Young people's voices on regeneration

We have been speaking to young people on the Woodberry Down Estate about their experiences of regeneration. Yasmin Jiang describes how our conversations and their artworks give us insights into what they love about Woodberry Down, but also reveal their anxieties about change and their hopes for the future.

The Woodberry Down Estate, in the north of the London Borough of Hackney, has undergone significant transformation since 2009 as one of Europe’s biggest single-site regeneration projects. Over the years, Social Life has been working with regeneration partners to understand and report the experiences of residents through this change. Over the last six months we have been carrying out a wider social impact assessment on Woodberry Down, commissioned by Notting Hill Genesis. 

Woodberry Down has a strong and vibrant history of community activism and influence in local decision-making, which we have witnessed first-hand through our work on the estate. However, we have also seen and heard that young people do not always have the opportunity or feel motivated to take part. To make sure that their views are reflected in our assessment, we collaborated with The Edge Youth Hub and My Place to carry out a range of activities that are both accessible and impactful.

In September 2023 we organised youth engagement workshops using creative methods to capture the voices of this group. As well as workshops we ran a zine workshop with eight young researchers who have been involved with My Place, which trains young people to become community advocates and shape local-decision making. 

We started the day talking about on topics related to the impact assessment  - neighbourliness, safety and wellbeing, perceptions of the regeneration, access to local services and facilities -  followed by an exploration of the neighbourhood to think about how and why places matter to us. In the afternoon, we got messy and spent the rest of the day cutting and glueing to make collages that reflected our discussions. 

What the young people shared...

  • The diversity of the neighbourhood is very important to young people. They value the greenspaces and parks around the estate, such as Woodberry Wetlands. 
  • Young people report a lack of social infrastructure for their age group. There are few informal indoor spaces where they can hang out with their friends or do their schoolwork; some would like to see a greater range of organised community activities targeted at them. 
  • Many feel conflicted about the regeneration. On one hand, they recognise that the old buildings would benefit from being replaced and appreciate the improvements to the built environment, but they worry that the regeneration led to the neglect of existing residents and the maintenance of their homes. 
  • Young people who grew up on the estate perceived that the regeneration has brought changes to their sense of neighbourliness - they feel that older and newer residents do not always mix and worry that communities are weakening. 

“I like the concept of it [the regeneration], I likethat they’re building better homes. To be fair, the old builds, they’re really really old, they’re literally falling apart… But I just feel like there’s always that they could have done it that would have been better, like taking more care of people in the old blocks. I feel like now that they’re knocking down all the old blocks, they don’t really care to maintain the old blocks. I think they forget that people are still living there… I would say that’s a sign of the regeneration. Just the lack of care for the older tenants.” Young researcher at workshop

For the vast majority of young people that we spoke with, our workshops were the first time that they had been asked about their views on the regeneration. However, many of them expressed that they want to have more influence in local decisions, especially when it comes to events, services and facilities for young people. 

"It is crucial that young people are able to influence decisions about their local environment, as they are the ones who will be affected in decades to come by decisions taken today, and too often young people's feelings are ignored or not sought at all in this process. The workshop with Social Life was a great opportunity for the young people we work with to input into 'live' research that will influence future decision making in their area, and to explore creative ways in which they can express their opinions and those of their peers." Zimmie Sutcliffe, My Place Project Manager 

The creative workshops have been a great way for young people to become active narrators of their stories and experiences, while generating rich insights for the impact assessment. The findings from the workshops will feed into our overall social impact assessment of Woodberry Down. We hope that the zine will be shared broadly so that the insights and aspirations of these young people are taken on board within in future decision-making on the estate. 

You can download the zine here.