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Sarah Weir reflects on MHCLG’s Better Design for Better Places conference

Sarah Weir reflects on MHCLG’s Better Design for Better Places conference

19 February 2019 Written by By Sarah Weir OBE Chief Executive (2017 - 2020)

Beauty was very much the theme of the day at the start of MHCLG’s Better Design for Better Places conference in Birmingham last week. But the overwhelming theme that quickly emerged from the conference hall and in conversations around the venue was the importance of the overall design of our homes and the quality of the places we live in, and the difference that these make to people’s lives.

George Clarke spoke powerfully and passionately about designing homes for the people who live in them, especially so that we design and build homes that kids will love when they grow up. In my own session I shared some of the many images that people had shared on our Twitter feed when we asked what beauty meant to them about the homes and places they live in – almost all of which were open and green spaces. This emphasis on quality of place also came out strongly in the excellent presentations on health, housing and place. 

It was great to see design – of homes and places – so firmly on everyone’s minds and at the centre of such debate.  Stephen Kinsella from Homes England reminded us all of the responsibility we have to provide the homes that people need. The challenge for everyone involved in the built environment is to take the conversation out of the conference hall and reach out and engage a much wider range people about the homes we design and build and the places we want to create. Young people are crucial to that conversation, giving them a voice in shaping the environments that will shape their futures.

To do this we need an approach that joins up people’s different needs for a place – the homes, jobs, decent transport, attractive parks and green spaces, the public services and facilities which make a difference to our daily lives. We need an approach which puts people’s needs at the heart of the process, giving people an equal voice at the table. We need an approach that provides the creativity that helps finds new solutions to complex problems. This is design.

Design Council already works closely with MHCLG and Homes England, championing higher standards through policy, programmes and practice. We also work right across Whitehall bringing design thinking to connect different policy agendas, such as our work with national clients Network Rail and Highways England which will shape the future of those vital infrastructure services that we all use. Our work over many years with the NHS has helped transform people’s experiences of care in A&E departments. Our Transform Ageing programme in the South West is already showing the impact of design-led solutions to societal challenges.  

I came away buoyed up by the enthusiasm and commitment that was on display in Birmingham and sense a genuine shift in people’s attitudes and approach to design. This makes Design Council’s role even more crucial now. So we will be seizing every opportunity in our work across government, with Homes England, local authorities, developers and communities to champion design standards, skills and thinking. Using our experience, insight and expertise we can then, together, deliver a better future by design.

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