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Project Description

To create a local context for future community and local development planning, giving confidence to local people and council officials to work together.

MAG, the Ministerial Advisory Group for Architecture and the Built Environment for Northern Ireland, promotes very local working to ensure that the talents, assets, detailed knowledge and realistic aspirations of the people and place are appreciated and differentiated.  Crumlin is one of the 40 Wards in Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and one of 460 in Northern Ireland.  There are approximately 4000 residents in each Ward.  Working at this level gives confidence to officials and people living locally to share and discover themselves and their places, together.  The process used emergent rather than predictive strategy, starting with a map, some blank paper, listening ears and no predetermined expectations or outputs.


The aims were:

- to learn together, advising the Council as the planning and community planning authority on local opportunities to work together for a better future

- to contribute on an experimental basis to the preparation of the Borough-wide plans, which appreciate the essential qualities and opportunities of the Ward and its people

- to avoid the homogenisation of the place which can be the result of using statistics as the basis for planning.


Activities were not planned in advance.  Explaining the opportunity and listening to people invited by the Crumlin Initiatives Group Network (CIGNET) helped us to spot local talents in video production, local history, environmental appreciation, photography, autism, dog grooming and handling, fitness, storytelling and many others.  We discussed a sensory garden and recognised that such a thing could take years – but sensory wheelbarrows might take just a week. 

Getting around the Ward, we explored the very local assets together on foot – Crumlin Glen where we walked, put up a tent, table and chairs and wondered why the Cockle House and toilets had to be locked to prevent anti-social behaviour and why nobody cultivated or seemed to care for the historic walled garden.  We crossed the road to the disused mill, met the owner and thought about new uses, including an experimental Men’s Shed, recognising the heritage of the mill and the landmark chimney.  We looked at the sensory wheelbarrows produced in Week One and noted that village residents had already been caring for them. 

We drove to the blue bridge, watched local lads fishing, met environmental improvers and admired the flat land approaching the lough shore with its Second World War buildings still intact.  We thought of adventures, like Swallows and Amazons, as well as seaplanes on the lough and tourists wanting to know more. 

We wondered too about a safer route to the shore and the legislation that might allow for a lower than 60mph speed limit on a quiet road for this country walk with prams, children and bikes.  We visited a nearby pub and modest marina to see what small changes in the physical environment could do, bearing in mind the special scientific interest of the lough.

Learning Outcomes

  • Local people, an elected representative and experienced officials learned together.
  • The professionals described the activities as being unique in their careers; everyone visited places they had never been before and having a Councillor participating in the Vision helped to encourage collaborative work with other officers.
  • People surprised themselves by thinking small and realisable; they had not considered miniature sensory gardens in wheelbarrows until that first meeting, but were fully able to provide them with their own resources – and in just one week! Nor had they conceived that a community key might be available for a unique asset – the Cockle House in the Glen – but the Council as the new statutory owner responded immediately when it was suggested that it could provide the key on request. It was made available at the Leisure Centre, once the Council had determined which agency historically had actually locked the gate!
  • There is an immensely complex system which maintains the status quo at a basic level. Enhancement of any place beyond a pilot study requires co-ordination. There is generally no responsible owner of co-ordination, so the status quo remains.
  • Continuing input from the community has to be fitted in among many essential aspects of life that involve families, work, domestic arrangements and regular leisure activities so it is important that any expectation of regular community involvement appreciates and develops these essentials rather than displacing them.


  • Statistics normally produced and presented for plan making would not accurately describe the people or places that we encountered. Nor would they discover the talents.
  • The Vision was largely qualitative rather than quantitative – the vision presented is from the heart and is realisable – however co-ordination and collaboration are essential but currently seem to be missing from too many job descriptions.
  • Common sense is naturally interdisciplinary, cross sector and multi-departmental. It does not therefore fit well with existing structures and projects which tend to be highly specialised, mono-functional, segregated and exclusive.
  • Significant actions in the Vision are realisable by participants and people known to them. Important progress can be made by being aware of the Vision and consciously fitting the actions into existing programmes, sooner or later. These may even cost nothing because they can be included in people’s normal lives and work, based on an awareness of the Vision and a spark of creativity when the opportunity arises.
  • “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African proverb.

Consultation Contact

Ministerial Advisory Group

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