The role of the artist who engages with people as part of their work #3

Waymarking C.I.C.’s work regularly involves working face to face with groups of local people living and working in particular places/neighbourhoods, bringing in artists (Waymarking Freelancers) wherever possible. Although of course, this last year where possible this work has transferred online, however some work has been postponed, as many people Waymarking works with are digitally excluded in various ways. These ‘community conversations’ are on topics such as uses of local green space, the use of empty buildings in a high street or how to make a neighbourhood a healthier place. It’s a challenge to make these topics feel like something many local people in an area want to discuss or get involved with. But working with artists who engage with people as part of their work, can be a key way to create engaging, dynamic and fruitful conversations leading to meaningful outcomes.

These kinds of artists are skilled in thoughtfully listening, making connections between ideas and experiences, encouraging sharing, shifting between verbal, visual, kinaesthetic approaches, efficiently producing a depth of engagement through their use of creative tools and resources and building trust with participants, which can lead to quality co-designed and co-produced outcomes.

For me, it is a serious concern that many organisations, institutions and businesses working in the field of planning, regeneration and economic development don’t have a workforce with skills in delivering these kinds of engaging and meaningful face to face ‘community conversations’. So we’ve made it one of our missions to work with built-environment and neighbourhood development professionals to develop and enhance their practitioner’s skillsets around how to engage well with communities.

Image credits: Sarah Spanton, featuring textiles work by Helen Mather and Cath Long, in collaboration with Abram Ward Community Cooperative

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The role of the artist who engages with people as part of their work #2

My work with communities is mainly in places where local people feel they are not part of the decisions being made about their neighbourhoods, they feel excluded and without an individual or collective voice. I recognise the value of working with artists who engage with people as a part of their practice, as they spend time thoughtfully listening to a group of people, and then helping them weave often their stories into something that reveals forgotten, hidden or even actively silenced histories and experiences.

So what is the value of this way of working? This post does not claim to comprehensively examine this question – but begins to unpick the threads of the interesting discussions held between the five Waymarking Freelancers and myself last year.

Key values of this way of working that began to emerge were:

  • The importance of being responsive to who comes along to a ‘community conversation’ – starting from where they’re at
  • How listening and sharing community stories, and finding commonalities are key to challenging assumptions
  • Alternatives to verbal conversation, using fabric to make textiles, or collage to make a zine should be explored especially when deep-seated, contentious or traumatic issues are being discussed
  • How small actions in a workshop can sometimes be enough to engage
  • How playfulness often gets a message across successfully
  • Undertaking research as a group can be a good way to learn together
  • How time spent together and what happens in a workshop or conversation (whether face to face or online) should be honoured and valued

Image credit: Sarah Spanton, image from a Made In Manningham Rising Stars workshop 2020

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The role of the artist who engages with people as part of their work #1

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the role of the artist who engages with people as a part of their practice. Waymarking has been lucky to work in partnership with several experienced visual artists in the last four years, who work in just this way. Last summer Waymarking convened a series of online meetings with them and I found myself thinking more about the value of this way of working and the skills involved. During these conversations they very kindly agreed to me calling them Waymarking Freelancers, they are:

Sharon Campbell

Cath Long

Helen Mather

Jean McEwan

Lisa Risbec

These kinds of artist are skilled in bringing potentially disparate members of a community together and facilitating engaging ‘community conversations’ that allow participants to expand ideas, share experiences, ask questions, inspire each other, find collective solutions to issues, support community decision-making and identify a path towards practical action.

See the next two posts for more on the values of this way of working and the skills involved.

Image credit: Zine making workshop held by Jean McEwan for Waymarking Freelancers in January 2021

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Manchester revisited: the familiar and the unfamiliar #2

Walking around the Northern Quarter, I was reminded of recent conversations I’ve had with dance artist-academics Vicky Hunter, Amy Voris and Emma Meehan and Natalie Garrett-Brown – about recognising and acknowledging our emotional connections to place(s).

Vicky described how we humans interact with the material reality of the world, in this case the urban landscape. We discussed how our emotions, our feelings, our ways of perceiving the world through sensation, sight, sound, taste, smell and touch impact on how we experience and feel part of a place enormously.

The images in this second blog post offer a glimpse into my emotional state responding to the sensations experienced whilst revisiting Manchester city centre, after 6 months of being at home in ‘lockdown’.

Image credits: Sarah Spanton

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Manchester revisited: the familiar and the unfamiliar #1

This next two posts are a photo document of my first walk around the city of Manchester after lock-down. From Piccadilly Station, through the Northern Quarter, back through the Piccadilly area.

It was fascinating to walk around an area, that is very familiar to me – to see it through fresh eyes after 6 months away because of the COVID lock-down.

I observed changes, layers stripped away, and new layers being added. The city as an ever-changing organism. The familiar had become unfamiliar.

These images are a record of the patterns and patinas (some new and some old) seen on Friday 4th September 2020.

Image credits: Sarah Spanton

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Creative, community development and facilitation skills for healthy, prosperous, beautiful places – Raynsford Review #5

This is the final of five posts, outlining the TCPA’s Raynsford Review of 2018, and its reframing of the English Planning System, which I think could be both a highly useful discussion opportunity and potentially a practical tool for communities, planning and regeneration professionals and other sectors concerned with placemaking and community development in England.

The final of the 24 recommendations I’m going to highlight here, is recommendation 21 ‘Attracting, training, developing and supporting the necessary numbers of high-calibre planners’. For the full review for details of each recommendation, (

PDF #6

Recommendation 24 is particularly welcomed by myself and Waymarking, as 5 years ago, I retrained from a 25-year career in the cultural/creative sector to relocate myself in the field of planning and regeneration.

Most communities are keen to participate in the planning and development processes that are taking place in their neighbourhoods, and they wish to take a positive and active role in shaping and influencing how their places change and develop. The Review recommends that planners should have stronger community development skills, and the ability to creatively engage with communities. It is my experience that there is a growing awareness that this skillset is sorely needed in the sector. At Waymarking, we look forward to working with more planning professionals to support them to develop these creative community facilitation skills, as well as continuing to work with communities to help them partner effectively with place-making professionals, to jointly make a positive impact in their neighbourhoods.

Finally, the Raynsford Review recommends the remaking of English planning, interweaving key themes to deliver healthy, prosperous and beautiful places.

TCPA Raynsford Circles

The Review outlines how this new system would ‘deliver for people a clear purpose which prioritises the wellbeing of people within the overarching objective of long-term sustainable development, aimed at making places of safety, beauty and resilience’.

It would be more predictable and certain for all parties, allowing investors and communities to have confidence in a genuinely plan-led system’.

It would clearly define the rights and responsibilities of the citizen and would offer everyone a fair opportunity to shape their future’.

It would be capable of considering the nation as a whole and of making us all resilient to the challenges we face’.

It would offer a fair deal for the public and landowners, and development values would help to support the delivery of new places’.

It would be recognised for its dynamic and creative thinking, attracting people who want to be at forefront of shaping change with communities’.

All of which would be highly welcome outcomes of remaking the English planning system.

NOTE: Text in italics represents direct quotes from the Raynsford Review. ‘Remaking English Planning’ Diagram from David Lock Associates

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Do we need a new building code and new planning ethical code of conduct? – Raynsford Review #4

This fourth post on the Raynsford Review is about Recommendations 11 and 24 ‘Consideration of a new building code’ and ‘Do no harm’ obligation in built environment professional codes of conduct’.

There have been three previous posts one, two and three.

PDF #4

The Review recommends the consideration of a new building code, due to evidence gathered from planning professionals in the public and private sectors in relation to health and wellbeing, internal space standards, accessibility, energy performance, access to greenspace and climate change resilience. The new building code is needed in England, because current minimum standards of development (government building regulations; government standards on space and accessibility; and local and strategic plans and policies) are not transparent enough, and do not ensure people’s safety and wellbeing.

I see Recommendation 11, linking strongly to the final recommendation in the review, 24. This introduces the concept of a ‘Do no harm’ obligation in built environment professional codes of conduct.

PDF #8

As in Recommendation 11, considerable evidence was gathered from planning professionals, in this case highlighting concerns about ethical standards. The Review considered the medical profession’s ‘Do no harm’ expectation and the American Institute of Certified Planners code of conduct in deliberating this recommendation.

Although the review acknowledges that ‘harm’ is difficult to establish in planning terms, the duty would be on planners to apply it, when in their professional judgement, they consider that a planning proposal’s outcome would have a ‘demonstrably serious and
damaging effect on the health, safety or wellbeing of members of the public‘.

NOTE: Text in italics represents direct quotes from the Raynsford Review.

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People-centred, participatory planning, with Local Authorities proactively shaping development towards the greater health and wellbeing of their citizens – Raynsford Review #3

This third post on the Raynsford Review will take a look at some of its other recommendations. The Review makes 24 in total, they interlink to make a comprehensive reframing of the purpose and practice of planning in England. For the full review for details of each recommendation, (

Recommendation 5: Community powers to plan effectively

PDF #2

Recommendation 5 is closely linked to Recommendation 3: ‘A new kind of positive and powerful Local Plan‘. This states that, a Local Plan ‘should command the confidence of all sectors by being the product of a participative act of co-creation between local authorities, communities and the wider development sector, all of whom are vital to good place-making’.

Each Local Authority has to produce an up to date local development plan for its district. The Review repositions the Local Plan as people-centred and participatory. Local Plans are currently far from being so. It also highlights that good place-making should be a balance between commercial development companies, the public sector and the communities that live and work in a place. It also states that the Local Plan should be a clear set of guidance towards long term public interest, which all parties to any land development can work to/adhere to.

Recommendation 5 enhances Recommendation 3, elevating the role of communities, giving them an active role in shaping and influencing their places. It also recommends that Local Authorities should be empowered to proactively shape development towards the greater health and wellbeing of its citizens.

NOTE: Text in italics represents direct quotes from the Raynsford Review.

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Is planning about land licensing or a creative practice of shaping places with people? – Raynsford Review #2

This is the second post exploring the Raynsford Review of the English Planning System (see the first post here). The review was undertaken during 2017 and 2018 and the final report was completed in November 2018.

During the process of analysing the evidence collected, two divergent views were highlighted, over what planning’s purpose should be :

  1. The first that planning’s purpose is to facilitate the private market through a residual form of land licensing to support ‘growth’;’
  2. The second that planning was designed to regulate the market to achieve long-term public interest objectives in relation to sustainable development’.

In terms of professional planning skills and processes, a tension was highlighted over ‘whether planning is a form of land licensing, which implies one skills set, or the much more complex and creative practice of shaping places with people to achieve sustainable development’, which implies another.

During this evidence analysis phase, the Review identified that:RR Real VoiceAs director of Waymarking, working on community-led planning, regeneration and economic development, this call for community members to be given a ‘real voice’ in decision-making processes about how their neighbourhoods are shaped and developed, is very welcome.

The review set out 10 key propositions which it then explored in depth, before making its final recommendations, they are:

10 Propositions
1   Planning in the public interest Land and the built environment should be regulated
2   Planning with a purpose                         Improving the health and wellbeing of people
3   A powerful plan-led and people-centred planning system Expressing community aspirations and co-ordinating growth
4  A new covenant for community participation Enshrining democratic accountability
5  A new commitment to meeting people’s basic needs                                                        A right to basic living conditions and genuinely affordable homes
6 Planning from local to national An integrated framework of mutually supporting plans
7 Alignment between the agencies of English planning Better co-ordination between public institutions
8 Simplified planning law Creating a logical set of powers and structures
9 A fairer way to share land values          Drive down land prices to achieve real public benefits
10 The creative and visionary planner    Use the principle of ‘Do no harm’

Three more posts on different aspects of the review’s recommendations will follow shortly in March 2020.

NOTE: Text in italics represents direct quotes from the Raynsford Review.

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Planning’s role could be to ‘positively promote the long-term sustainable development of the nation and the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals’

These next few posts are going to be about the TCPA’s (Town and Country Planning Association) Raynsford Review of the English planning system. In 2017, I took part in one of the Raynsford Review consultations to gather evidence, to enable the review team to examine the current English Planning System. The Review analysed the evidence gathered from over 2400 professionals (in both the public and private sectors) and then made a series of robust recommendations to change the English planning system to make it significantly more fit for purpose.

Of the 24 recommendations, for me, the most significant recommendation is:

RR Planning Purpose

This recommendation goes on to define sustainable development as having two goals:

PDF #1

Refocussing the purpose of planning towards genuinely sustainable development (including promoting social justice and reducing inequality), towards the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals would be a major change from current national policy. This would shift the planning system back towards its original purpose of being about public health, and the management of land for people and communities on the ground who live and work in their places, in the long-term public interest.

Having read the final review report and its recommendations I’m very interested in whether this in depth reframing, can be a useful discussion and potentially practical tool for communities, planning and regeneration professionals and other sectors concerned with placemaking and community development in England (Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have all undertaken their own devolved approaches to planning). For the full review for details of each recommendation, (

NOTE: Text in italics represents direct quotes from the Raynsford Review.

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