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 across Scottish towns – from Annan to Lerwick, Stornoway to Peterhead. I’ve learned how one person like me can never know all the answers and what brilliant things can be achieved when people work together. Without a doubt, 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. Every single town has its own unique and complicated mix of issues, opportunities and personalities, and then layered on top of that is a constantly shifting context – thanks to factors like digital technology, politics, Brexit, Covid-19, among so many more.
This is where the new Town Toolkit comes in. Although it doesn’t have a magic formula that will make your town perfect, it does give you a comprehensive range of tried and tested examples that can give you inspiration, information and the confidence to make your town better.
Back in 2015, the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) launched the original Town Centre Toolkit. It remains an excellent resource, but things have moved on since then – just think about the climate emergency, Covid-19 and the ceaseless rise of the internet and smart technology.
That’s why when the STP got in touch with us about revamping the original Toolkit, I was delighted but a little overawed. I asked myself, how could I do justice to such a mammoth task?
As we explored how to go about it – by drawing on the knowledge of over 200 experienced practitioners across Scotland – the idea emerged to create a web-based Toolkit which draws on real examples that could evolve and grow over time. Most importantly, preparing the new Toolkit collaboratively with people on the ground would neatly reflect the reality 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 (Orkney, West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute, 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 are tried and tested examples, not just enticing ideas. Those real examples, the vast majority from Scottish towns, will help local government make positive changes in their towns, 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. However, I think the real added value of the new Toolkit is the information, intelligence and inspiration that it draws together, all in one place.
For me, one of the most satisfying parts of developing the new Toolkit was thinking about how to make sense of such a huge amount of information. We had to weigh up factors like giving the right amount of information, 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’re in local government, a community group or run a local business, there’s something in the Toolkit for you. Whether you want to dip in and explore or you have a specific idea you want to research, it’s all covered. 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 so we can fill in the gaps for everyone’s benefit!