Lawrence Weston is a post-war council housing estate in North West Bristol. It is bordered by Blaise Castle to the East and Avonmouth industrial complex to the west. Originally a hamlet, its current population stands at 6,500. The area has a higher than average proportion of young people and young families and has recently benefitted from a new primary school. It had always been well-known locally for its provision of youth and community facilities.

Challenge

However, some of these facilities, including a library, college and several local pubs have already closed while others, such as the youth club, are threatened with closure.

Ambition Lawrence Weston (ALW) Neighbourhood Planning Group was set up in January 2012 by local people to represent local people's interests: to ensure they can have their say in how the area develops in the future. They felt they had to act to try and prevent the threatened closures and to think about alternative uses for derelict sites.

They wanted to be involved in deciding what sort of housing there is and the facilities that are provided. For example, they wanted more mixed tenure family housing rather than single occupancy flats. This is because of the high population of young families who required better designed family homes with, for example, room to sit down together at a table.  More outdoor play facilities were also desired, as well as a supermarket, as many residents did not have a car and the cost of food locally was high.

However, the issue for ALW Neighbourhood Planning Group was how to ensure that their ideas were taken seriously by key agencies. They intended to put together a design statement setting out their vision of how they wanted the neighbourhood to look. This would also enable them to respond to planning applications and design briefs. They looked to Cabe for advice.

What we did

I didn’t realise that urban design is not just about how a neighbourhood looks but how it works.

Helen Bone, Community coordinator, Vivid Regeneration

Cabe helped Ambition Lawrence Weston create a design vision, a design guide and information that could ultimately support them to write a design statement.

Through workshops held by Cabe, the 20-30 residents who form Ambition Lawrence Weston learned about urban design, what good design is and how to apply that to their area in order to write the design statement. A mix of theory about what works in design and what doesn’t was combined with practical exercises using images which the group rated, helping to embed their design skills.

A Building for Life workshop identified and addressed problems in the built environment, in turn improving the group’s ability to comment on future development proposals.

A community development worker supported the group and organised training for 10 residents in community research. They then collected an impressive 950 responses from local people about what they like and what they’d want to change about the area.

Outcome

It has helped the group understand principles of good design.

Helen Bone, Community coordinator, Vivid Regeneration

The group has achieved a lot in a short space of time. The Lawrence Weston community is kept up to date with the aims and progress of the group, thanks to a quarterly newsletter and a film available to view on a dedicated website.

Bristol City Council’s Head of Planning has attended the group’s meetings and calls the community development worker regularly. Housing associations have invested time and money and local architects have offered pro-bono services. A local engineering company has also completed a flood risk assessment and a number of sites have been valued for free. 

Thanks to Cabe’s direction and advice, local people now have the language, skills and confidence to talk about their aspirations for the future. Through the design training the group learned that how places work is as important as how places look. They have already influenced a development brief and a parks and play strategy.

Their design statement sets out design principles, identifies areas for improvement and potential projects. It has raised the profile of Lawrence Weston at city council level and with local businesses.

Cabe supported the Ambition Lawrence Weston (ALW) Neighbourhood Planning Group late 2012 to early 2013.

Read more about ALW here.

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