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Phoenix Project Newsletter - May 2021
Welcome to the May edition of the Phoenix Project newsletter - a monthly update of news & views from our Phoenix Project in Lewes, East Sussex. Here we're planning a new mixed-use, walkable, renewably-powered, creative, super-green 3-minute neighbourhood with a wide range of homes for households of all kinds. 
 
In this edition:
Save the Date - Phoenix Project Design Festival
Join us on site in Lewes for talks, workshops, demonstrations, local food, drink and entertainment. Engage with our architects and designers as the masterplan evolves and we dig into street layouts, housing design, community spaces, zero waste, stuff for young people and much much more. Bring the family - it will be interactive and fun.
Meet Chelsea Renton - Head of Communities at Human Nature

A life-long Lewes resident, she’s at the heart of our work to make the Phoenix Project a thriving hub for sustainable living.

Chelsea has been a longstanding member of the Lewes creative community and as a portrait artist and cartoonist, she had a studio on the Phoenix site in the days when it was a bustling focus of making, creating and social enterprises. 

A parallel passion for social justice took Chelsea overseas to run humanitarian projects including setting up refugee centres during the war in Bosnia and advising on the implementation of the peace agreement in Sarajevo and Brussels. Back in the UK she’s committed to social inclusivity and creating humane places and neighbourhoods.


In 2014 Chelsea set up Lewes Phoenix Rising – a community campaign to address the risk of poor development on the Phoenix site and press for better quality development to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Rather than opposing new build, the group were propositional, adamant that Lewes simply needed a new approach – “we were calling for a low carbon, mixed-use and sustainable neighbourhood” she says, “and that’s why we were so enthusiastic about Human Nature’s bid to buy the site.” She joined Human Nature in 2020 as Head of Communities.

Why the focus on communities?

“In Human Nature our mission is to create beautiful and accessible neighbourhoods that inspire and enable healthy and sustainable living. But we know this isn’t something we can do on our own – it takes the input of local people to create such a place. It’s an honour to be working with so many people around town, gathering ideas and fresh perspectives on how to craft a new development bespoke to Lewes, that will work for young people and down-sizers through to creative makers and those wanting safer, low-traffic streets."

Chelsea’s design sensibilities are increasingly in demand and she’s picking up her pen alongside our designers as they start to draw places and spaces for this new neighbourhood.

What are you currently working on?

"A core theme for me is making good quality affordable homes for people to enjoy great quality of life in Lewes at all stages of their lives. And I’m particularly keen to create a place where everyone can access all they need within walking distance of their homes. This needs to include everything from spaces to work through to entertainment. Personally I’d like to see more night-life in Lewes - I know my kids would agree - so I'm also focusing on the creation of a live performance venue at the heart of the project, up-cycling some of the existing Foundry buildings if that’s feasible”.

How do you relax?

“I love wild places. I walk on the South Downs most days and escape to reboot on Tiree in Scotland, where I’ve been going all my life. A feeling of connection with the natural world is fundamental for my sense of wellbeing – so weaving as much nature into our designs as possible is deeply important to me”.

Ideas Factory - a neighbourhood heart

What makes a great place to visit and a great place to stay? Our designers have started putting pen to paper crafting ideas for the heart of the Phoenix Project neighbourhood.

When we design sustainable places, our ‘deep collaboration’ process brings together experienced practitioners from different disciplines to create bespoke solutions in a hands-on way.
 
It’s tricky in Covid times, but we’re starting small in-person workshops to complement all the zoom meetings. At the first design workshops in our new Phoenix House office we recently explored concepts for the heart of a 3-minute walkable neighbourhood. As well as great homes, what could make this a great place to come to and a great place to stay?
 
Working with architects and landscape designers from
Skene Catling de la Pena, Periscope and Rabble we dug into ideas including cafés and a farm to fork restaurant, creative studios, rooftop allotments, climbing walls and children’s play. The early sketches include a cluster of these activities around a small square linked to a proposed new foot and bike bridge across the river Ouse.
 
You can explore the work in progress and talk to the designers about their ideas at the
Phoenix Design Festival on the 10-12th September - see below.

The Power of Doing - building with Sussex timber

We want to use as much timber as possible in our buildings - and we’d love it to be grown locally. We explored the idea on a visit to the Balcombe Estate Sawmill.

Timber is a great building material – it’s natural, renewable, has low embodied carbon and when maintained properly it’s durable and long-lasting. And it looks beautiful in its natural state, so it’s perfect for our raw + craft design principle of leaving high quality materials au naturel.

We want to use wood in as many of our buildings as possible. However, Britain’s forests are in decline and our timber industry is in poor shape compared to our European neighbours. As part of attempts to rekindle this industry we’re collaborating with
The Woodland Enterprise Centre at Flimwell and local Sawmills and woodland owners to explore which local timber might be used for some of the buildings on the Phoenix Project site - both inside and out.

Joined by architects from
Material Cultures and The Architectural Ensemble we recently visited the Balcombe Estate Sawmill to discuss the possibilities of constructing with Sussex timber. We were deeply impressed by their enthusiasm and skill. Next step: hooking up to build prototype Sussex timber homes.

Super Green - productive planting at our new office

Setting up our new office in Phoenix House we’re putting our ‘Super Green’ principle into practice with productive plants inside the office and around the building. We're focusing on plants that are good to:

 


Eat

Fast-growing salads and sprouts for healthy lunches - including rocket, basil, chives & micro-greens.

 


Drink

Medicinal herbs for teas - including peppermint, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary, sage & lemon verbena.



Purify the air

Begonia, rabbit’s foot fern, Chinese money plant, peacock plant, spider plant, aloe vera & weeping fig to help support a healthy working environment.



Support pollinators

Lavender, borage, marjoram, honeysuckle, ivy and other plants to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

Some of us have greener fingers than others, but in the process of getting our hands dirty we’re all experiencing the therapeutic power of gardening as well as looking forward to crops this summer!
  
This is an example of the
‘Super Green’ principle we apply to all our work - designing compact places that overall conserve land, regenerate damaged ecosystems, bring nature into urban places creating an attractive aesthetic and support health and well-being.

 
Want to try something similar in your own home or office?  
Here are some
edibles to grow indoors and plants for pollinators

Big Picture - what we’re reading: Soft City

"Soft City has been my go-to urban master-planning bible, offering a constant reminder of the human scale, the street environment and the benefits of well-curated density in cities that create better and stronger neighbourhoods and communities. For anyone working on urban planning who wishes to create a holistic and successful development, this book is a must-read." Emilie Jaspers, Architect at Human Nature

Click to buy Soft City
This newsletter is brought to you by Human Nature - a campaigning development company creating places that inspire and enable people to live great lives within the planet's limits. 

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