Community engagement: you don’t always get what you expect…

In their Fellgate case study, Northumbrian Water observe: “that negotiating stakeholder and customer buy-in for long term community benefits are at the heart of sustainable projects. It is therefore essential to factor in sufficient time for persuasion and negotiation on SuDS proposals.”

Fortunately everyone seems to agree that rainwater harvesting tanks close to community gardens in Southwark are a good idea.

We had planned to decorate them with artwork by children from a local school we’ve been working with, but it felt like a sensible idea to go and have a chat with local residents first.

The beautiful thing about engagement like this is the way it enriches your understanding of communities and projects. Members of the Alberta Tenants and Residents Association, who I met last Monday, were pleased with their new 800-litre rainwater tank.

They weren’t so sure about the decoration plans. Because the tank sits next to a blank wall and a landscaped garden area, they opted to leave the tank undecorated. Which, of course, is fine – community engagement for SuDS is all about being able to flex projects so that people feel listened to and involved.  I also got insight into how people planned to use the tank, and we agreed to make adjustments to the tap fitting to accommodate that.

Whatever the feedback you’re getting, it’s almost always worthwhile to go and meet stakeholders face-to-face. Concerns can be allayed, agreement can be reached, and plans can be made. Above all, relationships are formed, and that is how trust is built.

I remember once seeing a sign on a door that read: “Assume nothing”. It’s wise advice. By engaging with communities, you don’t always get what you expect, but you can get something even better: a solution that everyone’s signed up to.