Peakirk: a case study about communicating your neighbourhood plan

Background

Peakirk_in_winterPeakirk is a small, rural village which lies in the Welland Valley and is north of Peterborough. About 440 people live in the parish of Peakirk, almost of third of whom are aged under 25 (see their 2011 parish profile). Peakirk is the first area in Peterborough and in Cambridgeshire to be doing a neighbourhood plan.

Neighbourhood planning was seen as a way for rural areas to have their say in planning issues. The Peterborough local planning authority area is 80% rural but there was a perception that planning issues focused on the urban areas, and that rural areas were seen as a resource for the urban areas.

Communicating and branding the neighbourhood plan: why was this important?

Most people are happy with Peakirk and the way it is now. They’re also happy with its status in the current core strategy as a small, rural village. That made it hard to get people involved initially – they didn’t feel there was an issue they needed to respond to. But the aim of the Peakirk neighbourhood plan team was to focus people on planning for the future of Peakirk, and how they could influence that.

Peakirk’s NP team saw branding and communications as being very important to raise awareness of the plan and get people involved. They also felt that a professional-looking approach was one way to make sure people took the NP seriously: the aim was to make the NP look as important as the Local Plan. Peakirk_workshop

  • Identifying what was needed and who could help
  • The team identified what they wanted:
  • Someone to help them “brand” the neighbourhood plan
  • Someone who could draw maps professionally
  • A logo
  • Ideas and help with promotion and ongoing communications activity
  • Help to lay out and design the final plan

They then applied for a grant, part of which was spent on professional support from a PR company (with the rest earmarked for activities to support the promotion of the plan such as printing, hire of the village hall for events etc).

It’s worth noting that there was a lot of discussion within the Peakirk NP team about the decision to hire the PR company. They were aware they had a modest budget so wanted to know whether they would get value for money. They also felt they had years of planning expertise while neighbourhood planning was a new issue for the PR company. Pros and cons were carefully debated before they went ahead, and they would advise other groups to take a similar, cautious approach.

They were also able to source some volunteer advice and support:Peakirk banner and team web_1

  • A graphic designer, a friend of a friend, helped with the branding on a voluntary basis
  • A young designer created an informal logo which is used on the Twitter and Facebook accounts

The launch event: what they did

The team was keen to hold a big launch event for their plan, and while they had some ideas they weren’t sure how to make them work as effectively as possible. The PR company supported the team with the launch event, which was held over the 2013 August Bank Holiday weekend. Activities included:

  • Producing information boards, balloons, handouts and branded promotion literature
  • Generating local media coverage (press and radio)
  • Organising “ideas postcards” for the community to fill in and a wishing well to drop completed cards in

A particular success was the “Peakirk past, present and future” theme which covered:

  • Past: old photos of the village, tea and cake in a vintage style
  • Present: people marked on a map where they lived, wrote down what they liked about Peakirk and why they moved or stayed there
  • Future: people suggested what they would change and put forward ideas for the future

Over 100 visitors (from 169 households in the village) came to the launch event, including lots of children. It proved a great start to raising awareness of the neighbourhood plan and generated lots of ideas. The “Future” activities were used to produce the plan’s vision.

The team felt that they succeeded in communicating that the plan was to come from everyone in the village, not just reflect the views of the 11 people on the team. They note, though, that despite aiming to be clear about what neighbourhood planning is about, it can be hard not to raise expectations – the person whose wish was for a fish and chip van to visit every Friday is likely to be disappointed.

Keeping communication going: how they did it

A survey was carried out by questionnaire to identify and test the vision, aims and objectives for the plan. This led into policy writing, so the community could see there was a logical process from vision->aims->objectives->policies and were not going to be asked just to comment on policies with no idea of how they’d been created. The group used a free version of the online tool Survey Monkey, and while it was easy to use, with hindsight they would have set aside some budget for a paid-for version with better features.

Ongoing communication also included:Peakirk_workshop_2

  • Email and hard copy newsletter (delivered to each home)
  • A blog
  • Twitter, Facebook, village website and city council website presence
  • Regular articles in Tribune, a free, externally produced newsletter

Top tips

  • Set an end date and a firm(ish) but realistic timetable. The Peakirk team remembered that the parish had tried twice before to do a Parish Plan, which petered out. Keep your final goal in sight: Peakirk’s aim is for the draft plan to be with their local planning authority by the end of 2014.
  • Don’t hang on for the “perfect plan”. You have to start the drafting and writing process.
  • Document the framework of your plan at an early stage and then populate it as the plan takes shape. This avoids the mammoth task of writing the plan in the latter stages when enthusiasm may be dipping.
  • Keep a running log of all events and activities – this makes the presentation of evidence and the plan writing so much easier.
  • Be firm when necessary – it’s good to be a bit bossy sometimes!
  • Tell people what the commitment is when you recruit them to a task or role. Be flexible where you can e.g. a teacher may be able to commit time in the holidays but not during term time.
  • Don’t allocate all your budget at the start. Keep track of spend and keep a proportion for a contingency fund.
  • Share and learn from others, but don’t copy. Other groups’ policies won’t necessarily transfer into your plan!
  • Don’t forget about communicating with your LPA. Ask planners to look at your objectives and policies and assess whether the policies will meet the objectives.
  • Access help provided by professionals. Peakirk has benefitted from great support from their LPA and from Planning Aid England through the SCNP programme.

Many thanks to SallyAnn Jackson, and the Peakirk Neighbourhood Planning Team, for their help with this case study. Email Peakirk.

These case studies are produced by Planning Aid England as part of the Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning programme, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government and delivered by a consortium led by Locality.

Photo credits

© All photos are copyright Peakirk Neighbourhood Planning Team