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Boosting diversity in Southwark Council's tenders with the Architecture Design Services framework

Learn how the Architecture Design Services framework, developed by LHC Procurement Group and Southwark Council, helped put a stop to the lack of diversity in local tenders.

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In August 2019, Southwark Council and LHC Procurement Group began a partnership with the goal of engaging architecture professionals and businesses to support Southwark's pipeline of new housing and regeneration schemes.

They wanted to break down barriers presented by traditional procurement and attract more bids from micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and emerging practices.   

The outcome of this project was the Architect Design Services framework (ADS1).

However, following the announcement of the appointments to ADS1, Southwark Council received complaints and bad press about a lack of diversity.

One comment read:

Yet another framework with not one single black led practice, despite the demographic of Southwark.

The accusations were powerful and hostile, but constructive and fair. It was clear they could not and should not be ignored.

Listening and learning with the community

Through a series of listening exercises, the council learnt much about local problems of systemic racism, as well as barriers faced by individuals in the architect profession. Here is a sample of comments received:

"Young people in our local communities need to have someone to look up to who looks like them."

"We have lived experience of deprived, poor estates and understand problems from the inside. We are best placed to solve those problems."

"Black architects are repeatedly turned down at job interviews with architect practices so they apply to work in planning instead."

"I went to university and I see architects on that [ADS1] framework who were in the same class as me or the year below. I am just as qualified, capable and experienced as them, but I keep being shut out from public sector frameworks."

"Successful practices come with privilege such as family money to invest in schemes to then use as case studies and win a place on a framework."

"Without public sector work BAME-led practices can’t survive."

How Southwark Council took action 

The council launched the Southwark Stands Together (SST) initiative to tackle racism, and also expanded ADS1 to include more diverse practices.

The expanded framework - known as ADS1.1 - was the first of many positive projects delivered by SST.

The objective of the ADS1.1 tender was to attract local architects, particularly those from black backgrounds, that represented the borough's diversity.

The council sought to engage less privileged, harder-to-reach communities, and thus help to address social inequalities, community cohesion, employment, and sustainability.

A year on from the expansion of the ADS1 framework, the project has been a huge success. Crucially, it has given new, talented, and diverse practices a platform and access to previously unattainable clients across London. Ultimately, ASD1.1 has facilitated greater representation of the community.

How the council made its impact

The council made a concerted effort to make the framework more accessible to a wider range of architecture practices and professionals.

Achieving this goal required a multi-pronged approach and collaboration with a range of stakeholders.

Here are a few of the tactics which made the expansion of the framework a success: 

  1. Setting framework objectives around MSMEs, new talent, and diversity - and being explicit about these targets 
  2. Reaching out to minority support networks, like Paradigm Network, Black Females in Architecture, Impact Brixton and over 60 more
  3. Sharing requirements in pre-tender engagement and designing a process around these objectives
  4. Presenting clear objectives and scoring criteria around representation of “hard to reach communities and under-represented groups” in tender documentation 
  5. Seeking evidence of real results relating to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI)
  6. Assessing how designs were delivered - not just the design output
  7. Conducting 50 hours worth of interviews with all bidders so they could showcase their talent
  8. Assessing practices' treatment of staff and reaching out to minority and disadvantaged young people entering the profession

The outcome: A more diverse, accessible framework

Fourteen practices were ultimately appointed to the ADS1.1 framework. Across the two frameworks, this total number is 124 organisations.

Of these...

  • Approximately 70% were micro-enterprises with under £2m turnover
  • Many were emerging, innovative, and rarely able to get onto frameworks
  • Seven were black-led and 19 were female-led 
  • Four were black-female led and not on any other public sector framework

The expansion of the framework has boosted a new cohort of grass-roots, community-focused practices with lived experience of council estates. This will facilitate greater community engagement and representation, stimulate fresh ideas, and generate more innovative and sustainable designs.

Going further through collaboration

Southwark Council now runs its call-off competitions with clear outcomes and award criteria. In some cases competitions feature a requirement for the winning architect to collaborate with local BAME-led practices.

For example, the awarding of the Old Kent Road-based 'PC World' scheme to Morris+Company involved collaboration with West Port Architects, a local black-led practice which had struggled to break into the public sector previously.

According to Morris+Company, West Port’s local knowledge and understanding of the community significantly enhanced the quality of design.

West Port had considerable relevant expertise around the way placemaking is responding to ethnic diversity and the experiences of the black community. In fact, it had recently conducted a study on the impact of Burgess Park's regeneration in light of these same issues.

The PC World project gave West Port exposure to a significant public sector development initiative and an opportunity to showcase their talent.

Spreading the benefits to local communities   

The success of the framework has also impacted additional frameworks. One example is LHC Procurement Group’s new Multi-Disciplinary Consultancy framework, which focuses on supporting EDI and diversity among suppliers.

As part of SST, Southwark has awarded £16.2m through discretionary grant schemes, with 48% of recipients identifying as minority ethnic businesses.

It has also increased representation of ethnic minorities at the senior management level from 22% to 26% since 1 April 2020 and is on track to deliver 100 internships to locals, with 82% of recipients identifying as Black, Asian, and minority ethnic.

Whilst many of the changes have been driven by the council's leadership, it’s not all top down.

There are new apprenticeships and mentoring, and training schemes available to the council's workforce, alongside renewed succession planning. Managers have also benefited from training on recruitment practices which encourage equality of opportunity

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