The project ran from April 2021 to August 2023 and was organised into three main stages as set out on the diagram below:

Phase 1: Reflecting on past practice and theory 

During this stage of the project we collected background information on the hidden histories of community-led planning (CLP) across the four UK nations since the 1960s. This involved:

  • Calling for evidence from those involved in community campaigns, groups or movements from the 1960s onwards, across various media. We had 31 responses plus contacts through social media, which gave us a better understanding of how communities have forwarded their own plans and proposals for how local places, neighbourhoods or land have been developed, controlled and changed
  • Bringing together a Steering Group of around ten CLP practitioners, experts and academics from across the four UK nations to discuss, advise and share their views on the project with the research team
  • Conducting and analysing in-depth interviews with 24 people across the UK who have had a long involvement in community-led planning and represent a range of institutional and personal positions in both urban and rural contexts from the 1960s
  • Collecting and analysing archival data in the form of: community and campaign publications and documents (such as leaflets, correspondence, reports and proposals related to CLP), which have been accessed from CLP participants, the interviewees and the uncatalogued archive of the Town and Country Planning Association’s (TCPA, our research partner). We have also accessed newsletters, articles, reports, pamphlets and journals published by the TCPA, the Council for Urban Studies Centres, Planning Aid, the Centre for Technical Aid, the Environmental Education Unit and Community Action journal; plus government documents on the Skeffington Committee and Report from the National Archives
  • Holding a Storytelling Event with around 35 participants to hear their experiences and histories of community-led planning 
  • Producing extensive timelines and records of CLP case studies and key policies, legislation, events and historical moments relevant to and shaping CLP’s histories from the 1950s
  • Reviewing a range of literature on CLP, from academic, public sector, campaign, voluntary and NGO sources
  • Thanks to additional funding from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield and the support of the founding editors we were also able to digitise the influential magazine Community Action that was published from 1972-1991 and make it available on our website

Phase 2: Revealing hidden histories

In the second stage of the research we narrowed our focus down to look in more depth at a series of case studies of CLP from across the UK using local archives, oral history interviews and participatory workshops and walks. After scoping out a number of possible cases we focused on the following:

  • Birmingham, looking into various episodes across the city from the 1970s-1990s, this case study focuses on some of the community voices that are often hidden within CLP, including women’s planning initiatives and the experience of BAME communities. This case study has also been supported by knowledge exchange funding from Oxford Brookes University
  • London Docklands, this case study revisits a widely celebrated CLP episode, the People’s Plan for the Royal Docks, to question what gets remembered and what gets forgotten about community struggles
  • Gwynedd, looking at the emergence of a thriving ecology of community and cooperative enterprises and the role of Welsh language and culture in building and sustaining community action
  • Divis, Belfast: looking into the community campaign to have the Divis Flats in Belfast demolished and the role of the Town and Country Planning Association’s Planning Aid service in supporting their efforts
  • South Sheffield: considering the role of community action groups in the neighbourhoods of Sharrow, Heeley and Broomhall from the early 1970s onwards. This case study explores the grassroots of municipal socialism in Sheffield and the role of faith groups and radical community workers working in and against the state
  • Dundee Inner-City Neighbourhood Action Centre: this case study explores a relatively short lived attempt to create a neighbourhood centre in the Hilltown area of Dundee. The project grew out of frustration with more limited forms of planning aid in the late 1970s and came to be seen as a challenge to local political elites
  • Laird Enterprise Trust, Birkenhead: examining the work of Tony Gibson to establish a hub for community enterprise in the former Birkenhead School of Art in the early 1980s. Part of the TPCA’s New Communities initiative, the project won a RIBA award but fell apart after the discovery of dry rot in the building.
  • Low Impact Development: from Practice to Policy in Pembrokeshire: centres on a cluster of off-the-grid eco-settlements in rural Pembrokeshire, Southwest Wales, developed in the late 1990s/ 2000s on the principles of low impact development (LID) and self-sufficiency.
  • Golborne Community Plan: The Golborne Neighbourhood Council (GNC) emerged in 1971 in the context of prolific community organising in the Notting Hill area in London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea during the late 1960s and 70s

Phase 3: Enlivening Debates

The final stage of the project has involved a series of dissemination events, locally and nationally that were designed to bring the stories from our case studies into conversation with contemporary activists, campaigners and community-led planners. This stage of the work included participatory workshops and storytelling events, memory walks and the production of an exhibition that has been displayed in London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Birkenhead. We hope to put on further events after the end of our funding in November 2023. During this time we have also been developing our project website.

We have sought to ensure that all of the information we have found is recorded on this website and we hope it will prove a valuable resource for students, researchers and community activists into the future. We will be continuing to update the website in 2024, including with copies of some longer form and academic publications we are working on. If you’re interested in finding out more, or discussing your own work on the histories of community-led planning and how we can work together, then please do get in touch. Although the project is now finished, we’d be delighted to hear from you.