We recently joined Future of London’s study tour of the Aberfeldy Estate; an estate regeneration scheme that commenced in 2010 and over the past 11 years had led to the delivery of over 900 new homes, a variety of vibrant new mixed uses and improved access to communal space. With the first phases of the masterplan reaching completion, we joined Joint Venture partners Poplar HARCA and EcoWorld (formerly Wilmott Dixon) for a tour of various pivotal elements of the estate.

It was a fantastic insight into the progress that has been made to date, that provides a number of key themes relevant for the development of other estate regenerations and major mixed-use schemes. We set out 4 lessons we learnt from the study trip below:

Mixed-uses

Aberfeldy Village is a truly mixed-use regeneration project. This has remained a significant focus within the masterplan to draw people into the scheme and create a place that ‘feels like a village’ on the estate. The scheme will provide an upgraded health centre, community facilities and affordable workspace. Specific emphasis has also been placed on the integration and rejuvenation of the high street on the estate. The new retail parade along Aberfeldy Street will eventually include a café, pharmacy, and new grocery store, however, before these new retail spaces can be built a ‘meanwhile scheme’ has been created to increase footfall. The street and shop store fronts have been turned into a vibrant social and commercial hub for existing as well as future residents, whilst also benefiting local businesses.

Stake holder and engagement

A key driver for the success of the scheme to date has been strong stakeholder engagement. As the JV partners prepare for the next phase of the masterplan, which will provide approximately 1,500 new homes, they have embarked on consultation over the new masterplan. There is an active resident’s steering group, and the wider community are provided with regular newsletter updates. A key part of the new masterplan is improving access to green space and we learnt how local school children have been brought along for tours to provide their views to shape these spaces. These have all helped to boost support from locals with the latest ballot achieving a 90% response rate with over 90% support. In recent years this has grown in importance with the GLA’s current requirement for balloting to secure access to grant funding and Poplar HARCA’s work at Aberfeldy is a fantastic case study for others.

Flexibility

The outbreak of Covid-19 and recent relaxation of planning laws has undoubtedly accelerated and respectively permitted major development schemes to factor in an element of flexibility. Poplar Works, located to the north east of the scheme, is a flexible workspace which takes its structure from pre-existing garages. The premise of the space is part of a wider strategy to revive the fashion industry in the Lower Lea Valley and provide affordable workspace to support emerging businesses in the fashion industry, given the chronic undersupply of quality studio facilities for emerging fashion brands. Additionally, the Start Here Programme has transformed Aberfeldy Street with new shopfronts, lighting, and street art as a temporary solution before the new retail space is developed. One of the major benefits of this has been the opportunity to turn liabilities into assets, via the aforementioned Aberfeldy ‘meanwhile scheme’. This has ensured the development provides immediate benefits for the community, building an identity, supporting new and existing businesses, and a strong local economy. The Programme provides businesses with the opportunity to trial, or even grow, their business. The spaces are offered rent-free during the first year of tenancy, followed by below market rates. The Programme received over 60 applications and 3 new businesses were chosen.

Partnership

A final theme was the importance of partnership and trust throughout the process. Recognising that Poplar HARCA as landowner didn’t have the in-house skills in construction and development, they brought in development partner EcoWorld/Wilmott Dixon to drive the proposals forward. For the high street, they brought on Meanwhile Space Ltd to deal with operations, liaising with tenants and running the competition to win a new shop. At Poplar Works, flexible workspace provider The Trampery have helped curate the diversified fashion-led tenant mix where occupancy has reached near 100%. Within Poplar Works is a large workshop run by the London College of Fashion’s Making for Change initiative, an outreach programme that runs training sessions for women prisoners at HMP Downview, building employability and consequently reducing reoffending in the process. It is therefore evident that bringing on board partners with the expertise to manage and deliver the more complex elements of the development is crucial to the success of estate regeneration schemes.

We would like to extend our final thanks to Future of London for organising the study tour and providing us with a really insightful afternoon to showcase an exemplar estate regeneration.