Image credits: JDDK Architects (Visitor Centre CGI design by JDDK Architects in collaboration with communities in Oldham)
Surrounded by residential areas in the heart of Oldham, Greater Manchester, Northern Roots is creating the UK’s largest urban farm and eco-park on 160 acres of green space. Led by JDDK Architects on behalf of Oldham Council, the project team included Arup, PlanIT IE, and others.
When embarking on this project, the project team around architect Alison Thornton-Sykes (JDDK Architects) needed to engage in meaningful ways with residents to shape the complex proposals that make up Northern Roots. The team worked on designs throughout the pandemic, with the PlaceChangers toolkit supporting online consultation.
It was vital to bring local communities along on the design journey. Not all residents were immediately sympathetic to the ambitions of the project. Some thought that decisions were already taken; others believed that the project would seek to overdevelop what was a largely untouched and wild natural area.
From the start, it was clear to the design team that the project would benefit from an approach that combined the strength of in-person meetings and creative activities, where possible, with the broad reach of online engagement, allowing voices into the design process.
What was done
The design team used the PlaceChangers platform for a series of online consultations that aligned with the design development of the master plan at key RIBA stages. Interactive online consultation was complemented by a series of Covid-safe face-to-face co-design and consultation workshops for the layout of the master plan and positioning of two key community buildings: the Learning Centre and the Visitor Centre.
Two key online engagement phases were arranged to support face-to-face workshops and consultation events on the back of an initial concept masterplan:
With the concept masterplan layout, the team used the PlaceChangers Engagement tool to create an interactive masterplan for the consultation online. Like in workshop sessions, local residents and the public were invited on a guided tour to review proposals, provide feedback on specific aspects, and even add their ideas directly to the layout.
The team provided the updated and finalised master plan for a follow-up consultation. For this project stage, the team also produced interactive models of two proposed developments on site. PlaceChangers embedded those developments as part of a 3D consultation.
Across 2 stages, 232 respondents submitted over 686 responses across various proposals. From the initial consultation, it was clear that residents were concerned about the potential over-development of the southern part of the vast 160-acre site. The PlaceChangers platform provided a quick overview of critical sentiments from participants across key project areas (See below).
In response to this feedback from local residents, the design team created a finalised masterplan design, that relocated landscape and architectural proposals to the northern third of the site, leaving the southern end of the site untouched. The suggestion for a swimming pond was incorporated into the design, and the Visitor Centre and Learning Centre locations were adapted.
"This has been one of the best consultations I’ve seen in terms of the presentation of proposals and the quality of the feedback. More specific and higher quality comments enabled us to tweak proposals easily."
Urban Planner (Arup)
"PlaceChangers is a fantastic tool. It’s interactive, visual, user-friendly and has helped to bring ideas and proposals to life for local communities. It enabled local residents to meaningfully shape and influence proposals. Feedback allowed the design team to respond, and for the design process to evolve."
Comms, Arts & Engagement Lead (Northern Roots)
Further funding success
In April 2022, the masterplan and building designs for Northern Roots were submitted for planning approval, a pivotal milestone for the project. Since the planning application has been submitted, Northern Roots has successfully secured a further £1 million in funding from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.