This blog has railed, far too often, at the dire coverage of high streets and towns. Partial data, an agenda of failure, a lack of intelligence and thinking about what is being studied and a seemingly overwhelming desire to stigmatise and blame people and places has become almost a self reinforcing narrative. Throw in a toxic political situation and you could be forgiven for giving up.
But there are some of us that don’t buy this narrative and continue to try to tackle this stream of despair. Sometimes it even feels like we are getting somewhere. Towns, high streets and retail are changing, not dying. We need to understand this.
So it was good, just before Christmas to be sent a copy of a new Carnegie UK Trust report. This was on Turnaround Towns UK and provides a set of nine case studies of towns across the UK that are proactively dealing with their challenges and beginning to reimagine their places. This is the latest in a long line of Carnegie UK Trust interest in, and funding of, work on towns and places.
For each of the nine towns (Cardigan, Dumfries, Grimsby, Morecambe, Portrush, Todmorden, Totnes, West Kilbride, Wigan), a story is told about what the town was like before and what the town is like now. This is supported by an account of how the town got from where it was to where it is now, including who contributed to this and the approaches used.
The report summarises the wider learnings across these towns under a number of headings:
- Community connectors – the role of a community anchor/organisation
- Spaces for the community – the need for shared spaces to be available
- Imagining and embracing something new – recognition that things have to change
- Celebrating local assets – identifying something valuable in the community
- Moving from silos to working together – collaboration as a way of life
- Kindness: the relational and the rational – emotions about a place are a huge resource
- Working over the long-term – this is not about speed but sustainability
Some of the towns may have familiar stories (e.g. Dumfries and the Midsteeple Quarter, Todmorden and Incredible Edible, Totnes, a Transition Town, and West Kilbride, Scotland’s Craft Town) and have appeared in this blog before. But that is no bad thing, as the stories deserve retelling and there is always something to learn. Others are less familiar and present new ideas. Either way, they make an informed read.
Petrie I., Coutts P. and Ormiston H. (2019) Turnaround Towns UK. ISBN 978-1-912908-26-4. Downloadable here.