Case Study: Thames Futures

Barking Riverside is one of the largest new housing developments in the UK and one of the largest brownfield developments in Europe. With over 10,000 new homes being built alongside existing neighbourhoods, the developer, Barking Riverside Ltd. (BRL), needed to understand the hopes and aspirations of both old and new residents and reflect these in a community-led vision for the future of the area. 

To ensure this vision and an accompanying social impact evaluation framework truly reflected the needs and hopes of local residents, we designed Thames Futures, a peer research project led by the Young Foundation in partnership with BRL. 

BRL funded us to facilitate the peer research process in order to ensure that decision-making about the future of the ward responded to the priorities and ambitions of local residents and that the development has a positive social impact for the community now and in the future. 

We recruited and trained a group of four local residents as community researchers and supported them to speak to over 400 of their neighbours across the ward. The researchers met people at local kerbside ‘pop-up’ events, creative workshops, community groups, and through door knocking. They asked people what they loved about where they live and what they wanted to change. A variety of creative and engaging methods were employed to uncover people’s hopes and aspirations for the ward, as well as pressing local issues. These included resident ‘love letters’ to Thames Ward and future-thinking workshops with local sixth formers. 

Working with peer researchers allowed the project to reach people from a range of ages and backgrounds. Living in the area themselves, the researchers were able to reach out and connect with those who would never normally engage with ‘professional’ researchers or more formal consultation processes. Those who lack awareness of, or the confidence to participate in formal decision-making forums were able to express their views to people they felt connected to and had trust in. 

The peer research approach led to the creation of a detailed and ambitious vision that sets out the community’s hopes for the future of the ward. The vision reflects the feelings and ideas expressed by a diverse group of local people, spanning 9 priority areas. Each priority contains written statements about what people want for the future of their area and associated commitments from BRL setting out exactly how they will work with the community to achieve this. For example, the community prioritised the importance of having local people’s voices heard and acted upon throughout the development process and in the future running of their area. This was met with a commitment from BRL to work with residents to set up a Community Interest Company (CIC) responsible for estate management. The CIC will be run by local residents, who will receive appropriate training provided by BRL, ensuring that the community’s voice is central to decision-making around the estate in future. 

Alongside the vision, a Social Impact Measurement Framework has been put in place, which sets out all commitments made to the community and how progress against each will be measured. BRL will work with peer researchers to track and report their progress on these to the community on an annual basis. This gives local residents a robust mechanism through which to hold the developers to account against the aims and commitments of the vision. 

The success of Thames Futures lies in the peer research approach taken. This allowed not only for the gathering of more detailed and honest responses from a wide range of people from the area, but the building of community capacity to work in partnership with the developers to ensure that their vision for the area is actually implemented. The approach served to galvanise the community to engage with the development in a productive and hopeful way, boosting the confidence of residents to feel they could influence such a large scheme and identify concrete actions for local gain. It also helped to build meaningful dialogue and greater trust between residents and the developer, which should lay the foundations for greater accountability over the scheme and more productive working relationships between the two. 

If you'd like to find out more or get involved with peer research at the Institute for Community Studies, you can drop the team a note at peerresearch@youngfoundation.org