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Barrow’s New Constellation

On a dark night in December 2020, we set sail with 15 people from all walks of life across Barrow on a journey to discover the borough’s new constellation. Listen to their journey.

New Constellations designed a voyage of discovery for Barrow in partnership with author and social innovator Hilary Cottam, and Chief Executive of Barrow Borough Council Sam Plum. This was a first-of-its-kind creative process to help the community dream and tell a new, transformative story for its future, made possible thanks to support from the National Lottery’s Emerging Futures Fund.

“It gave me a sense of hope at a time when I needed it more than ever.”

Sarah Jackson, Participant, Superintendent: Cumbria Constabulary

Over a week in December 2020, we set sail with our ‘crew’: 15 people from all walks of life across Barrow.

We were on a journey to discover the borough’s very own new constellation – a set of principles or guideposts for the community to orient towards in pursuit of a brighter future. 

We held the journey during a full lockdown, so it had to work fully remotely and in a covid-secure way. We created a nautical voyage, an immersive experience using audio recordings, individual and group work, reflective exercises, creative workshops and guided walks.

Rob Hopkins, author and Transition Network Co-Founder, joined us to weave in inspirational stories of communities making change around the world. 

We encouraged the wider community to get involved through a billboard, poster and radio ad campaign inviting people to call a free phone line and answer: ‘What’s your boldest dream for Barrow?’

“It was magical, beautifully facilitated and really experiential in a way I hadn’t expected. It worked with people’s hearts almost more than their brains. It felt playful and poetic and was such a beautiful example of what happens when you create a process that speaks to the imagination. It felt like an adventure, change needs to feel like that.”

Rob Hopkins, author and Transition Network Co-Founder

Over the week, we held space for the crew to dream and imagine what a different future would look like for the town. The ‘stars’ they discovered have been formally adopted by the council and are already being used to guide and shape decision making across the borough, including shaping plans for new community hubs, innovation in the local police department, and informing an Independent Advisory Group (in which several of the crew are participating) to improve the area. 

Change begins with a new story of possibility. This is a vital first step, and something New Constellations is helping people and communities find. But it is also just the very beginning, the first stirrings of a process of change that will take years. We are learning the importance of resourcing communities brave enough to begin this process; both to co-create their new story of possibility and with what they need over months – indeed years – to bring it into being.

The wonderful crew who journeyed with us are Andrew Naylor, Beth Kirkby, Dean McSkimmings, Gemma McKell, Jay Zaccarini, John Murphy, Karen Mahaffy, Maddi Nicholson, Martin McLeavy, Natalie Chappels, Sam Plum, Sarah Arun, Sarah Jackson, Sharon Mullen and Tom Lowes.

“When we set off on our journey to discover Barrow’s New Constellation we weren’t sure what to expect, but what we found was extraordinary. When it comes down to it we are looking for a deep sense of connection and belonging to the place we call home. Rekindling those connections and coming together to create a brighter future gives me hope that we can emerge from the last year to build care, compassion and love into heart of what we do.”

Sam Plum, Chief Executive, Barrow Borough Council

Listen to the Audio Encounter made with participants