Stories about buildings, people and power
Town halls, council houses and civic centres are the most visible symbol of local democracy in our towns and cities. Whether they’re grand Victorian edifices or brash 70s redbrick blocks, they occupy a unique position in the fabric of a place. This book explores these buildings and their past, present and possible futures – told by the people who work in them, care about them or understand the importance of significant buildings in towns and cities.
We want to change the way people see local government and public services through compelling stories told in creative ways. In this book we’re focusing on our civic buildings because their role, history and the work that goes on inside them make for fascinating tales that aren’t told widely enough.
Local government, stuck in the grip of dominant negative narratives, often finds it difficult to get its case across. The complexities of local government leave people cold and our civic buildings become, to some, simply symbols of a bureaucracy that doesn’t work. And yet many important stories about local government happen inside these amazing, beautiful, ugly, impractical and sometimes contested buildings that are the civic heart of a place.
In tough times it’s tempting to batten down the hatches, keep our heads down and hope that no-one takes yet another shot at us. But these stories about our civic places and spaces show that it’s when we’re bold, brave and daring in local government we’re at our best. That’s when we design our most breath-taking buildings, when we create spaces that work for communities as well as politicians, when we make bold statements about the places we serve. And that’s when people appreciate best how necessary our town halls are to our histories and our futures.
We need residents to be engaged with their town hall, keep an eye on it and what goes on in it. We want them to see it for what it is, appreciate and connect with it and all it stands for. That’s a serious challenge.
Our chapters reflect the big themes that emerged from our contributors’ town hall tales.
In Purpose stories focus on the role of town halls in transforming society, examining the buildings that make statements of intent about their place, as the focal point for discussions and decisions about the vision and ambitions of the people who live and work there. We celebrate municipal reformers and recognise those living the values and ideals of community and service - officers who understand that making a difference must be concrete. It must have an impact.
People celebrates and highlights the connections a town hall has with its place; what makes it unique, how a town or city’s people react to the physical presence of a civic building and that deep emotional connection so many of us have with our town hall that – most of the time – we don’t even realise we have.
Power takes us to the political heart of our town halls and the decisions made there, looking at the connections between a place and its people and how, sometimes, these can be broken.
In Future our storytellers explore the town halls that feel like they’re working today, explore the challenges some of them are facing and speculate on how they could work in the future.
All these stories are united by a common thread. They all show the distinctiveness and beauty, the guts and the occasional glory. There are so many more stories to tell.
This is where local democracy lives.
Town Hall will be published in November 2018.