In January 2011 we entered the next stage of community consultation with the Hillington Square project.
Hillington Square was built in the late 60s and was formerly owned by King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Council. The design of the square was seen as revolutionary when it was built with its ideals of communal living spaces. There are a lot of places like this around the UK where supposedly somebody came up with good ideas in the 60s and the 70s and got it wrong. At the time I think residents were quite happy because old so called “slum streets” were knocked down – streets of houses that had outdoor loos, no kitchens and probably some of them didn’t have running water – and so it was seen as an advancement.
But the design wasn’t all it should be and it didn’t really think about what ‘liveability’ was all about. It stripped away individual outdoor space – it turned individuality into this mass living which doesn’t always work.
The traditional street pattern was stripped out leaving what many in Kings Lynn regard as a giant unwelcome alien spacecraft plonked in the heart of their historic city centre. Our job is to “heal” the scars both in terms of the townscape and to try and address the joblessness and lack of opportunities and facilities that afflict many of the 300 households that make up Hillington Square.
It’s a slow process engaging with the residents. Many don’t speak English as a first language (there are many Latvians and Russians) and of the others, many are totally disenfranchised and with joblessness at almost 3 times the national average there is significant apathy. But gradually we are attracting residents to engage with the design team and to give us their views.
At the end of the recent public meeting, the launch of the Hillington Square Charter a resident came up to and said “I just want to thank you Mr Hemingway for everything you are doing here at Hillington Square”, I explained we hadn’t done anything yet and to thank me when we were making real progress, She replied “I just want to thank you for showing interest in us, we are not used to that” She then went on to give the design team and Freebridge some comments on materials, sustainable windows and we were flabbergasted, a bit tearful and it made us realise why we are passionate about working on projects like this. Here was the most unlikely lady, the kind of character that we have all probably pre judged at one time or another, making intelligent, constructive and useful observations and doing that human thing of thanking us. I will personally work my backside off for this lady.