The new National Conversation launched by the Scottish government and the recent Green Paper on the Governance of Britain launched by Gordon Brown both seek to enhance and invigorate democracy, particularly at local levels. However, both documents have little to say about they will engage the wider public in their conversations, or what newly invigorated democracy will mean for the communities that make up the nation.

g2020_logo.gifIn Scotland, Community Planning Partnerships and emerging Urban Regeneration Companies (urc’s) are looking at with issues of “how to” engage meaningfully with local people and develop community leadership. There are even Standards for Community Engagement. The London think tank Demos made a recent foray north of the border to produce their Glasgow – Dreaming City document. The reaction and furore that document provoked, while purposefully intended, suggests that engaging in a conversation with a community or a nation about its future is not a one-off event but an ongoing dialogue. Politicians retreat to their parliaments, planners move on to their next job and Demos go to their new beach in Bristol. What happens to the people?

While all these initiatives gained media coverage, there are other, interesting developments using cultural planning approaches happening in communities themselves, far off the media radar.

Working with the grain of a communityCultural planning is an approach that uses the ‘culture’ of a community – that is, its history, environment, its community cultural development and underlying strengths and resources – to help:people, groups and communities to appreciate their current potential and to inspire the development of new ideas and skills. This has particular applications for young people, especially excluded young peopleplanners, regeneration professionals and community development workers to appreciate the depth, richness and potential of the cultural resources of a community and to inspire the development of new ideas and skillsbuild and use the creativity of local people and professionals to understand and develop the potential of their cultural resources which are then integrated into a broader development ‘plan’ for individuals and communities.

Examples of cultural planning at work:In South Lanarkshire, a group of traveller children from long established traveller communities developed and produced a DVD entitled ‘We are the gypsy kids’ using music and animation that celebrated traveller culture and speech and addressed issues of inclusion.In Shettleston and Tollcross in Glasgow, excluded young people produced ‘Alien8’, a film documentary that highlighted their concerns around the future of their community.In Clackmannanshire, young people at local primary schools produced Scotland’s first ‘green map’ for their community.In Highlands, Lochaber High School, artists and young people created Studio 13, which is an animation production centre and recording studio that produces CD’s of local bands and poets and local radio programmes by local young people and pupils at the school.

Moving beyond engagementAll of these examples show that young people can be involved in conversations about the future of their community but that a different approach to engagement is needed. This moves beyond consultation, planning processes and community engagement and instead sees young people and youth culture as resources that are central to the sustainability of their community. All of these examples are notable for their partnership approach that mixes not only sectors (local government, voluntary and community) but also professions. Building capacityThe National Cultural Planning Steering Group (NCPSG) has developed and delivered the first credit rated undergraduate level cultural planning training programme in Scotland, the UK and Europe. This was delivered as a series of masterclasses around Scotland supported by online resources.The first course has attracted thirty students from local authorities, community sector organisations and national organisations from across Scotland. All were involved professionally in engaging with communities as planners, regeneration professionals and community development workers. Students were actively encouraged to leave their professional ‘silos’ through an overt focus on inter-disciplinary approaches.Kate Wimpress, NCPSG member, adds “We are deliberately working across, and drawing from the strength and diversity of the Scottish community sector. We are already further developing and extending the course to bring training in cultural planning approaches into further education level community programmes and schools. We are building community participation from the ground up.Funding for the 2008 course has already been secured and the new student cohort are already beginning to sign up.


– Phil Denning and Liz Gardiner – NCPSG