Community-led Heritage Regeneration in India

Lead Research Organisation: Oxford Brookes University
Department Name: Faculty of Tech, Design and Environment


This research network application proposes an action-research methodology for two University partners, Oxford Brookes University and the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi to develop appropriate methodologies for and actively engage in 'community-led heritage regeneration' in collaboration with local NGO, Center for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE), public sector authorities and experts with the participation of local communities.

Through a selected pilot project, focusing on the Mughal river front gardens of Agra, and the communities residing along the riverfront, the project aims to explore a model of urban conservation which is both community led and community driven. Additionally in mapping and addressing the issues pertaining to the neglected historic gardens along the river front it attempts to bring the river, the river edge and its associated natural and cultural ecologies back into the lives of the larger population of Agra.

The city of Agra is synonymous with Mughal history and Mughal architecture and as such is a major draw for tourism. However, the economic benefits of tourism are only being enjoyed by a select few, with few trickle down benefits. While the city has grown in all directions, it has turned its back to the river and the built and landscape heritage on its banks, even as the major landmarks like the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort stand out as exceptions. Some of the surviving Mughal gardens, besides being tourist spots, continue to give respite to the people of Agra, as the green lung of the city. The river edge has also changed its character from that of an elite area to one housing the poor and the marginalized in large pockets. The existence of these historic gardens, and attempts at their conservation, offer a unique opportunity to not only help reconnect the riverfront to the city, but also through community driven conservation proposals which engage the communities with the heritage surrounding them, can provide livelihood opportunities, which in turn would improve the quality of life and habitat of the communities residing in these areas.

The project proposes to bring together academics, researchers, practitioners and representatives from NGOs and local government organisations to:
- Establish ways in which community led urban conservation projects can be initiated in the India context, identify challenges and opportunities (workshop 1);
- Develop methodologies for gathering/understanding values from local communities and other stakeholders (workshop 1)
- Test these methodologies on a 'live' pilot project in Agra (action-research), using postgraduate students from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi and Oxford Brookes University (live project field work)
- Working with the students in a shared and collaborative project, develop regeneration project proposals for the area that considers the rehabilitation and conservation of the architectural heritage, the revitalisation of urban spaces and in particular the waterfront, and considers the feasibility of the project and the social and economic benefits it can bring to the communities, locality and the city (live project, internal workshops at the Universities)
- Through a series of locally organised events including exhibitions, public participatory workshops and presentations engage a range of stakeholders in recognising the potential for caring for the heritage and engaging with the processes that can achieve results (workshop 2 and dissemination event)
- Demonstrate to the city authorities and other potential donors the potential and value of the historic environment in the urban regeneration process (dissemination)

Planned Impact

Alongside academic beneficiaries, the six month research network project and its outcomes will be of interest and relevance to:

1. Third sector organisations will directly benefit from the process of community engagement to influence future developmental work in Agra's riverfront neighbourhoods. Project outputs produced by the students will provide materials for local NGOs to continue their engagement with local communities, public sector authorities and critically funding bodies. Other third sector organisations operating in Agra and India can also benefit from the approaches utilised and the outcomes of this project

2. Public sector beneficiaries in Agra (and elsewhere) and particularly those responsible for heritage conservation, urban planning, economic development and tourism development will benefit through participation in the project and discover the potential for urban conservation and regeneration of the historic riverfront areas in the public good and as a resource for economic development.

3. Local community beneficiaries, the residents of the neighbourhoods directly involved in the project will benefit from public engagement activities, and in the longer term improved quality of life and extended economic and livelihood opportunities. Through engagement and participatory approaches the project will enable local communities to discover the heritage values of their neighbourhood as well as give them a voice to express the tangible and intangible values they associate with their locality.

4. The general public: through attending an open public exhibition through social media and the local press, will learn about the forgotten heritage of the river front, the heritage values of the local community including intangible heritage. This will raise awareness of heritage and contribute to a sense of pride and place identity, leading to greater public interest in the protection of heritage.

5. Practitioners working in urban conservation and engaging in participatory approaches will benefit from the lessons learned during the process to inform future projects.

6. Post-graduate students and teachers by participating in the pilot project will gain (transferable) skills in field research, community engagement and working in multi-disciplinary groups in a multi-cultural environment. The skills and awareness for community-led initiatives in the protection and celebration of cultural heritage gained during the project could potentially inform their future practice perspective and passed onto others.

7. Tourism promoters and local businesses will gain awareness on the heritage value of the riverfront and its communities through the open public exhibition at the site and coverage in the local press and social media.


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Title Design Research for Change 
Description An image and short description of the project was included in the Design Research for Change Showcase was exhibited at the London Design Fair 2018 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Significantly improved exposure of the project, which also benefitted from the grouping with other AHRC funded projects with a design component 
Description The primary aim of this project was to research ways in which periphery or 'edge' areas in heritage cities in India can be regenerated through community-led processes that protect heritage assets as well as deliver local socio-economic regeneration benefits, including through tourism.

Within the relatively short timeframe available, an action-research methodology was adapted by the two University partners, Oxford Brookes University and the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, and local NGO partner, the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE). Working at a pilot site in Agra and building on CURE's established presence in the area, the research team conducted desk and field-based research as part of a process of understanding community needs and establishing their willingness to participate in regeneration. The inclusion of a group of post-graduate students from the two partner institutions in the research process resulted in the generation of sample strategies as material that could be shared with the local communities to test and validate the relevance and viability of the approach.

This network grant primarily provided an opportunity for the two academic institutions to collaborate through a field-based research process with tangible outcomes, and in doing so establish a working relationship towards future research collaborations that build on and expand this initial investigation. Furthermore, peer workshops undertaken at the partner institutions as part of the project has assisted in expanding our working network of academics and practitioners working in the field of heritage protection and regeneration in India.

The field-based research tested the efficacy of action-research and rapid assessment methodologies and the use of sample projects (strategies) as a tool to encourage local engagement and providing feedback loops. Despite the spatial and temporal limitations of the project, the strength of the project/strategy outcomes and the level of community interest and participation in the process has illustrated the validity of the research methods adapted and its suitability for wider application.

The research outputs contribute through a contextualized case study to theories on heritage-led regeneration, heritage and development, pro-poor tourism and participatory planning methodologies. In this respect the study highlighted the strength of the local social network as well as the precariousness of the local position in the face of any development (regeneration). The project findings have clearly signaled areas for further investigation and established a number of tools of enquiry.

The active engagement of post graduate students in the research process provided invaluable training and learning opportunities to 20 students, including working in multi-disciplinary and multi-national teams, field research techniques of observation, documentation and ethnographic data gathering, the analysis of findings to inform strategic development proposals and participation in public engagement activities.

In summary this project has played an important role in establishing a collaborative working relationship between the partner organistions through a shared research interest in community-led approaches to heritage regeneration. The trialing of research methodologies in the field has not only established the relevance of some of the approaches to investigate the research aim, but a reflection on the experience and initial findings has generated a platform from which further research and investigation in the subject with more nuanced research questions can be developed.
Exploitation Route The project findings contribute to an existing body of literature in the fields of urban regeneration, community-led regeneration practices, socio-economic development of marginalized communities, heritage values and pro-tourism tourism. The findings of this study make a specific contribution on India and a unique juxtaposition of a marginalized community within an area of high cultural heritage value (a World Heritage Site) and close proximity to areas of major tourism activity. The research has been closely aligned with practice, and the findings will be of interest to local decision makers (heritage, tourism and urban planning), international organisations such as UNESCO as well as local NGOs operating in Agra and India. To date the initial findings have been shared with local decision makers and NGOs. The project has also provided educational benefits and transferable skills to the post-graduate students that participated and is also being shared with other educators in the field as an example of integrating design teaching within the research process.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description As set of findings in the form of sample strategies established as part of the research process were shared with the local community in a public engagement forum organised by the project's NGO partner CURE in June 2016. The fieldwork findings and strategic recommendations generated are of particular interest to CURE, informing their operational activities in the case study area and in building on the outputs to inform future programmes and funding applications for their work in Agra and elsewhere in India.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Impact Types Societal

Title Actively engaging post-graduate students in a research project as research partners 
Description The project actively engaged post graduate students from Oxford Brookes University and Delhi School of Planning and Architecture as co-researchers. The students supported the rapid field assessment process and went onto deliver project proposals that were used for the purposes of engagement with the local communities, NGOs and decision makers. The projects thus became tools for the research process, and the students were also able to participate in the engagement activities where research findings could be corroborated. The active engagement of postgraduate students in this was built on the previous experience of the two partners, but the extent to which it was applied in this project was novel. Both partners have since built on this experience to introduce more collaborative research practices with post graduate students. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Improved student experience for post graduate students and direct impact of research into teaching (UK and India). 
Description British Academy Newton Mobility Grant for Curriculum Development 
Organisation Anadolu University
Country Turkey 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This relatively modest collaboration with a Turkish university partner clearly built on the lessons learnt through the Community-led Heritage Regeneration in India project. Furthermore the curriculum development process that formed part of the collaboration and an online teaching module specifically focus on the community role in urban regeneration.
Collaborator Contribution Informal advice.
Impact Curriculum development in cultural heritage conservation for Anadolu University School of Architecture including capacity building for their PhD students.
Start Year 2016
Description Heritage for Resilience: an assessment and implementation framework 
Organisation School of Planning and Architecture Delhi
PI Contribution Building on the experiences and outcomes of the 2016 AHRC supported project, we are developing a framework that will combine assessment of heritage value with the resilience framework for historic urban environments. The development of this framework undertaken by our team at Oxford Brookes University tool is in its theoretical stages.
Collaborator Contribution Once this stage is complete will be working with a number of international partners, including the School of Planning and Architecture Delhi to test the efficacy of the framework in the field.
Impact A funding application was made to the British Academy Sustainable Development Programme in May 2018.
Start Year 2018
Description Meeting with the local community, exhibiting and sharing project outcomes (Agra, India) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The purpose of the AHRC/ICHR Newton Bhabha Fund project 'Community-led heritage regeneration in India' was to explore a model of urban conservation that is both community led and community driven.

The six-month collaborative research project with the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi and local NGO partner, Center for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE) was developed around a pilot project focusing on the Mughal era river front gardens of Agra, and the communities residing along the riverfront. Specifically the project examined approaches to the regeneration of areas of historic significance that could directly benefit low-income groups living in such neighbourhoods.

One of the project outputs emerging from the research undertaken by the research team and supported by post graduate students was to use the research findings to develop a series of project proposals and scenarios for the conservation and development of the selected waterfront neighbourhoods. These would be used to demonstrate possibilities for achieving community focused heritage regeneration practices and as a tool for communicating the project outcomes to wider audiences beyond academia.

A one day community workshop held on site with the support of the NGO partner and the participation of the local community, provided a platform through which the project proposals could be shared with the potential beneficiaries as well as local policy makers. The purpose of the workshops was to improve heritage awareness amongst the local population and through graphic presentations generate aspirations for small-scale interventions that could generate social and economic benefits. The workshop was held under shaded canopy at the centre of the neighbourhood and scheduled on a Sunday to increase attendance. The event was well attended, with a good turn out from usually under-represented groups such as women and the elderly. Graphics designed to communicate projects to a lay audience provided a focus for the discussions and also a means of engaging various levels of participants from local policy makers down to children.

The feedback received from locals, their engagement with the proposals, views of the NGO partners and the topics of discussion that emerged through the exchange are informing future research, whilst the workshop also provided an opportunity for the post-graduate students to actively participate in community engagement practices.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016