While everyone else was out Christmas shopping, for our Communities team it was the busiest festive season yet. Think Santa, mince pies and carols galore! The true value of our community development work is seen as people from every corner of the areas in which we work come together to celebrate their communities. We work on a wide range of different sites, and the types of events that we hold, as well as the way in which we choose to run them, can vary greatly from one site to the next in line with the desires of different communities. Not just about social value, our work has far wider benefits for the communities directly affected by construction on their doorstep – as well as their new neighbours.
On the last weekend of November, we held a vibrant event in Arborfield Green’s on-site community centre, which was filled with stalls from community groups and local businesses, mulled wine and mince pies, a photobooth, live music, and we even had a visit from Santa Claus. This event was for our longest-standing project, a 2000-home garden village development in Berkshire. Here, we are supported by an Events Committee made up of community figures and residents, as well as sponsorship through the other developers present on the site.
Fast-forward to mid-December, and we’re in the Sales office of our newest site in Milton Keynes on a Sunday afternoon, hosting informal mulled wine and nibbles for the handful of residents who have just moved into Campbell Wharf. This site is in its infancy, and with few site neighbours, our focus is on introducing ourselves to the new residents, and introducing them to each other to help them start to build their new community.
When we first discuss holding a community event, we talk about why it needs to be held – what is the purpose, and how can we maximise social value? For our Berkshire site, we’re bringing our new residents, existing residents, and neighbouring communities together, complete with councillors, community groups and local businesses. We’re opening the floor to connections being made, we’re offering a family fun day for our community, we’re promoting the developer and we’re raising our profile as the community liaison team. In Milton Keynes, it’s a lot simpler than that – we’re just opening the door to conversation, any conversation. As a newer site, there are simply fewer people around for our residents to connect with, so we have to work to grow the community out of the people currently onsite. Of course, communities will grow naturally as more people move in, but the more work we put into those conversations now, the faster those communities will start to establish themselves.
The wider benefits of our work for developers are of course in the sales. People buy into established communities and want to live in a place where they can get involved where they want to, and where they know who to speak to if any issues arise. Buying a new home can be nerve wracking, with concerns commonly including the disruption of life on a site which is under construction and an initial lack of community facilities, so we help to build a strong sense of community into our developments from the first phase. By bringing people together and getting them talking, we solve problems as we go so that the developers and the site itself have a stronger reputation which supports sales, corporate reputation and of course serves them well for future land interests.