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Shed is ready? Go!

Shed is ready

Robin Hutchinson reflects on SHEDx' 2019 London Planning Award for Community Engagement

Ah, the buzz that the phrase ‘community engagement’ creates. It’s a must-have for new developments and regeneration projects – and that has to be a good thing, surely?

In January, the 2019 London Planning Award for Community Engagement in the Planning Process went to SHEDx – Growing Ideas in Tolworth, a project led by a partnership of The Community Brain, Kingston Council, the Greater London Authority and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We were thrilled, particularly as our approach is based on positive partnerships, – not just with project partners but also with the businesses, organisations and communities we work with.

"The earlier you start engaging with people the better. We begin when there is a real chance for people to contribute ideas and ambitions”

But what creates these strong community partnerships that underpin positive engagement? Be honest with people about your ambitions. If you have already formulated your ideas and are really seeking affirmation or minor changes, let people know at the outset. If your consultation is based on a misunderstanding then participants can get upset that there are areas not up for discussion.

The earlier you start engaging with people the better. We begin when there is a real chance for people to contribute ideas and ambitions, and to register concerns. It is amazing what you can discover at this point – and how many problems you avoid.

People need to know that their contributions matter. It doesn’t mean everything they want can happen but they need to know that it will be taken seriously.

The best engagement you will get is when people feel relaxed and open. The key is to create an atmosphere that is good-humoured and forward-looking. Find an unusual venue – council rooms and public halls often carry the ghosts of previous behaviours and discussions.

Look for creative ways for people to engage but make sure your approach is relevant. You can feel energy leaving a room when participants are asked to play a ‘game’ or perform a task that seems to limit their chance to contribute.  

Keep in touch and keep letting them contribute. Even people or groups that begin from a negative standpoint will often join in later as they realise that others want to see something happen.Community engagement is a good thing? It is when you avoid the ‘off-the-shelf’ approaches adopted by many companies, engage early, make the process and opportunities relevant to the project and treat everyone as potentially having the best idea – because sometimes they do! Find out more about SHEDx at: bit.ly/planner0419-shedx

Robin Hutchinson is director of The Community Brain


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