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Co-design at Fosters Estate: a sustainable, responsive and inclusive approach

Built in the 1960s, Hendon’s Fosters Estate is in many ways typical of council-built housing estates from that period. Following an open competition in 2017, Allies and Morrison was appointed to develop proposals for the London Borough of Barnet to improve the estate and introduce additional housing with the informed and meaningful participation of the community who live and work there.

A community co-design approach brought together residents, neighbours and local community organisations to work in a highly collaborative environment with the design team to shape a masterplan. This involved much more than developing options but was about getting under the skin of the community. Over a period of more than a year, a series of collaborative open design workshops, events and activities empowered residents to shape the design. A Community Steering Group was established, and monthly meetings were used throughout the design process to both challenge and validate design proposals as they were developed. Regular communications updates to residents, business and community groups through multiple channels kept them informed of how it was evolving. Special effort was made to attract as wide a spectrum of participants as possible, diverse in terms of age, gender, family composition, religion and ethnic background, as well as length of tenancy/residency on the estate.

In keeping with many estates of the era, Fosters consists of a series of low- to high-rise blocks set within an open landscape, unrelated to the street and frayed at the edges. The proposals aim to knit a relatively isolated place back into its surrounding neighbourhood. A central green space is to remain at the heart of Fosters and a new perimeter street around its edge will be framed by carefully selected insertions and additions, which in turn address security issues around the edges. Most of the original buildings are to be retained; only one requiring demolition due to its condition. There are to be 217 new homes including 75 extra care homes within a rich typological mix of 15 residential buildings. These range from 2-storey mews and terraced houses to 3-and 4-storey stacked maisonette and apartment buildings around the edges, as well as 6-storey apartment buildings within a ‘Green’ and a 3- to 7-storey extra care facility. Significant enhancements are also suggested for the shared landscape, including new play spaces and improvements to walkability, cycle access and residents’ storage. The proposals clearly retain the identity of the estate while ensuring that it become more integrated, sensitively, into a wider context.

The renewal of post-war estates like Fosters is a growing necessity as councils strive to meet acute housing needs whilst improving the overall quality of their stock and estate environments. In the past, projects of this type have been marred by tensions and anxieties over the nature of the changes proposed and residents’ perceptions of those impacted in the masterplanning process. Which is why this innovative approach – of both co-design with the local community and working with existing buildings – offers a helpful and hopeful model for estate renewal – one that is more sustainable, responsive and inclusive.