Brad McCormick: The Town Meeting visits Startforth

Photo: Northern Heartlands

Whenever we perform our show ‘The Town Meeting’ we get a good amount of people back for the post-show discussion.  After being involved in an 80 minute immersive show where the stakes are high and emotions can be fraught, we feel like people want to process what has just happened to them.

But after that discussion was over, we had no idea what happened to that energy that was created and whether the show had any lasting residue in the community.

But in the past couple of weeks, we were able to answer that question.

Northern Heartlands (one of 16 Great Place Schemes running across England with funding from HLF & ACE whose aim is to put arts and culture at the heart of their communities) invited us to the village of Startforth in Teesdale to perform ‘The Town Meeting’ one day and on another day run a workshop around planning, community and place.

What was unique about Startforth is that they were on the cusp of developing their Neighbourhood Plan – a potentially daunting and time-consuming process with real-world consequences for the village.  The hope was that this two-pronged approach would allow the community to look at the creation of the Plan more holistically and creatively.

We did wonder about the compatibility of having the fictional show one week and then changing gear for the workshop the next but the production not only allowed the community to become familiar with us but it allowed them to take a step back from the real issues affecting their community and reflect on what was important to them.

Dr Paul Cowie of Newcastle University who co-created ‘the Town Meeting’ and helped to plan and lead the workshop said:

“The workshop was a more constructive process which helped the community think about the vision for the neighbourhood plan and perhaps about the challenges they face along the way. It was great to see so many people turn out for both both events and tackle them with energy and enthusiasm.”

Jill Cole, the Director of Northern Heartlands was very pleased with how the two strands of the project came together:

“‘The Town Meeting’ and following workshop proved to be excellent vehicles for engaging the community, provoking discussion and getting people to think about some of the wider issues they face in their locality in a fun and inspiring way.”

Completing this work provoked us to think about an even bigger question that could be answered sometime in the future:  if planners, artists and communities could work together over a bigger project, what might that look like?

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