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From urban regeneration to cultural participation: how we're empowering communities

Group of people on a workshop at Poplar Works in South East London
  • Written byAnnika Loebig
  • Published date 09 March 2022
Group of people on a workshop at Poplar Works in South East London
Fashion tutors and ReGo project participants in one creative session | Photography: Francesco Mazzarella

At University of the Arts London, our community of academic staff, researchers and students thrive when using their expertise and resources for the benefit of the social good, motivated by a continuous aspiration to make the creative industries and society more equitable for all. Our Research and Knowledge Exchange projects really get to demonstrate their positive impact when taking a co-creative approach, working together with the public and engaging local communities.

To showcase what it means to put our social justice efforts into practice, here are 10 ways in which we have empowered both local and international communities through place-making and community and public engagement initiatives.

MAKE @ Story Garden

MAKE is the brainchild of Central Saint Martins, Lendlease, Somers Town Community Association and Camden Council.

First conceived as a public collaboration studio in Somers Town, MAKE @ Story Garden invites people from local communities across the borough of Camden to come together and engage in arts and creative activities. The aim of the project is to encourage wider participation in cultural experiences and facilitates a variety of creative projects, from making clothes to tackling the climate emergency.

An evaluation report recently published by UAL's Social Design Institute demonstrates how MAKE opened up lasting opportunities for residents to participate in arts and making activities, giving them agency in addressing local goals and challenges.

Fashion District

In 2019, London College of Fashion co-founded and launched Fashion District, supported by Mayor of London. The project was initially created to help nurture connections with industry ahead of the College's move to Stratford in 2023, and culminated in its first Fashion District Festival in September 2021.

Today, Fashion District serves as a hub for different partners to facilitate support programmes to help develop a strong and sustainable network within the UK fashion industry, and inspire the future of designers and fashion innovators seeking to disrupt the industry for positive social transformation.

Talent Works

Over 5 years, Talent Works has connected 170 students across London College of Communication and Camberwell College of Arts to 97 organisations to offer their creativity to community groups, social enterprises and local charities. From building websites, to designing new branding and print materials, the initiative has been so successful that in 2020 Talent Works received support from Trust for London to fund another round of their programme.

Besides being a great opportunity for students to gain paid industry experience, clients have been able to work with them on projects across Southwark and Lambeth addressing poverty and inequality in the boroughs.

Talent Works at LCC

Co-design Your Place

Co-design your place is an international collaboration aimed at encouraging young creatives to become changemakers and future leaders in urban regeneration. The Erasmus+ project believes in the potential of the youth to support and influence local areas in need of revitalisation and strengthen community engagement with a focus on social responsibility and sustainability.

During their first run from 2019 to 2021, academics and students from London College of Communication, The Stable Foundation in Poland and Station: Student and Innovation House in Denmark came together to take part in workshops in London, Copenhagen and Siemianowice Śląskie to co-design and implement three services supporting urban renewal by social inclusion.

As the project came to an end, Associate Lecturer and KE Facilitator at LCC Javiera Godoy said: “We want to continue with the work we’ve done so far, involving more countries, organisations and participants from all over the world. We are hoping to expand and strengthen our network of co-designers beyond Europe.”

Zaatari Action

The internationally-renowned initiative Dress for our Time, led by London College of Fashion's Professor Helen Storey, has now progressed into a established project known as Zaatari Action.

With a special focus on girls and young women at the Zaatari Camp in Jordan, Professor Storey and her team continue facilitating this programme involving students and staff from UAL and people in Zaatari to exchange skills, deliver workshops and create educational, livelihood and enterprise opportunities.


T-Factor is an international research project which demonstrates how local communities can contribute to urban regenerations in ‘meanwhile spaces’ - temporarily vacant areas awaiting development - by leveraging heritage, culture and creativity. The project involves 25 partners from 11 European Countries and China, with UAL focusing on the London pilot by applying expertise in co-design, creative public engagement and place-making in Euston’s regeneration area.

The main objective of this Horizon 2020 project is to demonstrate how engaging local changemakers can help us negotiate urban regeneration in ways that protect and nurture local communities.

Two girls from Zaatari camp at the first community catwalk
Love Coats Projects – Syrian refugee girls wearing their designs on Zaatari’s first catwalk | Centre for Sustainable Fashion

Creative Futures

Following the successful launch of our Graduate Incubation Programme last year, UAL has partnered with Stride to develop a free package of support for young entrepreneurs in South London.

Creative Futures is a 12-month programme open for residents in Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark and Wandsworth aged 18-25. Having direct access to specialists from across UAL and industry representatives, those joining will get to learn about the ins and outs of setting up a creative business through business support modules, talks, workshops and mentoring sessions with other creative entrepreneurs.

Ben Walter, Business Development Manager at UAL's Cambewell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges of Arts, expressed his excitement about this new partnership: "We already have established connections cultivated over years across South London, and this collaboration with Stride will help us strengthen our relationship with these 4 boroughs. Working together will allow us to nurture innovation, empower local talent and encourage enterprise in those areas."

Making for Change: Waltham Forest

Making for Change: Waltham Forest is a design activist partnership between London College of Fashion and London Borough of Waltham Forest, addressing issues such as deprived youth, skills shortage, fashion manufacturing decline and unemployment in the borough. Through fashion and making, the project engages local schools, businesses and residents to develop and retain creative talent, and managed to bring together 1,550 participants throughout the London Borough of Culture in 2019.

To sustain the legacies of the collaboration, the partnership continues to provide a programme of activities related to education, manufacturing and community engagement, co-developed by the project team headed by Dr Francesco Mazzarella, Senior Lecturer in Fashion and Design for Social Change.

Project ReGo

Drawing from the work achieved by the Making for Change partnership, ReGo wants to empower young people by leveraging the power of fashion, making and storytelling to transform narratives around youth violence, including other societal issues that participants want to address through design activism.

The project includes a series of training in fashion design, media and social entrepreneurship delivered by London College of Fashion. It also offers hands-on work experience with local businesses and provides transformational mindset coaching from Catalyst in Communities.


This initiative connects young people from Somers Town Youth Club with students from CSM's BA Product Design to design and make products with discarded materials. Led by UAL's Public Collaboration Lab, the aim of the project is to help young people between the Borough of Camden and UAL to learn about sustainable entrepreneurship, local enterprise and sustainable making.

Find out more about the ways in which we engage communities through Knowledge Exchange and Research, and explore other projects led by the Public Collaboration Lab, Design Against Crime, Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Social Design Institute.

Celebrate Research Season with us! Throughout March 2022, we will explore the theme of Earth and Equity: integrating environmental and racial justice. Check out our programme of events.