The process of setting up ‘Your Place Our Place’ in Reading, including a new pop-up community space or Urban Room in Reading Broad street Mall, has demonstrated that communities want to be part of a space to host their conversations and discussions about their town. In a few months, over 50 organisations have come forward to be part of the space in some way.
The initiative is linked to a UK-wide research project about community consultation called CCQOL, but the local interest and pride by communities in their town and their place has been very positive. Some groups want to provide a poster to describe what they do (we have over 40 posters). Others want to hold a discussion and contribute to a programme of community-focused events. There are 61 events taking place in the month of March and many more groups were interested to participate.
Recently Reading has benefitted from the £95 million government-funded High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme, which is being delivered by Historic England. It is using this funding to encourage local community groups to work with artists to encourage local communities to redefine their high streets and public spaces. The redefinition of our high streets and town centres needs to be led by our local communities.
Our Urban Room in the shopping centre is run by the Moorgarth Group, the developer who refurbished the 1960s mall. They’ve focused on local communities and have several other community groups and community facilities in the shopping centre such as an NHS drop-in vaccination and various local charity groups providing a local identity for the town. This new approach to shopping centres as a place for local community activities as well as shopping is a way to reconsider aspects of the shopping centre and high street as retail space. Town centres can provide space for communities to talk to its citizens and use the shopfront as a place for conversation and sharing local ideas.
It’s clear from the work we’re doing with the Quality of Life Foundation that local people are invested and interested in shaping in their area. The number of community groups that want to be part of the discussion about their place where they live and work is heartening.
This type of community facility can offer a safe, inclusive space in our high streets for communities to describe who they are, invite participation and to be consulted about what they feel is important to their communities. A community space, such as Your Place Our Place , can offer a way to regenerate our sense of place in our communities , but also to bring our communities back to our high streets to reanimate our towns and cities .