In 2005, I was lucky enough to be awarded a travelling fellowship to study Community and Conservation based Regeneration Projects in the USA, Canada, Mexico and Germany by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT). I looked at buildings and places that brought disparate communities together to overcome hardship and inequalities. My research found regeneration projects that gave a common sense of identity, pride and ownership to people sorely lacking opportunities for work and facilities. Affordable business premises, flexible and safe community services and homes were created; and through creative reuse of existing structures and infrastructure they were inherently low carbon projects.
In December 2020 I was successfully awarded funding from the WCMT Covid Action Fund to build on my previous research. For this, I found derelict, empty or underused structures and outside spaces in Bath, to be used to deliver services for isolated or vulnerable people during Covid-19 restrictions. I matched a land owner with a charity that needed space and worked with an established partnership that a different charity had with a different land owner too. My Fellowship revealed this as a proven model for long term social/economic recovery and resilience, efficiently utilising lost assets to create community spaces, food provision and business premises.
Communities impacted significantly by a lack of Covid-safe environments, include those reliant on services and facilities outside of their homes to address complicated personal needs that either cannot be provided remotely or are less helpful without face to face provision. For example (but not exclusively), those experiencing domestic abuse, those with inadequate access to food or those requiring mental health support. Organisations providing services for needs like these were forced to stop or reduce services suddenly due to lockdown restrictions and have been unable to resume to the same levels or at all when restrictions eased due to a lack of safe premises for service users and staff/volunteers. For these people, a safe space in the city for legally compliant access to support such as a private bookable space located outside to ensure privacy and safety from the pandemic, would be invaluable.
This work could lead to an improvement in accessing our public services through sharing private land and spaces, and help rethink and reimagine our society to be more collaborative after the pandemic. The project has demonstrated innovative ways of creating resilience in public services essential to supporting people struggling with needs that require support outside of their homes. The project combines a sustainable and therapeutic use of our built environment using infrastructure that already exists – a very low carbon way of developing effective in other countries: from vertical community food gardens in derelict houses in Cuba to the public acquisition of empty historic city centre properties for conversion into businesses in Texas.
The model created by this project in a British context could be replicated to rethink the sustainable and therapeutic development of our cities throughout Covid-19 and beyond.
The charities supported by this project were: Foodcycle Bath, Southside Family Project and Voices.
The landowner partners for this project were: Bath Quakers, Nexus Methodist Church and private landlords.