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.