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How to… turn around Welsh towns

Creating a better evidence base and seeking out ‘unusual friends’ are two ways to transform tired towns, according to new research from Carnegie Trust.

In 2016 the Carnegie Trust commissioned international research to uncover innovative examples of towns from around the world that have experienced difficult times but have made significant transformations, greatly improving the wellbeing of their citizens.

The resulting ‘Turnaround Towns’ report drew out key lessons from eight case studies from across the US, Australia and New Zealand, and Europe.

Over summer 2017, Carnegie Trust took its Turnaround Towns research to two Welsh towns – Merthyr Tydfil and Llandudno Junction – in partnership with WCVA.

Over two roundtable events, it tested the resonance of the themes that emerged from the research, and discussed the key challenges and opportunities for Welsh towns with stakeholders from Welsh and local government, and the voluntary and business sectors.

It is an opportune time to be focusing on towns in Wales. Policy shifts, most notably the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, could create significant opportunities for Welsh towns and communities; but also present challenges that will require shifts away from traditional ways of working to overcome.

The key themes emerging from the discussions were:

  1. The opportunity and challenge provided by the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act
  2. Going beyond community engagement to empowerment and ownership
  3. Developing a positive identity and narrative for a town
  4. The importance of cross-sectoral and cross-town working for town socio-economic development
  5. Distinction between leaders and leadership
  6. Moving town communities away from grant dependency
  7. Innovation and enterprise can unlock the potential of towns
  8. Robust data on towns and evidence for what works

In its new report, Carnegie Trust sets out recommendations for Welsh and local government, the voluntary and business sectors, and individuals and communities.

It urges both communities and business to seek out and engage with ‘unusual friends’ and to find ways to shift the narrative and create a positive vision for the future of towns. Vacant spaces within town centres should be opened up for creativity and enterprise, and local people empowered to play a leading role in their towns.

The report calls on the Welsh government to lead the behaviour and culture change required by the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and support and enable local democracy and decision-making .

As a direct consequence of the report, the Trust and Welsh Government will now work together to address the critical need to improve the data and evidence base available about Welsh towns.

A new data platform, ‘Understanding Welsh Places’ (UWP) will collate data-driven insights that will inform national and local policy decisions and help communities to better understand how they can reach their potential.

The project will result in a mobile, interactive tool that anyone can use to draw data-driven conclusions about their town and how it compares with others. A consortium of partners in Wales will develop the project, convened by the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA). The new tool will build on learning from a successful platform in Scotland, Understanding Scottish Places.

  • Read the full report here.

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