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.
Description While the research is still on-going we can report the following achievements.

1) Our greatest achievement to date is how we have begun to reveal the hidden histories of community led planning to a wider audience through our website and our engagement activities. Our website represents the first attempt to bring the many scattered examples in the UK together and responses and engagement from a variety of stakeholders is that there is a real thirst and enthusiasm for the material and findings that are emerging. The map and timeline are enabling appreciations of the scale and energy of these initiatives beyond one place or time which was largely the case with previous research. We are therefore excited about bringing these stories alive in the final stages of the project particularly through developing local community planning history walks.

2) We have begun to enable a dialogue between past and present about the role of communities in place making at local and national levels. Our workshops which have brought together past and present local activists have brought to life past examples which were often not known about. This has crucially enabled discussion of practices and policies and what lessons can be learnt and applied to the present day. This has ranged from a simple appreciated of the value and importance of local activity to the ways in which policy can best respond. Again this will form a major strand of the final stages of the work and we will be able to capture the outcomes of these dialogues for the website and develop a policy briefing paper. A key question for us to focus on and answer in these final stages will be 'where are the spaces of hope now?'. Responses to this will form a major part of our final findings.

3) We have also opened up some new questions particularly around what is further hidden within these 'hidden histories'. Reaching beyond the 'usual suspects' of activists and paid workers to long term residents of a place has been challenging. More significantly, finding voices from the black community among the episodes, historical records and participants so far revealed shows how there are many layers and issues to be uncovered. We have responded to this challenge by adding new research questions and activities including working with citizen-researchers around black communities and community planning. We have questioned conceptualisations of 'community- led' planning as separate from the formal, government-led planning system and instead have been identifying and examining the links and tensions between them. We have also begun to highlight ways in which the experiences of the different nations of the UK are increasingly diverging.

4) Finally we have been able to develop and Impart new skills and research capacity. Our multi-disciplinary research team has enabled learning between the team members and has shown the value of bringing together methods from history, the arts and built environment disciplines to devise appropriate and innovative methodologies for telling the stories of community planning. We are building the capacity of local groups to research their own history through guides we are producing and training citizen researchers.
Exploitation Route These findings and others still to emerge can be taken on by;
1) Community planners eager to chart their own histories will be able to draw inspiration from this site and also gain information on how to go about researching their own community planning histories through a guide which will be produced by the end of the project.
2) Visitors to the website who will be able to search the databases and explore the themes and examples that they will encounter. This could open up a range of different outcomes including more local history projects or innovative analysis of the data
3) Practitioners and policy makers who will be able to build on the lessons from these past examples and apply them to current policy and practice. They will also be able to draw on the accounts of the events we have organised which identify some of these and which will be available through blogs, the website and a policy briefing.
4) Academics from a range of disciples including planning, history, the arts and geography who will be able to draw on the original empirical and conceptual findings.
5) Teachers at a variety of levels (e.g. schools and universities) who can draw on these rich histories to enliven learning about community planning and encourage young people and professionals to engage in local participatory placemaking.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description Our project is still ongoing and we expect most impacts to emerge over its final months and beyond. However we are able to report on some emerging impacts which we will be developing over this time. These include; There is evidence emerging of the societal and cultural impact of the project in raising awareness and understanding of the role of Community-Led Planning (CLP) in shaping places, communities and participatory cultures. This is the major impact objective of the project. We are seeing this through visits to the web-site, presence on social media , attendance at our events and general inquiries. As we approach the final stages and the dissemination of key findings we will be tracking how these are used and through our work with local communities we are co-creating final outputs such as memory walks, guides to collecting and presenting participatory histories or other materials which they believe will have a lasting impact and we will be following how these are used in these areas and elsewhere. A second area of emerging impact is on policy and practice. We are already bringing people together from different eras of participatory place-making and creating a dialogue where lessons from the past can be applied to current place making activities to improve engagement and quality of life in these areas. We are designing our final events to identify transferable lessons which have the potential to influence future policy and practice and we will be tracking their impact over time.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Community Action Digital Archive
Amount £9,100 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sheffield 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2022 
End 11/2022
Description Impact Accelerator Award.
Amount £7,469 (GBP)
Organisation Oxford Brookes University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2023 
End 07/2023
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 2021
Description Launch of the Community Action Archive, 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A face to face and online event on 9th Nov 2022 . The roundtable event marked the official launch of a new digital archive of Community Action magazine, which makes an important historical resource on community campaigns and protest movements of the 1970s and 1980s freely available online for the first time. Published from 1972-1990, Community Action played an important role in connecting grassroots struggles across the UK. The event began with a short introduction to Community Action magazine, before bringing members of the original editorial collective into conversation with contemporary activists, and offered an opportunity to reflect on the role Community Action played within wider movements for social justice and to consider the lessons that might be learned for struggles today. The event was funded by the Festival of Science as a parallel activity which arose directly out of the Spaces of Hope project.

The event was attended by 35 people face to face and a further 50 online from the UK and wider. There was a lively debate about the issues at the time, the changing nature of the relationship between community groups and the state between the time the magazine was active and the present day, the continuing relevance of questioning the role of knowledge and expertise in decisions on urban environments and the shape that contemporary attempts to share knowledge and ideas and link people involved on the ground may take.

Responses on the night and afterwards have stressed the value of the archive and have brought further traffic to the Spaces of Hope website and further participants to our case studies. Current activists and students have also expressed how they valued the opportunity to hear from those involved in the 70s and 80s. A report of the launch appeared in Tribune magazine.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Online Workshop on Community Planning in Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an online workshop held in Dec 2022 which brought people together who had been active in community planning in Birmingham from the 1970s. The aim was to enable participants to reflect on their experiences, bring to light new episodes of community-led planning which may have been hidden from history and the research team and to discuss the relevance of these experiences to the present day. The workshop was attended by 14 people and was broken down into two activities. Firstly a mapping of examples of community projects using digital mapping tools and secondly a discussion of what lessons from these can be learnt for the present day. The mapping exercise led people to reflect on how the geography of the city and where development activity was concentrated was reflected in activity which a shift from the ring outside the city centre in the 70s to the City Centre in the 80s . The more dispersed geography of current activity was seen as having an impact on activity. Participants noted that the areas CLP worked in have changed socially and opportunities for community planning are very different now. They also discussed the closure of city wide forums which had arisen from community activity which made dialogue about communities and place making more difficult . But they noted that there are alternatives out there, in Birmingham and elsewhere and there is a real need to bring these to a wider attention.

These ideas have fed into the findings and analysis undertaken by the project and into the planning of the further events in the City which will take place in June 2023. Participants at the workshop expressed a desire to participate further in these events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Participatory Workshop Community Action and the State in Sheffield 1970-1990 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The workshop brought together former activists for South Sheffield who were engaged in community planning from the 1970s to the 1990s. They exchanged memories about the period, the role of community action and the relations between the community groups and the state. They also brought documents and other memorabilia to discuss and to include in our archive. Attendees expressed an interest in attending future events and the planning of the final stages of this case study will be done taking their views on board.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
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
Description Workshop on Women and Planning in Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An in-person Spaces of Hope workshop - 'Women's Histories of Community Planning/Place-making in Birmingham', This was held in July 2022, and brought together 16 women who had campaigned for the spaces and places that women needed in the 1980s and 1990's with women and organisations involved in current community action. The workshop consisted of a variety of activities including a mapping of projects, activities and actions and a roundtable discussion of how these remarkable histories might provide useful lessons in the present day.

The workshop represented the first time many of the women had been re-united since the 1990s and enabled them to reflect on their experiences and what they had achieved. The workshop noted the continuing relevance of the practices of the time especially the relationship between gender and the built environment and the role of visual representation in building campaigns. A key desire emerging from the workshop was for their stories and struggles to be captured and remembered, combatting the circularity of forgetting. As a result the project is planning to develop a women and planning history walk by bringing together current arts-based projects and the initial participants..

Another key point of discussion was the lack of BAME groups and voices both in the activities at the time and the workshop itself . As a result the project secured impact accelerator money to explore this gap using citizen researchers involved in a con temporal community planning project in Brimingham. This work is due to start in March 2023

The background to the workshop and the discussions on the day were written up as a blog on the Spaces of Hope website ( see link below).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022