We believe that both residents and decision-makers benefit when local people are involved in shaping the place they live.
Most people share the opinion that the history and heritage of any town is important. Old buildings tell stories of how a town has developed, and certainly in the case of Brierley Hill they speak of a rich social and industrial history that has given this Black Country town its unique character.
Through this project we wanted to find out if local people also shared our belief that the character of Brierley Hill – evident in its historic buildings – should not only be preserved, but used to inspire and inform the future. Can an old professional market town maintain a strong sense of identity alongside its regeneration. Does it even matter to communities?
Is there such a thing as Brierley Hillness? Our project was inspired by a similar question being asked of ARC in Hull where they are trying to define Hullness.
Image of High Street pre-1970s courtesy of Ned Williams
Trying to define what Brierley Hillness is has been challenging. For some people it is the old buildings along the High Street, for others it is the memories of a prosperous industrial town that no longer exists. Some express Brierley Hillness in relation to social problems and an altogether much harsher reality.
While the strap line for the Brierley Hillness project was A community arts and heritage project where the people of Brierley Hill can reflect on the past and help shape the future many people have also chosen to reflect on the present and we have had some interesting, and creative responses to the theme.
Aim One: Influencing the future
The project’s first aim was to give a greater opportunity for local people in Brierley Hill to influence the regeneration process by contributing their thoughts, ideas and creativity about what makes the town distinctive and special.
As we know regeneration takes time. 2011 is an exciting year for Brierley Hill. The Area Action Plan for the town has been adopted, an Urban Design Supplementary Planning Document in relation to the design of the new town centre is out for public consultation and two stylish new landmark buildings will have been opened to the public by the end of the year (on left Stourbridge Art and Design Centre).
We thought it was the perfect time to empower local people to get more involved in the decision-making process – starting with Urban Design guidance for the town. See An overview of Brierley Hill’s Urban Design Guidance.
Brendan Hawthorne, a writer and performance poet working with us on the project, summarises what the aims of the project were in his speech at the project finale event in July 2011.
Filmed and edited by James Reader.
Aim Two: A creative approach to consultation?
The second main aim of the Brierley Hillness project was to demonstrate that using creativity and heritage as a starting point you can consult with people of all ages about where they live; helping them to express how they feel about the area, and motivating them to have a say in its future. It’s a non-obtrusive practical approach – and it really works!
Through arts-based workshops, reminiscence sessions, events, and talking to people on the streets, the communities who live in and visit Brierley Hill were invited to reflect on the past, talk about the present and share their aspirations for the future of the town.Tim Sunter on Creative Consultation from Jonathan Lee on Vimeo.
During the project over 360 local people of all ages contributed in some way to our understanding of Brierley Hillness; 70% of these people participated in one or more creative workshop.
We found that when we were asking people what they thought about Brierley Hill some people were falling into the trap of ‘Consultation’ and either coming up with stereotypical answers or answers that they felt were wanted. Certainly, creative activities helped people bypass these stock responses and come up with responses which were more thoughtful and relevant to them.