Last year MHCLG asked me to explore what they could do to drive more positive social impact in estate regeneration. I needed to gain insights into work that is being done, and the obstacles faced in delivering sustainable benefits for impacted communities. I am writing this piece to draw out some of the key challenges faced, and to provide some practical examples to improve our work moving forward.
Most people involved in estate regenerations across developers, housings associations (HAs) and local authorities (LAs) recognise that the end beneficiaries of physical regeneration should be the affected communities. However, implementing positive social impact as a central component of assessing a regeneration’s success continues to be a struggle for many.
My conversations with people in the sector highlighted three main challenges:
1. Knowing what to measure
Every place has different local needs and each development is unique. Experts explained that while some impact measures and frameworks have been developed, the ways in which these define success depend on the values of the developers of the framework, rather than those of the affected communities.
2. Realising locally defined social impact priorities
Regeneration projects involve a complex interplay of actors who may have competing interests. Short-term profit driven developers, local political priorities, limited and tightening budgets are just some of the challenges faced by decision makers on a day-to-day basis. This can convolute the initial intention of best serving local communities.
3. Loosing out on local and national learnings
Some people in the sector explained that they don’t know where to start with the focus on improved social impact in estate regeneration. Despite decision makers struggling with similar issues both locally and nationally, the recording and sharing of insights is patchy.
In the rest of this blog I hope to share some practical examples, which demonstrate how we might go about driving better social outcomes in estate regeneration:
1. Encourage community-led community engagement
Many stakeholders noted the challenge of meaningfully engaging affected communities throughout the regeneration. Despite this perceived challenge, changes to legislation, for example in London, are increasingly requiring effective community engagement to back the launch of new regeneration projects.
In the London Borough of Newham, The People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH), a community organisation funded through the Big Local Fund, responded to people’s concerns about the pending regeneration of their estate through extensive grassroots engagement with local people. Through 500 conversations, 170 workshop and conversations with partners in the health and criminal justice services, PEACH developed an alternative master plan for the estate regeneration. At the core of the master plan lay the community’s core design principles for regeneration:
· The community should have real control over the regeneration
· The majority of housing, shops and services should be genuinely affordable to local people
· The benefits of regeneration should be spread over the whole neighbourhood
· Improve what is already used, rather than wiping everything away and starting again
· Preserve the community and welcome new members
· Keep locally-owned assets and build a stable new economy based on local skills with decent wages and opportunities
PEACH was able to identify locally-valued principles of social impact and develop a full alternative master plan for regeneration for only £40,000, a substantial saving to most council-led community engagement projects of similar sizes. PEACH managed to lower their costs thanks to active, voluntary engagement from the community.
2. Gather input on social impact from all involved before and during the regeneration
Many people noted that closing the loop of accountability is a key obstacle to driving more positive social impact. We identified three steps that may help commissioners to improve this: define local social issues, measure social change, and hold people to account over time. LAs, HAs and developers might consider asking the following questions to improve their understanding of the social change that is being impacted by the regeneration:
A. Defining local social issues
- What data is available to understand local need?
- How can the community be engaged to understand their needs?
- What is the impetus to go forward with the regeneration?
B. Identifying metrics and incorporating these in the commercial tender process
- How can changes to the identified local social need be measured?
- What value should be attributed to changes in local social need?
C. Monitoring and public reporting of impact
- What were the social, environmental and economic outcomes that were measured throughout the project?
- What were the most positively impactful achievements of the project?
- What were the key learnings of the project?
3. Identify tools for measuring, valuing and monitoring social change
Stakeholders listed a lot of helpful outcome frameworks that are being used across different regeneration projects. Given the variability of local social issues, it is unlikely that any one framework will ever manage to provide the right measure for all variables. However, the Greater Manchester Housing Provider Social Value Group have compiled a Measurement Tools Index, which might be of value to anyone who would like to determine how best to measure social change. I have included three of my favourite frameworks below:
Shelter Living Homes Standard
· A framework to define what an acceptable home should provide.
· Made up of five dimensions: affordability, space, stability, decent conditions, neighbourhood
HACT Value Insight
· Large portfolio of proxy values which have been developed to measure factors relevant to housing – includes sector specific measures relating to repairs, neighbourhoods etc.
New Economics Foundation – LM3
· Tool to estimate how money coming into a community is then spent and re-spent
· Calculation is based on total income and total spend in area (on staffing and supply)
· Provides a return figure, for every £1 invested, £X was likely to be retained in the local area
Social outcomes are notoriously difficult to measure, not least due to the time taken for social change to materialise, the difficulty of measuring change, and the challenge of attributing impact to an isolated variable. These challenges are amplified in estate regeneration where multiple stakeholders, often with different priorities, need to work together to deliver housing.
So what can MHCLG do to help? To begin, central government may consider organising a task force of thought leaders in the field to share best practice and develop practical solutions to the systemic issues that we continue to face. This task force might tackle the above mentioned challenges one by one, sharing key findings of what works and what we can learn from. Next, MHCLG might consider investing into community-led groups to lead on community engagement, and to co-design local regeneration projects.
Through more effective collaboration between innovators in the field, insight from affected communities and learnings from estate regenerations across the country there is an opportunity to drive real social change in this field. – In support of this way of working, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments below!