Aiming for the best regeneration outcomes possible the local Community Planning Partnership looked into effective and efficient uses of time and resources. The steering group formed, including community representation, used the Visioning Outcomes for Community Engagement (VOiCE) tool to guide their initial steps.
The available information was shared and an engagement exercise undertaken to elicit further knowledge ‘from the ground’. All the evidence was used to identify priority themes of: social enterprise, transport, physical environment, supporting and developing learning and tackling health inequalities.
A further more focused survey was conducted using a variety of channels including focus groups, existing networks and client contact. The findings were distilled into objectives and actions, and using a priority scoring matrix an action plan was developed and ratified by the community and Area Committee. With regeneration funding acting as leverage, partners and community groups were encouraged and enabled to prioritise time and budgets to deliver projects. Once it was recognised that Gourdon was not accessing the opportunities, Aberdeenshire Council staff worked together to coordinate and involve the community in a community art engagement and an options appraisal for the physical, heritage and conservation designation of the village.
A community steering group was supported to develop the brief and recruit the artist who then came and lived in a caravan in the village. She carried out various interventions that offered creative opportunities for residents to reveal how they felt about the village; how they lived and worked; what was important to them and encouraged them to come up with ideas for improvement. Alongside this was an investigation into the specific physical features and improvements that residents felt were important.
Many opportunities and assets were identified through the research, from the array of traditional and contemporary skills among some residents to a very definite attachment to the village. The findings also supported anecdotes of low levels of community involvement; some views that the village was divided; concerns regarding health issues for families; low levels of community pride and a disempowered feeling.
The community steering group was supported to deliver what had emerged as top priorities and ‘quick wins’ for physical improvements. With growing confidence and momentum, steering group members formed themselves into Gourdon Improvement Group (GIG). A project to renovate and the village’s Maggie Law Museum was supported, its reopening celebration offering a perfect opportunity for further engagement on a village action plan. Members of GIG participated in social media training being delivered to local Community Planning Partners and found better ways of keeping in touch with the rest of the village.
Funding deadlines and other priorities sometimes made project delivery more difficult or rushed than ideal and this is being be fed back for future planning with particular emphasis of responsiveness and flexibility.