Shaping places for the long-term: a community approach

3 min read

What makes somewhere a place? It’s a difficult question, and one that many developers and local councils are struggling with as they invest huge sums in regeneration and development across the UK. 

Too often, place is seen through a purely physical lens. Does your new development have active retail frontages and accessible streets? More recently, people have started to consider more complex elements of place. Does your public space encourage people’s health and wellbeing? 

This is laudable, and as an approach it delivers some great results – but I think we are still missing something key if our placemaking activity doesn’t also help to build a sense of community. It’s an opportunity to involve a local community in the creation of a place, from design through to construction and operation of a new development.  

It’s also one where the construction sector is often lacking. 

When a construction company is appointed to build a new development, people often assume that the opportunity to help shape a place has gone. The drawings are done, the designs are finished – all we’re doing it building something out in line with someone else’s plan. 

At Mace, we believe that the construction sector has a much bigger role to play in the creation of place than people assume. It isn’t just about ‘what’ you build – the reality is that the ‘how’ somewhere is built can fundamentally improve a place for residents and visitors. 

A construction programme should be seen as an opportunity to engage the local community and visitors to the area – not just for the short-term during the construction of a project, but to shape the community and the place for the long term.

Understanding the community and its many facets is an important part of placemaking for any project for us. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and that applies equally to an area as it does to the many people living or working in the community. 

For us, the construction process itself is a great opportunity to bring benefits to the local community, not just in terms of letting them see the project take shape, but also in regard to jobs and training opportunities. Where we have direct influence, we do this through a range of means, from opening up the site to local schools, developing spaces for the local community to use or creating job opportunities for local residents. 

Community investment is an important part of this. We always ask ourselves: how we can bring our skills and expertise to benefit the local community. To that end, we’ve run employability workshops to equip local residents with the skills needed to find jobs, as well as engaging with local schools so they not only see and understand the construction process, but learn about possible careers, too. 

This is crucial to us to ensure we’re leaving a lasting legacy; indeed, we have an ambition to reach 3,000 apprentices and job starts by 2022. This starts with our engagement with schools – this year alone we have already engaged with over 7,000 school children and have a target of 9,000 by 2022.

Our Greenwich Peninsula team, a complex and challenging residential project, the Mace team worked with a local secondary school to help students gain recognised qualifications equivalent to GCSEs and A-Levels while getting a vocational insight into the construction industry.

At Stratford Waterfront, a £1bn cultural development in East London, Mace's team has taken a different approach to meeting targets that we’ve set ourselves to increase the diversity of our workforce.

Not only are we working closely with our client, the London Legacy Development Corporation, and their network of local providers, to seek good candidates, we’re also working with the local college. We've worked with them to develope a two-week bootcamp-style course with Skills Centre, delivering formwork and groundwork and supporting other initiatives such as Women in Construction.

These initiatives are helping us to not only meet, but in some cases, exceed our targets.

Placemaking is now so much more than just ensuring a project has nice landscaping – as it should be. Our goal is to make a place somewhere people want to go – whether they’re already living in the area or are simply a visitor, tourist or worker. For us it’s about enhancing an area and bring benefits for all.