Coin Street, London, 1984 to the presentCommunity-led place shaping

The regeneration of the Coin Street area of London demonstrates that the process of working towards a vision of what a place can be involves both understanding the possibilities of a site and working flexibly with residents and other stakeholders over many years to make the vision a reality.

Key Points

  • Working towards a vision for a place
  • Resident-led management of housing and development
  • Adapting development plans to changing social, political and economic environments
Vision for a place

The Coin Street area of London's South Bank has, over the last 24 years, been gradually regenerated from a derelict, ex-industrial area into one of London's most popular neighbourhoods. This transformation has been spearheaded by a group of local residents, who initially began working together in response to concerns that local families were being displaced by commercial developments in the area. The group formed a not-for-profitGlossary: refers to organisations or initiatives which invest their profits back into their charitable activities company that took on the challenge of shaping their neighbourhood into a place with affordable housing and commercial and cultural facilities, where people would choose to live, visit and work. They did this with a mix of funding sources, including grants from the Housing Corporation towards the costs of developing the social housing, and also through commercial projects that cross-subsidise other activities such as community programmes. Coin Street's activities have been heralded by many in the field of urban regeneration because of the flexibility in adapting to a changing economic, political and social environment.

Inner-city housing decline

In the late 1960s the South Bank of London had been identified in local planning guidance as an area suitable for office and commercial developments. Gradually, the neighbourhood which had been home to industrial workers and their families saw a decline in both its residential population and the level of public service provision in the area. Fewer people were choosing to live or open businesses in the area. Schools and local shops began to disappear.

A derelict 13-acre site between Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge had been identified for a similar path of development. Investors were competing for land in the area and were planning to use it for office and hotel space including a building which would have been Europe's tallest hotel. Local residents were opposed to these proposals and formed an action group to tackle the displacement of local families and the loss of open space. Their alternate vision for the area was a neighbourhood with affordable family housing, employment opportunities and open spaces with access to the river.

Starting the process of change

After seven years of campaigning and two public enquiries the Coin Street Action Group was able to purchase land on the South Bank in 1984. The then Greater London Council (GLC) had supported the initiative during the campaign by funding the Action Group to undertake feasibility studies and development work (which was eventually turned into a loan and repaid once the group was successful in purchasing the land). This enabled the residents to shape their own vision for the neighbourhood, work with architects and other building professionals to submit for planning permission, develop viable financial and business models, and to participate fully in the public enquiry processes. After the second public enquiry both the community and private schemes gained planning permission and the Coin Street Action Group turned its attention to acquiring the land. They worked with local borough councils and the GLC to put in place planning controls for the area to limit the commercial value of the land. This helped to prevent private developers speculating with land values in the area and reduced the viability of the private scheme. With the value of the land now reduced from £4m to £1m, the GLC, before its abolition by the Thatcher government, acquired the land from the developers and local authorities and sold it on to Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB), a non-profit-distributing limited company set up by the Coin Street Action Group to purchase the land and take the development forward. CSCB borrowed money to finance the deal including a combination of funding from the GLC and the Greater London Enterprise Board, as well as private mortgages.

The action group managed the development itself by forming Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB). Only local people could be members of CSCB and select the board of directors. The company used profits made through commercial activities on the site to invest in developing gardens, extending the riverside walkway, social housing and mixed use developments. In its initial phase the group was able to raise revenue through temporary land use, like car parking, to bring in revenue that could start to pay back their loans and create surpluses for their development schemes.

Drawing people back in

One of the first challenges the CSCB faced was to encourage people to move into an area that was still perceived to be largely derelict. They found similar difficulties in securing financial support from banks to fund building in the area. In 1998 the Mulberry Housing Co-operative was the first housing scheme to be completed. In the same year a temporary market at Gabriel's Wharf opened up a public space along the riverside and brought in a collection of small scale businesses to the neighbourhood. Gradually the perception of the place as a deprived area began to change. The public gardens and a second smaller social housing scheme, the Palm Housing Co-operative, continued the improvement of the area.

The conversion of Oxo Tower Wharf into an unconventional mixed-use building of social housing, retail and restaurants was the next initiative taken on by the group. The project was challenging as lenders were nervous about loaning money to a not-for-profitGlossary: refers to organisations or initiatives which invest their profits back into their charitable activities company refurbishing a derelict building into a mix of social housing and commercial spaces.

The Coin Street housing developments were and are managed by resident cooperatives, which were able to respond quickly to the needs of the people living there. Though common in many parts of Europe, the cooperative model remains relatively unusual in the UK. New tenants are not expected to have previous knowledge of housing management but have the opportunity to take part in decision making for their communities and help manage the properties. Tenants are offered training to build their skills and capacity for this stewardshipGlossary: refers, in this context, to the ongoing process of managing, maintaining and tending a community role.

Preserving the quality of the public realm

As development progressed, the South Bank of London became an increasingly attractive area for investment in cultural and leisure facilities. The area was popular with tourists because of attractions like the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre, and when new developments like the London Eye and Tate Modern opened the number of visitors to this stretch of the riverside trebled. Issues around the cost of maintaining public and pedestrian spaces were becoming increasingly challenging for the area and needed to be tackled holistically for the neighbourhood. In the early 1990s partnerships developed with public agencies and other organisations based in the area to achieve larger goals, particularly around environmental improvements and transport links.

Several art organisations and big businesses worked with the CSCB to set up a non-profit company called the South Bank Employers' Group (SBEG), which became responsible for helping to manage the area and improve its physical condition. SBEG worked together to outline a plan to transform the South Bank of London. Specific projects and a joint urban design strategy have resulted in successful urban spaces that attract thousands of visitors. Profits made have been reinvested in the maintenance and improvement of the area.

CSCB future priorities

At present, the CSCB has developed four housing cooperatives, providing family accommodation for approximately 1,000 people on the South Bank. This in turn has brought pressure to develop local facilities and services such as childcare and sports facilities. The CSCB has turned its efforts towards meeting these changing needs and in 2007 opened a neighbourhood centre offering a mix of community programmes, childcare and income generating meeting and conference spaces.

In 2008 planning consent for CSCB's proposals for its Doon Street site was granted. A major mixed-used scheme is planned for this site to include a new public swimming and indoor leisure centre, a new HQ including two dance studios for Rambert Dance Company, an educational building, a new town square and 329 flats. The profits from the sale of the flats are to fund both capital and revenue needed to build and maintain the community indoor swimming and leisure facilities.

Achieving Coin Street's vision
  • By combining housing and social facilities with income generating businesses the CSCB have been able to cross-subsidise the high design standards of their housing. For example, some of the energy saving design elements of their homes increased their build cost by between 36 and 104 per cent when compared to the average cost of social homes. Achieving economic independence and being able to fund these design standards was a key aspect of Coin Street's success
  • The structural organisation of the CSCB and its capacity to build partnerships allowed the generation of different bodies for different purposes. For example, Coin Street Secondary Housing Cooperative - a registered social landlord - has been responsible for developing 220 homes for four separate cooperatives with residents being tenant members. The cooperative model was selected to help foster a collective commitment to the homes.
Can Coin Street be replicated elsewhere?
  • The Coin Street site is of course located in a now attractive area of Central London which, despite being run down and derelict when the group began their process of regeneration, was still a site with great potential. Whilst similar opportunities for attracting businesses and residents might not be as obvious for sites in other parts of the UK, derelict sites with poor facilities, image and reputation are usually the ones with the most potential regardless of the area. The challenge of successful stewardshipGlossary: refers, in this context, to the ongoing process of managing, maintaining and tending a community is to identify how best to enhance the qualities of communities in these other places
  • Residents were able to organise themselves and develop an alternative plan and financial strategy for developing the area. However some of the people involved in the campaign and the project already had experience in neighbourhood governance and managerial skills having previously run housing cooperatives. Other members had knowledge of planning regulations and the appropriate channels to lobby for community initiatives. The group's capacity was therefore a crucial factor in their success.
Transferable lessons for new communities

New communities will be different in their character from Coin Street but there are valuable elements of the CSCB approach to cooperative housing management and their use of social enterpriseGlossary: A social enterprise is a profit-making businesses set up to tackle a social or environmental need which might usefully be applied to new settlements:

Achieving a vision for a place takes time, money, imagination and determination. To create a place where people choose to live and work requires both an understanding of what that place can be and strategies to develop its potential.

The regeneration of Coin Street has taken place over several years and has to this point consisted of many short-term projects all targeted towards achieving the CSCB's long-term goals. The process of achieving a vision of place needs to be flexible and adapt to changing social and economic contexts.

Successful projects and enterprises involve people with time and capacity to take responsibility for and effectively manage assets. Residents can be key members of stewardshipGlossary: refers, in this context, to the ongoing process of managing, maintaining and tending a community teams but in order to fill these roles they will need support and capacity buildingGlossary: refers to assistance which is provided to organisations or individuals to help them develop a certain skill or competence. to fulfil their roles with confidence, including working closely with development professionals.

Financial independence is crucial to ensure the sustainability of community initiatives. CSCB was able to secure finance for new projects against their income from commercial activities, which resulted in greater autonomy allowing them to undertake unconventional projects.

Exploiting the possibilities of a site for social enterpriseGlossary: A social enterprise is a profit-making businesses set up to tackle a social or environmental need is a key factor for the economic success of any project. Clearly Coin Street was fortunate to be located in an area of central London, but other sites will have their own natural advantages.

For more information see: Coin Street Community Builders