To anyone with a Welsh background and an interest in films, Twin Town conjures up a film of 20+ years ago which was described as a Welsh Trainspotting, though less successful. Lock up your sheep and pretty much anything else, was I think one strapline.
I am not sure why that came to mind, as an altogether more friendly and pleasant experience took place last week when Carnegie UK Trust hosted a celebrity event for the six towns involved in their Twin Towns UK project. As a member of the Expert Reference Group (not the other ERG) I attended and learned first-hand what these towns had been up to.
The origins of the project are in the Flourishing Towns theme of Carnegie UK Trust. The notion was that by “twinning” distinct but similar towns lessons could be learned and projects advanced in both places. This was not traditional town twinning but rather a facilitated matching service leading to lasting benefit for places.
From an initial set of towns, three pairs made it through to Phase Two and these pairs reported their work at the event in North Shields. It should be noted that this was a distinctive project from the outset in that no expectations or guidelines were set down, but rather the towns were encouraged to make what they wanted from the opportunity.
The outcome, as presented by the town pairs (Whitburn/Oswaldtwistle, Broughshane/Wooler and North Shields/Merthyr Tydfil) was fascinating and illuminating. I won’t go into details of what they did, but instead provide some overall themes. Details of activities and reports will be available via Carnegie UK Trust in due course.
So what themes emerged?
- All towns found it enormously beneficial to have to hold a ‘mirror’ up to themselves and to engage with critical friends. They ended up learning as much about their own town as they did about the pair.
- The pairs (which were selected by the ERG) did find similarities and learnings that could be adapted for transfer. This has led in each case to enhanced confidence, capability and economic and social benefits. These will continue.
- The use of digital media to communicate and build communities was under-developed before the project, and has become a key feature of the current developments. It is perhaps a little puzzling why this need is a surprise to many places.
- The need to tell a story and change the narrative were writ large across the places. There is much to build on, to be proud of in most towns, and once engaged, communities demonstrate this pride and ‘brand’.
More widely, the project lifted horizons and made people and groups take stock of their own and distinct place. This proved highly influential in changing thinking. The efforts of the people involved was great and their pride rightly shone through in what has been achieved to date. These varied from the introduction of markets, the takeover of assets and their renewal, historical themed walks and trails, various clean up and improvement initiatives and some more energetic sporting initiatives. Small beginnings it may seem in some towns, but these are necessary steps.
There will now be a period of reflection as various reports will be finalised and published. Keep an eye on the Carnegie Trust UK website and social media streams for updates and learnings, and especially the words and videos of the towns themselves.