Time for Towns

August 7, 2019

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

This Sunday, 11 August, marks 100 years since the death of our founder, the great Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. In recognition of this historical landmark we are publishing a special blog series this week, with a new article every day, explaining how the Trust is continuing Carnegie’s legacy, 100 years since his passing. Today Pippa Coutts writes about our work on towns.


Carnegie UK Trust is one of the few UK policy and practice organisations to be based outside of London and in a town – Dunfermline.  And the Trust’s deeds state it must stay based in the town.

When the Trust was set up, in 1913, there were no other similar Trusts and Foundations in the UK, except what today is called Trust for London. So the town of Dunfermline was leading the way in thinking about public welfare and philanthropy in the UK.

We believe that towns still have role to play as leaders. Last year, through research with IPSOS Mori, we found two in five of the UK’s population live in towns. And the impact of how towns’ think and feel on the UK of has been demonstrated by the Brexit referendum. Our 2018 report, New Powers, New Deals: Remaking British Towns after Brexit highlighted geography mattered in the vote: towns voted to leave the EU and they are most likely to suffer the worst consequences.

How we live together in towns matters not only to our societal wellbeing, but also to our individual and collective wellbeing. So in the last four years, in this strategic plan, we have been advocating for the towns to be given more consideration in public policy.  We have learnt several key changes need to happen for the voice of towns to be heard and for them to flourish.

A change we want to see is a shift of power to local areas. Towns and neighbourhoods in the UK have access to relatively few levers of change. For example, individual towns in the UK are unable to take decisions relating to local taxation, regulation or investment. But, for example through our Twin Towns project, we know that people in towns can collaborate to make change happen. We need to foster local leadership and community engagement in towns. We are working with partners across the UK to encourage this, for example with the Stove Network in Dumfries, where a community of artists is inspiring the town to come together and tackle the decline of the High Street.

We need more data about towns and evidence on ‘what works’ for towns. Since it was established, the Trust has used evidence and research to make decisions, and for towns we have established Understanding Scottish Places; supported the Place Standard, and soon will launch the Understanding Welsh Places website. But as well as data on individual towns, we want to encourage towns to work together, and improve knowledge of how to towns’ economies and communities connect, within regions of towns.

Towns are often unique and diverse, but when they share experiences, they often find similarities and develop a louder voice working together. Our Turnaround Towns research found an important part of towns coming together and taking control of their own future is telling their story. We know that people of all ages and backgrounds can work together to reinvigorate our high streets. Our TestTown initiative brought together young aspiring traders with businesses to promote entrepreneurship and town centre regeneration.

Knowing how support the wellbeing of towns, requires listening to local people, building on experience (of which Carnegie UK Trust has lots having been around for more than 100 years!) and understanding towns’ livelihoods and what works for towns’ rejuvenation.

So, just as Andrew Carnegie did not forget the town where he was born, visiting it frequently and setting up the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, the UK Trust is not going to forget towns. Our focus on wellbeing, recent research and our heritage all give us a basis on which to advocate for towns.

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