The University of Westminster led project ISULabaNtu, in collaboration with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and University College London, hosted a final dissemination event at the Boardroom, Regent Street Campus on Friday 31 January to mark the release of the academic findings from the project. The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the National Research Foundation (South Africa) under the Newton Fund programme.
The dissemination event communicated key project findings to a (primarily) non-academic audience; namely, policy makers and practitioners working in the field of Urban Regeneration, Low Cost Housing, Environmental Management and Sustainability. The event included short keynote presentations, a panel discussion, a site visit to a London-based social housing development and an open discussion.
Across Africa, informal settlements often have a lack of resources and technical knowledge to improve their dwellings, and struggle with poor housing, limited services and environmental hazards. These communities are also facing intense pressures from rapid urbanisation and unstable political, social and economic constraints. The ISULabaNtu project adopted participatory action research methods to combine research with practice, supporting communities in the Durban metropolitan area and improving the infrastructure and housing of settlements that were deemed unsafe. The team meaningfully engaged communities to understand the barriers and drivers of community-led upgrading, focusing on environmental management and self-built housing construction. Working alongside residents from the settlements, the project undertook data collection, capacity-building and community mapping to create an integrated framework of resources.
The event was attended by South African external stakeholders and project collaborators from eThekwini municipality (Human Settlements Unit), eThekwini Water and Sanitation, South African, Shacks/ Slums Dwellers International Alliance (SASDI). The project team presented current issues and approaches around informal settlement upgrading in the eThekwini municipality with a specific focus on incremental upgrading. The booklet on “Grassroots Approaches for Informal Settlement Upgrading. A Practical Guide for Communities” was formally launched, together with a video documentary entitled “Living in Havelock informal settlement”, which also informed the dissemination event and activities in Durban in November 2019.
A common message during the event was that informal settlement is not just technical provision of housing. Strategic partnerships between communities, community support organisations, local authorities and the private sector are critical to achieve innovative solutions that integrate self-building and housing construction with infrastructure delivery, environmental management systems, waste/ wastewater management and livelihood and community development.
Talking about the event, lead researcher Dr Maria Christina Georgiadou, Reader in Applied Management, said: “It is very exciting to see the journey of ISULabaNtu over the past four years. For us, meaningful community participation is key and it involves accepting informality and working with it, instead of finding ways to eradicate it. We have been working extensively with three communities in Durban and we hope to carry on our efforts through a next round of funding including the potential for implementation strategies in the incremental upgrading of Havelock case study”.
Dr Maria Christina Georgiadou was recently awarded £10k under the University of Westminster Sustainable Cities and the Urban Environment Research Community. This will act as seed funding in collaboration with colleagues from University of Westminster Architecture, University College London and the University of KwaZulu-Natal to prepare for a large Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) application by July 2020.