From 2012 ⸻

Our Purley Positive Regeneration Story

The project, place and people.

In early 2020 Urban Symbiotics was appointed by Croydon Council to lead a dynamic and multi-disciplinary team in developing a strategic regeneration framework for the district centre and surrounding area of Purley. With the planned rapid development, we knew that a bold initiative was required to transform Purley, suffering from neglect and decline, into a thriving and vibrant community for residents, businesses, and visitors alike.

The importance

This need was pressing as Purley faced numerous challenges, including a complicated gyratory at its heart that causes traffic congestion, a shortage of green spaces, and a struggling high street. Additionally, the area was at risk of becoming segregated, with a divide between the historic suburban residents and a newer, more diverse population entering through planned residential developments.

Our ambition for the framework was to place the community at the centre, a community that felt neglected, unheard and unhappy with the incoherent and uncoordinated development.

With our goal to create a truly community-led vision, we developed a flexible and resilient engagement strategy which could adapt to changing circumstances. This included dealing with the challenges posed by the pandemic and the financial difficulties faced by our client, Croydon Council.

Despite these difficulties, our strategy succeeded in aligning the principles of the regeneration framework with the community’s legacy, allowing it to adapt, grow, and thrive. The community is still implementing key elements of the framework today.

What we did and how!

We took a hands-on approach to engaging the community. We started by deeply understanding the area, using demographic, socio-economic, and tenure data to develop a customised strategy that met the unique needs of different individuals and groups. When lockdown restrictions were implemented, we used a bespoke digital tool called “Purley My Map” to gather insights from community leaders, councillors, business representatives and stakeholders.

With this data in hand, we formed the Purley Panel – a passionate group of representatives from all walks of life who worked together as a steering committee to take the community’s issues and aspirations and turn them into co-designed actionable plans. From customised visual questionnaires and interactive school assembly workshops to pizza nights with teenagers and business forum sessions, we broke down barriers and went the extra mile to engage people where they were. Through the Purley Panel, the views, needs and aspirations of a significant number of people were captured from the mosque, local churches, parent groups, youth projects, food banks, local schools, care homes and resident associations, amongst others.

Post-pandemic we also held a “Super Saturday” event on the high street, filled with creativity and entertainment, to bring the community together and inspire change. Overall, we made sure to break down barriers to participation, such as time, affordability, and interest and sought ways to ‘go to’ individuals and groups.

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Embedding community and user experience

Our approach to community engagement resulted in recommendations from the framework being written into Croydon Council’s local plan review, which will be adopted this year. The framework principles will shape the vision for Purley’s growth up to 2039.

We also translated the framework into a community focussed manual of change. This provides advice about projects, tools and resources that residents can use to take charge of their own neighbourhood.

The independent Purley Panel has now become a force for making the community vision come to life. We have continued to successfully support and capacity-build the Purley Panel to enable a sustainable legacy for the area beyond the project scope. This was to ensure that community-led change is realised.

Success and impact

Success has included support of the Panel gain two rounds of circa £200,000 of GLA funding through its recognition as Mayor’s High Street For All exemplar within the borough.

The Purley Panel has also sparked a broader and more cohesive network of community groups named the ‘Purley Group Collaboration’ and have even successfully launched the Purley festival. This has been a significant step towards more local social cohesion whilst mitigating business closure and addressing the three pillars of sustainability.

The GLA funding is now being used to co-design various under-utilised assets for community use and events, such as a central path to the high street that is safe for all and a transformable placemaking toolkit to support different activities and greening in the public realm.

A bespoke approach to social value and sustainability

Our approach to sustainability was at the core of this programme, with a deep understanding that social, environmental and economic issues were at the centre of Purley’s challenges and required a radical community-focused response.

Through direct engagement with the Purley Panel, we gathered over a 1000 insights from a representative mix of the community to understand their social needs. It was clear the community’s aspirations were for a Purley where existing and new residents could live in carefully designed lifetime homes to achieve a lifetime neighbourhood and a lifetime community that welcomes, serves and is accessible to people of all ages.