Creative Participation was a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in 2011-12. The project explored how three ‘pioneer communities’ in Newcastle, Cumbria and Bristol use creativity to involve themselves in place-making and planning practices after initial struggles to have a voice in the process. The key empirical findings from the project illustrate divergent approaches to creativity in place-making with each having some success. Sites in Newcastle, Cumbria and Bristol have been creatively transformed to reflect the needs and interests of older and younger people and to ‘beautify’ the environment in Stokes Croft.

The final project workshop held in Stokes Croft, in Bristol.

As anticipated, the project revealed some difficulties in defining who ‘the’ community is, what creativity is and in whose name such creativity is practised, particularly when action is more individualised. However, the project tentatively suggested that creativity might be greater when groups are less representative and when decision-makers and funders are less involved. In particular, it raised the possibility that when community participants go from being ‘outsiders’ to ‘insiders’ and no longer have to struggle so much to be heard they engage in fewer creative practices. In Newcastle, however, where this happened the Elders still used their creativity to attract new members to the forum.

This project found that when understood through the experiences of community participants that place-making is broader and more material than planning practices as conventionally conceived. In terms of the localism agenda this suggests that participation should be broadly understood, facilitating input on the ‘felt environment’ as much as the built environment. Future research should be focused on how neighbourhood creativity and representation can be interrelated and how participation in these broader conceptions of place-making can be facilitated at the local level.

An illustrated summary of the project is available here. The full report is available here.

Jane Milling and I wrote a chapter drawing from this project: "Creative place-making: where legal geography meets legal consciousness" to be published in an edited collection, Creative economies, creative communities: Rethinking place, policy and practice, Saskia & Warren and Phil Jones, Ashgate (2015). The pre-publication version is available here

Recommendations by the participants:

  1. Communities should be encouragedand supported to engage both in conventional consultation processes and through more creative mechanisms, including theatre, film, cartoons, music and art;
  2. Both elected representatives and employees in local government should work with communities proactively. Officers should not become a hidden hurdle to reform;
  3. Planning use classes should differentiate between socially and culturally beneficial uses and those that pursue solely economic aims. Local, place-based concerns should be capable of being ‘material considerations’ under planning law;
  4. Outline planning permission should incorporate some commitments to principles of internal design rather than focusing solely on the size and location of the development;
  5. Criminal laws and planning rules should not be used to stop bottom-up improvement of areas. Local communities should be able to adorn their environments – through planting, art and signage than a negative critique of planning applications and the scrutiny of planning documents.
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6. Support, both financial and logistical, should be made available to enable communities to see examples of good practice elsewhere;

7. The new neighbourhood planning proposals need to engage with the multiplicity of communities. There are many publics and communities that all need to be engaged, including more marginalised groups. This will require time and resources. Bottom-up initiatives need support if they are not to become simply a base for the most vocal;

8. Conventionally unrepresented groups, particularly socially and economically disadvantaged young people, can be engaged through more creative mechanisms such as music and art. This builds individual confidence and strengthens links with the local community and other related groups;

9. Communities often become most engaged in positive projects rather than critiques of existing policies. This requires some funding as well as access to expertise. It is more productive

Antonia Layard, University of Bristol. Contact.