Lighting Brandon 3

Working with Southwark Council’s ‘Great Estates’ programme, our lighting installation – based on community research and engagement – explored an alternative approach to improving safety, reputation and sociability in social housing
Watch Bad Lighting is harming London’s housing estates, a film about the Brandon project, directed by James Rattee

In late 2020, Southwark Council’s Great Estates programme invited Configuring Light to carry social research, community engagement and lighting design to produce a pilot lighting installation. Great Estates aimed at smaller public realm interventions that would make a big difference to residents’ lives and use of their estates. Creative and socially informed lighting would be an ideal way to address the pressing concerns of the people of Brandon 3.

The central issues of Brandon 3 were very clear: this is an old estate with a long history. Many residents had lived there all their lives; some households were in their third generation of Brandon residence. At the same time, newer and younger owner occupiers were also moving in over recent years.

Collectively, all residents had a strong sense of commitment to the estate, and valued it as a convivial and supportive community with a great past and great potential. At the same time, there had been serious, gang-related incidents, some fatal in recent years. The typical response – bright security lights, CCTV and barriers to keep out cars and scooters – was welcome as a sign of council responsiveness but definitely not welcome as an image for their estate. People did not want a securitised public realm but were not presented with any alternatives.

Design focused on a strategic public square that was currently dark and inhospitable yet essential for most journeys through Brandon. The lighting design aimed to provide the essentials for a feeling of safety and for sociability in public space, but without emphasising surveillance and the threat of crime.

The relatively simple and inexpensive installation actually reduce light levels by over 50% and yet people felt that the space was brighter, safer and more sociable. The key was warm festoon lighting that gave uniformity coverage of the square and mapped it out as a space for people to linger. At the same time, over-bright security lighting was turned off in favour of carefully directed lights, hidden in the trees, that clearly demarcated pedestrian paths.

The design was immediately popular and rapidly adopted by Southwark as permanent. Moreover, the lighting created a space that was shared by both older and newer residents. We feel it was a successful demonstration that lighting can best contribute to safety and feelings of safety by respecting and supporting the values that people see in their space.