susy Powlesland. Also special thanks must go to Trust board members Eddie Blake and Torange Khonsari for their counsel.
About the author Tara Okeke is a writer and artist from London. She is the youngest member of the inaugural New Architecture Writers (NAW) collective; was shortlisted in the top ten of Amnesty Internationalâ€™s Young Reporter competition; has written for the stage (Peripheral Vision, 2014); and hopes to unite her interests in cultural production, anthropological theory, placemaking and socio-political discourse through research and facilitation.
ROMAN ROAD TRUST