Nick Wright, one of the creators of the new Town Toolkit, gives his view on how the free-to-use resource can help people change their local towns for the better.
For 20 years, I’ve been lucky enough to work on regeneration plans and projects in Scottish towns from Annan to Lerwick, and Stornoway to Peterhead. I’ve learned how one person like me can never know all the answers, but what brilliant things can be achieved when people work together. That means that deciding a town’s future must be a collaborative effort. It also needs to be comprehensive: doing one thing - like a marketing campaign, a new town square or a Christmas fair - is never enough. Each of our towns has its own unique and complicated mix of issues, opportunities and personalities, and layered onto that is a constantly shifting context including digital tech, politics, Brexit, COVID and far more besides.
This is where the new Town Toolkit comes in. It doesn’t have a magic formula that will make your town perfect. But it does give you a comprehensive range of tried and tested examples to give you inspiration, information and confidence to make your town better.
Back in 2015, the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Towns Partnership launched the original Town Centre Toolkit. It remains an excellent resource, but things have moved on since then: just think of the climate emergency, COVID and the ceaseless rise of the internet and smart technology.
So, when STP got in touch about revamping the original Toolkit, I was delighted but a little overawed: how could I do justice to such a mammoth task? But as we explored how to go about it - by drawing on the knowledge of over 200 experienced practitioners across Scotland - the idea emerged of a web-based Toolkit, drawing on real examples, which could evolve and grow over time. Most importantly, preparing the new Toolkit collaboratively with people on the ground would neatly reflect that towns themselves are collaborative endeavours.
Local authorities were among the diverse organisations contributing their expertise to the Toolkit. Both COSLA and a number of individual authorities – from Orkney through to West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute to Angus – provided case study examples of how they were collaborating with local organisations to improve their towns. While these examples covered all thematic areas, councils’ contribution was particularly strong in the area of building and property management, streets and spaces, and the sub-themes of vacancy and dereliction, town centre living, and ‘town centre first’ community facilities - plus of course the all-important role of facilitating collaboration amongst local players.
At the heart of the new Toolkit - towntoolkit.scot - are tried and tested examples, not simply enticing ideas. Those real examples, the vast majority from Scottish towns, will help you make positive change in your town, whatever your sector or organisation.
Many towns have done great things, and some of their stories are told in the Inspiration section of the new Toolkit. But the real added value of the Toolkit is the information, intelligence and inspiration that it draws together in one place.
For me, one of the most satisfying parts of developing the new Toolkit was thinking how to make sense of such a huge amount of information: giving enough information but not too much, making it easy to navigate, and appealing to different interests and learning styles - which is why there is so much use of video, for example.
Whether you want to dip in and explore, or you have a specific idea you want to research, I hope that the Toolkit works for you. Whether you’re in local government, a community group or run a local business, there’s something for you. You can drill down into detailed topics (like arts and culture, or buildings and property), get advice on how to organise yourselves in the Taking Action section, or just browse and enjoy the journey. And if something is missing, please tell us: that will help us fill in the gaps for everyone’s benefit!
Nick Wright is a chartered town planner, a qualified mediator and a trained facilitator. He is the founder of Nick Wright Planning.