On the ground stories of towns

November 28, 2019

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by Pippa Coutts, Policy and Development Manager, Carnegie UK Trust

Towns have suffered bad press and been labelled ‘in crisis’ as high streets have declined.

But millions of people live in towns that are rich with skills, stories and local heroes. Over the years of supporting towns to flourish, Carnegie UK Trust has heard about many UK towns where people are taking on challenges and developing local solutions. So, we have collected some of those stories in Turnaround Towns UK to give a flavour of their successes.

We have spoken to West Kilbride and Dumfries in Scotland; Portrush in Northern Ireland; Cardigan in Wales; and Morecambe, Todmorden, Grimsby, Wigan and Totnes in England.  We have found stories of communities who, fed up with austerity and negative preconceptions, have reimagined their town and brought people together through gardening; a common room for the community; events or physical regeneration. Key to success has been collaboration – activists working with local authorities and the community and voluntary sector – and kindness.

Another ingredient of the turnaround stories has been local leaders’ focus on the town being a good place to live together – what we’d call community wellbeing.  The stories show what matters to people is not just economic growth, or jobs, but also arts and culture; places and spaces to meet and opportunities to have a say over their towns’ future.  The Trust has for some time called for new data to understand towns better, and this need has intensified in light of the changes that will come from leaving the European Union. Too often the focus of politicians, at all levels, has been on the single figure of Gross Domestic Product, but this doesn’t represent the reality of people’s lives.  A point that is well made in the stories of UK ‘turn around’ towns.

As the impending election leads to lots of high-level promises Turnaround Towns UK provides stories of local people and organisations leading transformational change. To support their and others’ efforts, we urge the next government to develop national policies, funds and evidence that supports change-makers in towns across the UK.