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Holywood Shared Town: The Strategic Framework

The Situation in Holywood

Holywood is an old town. The earliest record of it is as the site of a Hiberno-Celtic monastery which was reputed to have been founded by St Laiseran who may be the Irish cleric of that name who was referred to in a reference from 642 AD. The oldest surviving structures in Holywood are the Motte and the Old Priory Church which are from the somewhat later period following the arrival of the Normans in the late 12th Century. However the Motte may have utilised an earlier mound and, although the surviving shell of the Old Priory still shows aspects of its initial Norman church architecture, it was probably sited where the earlier monastery had been established.

It is clear that the settlement at Holywood has continued since at least those Norman times. Thus is it much older than Belfast and, although its centre lies only five miles directly from the centre of that city, Holywood still maintains its separate existence and it has not become a suburb of the much larger neighbour.

As a separate town, Holywood has had its own community, but at various times people from Belfast have also moved to live in Holywood. For instance the town grew considerably after the railway came in 1848 and made working in Belfast and living in Holywood a practical proposition and, more recently, there was an influx of people driven out of parts of Belfast by the Troubles.

Holywood also enjoys a lot of community activity. There is no complete list of all the community groups within it but the recent Holywood Shared Spaces initiative contacted almost 30 in addition to the various churches, and there are others. One example of a local organisation is the Holywood Resident's Association - which has taken the lead in preparing and entering Holywood for the tidy town competition which it has won on a number of occasions: an outcome which has added to its civic pride. Nevertheless there is scope for more sharing and integration and a survey of young people, also conducted as part of the Shared Spaces initiative, identified that they saw a large number of positive features to living there but also a number of negative ones including the apparent separation of the working class estates, drug use in some areas, flags and bonfires in the marching season, and a lack of tolerance sometimes for ethnic minorities. While too much should not be made of these negative reports they do indicate that Holywood has some problems and cannot afford to be complacent. Like so many towns and cities we want to keep our town centre vibrant and relevant. We do not want a centre with boarded up shops and rundown buildings. In the current economic downtown we are aware that many people, families and businesses are struggling to make ends meet. We wish to share these problems as a community and come up with dynamic solutions.

The Formation of Holywood Shared Town

The Shared Spaces initiative referred to above was carried out in 2010 with support from the local Peace III Partnership. The main aim was to develop a “Shared Spaces and Services Plan that would shape the role of public spaces in supporting regeneration and integration in the greater Holywood area. However one of the other outcomes of the work done and contacts made was the development of a vision of Holywood as a shared town which is:

a safe and welcoming place for people to live, learn, work, socialise, raise children and do business;

a place of high quality of life supported by a strong community and local economy;

a place with a vibrant cultural scene and attractive physical appearance; and

a place characterised by respect and toleration for difference and respect and pride in the locality's history and built and natural heritage and environment.

Initial Considerations

It was to help to realise this vision that a consortium of the local organisations which had been contacted as part of the Shared Spaces initiative decided to launch Holywood Shared Town as a vehicle to facilitate the development of relationships in the Holywood area. As such it is a form of preparatory community planning for Holywood town and district, being done in advance of `community planning' becoming a key element of the responsibility and opportunity for local government under the Review of Public Administration, and with the ambition of becoming an exemplar of excellence in community development.

In developing its potential role and approach Holywood Shared Town was influenced by a number of considerations, including the following:

The diversity within Holywood. The diversity within Holywood and its residents, and the challenges this can provide, are summarised above.

The existence of the consortium. Despite that diversity and those challenges a number of organisations already exist to help to address at least some of the resultant problems and opportunities. There is also a willingness by those organisations, including not least the Chamber of Commerce and the Redburn and Loughview Community Forum (RLCF), to participate in this.

The role of third sector and social enterprise. Holywood Shared Town does not seek to replicate or compete with organisations in either the public or private sectors. Instead it seeks to work in the third sector seeking to find a way to provide relevant support which the others sectors can't or don't want to provide. See Annex A for more thoughts on this.

The potential of social capital. The concept of social capital is explained in more detail in Annex B. It recognises that money, skills, infrastructure and natural resources (financial, human, physical and natural capital) and often not alone sufficient in building a sustainable community. To allow those capitals to work together social connections (social capital) are also needed and they are often the missing component which can aid the physical, social and economic health of a community.

Taking an effectual approach. Recent research into how successful enterprises actually start indicates that often they don't take a deliberate planned approach to “cause" a pre-selected goal to happen. Because the future is uncertain, their founders act accordingly and, instead of determining their route in advance, they explore h to see what might be possible and which approaches might work. This has been labelled “effectuation" and is explained further in Annex C.

The possible role for an additional organisation. While the earlier Shared Space initiative had indicated that Holywood already had a wide range of community groups, it also found that they often operated independently and didn't all know what the others were doing. Therefore, with a lot of groups already trying to do various things in and for Holywood, it was clear that what was needed was not necessarily more groups or organisations. However it did appear that there was a potential need to improve communication and co-ordination between them “ in other words to improve Holywood's social capital.

Because of such considerations Holywood Shared Town decided that its purpose should be to find ways to improve Holywood's social capital and that it should do this by an “effectual approach, not by starting with a detailed business plan, but by exploring what might be possible, desirable and/or welcomed before making definite plans for its future structure and operations.

Aim and objectives

Thus Holywood Shared Town started, not with a detailed plan to be implemented, but with a set of requirements which it wished to try to address and, on that basis, set its aim and the initial objectives to be achieved.

Requirements. Arising from considerations such as the analysis above, the requirements for Holywood Shared Town could be summarised as:

To complement and enhance work of other the organisations, groups, businesses and institutions working and and/or for Holywood.

To help to build and share social capital for and among that constituency.

To take what initiatives it was possible to do which would help to build social capital and fill in any gaps in the current provision.

In that way to contribute to achieving the vision of Holywood as a shared town.

To see what Holywood Shared Town could and should be do and what support it might get, and thus to establish what provision it could and should make for its future as a sustainable organisation, including its best form of incorporation.

Aim. Because there are already many community-based, voluntary, private-sector and statutory groups and organisations working in and for Holywood and the surrounding district, and because evidence shows that a shared society benefits everyone, it was agreed that the aim of Holywood Shared Town should be to help to build mutually supporting working relationships between Holywood's many organisations, groups, businesses and institutions to encourage and enable them to work together to create a more cohesive, shared space which reflects and celebrates the diversity that exists within Holywood. It will thus help to build within Holywood the “social capital “the network of contacts which provide mutual support, advice, encouragement, information and other forms of assistance - which helps local groups to work better for the benefit of those who live and work in the area.

Objectives. In addressing this aim the objectives agreed for Holywood Shared Town include:

1. Building relationships and partnerships which provide the Holywood and District community with the knowledge and skills to participate effectively in a community planning process for Holywood including, but not limited to, the Holywood Masterplan.

2. Promoting more `joined-up' working between statutory bodies, community groups, voluntary groups and private sector partners on practical issues, including greater communication between community leaders within Holywood and District.

3. Building links between the business community in Holywood town centre and the local community to encourage, for instance, the local community to help local businesses and the help those businesses to engage with the local community.

4. Bringing together, and fostering relationships between, the various schools in the Holywood area, to encourage and help them to share resources and ideas and to bring pupils and staff together in specific events.

5. Creating a community on-online calendar of events through the Holywood Goes Global website, as a virtual `community notice board' for sharing and coordinating information for instance on community events and organisations involved in festivals and the arts.

6. Facilitating more effective and coordinated use of existing community resources, facilities, equipment, halls, meeting spaces, and including human skills and experience shared across a wider array of community groups.

7. Lobbying for, and coordinating approaches to, the physical infrastructure of the area including the town's streetscape, cleanliness and appearance, and the establishment of a `Holywood Greenway' connecting various access ways to provide a walking/cycling route for residents and visitors.

In Conclusion

The formation of Holywood Shared Town can thus be summarised as an initiative, by a consortium of Holywood organisations, to help Holywood to develop as a community and not just as a collection of people who happen to live in the same place. In trying to fulfil this remit Holywood Shared town is seeking to identify and explore the best ways for Holywood itself to build and use its social capital (albeit on a somewhat wider definition than is sometimes applied) to improve its society and to address the current and potential future challenges it faces.

Simon Bridge Draft September 12

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Holywood Shared Town Consortium
Redburn Community Centre
Jackson Road
County Down
Northern Ireland
United Kingdom
BT18 9EZ
TEL: 028 90 426825



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News from the Holywood Public Realm Scheme
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Main community groups go walkabout around Holywood in preparation for the Masterplan process
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