Place-making: what is it?

It’s the new trendy word, but what does it mean – and what is needed to ‘make a place’? Barbara Eifler explains.

Much about place-making is intangible. You, the groups making and presenting music in your local communities, week in, week out, and your fellow citizens organising amateur dramatics, painting classes, adult ballet, Scout groups, and much more - you are the often hidden but indispensable ingredient in a successful place.

Your locality would not be an attractive place to live, work and visit if you didn’t populate it with interesting activities for everyone and thus with opportunities for people to come together and rub shoulders with others from their community.

The other vital ingredient for place-making is very much visible, three-dimensional and solid: it’s the venues, rehearsal rooms, meeting places that you use.

These spaces were at the forefront of this year’s conference by the Theatres Trust, the national advisory body for theatres in the UK. Principally, they’re concerned with theatres (new builds and refurbishment of old ones), but their theme this year was place-making and many attendees were from community groups trying to bring much-loved buildings in their locality back to life or save them from being lost.

As these kinds of buildings are crucial to many music groups, it was heartening to learn about community campaigns (e.g. Leith Theatre, Ashburton Arts) and to hear some local authorities express their understanding, often achieved at the end of a long journey, of the importance of them providing spaces that are available for the community to meet and use: theatres, of course, but also arts centres, community centres, libraries, village halls. Spaces described by one speaker as perhaps now fulfilling the role traditionally occupied by churches at the heart of their communities.

The Theatres Trust conference was one of several forays into exploring the issue of spaces and their continued availability, at affordable prices, for music groups. Making Music wants to understand how it can best help members in this area, whether through changes to VAT or potential partnerships – for instance with Voluntary Arts or Locality.

The issue has been raised more and more frequently over the years by members, caused by changes to local authority funding for venues and the increasing economic pressures on everyone (including, e.g., schools). One help Making Music can offer campaigns for a particular building is to alert you to them so that you can raise your voices together locally and make a greater impact.

And what can you do, right now?

I learnt that you should, wherever you live and make music, get involved with the planning system in your area, even if you don’t run or own a building. Check out your local authority website (an example from Southwark) - they all have to have a 15 year plan and refresh it every 5 years; so respond to consultations. There’s even more reason to get involved with the new Neighbourhood Plans (some background and examples from Southwark) which allow you to influence what happens on your very doorstep.

The other recommendation for something that we can all do is one that is also crucial for music libraries: make sure you know and talk to your councillors regularly – before there’s a crisis, before decisions are taken that may unintentionally impact music groups. If they know what you do and how fantastic it is for your participants and your community, they can be your champions and defenders. You can find them and all their contact details via this government website or on your own council’s website.