Regeneration – Lesson learnt: Don’t compromise

Posted: 19th June 2011

Regeneration – Lesson learnt: Don’t compromise

One of the first Regeneration schemes I was ever involved in was an SRB inspired scheme in East London, based on a dodgy council estate. We set out with great ambition and high ideals and a good momentum of local tenant support. However, we quickly discovered that ambition comes at a price. With limited funding and probably a lack of imagination, we compromised our aspirations and the extent of remodelling.

The residents where happy for the attention and the change – they even named a room in the community centre after me. I’m not sure if the Chris Woods lounge still exists. After they unveiled the naming I had to point out that my surname did not carry an “S”. In good humour, when I left the residents gave me a letter opener in the shape of an apostrophe as a parting gift.

I have walked around that estate on a number of occasions since, most recently last weekend. We got it wrong. We are 15 years on and it does not look good. The solution should have been to erase it and start again.

What did I learn? Don’t compromise! To use an old engineering adage, “If it doesn’t look good, it probably isn’t good”. It didn’t, it wasn’t and it isn’t.

I later worked on a larger scheme in Canning Town in Newham and I have more recently been involved in similar larger scale schemes in Ealing and Greenwich. A few weeks ago I was given a guided tour of the Aylesbury in Southwark. As everyone knows the last few years have been lean times for estate based regeneration and some schemes appear to have stalled, despite the fact that we now have more experience and imagination albeit with tight funding.

My advice? Don’t compromise! Despite strong communities, many of these estates are blighted by poor or outdated design. I despise that insidious notion that these estates were once wonderful places to live. They may have been but they ain’t any more. I wouldn’t live there and neither would you. We must not compromise.

Chris Wood is a Partner with Altair Ltd

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