Creating caring places: placemaking in our town centres

What do caring places look like? How can planners, developers and project organisers contribute to the discourse around creating caring places? And what responsibility do they have to communities to help develop places that put people at their heart?

They are just some of the questions being increasingly raised by organisations in Scotland, trying to identify if there is a new way to focus on place and wellbeing in Scotland’s towns. Projects such as Carnegie Trust’s Kindness, Scottish Towns partnerships’ Town Centres First, or Architecture and Design Scotland’s Creating Caring Places are all exploring the importance of the quality of a place to the wellbeing of people who live there. But what does this mean for people who actually plan these areas, and what could they consider in the future to help develop more caring places?

The 3 P’s: place, people, practice

Many of the discussions around creating places which foster wellbeing and wellness centre around 3 key concepts:

Place: Understanding place and the impact that it has on wellbeing is a significant part of this agenda. The environment in which people live day-to-day has a significant impact on individuals and can be both a positive or negative influence. It can help to facilitate positive community interaction, creating stronger community ties and helping organisations and people to feel more valued within their community.

In order for places to be caring a number of factors have been identified, and these are common across research done by a number of organisations including Architecture and Design Scotland and the Carnegie Trust. These include: a sense of support (from people); a sense of purpose (stuff to do); a sense of place (familiar surroundings); and a sense of worth (feeling wanted).

People: Loneliness or social isolation has the same impact on health and mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Traditionally, it has often been assumed that older people are most often victims of social isolation (as they are less mobile and less willing or able to participate in community activities). Recently however more research has been produced which highlights the growing isolation of younger people. Understanding the nature of isolation, which impacts across the whole community, can help us to identify effective solutions which benefit and engage multiple groups.

Practice: This particularly relates to care within communities. The process of deciding where and how we care for the old or ill is a vital part of how we function as a society. Effective care extends far beyond the physical act of caring for someone, although this is obviously a key element. It also includes creating more and better jobs within the sector, and encouraging people to enter the profession as a worthwhile career choice; shifting the focus from acute to primary care settings and away from hospital-based emergency care; and giving people greater choice about how and where they receive care through increasing and improved personalisation of services.

There is a responsibility on both spatial and community planners to identify need and to create places which facilitate wellness, choice and care at home. This could be through the building of new infrastructure or more effective transport, or it could be through the creating of a community centre which offers recreational classes to someone who would otherwise have no contact with the outside world. Putting place at the centre of discussions provides an opportunity for a community approach to wellbeing, with strategies on placemaking being linked to other approaches such as asset-based, or strengths-based, planning.

Thinking about people like we think about the environment

Even as little as 10 years ago, the prevalence of environmental impact assessments for development projects was limited. Now we take for granted that we measure the impact of a project on the environment. What if we thought about people and in particular the risk of isolation, in the same way during planning processes? What if developers, planners and project organisers considered the “isolation impact” of a project, how it would impact the people of a local area, and whether it would specifically impact one group more than another (either for good or for bad), and reported on the steps they were taking to mitigate any adverse impact?

It is a striking notion, but creating a set of criteria to measure the social impact of developments, may be hugely useful if we are trying to place an increasing emphasis on inclusion and community within our town centres.

In fact, planners are beginning to realise the critical role they play in connecting services to people, and the necessity of understanding which services are needed in an area and how to make them as accessible for the whole community as possible. And while it is down to the community to use the resources they are given by planners to create connections and networks that help to combat things like poor mental health and social isolation, the decisions that planners make about how and where to plan in services and infrastructure can be the difference between someone leading an active and engaged life, and someone living a life where the only human contact they have in a day is a carer.

Planners can and should recognise the significant role they can play in making someone’s life more livable.

Final thoughts

Creating caring places for people to live and grow old in is vital to the success of our communities. Effective and thoughtful decisions on investments such as infrastructure and community planning projects can have a significant positive impact on wellbeing and reduce loneliness not only among older people, but throughout the community.

Increasingly, policy makers in Scotland are being asked to consider the human element of planning in their work. Creating places that allow people to feel safe, valued and happy is key for planners to help bridge the gap between the creation of places, and the wellbeing of people who live in them.


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How does leadership contribute to inclusive growth?

Image by Rebecca Riley, snapshot of graphic recording by siiritaimla

Image by Rebecca Riley, snapshot of graphic recording by siiritaimla

By Rebecca Riley

‘Local leadership for inclusive growth’ was the theme of the 11th Annual meeting of the OECD LEED Forum, aimed at bringing national leaders, policy makers and practitioners together to discuss how inclusive growth can be built from the ground up. It was a rare opportunity to see international projects tackling similar issues in local economic development and share knowledge and good practice. It was great to see so many of our own members such as @jrf_uk @ukces @neweconomymcr and @CentreforCities playing key roles in the thinking behind this event.

It was appropriate that it was held in Manchester, given that the city is undergoing something of a transformation in its future, with devolution deals, transfer of powers and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ agenda. We met in the amazing neo-gothic Town Hall, with tiled floors littered with worker bees, symbolising the Mancunian’s hard work during the industrial revolution (knowledge pulled from my long distant school days, to the interest of the Swedish representative I was talking to). This symbol of industry, depicting Manchester as a hive of activity and having a leading role in mass production, seemed an apt backdrop to what was a packed agenda. This agenda and format led to some key themes and ideas which sprung up across the two days.

Growth through people

At the centre of the discussion was the idea that people make places what they are. Panel reflections and questions highlighted the futility of building infrastructure that won’t be used and the importance of understanding the ‘consumers of place’ when developing. How can we create a demand led system?

Key to this was a thread asking how can you attract anchor institutions, to be part of the fabric of place, attract workers, provide employment or add to the cultural assets. Recent work published by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies working with Preston City Council has looked at the role of anchor institutions and how they can maximise their local impact.

Places need to take control of these relationships and their own destinies. This was echoed by the first round of panelists, Sir Howard Bernstein, Manchester; Roger Mogert, Stockholm; Jurgen Bruns-Berentelg, Hamburg; and Bob Van Der Zande, the Netherlands. They all spoke of engaging local people, businesses and visitors in their plans; competition at a place level with neighbours; engaing and getting the most out of national agendas; and being purposeful in their objectives.

Employment and skills

Given the monument to the Victorians which we were meeting in, it was inevitable that parallels would be drawn between the innovation of the Victorians and job creation – but how inclusive was that growth and what can we learn from their mistakes?

A major issue facing many of the projects showcased, was unemployment (especially amount the young) and solutions were very locally based, addressing very local issues. This tailoring of programmes and projects seemed to be the greatest factor in their success, and was in itself a powerful message for devolving powers and resources locally. However there were some lessons which could be applied across geographies, (echoed in the UKCES report Growth through People):

  • Understanding the local needs and matching employers to people
  • Appreciate the value and recognise benefits of vocational routes; earning and learning should be the gold standard
  • Employers should lead on skills, governments should enable them
  • Education organisations and employers should be better connected
  • Success is more than educational attainment.

There was, however, a lack of discussion about technology driven growth, and what the future of work will hold. The world is facing its next industrial revolution, whole new skills sets and industrial structures are now emerging and old skills are being replaced by technology.

I couldn’t help but think that the discussion would have benefitted from an exploration of the concept that “The idea of a single education, followed by a single career, finishing with a single pension, is over” and places should be embracing this fluidity of work and portfolio employment through their strategic and infrastructure planning.

Hollowing of skills and middle level roles

The work presented on ‘hollowing out’ was met with nods from across the room. This process where jobs in middle ‘transition’ roles are lost, which span the gap between low skill and high skill jobs, has been ongoing for decades however it’s now starting to really bite. Loss of jobs such as skilled trades, secretarial and administrative jobs and skilled manufacturing jobs has created barriers to aspiration and development and leaves people stuck in very low-end service roles unable to cross the divide. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and UKCES both provided excellent presentations on this and highlighted that this job polarisation has been magnified by recession.

Effective and collective leadership

Although there was a lack of opportunity to discuss what makes a good local leader in depth, the need for strong local leadership was reiterated throughout the event. The panellists and presenters often used a very broad definition of local leadership, from the parents, whose skills affect their children’s life chances; education providers and employers who need to build skills ladders and raise the floor on skills; to local civic leaders who provide drive and vision that places can get behind.

The leadership skills which did crop up again and again in the discussions, and were demonstrated by panel members themselves, reflected the new skills sets emerging across the board in all jobs, but are even more important in leaders:

  • Effective collaborators and partnership managers able to bring together coalitions, and able to ‘get people onside’ with what you are trying to achieve;
  • Increasingly networked, to learn from others, find new ways to tackle issues and access the people or organisations who can help deliver;
  • The need for clear vision but also flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and maximise opportunities;
  • Creativity and entrepreneurism to be able respond to continuous change;
  • Embracing of technology, innovation, and change, striving for creative places which draw the best people and are sustainable.

Breadth of interest

One of the most impressive and memorable elements of the event, was the use of Graphic Recording, capturing key quotes and ideas from the engaging panel discussions and full images can be found here. This technique helps to cement the ideas and thoughts of the event, captures the essence of the discussions and serves as an excellent reminder of the breadth of work going on in Local Leadership for Inclusive Growth.


The slides on the day are available to download here and a Storify of the event can be accessed here.

The Idox Information Service can help you access to a wealth of further information on local economic development. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading on the topics covered at the event*:

Tomorrow’s growth: new routes to higher skills

Describing inequalities in access to employment and the associated of geography of wellbeing

Local action, national success: how outcome agreements can improve skills delivery

Local leadership, local growth

Growth Cities: Local investment for national prosperity

A brighter future for our towns and cities

Looking through the hourglass: hollowing out of the UK jobs market pre- and post-crisis

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service