Our approach to Working With Communities

Photo by Debbie Humphry

The Spaces of Hope project emerges from concerns that there is a rich history of community-led planning that hasn’t been recorded and is in danger of being lost. 

Many community groups and organisations have come together at different times and places to demand more power to plan their own futures. 

Their efforts are often intense and episodic. Whether energised or exhausted, people and their struggles move on. Campaign materials lie forgotten or end up being thrown away. Often there isn’t time to stop and reflect on what has been achieved.

We believe this history matters, firstly as an important record of people’s efforts but also because, taken together, these stories provide important insights into the shifting nature of community, planning and the grassroots struggles through which places change. As such, they are part of a critical counter-history, showing us that there are alternatives to dominant, market-led approaches to urban planning and development. We want to explore how contemporary community campaigns can learn from this rich but often overlooked history.

We hope that our research can be a means to give voice and power to these otherwise hidden histories. However, we are mindful that community-based research needs to be approached carefully. There is a danger that research can draw on peoples’ time and energies, extracting or appropriating their stories without giving anything back. 

To counter this, the project is underpinned by a desire to work with communities to explore and share their experiences and histories of community-led planning. We know that our work won’t be possible without people’s contributions and we want to make sure that they keep control of their stories and are happy with the ways they are presented and used.

There are two main ways in which we’re looking to do this:

  1. Case Studies

At the core of the project is a series of around  eight case studies from across the four nations of the  United Kingdom – which have been selected to offer insights into a range of community-led planning experiences since the 1960s. The cases were identified through our initial scoping of key national archives and historical publications and through a series of interviews and ongoing conversations with key figures who have been prominent in key episodes or national debates in the history of community-led planning. (See more details here)

We are aiming to approach these case studies in a participatory way by inviting people and groups from the selected localities to share their experiences and work with us to tell their stories. Working together, we will develop a range of creative and participatory methods to uncover and tell people’s stories of community-led planning. Depending on different communities’ capacities and interests this could include mapping, walk-a-longs, urban trails, photography, archival research and storytelling workshops. We will always negotiate with the participants how these stories get told, what happens to the materials and artefacts we find and how the community can take control of the outputs. 

  1. Supporting others to develop and share their histories of community-led planning 

Beyond the case studies, we also want to encourage and support people in other areas to explore their own community planning histories. At the moment we are looking to do this in three ways:

a. A toolkit for researching histories of community-led planning: 

We will share details of the participatory methods we use in our case studies, including  our reflections on what seems to be working and suggested ‘top tips’. In time, we’ll develop this into a downloadable guide for any groups or individuals interested in conducting their own histories of community-led planning.

b. Sharing people’s histories of community-led planning

We will encourage people to share their stories and experiences to contribute to a wider and richer understanding of the history of CLP. We’d like our website to become a collaborative digital archive where groups and individuals can add their own stories, pictures and artefacts or share links to their own archives. 

For us it’s important that this isn’t about appropriating anyone else’s voices or experiences. Instead, we want to create a platform for sharing and fostering a wider interest in community-led planning. 

We hope that by working with a range of communities we will build a rich picture of the many different ways people have come together to shape their places. And that a better understanding of the history of community-led planning will spark debate and provide a source of inspiration and learning to work for more equitable and inclusive futures.

c. What we can offer

Wherever we can we will offer support and resources to  groups. For example, to assist people in organising their own community-led planning storytelling events we will share the storytelling format on our website as part of the downloadable guide. We will also aim to provide support in terms of organisation, communication, collection, analysis and presentation of the stories that are shared. 

We are happy to offer whatever other support we can to any organisations or groups interested in developing their own local histories of community-led planning. 

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. We’d be delighted to hear from you.