In July 2017 Aberfield was appointed to work on York Central. Located to the west of York train station, the 45 hectare site is one of the most significant developments within the wider city region, and the Northern Powerhouse. Once completed, it is expected that the development will increase the size of York’s city centre by one third.
The transformation of this underused site, one of the largest city-centre brownfield sites in England, will create vibrant new residential, cultural and business neighbourhoods in the heart of York and is expected to add over £1 billion to the city’s GVA and create around 6,500 jobs once complete.
The development is being brought forward by a partnership between Homes England, Network Rail, the City of York Council and the National Railway Museum.
Our brief was to engage communities around the development and secure support for the partnership as it develops a masterplan for the project, with a key emphasis on creating meaningful engagement with residents. Ultimately, our task is to ensure that there is sufficient support and tangible confidence from the public that the partnership can deliver York Central.
Central to this journey was ensuring successful public engagement on the emerging masterplan for the site. In order to effectively communicate the emerging plans for the development and to make this process more accessible and engaging for residents, we worked with local community group, My Future York, to create the ‘Festival of York Central’.
The Festival of York Central was designed to go further than a traditional consultation exhibition, with a series of wider events organised for the community, including drop-in family events, workshops in local schools, walking and cycling tours, Pechakucha conversation evenings and film screenings.
Over a six week period, 43 events were held and each was designed to target and inform different key audiences and encourage them to join in the conversation around the development.
Alongside the programme of community events, a fixed exhibition on the emerging masterplan was held at the National Railway Museum over the six weeks, from March to April. The exhibition was designed to be at the centre of the festival and visitors were able to interact with it by sharing their immediate thoughts on post-it-notes, which were displayed next to the information boards. The post-it-note mechanism also allowed visitors to view feedback from other people and often sparked further ideas or questions. They were also asked to fill in more traditional feedback forms on specific sections of the masterplan, which they were able to do on and offline.
Our work included coordinating the design and production of content for the exhibition display boards. We also created and delivered an integrated campaign to pre-promote the festival and our promotional activity included: press releases, media interviews, sponsored content and promoted social media posts, online and offline advertising, leaflet drops, as well as using existing community networks and resources.
In addition, we redesigned and re-wrote the content for the project website - www.yorkcentral.info – and introduced Commonplace, a dedicated online consultation tool where people were encouraged to leave their feedback. The platform ensures transparency as all comments provided can be viewed by the public, even once the feedback period has closed. This was also the first time the tool has been used in York.
Over the six week exhibition, more than 5,900 contributions were made via Commonplace or on post-it-notes logged at the exhibition. The post-it-notes have been collated and tagged in a dedicated Flickr gallery by My York Central and more than 151 people subscribed to project news updates on Commonplace. These comments are now being evaluated and will be used to help shape the final planning submission.
In terms of sentiment, 56% of all comments made via Commonplace in response to key areas of the plans were positive, with only 9% of people leaving negative feedback or disagreeing with the direction of the scheme. In a scheme of this size and complexity, the level of support is highly unusual.
There is also now a further exercise taking place looking at how some of the feedback gathered can be used in wider conversations around areas such as housing and transport across York.