Words by Stephanie Mills AoU, Cite Design Ltd and Coordinator, Changing Chelmsford
First published: Journal 1, 2012
2011 was very significant for Chelmsford, which has benefited hugely from the impetus given by the Academy. This relationship has enabled dialogue with practitioners bringing experience, lessons and ideas and new links between Chelmsford interests. We have seen some really interesting projects develop with the encouragement of Changing Chelmsford.
Changing Chelmsford is an experimental programme, a prototype of localism in action. It is a collaborative project between the Royal Society of Arts, the Academy, Chelmsford Borough Council and Essex County Council. It involves a wide range of local people, organisations, and self-organising initiatives as well as local schools, colleges and universities. Chelmsford has recently become England’s newest city and the aim of our project is to engage diverse sections of Chelmsford’s communities in developing an understanding of its emerging potential within the broader context of Essex and the wider region. The brief was to develop collaboratively a clearer identity for Chelmsford by building on its strengths and exploring comparator towns and cities to establish the ingredients to enable the town to become a more innovative and successful place.
With the close support of key partners, we put together a series of stimulating events in the Changing Chelmsford ‘festival of ideas’ which have boosted individual projects and opened up leads for the coming months. We envisage a number of people-focussed activities relating to animation of the public realm, meanwhile uses for vacant or underutilised spaces, adaptive reuse of buildings for community use and longer term investment of energy in safeguarding local heritage, strengthening networks, nurturing collective ambitions and strengthening city identity. Changing Chelmsford is now set up as a Community Interest Company and will continue to work through challenges of accountability, governance, funding and hours-in-the-day. The Chelmsford cabinet councillor Neil Gulliver is actively supporting Young Urban Explorers and media contacts and we hope to build our relationship with borough and county councillors. It’s important that it remains distinct from the councils and with a distinctive offer. It’s been a fascinating journey so far – understanding the challenges of accountability, governance, funding and time commitments. We aim to build on our relationship with Chelmsford’s wider communities and with borough and county councillors – although it’s important that Changing Chelmsford remains distinct from the councils and maintains its ability to act as a catalyst between the statutory authorities, business, community groups and individual pro-active changemakers. .
Stephanie Mills AoU
Coordinator, Changing Chelmsford