Working together on cooperative neighbourhoods

On Wednesday 25 January, the School hosted a participatory workshop reflecting on the use of communities within recent policy agendas. It considered the emphasis placed on “localism” over the last nine years, the forces driving it at the national level and how it has been interpreted in northern, urban locations. It also asked how a localism agenda might be reworked to better reflect the needs of these areas.

The event was organised by Dr David Webb of the School, with partners Greening Wingrove and the CHAT Trust, and funded by the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal and the Global Urban Research Unit.  This participatory workshop is the latest output of their collaborative partnership, building on their project Reclaim the Lanes which worked with residents of an area surrounding a back lane in the Arthur’s Hill area of Newcastle.

The workshop proved extremely popular, around 85 people attended from local authorities, charities, community interest companies, Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, consultancies and arts organisations.

The morning was structured around several presentations with time for panel and table discussions.  After an introduction to the themes from Dr Webb, he and Caroline Emmerson (CHAT Trust) presented their work on Reclaim the Lanes. Caroline Gore-Booth (Giroscope Ltd) talked about collaborating around self-help housing in Hull and after some initial reflections, Alan Barlow (WEA Greening Wingrove Project) presented Wingrove’s community innovation fund. Armelle Tardiveau (Newcastle University) and Cllr Marion Talbot (Newcastle City Council) talked about their experiences of co-designing Fenham’s Pocket Park.

Read the morning presentations at the links below:

The morning panel discussion was led by a presentation from Annabel Davidson Knight (Collaborate CIC) which reflected on early attempts in Oldham to use public services to support community action. She described their intention to create a virtuous circle, with learning and feedback generated from community hubs being used to adapt and update the way services were provided locally.

The afternoon presentations also focused on the use of community hubs, with Tony Durcan (Newcastle City Council) explaining the importance of digital for reducing the cost of service delivery in the city, and setting out Newcastle’s support offer for those who find it difficult to use digital technology unaided. Mark Cridge (MySociety) then explained the use of Fix My Street as a way of encouraging more efficient and transparent reporting of environmental problems. Rob Webb (Transmit Enterprise CIC) described the potential benefits of the Poverty Stoplight system and Pete Wright (Newcastle University) set out the work they have been doing to promote digital civic technologies in Newcastle. An interesting discussion was had on the use of digital to promote a culture change in public services, including the sometimes unseen benefits of face to face communication and the dangers that innovation might be driven primarily by austerity.

Read the afternoon presentations at the links below:

The event allowed for the sharing of experiences of community work from around the region, with numerous insights being offered during the morning panel session. Many of the themes raised were also relevant to Newcastle City Council’s policy cabinet meeting, which directly followed on from the event. Despite the huge challenges presented by austerity, it was interesting to reflect on the variety of responses being taken both by community organisations and local authorities. The experiences of Oldham and elsewhere show that creative ways of promoting joint working are emerging, and that future reflection on these may have much to offer for the way we seek to manage our cities and neighbourhoods.

Dr David Webb is Lecturer in Town Planning and Director of Engagement in the School

Making changes through participation

How do you get communities more involved in their local environment? What changes can be made that can really make a difference to surroundings with a limited budget?

This post from Lecturer in Architecture Daniel Mallo explains how a project in Fenham in Newcastle helped the local community realise a different vision for their public space. This post first appeared on the HASS Research Impact blog.


The Pocket Park idea came about almost by accident. Fenham Ward, in the West End of Newcastle, had received some funding for a Sustrans DIY Streets Project to involve local people in improving their area, making streets less car focused and more generally ‘help them redesign their neighbourhoods putting people back at their heart.’ Through an ESRC IAA grant we supported Sustrans’ work by strengthening community aspirations and sparked inspiration into the potential of their local environment.

DIY Streets Fenham

DIY Streets Fenham

To begin with we used various methods to find out how residents felt about their local area. We built a basic scale model encouraging locals to interact with it, helping them imagine what could be possible. Temporary wooden seats were also placed along the street where cars normally parked so residents could see the impact of making these changes in a more physical way.

Later we conducted a focus group using large photographs of the street that could be sketched over, to foster further discussion amongst participants. During these different stages local people identified a need for a place where they could sit and watch the world go by. Many residents also commented that the library, swimming pool and doctors surgery on Fenham Hall Drive formed a community hub but that there was nowhere to wait for their children. Taking these ideas into consideration the project concluded with a pop-up public/play space between the library and pool for four days, which gave members of the public, residents and other stakeholders the opportunity to experience the potential impact of a public space in the area. This temporary space showed, more than a model or image could ever do, the way in which people could change their environment for the better.

All of these experiences strengthened the desire for the community and all the various partners involved – members of the City Council, local residents, Fenham Association of Residents, Fenham Library, Fenham Swimming Pool, Sustrans, Your Homes Newcastle, Newcastle University and Fenham New Model Allotments – to seek funding for what they now call a hub for Fenham Hall Drive. A group of local people, in partnership with Fenham Association of Residents, were successful in being awarded £15,000 from the Department of Communities and Local Government to build a Pocket Park, which opened on Saturday 21 May 2016.

Pocket Park Opening

Pocket Park Opening

After the park had been created, participants in the project formed the Friends of Fenham Pocket Park, a community group that helps promote the use of the space by local residents and visitors of all ages, alongside a chance for people to volunteer, learn new skills and help support the Pocket Park’s maintenance and future development.

Cllr Marion Talbot, a City Council ward member for Fenham who was involved in the project from the beginning, was interviewed about the Pocket Park when it was opened this year. She said that “it has been refreshing the way residents, community groups and organisations have all joined together to make this project happen; and unite with a common goal of providing something extra special for the area and forging invaluable working relationships that could prosper in years to come.”  You can also read Cllr Talbot’s blog post about her experience of working with the University.

From a research point of view the process of collaboration between various groups throughout this project was thought-provoking. It put the different participatory design approaches we use to the test and at the same time helped local people plan a useful space that is beneficial to the whole community. The project only ran for 18 months however it has had a lasting impression on Fenham and its residents: that is the best kind of impact any research can have.


Daniel Mallo is Lecturer in Architecture in the School.

Creating a shared vision for the Northumberland National Park Local Plan

In this post, Dr Paul Cowie explains how an innovative piece of theatre is helping shape Northumberland National Park.

The next phase of the Town Meeting project starts with a dress rehearsal of the new version of the Town Meeting play. Over the past year, Cap-a-Pie and I have been working with Northumberland National Park to create a version of the play that will help the National Park start the consultation process on the new Local Plan. The new version of the play aims to link the Local Plan being developed now with the actual planning decisions it will affect over the next five years. Often communities do not see the need to get involved in the process of framing the Local Plan as they see little direct relevance to their lives. Only when, a few years later perhaps, an actual planning decision has to be made using the plan do they get involved.

Clennel Street

Clennel Street

We hope to change this by creating a fictitious planning application set within the National Park which takes place in the near future. The scenario aims to test the community’s views on certain planning principles and their vision for the National Park. The new play also has a secondary aim, which is to highlight the limits of planning. Many issues that concern communities do not fall within the domain of the Local Plan. For example issues such as better public transport links or more community activities. In the statutory planning process these are often seen as a distraction. However these ideas need to be developed and encouraged. It’s hoped our new co-production process can also capture these non-planning planning issues and connect them to resources and people that can help.

As far as we know, this is the first time this method of theatre as a tool for planning has been tried so there will be a more traditional consultation process running in parallel to the theatrical events. However we hope this will be a fun and engaging way to get involved in what can be a quite off-putting process.

If you’re in Northumberland and are interested in framing the new Local Plan for the National Park in a new and innovative way we will be holding events in Elsdon Village Hall on the evening of the 18th October and in Harbottle Village Hall on the evening of the 28th October. See the Northumberland National Park website for more info.

Dr Paul Cowie is a Research Assistant in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

Governance and Self Governance

In this post, Jenny Crawford reflects on a  seminar held earlier in the summer as part of the ESRC Series Neighbourhood Knowing and Working.

The Ultimate in Self-Governance?

Our seminar took place during a momentous week in UK politics. Two days later, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were to find themselves facing the immediate economic and social fall-out of Brexit. The ‘Leave’ campaigners were claiming a victory for the principles of sovereignty and self-governance. ‘Remain’ campaigners were lamenting the loss of, among other things, hard-won institutional mechanisms of international co-ordination underpinning the functioning and regulation of markets in the pursuit of public welfare. Even more fundamentally, individuals were revisiting assumptions about their own citizenship and self-identity.

Self-governance implies self-empowerment. Are we caught irrevocably in the belief that the ultimate in self-governance is a state of sovereignty based on exclusive occupation/ownership of territory and decision-making powers and rights? Although our seminar was addressing this question at the scale of the neighbourhood, it seemed to bridge the scales in such debates. Indeed, as Simin Davoudi illustrated in her introduction, both the UK’s European referendum and the practice of neighbourhood planning involve the rhetorical opposition of ‘big state’ versus ‘small state’. While “the smaller the state, the greater the self-governance” may be the dominant discourse, what assumptions underlie this assertion and what cul-de-sacs may it lead to? What do we actually mean by neighbourhood self-governance and empowerment in the context of hugely complex and significant interscalar connections and interdependencies? Such questions lie at the heart of our understanding of a liberal democratic state.

Neighbourhood Renewal is Dead – Long Live the Neighbourhood!

Keith Shaw (Northumbria University) helped us calibrate our deliberations by comparing the New Deal for Communities, launched in the late 1990s, with the present situation. The New Deal promised central government intervention to ensure that “no-one is seriously disadvantaged by where they live”. In contrast, current government policies result in the state no longer being a pro-active player or investor in local regeneration. Instead “neighbourhoods” are being enjoined to wrest resources from market processes through their own policy and ownership interventions. It is hard to see how deprived communities that have been economically and/or socially excluded from such market processes can invent and coordinate such activity without, at least, considerable supporting resources from external sources. Rather, they face ongoing “empowerment to fail”, investing too little to make a difference, in the wrong places to achieve looked for outcomes, and at too great a cost to individuals and local institutions. Indeed Keith argued that, since the New Deal ended, the real rescaling of power has been to city regions and the emerging combined authorities, by-passing local authorities and elected members and constricting empowerment mechanisms for the most local of scales. Public services and investment overall have been cut. Thus the shrinking state shrinks public space and abrogates responsibility for public services to a disempowered voluntary or “community” sector.

Where there are community interests in taking over public services or public policy-making at the local level, the issue of whose interests those are remains difficult to clarify. Inclusive and representative government is designed to counter control by elites at all levels. This has been an issue of bitter debate at the level of EU membership and has played a distinctive role in the outcome of the referendum. Yet it is at the level of the neighbourhood that questions about what mechanisms are in place to balance prejudice, vested interests and outright exclusion of other valid interests, remain most unanswered.

“Don’t tell me I’m in a deprived community!”

The shift in focus from public welfare to citizenship rights and responsibilities holds out new possibilities for public policy and research. In this context, Keith suggested that there is potentially much to be gained from focusing on an asset-based approach as opposed to a deficit model (which can elicit negative responses from those citizens who understandably do not identify themselves as being “deprived”). Rather than citizens being constrained to define their boundaries and what they need (lack) within those boundaries, an asset-based approach encourages innovation in “soft spaces”. Such space can be focused on shared well-being (e.g. affordability and quality of housing or open space), ecological health (including low carbon living and restoration of ecosystems) and creative capacity (through e.g. education, communications and mobility).

Peter Biggers, planning co-ordinator for the production of  a neighbourhood plan for ‘front runner’ Alnwick Neighbourhood Forum, discussed what can be achieved in terms of outcomes through what he described as “empowering communities” and “doing everything at the lowest possible level”. He argued that it is the neighbourhood, not the local planning authority, that should decide what a plan contains. However the overall focus remains on the outcome of creation of “better places”.  This recalls the tension between a focus on boundaries and identities associated with notions of “place” on the one hand and the exploration of soft space emerging from social and environmental values and relationships. The development of new projects and services, as part of the supplementary community action plan, and improved dialogue with the local authority, described by Peter as being successful outcomes of the neighbourhood planning process in Alnwick, involve such “soft space”.

“Is this our plan or are we being manipulated?”

However, Peter described concern that the new statutory neighbourhood plans have become dominated by complex and centralized rules set by national and local government, which effectively alienate local contributors and require (sometimes expensive) technical help. Among the most challenging aspects for a neighbourhood forum, such as Alnwick’s, are constraints on what can be legitimately included as a “planning matter”. Indeed the Alnwick draft neighbourhood plan faces the loss of twenty policies as a result of its examination, largely on the basis of whether or not they involve “planning issues”. This suggests that at the scale of the neighbourhood plan, hard land use issues and related soft issues of community activity and management interact to such an extent that it does not make sense to separate them artificially.  Indeed, separating them could lead to a completely different set of outcomes to that intended by the neighbourhood participants. What is clear, however, is that innovations at the neighbourhood level are being explored, even if these are also the focus of considerable resistance and conflict, e.g. around the focus on affordable housing and the location and design of new housing developments in relation to green belt and open space.

The treatment of conflict in such arenas offers particular research interest as its management gives insights into the capacity of governance infrastructures at the neighbourhood level and their implications for wider decision-making. Community planning approaches embrace techniques that supplement campaigns, voting and referenda, in order to reach out to the otherwise excluded in an important development of representative democracy. Liz Juppenlatz’ study of the neighbourhood plan for the rural area of Tarset and Greystead in Northumberland revealed a process of renegotiation of local governance space between the parish council, the neighbourhood plan steering group and the local authority. Both Peter and Liz argued that neighbourhood planning groups have the capacity to be more representative of the broad spectrum of interests, assets and needs than has hitherto been the case in either local or parish council structures. This is not a cheap option for government, but it reframes the relationship between the state and society to reflect a growing understanding of the meaning of self-governance. It also suggests a greater focus on a recognition of planning as an integral aspect of citizenship, challenging not only market-driven but “feudal” and class-based exclusions in active engagement for change.

It is in this context that the capacity for local planning authorities to assume a bespoke mentoring role in relation to neighbourhood planning processes and products could be integral to the redefining of governance and self-governance. Such a role would involve both technical and communicative input, which in turn would require coordination, quality control and reflexive monitoring. This could be a critical aspect of the role of local elected members, positioning local authorities as enablers, first and foremost, of democratic representation and civic action, rather than primarily of services or, as has been increasingly the case, of service markets.

John Sturzaker of Liverpool University suggested that while wealthier (and predominantly rural) areas, which have dominated neighbourhood planning activity to date, may be coming up against the limitations of neighbourhood planning for securing control over local development, poorer/urban areas are increasingly seeing the potential of neighbourhood planning in the context of hollowed out, disempowered local authorities. Using examples from Liverpool and the Wirral, he described how some urban areas appear to be beginning to use neighbourhood planning as a legitimating focus for building social capacity and engaging disempowered voices with new networks and resources.

Reclaim the Lanes

Reclaim the Lanes

Hard space – soft space

Newcastle’s Greening Wingrove initiative, as described by Nigel Todd, pointed to the type of neighbourhood planning approach that could emerge in such urban areas, building on community development initiatives for both hard and soft space. Wingrove is described as a mixed urban area, of some 10-15,000 people, that is not only the most ethnically diverse area in North East but also among its most economically polarized populations. Using some financial help from Newcastle City Council’s participatory budget, the initiative has responded to the area’s dubious honour of receiving a Grotspot Award to develop “a different way of looking”. This involves a predominantly environmental lens, focused on activities such as litter removal, gardening, recycling rainwater etc, with a particular focus on shared civic space in Nunsmoor Park (described as “the heart of our area”). The award of Big Lottery Communities funding with a focus on combating climate change has opened up new possibilities for the leading residents group and a nascent Community Cooperative Group (CIC) to develop business planning and the further development of ambitions for local self-governance.

Among the objectives of the residents’ group in Wingrove is the engagement of the hundreds of private landlords in the area, currently subsidised by housing benefit of around £2.5 million per year but often with little expertise in management, in improving both environmental and social performance. Such ambitions for advocacy through environmental change, as described by Dave Webb, open up potential for what he termed a “critical praxis” that seeks new approaches to planning using action research. Dave referred to Lydon and Garcia (2015) in their book Tactical Urbanism describing the task of “breaking through the gridlock of what we call Big Planning” by working with popular discourses. He introduced recent work in the Reclaim the Lanes project in which marginalized groups of residents in part of Wingrove have been encouraged to engage in action and the early stages of planning for the use of environmental management resources, through events and activities designed to build trust and deliver immediate and tangible value for local people.

The core contribution of social learning based on action to local governance was also illustrated by Julia Heslop’s description of self-build housing initiatives. Again this involves a combination of hard and soft space. In this case such space is that of homes that work for the social and economic circumstances of particular groups, as determined by those groups themselves, whether working in Tirana in Albania or in a Crisis-led initiative for homeless people in Ouseburn in Newcastle. Roger Burrows’ research into the “super-rich” neighbourhoods of London provided a challenging and revealing contrast. It underlined the trump cards held by wealth, land ownership and largely free markets in land and fixed assets. Sixty-two individual billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of world’s population. Around half a million of the world’s “High Net Worth Individuals” now choose to live around the great parks of London. Against such a hand, even “powerful” communities, with high levels of social and economic capacity have struggled to have a voice in the leafy environs of Highgate. The inequalities and exclusions generated by these markets can all too clearly be seen to require intervention at the level of national and international governance.

London skyline

London skyline

Enter Doggerland

The seminar presentations and discussions were followed by a participatory performance of The Town Meeting by theatre group Cap-a-Pie, devised in collaboration with Paul Cowie  to explore group processes in community planning. The performance introduces participants to issues of power, representation and policy-making in the context of acting out decision-making about constrained and conflicting options for the development of a small industrial town in the windswept countryside of an imaginary Doggerland.  Those who took part rapidly found themselves railroaded into well-worn pathways and communication cul de sacs recognizable from real-world explorations of development governance.

At the outset of the seminar, Simin had summarised the underlying question for local governance as being what type of government do we have/want in order to achieve what ends? The presentations and discussions outlined the potential for researchers to work with development policymakers and practitioners, at and across all levels, to engage with complexity and diversity. This challenges simplistic perceptions of community identity and belonging, while forging new assets and capacities that can be realized by citizens at every level. The nexus of knowledge generation, knowledge exchange and policy development can be argued to be at its most creative as part of learning, collaborative planning communities. The instability of current governance relationships is opening doors to different and potentially more inclusionary kinds of conversation about social imaginaries of space and identity, as well as more exclusionary and destructive practices. These present a clear and urgent programme to be undertaken by such planning communities.

Jenny Crawford is a chartered town planner with extensive experience in strategic and environmental planning policy at all scales from community level to national.

She is currently studying full-time for doctorate at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Her focus is on governance, planning and ecosystem management, using coastal case studies.


Fenham Pocket Park

In this post, Fenham Ward Councillor Marion Talbot reflects on her experience of working with the University and other partners to develop and build a Pocket Park in the heart of her ward.

The Pocket Park came about almost by accident!

Fenham ward, in the west end of Newcastle, had received some funding for a DIY Streets Project to involve local people in improving their streets and making the environment people, rather than car, focused.

The project was coordinated by Sustrans, working closely with Newcastle University’s Architecture, Planning and Landscape Department.

As ward councillors we were able to build relationships with lecturers from the School, particularly Armelle Tardiveau and Daniel Mallo, which gave us access to expertise, skills, knowledge and a degree of challenge, which was such an advantage and pretty unusual.  To be honest I didn’t know that academics got stuck in and got their hands dirty. Literally in this case!

Our joint discussions helped shape the consultation for the DIY Streets and ensured that residents played a significant role in the final design.

Many residents had commented that the library, swimming pool and doctors’ surgery on Fenham Hall Drive formed a community hub, but that there was nowhere to sit, wait for their kids, or just generally hang about. The temporary intervention, designed, built and installed by Armelle, Daniel and their students, proved very successful. It showed, better than a map or diagram could ever do, the way in which people could change their environment for the better.

There was not enough money to change the temporary to permanent, but we had a sense of what could be done if we could identify more funding.

Then DCLG announced funding for Pocket Parks and, in a fit of enthusiasm, we applied.

We were successful and awarded £15, 000, of which £10,000 was revenue and £5,000 capital. We were pretty excited…then reality kicked in.

The timescale was very challenging.  We had to produce plans, check land ownership, agree a steering group, design the park, source and cost materials and plants, find a project manager, build the park, produce and deliver a communication plan, all the while remaining calm and reassuring DCLG and local residents that we could deliver.

It was fraught and the budget was tight but we had planned for contingencies, the project manager was brilliant and the park opened on time on May 21st. It looks like an oasis in a sea of concrete and is really popular.

Pocket Park Opening

Pocket Park Opening

This Pocket Park not have happened without the relationships we had already built up over the 18 months we had spent working together on the DIY Streets Project. Those relationships built trust, joint commitment and a better understanding of what we were trying to do.

Ian, Karen and I, as councillors, really appreciated the practical implementation of the theoretical and had seen how that had already worked so well.

We could not have delivered this without the skills the University contributed.

Cllr Marion Talbot, Fenham Ward, Newcastle upon Tyne
Cllr Ian Tokell, Fenham Ward, Newcastle upon Tyne
Cllr Karen Kilgour, Fenham Ward, Newcastle upon Tyne

To find out more about how the Pocket Park was developed take a look at the Storify for #FenhamPocketPark


Towards creative and integrated responses to demographic ageing in north east England

Professor of Ageing, Policy and Planning Rose Gilroy reports from the British Society of Gerontology (BSG) sponsored event held on May 26th at Newcastle University.


On a cold and miserable day in May more than 30 people from the University and the third and health sectors joined with older activists to consider how we can get more energy into our work on making the north east region more responsive to demographic ageing in a time of institutional and economic change.

Professor Tom Scharf from the University’s Institute of Health and Society set the scene in the first keynote.  He challenged us to consider what we mean when we say the phrase `age friendly places`. Are we talking about places that work for older people; that pay attention to inter-generational concerns, or that are dementia friendly? Can we really talk about any place as age friendly if people there have poorer life expectancy than the UK average? It was this demographic data that propelled Manchester to become an age friendly city. He suggested that inequalities need to be embedded into every age friendly vision and that every place, no matter how difficult the context, can make progress in some areas.

Prof Tom Scharf

Tom analysed both the Manchester and Galway examples of age friendly action, suggesting that the first was more bottom up while the latter represented a more top down approach with limited opportunities for the voice for older people. In conclusion he suggested that both responses can work but adopting a strategic approach helps and responses should involve all sectors. There is a need to strengthen the evidence base for developing age-friendly programme(s) and a reorientation of programme(s) required to ensure that the voice of a diverse population of older people is prioritised. More support is needed for older people who wish to become engaged in age-friendly initiatives and the Touchstone programme in Galway (and hopefully coming to Newcastle) is an example of this.

Following Tom, we heard from presenters who discussed place based approaches to ageing.

Patsy Healey and Jane Pannell of the Glendale Gateway Trust and Jane Field of the Bell View Service Centre talked about the way they had made alliances to both spread knowledge of their work, but also to lever in seed corn funding and influence key policy makers in Northumberland County Council. The problems facing all people, but particularly older people, in such a remote rural setting include extreme fragmentation of services and poor public transport which isolates people from services and support. Their goal was to develop a one stop shop to overcome this.

On a very different theme, Andy Ball from the Alzheimer’s Society talked about the need to develop a broad based approach to supporting people living with dementia to live as well as they can. Andy set out how the Society worked with a diversity of industry players, from supermarkets to the fire service, to develop a greater understanding of dementia in those organisations.

After lunch a session on service based approaches showcased Declan Baharini and Jonny Tull from the Tyneside Cinema who talked passionately about why the Cinema had engaged with dementia as an issue and developed the dementia friendly screening programme (funded by the Ballinger Trust).

A short film they shared with us showed older people living with dementia and their carers singing along and dancing in the aisles to the films in the pilot programme. An evaluation by attendees demonstrated unequivocally that, as an activity to share and enjoy, the pilot was hugely successful. A full programme has now been scheduled with regular screenings of films chosen by older people and their carers. A key message was to not be scared but to make a start!

Paul Hemphill of Age Inclusive talked about the need for businesses to confront the shift in working populations. He told us that an increasing number of cases on age discrimination are now coming to industrial tribunals and that good business leaders needed to be aware of the need for change and the key generational differences in their work place. Business must take action to prevent and manage chronic conditions and must adopt flexible practices in recognition of a greater proportion of employees who might be care givers for older relatives. There is a fundamental need for leadership and attitudinal change.

Our final keynote was Anna Round from IPPR who gave a data rich presentation on the ageing workforce – startling us with statistics on poor health in the north east and the implication for work, wealth and well-being in the face of extended working lives.

To what extent is there awareness of the needs of a growing body of older clients that older employees might serve more effectively? There is evidence that older workers exhibit high performance in jobs needing high levels of knowledge-based judgement, time-critical performance and social skills because mental characteristics such as reasoning, using experience, analysis and verbal skills strengthen with age. Contrary to popular myths, the productivity of older workers matches younger workers in ‘skill demanding’ and ‘speed demanding’ tasks. Anna argued that in the North East Combined Authority effective responses needed to consider the holistic impact of work and to liaise closely with employers, communities, skills providers and trades unions. There were interesting and workable models elsewhere in Europe such as Finland and the Netherlands.  The region needs to capitalise on the growth of older entrepreneurship by providing start up advice and more support.

BSG workshop

Following the presentations delegates broke into three discussion groups: demography and the economy; the role of civil society and age friendly place. To close the day, I asked the participants what issues they felt further seminars could tackle.

We closed with the following thoughts:

  • There is a need to consider inter-generational learning to create attitudinal change in society as well as real issues of intergenerational equity
  • We talk about design that works for older people working for everyone but what is the evidence for this?
  • What would new models of the life-course look like?
  • Current narratives of ageing focus on success and a glamourised image of the baby boomer – we need to acknowledge there are other narratives
  • Newcastle is a party city but who is invited? How do we diversify the cultural offer?
  • How do we address the issue of those who are ageing without children?
  • If the state is hollowing out what should be in its place?
  • What is the potential for bottom up solutions, particularly those led by older people?

By the end of the day we felt that there was both the energy and commitment to build a north east regional chapter of BSG with two events a year.

Watch this space for progress!

Rose GIlroy is Professor of Ageing, Policy & Planning at Newcastle University

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7864


Reuniting Planning and Health

On Thursday 7 April Dr Tim Townshend chaired an event that was jointly the FUSE Quarterly Research Meeting and the 4th in the ESRC funded seminar series entitled Reuniting Planning and Health.  In this post he reflects on the day…

Reuniting Planning and Health was the culmination of quite a few months of preparation and though it’s not the first such event I’ve organised it’s always a bit nerve racking on the day.  Will all the speakers arrive? Will the participants enjoy themselves? Will lunch be any good?!  As it was I needn’t have worried about a thing.

The day kicked off with a great overarching review of the need for planners and health professionals to work more closely together from Laurence Carmichael, Head of WHO Collaborating Centre for Health Environments – showing that while there is a lot of momentum behind the initiative there is much work still to be done. We then went north of the border with a presentation from Etive Currie, Glasgow City Council, who has been working on healthy planning initiatives for many years.  Etive’s presentation was full of amusing anecdotes about how local communities are not always initially receptive to such ideas!   However there were also lots of really good news stories about individual lives that had been turned around. This was followed by Lee Parry-Williams, Public Health Wales, who gave a very informative overview of progress with HIA in Wales – and also some insights into how political rivalries can stand in the way of real progress!

After a short coffee break, we had three further keynotes, Prof Ashley Cooper, University of Bristol, gave an excellent presentation setting out the complexity of linking children’s activity patterns to the built environment – it clearly demonstrated that for planning to deliver environments that are more supportive to healthy lifestyles, the research behind interventions need to be extremely robust. Lesley Palmer, Chief Architect, Stirling University’s Dementia Services Development Centre, gave a really thought provoking presentation on how to design with dementia in mind – highlighting sufferers’ altered sense of reality – while showing elegant design solutions that could be incorporated into any environment that seeks to be age-friendly. The final presentation came from Gary Young, Director at Farrells, exploring the NHS Healthy Towns Initiative, including some of the initial housing at Bicester, a great talk to end with as it brought together so many key strands.

In the afternoon there were four interactive workshops: The Casino, a theatre based workshop run by local group Cap-a-Pie, explored how a proposed regeneration project for a run-down seaside resort might impact a local community by actually asking participants to step into the shoes of the community themselves.  An experimental methodology, it seemed extremely well received by those who took part. Jane Riley, Joanna Saunders and Carol Weir, a team based at Leeds Beckett University, gave a great workshop on the ‘total systems approach’ to obesity prevention – with participants asked to think about how they could make a real difference in their own work – quite a challenge! Douglas White of the Carnegie Trust did an excellent presentation on the Trust’s Place Standard tool – which I’m sure participants will be using in future projects. Finally Pete Wright’s team undertook a kind of speed dating event for participants to become familiar with various aspects of the MyPlace project based at Newcastle University’s OpenLab.

I was really impressed by how participants became quickly absorbed – all the workshops were clearly thoughtfully prepared and the feedback overwhelming positive – so my huge thanks to all the organisers.

All round it was a fantastic day and all ran very smoothly – thanks very much to Terry, Ann and Peter the FUSE support team for all their help! And to The Core – it’s an excellent venue.

Tim Townshend is Director of Planning and Urban Design and Deputy Head of School.

Thinking Through Making

Our Thinking Through Making week took place from 1 to 5 February.  An annual event, this is a week-long ‘festival’ focussed on thinking, making and materials, with workshops and talks focussed on material practice.

From casting concrete to creating self-ordering biological systems, the variety of workshops and talks are a fantastic opportunity for students to engage with architects, artists, engineers, designers, thinkers and makers.

Thinking Through Making

We want to challenge students, open them up to new ways of thinking, inspire them and increase their understanding of working with materials.

We had a number of external participants who contributed and out students set up their own blog for the festival which you can read on the website

Working together for better planning

The School hosted a day workshop on 15 January, organised by Dr Dave Webb, focusing on how planning academics and practitioners can work together to respond to the crisis currently facing planning in England.  In this excerpt post he reflects upon discussions that took place.  The full version is available at Planners’ Network UK.

On 15th January 2016, Newcastle University played host to an energetic day of debate, centring on Michael Harris from the RTPI‘s provocations about the current state of academic research on planning and the areas where more work is needed. The essence of Michael’s argument is that planning research has become too closely aligned with qualitative sociological inquiry to the extent that very few scholars would now identify as economists. This was a point he made in July 2015 at the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) conference; one that led to a question being asked of the 200 or so academics who attended the AESOP AGM. Of those, less than a handful admitted to having a full training in economics. This has not always been the case, however, with many planning schools up until the 1970s offering a more balanced range of social and economic training. The question which was raised was therefore about whether we should we restore this balance.

Alex Lord and Simin Davoudi both presented passionate answers to this question. For Alex, one way to challenge those versions of economics which depend on a view of individuals as rational, calculative and self-interested actors is to demonstrate the contribution of alternatives such as behavioural economics (Lord et al, 2015). Simin, however, emphasised the narrowness of all economistic framings, their tendency to privilege axiomatic and reductionist conclusions and the fact that, all too often, government tends to seek instrumental, quantitative evidence once key policy decisions have already been made. Perhaps, then, it is more important that research challenges the values and ideological assumptions which underpin political decisions rather than being confined to a debate about which economic “answer” is the correct one.

I found myself being convinced by all three speakers, perhaps because there can be no clear-cut solution to this question. At the heart of these debates is a judgement about strategy in a context where, as Michael so rightly points out, academic research has been largely ejected from political decision making about planning issues. The idea of trying to re-enter decision making circles by acceding to economic framings of research is tempting for two reasons. The first is the suggestion that, by failing to do so, academics only offer one half of the possible response to neoliberal research and policy: by only challenging these at the level of their discursive construction and social effect we may fail to persuade those who are not amenable to qualitative arguments. Secondly, the issues raised by qualitative accounts may simply be seen as inescapable by those who believe there is no alternative to neoliberal economics. But these compelling arguments for more economic research in planning can be set against a reading of the changing nature of universities which warns of privatisation and of increasing pressure on academic research to be instrumental to the needs, and often the framings, of policy makers. By challenging policy makers “on their own turf” there is a risk of giving up the hard-fought institutional ground on which academic research agendas have traditionally been set….

[Read the rest of this post at Planners Network UK]