Ashfield District Council – discovering Ashfield and developing a narrative

This case study describes how we provided support to Ashfield District Council to develop a place narrative with the community at its heart.

Communications support


The 'Discover Ashfield' place partnership board was set up in 2017 to promote Ashfield as a great place to live, work, study and visit. The board also oversees the delivery of projects funded through the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) and the Town Deal.

Some foundations for developing place narrative had been laid by Ashfield District Council, as part of the work of creating 'Discover Ashfield'. The Local Government Association provided support to develop and articulate this narrative.


Two LGA associates worked with councillors, officers and board member partners during a total of six days. The associates read background documents, plans and research findings to establish a picture of Ashfield and the important elements to explore in relation to place narrative. Three workshops ran to explore the key themes: two internally, with councillors and officers; one with partners.

From this research, a narrative was created, as a starting point, to share internally. The aim was to refine the themes and later share the narrative with people who live and work in Ashfield, as well as visitors to the area.

Following research, the associates found that the key themes and the council’s ‘must haves’ in the narrative would be:

  • the importance of the strong, friendly community
  • the economic progress being made across the district
  • major investment in towns, pleasant green spaces and parks
  • the appetite for change and the ambition of organisations and partners
  • people in the community living healthier and longer lives.

There was also acknowledgement of another story where some residents were struggling and some older people were looking to the past rather than to future aspiration. There was a feeling that some of the discontent was driven by stories in the media. 
To ensure that the narrative would resonate with audiences, internal and external to the council, it needed to be adaptable. The council was keen to build on the ‘discovery’ theme, bring out the hidden gems in the district and invite staff, councillors, partners and residents to see themselves in Ashfield.

Workshops, to tease out the themes, used models and techniques to engage participants and inspire imaginative thinking. These models and resources can be found in the LGA narrative toolkit. Two exercises used successfully in the Ashfield workshop were:

  • consideration of ‘natural thinking preferences’ and how we tend to communicate with others depending on our own preference (the Hermann Global LLC ‘whole brain graphic’ showing intellectual, intuitive, instinctive and rational thinking preferences was used during workshops in Ashfield to illustrate the need to make the narrative appealing to a range of communication preferences)
  • the container approach to story was used to capture key objects and metaphors, which were important in making the narrative specific to Ashfield; for example, the telescope was an important object identified by participants for the following reasons:
    • it is used to look at the stars and speaks to positive futures
    • it has links to a popular mural of a young person using a telescope that the community is proud of
    • Ashfield is home to the biggest observatory outside Greenwich; so, the reference fits well with the hidden gem theme.

The associates also chose to frame the story using ‘Ashfield Day’, which is an event that binds different towns and villages together. They were clear that the narrative also had to do some practical work including defining the geographical location as many people do not know where Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, is.


Following research, the associates proposed a narrative for the council under the title ‘Discovering Ashfield – good to great’.

The summary of the narrative, or elevator pitch, as the associates described it, is:

  • we are building on what’s best about our communities and the area’s heritage to carve out a new future for Ashfield
  • we’ve always been inventive, can-do, hardworking people and we’re ready to make the most of this hidden gem.

This summary and the descriptive text, set out below, are written with an invitation to the reader, using the second person, 'you' form. This is intentional and designed to engage the imagination using phrases like: 'You will see…'. This approach was popular with councillors and officers, who felt that this put the reader in the place of Ashfield.

To provide a guide to the narrative, beyond the summary, it may be helpful to view some of its elements in more detail as follows:

  • It’s the people that make Ashfield and community is at our heart. Ours is a district where we are glad to roll our sleeves up, get stuck in and help anyone.
  • In a quiet way we’re changing and growing, thinking long-term and we’re ambitious for the future – good jobs facilities and surroundings will help us all live happier, healthier and longer lives.
  • Across the towns of Sutton, Kirkby and Hucknall, and in our rural areas, we always find more in common than we might first think. We are more than the sum of our parts and that’s important as we’re stronger together.
  • There is more happening than ever with major investments in our towns and we’re working together to make the district clean and green. Out on the Teversal Trail, where the countryside is outstanding, you’ll notice that there’s space to breathe.
  • We are proud to be a hidden gem. Like our winter Light Festival, there’s an increasingly confident glow across our area.
  • Industry has always been part of our heritage. What we make today is different because we’ve always adapted and grabbed the opportunities that come our way, sometimes out of necessity but always with invention.
  • We’ve invested in skills and learning, so whether it’s an apprenticeship, college or university you don’t have to leave to make your next move. People relocated here because we’re generating opportunities of all sorts.
  • We know there are tough challenges ahead. Like other places, some families are struggling and need help to lead their best lives. We are determined to provide the right kind of support for young and old. That is why we are harnessing our skills, energy and passion to deliver a brighter future for the district.
  • Everyone doing their bit – this is at the heart of what makes our families and communities thrive.
  • Like our fantastic Sutton Observatory, which houses the biggest telescope in the country outside Greenwich, we are raising our sights and looking to the stars.

Opportunities and challenges

With the draft narrative in place, this is just the beginning of a programme of work for the council, Discover Ashfield, partners and the council’s communications team. We mention the communications team specifically, as they are experts with the skills to create a strategy to communicate with and engage staff, members, partners and residents.

The development of the narrative will be used as a ‘golden thread’ to connect the council’s vision and priorities for authority and place. This will be included in the corporate plan and communications strategy, as well as the annual communications plan to support the agreed objectives.

Delivering and embedding the narrative effectively (internally and externally) will be time-consuming and require the right skills. A review of capacity within the communications team and beyond will be part of the next stage of this work. Engagement, building relationships and creating time to respond (to encourage two-way communication) will be key to stakeholders' understanding, embracing and sharing the narrative in future.

Next steps

To embed the narrative with stakeholders and encourage them to see it as their story (to drive communication and action), the associates recommended sharing and testing the narrative with different groups. This has already been done to a certain extent within the council. Once the feedback from staff and councillors has been gathered, partner organisations and residents would be the next groups to engage with. Outputs and outcomes from this engagement, measured against the council’s priorities, will need to be evaluated to ensure the narrative adapts and remains relevant as the place, the council and its communities change over time.

Further information

You can find more information about this project at: