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Why Engaging People is Important

Understand the drivers of community engagement

When thinking about the possible future of a historic place of worship, any transformation or design decisions will be enhanced by involving those that are or can be part of the life of the building.

By engaging a wider group of users and stakeholders, useful knowledge can be gathered about the building and its function, as well as understanding the different needs and aspirations. It is therefore important in the engagement process extends beyond the congregation to people that run activities or services in the building (e.g. a food bank, a cafe or exercise group). Moreover, the engagement process needs to be extended towards local people and groups in the area, that might not use the place of worship now but might do so in the future, such as a school or a local organisation that runs community services. This can help understand aspects that might have been previously overlooked or garner support for the changes already proposed.

Engaging people should be more than just asking the worshipping congregation and the wider community to provide feedback on pre-developed design ideas. It is about involving them in from the start, to understand what needs changing and what they value or want to preserve. It is about getting the right information and input to develop design opportunities and proposals. Developing designs and the underlying vision with multiple stakeholders, users and the wider community, can create a more resilient proposal and a sense of ownership within the community towards the project.

A collaborative approach to design can happen at any scale and can be led by any community or sector. In all, engagement can help to:

  • Unlock local knowledge

Local people hold valuable knowledge and expertise on the building, the surrounding area and their wider local area. Their user experience and local knowledge can help improve the vision, brief and design quality. Getting a wide range of these experiences as possible can also make the project more inclusive and accessible for the wider community.

  • Mobilise local assets

Every place has a wealth of skills, resources and networks. Working with local people and organisations can help mobilise and unlock local assets that can contribute to the success of a project. It can also help build networks and partnerships that will support the success of a place in the long term.

  • Enable agency and ownership

If local people are involved in the design of a building, they will feel a greater sense of agency, ownership and respect for the space and will be more willing to invest in its success. This investment might be the time and energy contributed to dialogue or could be a contribution to skills and assets required to bring a project to fruition or to invigorate the place once transformed.

  • Unleash expertise and creativity

There is great opportunity in opening up idea generation and creative thinking. Participating in a collaborative design process can help people unlock and use their creativity in different ways – for their own satisfaction and for the benefit of their community. While this has to be managed through a clear process in line with the design process, it can be the source of locally driven innovation that responds to issues and opportunities in new ways that are borne out of and response to the local context.

  • Build social capital

A collaborative design process can offer numerous opportunities to build confidence, develop new life skills and enhance employability. It can also help foster local relationships and networks and build social cohesion. Engaging with local people may unearth other initiatives in the area that are complementary to a scheme or project. Working together can make the process for change more efficient and enhance the impact and legacy of both large and small projects in the area.

  • Enhance the mission of the place

Reaching out to the wider community is not only a good opportunity to understand what the needs are of the people in the local area. It is a great way to better serve and widen the faith, cultural and social mission of a place of worship.

In short, a collaborative approach to design can help improve the place and has potential to generate value that goes beyond the bricks and mortar.

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Enabling Community-Based Leadership in Design: Sustainable Development of Historic Faith Buildings

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