Levelling up for the long-term – creating a Towns Fund legacy
Over the last year, as the Towns Fund Delivery Partner, we have been lucky enough to be working with 101 towns on a programme which is central to the government’s ambition to level up the country. But what does levelling up mean to people that live and work in the places that are the potential recipients of investment, from Penzance to Carlisle? If Copper Consultancy's research is anything to go by, it suggests that messages are mixed, with more than a third of the public unsure about what levelling up means.
This lack of clarity does not mean the objectives of levelling up are wrong or that it is not meeting its goals – far from it - but it does suggest that national campaigns sometimes need translating to meaningful messages at a local level. That is why the work being done across the country to make local communities part of the conversation shaping the future of places is so important.
From engagement with traveller communities to the creation of shadow youth boards, we have seen numerous examples of towns reaching beyond the usual consultees to bring new voices to the fore. The challenge of Covid-19, with its implications for traditional face-to-face meetings, has been turned into a positive by many towns, with online workshops, surveys and social media reaching new audiences – not just those that shout the loudest.
In addition to these more immediate measures, many Town Deal Boards – created to oversee development of investment plans – are now morphing to take on longer-term roles as projects move from development to delivery. Supported by a Place Leadership Programme delivered by the Towns Fund Delivery Partner, local leaders are looking at the bigger picture to see how projects can become more than the sum of their parts as part of an ambitious vision for the future.
The creativity and passion on show from towns has been fantastic to see, but the most memorable and compelling plans have one thing in common – a strong sense of identity grounded in the unique characteristics of the place they represent. By describing a clear thread from the history of a place, through its present-day challenges, to an inspiring vision for the future, towns can take stakeholders – whether they are local people, businesses, potential investors or government – on a journey, creating buy-in but backed up by data demonstrating both the need and opportunity.
Further demonstrating the centrality of storytelling is Our Towns Stories – a collection of stories celebrating the people making a difference in towns. Here you can find examples of levelling up in action – local people working together to create positive change. This sort of legacy can be difficult to measure, but it brings to life the real-life benefits investment can deliver in places which might otherwise be left behind.
Katie Hickman, Nichols Group; Linda Taylor, Copper Consultancy; Zach Wilcox, Arup; Robbie Bates, FutureGov; and Rob Turner, Grant Thornton are the Towns Fund Delivery Partner panel in the ‘Delivering for Towns’ breakfast session on 26th May (8.15am-9.00am), part of the IED’s ‘Understanding Building Back Better’ conference