Engaging Communities During Lockdown – lessons from practitioners

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The lockdown of communities and places during the Covid 19 pandemic has had major impacts on individuals and communities and how they engage with the places around them. As we begin to move forward, communities and organisations are left with the challenge of how engage with each other in the shifting landscape of the new ‘normal’.

We can all learn from each other and use this knowledge to shape future engagements, design of places and connections with communities. To help create a place for this exchange of ideas Architecture and Design Scotland hosted a session with practitioners to learn how they had responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and to discuss the challenges, share ideas and promote good practice.

During the first, in what we hope will be a series of online chats, we connected with:  Kirsty Macari, from Dundee University on how to connect students through virtual reality;  Nick Wright  spoke about the engagement work in for Ardrishaig in Argyll and Bute for a public realm project, Mairi Stewart and Ailsa Anderson from Aberdeenshire Council on a Virtual Drop-In Room, and we had Neil Young, a community representative who was involved in the first pop up temporary bike lane for a deprived area in north Glasgow.

You will find short summaries and links to videos of their presentations on this page.  We are always looking for innovative and interesting ways in engaging people, please get in touch if you would like any additional information or you have a place-based project that you think we could help with.


Improving Public Space – New Provanmill Bike Lane, Glasgow
Neil Young, Youth Team Leader, St Paul’s Youth Forum 


The community started a steering group for creating safe cycle routes when a survey in a local school indicated 85% pupils own a bike but only 5% cycle to school due to lack of safe routes.  


As Provanmill wasn’t part of Glasgow’s new plans for cycle lanes.  The community decided to create a temporary bike lane themselves to showcase their need. 


  • Testing ideas yourself can help you showcase your community need. 
  • Work close with the community, this not only gives you support but also minimises vandalism towards any project work. 
  • Involve and work closely with your local council and Councillors, as this helps gain political trust and understanding.
  • Use social media to capture and promote what you are doing as this reaches a wider audience and helps support your project need. 
  • Things can happen very quickly when the people involved that want  to see it happen. 

Impact/next steps 

Continue with the community steering group and help link up the area.


Continuing Students’ Education During Lockdown
Macari, lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, University of Dundee 


Urban planning and environmental sustainability students at Dundee University applied a community focused lens to their education embarking on new ways to continue engagement with a local community as part of their studies. With lockdown in placestudents transformed traditional methods into to digital engagement platform 


Students added in new ways to expand their knowledge and understanding of community issues creating digitally local personas, mapped ideas and solutions and testing these as various scenarios.  


  • Opportunity to engage more with the community digitally.  
  • Encouraged the students to think outside the academic comfort zone.  
  • Learned about the relationships between communities and professionals involved in shaping our cities, towns and neighbourhoods  

Impact/Next steps  

  • Rethink and reframe delivering elements of Planning Education by enabling the aspect of learning in community to be regarded as a new marker 
  • Enabling the students to obtain “on the job/real time  experience that can be used for future job opportunities.  

Aberdeenshire Council Local Development Plan 2020 Virtual Drop-In Room
Mairi Stewart and Ailsa Anderson, Aberdeenshire Council.


Aberdeenshire Council was due to publish its Proposed Local Development Plan in April 2020, with face to face engagement planned through a series of drop-in events across Aberdeenshire. However, due to restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown Aberdeenshire Council sought to progress their consultation utilising more innovative ways of engaging with communities and stakeholders during these unprecedented times. On 25 May 2020, the Proposed Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan was published online and consulted upon utilising primarily digital means of engagement, including use of a virtual drop-in in lieu of face to face events.  Continuing with the consultation ensured the Plan-making process did not stall and should ensure that Aberdeenshire Council will continue to have an up-to-date local development plan come 2022.


Working with AECOM  Aberdeenshire Council created a virtual exhibition ‘room’, where visitors could engage with the proposed plan, download information, ask questions on the virtual chat board and view the information through a dedicated website.


  • Keep the information you are sharing as accessible as possible
  • Support the digital content by having a chat function that allows the public to ask the team direct questions
  • The environmental impact of not having to print so many plans allows us to redirect financial savings into other ways of engagement such as the virtual room
  • You can reach so many more people digitally, as people can connect at a time that suits them.

Impact/Next stages

  • The engagement online has been increased by 250% than previous face to face consultations.
  • This is a valuable approach that could be incorporated into future community consultations to supplement and support more traditional face to face means of engagement.


Digital Engagement
Nick Wright, Nick Wright Planning



Suggestions for good digital engagement using example of ongoing engagement on Ardrishaig public realm scheme for Argyll and Bute Council and Sustrans (led by ERZ Studio and Icecream Architecture), recent Scottish Land Commission research with developers on early engagement, and other digital engagement experience 


Digital platforms need to be well thought out and designed to ensure they facilitate meaningful engagement – done well, they are good at getting information out to a wide demography (and responses back). 


  • Digital platforms need to have clear information about the project and the purpose of the engagement – plain English, honest and transparent. 
  • They need attractive and engaging interactive graphicscontent and opportunities to influence proposals, for example placing pins or comments directly onto visualisations and plans.
  • They need to work on both mobiles and desktop computers. 
  • Consider using an existing local platform if available – if not, set up a new dedicated platform but make sure you link to other local websites and social media. 
  • Good publicity is essential – you will only get that good demographic reach if people know the website is there! Linking with existing local websites, social media and community networks is a good starting point.   
  • The ability to host video events if necessary, by embedding webinar, conferencing or presentation tech (e.g. Facebook Live, Zoom, YouTube, Webex etc – different platforms are good for different situations). 
  • Remember not everyone is online.  Make sure you publicise other ways for people to find out information and to comment, like on-site posterwith phone number for a named contact person. 

(Updated July 2020)

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