It’s the Summer of 2016.  There is great change in the world, the Brexit votes are in, Theresa May is Prime Minister, and the US is about to decide between Trump and Clinton.  This is a time when a pandemic was something we read about, masks were for superheroes and the Bank of England had just cut interest rates from 0.5% to 0.25%.  A different world to the one we know now.

With all this happening in the world, there is a little pocket of East London that is sitting in the Sunshine watching Andy Murray win his second Wimbledon title!  East Village, Stratford is alive.

On its way to winning the award for the ‘Development of the Decade’ at the (2016) RESI Conference, the former Athletes Village for the 2012 Olympic Games is a abuzz with an enlivenment program that is establishing the area as the ‘hippest post code in London.’

We sit down with Richard Lewis, the Events Manager at the time this groundbreaking program was dropping, to understand more about how enlivenment can kick start the community in to action and find new ways to establish a development as a place.

What did you do?

I was the Events Manager at East Village from 2014 to 2017.  In that time the developers and their investment partners wanted to create more than just somewhere for people to live, they wanted to establish a sense of place. The vision was to create a community that would enjoy their homes, the spaces around them and each other.  The enlivenment program that was created was integral to this vision as it was a means of using the Public Realm for events, community fun days, PR activations and artwork installations that would create interest and bring people together.  My job was to make sure that the operational planning was in place so that the delivery of the ideas went safely, smoothly and stuck to budget!

What purpose did enlivenment serve?

The community was just becoming established.  People were still moving in, the retail was new and everyone was starting to get to know each other.  The enlivenment program was a means to assist the organic development of people’s desire to live, work, and enjoy the spaces around them.  We knew that the appeal needed to be based on what the community wanted but also what may attract people from outside E20 to come, visit, stay and return.  Events were a great way to deliver this vision as we knew that having attractions that would appeal would ensure that East Village became a desirable place to live, visit and once here, get to know one another in a fun and unique environment.

Why was 2016 so special?

2016 was the year when the enlivenment program peaked.  We had a lot of events and activations that year.  The Chocolate Festival, the Summer Fete where we showed Wimbledon on a big screen, the Outdoor (Silent) Cinema and some truly excellent PR activations such as the London Landmarks Bird Boxes and the Little Free Libraries.  We also marshalled in the majority of retail openings.  The shops and cafes that opened were mainly independently owned local businesses, which really helped to create a proposition that suited the community but also provided spaces for Residents and visitors to come and dwell and stay.  It was very exciting to be part of and you could really start to see the place come alive.  The whole enlivenment program had a very positive impact, not just on the residents, but also on me, my colleagues and for the profile of the development itself.

What was your favourite memory?

We had so many, but the annual Fireworks event was always the most spectacular.  The logistics, operations and safety management were always very stressful in the build up to the event but the pause that happened during the show, of everyone stopping watching and sharing a moment of wonder as the sparks flew in unison to the music was incredible.

Who else did you work with?

East Village was a very collaborative work environment, and I was very fortunate to work with such a creative marketing team.  They really went above and beyond to promote the events and enlivenment activity through their advertising campaigns, social channels, PR and Comms.  They had some great ideas.  I often felt like the ‘fun police’ when I asked about risk assessments, security provisions, noise and cost but we always found a way to make it work…. except of course one Christmas when the team ordered ‘fake snow’ for Victory Park!  I may have lost that battle but the clean up was worth it for the fun that was had. 

We also worked a lot with the Security team, local police force, local authority, and the cleaning operatives.  It was a lot of the hard work to make sure that the public realm was put back as we had found it. 

The key collaborator was of course the Residents.  We worked very well with some of the key groups that formed and always tried to ensure we were catering for their needs.  The Community Engagement team and on-site Property Managers were instrumental in spreading the word, getting feed back and helping to refine our program.

What does Enlivenment mean to you?

There is so much more to Enlivenment than just events.  We were very lucky at East Village as the investors had bought into the vision of the place and supported the strategy for enlivenment.  Not everywhere has these budgets available of course, but the overriding feature of why it was so successful was because it bought people together.  It was led by the residents, supported by the retailers, and enjoyed by all. 

In addition to the events program there was a big focus on supporting community groups and clubs that appealed to different pockets of people and tenures.  There were fitness classes, knitting clubs, book clubs, litter pickers, bird watchers, all of which were encouraged and supported to increase their membership.  There was artwork installations, live music, markets, a solution for any space, demographic and objective.

There is an opportunity for every development and Estate to have their own version of Enlivenment and it starts in the design.  Outdoor spaces need to look nice, but they also need to be useable.  They need to be able to change and develop based on the requirements of the user and the plans cannot be made behind close doors.  It is only through engagement with the people who are going to be using the space that a plan can grow. It needs to be able to change as the community develops over time and Developers and their Managing Agents should be able to give residents the space to be able to suggest ways that they can help to enliven the space.

How will you take this experience forward?

There are so many options available on how to make a place.  It starts with the strategy.  Asking, “what are we trying to achieve?” The design and design for management principles should incorporate enlivenment as an integral function of the public spaces. And then there’s the plan.  The budgets, the operational planning, the management plans, and the delivery.  Working at SAY has given us the opportunity to help Developers and Property Managers understand how they can establish what they need.  From engagement with the community to the delivery of an enlivenment program we have tailored the specific needs of an Estate to bring people together and make a place.

Richard Lewis is a consultant for SAY Properties.