Within the Walls: Heritage Values and the Historic City

A Collaborative PhD project in the Historic City of York, UK

Attending the OUR PLACE SEMINAR by LOCALITY: the challenges of local community-led projects

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Written by Katrina Foxton (@kfoxton9) & edited by Imelda Havers from TIM in York (@timinyork)

To date, my PhD research has led me to be involved with the Red Tower Project in collaboration with TIM (The Incredible Movement) in York. I have been participating with a tight-knit team for 8 months, raising the profile of this historic building, so it can be used as a local community space in York.

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Because the RT project has it’s own specific challenges, talking to other people in similar positions can be really helpful. So when Imelda (the project leader) proposed the workshop with Locality on the 29th July, it sounded like a really good way to get some valuable insight and to see government-led initiatives that lie parallel to my research interests.

Fig. 1 Short video about Locality

Imelda and I agree to split the day (both of us being busy bees). She went to the first half which focused on unlocking capacity in local communities. The event was attended by around 30 people from across North of England  who work on “Our Place” funded projects. The Our Place programme is a government initiative focusing on engagement and participation, and trying to do things differently. Imelda thinks that this potentially fits the TIM approach: it’s bottom up & locally based. It is also collaborative. More details on Our Place projects can be found here: Our-Place-guide-to-Co-design-FINAL

The Our Place projects are looking at how to transform the delivery of local services through mapping and maximising local assets. This means both through physical assets (like buildings, funding) and social resources (people and their skills, whoever they may be). As a result, the importance of community ‘hubs’ are being recognised, which help people to share their experiences and gather information within their locality. The development and management of such ‘hubs’ (through establishing demand, funding, staffing, maintenance etc) came up in discussion a lot. There was a comment from one Development Trustee who runs a community café. They said they absolutely need paid staff, at least one member, or the enterprise will not work. This is certainly one of many practicalities that the Red Tower will have to consider for the future.

In the management of community ‘hubs’ it was recommended that one has to ask for help from the local community at an early stage in the development of the project. How to do this is not necessarily straight forward. Essentially you have to think of different ways to bring people together through different events, e.g. dog ‘micro-chipping’, fire engine displays, ice cream van selling cheap ice-cream. These may be random and require creative thinking but will appeal to a broader range of people and potentially those harder to reach. A last point to take away from the first session was that using round table discussions proves a good way of developing new ideas and approaches.

After lunch (very tasty thanks!) the session I attended was focused on “Partnership Building”. Whilst partnerships can share a common vision, meetings can reveal different priorities (and may not lead to a stint at the pub afterwards!) Essential also is the idea that meetings are not a panacea for progress. Meetings with fixed agendas are too stringent and may not allow those who have useful skills to speak up—partnerships should be about discovering what different jobs people can take on, and then how they can get on and do them. I see this happening a lot at the Red Tower project. The team knows who we can go to if we need a hand, and relies on individuals stepping up to tasks.

The discussion then turned to complex and sometime tricky relationships between institutional and community based groups.

The main topic was how partnerships between community organisations and councils can go awry, due to issues of ‘awkwardness’ not being addressed. This can happen, for example, when one group feels that decisions—such as where the meeting takes place—are being either dominated or shirked by the other. The question put to us by the Locality speakers was: “can these issues be addressed if voiced and discussed?” The issue pervaded within the group, especially with regards to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of council workers for emerging group projects. Interestingly, one lady (who I learned had worked for a council) advised others that one has to pitch the value and dynamics of their project—learn to sell it essentially—to those in the council who have the resources or contacts necessary to help it move forward. Supporting your ‘pitch’ with statistics, e.g. how many people you can connect with, is another way of showing how you can support their priorities. More relevant in my opinion, was the idea of choosing the right people to speak to as a useful way of ‘getting in’. This doesn’t necessarily mean talking to those who are in right role/position but those who have contacts and empathy instead (going-via-the-back-door so to speak!) The conversation surrounding this highlighted many different approaches and experiences.

As part of the last exercise of the day, we were asked to create a “rich picture” (an illustrative doodle of our assets, concerns and aspirations) for our project. This was fun, a good way explaining projects and a conversation starter between the groups. I’m not sure how useful the Red Tower would find it in other situations and in what context we’d need to use it, but it may be useful in the future. It is often used in soft systems research methodologies.

To conclude with my thoughts, the most interesting take-away point for me was to realise just how many projects are out there aspiring to engage with, support and empower local communities (and sharing experiences and challenges is highly valuable). Bringing this back to the heritage management, I believe old or even ancient buildings can play a part within this “locality” driven environment. At the Red Tower, I am continuing to explore this dynamic.

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