Has Covid changed how we engage with our neighbourhoods?

How we engage with neighbourhoods is crucial to the success of creating new places and spaces. We always aim to gain as much understanding as possible as to what an area means to local people, the positive and the negative aspects, and to take this valuable knowledge with us as we prepare our designs. It’s because we understand that our homes are part of something much bigger: neighbourhoods, communities and cultures. Our team strives to ensure that our engagement is as transparent and collaborative as possible, maintaining an open dialogue with local people to help shape our proposals.

We know that our developments will only be successful if they benefit everyone involved in the process.

Pre-COVID, our community engagement would take place within the local area as much as possible. We love meeting people face-to-face and talking with local businesses, neighbours and community leaders at public exhibitions. We began our consultation for Albion Waterside, a masterplan regeneration of a 5.5ha site on the River Thames in Kent in this exact way. Things started well, meeting our stakeholders including the local sailing club and other neighbourhood groups. And then COVID hit and lockdowns were enforced – meeting people in person was no longer an option. However, we were keen to sustain the level of engagement we had set out to achieve to submit our plans in early 2021. Our team reacted quickly to pivot our approach and took the engagement process online. Meetings moved online, as did collecting feedback and presenting consultation materials.

Community engagement typically takes place in local halls and clubs over a set number of days, with the attendees being those who have more time available to join. Although we make every attempt to encourage engagement across all generations, from visiting schools to having later sessions to allow people to come after work, we rarely get to engage with as diverse a spectrum of the local community as we’d like. Navigating the new, purely online engagement process, we had to think differently to ensure we sustained an engaging and collaborative consultation process. The ease of joining us online had a positive impact on the variety of people who could join the conversation. People could participate from the comfort of their own homes whilst juggling other commitments, it really opened things up.

We quickly realised that online consultation of this scale was another channel, not a replacement for face-to-face engagement, but another way we could engage more widely with the community. For us, the more diverse the audience, the better.

We submitted our application for Albion Waterside in February 2021 and post-submission have been able to navigate the ‘new normal’ rules of meeting socially to have meetings in person once again. But understandably not everyone is comfortable with this following 18-months of restrictions on our movements and gatherings. We still believe there is huge value in interacting with the local community in person. In June 2021 we adopted a hybrid approach with our consultation partners JTP, finding a solution that covered both an online and in-person approach in a COVID-secure way. We took iPads to the streets of Gravesend and created an online form which people passing by could easily view and comment on instantaneously without having to be confined into a small, closed space or being sent emails or leaflets that they may have lost or forgotten about. The result? We gathered over 50 responses in two days.

So what does this tell us? People still enjoy a direct, face-to-face approach and are more likely to respond and give vital feedback when being asked in person. However, the online approach offers huge benefits of reaching a wider audience, and we’ll be taking forward elements of this approach for our upcoming engagement. We’re currently investigating what a virtual consultation might look like – taking our information boards online so people can navigate around them as they would attending in-person to a public exhibition. We feel this enables people to view our proposals who may still want to avoid crowds or cannot fit in a visit around existing commitments. Virtual engagement also helps people who are unable to get to local events, whether that is due to child care, disability or work commitments. COVID restrictions forced us to think differently and we are now seeing the benefits of having to do so.

In conclusion, we’ve learnt some valuable lessons from consulting through the pandemic.

We’ll be taking the lessons learned forward to ensure that our neighbourhood engagement is as inclusive as ever and focused on the ease of submitting feedback for all members of the communities where we build. It looks like this will be a hybrid approach between online and in-person but on a personal note, nothing beats a good chinwag with local people who know their area inside out, hearing their stories and gathering valuable insights to help inform our plans to make better homes for a better world.

Read our latest news about Albion Waterside achieving planning permission here!

Craig Carson
Development Director

Has Covid changed how we engage with our neighbourhoods? - Joseph Homes Has Covid changed how we engage with our neighbourhoods? - Joseph Homes Has Covid changed how we engage with our neighbourhoods? - Joseph Homes
Has Covid changed how we engage with our neighbourhoods? - Joseph Homes Has Covid changed how we engage with our neighbourhoods? - Joseph Homes Has Covid changed how we engage with our neighbourhoods? - Joseph Homes
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