Resetting communal spaces – enabling the residents we would most like to engage to use and make the most of their communal spaces

jo stapleton headshot 112 x 112
Jo Stapleton
Partner on the Good Practice Mentors Programme, Age UK Camden

Communal spaces can include everything from residents’ rooms to gardens and informal seating areas. They are often well used by the small groups of residents we identify as ‘the usual faces’, but less likely to be visited by the people we most hope to engage and bring together.

Despite the amazing work that housing staff working on the ground already do to develop groups, opportunities and activities for residents, preconceptions about who and what these activities are for “it’s not for me”, become associated with the spaces themselves, “no-one goes”. As a result, without addressing barriers, preconceptions and resetting residents’ perceptions about their communal spaces, it’s challenging to encourage harder to engage people to meaningfully participate in activities and in their housing community.

As an outreach practitioner with experience of working in a variety of housing settings including tower blocks, housing estates and sheltered housing, I’ve worked alongside people to develop their own resident run activities. The starting point for this work begins with resetting perceptions around the communal space and getting the people who don’t usually engage through the door.  Informal feeling pop-up events can provide this steppingstone to bring residents together and at the same time address issues around cliques. This feels like something new - and everyone is invited. To be successful, your pop-up needs to sound and feel different to a traditional activity offer. For example:

  • Call it a pop-up café or simply invite residents to ‘drop in for a free coffee, have a look at your communal space and how it can be used’.
  • Avoid social asks - e.g ‘have fun’, ‘make friends’, ‘socialise’. This creates a social expectation and can be a red flag for people who may feel anxious.
  • Give residents autonomy and control around when they leave and how long they might stay - e.g. ‘drop in anytime between 2pm and 4pm’.
  • Change the power dynamic - simple things such as inviting residents to help themselves to refreshments (rather than you serving them) is an easy place to start.

Once you’ve got people in the room, it’s important to ask the right questions to capture insight and ideas from residents who are not necessarily thinking in terms of formal groups and opportunities. Rather than suggesting groups and activities yourself, useful questions to ask might include:

  • Do you feel that you’d like more opportunities to meet other residents? How would you like to do that/what would help you to do it?
  • Ask for feedback on what’s ‘strong’ (what do we know, what can we do or share?) rather than focusing on what’s ‘wrong’ with their community.
  • Ask residents who’ve been with you for a while ‘what do you miss’?

As a Good Practice Mentor, I’ve been working together with a range of housing providers, providing free training and practical support to test and develop this approach for themselves. For more information, please contact

This blog was published to coincide with Loneliness Awareness Week 2024. 

For further details about Good Practice Mentors, visit:

For more information on the impact that home design and environment, as well as the community the individual lives in, has on managing loneliness and isolation, visit:


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