This week’s announcement that the HCA is investing almost £2.5m in a vital estate regeneration project in Devon was particularly welcome.
The Forches estate in Barnstaple is not at the front of many people’s minds when they think about the lifestyle that Devon offers. But the area poses some very real issues of substandard housing, deprivation and unemployment which exist in pockets across the county.
The HCA investment will unlock the first phase of improvements, with 39 dated pre-cast reinforced concrete (PRC) houses replaced with 60 new affordable homes, with construction jobs provided for local people as a direct result.
Given that this project was recently reported in the media as being under threat due to a lack of funds, it was good to demonstrate the agency’s commitment to Forches.
It is also pleasing to see that locals have been well consulted on the proposals, with activity which has included input from the community project Planning for Real, who have engaged hundreds of young people on the estate to seek their views on how to improve the area.
In many ways though, the hard work from a communications point of view has not even started. Tenants of the properties which are being taken down will need to be rehoused while the improvements take place. That will require a planned and well resourced communications and outreach programme which is wholly focused on getting the right information in the right way to tenants and making sure any issues are addressed openly.
Having worked on a couple of these projects, I know this will not be an easy task – and there may be some issues management activity needed along the way. But partners and local residents should not be allowed to lose sight of the reason for the project, which is to deliver more and better homes and opportunities on the estate.
That will be welcome to the people living on the Forches who have been waiting for improvements for some time.