In a guest blog Paul Ede, PAS Volunteer, discusses how faith groups can play an active role in place making.
How do faith groups contribute to the planning system? The pattern of religious life in the UK has changed trajectory but not emerged as predicted 30 years ago. In Scotland, a decline of around 30% in Church of Scotland membership between 2008 and 2013 does not tell the whole story. In Glasgow alone over the last 10 years up to 90 new immigrant churches have been established. The implications have so far been more fully explored in England: recently the Faith and Place Network worked with the RTPI to produce a series of constructive and practical recommendations for such engagement. The report also offers case studies of groups and situations in England.
Is there more scope for productive involvement? The Independent Review of the planning system recently asked how engagement can be broadened and diverse groups can be more fully included in planning (Recommendation 47). This opens the door to revisit and showcase how constructive engagement between faith groups and planning can add real value to our communities and cities. As with any cross-sectoral partnership, caution understandably exists on both sides, but when relational equity is established and barriers broken down, meaningful potential can be released. At their best, faith groups like the planning system steward their energies for the common good. The concerns of planning are important to faith groups, and the concerns of faith groups are important to planning.
A Scottish Case Study – Clay Community Church (Possilpark, Glasgow)
Clay Community Church has emerged in Possil over the last decade out of an initial partnership between the Baptist Union and the Church of Scotland. ‘Clay’ connects with Possil’s longer term residents and is populated almost exclusively by people who live within 5 minutes-walk of each other’s homes and the centre of Possil.
Clay Pit Nature Reserve – helping to secure existing spatial assets.
Members of Clay Church worked alongside other local people to set up Friends of Possilpark Greenspace (FOPG) in 2008. Identifying the rich potential of Clay Pits, members of Clay Church brought this to the notice of FOPG’s committee. Involvement at the early stages of ARocha, a nature conservation charity with a Christian ethos, helped establish the conviction that the site was an ecological ‘gold-mine’. Clay members helped by consulting residents about the site and researching its history.
As awareness grew Clay members led the establishment of an annual multi-initiative event on site called Bats Beasties and Buried Treasure, a showcase with everything from kayaking and mountain biking to conservation tours and environmental arts. It eventually attracted 500 local residents and featured a wide range of partner organisations. Establishing FOPG further, members of Clay helped secure seed funding from a Christian philanthropic trust called the Seedbed Trust and helped facilitate the employment of a project worker. Eventually a Place-Making exercise was organised and plans formed to secure Local Nature Reserve (LNR) status for the site.
Glasgow Council and Scottish Canals made the site part of their agenda. In 2016 it has secured LNR status and European Union funding has been secured for a site now central to the area’s Development Framework. Clay’s members were catalysts in a process which owes much to other partners.
Community-led stakeholder speed-dating – collaborating to facilitate local engagement in the planning system.
In May 2015, members of Clay were part of facilitating a community-led initiative to engage future developers of the Hamiltonhill area. Representatives from four local stakeholder organisations were invited to a ‘speed-dating exercise’. Hosted in the premises of Clay Church, residents remained seated as the representatives cycled presentations with opportunities for feedback around four different tables. The dynamic was excellent, creating an atmosphere of dialogue where residents felt approached rather than talked down to from the front.
Faith communities remain some of the most important ‘anchor communities’ in deprived areas of Scotland, with long-term presence often translating into significant social capital. Buildings belonging to faith groups can facilitate diverse gatherings of the wider community. Congregations themselves are often constituted by a range of people who might identify as disabled, young, from minority ethnic groups, or from disadvantaged community backgrounds. If the planning system proactively engages with ‘ready-gathered’ faith groups, these groups will often as a consequence be drawn into the planning process.
Pursuing options through Stalled Spaces and the Right to Buy – rehabilitating vacant land for community use.
Next door to Clay’s premises lies one of Possil’s many plots of derelict land. It has potential for a public space that would be open and available for everyone in the community. Local authority planners have ascertained the ownership of the site (City Property) and facilitate early conversations about its possible leasing or purchase. Planners and places of worship can have a key role in enabling and facilitating such rehabilitation initiatives for the community.