Tam McGarvey, Fundraising and Communications Lead at GalGael, tells us about the work of GaleGael and reflects on the importance of building community.

Heritage has been a vital element in GalGael’s work from the outset. Early on we recognised that many people had become disengaged from heritage- and by that I mean natural and cultural heritage, historical narrative, traditions, values, work and identity. Much of this disconnection may be down to economic and political factors, possibly for ideological reasons rather than reasons of economic necessity.

As was raised at the BEFS event, there is probably class issue and a certain amount of elitism in some areas of the heritage sector though there are plenty of examples where we can see people of different backgrounds working successfully together. I would cite GalGael as an interesting example. In our experience shared values can bring people together around a common cause they wish to support in a heritage context, maybe out of a spirit of shared intent to create something special.

On another front, while Glasgow has free access to many of its heritage attractions, many of Scotland’s historical sites cannot be accessed or enjoyed by people who are economically disadvantaged because; they don’t have the funds for admission or fares, especially if they have a family. They often don’t have a car, they are not sure what is out there and have some difficulty at first interpreting what they are looking at, maybe because it is the history of elites for instance, which may make it seem irrelevant to them. There may be a feeling that heritage is “for those other people”. However, having taken many groups to such venues there has been much improvement and our groups are often offered free access or a good concession, though less so if they go in their own time.

Galgael started out by building a traditional style of boat with hundreds of years of history behind it. Sourcing and working with the wood alone instilled a respect for the natural environment. Building the boat itself opened up swathes of fascinating history and GalGael folk from that time can still hold an informed conversation on the Statutes of Iona or the Lords of the Isles. Also, the medieval stone carvings of these boats in places like Rodel on Harris or images from the Govan Stones are frequently replicated in wood at GalGael.

I stressed at the event on a few occasions that the basic concept of our work is pretty simple (though it takes a huge effort to put it in place). As our founder Colin MacLeod put it; “We provide a venue, some tools and a bit of respect”. After that much of the healing or more therapeutic work takes place very informally through reconnecting with the work ethic, social interaction, teamwork, sharing similar experiences, advocacy and mutual support- with some training and a bit of leadership from GalGael staff and volunteers. The people who do the most powerful work are the people who attend. The staff learns from the participants and volunteers as much as the other way round.

Often we find people are becoming happier in themselves, building their confidence (we score highly on that), relationships have improved, medication often reduces and there is a decrease in negative forms of behaviour. Why? Because we have simply created and nurtured an environment for these things to take place- we have created a viable model of community. Why again? Because these are many of the basics of life that have been stripped from some sectors of society- in the name of a flawed notion of economic progress. Community is often seen as a barrier, and sometimes heritage is too, if it cannot be sufficiently commoditised and both are frequently “built over” by developers. From a community perspective much of the energy of our politicians has been weighed heavily towards favouring the private sector and communities are often sidelined in the process. These communities were traditionally “for” something, in the case of Govan it was shipbuilding and textiles, but many have lost their former prominence or identity. Perhaps heritage could be part of a strategy to regenerate communities, using the past to inform the future. Many grass roots organisations are embracing small scale local food production, small scale energy production, crafts and various other initiatives to regenerate from a grass roots level.

It has often been noted in GalGael that suppressed human instincts resurface when people engage with work, story, nature and community. We all eat together too which is vital. I would love to know how much the state has saved by these kinds of interventions by projects such as ours. In fact, intervention is the wrong word, as the community of people at our benches do the best of work themselves and heritage is very much at the heart of it.


Paul Ralph, Access and Inclusion Director at Euan’s Guide, tells us about the powerful and empowering tool, Euan’s Guide, from a user’s perspective.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about Euan’s Guide from a user perspective. By doing this I hope it will help to unfold the link between a modern 21st century website and the history, archeology and buildings of the past.

Let’s go on a journey…

If asked I would describe Euan’s Guide as a powerful and empowering tool for many disabled people, their families and friends.

You see for me it’s simple:

For me to do what I want to do, in the way I choose to do it I rely on the support of other people. A PA facilitates and enables me on my adventures. So people are very important in my independence.

I don’t just exist in a box and so it’s important for me to be able to get out and about. To visit the places I want to go but also the places I need to go. So in my world places are very important.

Thirdly, possibilities are an important part of my life. I like to think that anything is possible. You see it’s like this – I may not actually do something but it’s a great feeling to know that I could if I wanted to. That’s what I meant by possibilities.

For me to take part in community life and to enjoy many of the things others take for granted I need people, I need to know about the places I can go, and I like to be aware of the possibilities open to me.

The obvious question is where does Euan’s Guide fit? Let me continue my journey with you.

I started using Euan’s Guide to find out about the places I wanted to, or sometimes imagined I might like to, go. It was great to be able to get more details than just a wheelchair symbol or the curious statement of “disabled facilities” or “wheelchair accessible with assistance” – not that helpful to me.

It’s not just for me, as I could find out about places that were going to be welcoming for my friends. Friends like Ian and Kev who are visually impaired or Phil who is deaf.

Often Euan’s Guide reviewers talk about the experience on a people level – what were the staff like, what happened when you rolled up. Tips on what to look out for, ways to go, what to ask for. To many people they sound like small things but for me they make the difference whether I can make and enjoy a visit.

To be able to read what another powerchair user has written about visiting the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, going on a History walk here on the Royal Mile, or staying for a break in an old croft are a very empowering experience for me.

You see these are all places I had a fear of visiting as I didn’t know what might happen; Euan calls this the “fear of the unknown”. I am happy to report that as a direct result of reading what others had written on Euan’s Guide I’ve done all of these things! and some I’ll do again; perhaps not in the cold and wet of February though!!!

So you see, Euan’s Guide; for me has opened doors. But there’s more…

The places people visit get great feedback. Often they don’t know how good the experience they offer is. The museum that had a wheelchair height display book that I loved, the old tower house that offered me a video link to browse the inaccessible rooms and the curator who brought exhibits out from beyond the barriers for my visually impaired pal to touch and explore.

For me as a disabled person it was striking to watch the progress as the website was growing from grass roots of disabled people and venues working together and felt good. It’s driven by disabled people helping disabled people.

Here was the gift of spontaneity, in that I could take out my smartphone, open Euan’s Guide and press the ‘near by me’ button. I could see where to grab a coffee, find places I wanted to visit, and decide a visit would work for me. I could visit towns I didn’t know so well, if at all! I could find new places and I could feel part of my community.

That’s what I mean by empowering. It’s a great time in that we are seeing the coming together of so many technologies in a way that is enabling people. For Euan’s Guide it’s the availability of mobile data and wifi, the ability of GPS services to pin point where I am, and of course the many places that list and share their access information. Sometimes a permanent building, often a pop up place like an event or exhibition.

At last there’s a disabled access information web site that works fantastically well with my speech controlled computer or Ian’s laptop that reads to him or Euan’s eye controlled Tobbii. There’s a companion app that goes on the road with me and works to help me find places, tell me what I need to know, and is very much a working tool.

I want to end by sharing an ambition … I want Scotland to redraw the map, to call out communities, to people and get them involved in reviewing what’s in their local area and to share the access information they find. It doesn’t have to be complicated and could be as simple as telling people their local store has an accessible loo, the bank has level access or the archeological dig has an accessible viewing platform.

I want to extend this to imagine that the rich history of Scotland’s buildings, stories and places can be shared with everyone by opening up doors to disabled people.

Can you help Euan, me and my friends achieve that?


Dr. Peter Matthew’s, University of Stirling, provocative contribution to BEFS Heritage & Diversity event on 9 March 2016.

In the first draft of this talk I aimed to be provocative but conciliatory. However, in the end this version is just provocative; in fact I would go as far to say it is combative and it’s a good job I have to run off and catch the train to Stirling as soon as I finished otherwise I’d probably need bullet-proof armour to get out the room. What I am going to suggest is that the main trouble with heritage protection is that it is an example of middle class self-interest. People do not protect heritage for some transcendent, higher reason, but because it is in their own class interest.

In my research with Professor Hastings at the University of Glasgow we demonstrated that the because they take advantage of four different mechanisms. Firstly, they join groups that policy-makers listen to, often because they have statutory duties; the classic example being the Community Council. Secondly, they are just much more likely to engage in policy-making on an individual and group basis. What is more, when they do engage they are more likely to get what they want which is a further incentive to engage. Thirdly, they have greater access to people with the necessary expertise, and also the ability to understand complex technical language, to have influence in policy-making. Finally, policy-makers just make policy to suit the middle classes; because they vote more, but also because they know the middle classes are likely to complain if policy is not made to suit them and their demands.

You are now probably bristling and thinking “I’m not middle class!” or the more sociological question of “what does he mean by middle class?” There is a lot of evidence behind this talk that is available to access; but also the greatest revelation of this research for me is quite how middle class I am, and then using these mechanisms to get what I want.

Let’s apply this model of middle class influence to heritage. On the first mechanism, heritage groups are archetypal of this type of activity. Many started off as small groups of the great-and-the-good who used their influence to protect heritage – such as civic amenity associations – and then have gradually become a formal part of development processes and people who expect to be listened to.

We just need to look at the most controversial development decisions recently to see evidence of the second mechanism. I could reel off a list of controversial planning applications in well-to-do neighbourhoods in Edinburgh, but this would be unfair to my fellow citizens of this city. But it’s rather telling that the controversy over the proposed demolition of the Red Road flats in 2014 was largely one of the lack of taste in demolishing people’s homes during the Commonwealth Games ceremony, not uproar that we have housed people so poorly that the only sensible thing to do is to demolish their homes after 40 years.

In terms of the third mechanism – I lived in a listed building. It is listed because it is a unique collection of early nineteenth century industrial buildings, with a restrained classical façade, with dressed stone and proportional fenestration to the road elevation. Do I need to say any more? Most people don’t even know what fenestration means – it sounds more like something you’d see your doctor about rather than windows. Further, far fewer people who know someone to contact to tell them what fenestration is so they can get listed building consent and planning permission to do something about their windows. As the story of the Tinker’s Heart movingly showed, you are in a system that actively excludes people who can’t “talk heritage”.

Now the fourth mechanism. “Ah” you’re probably thinking, “look at the Royal High School! The St James Centre! Caltongate! There is no way he can say development policies are suited the interests of middle-class people!” Yes I am. Because the evidence is fairly obvious. As Dr Madgin suggested, we value places based on judgements of taste that come from a specific cultural background. When we afford an untouched neighbourhood of working class council housing the same level of protection because of its social value as we afford Edinburgh’s New Town, then I’ll accept that policy is not made in the interests of the middle classes. But it seems we struggle to even have a reasoned discussion on this. The only suggestion is that we merely continue to expand existing protection systems, slowly allowing different kinds of heritage – industrial, working class, associated with a specific minority group – because we expand the definitional envelope of what should be protected very marginally. We need a discussion about whether we have the right envelope at all.

Why is this all class interested? At its most basic, itprotects house prices which are the largest asset for most people. But all this social capital – the links to people of influence; and cultural capital – the valorisation of certain aesthetics and the language used to describe them, puts middle class people in positions of power and influence. And they, you, we, are not going to give up that lightly.

So now I’ve revealed myself as the, self-described “envy-driven author trying to pass off as an intellectual” I’ll don my flak jacket and tin helmet and beat a hasty retreat.




Bill Pagan, Board member of BEFS and founding Board member of Cupar Development Trust, reflects on the impact of BEFS small towns review of 2014 and the formation of the Cupar Development Trust (CDT).

In 2014, a BEFS team, led by Professor Cliff Hague, then BEFS Chairman, visited six of Scotland’s Small Towns. Their populations ranged from nearly 23,000 down to 5,000. The outcome of these visits was BEFS’ “Small Towns In A Small Country” Report, which can be found at here.

Subsequently, the BEFS team visited Helensburgh to prepare a report on that town, on the day the main Report was launched there. Then in July 2014 the team visited Cupar, Fife, a town of around 10,000 people, and prepared an additional Report. This Report was well received in Cupar, both as an accurate summary of the issues facing the town and as a welcome indication of potential ways ahead.

Cupar Development Trust (CDT) has since been formed, with guidance from Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS). A Charrette for Cupar’s town centre – “CuparCould” – will happen in the middle of March 2016, funding being in place thanks to the Scottish Government’s Mainstreaming Fund, the Big Lottery Fund’s “Awards For All”, and Fife Council. The preliminary steps have already happened, and have produced enthusiastic responses from pupils of the town’s schools, among others. Cupar Could is being delivered by PAS, with Julia Frost in the lead.

The arrival on the scene of CDT complements Cupar’s CARS and THI schemes, running from April 2014 to March 2019, with funding of £1.5M. Major works under these schemes include work on the County Buildings, which occupy much of the south side of St Catherine Street, part of the main route through the town. (These buildings include the recently closed Sheriff Court, but the Court is not part of the scheme.);  re-use of the old Burgh Chambers, a prominent domed building at Cupar Cross; and renovation of some of Cupar’s historic Closes which follow the town’s medieval layout. Building work on a scheme for Affordable Housing in part of the County Buildings is already nearly complete, and will provide a measurable increase in the number of Town Centre residents; the Burgh Chambers may be used for Tourism; the renovated Closes will improve pedestrian access in the Town Centre.

Cupar has in recent years suffered from its “missing tooth”, a prominent gap site on Bonnygate, at the heart of the shopping area and on the other part of the main route through the town. The gap was caused by the demolition of a former landmark building which had become unsafe. The site is believed to be uneconomic for development on its own.

CDT have been working closely with Fife Council and the CARS scheme to identify possibilities for linking the gap site to other opportunities, in order to achieve something closer to economic viability, though it is likely that public funds will be required to make ends meet. It is common knowledge in the town that there is a proposal for developing the backlands behind the gap, which lead – through additional historic Closes not at present available for public use – to the third of Cupar’s principal streets, Crossgate. Such a proposal will require the agreement of existing proprietors, and probably contributions by some of them. As well as innovative commercial and retail provision, any development will be likely to include Affordable Housing, so CDT and Kingdom Housing Association (KHA) jointly commissioned a thorough Report by Architects, Engineers and Quantity Surveyors. The Report, which is confidential for the time being but is expected to be available on the CDT website in due course, has rightly pointed out the financial realities of proposals of this kind in an area where the value of the completed development will not be of the highest. Fife Council is fully aware of the likely request for support, and has been involved in the discussions.

The creation of CDT, its link to Cupar’s CARS and THI, and its foray into a possible partnership with KHA, Fife Council and relevant proprietors, are truly positive outcomes of the BEFS visit in July 2014. It is no breach of confidence to say that the BEFS Report, in full, is an Appendix to the Report. CDT complements and co-operates with longer established Cupar groups, which are already bringing a buzz to the town. There is continuing good press coverage, and an exhibition in the town’s Corn Exchange will take place on 2 March.

Arc prepare Cupar ‘backlands’ regeneration plan


Karen Grant, Reforesting Scotland and the Campaigner for the Thousand Huts campaign, tells us about the launch of good practice guidance for new hut developments.

80 members of the planning, architecture and building professions gathered at the Scottish Parliament on 23rd February to celebrate the launch of good practice guidance for new hut developments. ‘New hutting developments: Good practice guidance on the planning, development and management of huts and hut sites’ was developed by Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts campaign to support the rolling out of Scottish Planning Policy on huts.

Welcoming the report, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

“Huts and hutting are a great way for people to enjoy Scotland’s outstanding natural environment, with all the benefits to health and wellbeing this can bring. I very much welcome the publication of this guidance, which I hope will provide an important opportunity for many more people in Scotland to enjoy the recreational benefits associated with huts and hutting.”

Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts campaign team and Planning Advisory Group spent 2 years working with planning and building professionals to produce the guide to help planners, architects and hut builders alike achieve good practice in new hut developments. This work was supported by The Planning Exchange Foundation, and has been reviewed by planning, legal and tenancy professionals in the public and private sectors and at a local and national level.

Hutting in Scotland

70 years ago Scotland had a thriving hutting culture: hundreds of small wooden huts dotted around the country. They gave an opportunity for industrial workers on low wages to get out to the fresh air and peace of the natural environment with their families. However, until recently, the lack of any formal recognition of hutting in policy or legislation has been an impediment to the building of new hu


A new era for huts

A new era was ushered in when revised Scottish Planning Policy 2014 included supportive policy on huts, indicating that the demand for huts for recreational use is one of the matters that should be addressed in the preparation of development plans.

Now the Scottish Government Building Standards Division is analysing consultation responses to the proposal that huts be exempt from building regulations (with some exceptions). The result of this consultation will be announced in Summer 2016.

As a result of the more favourable policy and planning framework for huts, Reforesting Scotland is beginning to see new proposals for hut developments coming forward. We recently surveyed over 800 people who would like to have access to a hut for recreational use. The demand is large, and growing.

The guidance is based on the SPP definition of a hut:ts.

A simple building used intermittently as recreational accommodation (i.e. not a principal residence); having an internal floor area of no more than 30m2; constructed from low impact materials; generally not connected to mains water, electricity or sewerage; and built in such a way that it is removable with little or no trace at the end of its life. Huts may be built singly or in groups.

The document covers a wide range of planning considerations including: What is a hut; use patterns of huts; where might huts be built; services; and provision for management of the land around huts.

To download a copy of New hutting developments: Good practice guidance on the planning, development and management of huts and hut sites go to www.thousandhuts.org.

Karen Grant, Reforesting Scotland and the Campaigner for the Thousand Huts campaign.


Cara Jones, Archaeology Scotland, reflects on what heritage and archaeology can contribute to wellbeing in response to BEFS Annual Lecture 2016.

I will start this blog post with a disclaimer – I am an archaeologist, I am not a planner. I have, however, worked within a large planning department and I have spent half of my career working in the commercial archaeology sector – conducting impact assessments and supporting the excavation of archaeology in advance of development. Heritage and archaeology is often perceived as a constraint to developers and rarely is it linked to contemporary wellbeing (although that is changing). I have worked on many developments where we have had to balance the ‘value’ of the heritage against the ‘value’ of the development. Often the heritage AND the people get lost in those discussions and ultimate decisions.

Yet heritage and archaeology is a powerful mechanism for putting a ‘place’ into context. One key aim of our Adopt-a-Monument scheme is to make heritage and archaeology accessible and relevant to all, by offering opportunities to get actively involved in local heritage. Projects like Women at War, which worked in partnership with Ross-shires Women’s Aid to record a World War Two airbase and research the role of women who served at the site. Participants said that Women at War changed the way they looked at the landscape and heritage in general. This heritage project challenged their perception of what heritage and archaeology can be, and helped them develop knowledge and interest in their local landscape and their local heritage. Participants not only developed a new understanding and appreciation of their local historic environment and the landscape it was situated within, but also developed new skills and self-confidence, which they have begun to apply to other aspects of their lives.

So if engaging with their local heritage can transform and develop an individual’s sense of place, and with that, a sense of their own identity, how can we incorporate this into long term place making which will help towards engaging with disenfranchised audiences?

People know their spaces and places, often much better than ‘we’ ever will. One of my favourite elements of each Adopt-a-Monument project is conducting that initial site visit – meeting the community group and the heritage asset they wish to ‘adopt’. While I have professional training and have accrued specialist knowledge, which can support their project, it is their stories and personal connections which make that place relevant to contemporary lives. My skills enable a project to take place, within policy and legislative frameworks, but it is the community group who decides which tasks to take forward, which stories to tell. Nick Wright quite rightly touched on how better consultation with communities can sometimes resolve tensions arising from planning decisions.

Alex Neil mentioned that we no longer plan, we zone. In my career I have been involved with masterplan developments – these large scale, forward thinking visions, allows for heritage ‘constraints’ to be identified and either mitigated against (i.e. micro-siting around the archaeology) or identified as ‘something that will need to be dealt with’. Yes these plans go out for community consultation, but are the views of key stakeholders really taken into account? Should the community not be involved at a much earlier stage?

A large part of my job is to listen to community groups – what heritage is important to them and how can we help facilitate a project around their passion and enthusiasm. At times we need to reframe tasks, utilise the evident enthusiasm and passion for heritage but redirect it to achievable outcomes. The most important element about our work is that it is community-led, co-designed and ‘co-delivered’. We believe that this approach leads to a more sustainable network of community heritage groups – they feel empowered, entitled and qualified to monitor their sites and speak up for their heritage. They feel a sense of ownership and belonging. Could this approach not be applied to planning frameworks?

Sir Harry Burns was correct in that the public aren’t always able to make informed decisions about planning needs and urban requirements. His example of the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Campus was a powerful one – the public wanted smaller hospitals dispersed around the city, but that concept was no longer compatible with delivering a modern health service. Our planning system still needs to be a practical one.  However, I was struck by the comment by the representative from Planning Democracy – that there is much inequality in the planning system. Through our work, we certainly see that. The ability to mount an eloquent and ultimately successful protest of the destruction of a heritage site in advance of development takes skill, specialist knowledge and is often time consuming. These skills are in short supply within some Scottish communities. A more open and accessible planning process may help address this.

I was troubled to hear about the streamlining of the planning process – yes, we should make it far easier for communities to engage with the planning process, but not at the expense of a full impact assessment of a proposed development, however large or small. As we see large scale cuts hit local governments and with that, budget reductions for planning authorities, we feel those cuts keenly in the heritage sector. After all, who cares about heritage when there is no money for more essential services? I feel this is a dangerous line to tread. Streamlining planning assessments could lead to further damage or desecration of the local heritage which matters to that community. In response to David Cameron’s pledge to blitz ‘sink estates’, Sir Harry Burns passionately pointed out that Scotland had tried that in the post-war era and it didn’t work. I thoroughly agree – these examples of built heritage are still just that – representative of a community’s heritage, and if we start to bulldoze heritage, we do not improve wellbeing, we destroy identities.

Years ago, one volunteer remarked to me that their community archaeology project brought together participants from ‘all walks of life’, yet as the project progressed, they became ‘a shared community of interest’. Those words have always struck me as vitally important and again words which can be applied to planning and wellbeing. Alex Neil said we must build communities, not just developments; I agree with this and believe heritage can play an important role in that process. Communities are brought together by commonality and heritage can be one way of finding that commonality – either through a shared past or a shared interest. At a literal level we can look to the past to see how communities and identities are created – both through the theoretical ‘ties that bind’ people together and the physical environment that they inhabit. As we have seen with our Adopt-a-Monument projects – understanding the heritage of a ‘place’ can lead to appreciation, value and in turn improved self-worth, self-belief – attributes Sir Harry Burns mentioned as causes of ‘wellbeing’.

Cara Jones, Archaeology Scotland.


Nick Wright, Convenor RTPI Scotland, recounts his key message from BEFS Annual Lecture that planners have a vital role in delivering ‘healthier places’.

BEFS (Built Environment Forum Scotland) this week organised an evening seminar asking: How can the planning system contribute to wellbeing in a fairer Scotland? Alongside Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights and Sir Harry Burns, Professor of Global Public Health, University of Strathclyde, I was delighted to represent RTPI Scotland on the panel. The evening was chaired by Petra Biberbach, Chief Executive of PAS.

Alex Neil began the evening by emphasising the absolute need for planning to create healthier places. Harry Burns then described how those healthier environments might look and feel. I felt it was then my turn, as the planner, to take up the vital challenge of explaining how we might deliver those healthier places.

This post recounts what I chose to say. My key message was that planners have a vital role in delivering the ‘healthier places’ that Alex Neil and Harry Burns rightly say are so important for our future. 

Back to our roots

Health and wellbeing shouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for the planning profession. Our roots lie in Victorian health and sanitation concerns. But planning moved away from those Victorian public health concerns in the 20th century, a reflection that cholera, typhoid and smallpox are no longer the issues in our towns and cities that they once were.

Health and wellbeing have, however, returned to the top of the UK planning agenda in the last decade. Not due to a re-emergence of deadly infectious diseases like cholera; but linked to pollution, lack of exercise, obesity and – as Sir Harry explained very articulately – a lack of empowerment over many of our lives and our communities.

Isolated examples

There are some excellent Scottish examples of planners trying to address health and wellbeing. For example, the nine Equally Well pilots promoted by the Scottish Government while Sir Harry was Chief Medical Officer, including one in Glasgow’s East End that I was was fortunate enough to work on with Glasgow City Council and Willie Miller Urban Design.   The East End pilot took forward Harry’s premise that planning for health and wellbeing (or wellness, to use Sir Harry’s preferred term that is more encompassing of mental and spiritual well-being) is not just about physical environment interventions – less air pollution,walkable neighbourhoods, access to greenspace for recreation and nature – but also greater empowerment for individual people over their lives and the future of their community. In other words, a more engaged and empowered community is likely to be a community with greater levels of individual wellness.

The trouble is, examples like the Equally Well pilots are relatively isolated.  Although physical interventions like more greenspace, less air pollution, more carbon reduction and more walkable neighbourhoods are now finding their way into planning policy, we are only slowly making Harry’s link between community empowerment and health/wellbeing.

But there is a big opportunity here. The Scottish Government’s clear focus on community empowerment and the Review of the Scottish Planning System means that planning is in an ideal position not only to support community engagement and empowerment, but to link it more explicitly with health and wellbeing.

I explained in the seminar that, from my perspective as a planner, there a number of ways of achieving that. For example:

  • Keep on mainstreaming the physical interventions about walkability, carbon reduction, pollution and greenspace in planning policy, masterplans and other plans.
  • Better integrating spatial planning and Community Planning – a much talked about but rarely achieved challenge, with a few local authorities including Angus, East Ayrshire, Fife and North Lanarkshire pioneering new approaches that can lead led to joint initiatives between town planners, community planning and the NHS.such as Motherwell town centre’s dementia-friendly garden.
  • Learn from excellent initiatives like Glasgow Centre for Population Health, which has for a number of years worked hard to link various public sector players around a central agenda of health and wellbeing.
  • Genuinely give more opportunities to empower communities to shape their places. This is one of the stated objectives of the current Planning Review – which is why RTPI Scotland’s response, alongside others, put forward suggestions to the Planning Review such as more community engagement early on in the formulation of plans (to give communities more influence) and more mediation (so the locus of control of a community’s future remains closer to them, rather than centralised to a distant ‘authority’).

Planners as brokers

There is another way that planners can support better health and wellbeing. It’s perhaps less obvious, but potentially very powerful. It’s by thinking of ourselves as brokers.

Let me illustrate this through an example.

I am currently working on Community Action Plans for three villages in South Lanarkshire: Coalburn, Douglas and Glespin. They have been with wave after wave of job losses and challenges of rural isolation (although they do also have wonderful levels of community activity and resilience). Just last week, I was speaking to a local GP who said that the most intractable problem for these communities, in his view, was disengaged young men causing misery in their communities.

Those words really struck me. What on earth, I thought, can land use planning possibly do to solve such a challenging social and economic issue?

At face value, I thought, nothing. Planning policy, planning applications and Local Development Plans can only fiddle at the edges. But, reflecting on it, I realised that there is actually a great deal that I can do – if I recognise that I am a broker.

I can organise a meeting or workshop to broker that GP meet with social enterprises, businesses, housing associations and local authorities who might never otherwise have met, but who all have a shared interest in making those communities better; who knows what collaborations might come out of those conversations to help the disengaged young men. Equally, the Community Action Plans that I will help produce can overtly support local employability initiatives or improved access to opportunities, increasing their ability to tap into community benefit money from windfarms or other sources of funding.

So – there are very real things that I, as a planner, can do to help those disengaged young men lead healthier and more fulfilled lives. Simply by realising the power that I have as a broker, I personally can do something very significant to deliver the built environment and improve people’s lives. All we need to do is make connections and get people talking.

Nick Wright, Convenor RTPI Scotland.


Phil Prentice, Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, reflects on the correlations between health and place in Scotland’s towns.

What image does your mind conjure up when you think of Copenhagen, Vancouver, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Vienna or Monte Carlo? Modern city living, sustainable communities, engaging cultures. Yes, all of the above…and they are all also the same names that often feature in the top 10 healthiest cities to live in the world. These endless surveys measure intangibles such as Creativity, Liveability and Quality alongside tangibles such as Amenities, Cost and Pollution. But what do they tell us about the realities of living in Barrhead or Kirkcaldy? Aside from a luxury break or a once in a lifetime holiday, just how many of us will ever get the chance to live in these cities, and would it make a difference to our life chances or indeed life expectancy.

A recent report by the World Health Organisation stated that the average life expectancy for a male born in Calton, Glasgow was 54. In India the figure is 63 and in Lenzie, the figure is 82, which just happens to be the current UK average. Work by Sir Harry Burns over the last few years has shone an important light and drawn strong correlations between health and place; however these issues are complex and are still to be fully explored and understood.

However, that said, the evidence is sufficient and robust enough to suggest that nicer places tend to have healthier people and that the built and natural environment is a very important factor in the health of the surrounding resident population.

Define nicer.

Nice house, nice town centre, nice people, nice life. As opposed to damp and cramped tenement, a dirty and neglected town centre, sick unemployed neighbours and no hope.

The most powerful word in all of the preceding words and imagery….hope.

Sir Harry and others can talk much more eloquently than I about all of the above, but hopefully I can provide a few ideas around solutions.

At Scotland’s Towns Partnership we have spent the past year building new collaborations and trying to knit the whole towns agenda together. Scotland is a nation of towns, but the town narrative is less well articulated that cities. Towns have suffered and their transformation has stalled. The promise of a networked urban system, with choices, to support an increasingly diverse society has not yet been met. Yet our towns are a living legacy of our history and culture, even the most cynical amongst us will have an emotional attachment to their home town or village, a childhood memory, a sense of pride and identity, we acknowledge their famous sons and daughters, it’s who we are, part of our fabric and DNA.

Our towns are not homogenous and whilst some are doing well, many are at a crossroads. The continued drift of talent and youth to city economies, structural changes in retail where we use tablets, online, click and collect, out of town and destination shops, the ongoing impact of the economic recession, dysfunctional property and housing markets, welfare reform, less disposable local income and a fast shrinking public sector.

So if no one is coming Towns need to do most of this for themselves, whether through a BID, Development Trust or a loose collaborative of the willing. Get together and agree on what a nicer place could be, start believing in your combined strength. This is your problem and only you have the solutions. Base your investment decisions on evidence, make a plan that is achievable and realistic, be resilient but also ambitious, understand what your key assets are, your unique tale, embrace the town centre first principle and best practice and look at building the widest possible partnerships. Start talking to other towns to see how they are coping. Explore how tourism, digital, public services, retail, commercial, health and greenspace, housing, leisure, transport, museums and attractions, events and marketing can all help build better places. Success will come from better public-private-third sector working and more joined up community planning partnership decision making. It will also improve community and with that, our health.

Phil Prentice, Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership.


David Thompson, Director of DPT Urban Design, compares Wellbeing to quantum physics in response to BEFS Annual Lecture 2016.

Wellbeing is a little like quantum physics.

According to the latter’s principles, we don’t know the definite position of a particle until it’s measured by an observer.

So it goes with wellbeing. There’s only a particular state at a particular point in time. Wellbeing is dynamic and ever changing and it’s the key truth Sir Harry Burns explained within his presentation.

To get close to designing a wellbeing system that identifies actions, before thinking through the role of Development Planning within it, the system could:

  • Gather data very regularly – a highly engaging set of processes to understand ‘the now’;
  • Identify the ‘initial conditions’ – identify those aspects that lie behind what we see when we engage; and
  • Adapt to emerging needs – have an agility that affords changes in direction and purpose.

A system would need measures or indicators to know if changes or interventions are having an impact. This is where it starts to get very murky. I’ve viewed a recent presentation that identified over 2000 separate indicators in a literature review. 2000!!?? Room for debate then?

Perhaps not. We do know that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides much of the context for wellbeing and we also have a model for appreciating the Determinants of Health. The central tenant within this very complex landscape, one that was covered in the presentations, is that having a network of people you know really matters. Some people may call this a community. It turns out that if this network or community have a shared purpose that helps bring meaning and a degree of control to everyone’s lives then even better. Having an agreement on this approach or assertion seems a useful starting point.

How does the Development Planning system fit with this idea? This system is far more simple, in (very) short, it states where new development is built and what it looks like, how we manage changes in existing built and natural contexts and a process for making decisions. So in theory, this sounds interesting and useful to thinking about wellbeing.

Is it? Thinking about the need to gather data very regularly and respond very quickly, a Local Development Plan is 3 to 4 years in the making and has a shelf life of 5 years. At the extreme end, if an idea is missed at the Main Issues stage (right at the beginning), it may have to sit there for 8 years until it can become an action (reconsidered in the next Main Issues report (5 years later) and enforced in the subsequent Adopted Local Development Plan).

However, based on experience, many of the issues raised within the Development Plan making process by people, relate to aspects of their life in the context of how they live and interact with their place.  It’s highly unlikely that we are going to see protests outside Council offices with a banner saying ‘that street you’re proposing to be built in 7 years’ time isn’t conducive to social interaction and should be realigned to better connect with greenspace!!’.

Scotland’s Community Planning system is shaping up, alongside the integration of social and health services, so perhaps the main focus lies here, instead of ‘Main Issues’ exercises.  The collaborative processes happening across Scotland right now (of which I’m privileged to be part of two), within the Scottish Government’s Charrette mainstreaming programme, offer the chance to get data, asks questions, find out what matters and propose actions, regardless of a particular system.

I’m convinced the rules of how we design new places can be written on a side of A4 (by rules I mean the key aspects that shape new development, not window details!) so every new physical context we build in Scotland is consistent and helpful to those that live in it. Here’s a challenge to someone, what would a wellbeing diagram within a master plan look like? What would it show?

One insightful comment made the point that the focus of the Development Planning system keeps changing. There’s some truth in this. Place-making has replaced sustainability, resilience replaced it to some degree and now there’s a focus on wellbeing and health.

We know that our perception of the world we see is based on the information received through our senses and interpreted in our brain into a model of understanding. Without a consistent approach based around the aspects of wellbeing we do know, we’re stuck in the land of 2000+ measures and a huge range of opinions. This diversity of wellbeing understanding was evident during the evening as almost every subject we can think of was linked in some way to wellbeing. From a young planning lawyers question about “who pays for infrastructure” to an assertion “it’s about more cinemas son” to a debate on Edinburgh’s greenbelt.

The way I try and tackle information is the same way Kip Thorne wrote his book (the physicist behind the film Interstellar) by taking information and placing it into one of three categories 1) information we know is evidenced based 2) educated guesses extrapolated from some evidence 3) speculation. My experience of the built environment sector is that we’re generally in columns 2 and 3. This sector (and I place myself in this) have much to learn from the evidence based approach of the health sector.

David Thompson, Director of DPT Urban Design.


Dr Fiona Stirling, Design Advisor at Architecture & Design Scotland, reflects on the BEFS’ Annual Lecture: Planning for wellbeing – How can the planning system contribute to wellbeing in a fairer Scotland?

The BEFS’ Annual Lecture asked ‘how can the planning system contribute to wellbeing in a fairer Scotland’. On the night we heard from Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities, and Pensioners’ Rights, Sir Harry Burns, Professor of Global Public Health, University of Strathclyde, and Nick Wright, Convenor of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland.

Alex Neil MSP emphasised that a good planning system is fundamental to supporting wellbeing. He spoke about the current housing shortage as an example: that good quality housing is fundamental to closing the educational attainment, inequality and health gaps, and to maximising sustainable economic growth. To be effective, he suggested that planning needs to take better account of all the services and facilities needed to create a community.  For planning to succeed, it needs to work with communities and ensure that they are properly engaged in the system of decision-making.

Sir Harry Burns told us that wellbeing or wellness is a dynamic thing; it’s a state that we can move into and out of within a single day. A sense of purpose and a sense of control are important factors that enable people to respond to, and deal with the challenges of everyday life, as are the conditions and opportunities presented by the built environment.

Nick Wright advocated the role of planners in delivering healthier places. He emphasised the importance of mainstreaming decisions that create healthier places, of the need to better link spatial planning and community planning, of the benefits of approaches that support more genuine community engagement, and of the potential for planners to act as brokers.

We heard about some good examples, and the need to mainstream good practice; to move away from the current focus on land use and numbers to a system that is more pro-active about the sorts of place we want to create, and one that engages people at the heart of decision-making.  As a landscape architect, employed in the public sector and involved in the planning system, I agreed with much of what I heard.  And arguably the current policy context in Scotland supports a system which enables good practice to happen. However as Scottish Planning Policy states, it’s ‘People [that] Make the System Work’ (paragraph 5).

Perhaps unsurprisingly – given the title – we heard a lot about planning and the role of planners in particular.  But it struck me that achieving places that promote well-being and wellness is much wider than can be delivered by planners and the planning system alone. Sir Harry Burns reminded us that it’s a complex world out there and that we often fail because we try to simplify it too much. Planning and planners have a key role to play, but so too do public sector service planning, ongoing management and ‘place-keeping’, and wider private sector investment and decisions.

Planning successfully for wellbeing is about all of us – not just those involved in the planning system – making choices and decisions that help support and promote wellness. Nick Wright encouraged us to think beyond our defined job descriptions in order to help bring people together, to connect and to make things happen. This seems crucial; good places – places that promote wellness – seem most likely to be achieved through collaborative, inter-disciplinary approaches rooted in a firm understanding of people and places. It’s about understanding what exists, what works and why, what needs to change and adapt, and where new elements are required. That’s wider than the planning system.

With the Community Empowerment Act, and discussions on Land Reform and the Independent Review of the Scottish Planning System ongoing, it’s a particularly interesting time for the built environment in Scotland. Whatever decisions and changes might be on the horizon, in the short term, the main message I took away from the evening’s discussions was to think on a day-to-day basis: ‘what can I do to help make this a place that supports wellness?’. As Sir Harry Burns pointed out, lots of small changes can add up to something big!