Places that love people


Jenny Brotchie from the Carnegie UK Trust outlines five things policymakers can do to support community led public spaces.

Auchencairn is a small town in rural Dumfries and Galloway. For many years the town was effectively split in two by an area of agricultural waste ground. But life in Auchencairn changed recently when the waste land was put up for sale and bought by a local community organisation. A bridge and steps were installed linking the two halves of the town for the first time and plans for a community garden were developed. Less than a year later the site was transformed.

The Link-Park Garden in Auchencairn is now a beautiful part of the local environment – but it is also much more than that. The improvement of the site, led entirely by the local community brought villagers together. There were high turnouts on weekend workdays, local businesses, artists and craftspeople contributed to the development, new friendships were formed and an inviting communal space for a range of community activities including, dyking workshops, beekeeping, a children’s play area and classes in horticulture was created. Local children now have a safe space to play in and to walk to school, away from the road.

Auchencairn Link Park is therefore a fantastic example of how public space improvements, led by the local community can improve wellbeing in a number of different areas. But sadly, this initiative  is also a fairly exceptional example. Community led, public space improvement projects like this  are not commonplace.

Yet we know that good quality public spaces can improve wellbeing in these three ways:

  • By supporting healthy lifestyles and good mental health: the term ‘salutogenic environments’ is used to describe  environments that support good health. We know that unpredictable and unsafe environments are linked to chronic stress and long term health inequalities.
  • By providing spaces for communities to come together and participate: The strength of our social connections is one of the most robust indicators of our overall wellbeing. Greenery and shared paths help facilitate social connections. In contrast crowded, noisy and apparently dangerous environments inhibit the formation of social ties. By supporting social connections, good-quality public spaces can nurture valuable citizenship skills and stimulate social action and volunteering.
  • By facilitating local enterprise and regeneration:  ‘softer aspects’ of town centres – the greenspaces, place to sit and socialise, the outdoor markets - have been shown to be critical in whether a town centre thrives or struggles and by supporting learning and the development of new skills and enterprises high quality public spaces can contribute to economic regeneration more widely.

And, when communities are placed in the driving seat the benefits of public space improvements are further enhanced through increased confidence, the development of new skills, enhanced social cohesion and increased local participation.

In the UK a strong social gradient exists between in terms of environmental quality. Too many communities do not have access to high quality environments conducive to good mental and physical health, where people can meet and connect and which offer opportunities for enterprise and development.

So what can we do to support more communities to benefit from public space improvement projects like Auchencairn Link Park?

Auchencairn Link Park project was the overall winner of the Carnegie Prize for Design and Wellbeing - a prize designed to highlight the impact that well-designed town centre spaces can have on community and individual wellbeing. The four other winners included a tenants residents association who had brought a neglected park back into use; an active travel project in Kirkcaldy that worked with the local community to create safer streets; a community garden established on the site of former tower blocks in Greenock; and a citizen focused arts project in Ballymena which sought to bring  life back into the town centre.

Drawing on learning from the experiences of our winners and evidence about the impact that well -designed public spaces can have on community and individual wellbeing, the Carnegie UK Trust has identified five actions that policymakers can take so that more communities have the opportunity to benefit from public space improvements like these.

  1. Recognise the importance of high-quality public spaces in national and local performance frameworks
  2. Make it easier for communities to access funding
  3. Put quality public spaces at the centre of town centre regeneration
  4. Be creative and just say ‘yes’ to communities who want to do good things
  5. Recognise public space improvement as a central component to a preventative approach to health inequalities and wider inequalities

In 2015 we will be working with key stakeholders to help turn these recommendations into action.

For more information about the Carnegie Prize for Design and Wellbeing and our research into the impact of high quality public spaces on wellbeing click here or get in touch with Jenny Brotchie at To download the policy report Places that love people click here.

You can follow Jenny on twitter at @Jenny_Carnegie.

What can we do to support more communities to benefit from public space improvement projects like Auchencairn Link Park?