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Event Summary

Pride in Place: Working to build a sense of place and social belonging

Written by Harriet Fisher09 May 2024

In March 2024, we held a Forum in Sheffield and invited a range of speakers who are working on projects that seek to build a pride of place in a local community, ranging from an artist to local authority officers. This article shares the key discussions and reflections from the event, and Harriet, our Learning & Development Manager, shares her own personal reflections on the topic.

Inequalities across England and in our cities

I grew up in Haringey, a London borough with a marked east-west divide.

My school, which once had a diverse intake from across the borough, increasingly became unattainable for anyone who couldn’t afford the rising house prices to live within the catchment area. As a teenager, it struck me as unjust that living just a mile apart could affect your life chances so significantly. It was these inequalities that first got me interested in a career in planning and placemaking.

The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report(1) published in September 2023, found that very clear inequalities across the country stubbornly remain. Two individuals from the same socio-economic background are likely to have different outcomes depending on where in the UK they grew up. Those who grew up in the southeast have the best upward occupational mobility rates; those in the north and southwest have the worst.

It’s important to recognise that inequalities don’t just exist between regions and cities but are an issue within places, too.

In Sheffield, a wonderful city that I am now proud to call my home, the impact of the north/south divide between regions in England is keenly felt. However, there is also a marked east/west divide within the city in every measurable outcome. A baby girl born and who lives her life in the west of Sheffield can expect to live, on average, almost ten years longer than a baby girl born and living her life about four miles away in the east of Sheffield by virtue of nothing more than the area she was born into.(2)

How do our communities feel?

Despite a renewed focus on addressing regional inequalities through the Government’s Levelling-Up programme, many communities still feel as though these issues are not being addressed. Forty years after the 1984 miners’ strike, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust said that ex-mining communities had been let down by a lack of investment, and a survey by Survation commissioned by the BBC(3) found that 73% of people living in former mining towns and villages felt that they had seen little or no progress on levelling up.

Placemaking can help to deliver the essential services needed for a good quality of life: - safety, health and wellbeing; a decent physical environment; access to a good education; and fair employment.

Our perception matters

Good placemaking isn’t just about service delivery, however. It is also about the feel and identity of places. Our perception of place and the stories that we tell ourselves about places matters. The challenge for built environment professionals is how to engage with communities to help them tell different stories about their place.

Historically, Sheffield’s story has been one of steel, football and strikes.

Mark Mobbs, Head of Place Branding at Sheffield City Council, shared with the Forum how he works to alter external perceptions of the city. By promoting different positive aspects of a city, place branding can help tell different stories about a place. For Sheffield, this includes moving from the world-renowned brand ‘Made in Sheffield’, which implies industrial heritage and tradition, to the new brand ‘Sheffield Makes’, suggesting the city is dynamic, creative, and forward-looking. Research by City Nation Place(4) into the place branding work that Mark does has shown that improvements in external perception of a place and its identity can have a tangible impact on tourism, investment and economic performance.

From changing perceptions to a clear vision and commitment to quality design

While Mark’s work is about changing external perceptions, the work of Urban Designer Harshada Deshpande and Regeneration Officer Matthew Hayman at Sheffield City Council is about delivering high-quality places Sheffield’s residents can feel proud of. Harshada and Matthew explained how they have held on to a clear vision, forged strong partnerships within the city, and developed resilient strategies to allow for change. Underpinning this approach has been a commitment to quality design, with design strategies and high expectations. This approach has been applied across the city centre, but also to Sheffield’s neighbourhoods including regeneration schemes in Attercliffe and Stocksbridge.

What does heritage mean to a diverse community?

Royal Borough of London Kingston-Upon-Thames Council Officer Nkechi Okeke-Aru is experienced in building a sense of place through heritage-led regeneration in New Malden town centre. New Malden is home to the largest population of Korean residents in Europe, as well as Hong Kong British Nationals, Sri Lankan Tamils, and the White British community. Nkechi spoke about how heritage means many different things to such a diverse community and how, through co-design and working in partnership with the community, including the New Malden town centre partnership, the Council delivered Jubilee Square. A new public realm asset with heritage at its heart. The Square is a community space that has hosted events such as family storytelling, outdoor cinema, food stalls and theatre performances, and is home to an asian themed community garden where local people grow and share fresh ingredients.

Jo Peel is building a sense of place through art

From a very different perspective, Jo Peel, an artist known for her distinctive line drawings documenting ever-changing city landscapes, feels pride in creating a mural in an “unloved area”, that people can connect with and feel ownership of, to encourage them to look at where they live differently, and to feel valued and proud of where they are. Jo emphasised, however, the need for the public sector to nurture their creative talent. Not just through one-off funding awards, but through simplified processes for securing commissions, through long-term sustained funding and through celebrating success.

Why building Pride in Place is essential for our communities

We need artists, built environment professionals, and marketers from across the sectors to work together to design and build better places. When people feel well connected, safe, and included in a place that they feel reflects them and belongs to them; and when they experience a place that is beautiful and sustainable; they feel more attached to the place. This place attachment creates a sense of responsibility and pride. Without a sense of pride, we can’t expect people to want to live in an area, work there, start a business there, or invite their friends.

Building pride in place is therefore an essential part of addressing poverty and inequality, supporting sustainable economic and housing change, and responding to the climate emergency.

Sources

  1. 'State of the Nation 2023: People and Place', Social Mobility Commission, 2023
  2. 'Fairness on the 83', Now Then Magazine
  3. '2024', Survation, 2024
  4. 'Place Branding: Solving the Measurement Challenge', City Nation Place, November 2023

Written by

Harriet Fisher

Learning & Development Manager

Contributors

Dion Barrett

Photographer

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