The town team
A partnership approach for reinvigorating town centres
The Town Team was set up to drive the revitalisation of Monaghan Town (IE). Initiated by the local authority, the Town Team concept enables stakeholders (local authority, businesses, landlords, community groups) to work collaboratively to design and implement a plan for reinvigorating town centres, re-engaging with citizens and customers alike. This Town Team plan takes account of all stakeholders’ needs and must express the vision for the town, the actions required and who is responsible for what. The Team focuses on three key areas:
- The Offer (in this instance, retail and hospitality Investment);
- Citizen Engagement (for residents to view their town as their own);
- And the Public Realm (including standards and security). Communicating with the wider public and reminding people that the town is theirs to enjoy and support is key to engagement and to retaining their support for activities.
The solutions offered by the good practice
The Town Team concept offers a collaborative approach to stakeholders who have a common goal of improving the vibrancy and vitality of their town centres. The local authority, Monaghan County Council, has realised the need for intervention and to support town centre development by appointing a Town Team coordinator from local authority resources to service a Town Team. The Team comprises a core membership of approximately 10 members from the local authority, retailers, landlords, employers, business associations, residents, tourism groups, An Gardai (police), community groups and education. The coordinator takes responsibility for the preparation of the Team Town Plan and through tools such as a SWOT analysis devises realistic, prioritised and costed actions. As a multi-agency approach to revitalisation, the process allows for effective idea generation and for communication among stakeholders to identify issues that are affecting the vitality and viability of the town centre. Furthermore, in recognition of the "common good", the process can generate the support for necessary, yet often unpopular, local authority interventions, for example the suspension of zero-rated property rates for vacant properties. Communication and information-sharing with the wider memberships of stakeholder groups and the public is critical to ensuring confidence and wider support for the Town Team, as well as an information hub for events and activities and to mobilise the community.
Building on the sustainable and integrated approach
The Town Team concept is a strategic and holistic approach initiated by the local authority to address the deterioration of the well-being of the town centre. The team is integrated, bringing together the economic, social and environmental interests and facilitating a participative approach to promote genuine solutions to sustain and revive the town centre. The Town Team is an enabler of cities, promoting activities and events to get citizens engaged and using their town centres for their well-being. It is a capacity builder, collectively bringing the knowledge and experience of differing interests to provide solutions to the problems. The collective capacity of the Town Team has the ability to influence and shape local policy, for example encouraging the local authority to promote greater emphasis on public realm initiatives and to encourage an active approach by the local authority to addressing vacancy and dereliction in the town centre. The team is the framework for providing a holistic overview of the current situation and by operating through consensus is a mechanism for facilitating solutions to the town centre challenges, and most importantly, mobilising its citizens to actively participate and enjoy their town centres.
Based on a participatory approach
The Town Team process represents active citizen engagement and allows for the production of a Team Plan through co-governance, with stakeholders determining a shared strategy and setting these into clear, realistic and achievable actions that are costed and prioritised. Having appointed a Town Team coordinator, the local authority held a public information meeting with stakeholder groups and the general public. From expressions of interest and with a balance of the economic, social and community pillars, the Town Team was formed. With the initial membership in place, a SWOT analysis was carried out with a focus on revival of the town centre, and this was used to inform the preparation of the Town Plan. The key focuses of the Town Team monthly meetings are:
- To progress the actions of the Town Plan (achievements and next steps);
- To review the actions within the plan (are these still relevant; what are the existing/emerging inter-relationships between action points);
- To allocate tasks within the Team to ensure that actions can be progressed (who is responsible for ensuring the effective delivery of next steps, key action points). Another key participatory element of the Town Team is communication with the local business people and the general public. Communication is through an email mailing list, the http://monaghanhasit.ie/ website and https://www.facebook.com/monaghanhasit Facebook page which provides a link to what activities are happening within the town.
What difference has it made?
The Town Team has documented a number of achievements which have created confidence within the membership and positivity within the citizens and allow for continuing vision for the benefit of the community. Successes include the establishment of a Town Voucher scheme, retaining money locally; Monaghan Business Awards evening, promotion of Monaghan as a Top 10 Foodie Destination, adoption of Age-Friendly town; coordination of festivals and improved ratings in the national Tidy Towns competition. These activities have served to mobilise the community in positively engaging in their towns. The mutual support between community and local authority for the revival of the town has resulted in the recent delivery of a 4.5 km walk/cycle greenway along a disused towpath of the Ulster Canal funded through the national Smarter Travel programme together with a Biodiversity Management Plan. Action plans are also currently being prepared to mobilise activity on underutilised backlands. These achievements are a great success in Monaghan, a town slowly emerging from the economic recession. Monaghan, given its proximity to the Border with Northern Ireland, has always had a cautious approach to investment as it suffers from the impact of unpredicted currency differentials between the euro and the pound sterling. The impact of the UK's intention to leave the EU (Brexit) has created an unprecedented level of uncertainty around investment, yet the Town Team perseveres and achieves success.
Why should other European cities use it?
Cities are constantly facing challenges to sustaining the well-being of their town centres, from major economic crises, changing lifestyle patterns, demographic shift and maintaining environmental quality. The challenges experienced in Monaghan may be of interest to many other border communities across Europe. Monaghan Town includes a hinterland that extends over the land border into Northern Ireland, and as a result was heavily affected by the political Troubles in Northern Ireland. Although now in a post-conflict era, there still remain some legacy issues, for example around trust in the business community and the general public. Business investment in the town has been cautious, due in some part to the legacy issues, but also due to fluctuating currency differentials between the euro and the pound sterling with the United Kingdom. The situation around Brexit has added an unprecedented level of uncertainty for the business community in the town. The issue of building trust in the community and the stakeholders was a main consideration in the local authority intervening to appoint a coordinator to the service of the Town Team. The experience of the Town Team in addressing challenges provides a valuable education that can be transferred to other cities in border communities. The Town Team concept brings together stakeholders who have an interest in their town to prepare a plan, having regard to sustainable principles and to promote the growth of their town.