East London demonstrator

Part of the 'Green Network' in East London

Institute’s role: Partner

Background: The Institute for Sustainability is working with local partners in Tower Hamlets to develop a model for the delivery of the sustainable community of tomorrow. A strong local partnership of organisations willing to take new approaches to delivering sustainable places - including the Council, local housing associations and community groups - is beginning to drive real-world trials of a range of integrated and innovative ideas.  

There is still much to be done, but strong working relationships have been established and mechanisms for active community engagement are growing stronger. By establishing the foundations for efficiently sharing resources, maximising investments, sharing lessons learned and measuring impacts at a neighbourhood scale, we are creating a system for working that can be scaled up from the neighbourhood to the wider community, including the city and beyond. 

The Institute’s role is funded by the Climate-KIC, Europe’s climate change innovation agency, which supports new models and approaches to address climate change and wider sustainable development.  Through this network we are connecting with partners across Europe and further afield who have a strong interest in the innovative work of partners in Tower Hamlets and who are keen to apply similar approaches in their neighbourhoods.

Challenge: Delivering sustainable cities and achieving transformational change requires large-scale, systemic innovation and new approaches. The traditional, individual project approach often misses opportunities for synergies and efficiencies and the best use of resources. Finding a technical fix is only a small part of the solution - implementing the right business models, finance mechanisms, governance and legal structures and decision-making tools will have equal, if not higher, impact.

By approaching the challenge at neighbourhood scale and addressing all the elements of a sustainable community together as an integrated system, what we refer to as Total Community Retrofit,  it is possible to create a more optimal solution that addresses a range of issues: community cohesion, health, well-being, employment levels, fuel poverty, as well as quality of the environment.  

Activity: Programmes are being initiated from both the “top-down” and “bottom-up” to drive change from within the community at multiple levels. An executive level Senior Steering Group facilitates policy level actions, such as the initiation of a programme for engaging and involving local people in shaping future plans for a sustainable Tower Hamlets. The group also enables stakeholders to maximise the impact of their investments in development and regeneration by creating working partnerships to share ideas and resources.  On the ground, formation of a local Green Network in the Poplar & Bow area has enabled residents to establish connections with their neighbours and get involved in initiatives including local food growing, management of green space and technology trials.

To support activity within the East London demonstrator, the Institute has been working to develop 3D visualisation and data-driven modelling tools through a project called Neighbourhood Demonstrators.

Activity underway currently includes:


Poplar HARCA, Groundwork and Marks & Spencer have designed and delivered an energy efficiency renovation of an underused community building and the delivery of a sustainability garden.  The EcoHub building is a centre of activity for a range of sustainability initiatives, including the visualisation of data from the Home Energy Management Systems trial.

Closed Loop Community

This project aims to extract as much possible value from waste and local resources, creating economic opportunities whilst increasing recycling and reuse rates in the borough. Three priority areas have been selected: food, electric and electronic equipment, and bulky waste.

The project will deliver a number of benefits including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint, a significant increase in recycling and upcycling rates, local jobs, skills and educational opportunities; revitalised local markets and shops; a more self-sufficient, empowered and sustainable community;  improved resource efficiency and avoidance of resource scarcity. Pilot projects are currently being shaped with Veolia, Tower Hamlets Council, Tower Hamlets Homes and Poplar HARCA

Green spaces

The Poplar & Bow Green Network and local estate-based growing groups are providing an excellent mechanism for engaging and involving local people in improving quality of life in Tower Hamlets.

Poplar HARCA has created five new and improved green spaces, to improve the health and wellbeing of local residents. The future ambition is to link the ‘Pocket Parks’ with other green spaces to provide a ‘sustainability walk’ to link with the Tower Hamlets’ Green Grid.

Home Energy Management Systems trial

The Poplar & Bow Eco Homes Pilot, led by Poplar HARCA with Tower Hamlets Homes, Institute for Sustainability and Optimum Consultancy, has seen installation of energy saving technology, previously unused on a domestic scale, in 16 local households. Over time, the trial and wider resident input will be used to inform a new smart meter programme, improve the effectiveness of new to market tools and to facilitate access to technology and support programmes that enable residents to better manage and reduce their energy use.

Further information: To find out more go to: www.sustainabletowerhamlets.co.uk  

Partners: Tower Hamlets Council, Tower Hamlets Homes, Poplar HARCA, Bromley by Bow Centre, the London Legacy Development Corporation and the Institute for Sustainability.

Funders: Funding comes from a variety of sources, including project partners, Climate-KIC, UK Power Networks Low Carbon London programme, Technology Strategy Board and DECC Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF).

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