Creating the story of a place

September 9, 2021   By Bonnie Hewson, Power to Change

The right narrative or story can make the difference in creating change. How can you develop them? Bonnie Hewson of Power to Change shares some inspiring examples from communities.

When you want to get anything done with others in a busy community you have to give them a reason to collaborate. A reason to prioritise that thing over all the other demands on their time.

More often than not, people get involved because of a motivation linked to their sense of being part of a place.

Whether it’s litter picking in the park, raising money to save the local pool, coming out on a rainy day to plant berry bushes on the common or choosing to buy presents in local independents shops rather than on Amazon – that’s the power of feeling that you belong in a place, and that the place belongs to you.

Local traders campaign in Bedminster, Bristol

For example, above are some posters on a street near where I live, Bedminster in Bristol. Local traders ran this campaign around the Christmas season.

Why does it work? Because more than the message or the nice products, it’s the pictures of the people that are really impactful. They are all familiar faces that I see on the street every day. The posters give me a sense that they are ‘my’ people and I want to support them because we are part of the same place.

Places creating stories to improve their area

Through my work at Power to Change I work closely with six community anchors in six deprived wards across the country. All of them use stories about place to some degree to help people understand what they are doing and motivate people to get involved.

Here are a few of the ways they have created local narratives that engage people in making their places better:

The Wharton Trust

Make Dyke House Beautiful campaign in Hartlepool

The Wharton Trust in Hartlepool is part of the Love Hartlepool campaign and also supports the ward level endeavour Make Dyke House Beautiful – they have provided funds for equipment for the residents to clean places up and to plant thousands of flower bulbs in planters in the neighbourhood.

Sometimes people just want a rallying banner – the story of making Dyke House beautiful gives them permission to be part of the changes they want to see. Together the residents of Dyke House, which is also a Big Local area, are achieving extraordinary things.

You can read more about The Wharton Trust on the Power to Change website.

Nudge Community Builders

Union Street in Plymouth

Nudge Community Builders in Plymouth has been systematically acquiring empty assets (3 so far) on Union Street, in partnership with others, in an endeavour to regenerate their local high street back.

They started as Stone House Action Group, hosting Union Street parties to bring local people together. Now, through creatively engaging the community in building a shared vison, they have now built something that is really transforming the area.

You can read more about Nudge Community Builders on the Power to Change website or their interview with New Local.

Made in Wigan

Image credit: Sarah Spanton in collaboration with Abram Ward Community Cooperative

Made in Wigan is an initiative of the Wigan and Leigh Community Charity. In 2019 they commissioned Waymarking to work with them and the local Neighbourhood Forum on auditing local assets and informing neighbourhood plan policy proposal maps. They also undertook to engage the community in designing the green-space focused elements of the Abram Ward Neighbourhood Plan through ‘Picture This’ visioning workshops.

Getting creative with sharing stories past, present and future about the physical spaces around them really helped local residents to get actively involved in the process. It also helped to build local pride, aspiration and inspiration and changed people’s perceptions of the local area.

You can read more about Wigan and Leigh Community Charity on the Power to Change website.

Creating joy

What do these places have in common?

They’ve all worked hard to create opportunities for togetherness in their communities – time for people to find common ground, co-create moments of joy, share ideas and imagine better ways to do things. Most importantly these are moments of human connection and listening that feel nourishing, not like consultation!

There are some fabulous place-based organisations that specialise in using arts and creativity to catalyse change in places through human connection – Take a Part in Plymouth, Interwoven Productions in Exeter, BloomInArt in Hartlepool and The Brick Box in Bradford to name just a handful.

There is so much to be learnt from the work of these organisations in understanding how to create genuine human-centred approaches to regeneration that are full of heart, and full of fun.

Bonnie Hewson is the Place Based Investment Manager for Power to Change, an independent charitable trust that supports and develops community businesses in England. 

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