Shape My Town: A planning toolkit for communities

Studying your town_ColouredIn a time of change in small towns, Shape My Town gets people thinking about their local area and inspires them to get involved in changing and improving it

Shape My Town has been developed to encourage and enable community-led, local planning.

Created by Matthew Jones of Coombs Jones Architects+Makers and the Design Commission for Wales, it builds on work understanding the physical character of a place, developed through the Design Commission for Wales’ publication My Square Mile and Ruthin: Market Town of the Future, an award-winning community-led town planning project run by Design Research Unit Wales at the Welsh School of Architecture.

Shape My Town provides an accessible, web-based toolkit full of useful information, guides and ideas to inspire and support community groups who want to play a part in shaping the future of their towns.

A fifth of the population of Europe lives in small towns of under 50,000 people. In many cases, these small settlements and market towns have a high historical and cultural value and a strong sense of place and distinctiveness. Many of these towns have experienced a period of stagnation caused by a decline in the rural economy. The draw of larger towns and cities where employment possibilities are greater has led to out-migration, often resulting in aging populations that can be provincial in their outlook.

A decline in the economic prosperity of towns leaves them with limited capacity to manage change, regenerate and attract investment. The complications of building in historic town centres – existing buildings, conservation areas, listed building consent, and limited plot sizes – deter developers who favour more cost-effective peripheral areas. The result has been peripheral housing, shopping and industrial growth, while town centres exist in a state of preservation.

However, this is a time of change for small towns. Spending cuts since the 2008 recession have reduced top down investment and local authorities have increasingly stringent budgets to deliver their services. In England, the localism agenda is transferring decision-making to local people and top-down is being replaced by bottom-up; and Welsh Government’s ‘Regeneration of Town Centres’ report recommends that within the framework of the local development plan, individual towns should have a comprehensive plan in place, developed by a partnership of stakeholders and the community.

The Welsh Government has identified the physical quality of the town and its rural areaas a key component in successful, dynamic small towns. In its recent regeneration strategy, it aims for vital and vibrant places. Taking this lead, Shape My Town gets people thinking about their local built environment, buildings and the spaces between them; and inspires them to make a difference.

Shape My Town is an online toolkit designed to inspire and equip people to play a part in shaping the places that matter to them. It gives them the tools and ideas to change and improve their towns, villages or public places.

Shape My Town is for anyone wishing to investigate the quality of their place, town, village or neighbourhood before investing time and money in improving it. It is a ‘how to’ guide giving people the tools to explore their place, identify what makes it unique and to plan for its future by:

  • Encouraging people to get together with others in the community and set up a town team
  • Using the step-by-step guide to exploring their town
  • Demonstrating how to make a ‘Plan for your Place’ in order to make their voices heard
  • Inspiring communities to make a real difference to the places which are important to them with example case studies
  • Providing ‘Townloads’ which are packed with useful information and resources to support the process



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