Centre for Towns Research

We work with communities through design and research to make towns more successful, sustainable and inclusive. We believe in the power of communities to shape their towns and aim to bring people together to explore the future of their place. We advocate for the value of architecture, design and collaboration in catalysing change, shifting the narrative from preserving and conserving to re-thinking and championing our towns.

Centre for Towns research project


Research background

A fifth of the population of Europe lives in small towns of under 50,000 people, while beyond the major metropolitan areas this figure is closer to a third. From medieval market towns to industrial manufacturing centres, busting high streets to coastal villages, no two are the same and their variety is one of their strengths.

However, their fortunes vary dramatically; while some have experienced growth and prosperity, others have stagnated or atrophied following decline in industry and the rural economy and dramatic changes to the retail landscape. In order to survive and thrive, change is inevitable.

Working in partnership with industry and public sector partners, we explore the power of design skills in creating thriving and resilient smaller communities across the UK and beyond. The project explores the value of architecture and design in supporting and catalysing change.

It includes practical action-based research and includes work across different scales: the development of a toolkit for community groups to explore their place, future visions, artist residencies, co-design and the publication of a book for RIBA Publishing.

We have worked with community groups, charities, decision makers, schools and councils, including:

Brecon Beacons NPA, Cultural Action Llandudno, CoLab Dudley, Conwy County Borough Council, Design Commission for Wales, Frome Town Council, Hands On Bristol, Ruthin Town Council, Studio Response, Southmead Development Trust, The Ardagh Community Trust and Ynysybwl Regeneration Partnership.

Project aims

  • Recognise the opportunities and challenges faced by towns in 21st century;
  • Use collaborative and community-led methods to engage communities in considering long term strategies for their place;
  • Advocate for the role of architects and designers in transforming towns within the profession, nationally and internationally.



Jones, Matthew (2021) Creating Thriving Towns: What is the future for Wales' towns in the aftermath of the pandemic? Places for Life 2. pp. 50-55.

Jones, Matthew and Forster, Wayne (2021) Dialogues with People & Place: Toward an empathetic approach to mapping place identity. Building Material 24 : Topography

Jones, Matthew (2020) Transforming Towns: Designing for Smaller Communities. RIBA Publishing, London. ISBN 9781859469064

Sara, R., Jones, M. and Rice, L., (2020). Austerity urbanism: connecting strategies and tactics for participatory placemaking. CoDesign, pp.1-17. doi: 10.1080/15710882.2020.1761985

Sara, R. and Jones, M., (2019). Co-constructing community wellbeing: developing a framework to identify how student-community collaborative public space projects impact on community wellbeing. Designing for Health & Wellbeing: Home, City, Society, p.187.

Jones, M., Rice, L. and Meraz, F. (eds) (2019), Designing for Health and Wellbeing: Home, City, Society (Delaware, USA/Malaga, ES: Vernon Press).

Jones, M., Sara, R., Columbano, A., Anderson, J., Parsons, M., ‘Exploring the Role of University/Community Collaborative Action in Rethinking, Resisting and Reimagining the Creative City’. Workshop at CKC 2019: Rethinking, Resisting and Reimagining the Creative City Conference, Bristol, 12-13 September 2019.

Jones, M. & Spence, A. (2018), ‘Shape My Town: A critical perspective on community well-being in Wales’. Presented at: Health: The design, planning and politics of how and where we live. University of the West of England, 25-26 January 2018.

Sara, Rachel and Jones, Matthew (2018). ‘The university as agent of change in the city: Co-creation of live community architecture’. International Journal of Architectural Research: ArchNet-IJAR, 12 (1). pp. 326-337. ISSN 1938-7806

Jones, M. and Spence, A. (2017), ‘Empowering local people through the planning process: The emerging practice of ‘Place Planning’ and its contribution to community well-being in Wales’. In: Brotas, L., Roaf, S. and Nicol, F., eds. (2017) Design to Thrive. Edinburgh, UK: Network for Comfort and Energy Use in Buildings, pp. 4493-4500.

Sara, R., & Jones, M. (2017), ‘Workshop: Collaborating with communities in creating their own spaces with the city’, Bristol, England.

Sara, R., & Jones, M. (2017), The University as agent of change in the city: Co-creation of live community architecture. Paper presented at PLEA 2017: Design to Thrive, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Jones, M. (2016), ‘Workshop: Developing a vision for places to live.’ Workshop at: Design Commission for Wales, Place for Life conference, 12 October 2016.

Jones, M. and Forster, W. (2015) ‘Reimagining rural towns: A design-led approach.’ Presented at Re-imagining Rurality, London, UK, 27-28 February 2015. (London: University of Westminster, 2015).

Jones, M. (2011) ‘Incremental urbanism: An economic approach to the small town.’ Presented at Economy conference, Cardiff, UK, 6-8 July 2011.

Jones, M. (2006), ‘Finding and defining place: the 13th International Design Seminar, Monte Carasso, 2-15 July 2006’, ARQ: Architectural Research Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 9-11.