• Alastair Cooper
  • 6 minutes
  • 05/05/2022
12747

Architecture Design Services: Winner of the Social Innovation Award 2022

Southwark and LHC came together in August 2019 as partners to join forces, share resource and deliver a new architect design services (ADS1) framework that would attract new talent, micro-SMEs and emerging practices.

The teams worked closely together for 9 months understanding and engaging with the architect profession, and challenging each other on barriers presented by traditional procurement method. Within six months, they had created a new framework. Southwark had a pipeline of new housing and regeneration schemes to deliver over the coming years – the framework was crucial to enable this.

The appointments to the new ADS1 framework were announced in late May. Southwark Council received complaints and bad press about the lack of diversity on ADS1 – “yet another framework with not one single black led practice, despite the demographic of Southwark”. The accusations were powerful, hostile, but constructive and fair. It was clear they could not and should not be ignored.

Through a series of listening exercises, the Council learnt much about local problems with systemic racism, as well as barriers faced by individuals in the architect profession. Typical feedback from black and other ethnic minorities included comments such as

  • “Young people in our local communities need to have someone to look up to who looks like them.”
  • “We have lived experience of deprived, poor estates and understand problems from the inside. We are best placed to solve those problems.”
  • “Black architects are repeatedly turned down at job interviews with architect practices so they apply to work in Planning instead”
  • “I went to university and I see architects on that [ADS1] framework who were in the same class as me or the year below. I am just as qualified, capable and experienced as them, but I keep being shut out from public sector frameworks.”
  • “Successful practices come with privilege such as family money to invest in schemes to then use as case studies and win a place on a framework”
  • “Without public sector work BAME-led practices can’t survive.”

The Council launched a new initiative known as Southwark Stands Together (SST) to tackle racism, and also decided to expand the ADS1 to include more diverse practices – to be known as ADS1.1 – which would become the first project and positive change delivered by SST of many.

The expansion aimed to repeat the original ADS1 tender but with adjustments. There was a new objectiive: to attract local architects, especially black architects, that represent the diversity of the borough. They wanted to engage with less privileged and harder-to-reach communities to help solve some of the current challenges faced around social inequalities, community cohesion, employment and sustainability.

A year on from the decision to expand the ADS1 framework to become ADS1.1, the project has been a huge success and now gives a platform to new, talented and diverse practices and access to previously unattainable clients across London. It provides greater representation of the communities we work in, offering wider solutions to those traditionally available.

How did they do it

  • Set framework objectives around micro-SMEs, new talent and diversity, made it clear they wanted to attract black-led practices and more diverse in general
  • Reached out to minority support networks such as Paradigm Network, Black Females in Architecture, Impact Brixton and 61 others
  • Shared requirements in the pre-tender engagement stage, designed a process around these objectives
  • Made clear objectives in the tender documents, while the scoring criteria made clear reference to the objectives of the framework, local communities, EDI and “hard to reach communities and under-represented groups
  • Asked about mentoring, advocacy, and support of disadvantaged, minority and low-income students
  • Looked for evidence of EDI around real results rather than just actions plans
  • Broadened their lens with case studies and assessed HOW designs were delivered not just the design OUTPUT
  • Face to face interviews for all bidders to give them a platform to show case their talent.
  • Interrogating and assessing how practices treat their own staff and make efforts to reach out to minority and disadvantaged young people entering the profession

The carefully structured interviews took fifty hours in total and a huge team of evaluators, but it provided a fairer play field for less experienced bidders, and also allowed the team to interrogate the substance behind EDI statements and community engagement – looking at the results of EDI work not just the input and effort.

Fourteen practices were appointed to the ADS1.1 framework. In total with the two frameworks combined it is 124 architects, of which;

  • Most are Small/Medium Enterprises, approximately 70% are micro-SMEs with under £2m turnover
  • Many are emerging, innovative and rarely able to get onto frameworks
  • There is a new cohort of grass-roots, community-focussed, with lived experience of council estates – offering greater community engagement, representation, fresh ideas and therefore innovative and sustainable design
  • 7 are black-led and 19 female-led including 4 who are black female led and not on any other public sector framework

Southwark runs its call off competitions now with clear outcomes and award criteria, and in some cases a requirement that the winning architect collaborates with local BAME-led practices. One of the schemes Southwark awarded through the framework was to Morris+Company, a scheme located on the Old Kent Road (known as “PC World”) which involved collaboration with West Port Architects, a local black-led practice who has struggled to break into public sector previously. West Port’s involvement in the scheme and their local knowledge and understanding of the community involved, has really enhanced the quality of design, according to Morris+Company, who have valued their knowledge and input. West Port had carried out a study of the regeneration of Burgess Park nearby called Minority Ethnics in Placemaking to examine the extent to which placemaking is responding to ethnic diversity with focus given to the experiences of Black ethnic minorities (2017).

The PC World project has given West Port exposure to a significant size public sector development project and a platform to showcase their talent.

The success of the framework has impacted additional frameworks (such as LHC’s new Multi-Disciplinary Consultancy framework) which focused on EDI and collaboration to ensure a wide range of diverse & micro-SME suppliers.

As part of SST, Southwark has also:

  • awarded £16.2m through discretionary grant schemes: 48% identified as minority ethnic businesses.
  • increased Black, Asian and ethnic minorities at the senior management level from 22% to 26% since 1 April 2020.
  • Is on track to deliver 100 internships to local people, with 82% identifying as Black, Asian and minority ethnic.

Whilst many of the changes have been driven by Southwark’s leadership, it’s not all top down – there are new apprenticeships, training, and succession planning within Southwark’s workforce. There is also training for managers on good recruitment practices to encourage equality of opportunity and mentoring is given across the board.

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