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COVID-19: “Can UK places not just recover, but reset and repurpose?”

 

We are still gripped by the most significant crisis many of us have ever experienced and it is being played out in places across the UK irrespective of size, poverty or affluence, rural or urban, connected or isolated; it is touching us all.

Whilst the threat is still potent, communities are starting to look to the future because there is a need to balance living alongside the virus with rebuilding lives, businesses and the fabric of our society.

But what does this mean: are we desperate to return to something akin to a few months ago, or do we need to think differently about what our places are for, how they function and what is important in this process? What is the balance between recovering, resetting and repurposing? And critically; where can we all find some hope?

Perhaps the initial, intuitive reaction of many gives us some pointers to what the future could be and what will be important. People and organisations came together immediately, agendas put to one side, disagreements forgotten, and a focus on solutions not problems; out of crisis came collaboration. Leaders naturally emerged, not for personal gain, not for kudos, nobody voted for them; they stepped forward to help their place and the people in it. More often than not they were not the usual suspects, and they were not from the expected organisations.

There was an awareness of everything local from high streets to open spaces, as everyone’s world became a much smaller place. We have all been reminded of what makes our place special; the park we used to just drive past, the walks we can do from home, the local shops we want to keep but hardly visit; our appreciation of little things has become massive. We have remembered why we decided to live where we do, focused on things we have lost sight of, and derived comfort and confidence from the place we call home.

In our ongoing conversations with places, the very things that have happened in the last three months are what they want us to help them with, and what they are going to need in a proactive way going forward.

Our places will need leaders and not just in a traditional way; people will need to regain confidence in where they live, work and play, and wider leadership will help this. To plot a new future will need active collaborators who care about the place and the people in it, not outdated and narrow agendas. There will need to be a focus on making the most of what we have in our place, as opposed to the next shiny thing; a return to authenticity not ‘me tooism’. The place will need to come together to work out what it is going to be for and to make that happen.

Clarity, confidence and collaboration in our places will turn hope into reality.

John Till is Director of thinkingplace, a member of the Institute of Economic Development, and can be contacted at John.Till@thinkingplace.co.uk

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