How can Business and Education help support place recovery & reset?

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How can Business and Education help support place recovery & reset?

Throughout the summer, thinkingplace have run a series of best practice webinars exploring how places are responding to the challenge of Coronavirus, and looking to develop a future in a very different world. We specifically wanted to examine how two vitally important sectors for place were playing their part, and how they felt they can contribute to their communities. It’s not surprising there was some fantastic insight and a lively discussion as we were joined by Professor Dame Sue Black, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement at Lancaster University; Edward Perry, Managing Director Knowsley Safari and Knowsley Hall; and Andy Brown, Head of Sustainability at Anglian Water Services. This is what they had to say.


Andy talked about their involvement in places such as Wisbech and Lowestoft which focussed on bringing communities together, and along with Business in the Community providing resource to engage people and organisations in taking a fresh look at their place. In Wisbech, they had worked with the community to look at landscape management in a different way as a route to opening up economic growth; helping them propose a Garden Town. His message is clear – that whether in crisis or more normal times, partnership is everything along with creating meaningful connections at a local level. This gives people the confidence to come up with new ideas and be receptive to different thinking.


Edward reflected how exhausting and demanding it had been in recent times, especially when you couldn’t trust your most trusted sources for guidance. He was reinvigorated by people’s enjoyment at rediscovering their place and things they had perhaps taken for granted, such as the Safari. His concern was that the journey many had taken away from the vertical silos in places might be lost; ‘place looks horizontally and is the glue for so many things, we mustn’t revert back to the silo days’. Whilst it has been challenging for businesses and will continue to be so, we mustn’t lose that place engagement as it draws us out of the ‘Covid coma’. Place is a forum for open conversations and we must quickly re-find that ambition and aspiration as a collective community.


From Sue’s perspective whilst working in an institution with an international reputation, it was important to not lose sight of local. The university has a huge responsibility as a major employer and the nearby city is very dependent on it, so the decisions it makes have major consequences. For Lancaster University the pandemic has meant repurposing everything from labs for testing, to accommodation for frontline staff, to academic skills to advise Government and build local resilience. The crisis had reinforced the view that many people and organisations still don’t know how to access and use their university, which is a constant challenge to overcome. As one example of partnership activity, the university had helped more deprived kids connect to their schools and friends by purchasing digital devices which had further led to individual mentoring by students.

And just a few other thoughts:

  • The pandemic has driven home the fragility of life and opened minds to some of the threats we face such as climate change.
  • We have to snap out of ‘woe is me’ and doom and gloom; place leadership by all can achieve that by shining a light on opportunities and successes that are out there.
  • We will need to focus on place events and activities that can bring us together in a positive environment – culture can be important in this.
  • This life affirming shock has driven change that to date has just been talked about; it isn’t essential to fly to the other side of the world or go to London for a meeting.
  • It has brought home that business can do more in a place than perhaps it thought, and that no organisation can do it alone; we must collaborate.


If you missed the session ‘live’ then you can catch up and watch the recording here


9th September

John Till is the founding Director of thinkingplace and can be contacted at