"Castleford Project", an innovative regeneration project
David Barrie, producer of public projects and consultant in city development.


Too often, our understanding of nature and architecture is confined to physics and urban renewal is led by brand marketing. But the preservation and transformation of our landscape should be seen as a cultural and social process “to do with memory in the present and the creation (but not simply re-creation) of identity.”  This is what has driven The Castleford Project, an innovative programme of renewal of a town in West Yorkshire, England that in just four years has transformed several of the town’s public spaces and leveraged over €300m of new public and private investment.

An unholy alliance

The roots of the Project rest in an unusual, almost unholy alliance.

On the one hand are the citizens of the town. Castleford was once an important coal-mining centre. In the 1990s it fell on hard times. The industry was restructured, mines closed, the economy of the town collapsed and its fabric fell in to disrepair. But Castleford has managed to maintain a distinctive civic pride because of a powerful, historic culture of community and a motivated heritage lobby. The town has many active citizens’ groups, community organisations and young and old people committed to living and working in the town. These groups are prepared to work for the town, as well as themselves. They see the horizon, not just their doorstep.

On the other hand are professionals and public employees working in regeneration, design, project management and community development. The social democratic values of government in the U.K. under New Labour have cultivated ideas of social and economic equity. The decommissioning and re-commissioning of a new post-industrial economy is now at full pace. And a generation of built environment professionals has emerged that is committed to governance and development beyond the historic paradigm of ‘command and control’.

In 2003, a team of experts in the built environment came together to pioneer a new, local, citizen-orientated approach to renewal. They were supported by Channel 4 Television , a public broadcaster with an extensive cultural programme who also wanted to commission a series of TV shows that would document the improvement of a town. After consulting the community, the group decided it wanted to work in Castleford and joined forces with Wakefield Metropolitan Borough Council, regional development agencies and national regeneration organisations. The aim was simple: to harness Castleford’s assets and enable a series of small but important improvements to some of its key public spaces. The ethos of the project: civic participation and co-design .

The Project

The Project started in early 2003 with a series of public meetings in bars, clubs and community centres in Castleford, supported by Channel 4, Wakefield Council and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment . A simple question was asked: “How do you want to see your town improved?”

This simple poll listed priority projects. Community leaders stepped forward to lead individual projects. Three new community organisations were formed. A plan was hatched to try and deliver eleven projects in all, from small improvements to derelict open spaces to a new town square; from new children’s play facilities to a new pedestrian bridge across the River Aire. A logic formed that linked several projects to one programme and so enabled projects with a stronger commercial pulse to support the weaker, more welfare-orientated ones.

With its ranks swelled by ‘community champions’, the project team invited designers to generate ideas for individual projects in an ideas competition. The community voted for their favourite designs. Some people were shocked by the devolution of power. But the Project was resolute that towns and cities are expressions of community and the taxpaying public and that the vitality of place rests upon confidence, consumers and an understanding that people, not just land are an important asset base.

In 2004 and 2005, development teams were formed, made up of members of the community, designers and local government officials. Design ideas became formal plans. The team of experts stayed on hand to provide strategic advice on regeneration, design, management and funding. The project teams pitched for funding.

In late 2005, just two years in, the first project went on site: a new playground in a poor housing area. Nine have followed. They include four new public spaces and a renovated subway. All were once either derelict or badly designed. The last project, an architect-designed pedestrian bridge, is now on site and due to be completed in Autumn 2007. An initial grant of €150,000 from Channel 4 has become a €19m capital programme, sourced from twenty-three funding sources that has generated over €200m of new private investment in the residential and commercial development of the town.

A movement for local change

A key reason for the success of the project is that by creating a movement for change, a clear development platform for the town has been established.

Civic participation was not just hard-wired in to the core capital programme but also reinforced and extended by an ancillary programme of local activity.

The project refurbished a shop in the town centre and turned it to a meeting and arts space. The Project ran events for local businesses and volunteer organisations. Wakefield Council ran environmental projects in schools. Arts Council Yorkshire enabled the commission of new work by local and international artists and the appointment of artists to the design team. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust and Sure Start ran linked local projects. Channel 4 held ‘Regeneration’ dance nights in local clubs.

It was this whole-hearted, holistic effort that has delivered success. By exposing and expressing the identity of a town and seeing the environment as an expression of culture, a process has taken hold in Castleford that is transforming its landscape in a way that is sustainable, personal and reflective of enduring ideas of change and renewal.


David Barrie is a producer of public projects and a consultant in city development. He developed and led The Castleford Project (2002-05) and remains a member of its Steering Board. He is currently working on urban renewal projects in the U.K. and China.
Blog: http://davidbarrie.typepad.com


The landmark pedestrian bridge over the River Aire at Castleford Bay won in 2009  the Civic Trust Awards and the Waterways Renaissance Awards

Castleford, West Yorkshire in England
The former derelict allotments site on which is now the unique Cutsyke playforest. Credit: Channel 4
Childrens play park at Green Ferry Fryston before the works. Credit: Channel 4
The transformed childrens play park at the Green Ferry Fryston on launch day. Credit: Ibstock Corey Environmental Trust
The transformed childrens play park at the Green Ferry Fryston on launch day. Credit: Ibstock Corey Environmental Trust
New Fryston village green in launch day, July 2005. Credit: English Partnerships
TV Presenter Kevin McCloud with US designer Martha Schwartz on site as the new village green is being developed. Credit: Channel 4
Panorama across the River in Castleford before the bride. Credit: Channel 4
Design image of the new bridge currently under construction. Bridge designers McDowell+Benedetti
Design image of the new bridge currently under construction. Bridge designers McDowell+Benedetti