What makes a great neighbourhood? Dry definitions of ‘vicinity’ can’t sum up what we feel instinctively shapes them and makes them thrive: a mix of people, strong identity and character; facilities, shared spaces, support; places for living and working and playing; hum and buzz, and quiet areas, too.
That’s why it’s so tricky to drop in a fully-formed neighbourhood onto a blank canvas – they tend to grow from the bottom up. It’s one of the many reasons why schools are so crucial to them, and why effective masterplanning of them is such an art.
It’s not surprising, then, that a school, and recognition of the importance of childcare, has been key in the London Borough of Camden’s Community Investment Programme (a long name for a succinct idea) in Central Somers Town. Camden CIPs are neighbourhood regeneration programmes that focus on the building of new council homes, schools and community spaces.
In Central Somers Town, ably masterplanned by DSDHA, a stand-out school (by Hayhurst and Co) and inspiring community facilities (by Adam Khan Architects) are the first projects to complete. Here, there is careful opening-up of space, coupled with an understanding of the need for children and communities to feel secure – as Nick Hayhurst explains of the Edith Neville Primary School design: ‘It was developed around the idea of a family-scale courtyard, an “oasis” that welcomes families into the heart of the school site.’
There is connective fluidity – for example a reimagining and rejuvenation of a cut-through where previously young people felt unsafe to walk. There’s recognition of the core importance of a childcare facility that dates back to the ’70s – as Adam Khan says: ‘Plot 10 is a club offering childcare for four to 11-year-olds every day before and after school and during the holidays, providing a lifeline to working parents. Set up by residents in the 1970s, it is a rock in the community.’
A school and a community facility are just two projects in our Neighbourhood issue, which is bursting with intriguing schemes. Great neighbourhoods should indeed be a rock on which communities can build and grow – and architects should help them flourish.