TEDx Macclesfield event:Building community; strengthening places

Over recent years, TED talks have become something of a global phenomenon; showcasing the work of the brightest brains from all over the World through their series of short, powerful presentations covering a whole host of topics. On 28th April 2018, Macclesfield, a North West town close to IPM headquarters, hosted their own TEDx event to showcase just some of the forward-thinking ideas, research, and experiences from those with personal connections to the town. In TED’s spirit of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, TEDx Macclesfield connected people with a shared link to Macclesfield to spark conversations, share ideas, and help to collectively make positive changes to the town at a local level. The event was organised by Lynne Jones and Jude D’Souza with help from enthusiastic local volunteers. Jones explained the importance of holding such an important event in the town:

“Macclesfield (as perhaps any town) is grappling with a number of big issues - town centre regeneration, mental health service provision, local governance and democracy, supporting start-up businesses, and of course Brexit - but there are fewer public forums where real engagement can take place and ideas can be shared locally... The more of us who put something in, however small, the greater the sense connection and the stronger the community becomes. The danger is that we are living in silos more than ever, not hearing from those who hold different views...”

This event was about dismantling such silos, and creating a platform for cultivating a network of local people with a shared passion for making Macclesfield a more thriving place to live, work, and dwell. The event was a complete sell-out, with an audience of 100 local people gathering in Townley Street Chapel - a community hub in Macclesfield. Although the speakers covered a diverse range of topics, the presentations were linked together by the common theme of how collaboration is key- something which is integral for generating any place’s vitality and viability. 

Whilst TEDx’s popularity has swept the world, local community and connections remain at the heart of what they are about. In a world where for many of us the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, recent decades have seen a decline in traditional community, and people in the UK are feeling more disconnected than ever. Whilst TED talks aim to spread ideas across the globe, TEDx events are designed to facilitate and nurture connections between local people. As co-organiser Lynne Jones noted:

“Another way to make an impact is to facilitate connections and conversations - which is as simple as a long break in the event, with a space on the lanyard to write 'I'm interested in', plus an open invitation to move onto the pub opposite for lunchtime drinks... We also created social environments for the speakers to get to know each other - and the feedback is that they want to stay in touch”.

And working together, these people, along with audience members, local volunteers, and other local stakeholders, can have a real impact on strengthening Macclesfield using a collaborative place-making approach. As Professor Cathy Parker explains: 

“Selecting speakers, who live locally, showed just how much talent there is in the town. The audience were also mostly local people, so they will embed this new thinking locally. Having such an exciting event in the town makes more connections between people and builds the capacity for the town, as a whole, to develop... The more opportunities from people to network, collaborate and be inspired, the more this will strengthen the town... People make places”.

Co-organiser, Jude D’Souza, similarly observed how the speakers’ presentations have:

“... Opened minds and changed perspectives... From those realising how hostile an environment we create for those quietly suffering with mental health issues, to those now grasping the wider impact of where they spend their money; from the office worker who will have their next meeting outdoors, to the person who will opt to adapt that jacket rather than throw it away. Even the people who will take a moment today to simply ask a colleague how their day is going...”

Over recent years, people in the town have been working hard to bring more ideas and creativity to the town, with initiatives such as the Macclesfield Barnaby Festival, ArtSpace, and Make it Macclesfield helping to enhance the town’s identity, arts and culture offer, and civic pride. But improvements can always be made to strengthen a place’s vitality and viability. And this TEDx event proved to be another integral stepping stone on the path towards building a stronger and more active local community in Macclesfield. As our recent research into high street change has shown, people don’t just live, work, and shop in places; but they are also vital to creating, revitalising, and changing those very places.