Creating a community-led Catford
By Charlotte Cooper | Tue, Aug 15, 2023
4 min read
Project goal: Sharing ideas for Catford Town Centre
Launch date: 05 March 2017
Visitors total: 57,000+
Unique respondents: 1500+
Commonplace was selected by the London Borough of Lewisham to deliver insight into what residents and visitors to Catford think about the area and how they’d like to see it change and improve. Launched in 2017 and wrapped up in early 2022, the site was used as a hub of engagement where local people could leave thoughts about what they loved about this area. These insights were then used to make plans, including informing the Catford Masterplan.
The Background to Catford Town Centre Engagement
The challenge set was to do something different. To discover the Catford that local people loved and the future they wanted.
There had been a previous development proposal for a tall building in Catford, but it was met with strong opposition from the local people - saying it wasn’t the kind of Catford they had envisaged. This caused the scheme to be withdrawn.
“What was clear is that we hadn’t heard from the people that lived there and experienced Catford- what they liked and what wasn’t working well. It felt as if we were just reacting to the schemes that were coming through the door as opposed to setting the scene.” - Emma Talbot, former Director of Planning at London Borough of Lewisham
From there, a new plan was set, to ask people what they truly wanted from the Town Centre. This is where Commonplace was brought in - over a year before the council planned to appoint master planners for the regeneration of Catford. The council wanted plenty of time to gather information and was keen to use Commonplace throughout the whole consultation process as a key communication too.
Having an online community engagement platform meant they could prepare local residents and communities for change and build a greater sense of local identity, focus and engagement over the course of 18 months.
During this period, the council soft-launched a local brand, “Team Catford”, using it within Commonplace and gradually developing a presence through logo, colour scheme, a separate Team Catford website and an ongoing series of local events.
Explore the Commonplace: https://catfordtowncentre.commonplace.is/
Catford engagement purpose
This engagement wasn’t about policy documents or development proposals- but purely for the people who live, work and travel through Catford to explain what they did and didn’t like. This was done using the Heatmap so anyone could drop and pin and leave their thoughts. With real-time responses, Team Catford could how people’s thoughts as they developed over the course of several engagements.
They gathered views from a much wider group of people than before as well, including from those who didn’t have the time to attend planning meetings, send in letters or review reams of planning documents. Having a digital-led strategy allowed the team to reach a much younger audience. In fact, the largest demographics were those aged 25-34 and 35-44.
It gave the team the groundwork to start developing future plans as now they had a good sample of where public interest lay. The data captured gave them a strong basis to start developing their Masterplan with the points shaped by real views from the real residents of Catford.
Building trust and transparency
“There is distrust in regeneration and development as people are often let down. Being able to have a long ongoing thoughtful engagement with a broad spectrum of people was a highlight of the project. We weren’t just talking about what people didn’t want. We changed the conversation to ‘what is great about Catford’ and ‘what do you want to amplify?’” - Emma Talbot, former Director of Planning at London Borough of Lewisham
With GDPR laws, Lewisham Council is unable to publish its planning responses and all personal information has to be redacted. However, all Commonplace responses are open to the public so anyone can see what others are saying and if others are agreeing. For example, in this engagement, many agreed that the South Circular road was a massive barrier for pedestrians and that change had to be made. However, The Catford Cats were surprisingly a much more controversial topic.
Digital led not digital only
With a digital-led engagement, Team Catford also took to the streets to reach as many people as possible, including those who are more digitally excluded. This included meeting people at ward assemblies and food markets and letting them know about the scheme going on. The goal was to meet people where they were.
“We did a lot of school holiday activities. For the local plan activities, we realised to not organise special events but to meet people where they are: like a pop-up shop” - Emma Talbot, former Director of Planning at London Borough of Lewisham.
Award-winning digital engagement!
There have been nearly 58,000 unique visitors to the site and, of those, about 1,500 respondents have made contributions. There are a total of 14,500 contributions to date made up of comments and agreements.
The number of people who have engaged with Commonplace compares very well with the total local population. The population of the two local wards - Catford South and Rushey Green combined was about 36,000 (2021 Census) so even accounting for Commonplace users from outside the area, the engagement achieved is very high.
As a result of the engagement, Catford achieved recognition for its approach in the Building London Planning Awards 2020. They were commended for their creative approach to community engagement and the use of Commonplace's digital platform to keep their residents involved in the conversation.
Throughout the engagement period, Commonplace has delivered data reports to the council, which have been discussed by council members. The reports formed part of the brief that the council published in early 2018 for potential bidders to deliver the regeneration master plan. Here are some of the broad highlights:
Changes since the engagement closed
Even though communications ceased in 2022, the changes can be felt in Catford today. Lewisham has a very strong masterplan for the area thanks to the comments left. TFL also did not want to change the South Circular road that runs through Catford but has just done the consultation to move it. According to the engagement, it needed to be balanced more towards active travel. And now Lewisham has a scheme on the table that is doing that!