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Place branding and regeneration: Part two of two

By David Bardell
January 28, 2020

In the second of our two-part series, regeneration expert Paul Quinn of Clarion Housing Group and our agency creative director David Bardell discuss stakeholder engagement, processes and what success looks like for place branding and regeneration.

How do you engage stakeholders in developing place brands?

PQ: There is often quite a lot of emotional investment from residents and other stakeholders. Not everyone is comfortable with the prospect of regeneration, for whatever reason – from genuine neighbourhood concerns to political motivations to push against the approach and see a different way of doing things.

We have to unpick what people are worried about, as they may not always give the whole picture. House building in London is often controversial and politicised anyway, so we can’t assume everyone will be on the same page. And from time to time, some individuals may playback a story that is important to them but does not necessarily represent the wider community. A lot of sensitivity is required.

DB: We use the analogy of an orchestra for stakeholder engagement. In any area, you may encounter different groups – business people, potential house buyers, politicians and people who have maybe lived locally their whole lives. As there are so many stakeholders, you need to find things that resonate with them as authentic; and you may need to find different ways to communicate. But if you know the music and characteristics of the players, you can get them moving together harmoniously. Then the dialogue becomes about the place, what we’ve discovered about it, and what makes it special for a particular group of people.

That’s very different from relying purely on creative techniques. When you understand people’s aspirations, you can both reflect those views to build something that resonates and also demonstrate how local people have shaped the brand; it helps create a place that actually works.

How detailed are your place branding processes?

PQ: Incredibly detailed and complex. We have to take account of many different activities and processes, each of which makes a contribution to how we think about and present a place.

I’m not an architect, urban designer or town planner – but understanding something about all those areas is business-critical to make our regeneration projects work. There are loads of technicalities around planning policy and public spending and we also need to stay accountable through our reporting framework.

Plus, we’re always conscious of the 3,000 people who live on our estates too. The housing management team still needs to support the residents. Our maintenance team needs to make sure properties are cared for until the regeneration takes place. We’ve got other services, such as sales and marketing, doing highly specialist jobs day in, day out. And stakeholder engagement underpins everything we do.

DB: Our agency has developed a five-stage process, especially for place branding projects. It’s a modular approach, so work can be developed or streamlined to suit the needs of different projects. But stakeholder engagement is a common thread that runs through all of them.

How do you measure the success of a place?

PQ: That’s a tricky question- everyone views success differently. Our finance team will think a place successful if it outperforms the business plan prediction. Sales colleagues want to sell all the homes we’re building, at a rate they’re comfortable with. And our housing and asset managers will be happy if those things that caused problems over the last 10-12 years have been replaced with homes and infrastructure that is easier to manage and upkeep.

My own personal measures probably won’t be visible for a decade or more. These are:

  • Whether people feel happier about where they live
  • If residents are living longer, healthier lives
  • Have we created spaces that work well to meet the needs of the people who live there now and for the generations to come?
  • And if the children growing up now, choose to stay and bring their own kids up locally.

The places we’re demolishing weren’t terrible when they were first built; it took time for them to slide. Under investment in maintenance, demographic change, poor design or low-quality materials – many factors will have contributed. We need to learn when and how that slide started to happen, and what the causes were. And we can then anticipate problems and challenges in the future. For example, making sure everyone, irrespective of tenure feels valued and appreciated. But really, how people feel about the place they live in… that’s the real definition of whether a place is successful, and how long people stay. Some properties in London are among the most densely populated places, with people living in very urban settings; and these locations often have the highest resale value. They work because the balance between quality,

atmosphere, ‘vibe’ and amenity is right. It may not be the most attractive environment to live in, but people have gone past that because it has the components of a place that feels happy, comfortable and looked after. It’s not just about being somewhere that’s handy for the Tube and allows them to get to work quicker.

What have your main challenges been?

PQ: There are so many challenges around a project like this one. You’ve got to keep your eye on a room full of spinning plates. From keeping planning applications in line to doing work on Compulsory Purchase Orders; and keeping business plans updated to reflect changing sale prices and legislation.

Relationships are also business-critical. Some people want the regeneration done as quickly as possible, while others have completely different agendas; just steering through the governance machinations takes time. And importantly, we’re constantly in dialogue with local residents and stakeholders, keeping people updated. These projects are astonishingly complex.

What one thing stands out as having worked really well?

PQ: The model of the residents’ offer stands out for me. It’s not the bright, shiny aspect of regeneration – the smart building, new park or ribbon cutting – but that slim document has been the key to making the project work.

The offer sets out what every resident can expect. It covers things like financial compensation; rehousing options; succession rights; under-occupation; policies on keeping pets; and much more. It’s written in the plainest language possible and it goes through every door.

We listened hard to people’s concerns when putting the offer together. This involved night after night of public meetings, consultations and drop-ins, before we could commit anything to paper. But now, nine times out of ten there is an answer to the questions people put to us.

We’d never have got this far without the residents’ offer. And as a result, we could prove we had the support of the majority of residents living in the three neighbourhoods; not just Clarion tenants, but homeowners too. It’s certainly an approach that has worked well, and one which I plan to use on any future place branding and regeneration project.

And I think what’s so positive is how much this approach has influenced every element of the regeneration. It definitely shaped our branding approach creating a two-way process that has added so much value.

Thanks to Paul Quinn, Director of Merton Regeneration for Clarion Housing Group, for contributing to this blog post.

Further reading

Place branding and regeneration Q&A: part one