The CLEVER Cities programme comes to an end today, 30 November 2023. It has been a pioneering force since 2018, spearheading community-led design in South Thamesmead, London. Funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme and supported in its delivery by Groundwork London, Peabody, the Greater London Authority and the Young Foundation, the 5-year initiative has promoted the co-creation of nature-based solutions in partnership with citizens and professional stakeholders. 

Thamesmead community, London, CLEVER Cities
Credit: Richard Heald Photography

Thamesmead has nature at its heart with a huge 370 acres of green space as well as parks, canals, and waterways. The area was chosen to be London’s CLEVER Cities representative due to the significant regeneration it is undergoing, providing an opportunity to test the benefits of community co-created nature-based solutions (NbS). Nature-based solutions are planned and designed natural features, such as rain gardens, green walls and other green spaces, implemented in a way that can help address urban challenges. With 75% of the European Union’s population living in cities, and deprived areas of those cities often lacking in quality green spaces, CLEVER Cities succeeded in positioning nature-based solutions as a means to improving public health, social cohesion, citizen security and increasing economic opportunities by co-creating NbS in those areas.

As well as in London, CLEVER Cities had lead programmes based in Hamburg and Milan and further associate cities of Larissa (Greece), Malmo (Sweden), Sfântu Gheorghe (Romania), Madrid (Spain), Quito (Ecuador), and Belgrade (Serbia). The goal was to promote sustainable and inclusive urban regeneration and demonstrate through action research that greener cities work better for people, especially within a context of co-creation and collaborative governance. Find out more about other CLEVER Cities programmes.

Thamesmead, London, CLEVER Cities
Credit: Dulcie Ruttley-Dornan

A key feature of the London-based CLEVER Cities programme has been the Making Space for Nature Community Fund, an innovative community grant scheme enabling residents, community groups, charities, and schools to transform Thamesmead’s green spaces and help people engage with nature. Local people were given the opportunity to co-create high-quality green spaces to help form stronger communities, improve biodiversity, and protect against the impacts of climate change. The results have had a positive impact on the community through improving health and well-being, reducing physical and mental stress, and generating a sense of community pride.

Now, approaching the end of its 5-year projects in Hamburg, London, and Milan, CLEVER Cities has helped consolidate the leading role of communities in co-creation and co-governance and is keen to share the valuable learnings and best practices gained from this work. Here are just some of the innovative features specific to the CLEVER Cities London programme: 

  1. Building trust within communities and mitigating negative perceptions necessitates time and a strategic approach.
  2. The creation of multiple pathways to engagement, including balancing both deep and broad interactions as well as both online and face-to-face.
  3. Testing and perfecting deep engagement with community-led groups, including high levels of power sharing, recognising contributions through pay, utilising training and capacity building.
  4. Analysing and understanding co-governance models.
  5. Diversifying the information collected for monitoring, evaluation and learning while also introducing new approaches to social evaluation. 

For more on these, visit the CLEVER Cities guidance site, developed alongside our partners, which offers many public resources for future community engagement.

Making Space for Nature Community Fund booklet
Making Space for Nature Community Fund Booklet

CLEVER Cities has successfully fostered a stronger sense of community in Thamesmead while supporting both greening developments and local health and well-being. This has been achieved by bringing people into direct contact with nature and helping them develop the skills and experience to lead the change in their community while connecting them with others. This innovative programme hopes to serve as an inspiration and a tool for learning about nature-based solutions, co-creation and community grants as processes to lead the change in communities. 

While this programme has now ended, Groundwork London is dedicated to progressing in this area and supporting more London-based co-creation projects, read here to find out more.