Video killed the Radio Star

Or rather the resident consultation process. Oh the heady days of early 2020 – when residents flocked to events to see what their landlord has planned for their futures, when they could look architects in the eye and touch drawings and models, even point their fingers and shout a bit.

Since the end of March we have become slaves to our laptops, our phones and tablets. We have learned the best place in our homes to get good light (so people can see us look interested but not the increasing grey wild hair) and the best angle for WiFi connection to enable to us to do part of our job.

Finding it fascinating that as we (mainly professionals very few residents are engaging this way) are talking amongst ourselves about whether tenants displaced by demolition should get built in wardrobes or not – we can see colleagues with very nice custom built book shelves in their home office. On an untidy day I can put myself a minimalist background or even claim bandwidth failure and appear as a talking emoji. We have become acutely aware of the challenges facing families on lower incomes cooped up in small flats with limited outside space – a great time to consult about improved public realm if only we could talk to residents.

A Facebook group established on one of our projects has attracted more residents than come to the average drop-in event and the views from lock-down have been revealing and sometimes poignant. Here are just a few highlights:

“My priorities for all residents is to treat the exterior spaces as they would their living rooms. Inject some pride in the shared environment”

“Oh to have trees and to be able to look at it through my window”

“Next to the home we live in, I would like to enjoy as much peace and quiet as possible and see grass and trees instead of parked cars.”

“How about a pantry? Would that be something to think about too. From going through this pandemic virus. I’ve learnt a lot about food storage, and it is definitely handy to have.”

“We live in a busy city so home is more for relaxing. That’s my view”.

We all are more intimately acquainted with the joys and short-comings of our homes having spent an unprecedented amount of tine there, never will residents have more ideas about inproving their spaces.

Other platforms hosting virtual planning consultations and chat boxes opening when a resident logs in have been less successful with only the most determined residents being prepared enough with their battery of questions. Most just leave the site, perhaps feeling intimidated or watched? And telephone consultation? A tenant recently confided that she felt uncomfortable being cold-called by a landlord representative or consultant and felt that her views were being recorded and personalised and she wanted to know what her neighbours thought too.

Certainly every single project has lost resident momentum since lock-down began and when we can eventually face our public again – we’ll need to build up bridges again. Beware the clients who have moved design proposals forward in their Microsoft Teams Bubble you need to take residents on the journey.

As Fat Larry’s Band would sing “Oh zoom, you chased the day away”.

About Carol Squires

Carol Squires is the founding partner at Source Partnership and a keen champion of social housing. the practice prides itself in developing projects to improve the lives of residents

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