Keswick town centre | community development and masterplanning

Photo courtesy of Willie Miller

As part of a larger team producing a town centre masterplan for Keswick, led by Willie Miller Urban Design, I had a fascinating role assessing the part that the local community could play in delivering the masterplan.

This was a rare opportunity to go beyond asking what the community thought should be in the proposals – a valuable and critical task, but the the limit of most community consultation – to establishing how they could help deliver the proposals, taking us into the world of community development (see for example the Development Trusts Association). Unfortunately this is too often a parallel universe to the planning profession. So an opportunity like this to make connections between community consultation and community development was something to be relished.

Conventionally, the main thrust of town centre masterplans is to propose a package of physical measures designed to boost economic activity and environmental quality – such as public realm improvements, improvements to traffic management, suggestions for new developments on gap sites, and so on. Our response to the specific problems faced in Keswick covered all of these usual bases (including community consultation on the proposals, which is not covered in this short feature).

But we also wanted to unpick an additional dimension – how the local community could get involved in implementation of the masterplan. In other words, what was the potential for local community groups to take on specific elements of the masterplan package? These ideas would of course be generated by the community themselves – and could be anything from developing and maintaining an area of community greenspace, to creating new business space for social enterprises and local businesses…

Tithebarn Street

The topic of ‘community’ was particularly pertinent in Keswick. Although a small town with a population of only around 4,000, it has a wealth of community activity and self-help, as is so often the case in remoter rural areas. Indeed, the client for the town centre masterplan was a group of unpaid volunteers, the Keswick Area Partnership. But, small though the local population is, would it have the potential to get involved in delivering some components of the eventual masterplan?

Alongside analysing townscape, open space, traffic, the property market and other traditional planning issues, our initial analytical stage of the commission also looked at the concept of community in Keswick:

What issues were of particular concern to the local community.

More particularly, the appetite and capacity of the local community for taking on projects – as well as identifying the sort of project that they might wish to take on.

Resource constraints meant that our audit was restricted to semi-structured interviews with local community activists and community workers and desk research. Nonetheless, targeting key individuals in this way gave a valuable insight – and was, I believe, a very useful accompaniment to the more traditional elements of planning analysis and survey mentioned above. Moreover, injecting a community perspective meant that the masterplan proposals really were rooted in addressing community issues, and ensured that the concept of community involvement in implementation was not overlooked.

I won’t go into more specific discussion about Keswick here – the purpose of this article is to focus on the process, particularly the community development / implementation angle. To read more about community issues in the town, take a look at section 6 of the masterplan.

(Click on the image of the report to read it on screen – or download a copy to read later.)

Click here for an excellent web article by Willie Miller Urban Design charting Keswick’s development over time.

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