Having a shared vision of the future has been shown to be an important element in building strong communities – but how could housing providers work with communities to develop these shared outlooks of how neighbourhoods could develop? Could sharing these visions help identify ways of making communities more environmentally as well as socially sustainable and resilient? This was the one of the questions a team of talented researchers tackled in the recently completed Joseph Rowntree Foundation funded Good Life project .
The project was intended to be practical – working with local residents to identify their needs and interests linked to the project’s ethos of ‘making the most of what you have got’. We ran community meetings on energy efficiency, organised fruit picking sessions and worked with the local school to communicate environmental issues more broadly – focussing on local actions for global problems.
One element of the project involved helping improving the shared understanding between the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT) (who maintain the neighbourhood we worked in) and the local residents of what they already valued in the community and how they thought the areas environmental sustainability could be improved.
To do this we ran a variety of community engagement events using maps to drive discussions and gather ideas (for more ideas on these approaches have a look at these videos and slides). I have been using maps in this way for over ten years – one common link, even now in our Google Earth world has been that people love looking at maps – especially of where they live. In the Good Life we carried out mapping at the local older people’s residential home and with the parish council in their Folk Hall offices. However, the most successful, in terms of the number of people we spoke too, took place outdoors – literally on the streets of the neighbourhood.
We set up a large table with an air photo of the village and invited passers-by to come and share their ideas of what they valued about the amenities they already had but then brainstormed about how they would like to see the village made more environmentally sustainable. We gave people flags to stick onto the map so that their ideas were linked to real places and resources. Each person only spent a few minutes with us but collectively the community came up with some great suggestions ranging from improving the energy efficiency of their Folk Hall and fitting solar panels through to ways of improving the social sustainability and wellbeing of residents with outdoor exercise areas where parents could workout whilst their children used the already highly valued play park.
Presenting these ideas clearly on a map made them easy for JRHT people to understand helping us to improve the shared understanding of how the community would like to see the village evolve. These community ideas fitted alongside the Trusts commitment to reducing carbon emissions by making the housing more energy efficient but also linked to the Trusts need to help embed pro-environmental behaviour amongst residents to meet their ambitious green-house gas targets.
So our Good Life activities highlighted how community mapping could make a useful contribution to improving communication between housing providers and tenants – developing a shared outlook on how communities could look in the future. These ideas include how to make our neighbourhoods more sustainable (both socially and environmentally) perhaps meaning more people could enjoy a Good Life…