Somerstown Stories and the benefits of using a design charrette for community engagement

Martin Andrews, Sharon Court, David Goodman

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Somerstown Stories was a local heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, collaborating initially with Somers Park Primary School, in Somerstown within the City of Portsmouth.

This particular project was launched at Somers Park Primary School with a six-week scheme of work looking at the Somerstown locality from 1800s-1970s. This work included a series of studies focussing on the significant effect of World War II on the area. Like many local authorities across the United Kingdom, Portsmouth Corporation decided on a policy of slum clearance and regeneration, which resulted in the area we know today. This resulted in a large number of the local community being relocated to new areas, whilst those moving in to the new flats and tower blocks had little or no connection to the area. The aim of the Somerstown Stories project was to enable people to reconnect with their locality, by exploring local history. In addition, the project held an underlying question: does knowing more about where you live, change how you feel about living there?

At the time of project, the area of Somerstown was at the beginning of a process of phased re-development, so it was timely for local groups and organisations, as a whole, to look back at their history and the shaping of the area, in order to prepare to look forward and plan for the future.

The Somerstown Stories project was successful in a bid to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £20,000; this funding enabled the wider community work to commence. With successful partnership collaboration, over a period of 18 months a significant amount of work was accomplished across the area including the design and curation of a mobile exhibition, film screenings, publication of a book and a community roadshow. One significant anecdotal outcome was the impact it had upon local residents’ perception about the way they viewed and understood the place in which they lived.

As part of the larger Somerstown Stories project, the University of Portsmouth School of Architecture was invited to coordinate a ‘Design Charrette’ for Year 9 pupils from the local Charter Academy School.

This paper is written using commentaries, conclusions and reflections from the key people involved with this project including Canon Nick Ralph from the Diocese of Portsmouth, Sharon Court Creative Practitioner and Project Manager for the Somerstown Stories project, Martin Andrews Architect and Principal Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth School of Architecture and Andrew Joyce (AJ) a University of Portsmouth student at the time of the design charrette and now a Registered Architect working at architecturePLB in Winchester.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-312
Number of pages9
JournalResearch for All: Advancing Public Engagement with Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • creativity
  • Architecture
  • charrette
  • local residents
  • Urban


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