Doing something special with nothing

New vegetable garden to involve residents in the production of food.
New vegetable garden to involve residents in the production of food. · Credit: Inge Clemente

what if: projects ltd for Southern Housing Group

Location: Charterhouse Road, Hackney

Charterhouse Road Club is one of 21 projects realised as part of the VACANT LOT programme (2007-2013) initiated by what if: projects, and is one of the key entries which stood out for doing something with nothing.

‘On a really low budget of £85,000 you have got a building, some garden and a sports area,’ explained Hugh Pearman. ‘You can see from the drawing how tight the space was. We had a few other entries which did similar things by turning a bit of back alley into gardens, but this project does that and then some more besides.’

  • Charterhouse Road Club entrance and  new building.
    Charterhouse Road Club entrance and new building. · Credit: Inge Clemente
  • The multifunctional outdoor sports area.
    The multifunctional outdoor sports area. · Credit: Inge Clemente
  • Axonometric drawing of the building and site
    Axonometric drawing of the building and site

The aim of the what if: projects scheme was to transform neglected and unused spaces on inner city housing estates into environments that provide neighbourhoods with the most basic of requirements: outside space, a place to grow food and a place to socialise. It investigates forms of neighbourhood engagement and aims to start processes of sustainable change.

‘The key sentence here for me is that in 2010 there were no green or play areas for the 750 residents of the Samuel Hill Trust Estate,’ said Matthew Taylor. ‘If you look at this and think that five years ago there was nothing, it is impressive that it was pulled together.’

If you look at this and think that five years ago there was nothing, it is impressive that it was pulled together

Between 2011-2013 the derelict community centre site was transformed in stages and through collaboration with many partners, including the environmental charity Groundwork London, Southern Housing Group, local residents, volunteers, trainees from Hackney College and the Football Foundation. Project funding of £85,000 to transform the 722m2 site was sourced from the Big Lottery ‘Local Food’, Mayor of London funding and from Southern Housing Group.

Design and construction information was produced by what if: projects, which also supported funding applications, project managed the delivery of works on site and developed a creative procurement route that involved carpentry trainees and volunteers in the construction process.

The firm explained how Charterhouse Road Club has brought greater cohesion to this deprived multicultural neighbourhood, highlighting the potential impact of small-scale projects that engage and bring people together. Since completion in 2013 the community centre and adjoining outside spaces have ceased to be a crime hotspot and have become a resource for estate residents and the wider community. Outside areas are popular with young people and have enabled a sports programme to be introduced on the estate. While accommodating social gatherings, celebrations and events, the community hall also provides rehearsal space for choreographers.


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