Communities shaping places: Castlefield Forum

By Carole Middleton

Castlefield Forum is a great example of a community shaping a place in a city-centre conservation area. It is a voluntary, community group established with the key aim of making Castlefield an even better place for local residents, businesses, workers and visitors. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works or has an interest in Castlefield. Over 280 members receive regular email updates on Forum activities and projects and are invited to meetings and events.

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Castlefield is located in the south/west of Manchester city centre. It is a distinctive and historically significant urban landscape.  The birthplace of Manchester, Castlefield holds the city’s Roman origins, the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world and the canals that drove the Industrial Revolution.

Once populated by families in closely packed Victorian terraced houses, wartime bombing and general dilapidation brought the properties to the end of their useful life and the families were moved out to new estates in the suburbs in the mid 20th century. City centre living is of course popular again now with a new generation of residents living in modern apartment blocks and converted mills and warehouses.

Our elected Committee meets every six weeks or so and feeds back to the wider Forum. The Committee has an Action Plan with wide-ranging aims, events and activities.  A number of Action Groups deliver various elements of the Action Plan including Events, Marketing and Media, Neighbourhood Plan, Garden Maintenance and Signage.  Recognising that not everyone wants to attend meetings, social media is a popular communication tool and we have over 1,900 followers on Twitter (@OurCastlefield). The Forum meets quarterly and meetings are open to all.

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Whilst membership consists primarily of residents, many local businesses are active and supportive to our work. The three Ward Councillors for Manchester City Centre are also closely involved and supportive of our work.

Good relationships have been developed with the Local Authority, particularly in Neighbourhood Delivery where the Forum assists and often leads on environmental improvements and has a key role in maintaining the green spaces in the public realm. Resources such as Council community funding initiatives have been used to design and deliver new and replacement interpretation, an information leaflet for visitors and the development of a website www.ourcastlefield.co.uk.

A Forum-led multi-agency group has turned around an overgrown, unsightly piece of land, rife with anti-social behavior into a delightful canalside green space with grow boxes of edible planting and an ‘Outstanding’ award from the Royal Horticultural Society ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ initiative.

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A Crowdfunding initiative raised £19,000 in 90 days to progress plans to completely transform an area of public realm. The funding has enabled the Forum to commission the professional help needed to submit a credible planning application and ultimately, it is planned to submit a bid to Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out the significant works proposed.

The Forum is currently consulting locally on proposals for a Neighbourhood Plan as a community-led framework for guiding the future development, regeneration and conservation of Castlefield.  We actively encourage development in the area but also want to ensure that sensitive areas, such as the central canal basin, are treated appropriately.  We would want to influence urban design, the much-needed provision of affordable housing and family-sized accommodation. We also aspire to guide the provision of infrastructure such as community facilities, paths and open spaces. We are at an early stage but there is a strong desire to influence the long-term future of the place we work so hard to care for. This is practical placeshaping by an enthusiastic community.

Carol Middleton is the Chair of Castlefield Forum