Gillett Square, Hackney

Gillett Square forms part of Dalston Town Centre and was selected in 2002 as part of the Mayor of London's 100 public spaces programme.

Gillett Square lies to the west of Kingsland High Street forming part of Dalston Town Centre. Over the years, the square has been the focus for incremental growth made possible by a series of cross sectoral investments, with the long term aim of creating a new arts and cultural hub. The project was selected in 2002 as one of the first ten open space projects within the Mayor of London’s 100 public spaces programme

Much of the partnership work has been led and nurtured by Hackney Co-operative Developments – a social enterprise focusing on local economic regeneration, working with the London Borough of Hackney, Groundwork East London, MacDonald Egan and Hawkins Brown, and know collectively as the Gillett Square Partnership.

The square was formally launched in November 2006. Various business plans and management plans have been drawn up in consultation with local people and businesses, to identify long-term, formal programmes for arts and cultural activities and appropriate maintenance regimes. CABE was invited to contribute to the process in July 2007.

CABE’s role focussed on working with Hackney Co-operative Developments (HCD) to help pull together existing local authority, private and community sector partners around an agreed Terms of Reference. This enabled a co-ordinated approach to managing and maintaining the square as an arena for arts and community events, and supporting the emergence of a new cultural quarter to coincide with the Olympic celebrations being pursued by the London Borough of Hackney. While the complexity of forging a common vision from diverse agendas can often cause friction, the presence of an external, independent broker and expert fosters trust, and allows partnerships to develop and grow.

CABE also provided advice on the legal structures and agreements, required to set up any future trust or formal body. While Governance is a key issue, it was agreed at the start that the project should not be ‘governance-led’; formal and legal structures should respond to the developing needs of the square and the burgeoning partnership. Informal working groups set up around ideas need to explore their purpose and function before more formal structures are pursued.

Gillett Square clearly benefits from surrounding physical regeneration: current and planned building refurbishment; nearby active arts and creative businesses, and the opening up new transport links. It became clear that the success of the square was inextricably linked to surrounding development, the timing of investment, and future planning policy being drawn together as part of a Local Development Framework and core strategy. Fund raising and partnership building for spatial improvements alone can prove difficult; linking management and maintenance programmes to wider physical and economic regeneration attract a wider set of partnership interests and longer-term investment potential.