Spaces of HOPE. The Hidden History of Community Led Planning in the UK

Lead Research Organisation: Oxford Brookes University
Department Name: Faculty of Tech, Design and Environment


'Spaces of HOPE' will produce the first sustained history of community-led planning (CLP) in the UK documenting the diverse and previously hidden ways in which people have come together to care for the future of their local environments and exploring what their efforts mean for contemporary approaches to planning and participatory place-making.
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Skeffington Report which established public involvement in town planning, one of the first public services to embrace participation. Existing scholarship has tended to focus on how citizens have influenced the official processes this established. Alongside this formal system, however, runs a rich history of informal CLP, which has not been subject to systematic or sustained research. Given the contemporary significance of community action around urban and environmental issues this gap severely limits the capacity to learn from the past about the role of citizens in planning.
Building on the strengths of a multidisciplinary team including planners, community artists and historians, the project will address this gap by realising three overarching objectives: Firstly, reflecting on the development of discourses and practices of CLP since 1969 in order to contribute to a critical historiography of planning. Secondly, revealing previously hidden histories of CLP, using co-creative methods to explore the lived experiences of those involved and the ways in which understandings of self, place and community have been shaped by their actions. Thirdly, enlivening debates and generating dialogue between past and present by bringing these 'hidden' voices into conversation with contemporary practices of participatory place-making.
Documentary and archival research will bring together scattered and fragmentary sources, including the uncatalogued archives of our impact partner the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and the personal collections of the individuals and groups involved, some of which are in danger of being lost if not captured soon. Case studies of local CLP initiatives will include the drawing up of 'People's Plans', the building of new communities, anti-redevelopment campaigns and the creation of innovative participatory planning approaches. By combining arts-based, participatory methods such as memory walks and photo elicitation with oral history interviews and workshops we will explore narratives of participation and engender the sharing of memories within and across places.
The project will generate significant impact using the TCPA's extensive networks to spark dialogue between past and present. A project website, hosted by the Digital Humanities Institute but available through the TCPA site, will act as an interactive CLP 'exhibition', including timelines and downloadable maps, and a living archive of CLP stories and materials. A series of workshops, short articles and presentations at practitioner events will be used to generate discussion and we will produce downloadable guides for local groups interested in researching CLP and on what policy-makers can learn from these histories of citizen action and participatory planning. A final, national workshop "Community-Led Planning: the Next Fifty Years" will promote collective discussions on the future of CLP. In addition, we will make presentations to 3 international academic conferences and contribute 3 articles to high-quality academic journals across the fields of urban history, community development and planning. Finally, we will publish a monograph bringing case studies and oral histories together to explore the history of CLP in the UK.
Overall, the project aims to uncover previously hidden histories of this important form of local citizen action, exploring how grassroots, place-based activism has challenged development proposals, set out alternative visions for places and in the process reshaped communities, identities and citizens' relations with the local state.

Planned Impact

This project seeks to reveal previously hidden histories of citizen-led planning (CLP). In doing so, it aims to generate significant debate and reflection about the role and value of this form of activism in shaping places, communities, identities and citizen's relations with the state. By so doing it will contribute substantially to contemporary place-based community activity.

Who will benefit from this research?
Direct (non-academic) beneficiaries will include -
-Citizens and campaign groups who have participated in local planning efforts or will do so in the future
-Local history groups and civic societies
-Policy-makers, including local elected councillors and professionals involved in planning and place-making
- Civic organisations that promote engagement with place-making (e.g. Locality, Planning Aid, Civic Voice, Scottish Community Alliance, Community Places)
- Organisations that campaign for the value of public participation and public interest planning (Town and Country Planning Association)
- Place-based professions (Royal Town Planning Institute, Royal Institute of British Architects)
- National level policy makers (including MHLG, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, N. Ireland Executive)
- Academics and educators in history, community research and planning.
Indirect beneficiaries will include-
-Other Professionals and professional organisations involved in public engagement with place-based public services
-Local government professional and representative organisations (e.g. Local Government Association)

What will change for these beneficiaries?
Citizens who have participated in local planning efforts and local history groups will be offered new opportunities to make their stories visible, reflect on their experiences and co-create collective memories ensuring these are not lost from the historical record and can inform contemporary and future approaches to citizen-led planning. Other citizens, local historians, policymakers, politicians and professionals will learn about previously hidden histories of local activism and consider their implications for contemporary approaches to planning and place-making. All of these groups will benefit from interactive CLP maps and toolkits setting out how to creatively explore hidden histories and outlining key lessons for successful citizen-led planning. Civic and campaigning organisations interested in strengthening public participation in planning and place-making will benefit from new knowledge and understanding about the historical role and impacts of CLP. They will have access to a digital exhibition and archive, guaranteeing that the lessons of the past for supporting citizen- led efforts can be used into the future. Professionals, politicians and policy-makers at local and national level will benefit from an improved understanding of the potential of CLP to complement more formal modes of public participation in place-making, ensuring better understanding of how to relate to such efforts in order to strengthen place-making activities and build robust participatory cultures capable of vitalizing local democracy. Academics and educators will benefit from a toolkit of creative methods for uncovering hidden histories in community research, a range of case studies and opportunities to reflect on their value for contemporary approaches to citizen-led initiatives. Other professionals and public service providers will benefit from enhanced understanding of the histories and potential contribution of more activist and citizen-led forms of public participation.


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publication icon
Brownill, S (2021) Capturing the history of community-led planning in Town and Country Planning

publication icon (2021) People's Plans website

Title Peoples Plans 
Description A digitised collection of documents, artefacts, photos gathered as part of the Spaces of Hope research project. This will be linked to the project website (URL below) and will enable members of the public and others to search it to carry out their own research. It will also form a repository for organisations and individuals involved in community-led planning. Currently it is under construction in conjunction with the Digital Humanities Unit at Sheffield University but will be live during the course of the next 12 months. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This will be the first website and data base which brings together archives from individuals and organisations involved in community-led planning from around the UK. 
Description Town and Country Planning Association 
Organisation Town & Country Planning Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have been able to assist the TCPA in exploring and digitally recording their archive which to dat has not been catalogued or organised to any systematic extent. The PI contributes a regular column on participation in planning, called Snakes and Ladders, to the TCPA journal.
Collaborator Contribution Membership of steering group and opening or archive. Hosting blogs, call for evidence and links to the project website on their website.
Impact Regular column written by PI in TCPA journal. Contributions to the website and research archive.
Start Year 2020
Description StoryTelling Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an online event organised as part of the data gathering stage of the project. It involved inviting members of the steering group, people who had been interviewed as part of the project, contacts and people who responded to a general invite to an online workshop during which people were able to share their experiences of community-led planning.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Talk to event organised by the Museum of London in their series launching the Port of London Authority archives; London Port City 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk given by Prof Sue Brownill on 23.02.22 called Lost Landscapes of Regeneration. Given at physical and online event called Port of Steel and Sails; A Changing Landscape, part of London Port City series Museum of London, West India Quay London E14.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022