Working with Kevin Murray Associates, WMUD, Hamilton-Baillie Associates and VivID Ideas & Solutions, we’ve recently completed The Biggar Agenda: a community strategy for the next ten years. This is the third in a series of town strategies that we have prepared for the award-winning South Lanarkshire Rural Partnership‘s Market Towns Initiative, the earlier towns being Lanark and Strathaven.
In each town, our aim has been to produce a plan for the future which isn’t just about land use and buildings (important though they are) but all the other things that successful places need – business and jobs, and active and vibrant communities. So we used a strongly collaborative approach, working with local businesses, community groups and residents of all ages to ensure that we fulfil local aspirations, and respond to local issues.
Our approach wasn’t just about holding workshops, but having meaningful conversations with people about the future of their place. For me, the Biggar Agenda was the most rewarding of the three studies, simply because those conversations were the most wide-ranging.
What did I learn from this series of three town studies?
Engagement isn’t just about communities, it’s about professionals and the public sector too. Professionals like to say how difficult it is to engage communities – but the reality is that the public sector’s plethora of competing organisations, budgets, departments and staff responsibilities is just as challenging to engage with. That’s why the Scottish Government’s recently reinvigorated Culture Change in planning agenda is so important.
Delivery is just as important as content. This doesn’t just mean finishing each report with a chapter about implementation. It’s about getting everyone thinking about how to realise the Agenda right from the start, making sure that momentum and energy build as the work progresses, and leaving everyone with clear structures and responsibilities on how they can work together to take things forward. We wanted the Biggar Agenda to be something which local people themselves want to take forward. The signs are positive: at the well attended launch workshop last night, several local people volunteered to join a steering group to take things forward.
The longer these pieces of work take, the better. It allows partners to build up trust, local context to be properly understood, and better solutions to emerge. That’s not an excuse for laziness: it’s a call for thoroughness. And it also means that the traditional ways of procuring these studies – typically to do them as quickly as possible in 2 or 3 months – are not always the best.
If you’re interested in the future of Biggar – or if you live in a small rural town – have a look through the Agenda. Biggar’s a wonderful place: I hope we have given it the strategy for the future that its people deserve.