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23rd Oct 2019

I’m uneasy about the current preoccupation of policy makers with place. The brouhaha that accompanied the launch of the Scottish Government’s Place Principle suggested something profound and new was being unveiled rather than what seemed like a mash-up of the well-worn rhetoric of community planning – declaring, as ever, that local people should be at the heart of any decisions that shape their communities. Emperor’s new clothes, I thought. But on reflection, the prospect of everything being viewed through the prism of place makes me wonder. Whereas previously, when public bodies were under no pressure to consider place, when decisions were made top-down without regard to the nuances of local identity and cultural heritage, what communities did and how they organised themselves could be routinely ignored (and usually was). But this new national focus on place could result in the issue of who determines local identity becoming a much more contested space. Which is why it’s so timely for Scotland’s community-led heritage movement to emerge from the shadows and assert itself on the policy landscape. Local heritage, however expressed, is inextricably woven into community identity and any Place Principle worth its salt should be unequivocal about safeguarding that. Time will tell.

In the most recent briefing…

  • On the ground

    Local screens

    Despite the dominance of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, it seems there’s still an appetite for the big screen. And within that segment of the entertainment market, there’s a healthy niche for community cinema. Perhaps because they pursue different outcomes to the commercial operators such as widening access to film or simply breathing new life into old buildings, this sector has real energy – as reflected by this audience reaction to hearing that the Grassmarket Community Project had won Community Cinema Award in the UK Film Society of the Year awards.

  • On the ground

    Key role for community enterprise

    It’s a well-known principle of local economic development that every pound spent in local businesses is more likely to be spent again within that local economy than a pound spent in a non-local business. It’s called the multiplier effect. These simple ideas (such as local currencies)  for retaining wealth within an area have been gradually ratcheted up in scale and ambition by think tank CLES, who now tour the country laying out a compelling argument for Community Wealth Building (sign up here). Their latest report highlights the vital role that community owned enterprises have to play in the overall mix.

  • On the ground

    What, where and when

    Community heritage is hard to pin down because it can be anything and everything that holds meaning for those who live in a given place. It could be something that happened 100 years ago, last week or not at all – it could be folklore, mythical stories or songs that have passed through the generations. Despite this, there’s a real enthusiasm to compile a record of what’s out there. A collaborative effort led by Scottish Local History Forum is building a free, online directory of Scotland’s local history. Click the link and get involved.

  • On the ground

    Started in Totnes

    15 years ago, Rob Hopkins gathered a group of friends in Totnes and kick-started the Transition Town movement which now has a global reach into almost 1,000 communities around the world. The ideas were simple if a little quirky for the time – to find ways of living more sustainably. I met Rob a few years ago and he struck me as remarkably unassuming and low key given the international following that his ideas have attracted. In his new book, From What Is to What If he lists some of his favourite projects that he has encountered along the way.

  • Policy talk

    Beyond the warm words

    It may not be deliberate, but the lexicon of policy makers has become increasingly populated by phrases that seem to close down live debate. For instance, who argues against the promotion of ‘wellbeing’ or ‘healthier democracy’.  And so it is with ‘kindness’. Whenever the subject is discussed, there’s a tacit assumption that we all agree it’s inherently a good thing. Described as ‘clean concepts’,  these ideas are proving hard to take issue with. Carnegie UK, who have published extensively on the kindness theme, have carried out further work in a deliberate attempt to get beyond the warm words.

  • Policy talk

    Raising the design bar

    I’ve always assumed that every architect, at some point in their professional life has been inspired by design. If true, then why is so much of our built environment so poorly designed? In particular, why does so much of our social housing look like the responsible architect just couldn’t care less?  Good to see then, that UK’s Best Building of the Year award went to some social housing in Norwich.  That said, the Norwich development isn’t a patch on these examples from around the world. Goes to show that high quality, even inspiring design, is possible.

  • Policy talk

    Is it down to bad planning?

    The Glasgow effect, the fact that Glaswegians are 30% more likely to die prematurely (before the age of 65), has confounded researchers for years. The most comprehensive studies point to the most obvious explanation – poverty – but even accounting for that, Glasgow still experiences disproportionately higher rates of mortality than any other UK city. To what extent does responsibility lie with the city’s planners? Is it possible to design a city that actually makes residents healthy and happy rather than vulnerable to the ‘diseases of despair’. Interesting piece in the Guardian that explores the evidence.

  • Policy talk

    Could do better?

    In preparation for the establishment of the Scottish Parliament there was a great deal of consultation on the detail of how the Parliament should work. A Steering Group, chaired by Henry McLeish, published a report in 1998 which identified four key principles on which the operation of the Parliament would be based – Accountability, Openness and Accessibility, Power Sharing and Equal Opportunities. To mark the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament, that same steering group reconvened this summer at the invitation of the Presiding Officer to consider progress. Their report was published earlier this month.