How a sense of place breeds belief and positivity

More Content

How a sense of place breeds belief and positivity

Creating a clear sense of identity and building positivity around it is critical to unlocking the potential of places, an opinion-leading event during MIPIM UK has heard.

The event was told that building a credible and inspiring place narrative and energising local people behind it was the common thread in many of the UK’s most remarkable examples of urban regeneration.

Delegates at the event, hosted by thinkingplace, the UK’s leading place specialist, heard from the man regarded as Britain’s leading cultural place-maker and from partners working together to capitalise on an unprecedented time of investment and opportunity for Harlow in Essex.

Andrew Dixon has worked with cities across the UK to reposition their places through culture. He was a key player in a £200m place-making strategy for Newcastle Gateshead and spearheaded successful UK City of Culture bids by Hull and Coventry.

He told the “Creating Purposeful Places” event how the strategy for Newcastle Gateshead led to delivery of world-class assets in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the Angel of the North, but was rooted in community engagement.

For Hull, being UK City of Culture 2017 had been transformational. “There were so many fantastic projects, in the city centre, on housing estates, all around Hull, that enabled people to engage with their place, to look at the architecture, to respect their city. That’s what culture can do,” Mr Dixon said.


“The BBC did 150 hours of broadcasting from Hull and the city gained millions of pounds worth of media coverage. Everybody wanted to speak positively about Hull.

“The city is transformed physically, in terms of its people’s confidence and of the city’s image. It’s how the city feels about itself – that’s the legacy.”

Mr Dixon said Coventry’s winning City of Culture bid was built on youth and diversity – the population is seven years younger than the rest of the UK, while 27% of the city’s people were born outside the UK.

“Working with the concepts of youth and diversity, we’ve started to change the way Coventry talks about itself. We’ve even banned the BBC from playing The Specials’ Ghost Town,” he said.

“If you’re doing place branding using culture, you have to find a narrative. Everywhere has to be different and transformation is about people as well as places.”

Harlow has developed a powerful place story and established a passionate network of ambassadors with the objective of maximising opportunities, including the relocation to the town of the headquarters of Public Health England. That game-changing £450m investment builds on the area’s reputation as a centre for excellence in medical science.

Harlow gained high-profile recognition recently by being shortlisted for Place Brand of the Year in the 2018 City Nation Place Awards, alongside the likes of Scotland, Barcelona and Estonia.

John Keddie, Chair of the Harlow Place Board, told the event: “It’s not often you get Harlow and Barcelona in the same sentence. Once you start to create that sense of belief, anything is possible. It creates momentum and momentum drives you forward.

“I can’t think of a single place in the UK at this moment in time that is better placed to exploit opportunities. We’ve got to make sure the business end works but, most importantly, we have to make sure the place works.”

Cllr Eugenie Harvey, Portfolio Holder for Health and Wellbeing at Harlow Council, said: “Our story has given us a narrative and a platform.

“We have a great asset now, but we have to build on it and engage with the stakeholders – everybody from businesses to residents.

“The value the story gives us is that we have something that has focused attention and created a moment where everybody has come together.”

John Till, Founding Director of thinkingplace, who facilitated the event, said it was critical in place-making to develop a credible and coherent story that generated positivity.

“It’s about self-belief and confidence in place and also confidence in leadership of place,” he said.

“You can’t create a place with a sense of purpose unless you have people who come together and believe in the place and spread that belief to others.”

22nd October 2018