Sport and leisure at the centre of footballers' planned urban regeneration scheme

Whilst the common narrative around social housing is one of deprivation, our experience of social housing was of caring communities, where diverse groups had a sense of ownership and belonging and shared community spirit
– Rio Ferdinand, Mark Noble and Bobby Zamora

Footballing trio Rio Ferdinand, Mark Noble and Bobby Zamora have launched an innovative urban regeneration model designed to use sport and leisure to bring new life to communities.

The Legacy Foundation was formed to build new developments in the UK with high-quality social, affordable, rented and privately-owned homes. Community and sporting facilities are central to the project and are the main hook to raise aspirations, wellbeing and quality of life for residents.

A 22-hectare site in Kingsland, north of Houghton Regis – one of most underprivileged areas in the UK – will be the first location to implement the Legacy model. Central Bedfordshire Council is helping to fund the scheme, and owns the land on a 125-year lease from the Department of Education.

Architects HawkinsBrown have designed the masterplan for the site – which includes a Legacy sports hub and leisure centre, swimming pool, football pitches, a health centre, a new education campus, a subsidised creche, open green spaces and 1,800 homes.

“Sport and leisure can be a unifying force,” Zamora told CLAD. “When we went to Central Bedfordshire we talked to a lot of kids. There’s a girl there who runs for England. She drives an hour because that’s the closest athletic track to where she lives in Houghton Regis. We want to provide facilities for them. Even it’s 100 metres of track, we’ll try to put that down.

“From a design perspective, we want to make sure there’s lots of green space, because that’s really important for wellbeing. We don’t want it to be concrete blocks and typical 60s estates as such. We want to create the feeling of a community.”

The project, worth £400m (US$488.6m, €448.6m), uses a financial model whereby the rental income from the homes will be split between local authorities – who will retain a freehold on the site – and private investors – who will be granted a leasehold of up to 50 years. Ownership of the land and built scheme will eventually be handed back to local authorities, while investors will profit over time.

“The financial model is groundbreaking,” said Zamora. “This will be replicated. We don’t need it to be through us. If someone else out there can create [affordable] houses centred around communities, that’s superb.”

The footballers – who all grew up on London council estates – will invest their own money into the scheme and will make regular appearances at the site to run community programmes through the foundation.

In his own words
Bobby Zamora on the Legacy Foundation

How did the idea for Legacy come about?

I used to travel with Rio every day for a year and a bit to training. It was an hour and half journey there and back, so we’d sit there and discuss life – we solved all the world’s problems by the end by the way! We both were used to going to little charity events where you smile, take some photos and you don’t really feel like you’ve made a real difference. With Legacy, when it comes to it, you can see that you’ve majorly changed people’s lives, and that really means a lot to me.

What do you think makes a community, rather than an estate?

A happy environment is key. I grew up in east London and for me it seems strange that I used to come home from school, go straight outside and play football on the street in between the cars. Literally kids on the whole street were out. But it was just a great environment to be in, and I think a good environment is really important [for the place where you live and spend your time].

We had a youth city at the end of the road and it was just such a good place to be. There was stuff to do, an unbelievable indoor basketball court, mentors who were there to help you out. There’d be us playing sports in there, but also other kids doing their homework and things. That’s what we envision our Legacy sites will have - a place where everyone can go and be as one.

What role can sport and leisure play in building a community?

Sport and leisure can be a unifying force. Legacy isn’t just going to be football. Everyone expects that because we’re involved, but so many people don’t play it. When we went to Central Bedfordshire we talked to a lot of kids. There’s a girl there who runs for England. She drives an hour because that’s the closest athletic track to where she lives in Houghton Regis. So we want to provide facilities for them. Even it’s 100 metres of track, we’ll try to put that down. There’ll be multi-sports facilities, a leisure centre on site, a swimming pool - lots of sports will be included.

In this digital age it’s harder to get people active, but we’re embracing technology as well. The Bedfordshire site is just down the road from a new Amazon office, which is massive [for local employment], so we want to have a learner class for the kids to come to our facility, where they can learn the skills that’ll get them a job in this day in age.

Can you explain the design of the site?

We’re quite fortunate the site itself is 22 hectares or thereabouts, so it’s a big, expansive space. That’s hard to find in places like London. From a design perspective, we want to make sure there’s lots of green space, because that’s really important for wellbeing. We don’t want it to be concrete blocks and typical 60s estates as such. Again, we want to create the feeling of a community. Everything will be connected. Our foundation and our school will be on site, and we’re working hard to make sure they’re at the heart of the community.

Have you worked closely with the architects?

Yes absolutely, but we’re still holding hands with the council, so it’s not just us designing it because we want those guys to be as happy with everything as we are. We’re not property developers and we’re not a housing association. The council are the ones who are getting the money, which is brilliant, so we want to work closely with them. In that way Legacy is pretty unique, but I think that benefits us. The scheme ticks so many boxes.

Are you confident others will try to use the Legacy model?

The financial model is groundbreaking. This will be replicated. We don’t need it to be through us. If someone else out there can create houses centred around communities, that’s superb.

Our focus is to nail this down and get this [first scheme] done, but we’re thinking ahead as well. We have a combined black book of people who can help in various ways. Not just footballers, but people from all industries. Captains of industry too.

Legacy Foundation  Bobby Zamora  Rio Ferdinand  Mark Noble  Bedfordshire  Kingsland  urban regeneration  affordable housing  MIPIMUK 
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Footballing trio Rio Ferdinand, Mark Noble and Bobby Zamora have launched an innovative urban regeneration model designed to use sport and leisure to bring new life to communities. The Legacy Foundation was formed to build new developments in the UK with high-quality social, affordable, rented and privately-owned homes. Community and sporting facilities are central to the project and are the main hook to raise aspirations, wellbeing and quality of life
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Legacy sites will feature a Legacy sports hub and leisure centre, swimming pool, football pitches, a health centre, a subsidised creche and open green spaces
 / Legacy Foundation
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