Getting Community Engagement Right in Barking

We truly wondered what sort of turn out we would get to our Family Day event held at the brownfield site along the river where 10,000 new homes are going to be built over the next twenty years. Our challenge was that there was no obvious ways of engaging the neighbourhoods adjacent to the massive new Barking Riverside Ltd. development. The neighbourhoods are predominantly private tenure without resident’s associations or housing associations, no known active groups, no community centre or shops to post flyers.

Yet last Saturday more than 60 people – neighbours, parents, grandparents, and kids – from the neighbourhoods of Barking Reach, Great Fleete, and Thames View journeyed to the river – some on foot joining our ‘walking bus’ and others by car – to cheerfully participate in a butterfly walk, community mapping, herb planting, landscape gardening, and face painting. And most importantly, local residents took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and express concerns about the new development.

Even though the massive Barking Riverside Ltd. development is literally on the doorstep of the families living in Barking Reach and Great Fleete, most local residents know very little about what is happening. At the event, residents asked representatives from the local authority and Barking Riverside Ltd. about issues and concerns ranging from school places to traffic, from whether uprooted trees would be replanted to job creation, and whether there will be affordable housing in the new development.

The keys to successful community engagement:

Getting the word out- a simple and well-designed flyer asking people to join us for Family Day event at the river and learn more about development

The right offer – an exciting and fun event on offer that appealed to families

The right place – having the Family Day at the river and on the site of the development as a way for local residents to feel welcome

The right people – we put a flyer through every letter box in Barking Reach and Great Fleete and made sure that the someone from the local authority was on hand to provide accurate and relevant information

The event cost around £200 which demonstrates that it is possible to have a creative and successful community engagement event without spending a lot of money.

The feedback from residents was extremely positive; most were interested in becoming involved in a local resident’s groups as a way to be informed about the development and way to be able to express their concerns and questions.

The Family Day event was organised by the Young Foundation in collaboration with the London Wildlife Trust, Barking and Dagenham council, and Barking Riverside Ltd to creatively engage local residents with the changes taking places in their community.

Post by Tricia Hackett, Associate, Social Life.