Exploring public aspirations for a future UK town: Bedford Placemaking Study

Services: Public Insight Survey Campaign & Persona Building

The Challenge: Buro Happold were commissioned to explore the opportunity for a new town outside of London that would be unlocked by East-West railway plans. The project considered the economic case, related to the level of jobs and housing growth it could potentially accommodate, along with investigating how the site could appeal to high-value employment sectors.

The Solution: As part of the study, Buro Happold delivered a public insight survey by convening a team of researchers to collect and analyse qualitative data on people’s ‘current experiences and future preferences for places and their homes’. The survey’s research question and place-based focus areas were defined based on the quantitative research from the wider baseline work, as well as drawing on a synthesis of trend analysis. These included push and pull factors for people leaving and moving to London along with placemaking measures for the social sustainability of new housing developments. The survey targeted key demographics in the South East of England and was distributed via targeted social media ads and with broader professional and academic networks. Some of the key insights revealed during data analysis showed that over half of respondents currently living in London would prefer to live in smaller places if they could still access high-quality jobs; the proportion of people willing to move for a dream was over 15% higher in the South-East; a third of people surveyed would walk or cycle to work most days if they lived within distance; 1 in 10 people would be willing to transfer both living and working locations at the same time through their current if an alternative campus-like location was available.

The Value: While Buro Happold had not previously delivered this type of study in-house, the findings uncovered substantial insights that also led to the development of a set of demographic personas – both of which strengthened the project’s overall case. Ultimately, the research study enabled the broader project to deliver a stronger case and richer understanding for the client to attract both national and international investors, build national and local government support, and establish public brand awareness through early engagement of existing local communities.