Why I joined Look! St Albans representatives group by Dan Fletcher
I first discovered Look! St Albans on Twitter, but didn’t really understand what it did. However, my main introduction came through my interest in the development of a new museum and gallery for St Albans - the renaissance: St Albans project. Last autumn I noticed online that there was going to be a public event to explore options for the current Museum of St Albans (MoStA) site on Hatfield Road. As I’d visited MoStA a few times in the previous months, and I wanted its sale to generate sufficient income to fund the renaissance: St Albans project, my curiosity was piqued and so I emailed the organiser, Vanessa Gregory. Vanessa was very welcoming, and explained that I didn’t have to attend the whole Charrette to take part. And so, without really knowing what was in store I went along to the Friday evening Charrette session at MoStA. Although I couldn’t make the beginning, I could take it in quite quickly. It was about scene-setting. Kate Morris was explaining the history of the site and the surrounding area. Apparently the roundabout by the Cock Inn and Blacksmith’s was once a duck pond. Annie Brewster then gave a short presentation on renaissance: St Albans and the rest of the evening involved learning about the Charrette process, and the development of Look! St Albans including the creation of design codes for the City centre.
My fellow Charretters were an eclectic group of St Albans residents with varying interests in how the City centre changes. Anyone was welcome as long as they lived in the district or had an interest in the City centre’s development. Those with a more ‘professional interest’, such as councillors, or city centre business owners mingled with retired residents and younger people with a general interest in the city being developed to meet not only our needs of today, but adaptable for the needs of future generations.
The main Saturday session began with a group site visit – an opportunity to take time to look and really investigate what the site and surrounding area consisted of. We stood in St Peter’s churchyard to consider the impact of new buildings. We walked around every angle of the MoStA building, and also considered the nearby architecture, from the symmetry of the Marlborough building to the roof angles around the Peacock roundabout. We then returned to the main Council chambers to put all that we had learned into practice. In two teams, each with a facilitator we developed 2-3 plans for the site. We quickly decided that changing usage to residential property was the most in-keeping choice, which would also generate sufficient income. After much group discussion about the moving of wooden blocks and creating corrugated cardboard roofs, we perfected our group designs, photographed them and explained them to the other team.
The next gathering was on Monday evening, after the facilitators had worked hard to convert our rough layouts into meaningful plans that could be properly costed and quantified. We then decided individually which of the five designs we wanted to keep or lose. The ones with the most green stickers were the winners, and I’m pleased to say that one of my group’s designs met with the most approval from everyone there.
The whole process had been collaborative, sociable and fun. There were differing interests, but the final output was a consensus that didn’t create dissention. We were content that we had created something that could work, and was a better solution than might have come directly from a developer that was merely interested in squeezing the most short-term profit from the site. We wanted something that St Albans could be proud of, and that motivation was shared by everyone there.
It was the Charrette process, and the opportunity to meet and get to know Look! St Albans representatives that made me decide to become more involved and put my name forward as a representative at the AGM in February 2015. Look! St Albans is a unique and forward-thinking concept that I’m pleased to be part of. All are welcome to get involved. I believe it is important for a range of ages to be represented and for the group not to be skewed towards a more retired demographic who have more time. If you care about the future of your City, then get involved. It is your Look! St Albans and you can make a difference.