City Academies Catalysts for Regeneration

24 Oct 2005 - Viewpoint

By Yasmin Shariff on 24 October 2005 Unpublished

Muslims are the poorest and most excluded minority group in this country. They experience the highest levels of academic underachievement and lack of qualifications in Britain. City Academies provide a unique opportunity for transformation

Socio-economic deprivation, underemployment, lack of English language proficiency, low parental educational levels as well as parents’ and teachers’ poor expectations of children’s academic prospects raises complex and far reaching issues that have not been tackled successfully using conventional methods.

The need to reverse these negative trends has never been greater as demographic projections predict that Muslims will be a major force in the British labour market in the next decade. The inclusion of Muslims in the workplace is central to the future prosperity and stability of this country. It is not simply a matter of fairness or social justice.

Opportunities and Challenges

Muslims are the most likely of all population groups to live in deprived inner-city areas. They are disproportionately represented in the most impoverished urban communities, with 75 percent living in 24 cities or authorities, including London2. These well-defined ghettos of deprivation make it easy to target areas and communities in need.

Interventions to date have been patchy and have had little impact3. What is needed is fresh thinking and new ways of approaching the problems that have to be faced. Conventional institutions such as schools cannot be expected to run communities and community halls have not been able to provide training except on very small-scale initiatives. There needs to be a bolder and more creative approach that can engage sensitively with the communities.

A new way of delivery

City Academies could be catalysts for raising aspirations, confidence and transforming not only for the physical environment but the socio- economic environment.

Little if any work has been carried out to explore new models of delivery. We choose instead to replicate inappropriate models developed in the Victorian era for a Victorian society. This is a gross waste of public funds and builds frustration and anger in the communities that it is supposed to help. There are, however, some very significant examples that demonstrate things can be done creatively and effectively These examples are cost effective and the ideas replicable.

The Peckham and Finsbury Health Centres, built in the 1930s were radical new experiments for some of the most deprived people in London. They offered more than health care. The Peckham centre had a swimming pool, held dances and was very much part of the community.

More recent examples of new ways of delivery can be seen at Alencon, France where architect Lucien Kroll built classrooms integrated into the urban grain of the hard-concrete social housing tower blocks on the estate dominated by North African immigrants. These classrooms were not fenced off areas segregated areas but served the community in the same way that the grocer, butcher and baker did. Playgrounds were part of the public open spaces and school resources became integrated in to the community is a new and highly successful manner.

Closer to home the Peckham Library4 in South London has been immensely successful. This fun building has encouraged an audience to step through the portals of an institution that they would not normally visit. To make library visits as hip as the internet café in a highly deprived area is a remarkable achievement.

The Way Forward

City Academies could act as a primary catalyst for regeneration. Proposals for identified sites should encourage bold initiatives that are fully integrated into the long term needs of the community it serves. There is a considerable shared heritage that could make these developments outstanding cultural bridges. Instead of caricature buildings with grp domes and minarets – City Academies could draw inspiration from highly sophisticated passive and active environmental and energy efficient systems, urban design as well as the better-known concept of the paradise garden.

A creative and innovative brief will help launch the initiative for the City Academies so that the investment made will make the transformation that is required to give these communities confidence, be inspirational and help them play a positive role in the future of this country.

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