I chatted to Kate Meyrick from The Hornery Institute about how we can work with communities to deliver better outcomes and places they love to live.
Who is The Hornery Institute?
We’re an independent non-profit community organisation that operates under a consulting model. We call ourselves a third space organisation; having a relatively conventional approach to consulting, we provide a range of advisory services across public and private sector organisations operating under a non-profit charter. We have to be able to demonstrate that our work, whether it’s research, community engagement or design has a community objective.
Fundamentally all the work we do is underpinned by a community experiencing some form of change to the environment in which they live, work, learn or spend time. Any profits we make support not so profitable activities around capacity building in communities; such as skilling for employment and regional workforce development.
How do you work with communities?
Initially we help clients define the brief and audience for their place. We help audiences be engaged in the design process and activation stage so that their needs and aspirations are recognised upfront.
We also do social impact analysis and community planning, which means we’re involved in thinking objectively about the community needs and working to refine community strategies. We are also able to monitor and evaluate how those strategies work and to fine tune them helping the client approach it differently next time.
For example we were involved in Caloundra South and Lockerby; in each of these cases we helped establish place based aspirations and needs identified by the audience. We then worked to engage those audiences through the design phase and make sure that we managed their expectations and represented their aspirations through consultation exercises.
What sort of community engagement methods or techniques do you use?
Getting communities involved in building their own community is what creates community. Often when you do things for them and manufacture events they don’t necessarily work. They may work as an event but they don’t actually create community capacity or social capital.
There’s nothing wrong with that but we work from the perspective that involving people in the places that they live, work, learn or visit is a fundamental. A second fundamental is the activation of those spaces with people, giving them the opportunity to participate in activities.
We encourage our clients to create clusters of urban facilities and activities. There’s a tendency to think we’ve got the opportunity to fund a swimming pool, a primary school, a childcare centre and a park and we’ll spread them out so everyone’s got something close to where they live. The problem is that by spreading the people you have dissipated the energy.
We believe clusters allow people to easily move in a walk-able and active transport way, creating a place where you can come and do a number of different things for a number of different reasons.
The third incredibly important layer is getting some form of community governance going so that the local community is starting to own these spaces and programs themselves. We support and build the communities capacity to put on special events, seasonal events or go look for the bespoke providers or grass roots services important to that community. A lot of the work we do is not about us putting on events or activities, it’s about facilitating a framework in which they can be sustainable.
What range of skills do you draw upon to engage with communities?
We’re a very unusual studio practice in that our age range is 20 to 75. We have an incredible breadth of insight from people who are young and at university through to people who are active working seniors. We’ve got quite a spread of nationalities and an extremely diverse range of skill sets available; from law, accounting, architecture, landscape, social planning, communication and industrial design right though to regional and statutory planning.
How has the institute evolved over time?
In one sense it’s actually a KPI for me to do myself out of a job and I think that’s one of the things that differentiates us from a traditional consultancy practice.
We are incredibly open and transparent with our clients and deliberately seek to build their in-house capacity. Part of our operating charter is to raise industry awareness about the fundamental importance of engaging with community and doing it well. In many ways every time a client doesn’t engage me I smile because I think, “I now know you feel confident and comfortable to do this by yourself”, and that’s a huge sense of satisfaction.
Over time we have changed our focus. Whereas beforehand we had a more direct impact on masterplanning and the design of individual facilities we now tend to have more of a strategic perspective, producing urban strategies to help clients understand community drivers.
Does The Hornery Institute get involved in the delivery of community infrastructure?
We have done a lot of work with both Lend Lease and Stockland around delivery and sequencing of infrastructure; particularly around the provision of anchor and community infrastructure.
At the Lend Lease North Lakes project in 2004 we opened the ‘Pathway Centre’, which was an integrated library, vocational, education and sports precinct right in the heart of the town centre. We started working on that when there were only 375 houses out of 16,000 delivered. The process of doing it so early was to lead the culture, tone and identity of this emerging community and making sure they had somewhere to come.
We’re still taking this approach ten years later, saying here is the suite of early community services that must be in play for this community to function without having to borrow on the already overworked facilities in the surrounding five kilometre radius.
We have worked with the education department to understand the concept of a ‘community school’, a school where facilities are shared between the school and the community. We wanted to know what shared opportunities were for performing and arts spaces, sport and recreation areas and library facilities to create a school and community epicentre.
How are Australian communities and lifestyles changing?
We tend to present quite homogenised offerings in terms of new developments, however our research and experience shows Australian appetites are changing and one of the things that they value most is the ability to express their own identity. Multicultural communities are more accepting of travel, don’t necessarily want a quarter acre block with a garden and don’t require a swimming pool.
Their preference is for a place to live with shared communal facilities, to be able to eat and cook outside as a large group. However these sorts of community environment don’t really exist because town centres are often a big box shopping centre that closes at six.
Over my career I have noticed when the market is buoyant people don’t care as much because they build anything and sell it at a good return. When the market is bad, one of the hardest things is persuading the developer that the best defensive strategy to differentiate your project and guarantee sales is community infrastructure. The greater the investment you make in public realm and community assets the better you defend your property.
If you could change one thing about the way we currently create communities what would it be?
I would like to see local governments prescribe that any application for community development must have demonstrated early engagement before the masterplanning or design process occurred. Genuine engagement is about saying how would you like the design of this place to progress and how would you like to be involved in its evolution?