A spotlight on: the Thame Town Plan

We’ve spoken about community engagement here on the National Trust planning blog before, looking at our own work in one of our own villages at Coleshill. There’s really great work going on in community engagement with neighbourhood planning in many places – here’s a spotlight on just on of these examples, the Thame Town Plan.

Thame, in Oxfordshire, began the process of writing a neighbourhood plan in October 2011 with a range of public engagement methods. From the outset, they used events, meetings and social media to connect with the community and gather their opinions. There’s also been a clear and concerted effort to engage with the community as a whole.

In October 2011, they held a two day drop-in centre, to hear the opinions of residents, businesses, landowners, developers and visitors and what they thought Thame’s future should be. The event was advertised in a number of ways, through social media, the local press and radio, posters around the area and a large banner on the high street. This range of advertisement techniques shows a real desire to engage with people from across the community.

Thame residents attend a consultation meeting

Following the drop-in event, the group compiled a detailed report of findings, opinions and attendance. It’s evident that the consultation process was thoughtful, and genuine, and the 400 people who attended over the two-day period were judged to have responded well to opportunities to contribute.

Another community planning event was held in November. Again, a detailed report was written outlining the opinions raised. At around the same time, a workshop with the school council of a local secondary school took place. They talked about ‘Thame Today’, ‘Key Issues’ and ‘Thame Tomorrow’, in a huge amount of detail, and feedback suggested students enjoyed the session, and felt there was some chance their views would be listened to.

The group also ran a residents’ workshop specifically aimed at 20-35 year olds. What both these examples demonstrate is the Thame Town Plan Group’s willingness to approach those people who would otherwise be unlikely to get involved with neighbourhood planning.

Their use of social media is an extension of this inclusive approach. From the off, they have used both facebook and twitter (@ThameTownPlan) to communicate events and information to the community and begin to encourage conversations about planning. It’s not just the content that’s important though – it’s how it’s phrased and presented. Posts often take the form of open questions, inviting response and conversation. Online activity clearly dovetails with events back in the ‘real world’ – a ‘dot map’ used at one of the events to show where participants came from was posted on facebook, and supporters were encouraged to come along and fill in any gaps. Other visual posts have been used, including a ‘guess the location’ photo competition to encourage people to attend events, and pictures of residents involved in neighbourhood planning and Thame itself.

The support in terms of numbers amounts to 65 likes on the facebook page, the twitter account has nearly 300 followers and numbers attending either the October and/or November event were close to 680. These may not sound impressive in the context of global celebrities with their millions of twitter followers, but for a neighbourhood plan in a parish of 11,000 people, it’s not bad going at all.

More important than numbers, perhaps, is the way they’ve made every effort to talk to a broad range of people in an extremely thorough way, and genuinely listen to their opinions. It’s always going to be hard to engage busy people with families and jobs at the top of their minds, but the Thame Town Plan Group have shown what can be achieved by making participation easy, accessible, fun and fruitful.

Thame’s draft plan was published for a six-week consultation on the 22nd August – you can read it here.

Have you written a neighbourhood plan? Or do you want to? Get in touch and let us know about your experiences by commenting below. You can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, External Affairs Assistant


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