Recovery – maybe even reset but keep it real!

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Recovery – maybe even reset but keep it real!

In the third of our series of best practice webinars looking at how places have responded to Coronavirus in partnership with the Local Government Association, we examined the importance of having a shared forward-looking story for a place that highlighted opportunities, but that was authentic. We discovered what four very different towns and areas have been doing in different parts of the UK with Susan Parsonage, CEO of Wokingham Borough Council; Debbie Gore, Head of Planning and Assistant to Chief Executive at Harrogate Borough Council; Celia Glynn-Williams, Head of Marketing and Communications at Medway Council; and Kathryn Daly, Head of Place Shaping and Economic Growth at Harrogate Borough Council. As ever the results were insightful and inspiring.


Susan pointed out how important it was to have that strong, forward facing story that was collectively created and owned as a real anchor for advancement in challenging times. It was so important that this was independent from the council, and that the journey of defining this narrative with partners was as important as the end result. In Wokingham, this meant ensuring that Reading University (whose majority footprint is in Wokingham) is part of the story as well as some of the global businesses that others associate with different places; capturing the assets. Businesses wanted clarity about where the place is going and how it is special, and for that to create a real identity, with boldness and risk taking where necessary.


In Gosport, Debbie related the challenges they faced with an out commute; many MOD sites in considerable disrepair, deprivation, and a poor perception from outside the place resulting in a lack of local pride and confidence. A Local Plan is being developed along with an Economic Strategy, and it has been vital that these align with and support the new Gosport story so there is clear strategic direction for the place for all to see. Having a fresh look at the place has really shone a light on the assets of Gosport and more importantly highlighted challenges as opportunities. Local people really value their military heritage and the Heritage Action Zone status, and funding is helping bring the story to life; there’s a collaborative sense of purpose.


Celia talked about how Medway is a relatively recent construct made up of five towns that are in some cases well known, such as Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham; the aim is to put this combined entity (the largest conurbation in the South East outside of London) on the map. Local people had low levels of confidence and connections with businesses and the universities were not what they could be; their authentic story enabled them to connect with these priority audiences. The focus and unification of the place story provided led Medway to bid for UK City of Culture 2025 and this is now a beacon of their recovery; communities need these symbols of hope. The team are also pressing ahead with events which bring their story to life and reflect their assets, such as Electric Medway relating to digital arts and the first Gaming and Creative event.


And finally, we heard from Harrogate where Kathryn talked about two dates, March 2nd when they launched their story, Place Leadership Group and Ambassadors programme to great acclaim and enthusiasm, and March 23rd when the world changed! The story had highlighted the challenges and opportunities relating to affordability, low work-based earnings and out commuting and that Harrogate is a lot more than just a ‘nice place’ with tearooms – for a start it’s a story of 500 square miles! The place work they had undertaken actually put them in a strong position when lockdown arrived, the Place Leadership Group was able to bring private sector leadership and support for the council, and the story was used to promote local assets encouraging people to spend their time and money in the district.


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


John Till, Director

30th September