Longford MAPS Network URBACT Local Group
Since September 2015 Longford County Council has been actively participating, along with eight other European Partner cities, in ‘MAPS’ (Military Assets as Public Spaces) – an Action Planning Network (APN) funded under the European URBACT Initiative
Through MAPS, Longford County Council hopes to gain insights into urban regeneration, civic area development and function of vacated military sites and other ancient historic military structures from the URBACT partners – with a focus on Connolly Military Barracks in Longford town.
The URBACT Local Group (ULG) is a fundamental building block of the URBACT programme and therefore the identification of the appropriate stakeholders to partake in the ULG is paramount to the success of the overall project. Longford County Council faced a number of challenges, and some resistance, in the development of the ULG. This was partly due to this new way of operating, involving equal stakeholders around the table where ideas are generated through workshops and roundtable discussions. A positive point from this resistance, however, was that the various community, business and education representatives welcomed the opportunity to have their voices heard in the future of this important area of Longford town and to partake in what they felt was a very positive process.
However, despite these initial setbacks and resistances, Longford County Council persevered in the establishment of its ULG; with the first meeting taking place in January 2017. The ULG consists of representatives from the Local Authority, elected representatives and the Executive, the business community, education, sports, the arts, military and voluntary/community sectors. Initial ULG meetings identified a gap in the stakeholders sitting around the table and the ULG requested that both youth and tourism sectors also be represented. Two new members have now been identified representing those sectors and will be attending their first ULG meeting in April.
At its first meeting in January, a presentation was made to the ULG about the URBACT programme and MAPS, and what their expected role would be. The Council also brought on board a Facilitator to assist in the establishment and bedding-down of the ULG. The Facilitator put the group to work by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of Longford town. This generated a very positive vibe throughout the meeting and produced good outcomes in terms of the information received. From that meeting a tourism sub-group was formed, which subsequently met and identified a potential walking tourism and heritage route around the town, taking in the various points of interest, including our former military site. There is ongoing consultation with the Tourism Committee in respect of the further development of project.
The ULG meets on a monthly basis. The agenda is generally centred around information updates and workshops on different topics geared towards the development of our Integrated Action Plan. Our most recent ULG meeting in March involved the development of a survey which is going to be distributed throughout the town, via the ULG, to targeted groups and via an online platform. We are confident that the survey will help inform the Integrated Action Plan in terms of identifying the main challenge facing Longford Town and how this may be addressed through the development of our military site.
The ULG was also very fortunate to have at that meeting a presentation from Space Engagers, a social enterprise which aims to generate spatial data on local issues through mapping and engagement. Space Engagers wish to work with the ULG and utilise Longford as a pilot for their project, which will include the development of an app that can be used by the people of Longford to engage and get involved in identifying various underused spaces or potential around the town. Connolly Barracks can act as a particular focus in the use of this app by engaging the citizens in identifying the potential future uses of this prominent site. The presentation and proposal was received very positively by the ULG and a working group was set up to further develop this concept.
Despite the somewhat shaky and slow start to the establishment of our ULG, we are now very positive about the future of the group and the impact it is expected to have on the future of Connolly Barracks and the wider town area.
Submitted by Caroline Creamer on