Nationwide’s Oakfield Campus: How the community can revolutionise housing developments

| Azad Sharma

Housing is often paired with the word crisis in the UK today but perhaps this no longer needs to be the case. We were really excited to read about Nationwide returning to their roots as a building society by planning and designing a new neighbourhood in Oakfield, Swindon. So how did it all come about and what makes this development different, interesting, revolutionary? The answers come from the community.

Nationwide hired Community Organiser Keith Brown who went out into the community in Swindon to see what people thought about new housing developments, what they would  like to see and used this research to influence the design of the Oakfield Campus. This fantastic example of collaboration and co-design with the community has changed the way an established building society views space. With an emphasis on shared gardens, old and young living side by side, as well as 30% of the planned 239 new homes designated as affordable housing, this project really caught our eye and caught our attention for its sincere emphasis on the community.

What did the community say and how have Nationwide responded?

  1. Parking. Swindon is a town built around the car and whilst Nationwide will accommodate cycling paths in their new build, the community emphasised the importance of parking spaces in any new build, especially in suburban areas. 
  2. Larger garages. The community expressed frustration that new builds often had garages so small you could barely open your car’s doors inside. Nationwide are ensuring that the garages they design can fit a Ford Focus with its doors open on both sides inside it. 
  3. Higher ceilings. The community said that small rooms might be an increasing necessity to accommodate more housing projects, but low ceilings make such spaces unliveable. Nationwide are building homes where ground-floor rooms will have an extra foot in ceiling height.
  4. Shared-space roads. Whilst the community are attached to their cars, they do not want everything to be built around the car. Nationwide’s solution was pioneered in the Netherlands, roads without raised pavements encourage the free movement of people in a designated space and this will also help discourage speeding. 
  5. Communal gardens. The community did not want big gardens and high fences. They said they’d prefer places where there are shared green spaces which people can use at their own free will. 

For Nationwide this is more than a housing project, it is more than return to the roots of an organisation who were in charge of building the UK’s first garden city, Letchworth: it is about finding local solutions to a national housing crisis. It comes as no surprise, then, that the community would play such an instrumental role in that solution. 

What also caught our eye was the role of Oakfield in the future of housing development. Nationwide are committed to creating a blueprint that others can follow. By attesting to the value of the community in such developments, Nationwide have allowed a silent revolution to take place which could see the rise of not-for-profit builds springing up across the UK in the near future. And to think all it took was for someone to take the initiative and go and have a chat with community?

With the first homes due to be ready in 2021-22, the impact of this exciting venture is soon to be felt. 

You can find out more about the project here and also read the Guardian’s article for more.

Image provided by Nationwide

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