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

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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

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 Sports Management. “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.

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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.
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