St Helens

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the brief

St Helens grew quickly in the 18th and 19th centuries and was a major player in the industrial revolution as a centre for coal mining and glass making. This led to the development of significant businesses such as Pilkingtons, Beechams, Ravenhead Glass and Greenalls brewery. 35 years ago 21,000 people were employed by Pilkingtons and that was in a town where everyone else worked in coal mining so when these industries largely disappeared this had a huge effect on the place and its people.

St Helens needed to find its reason for being, its confidence and this re-imagining of the place had to be built upon its DNA which was all about innovation and quality manufacturing; the first railways ran through the area, the glass making was pioneering, Proctor and Gamble was just one of the brands based there. The people of St Helens need to be proud of it again and outside the town it needs a better reputation linked to its changing nature and role.

Our work was to support CBRE with the development of the town centre masterplan by extending to develop a place narrative for the wider area including sustainable mechanisms to bring the brand to life.

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what was delivered

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  • masterplan and development framework for town centre based on the narrative themes
  • development of a narrative for the wider St Helens area
  • sustainable and ongoing leadership for the work by setting up a private sector led Place Economy Board chaired by the owner of St Helens Rugby League Club
  • the development of the new place-based Invest in St Helens website that operates as the ‘shop window’ for the new St Helens story and approach
  • a private sector led ambassador programme who are now the St Helens salesforce
  • place led photography which is available for stakeholders to use
  • high quality launch event to cascade the new St Helens story to key stakeholders


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What they say

“St Helens is at a turning point in terms of redefining our approach to growing our economy and presenting our place to the outside world.

We have significant market opportunities in the logistics, manufacturing and supply chain sectors as well as an often hidden arts and culture offer that need to be capitalised on in the years ahead. Alongside this, like many places, we have an urgent need to rethink the future of our town centre given the challenge of a rapidly changing retail environment. Alongside this, we had to also challenge the ill-informed negative perception of the town and Borough.

A traditional ‘master-planning’ or economic development strategy approach would not work for St Helens given this mix of circumstances. We needed to redefine the ‘story of place’ to be able to challenge perception and attract investment. We also needed to mobilise our business sector on that journey so that they too had more confidence in what might be achieved.

A year on from launching our story of place we now have over 100 ambassadors who all help promote what we do. There is a resurgence in confidence in the town and we are attracting new inward investment.  The work of thinkingplace has significantly contributed to that new approach”

Mike Palin, Chief Executive, St Helens Council

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