Construction can be a difficult time for developers and the neighbourhoods in which they are working. As my previous blog has shown, there is a lot that can be done to mitigate the impacts of construction. But a more proactive approach can make the difference between good and bad relations with a local community.
Education and employment
Development teams frequently use education as a means of reaching stakeholders both during the planning stages and beyond. Working with schools reaches not just children, but their families too, often within a very specific geographic area. Similarly, developers and construction companies have skills which can be of use to the wider community and this too can help develop positive relationships with the site’s neighbours.
Through these initiatives, the development team is able to better understand its local community and in doing so, address local issues, grow local businesses and provide skills training to help regenerate; develop community cohesion; continue to consult, where appropriate, on the details of the scheme; and create interest in the development – attracting workers, shoppers and residents.
In recognition that a new development may have, albeit only in the eyes of a few, a negative impact on the fabric of a neighbourhood, developers frequently make environmental improvements to a neighbourhood. Typically this involves developing a nature reserve, creating the means by which endangered species can be protected (bat boxes are common) or making a contribution to a local park or woodland
Using the arts as a form of community engagement enables the community to work collaboratively on a process which is creative, fun and can be directly relevant to the development itself; and in can provide a positive experience in the process and result in a product which endures and provides a long term reminder of the collaboration. The involvement of a community arts worker or professional artist can provide a helpful bridge between the developer and the community, and the process can create a sense of ownership in the new development.
Arts work can take various forms, encompassing visual and performance arts; permanent or temporary; a product by or for the community. The resulting piece is often inspired by the architecture of the new development, or may link to the site’s previous use.
Sponsorship, support and sponsorship-in-kind
The variety of skills that make up the construction and development team have a great deal to offer the local community. Sometimes a seemingly simple activity such as providing the use of the landscaping team to overhaul a pocket park, or members of the construction team to rebuild a brick wall at a local school will present an excellent opportunity to forge links with the local community. Sometimes this might involve skills sharing – teaching jobless young people the skills of gardening or brick-laying, or offering talks about careers in construction at a further education college.
Sponsorship too is popular. A developer or construction company will often provide a new kit for a local sports team which provides both an opportunity to meet local residents in a non-adversarial context and to gain brand recognition at football matches and in the local media.
Initiatives such as these can have multiple benefits – not only in mitigating the impact of construction but to reputation, corporate social responsibility and the long term success of the new development.
Penny’s book Public Consultation and Community Involvement in Planning: a twenty-first century guide is published by Routledge in June 2017. Please email Penny to receive notification of its publication.