Tools to reinvent the heart of a community

  • Matthew Clark
It’s been two years since Liam Dargan submitted his winning project, Heart of Darwen, into The Creative Conscience Awards. Since then, he’s continued to expand on his passion project whilst also working with Creative Conscience and one of our partners; L&Co.
Although he was studying in Kingston at the time, Liam’s project took him back to his roots in Darwen, Lancashire, after he discovered the council’s plans to demolish one of the town’s markets. When we discovered his project, he’d already created Heart of Darwen, a platform to encourage idea generation and community discussion regarding the future of the town’s market space. After presenting the concept to Blackburn with Darwen Council, Liam worked with them to find out what the community really wanted and needed in the space, through various methods such as interviews, surveys, workshops and online polls.
Blackburn with Darwen Council has since announced plans for the space, influenced by the outcome of Liam’s research.
“It was great to see the council adopting ideas from the research conducted through Heart of Darwen. We’d somewhat decided what we wanted the space to look like, but what about how it should be used? And beyond that, what does the community need from the rest of the town?”
It was at this point when Liam was asked to take part in Manufactory, an event being hosted during the London Design Festival by Kingston School of Art. With the aim of exploring the future of design for communities and commerce, he saw this as a perfect opportunity to expand on Heart of Darwen.
Liam secured funding from The Aldridge Foundation and Blackburn with Darwen Council to bring 20 Darwen residents on the train from Lancashire to the event. Throughout their time in London, they were guided around the Manufactory event, Old Spitalfields Market, Boxpark and Brick Lane before heading back to the Manufactory space where they took part in a workshop led by Liam. Creative Conscience team members Chrissy Levett, Paul Barlow and Stephanie Mills were on hand to help squeeze ideas out of the residents about how Darwen’s market should be utilised, and how the town centre could be improved based on inspiring things they had seen.
The Darwen residents, which included students, local business people, market customers and council members, spoke positively about what they’d seen throughout the day, inspired by ideas like flexi-stalls, Boxpark and more practical information like later opening times and flexible rental structures. Included in the workshop, they created ‘ideal headlines’ for the town, looked at how different Darwen strong-points could work together, and they each wrote a short manifesto piece about what they’d like their town to stand for.
Since the event, the group have met up again in Darwen and have helped to make key decisions around the regeneration of the old market space. Meanwhile, the council has also began implementing changes to the existing market – influenced by the London trip. Liam has also developed a new Heart of Darwen website which expands on the role of the workshop – providing resources, research and opportunities to others hoping to shape the town for the better. One of the resources includes a partnership with Square, a mobile card payment business, which allows Darwen business owners to start accepting card payments by taking advantage of a free card reader, plus £1000 of fee-free transactions.
“I’m extremely grateful to both Creative Conscience and L&Co for their continued support with the project, and I can’t wait to see how ‘Heart of’ continues to grow and influence, perhaps beyond Darwen, in the future.”