Co-creating places where we all feel we belong

Last week (7-8 March) Grapevine attended the national social fabric summit ‘Restitch’ hosted this year in our home city of Coventry.

Our CEO Clare Wightman offers her reflections on this opportunity to share what we know works on a national platform.

“It was a fitting setting for Restitch 2024 at St Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry’s historical seat for power and discourse.

“Create Streets (co-organisers with UK Onward and Labour Together) founder Nicholas Boys Smith outlined three themes for the day’s conversations: people, politics and place because “social fabric matters.”

A panel of three women and three men inside a historical guildhall talking about belonging.
Clare Wightman (third from right) on Restitch’s ‘Building Belonging’ panel on 8 March.

“These three themes are similar to our own three strands of action in Coventry and Warwickshire: Strengthening People, Sparking Community and Shifting Power.

“To create better places, we must work on the agency and capacity of people who live there. Critical, deep work so local people can form and lead their own solutions. So they can hold others to account and advocate for their own needs and aspirations.

“As part of Friday’s ‘Building Belonging’ panel, I shared how we had done this in Coventry with three examples from our Connecting for Good movement.

“A Coventry woman grieving her child had found solace in a community woodland in Leamington and, wanting something for her own city, was helped to grow the ‘Roots In Nature’ community woodland project.

“Next to her allotment is a small six-acre site, abandoned and gated off for as long as anyone remembers. The land and its small river are peppered with rubbish, old tents, marijuana plants, potholes and needles. But it’s a 15-minute walk from the city centre and on a bus route.

“Now over 200 people support her project, wanting to clear the pollution to make the land available. In talks with the council and collectively volunteering over 100 hours, they are naturally questioning their energy. They still need our support to navigate systems, keep up motivation and maintain well being and focus.

Three white women, a young black man and a black woman wear matching Coventry Urban Eden green tree logo t-shirts for an outdoor selfie holding a selection of plants.
Some of the Coventry Urban Eden team. Credit: Cov Urban Eden on Facebook.

“Need the Loo started when arts worker Anne’s friend’s daughter developed a bowel disease and told her what a problem going out had become. What happens when you can’t spend money on coffees to access a suitable loo? Their research showed that having small children, a disability or a health condition, means spending less time and less money in the city centre. But Anne and her team of locals want this bit of dignity and wellbeing given more attention.

“Their “Bog Standards” are a set of guidelines for businesses and planners to adopt with the support of Coventry’s Public Health Department – including persuading businesses to allow free use of their toilets.

“Coventry’s Urban Eden began when a tree felled by Storm Eunice left an unsightly patch of bare ground in the city centre. Ade, a young Kenyan migrant, wanted to turn it into a garden. Joined by a teaching assistant, a landscape architect and retired folk who all want beauty, vibrancy, respect and care for city centre neighbourhoods by greening them up. Now the city council has shared derelict, waste land with them to work on.

What these stories show

“People are trying to shape their city in order to create belonging – experiencing this themselves as they do so.

“They also show ordinary people creating influence and power over who the city is for and who gets to belong here. It can and should be for all those who call Coventry home. Surely that’s what it means for a city to prosper.

“I was asked how we know that co-design produces places people want to live in?

“If you don’t co-design, you design out not just the needs of the people I mention above (and many others) but you design out what they have to offer too – their energy, ideas and resources.

“We only get better places if we build better agency. Growing people’s ability to face down some of their challenges to see what ideas they have and to hold others to account.

“That is only going to happen because of organisations like ours and we need proper investment.

“I am going to give the last words to a member of our Connecting for Good movement.

“My involvement made me feel encouraged, connected and empowered to be an initiator in our city. There is a lot of potential within people, within our communities, to bring about positive change.’’

Learn more

Click here to explore our dedicated Connecting for Good Cov website.

Follow this link for our latest news on what is happening in Coventry, sparked by Connecting for Good Cov and local people.