Service
Public sector programmes
Design Associate
Nick Devitt
Design agency
TEAM

Northumberland County Council used design coaching to help regenerate a landmark industrial site and create a new community asset.

The closure of a frozen food factory in the Northumberland town of Amble had a heavy impact on the local population.  Northumberland Foods, Amble's largest employer, closed its doors in 2010 triggering the loss of 250 jobs and leaving a gaping hole where a landmark industrial site once stood. Northumberland County Council, the owner of the factory site, wanted to ensure what replaced it continued to be of value and have a positive impact on the community as a whole. The question was how. 

Northumberland Council began by approaching Amble Development Trust to help them put together a group of local stakeholders to work together to determine a future use for the site. Amble is a historic port with a population of 6,000, situated on the River Coquet estuary and the southern gateway to Northumberland’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Coastline. An immediate challenge was to understand how a service model, for the type of enterprises that could be based on the old factory site, might be designed and developed.

Determined to ensure that all involved could equally contribute and co-create a model that would benefit the local community, the council asked the Design Council for support.

What We Did

Northumberland Council and Amble Development Trust started working with Design Council Design Associate Nick Devitt, who began by bringing together representatives from key stakeholder groups.

“At the start of this process, there was a 20-page development document outlining a vision to regenerate Amble but no methodology for achieving it,” says Devitt. “An essential first step was to get all of the key stakeholders together, around the same table and talking.” 

The challenge was having an open discussion - and that’s where working with an independent Design Associate really becomes very valuable.

Julia Aston, Amble Development Trust

Nick then led a series of workshops designed to unite the diverse mix of representatives from organisations including local businesses, the local tourist board and the police, using a design-led approach to generate and capture ideas around which the group could coalesce an begin to shape an approach.

The aim was to gain "a vision for the future of Amble", says Julia Aston, Director of the Amble Development Trust. “Some people came with a fixed approach, others not. The challenge was having an open discussion - and that’s where working with an independent Design Associate really becomes very valuable," she adds.

Initially, the focus was on the challenges the town faced and different ways the industrial plot could be used. One idea was to turn the factory site into a Made In Northumberland Food Hub. However it soon became apparent that a bigger issue was what more could be done to reinvigorate the fortunes of the entire town.

Food emerged as a recurring theme – especially seafood. While Amble is a busy fishing port, almost none of its local catch was being sold locally. Tourism was identified as one of the most important sectors for the town’s economy for which locally caught food would be a big draw.  

What was clear was that the project needed not be tied to just one site – the old factory – but do something for elsewhere in the town in a more sustainable way

Julia Aston, Amble Development Trust

Workshop participants identified redevelopment goals and also challenges and barriers that would need to be addressed. Thirteen project ideas were identified, including an opportunity to improve signage around the town to make it easier to access and navigate, a promotional strategy to boost visitors including the creation of a seafood festival, piloting local mussel production, and turning the old factory site into an ‘urban campsite’.

A regeneration project which focused on the heart of the town around the harbour and sought to re-position Amble as a food-centred tourist destination was favoured. Tourist consultancy, TEAM was then appointed to undertake a detailed scoping study. "What was clear was that the project needed not be tied to just one site – the old factory – but do something for elsewhere in the town in a more sustainable way,” says Aston.

A key idea was to create small retail units – pods – for small, local producers and a local seafood centre. Nick also advised on the user benefits and potential business model of such a scheme and best locations for the prosed retail pods were assessed.

Results

Design Council support at an early stage of the project to regenerate Amble was an important contributor to its success. Meanwhile many of the development ideas it generated, co-created by community stakeholders under the guidance of Nick, have since been implemented.

In March 2014, Amble secured £1.8m funding from the Government’s Coast Community Fund. The first 12 retail pods opened in the following March and the final three pods and the seafood centre opened for business in July 2015.

“The extent to which discussions evolved and how the project went off in broader and more sustainable direction than initially suggested is a positive reflection of our Design Associate’s open-minded and flexible approach", Aston explained.

In 2012, local stakeholders co-published a report called Amble 2020 outlining ambitious plans to boost the economic fortunes of the town by revitalising the town’s harbour, waterfront and pier to attract new visitors, create jobs and help to sustain the wider economy of the local area.

Proposals included developing an aqua-cultural growth sector and a new harbour village with 15 new small business pods, a seafood centre, a new waterside promenade, and the establishment of a seafood broker post to add value to the catch landed by the local fishing fleet.

In March 2014, Amble secured £1.8m funding from the Government’s Coast Community Fund. The first 12 retail pods opened in the following March and the final three pods and the seafood centre opened for business in July 2015.

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