The result is Barking Riverside, a new neighbourhood that, when finished, will bring more than 10,000 new homes, 30,000 residents, commercial and leisure facilities, new schools, riverside walkways, a new train station, and a river bus service. In 2021, the project won first place in the Community-led Placemaking category at the Planning Awards.
Transparent and collaborative
Alongside infrastructure, the project set ambitious social impact goals informed by a bespoke assessment framework to understand residents’ needs, support BRL to deliver suitable initiatives – and measure impact. It has set an important benchmark for how transparency and collaboration can be increased in areas experiencing growth and transformation.
Central to this is the Thames Futures Community Vision, which sets out nine priorities that reflect residents’ concerns and hopes for the future of the area.
This was created after more than 400 conversations were conducted with residents by a team of community peer researchers, who are residents trained by The Young Foundation.
Each priority is supported by a series of projects that BRL are committed to delivering, commissioning projects and partnering with organisations that can help to shift outcomes. BRL has also committed to measuring and evaluating the progress that has been made against the Community Vision on an annual basis through both quantitative and qualitative research and analysis.
The 2022 Thames Futures Social Impact Report, which was co-authored by The Young Foundation and peer researchers, published in July this year. This marks the first year that the Community Vision has been revisited, having been delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The peer researchers went into the local area to capture views on how and if progress had been made against the indicators set out in 2019 Community Vision. They also explored whether the coronavirus pandemic had significantly changed residents’ priorities. The research also focused on expanding the engagement to areas of Barking Riverside that were not occupied when the Community Vision was created so that newer residents’ opinions were represented.
Thames Futures helps BRL ensure the investment in Barking Riverside reverberates into neighbouring areas. BRL’s ultimate goal is for residents to have a better quality of life, not just in Barking Riverside, but also in surrounding postcodes. Thames Futures has been a positive step towards achieving this, working in collaboration with residents and making sure the voices of people that live in the surrounding neighbourhoods are represented in the research. The projects and ambitions are also inclusive of these areas, as BRL works in partnership with residents and local decision-makers to deliver projects that effect change beyond Barking Riverside’s ‘red line’ boundary.
Raising the bar
Thames Futures has played a pivotal role in developing trust and accountability between BRL and residents. The project has given a clear structure for how BRL works towards meeting the needs and aspirations of local people. The evaluation framework, which was formulated independently by The Young Foundation, is key to achieving accountability and transparency.
This way of working is not without risk. The targets are ambitious; more than 50 projects are set out in the Community Vision. However, the transparency and accountability that achieved through the process raises the bar in enabling residents to hold BRL to account while developing relationships with residents. The inclusion of resident voices in the peer research methodology establishes an empowering relationship where residents aren’t just the subject of the research, but are genuine partners.
As a master developer of a large-scale project, BRL’s work spans vast timeframes; the development will be completed in the 2030s. Therefore, BRL needs to find ways of implementing and measuring social impact that is suitable for the context. Flexibility is key when working in a context where the demographic, population size, and external factors will change significantly over time. Through Thames Futures , peer researchers speak to residents every year and the Community Vision is amended and reprioritised to reflect the changing needs of the community. Also, the flexible nature of Thames Futures enables BRL to focus on external factors that may have changed resident’s priorities. For example, this year, peer researchers asked residents how the pandemic had affected their lives. Using a peer research methodology to engage residents offers flexibility as well as robust reporting and monitoring processes.
Flexible and robust
Thames Futures ensures that resident voices are heard and acted upon. Many people have lived in Barking Riverside for a long time, and others have lived in the neighbouring areas their whole lives. The dialogue that is inbuilt into Thames Futures means those voices are amplified because their views are captured through live, skilful conversations with peer researchers. This leads to a more inclusive conversation about the future of the area, which acknowledges that BRL is building upon existing communities.
This year, Thames Futures developed the BRL Community Fund, offering grants of up to £1,000 to residents who want to deliver a project or initiative that will benefit the community and supports one of the nine priorities established by residents in the Thames Futures Community Vision. This new initiative aims to give residents the means and support to further the ambitions set out in the Community Vision.
In the 2022 Thames Futures Social Impact Report a resident said, “I’m scared that this place is going to be for rich people and not for the common people, because the place is developing, and the rents are going higher and higher. So it’s not going to be a community for normal families.”
While hard-hitting, it is important that BRL hear these types of challenges. They provide an opportunity to develop new initiatives that respond to difficult and complex concerns, and highlight where they need to communicate better, raising awareness of schemes that are already in place, and working to ensure that Barking Riverside is an inclusive and affordable neighbourhood that meets residents’ needs – both now and in future.