June 2013 saw a 7 day series of events and conversations with people living and working in the Rockingham estate and surrounding area. The objective of the conversations was to engage the community around the prospect of creating a neighbourhood forum for the Elephant and Castle area. As we see it, the neighbourhood forum is an enormous opportunity to influence planning policy for where we live or work. Once approved the neighbourhood plan would have to be taken into account by any future developments in the area, and developers will have to assess their plans against our neighbourhood plan policies. This will go some way towards ensuring that developments will benefit the existing communities and take into account what we value.
The founding of a neighbourhood forum is of course the first step towards writing a neighbourhood plan. For a neighbourhood plan to be inclusive of all the different needs in the area, it will have to engage people from a variety of backgrounds, skills and interests. A variety for which the Elephant and Castle is well-known and from which this bold project should draw upon. This is why we took on the challenge of engaging local communities in a discussion about what their concerns for the area are, and if they would welcome being included within the boundary of the neighbourhood forum. We spent 6 weeks prior to our week of events talking to established groups and associations: The Rockingham Community Day Nursery, Rockingham Estate Play Association, the Bengali Women’s Club, Rockingham Somali Support Group, Bait-ul Aziz Islamic Cultural Centre, The Rockingham Community Association, Connextions (Faces in Focus), the Harper Road traders, St Matthews Church, Trinity Newington Residents Association. After these conversations, we decided to establish a street presence in the area north-east of the E&C roundabout (from the Rockingham estate to Trinity square) where we set up our stalls, maps, mint & strawberry plants, leaflets, community stew and walkabouts, every day for a week.
Another happy discovery was the Rockingham estate allotments, whose plots are open to everyone (not only Rockingham residents) for £25 per year. There are still allotments available and people are welcome to seize this opportunity in making our green spaces productive and beautiful! To book an allotment email email@example.com Our neighbourhood plan will certainly try to enhance the allotments’ potential for building up as a community asset. Another discussion we had was around the enhancement of Newington Garden as a great place to enjoy sport and striking greenery still not used to its full potential.
This is why and where we started, but what did we learn from this one week long conversation? In Trinity Square, we heard about the high cost of living and how many of the homes are rented, with short term tenancies making this a changing area. Planning issues are very important for the Trinity Newington Residents Association. At the Rockingham Community Centre, the most active group is the Bengali Women’s Group. As well as their luncheon club on Wednesdays, they organise a mother and toddler group, a homework club and a food growing club at Vauxhall City Farm (though they would prefer something closer to the Rockingham).
On the walkabouts, we were surprised by the width of Falmouth Road and the possibilities this offers for different uses. We also noticed the sad condition of Dickens Square and how it could open up to Rockingham Estate Play Association (REPA) with raised growing beds and community art. Many told us how important the Harper Road shops are, particularly to the Bengali community, and how they could be linked with the commercial units on Rockingham Street and with Newington Causeway.
To round off the week of events we set our stall up on the corner of Walworth road and Heygate street, where we started conversations about the trees which are about to be lost using a number of speech bubbles. The installation was a powerful tool in starting discussions about the green spaces in our neighbourhood, how they can be linked and how they can be secured for future generations to enjoy.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by for a chat with us. 15 of you signed up as members of the Neighbourhood Forum and many others asked to keep in touch. That’s all for now, but we are organising a similar series of events in Walworth over the summer. Send us your email if you would like to be kept up to date
Elephant Spring Festival 2013
Join us for our Spring Festival events around the Elephant & Castle from 3rd - 9th June