Disabled residents play ground-breaking co-production role in major development

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Disabled people have played a “ground-breaking” role in co-producing a major new redevelopment scheme.

The role played by disabled people in the planning application to redevelop Hammersmith town hall and the surrounding area in London is the first major product of a pioneering agreement to embed a genuine culture of co-production within Hammersmith and Fulham council.

A report last year by the Hammersmith and Fulham Disabled People’s Commission (pictured, the report’s launch) was accepted in full by the council and hailed as a blueprint for disabled people’s organisations across the country to push for change from their own local authorities.

Now disabled campaigners are welcoming the submission – and approval – of the planning application for the redevelopment of grade two-listed Hammersmith town hall, a new town square, and four new buildings, including 204 new homes, offices and a cinema, as proof that the council has been true to its word.

The application was partly presented to the council’s planning committee last week by one of the disabled residents who have worked in co-production on the plans.

Tracey Proudlock, founder of the leading access consultancy Proudlock Associates, which has been working as inclusive design consultants with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, said she believed the level of co-production on the scheme was “ground-breaking” and had come about as a result of the disabled people’s commission.

She said there had been regular meetings with the team of disabled residents – who were paid for their work – and “everybody was giving feedback and opinions” and “nothing could be kicked into the long grass”.

At the beginning of the co-production work, Proudlock Associates ran a training day for the disabled residents in technical issues such as reading architectural plans, interpreting drawings and symbols, and how the planning process works, as well as on inclusive design.

Proudlock said the level of co-production on the scheme helped convince English Heritage to allow significant changes to improve access to the main council chamber.

She said: “Disabled people were part of the planning. Their opinions were written into the planning application.”

Among the development’s features are wheelchair-accessible homes spread across the residential blocks; a Changing Places toilet; a managed toilet area for assistance dogs near the town hall entrance; as well as many other inclusive design features.

Jane Wilmot, one of the team of disabled residents who worked on the scheme alongside the architects and Proudlock Associates, said: “Barriers faced by disabled people in using buildings and open spaces were raised early before plans were submitted rather than left to detailed design at a later stage.

“This way of working together allowed robust solutions to be found early as well as saving time and money for the developer.

“This is most unusual and should be adopted in all major development projects.”

She said this would not have happened without the council’s commitment and strategy of co-production.

Cllr Stephen Cowan, leader of the Labour-run council, said in a statement: “We are determined to make our borough the most inclusive in the UK.

“[This] is why we asked the borough’s independent to work with our architects from the beginning to make our new civic campus one of the most accessible buildings in the country.

“The end result speaks for itself and demonstrates how the principles of co-production can be applied to a wide range of areas – from designing buildings, to designing services, and to dismantling all the barriers that disable disabled people.

“We’re very proud of all the advice and hard work Hammersmith and Fulham’s independent Disabled People’s Commission* has given and know that by delivering changes – such as those typified with this beautiful, accessible new civic campus – that they’ll not only help us change our borough to be the best place for disabled people, but will set the mark that helps change our country.”

Tara Flood, who chaired the commission, said the co-production work was a significant achievement and should act as a blueprint for other local authorities to follow in engaging with disabled people.

She said it had not been “perfect co-production” because the disabled residents were not involved from the start of the design and development process.

But she said: “Once disabled residents were involved, they were treated with the utmost respect and treated very seriously.

“It would not have happened had the commission not existed.

“This process fundamentally shifted in the right direction once disabled people were involved.

“There is no doubt that Tracey and Liam Proudlock were instrumental in making that happen and provided some really excellent support to the disabled residents who got involved in that process.”

*Due to a mistake by the council’s press office, in an earlier version of this article this comment referred to the independent Disabled Residents Team

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