• Co-design your Place

Case study: Draper Together (Charity); Elephant & Castle, London

Written by Wareesa Lakanathampichit, Angela Tam

The Draper Estate was completed in 1964, as one of many social housing complexes built by the government at the time - an answer to much needed, affordable public housing after Victorian slums in the area were destroyed in World War II. A mix of longtime Londoners and immigrants lived comfortably in these bright and spacious complexes, at the time applauded for its modernist architectural style.

However, at the end of the twentieth century, public perceptions of social housing began to change, and in a controversial statement in 1999, Southwark Council’s then Director of Regeneration, Fred Manson, said that “social housing generates people on low incomes coming in and that generates poor school performances, middle-class people stay away” (Orr, 1999). Through this statement, one can see a bias and disdain for social housing in Elephant and Castle during this time and urban policy initiatives began to reflect this attitude. As part of the decided regeneration effort, one of the largest complexes in the area, Heygate Estate, was demolished between 2011 and 2014 due to its reputation for crime, poverty and dilapidation, in order to build new mixed private sector and social housing developments.

As a well-connected and accessible travel hub in Central London, Elephant and Castle is experiencing tensions similar to many other “rough” areas that have been gentrified in London. Elephant and Castle is now undergoing a 1.3 billion GBP regeneration project called “Elephant Park”, spearheaded by Southwark Council and Lendlease, a private development company. Along with the already demolished Heygate estate, now the site of multiple high-end residential towers, the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, a long-standing fixture in the community that once supported the livelihoods of many people, is also awaiting demolition.

Today, we often encounter discourses that discount the idealist visions of experimental modernist living complexes built in the 50s and 60s. One can look towards the oft-mentioned failure of Pruitt Igoe, the famous modernist social housing project built in St.Louis that was demolished after only twenty years. Many blame its demise on a failure of architecture, public policy, and even society as a whole (Marshall, 2015).

However, in the documentary, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”, Freidriches explores other factors that contributed to Pruitt Igoe’s demise and includes narratives from past residents, evidence suggests that residents did in fact enjoy living there (Byrnes, 2012). One can draw similarities between the demolished projects of Pruitt Igoe and Heygate Estate through a report published by the London Assembly in 2013, where surveyors commissioned by Southwark Council found that the Heygate buildings were structurally sound and actually suggested refurbishment over demolition. As well, the survey found that four in five residents didn’t wish to move off the estate and that the crime rate was actually half the average of the borough of Southwark (Johnson, 2013).

One might be able to surmise, that within this backdrop of mass displacement and change, the remaining communities at Draper Estate and the surrounding area must have also experienced trepidation that their futures in Elephant and Castle would be uncertain. In 2013, a group of volunteers formed the Draper Residents Association (DRA) to protect the rights of the community during this disruptive period. This would later inform the creation of Draper Together, a charity created to increase their impact in the community, and to gain legitimacy and reputation to protect the estate as a place of important historical and social significance in Elephant and Castle.

On their website, their mission statement reads,

Draper Together aims to build a stronger community through social regeneration, by tackling inequalities, improving residents’ self-confidence, mental health and welfare by acting as a bridge between the new and old communities of the Elephant and Castle neighbourhood and utilising culture and the arts as an instrument for change.” (History of Draper Together 2014-2019.)

Art can often develop a class divide, creating a division between those who have access and those who do not. For those who don’t have access, art can sometimes feel intimidating and alienating. One might take the neighbouring London College of Communication as an example of the changing area, a prestigious higher education arts and media institution whose influence is “taking over the neighbourhood”.

Powered by a small staff team and many dedicated volunteers, Draper Together uses art to bridge the community together through providing opportunities for skill-based learning and accessible involvement in arts and culture. While being a space for the community to come together, it also offers sports events, digital skills classes, theatre performances, film screenings, workshops, and much more. As well, it hosts the Draper Film and Music Academy (DVMA), “a community-embedded film school for young people living around Elephant and Castle” (Our Staff at DFMA), which teaches youth media skills and offers ways to connect with the older residents of the estate and the local history. In this way, Draper Together also seems to understand that community must be built through connection and not fragmentation and focuses on creating an accessible cultural space for everyone. In a video created by the DFMA students, one resident talks about the importance of the hall and similar spaces to give youth and community members social connections outside of school, work and home (DFMA - Draper Film & Music Academy, 2019, 5:15).

Through our own interactions with some older residents at Draper Hall, we discovered that they have a strong connection with the area and are eager to contribute the stories of their lives at Draper Estate and the history of the area. We found a longing for stronger communal ties, but also a sense of loss for their community that has been displaced due to the regeneration project.

In a time where lives are increasingly isolated, there will always be a desire and need for communal space. Draper Hall is the primary hub for community programming, but there are also several liminal spaces that exist throughout the estate that offer opportunities for interaction. However, due to the Grenfell fires and strict fire safety codes that followed, they have become forgotten for their potential to bring life to all corners of the estate.

On each floor of the tower block, there is a bright shared space at the end of the hallways that is available to residents living on the given floor. Beside the playground, there is a forgotten covered outdoor space. Through co-created design interventions, these spaces could become sources of pride and inspiration for the community.

Currently, Draper Together is partnering with the London College of Communication and an international cohort of youth funded by Erasmus+, to redesign these two spaces within the Draper Estate. Not only is this a valuable opportunity to create something meaningful, it is also a chance to connect these two organizations, both deeply involved in adding art and culture to Elephant and Castle, and to make them aware of one another’s activities. As well, the final outcomes will be promoted during London Design Week and will introduce a new historical landmark in Elephant and Castle to broader audiences.

Studying Draper Together’s process can provide valuable insights for future projects.

When working within a particular neighbourhood or place, focus on activating the existing community and not only new or external stakeholders.

Discover similarities in differences. At first glance, an existing community and external stakeholders may have too many differences to reconcile. However, how can we dig deeper to uncover similar universal human truths that will allow us to connect and empathize with one another?

Revitalise history. The history and social significance of any given place is important to take into consideration, and can often be a treasure waiting to be found and shared with others.

Find champions in the community who are already invested in creating change and who are eager to collaborate with you. They can act as your local guides in spaces and communities where you are only a visitor.

Tap into hidden potential. All stakeholders have something valuable to share in their own ways - you just have to create the right activities and settings to allow people to be comfortable.


If you are interested in making a change in a particular place or community, it is incredibly important to work with users who will be directly affected by the changes you are hoping to create. Never assume that you know what others want and or need! Be careful not to overlook existing communities and their needs in order to create what you think should be done. Ask yourself to be critical in your beliefs and ideas. Who are you designing for? Who and what will you displace? How can you help to uplift and join an existing community rather than erasing them?

The title of a service designer can be interchangeable with the titles of connector or facilitator. As service designers, we are often not designing to create shiny new services, we are searching for gaps and opportunities, to address real needs and not perceived ones. At the very core, we are designing for the user without losing sight of other stakeholders and drivers. Our task is to discover the real needs and pains of users, and to turn them into services that are well researched through qualitative and quantitative analysis, and are applicable to the context. By understanding users and all related stakeholders, we can not only discover their pains and potential, but we can create holistic projects and services that are relevant and valuable to the given context and community.


Bettman, C. (2015). The Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St Louis, shortly after its completion in 1956 [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/apr/22/pruitt-igoe-high-rise-urban-america-history-cities

Byrnes, M. (2012). In defense of Pruitt-Igoe. Retrieved from http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2012/03/defense-pruitt-igoe/1458/

DRAPER VOICES: Spring showcase edit. DFMA - Draper Film & Music Academy (Director). (2019, May 8,).[Video/DVD] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Fqm0GUGjew&feature=emb_logo

History of draper together. Retrieved from https://www.drapertogether.org/history

Johnson, D. (2013). Crumbs for londoners. (). Retrieved from https://www.london.gov.uk/about-us/london-assembly/news-darren-johnson/publication-darren-johnson-past-staff-crumbs-londoners

Marshall, C. (2015, April 22, .). Pruitt-Igoe: The troubled high-rise that came to define urban America – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 21. The Guardian Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/apr/22/pruitt-igoe-high-rise-urban-america-history-cities

Orr, D. (1999). A blueprint for the rich. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/a-blueprint-for-the-rich-1103116.html

Our staff at DFMA. Retrieved from https://www.draperfilmacademy.co.uk/tutors

Taylor, J. (2018). Elephant and Castle shopping centre [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://london.eater.com/2018/12/13/18139283/elephant-and-castle-shopping-centre-demolition-sadiq-khan

[Photograph of Filmmaking course’s cover] (2019). Retrieved from https://www.draperfilmacademy.co.uk/courses

[Photograph of London College of Communication] (2020). Retrieved from https://www.arts.ac.uk/colleges/london-college-of-communication/about-lcc

5 views0 comments