Conference Report: Connecting People with Place - Lincoln 15 July 2010

Two issues inspired this event:

  • the imperative to move towards greater community engagement
  • the value of local distinctiveness – to residents, visitors and investors
View the speakers' presentations
Early arrivals to Lincoln on Wednesday 14 July enjoyed a familiarisation tour of the City led by Keith Laidler, former Director of Services at City of Lincoln Council and former Chair of (E)HTF. This was followed by a Reception held at the Guildhall which included a tour and informative talk about the City regalia.
Lincoln GuildhallIn the evening, delegates enjoyed dinner and an opportunity for information exchange on The Barge on the Brayford. 
On Thursday 15 July, Chris Winter, Director of HTF, welcomed delegates to the Old Palace (Edward King House) the former Bishop’s Place, set alongside the Cathedral. She set the event in the context of the Forum’s work and long relationship with the City of Lincoln. In 1990 Keith Laidler had Chaired the EHTF conference at which His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales (now the Forum’s Patron) gave a speech and PPG16 was launched by the Government Minister. Lincoln was also one of the pilot Historic Core Zones which has led to some of those initially radical measures becoming common practice and a greater emphasis on the value of high quality public realm and the importance of local distinctiveness.
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She said that one of the frequently raised points at the Forum’s recent seminar series on Conservation Areas at Risk was the fact that Character Appraisals and other important work was frequently ‘shelved’ and not widely available despite their value to communities and practitioners. This project – Heritage Connect – has addressed this problem by bringing a range of information to everyone to whom it can be useful – from tourists to developers.
LincolnShe introduced Graham Fairclough Head of Characterisation at English Heritage who talked in more detail about the value of local distinctiveness and characterisation. He said that “people are already connected to place, just as heritage exists even before experts define it”. But characterisation offered a way of seeing, looking at the whole and understanding what a place means to people. Character can also be an inspiration for adaptation in dynamic contexts, he said, for example the use of old farm buildings for housing. Heritage, he considered, is central to life, society and the economy – a basic resource. He also referred to the Faro Convention (Council of Europe 2005) which supported the value of heritage to society in a wide context. Passing on these assets and resources was not only the responsibility of professionals but needed the participation and involvement of ‘the people’. 
“Heritage Connect - using innovative technology to bring together people and information about the places they visit, live and work in” was introduced by Adam Partington, Project Leader City of Lincoln Council and David Walsh of English Heritage. The purpose of the project was to connect people with places, bringing information together and making it accessible via smart phones and desktop sites. To begin the exercise, the City had been divided into 108 character areas each of which underwent a Townscape Assessment – “a new way of describing the inherited character of the current townscape”. The use of new technologies could broaden access and add to the depth of information made available. Alongside this, personal perceptions added richness to the work.  The outcomes were to be interactive, with users able to add comments, memories and images. ‘Users’ were seen in very broad terms, including local people, visitors/tourists, developers/planners, educators/learners and local businesses. The project outcomes would have a role in neighbourhood management, place checks, the new ‘localism’ agenda and should help to engender ownership.

An example of information available in this way enhancing a particular development proposal was cited (see illustration below); the new building could respect the character of a sensitive site whilst still achieving the developer’s objectives.
   Initial applicationInitial application
  Final applicationFinal application
In conclusion, it was considered that Lincoln would benefit from its inherited environment and sense of place, and development management was likely to be a better informed process – “with greater clarity, rigour and speed in decision making” as well as an increased sense of local identity and community.
LincolnHeritage at Risk – a project to mobilise local communities to manage local heritage was the topic for Liz Bates of Heritage Lincolnshire. She described the project undertaken by a number of partner organisations in the county to collate up to date information about the condition of the historic environment and the main threats to it. This would help English Heritage to target research and resources, as well as offering a response mechanism for the concerns of local communities. A large number of volunteers were recruited, with Heritage Stewards completing surveys in specific areas. A number of useful lessons had been learned during the project which could be built on. Liz showed examples of the WebPages, which had been developed to collect the information, and the analysis of the outcomes. Special interest and social events had also been set up to offer added benefits for volunteers and to engage local communities. This way of working not only boosts local involvement but increases capacity and diversity. 
After coffee three case studies were presented to offer alternative approaches.

Mark Oakden, founder of Pocket Places explained ‘Pocket Norwich – an alternative to guide books’. Coming from an information management background, Mark has experience in a range of contexts and cited the example of non-intervention education in India as a demonstration of new technologies in making information widely available.  The current amount of paper leaflets, he said, was not environmentally sustainable and Tourist / Visitor information centres were resource intensive, therefore why not apply information management technologies to tourism, he asked?

EEDA had funded a wireless network city-wide in Norwich and he saw this as an opportunity. He learned a lot about the presentation of visitor information which needed to be visible and easy to use. Stories associated with places encourage exploration and engagement. Having developed the model for Norwich, Mark has gone on to a range of guides for such diverse places as Cambridge, Barcelona and York. ‘Apps’ he said are the future, offering not necessarily an alternative but an additional service. 
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Tony Wyatt, Associate Director of _space Group, presented “Characterisation with Attitude – a case study of Central Northampton”. With a rich heritage, grounded until recently in the shoe industry, and retaining a market focus, Northampton was originally looking for a tall buildings strategy but it became clear that character had to be at the heart of urban design. Stakeholder engagement uncovered the richness of the place by pealing back the layers. It had been essential to listen to local knowledge and to discover what was valued. It had also been necessary to analyse the pattern of movement as a part of the whole character. Ten character areas were identified, responding to strong local input about the boundaries of each of these. Key ideas came from the exercise: the need for good urbanism and placemaking and some generic design principles. A ‘pro-active’ document, including the baseline analysis, the strategic character area assessment and a tall building strategy, alongside training and web-based information sources have been developed to disseminate the outcomes of the project.
Northampton mapMovement is part of the character of Northampton
Steve Kemp, Director of Globe Consultants and SIP International, talked about using modern media to strengthen the distinctive urban heritage in Trinidad and Tobago. The essence of T&T, he said, was Carnival! Working there since 2006 he had helped to develop a new town plan for Trinidad, a village extension for Tobago, an urban design framework for T&T and was hoping that a National Spatial Strategy Development Plan would be going ahead despite the current economic obstacles.
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He illustrated the wide diversity of the islands, from beaches to urban sprawl and shanty towns to iconic contemporary buildings. The broad range of architecture included the many traditional, colonial style buildings which had fallen into disrepair, and restoration projects for these made national headlines. There were also extremes of wealth and poverty to be addressed if it was to become a ‘developed’ country in the next ten years.

The Urban Development Framework was web-based and offered interactivity and information links, with tools such as Place Check. Useful comparisons were made with Port of Spain and Barcelona, which led to proposals to widen spaces – creating boulevards – and introducing more urban design objectives and criteria. This work will be reviewed and the website updated, offering more on-line facilities, and promoting conservation strategies.

The new Government has embraced the localism agenda and there is a new emphasis on community consultation, with a role for the new digital media. Mobile phone and internet use is significantly higher than in the UK and plans for the National Spatial Development Plan community engagement will use this technology and social networks to develop the strategy – should it go ahead!    Steve added that a lot of what he had learned today would also inform future work in T&T.

Speakers were invited to respond to questions from delegates which included:
  • Funding? It took 3 ’person’ years to carry out the Lincoln assessment, with funding from HLF to develop the website, but the investment was worthwhile, with longer term saving to be made – ie: less time with developers, improved community planning and well informed projects. The Northampton project took 3½ months and cost £35k. Funding may be available from HLF for similar projects for other local authorities.
  • Is there commercial potential for the electronic visitor guides? There can be indirect benefits to business – affiliated sales etc.
  • Access for the partially sighted? On the Lincoln project facilities are downloadable via MP3 and images have alternative text.   

After lunch delegates took part in workshops to become ‘place detectives’ and to explore the Heritage Connect web-based facilities, designed to encourage them to look at it from a range of points of view – visitors, residents, developers and planners. They also had the opportunity to use smart phones to explore one of the character areas of Lincoln, lead by Adam and Pete Boswell.

We are very grateful to Globe Consultants for lending the smart phones which made this exercise possible.

Lincoln workshopSmartphone
After a busy afternoon, Chris Winter drew the event to a close, hoping that delegates would take new ideas and inspiration with them. She thanked officers from the City of Lincoln for all their work and help making the event possible, and Globe, ARFS and _space for their support, and all of the speakers for their participation.
Chris Winter, HTF Director - July 2010

View the speakers' presentations