Whilst the economic climate remains challenging there is an onus on every place to ensure that it is doing the best it can to compete, attract attention and stimulate growth locally. Government policy and direction is orientated towards ‘localism’ and a decentralisation of resources and effort. However, at a time of austerity is it possible to take up this challenge and if so how?
Burnley was once one of the pre-eminent industrial towns in Great Britain but has more recently faced harder times. Yet things are looking up in a place that has recently tasted Premiership football and wants more of that sort of success in its economy. Steve Rumbelow, Chief Executive of Burnley Borough Council takes up the story; ‘When I first came to the town I could see that whilst it had issues to address, not least growing the economy and creating quality jobs it also had huge potential given its proximity to Manchester, economic legacy and wonderful natural environment. Unfortunately, we struggled to get a clear message out about what we had to offer and the Manchester connection was a pipe dream without re-opening a short section of railway, known locally as the ‘Todmorden Curve.’
Burnley set to work with place specialists thinkingplace to understand and develop a new narrative for the place that would set out what the place is for and how it could compete. All parts of the community were engaged but business was particularly targeted to help create a new form of place ambassadorship and provide resources to get things done.
As Steve describes the results have been remarkable. ‘Everyone got very excited about deciding what Burnley was all about, how it was special, what it should focus on and telling that story. Just going through the process brought people together and created a new energy for the place. Now we have our story the headlines are much more positive and it has allowed us to set out our case to Government with clarity and credibility resulting in a string of successful resource bids over the last couple of years, including Regional Growth Fund and European Funding, amounting to some £25m. This funding includes the new railway line and a new station. . Manchester is now commutable and we are part of its story. This has provided the confidence for well in excess of £100m of private sector investment in economic development projects.’
Burnley shows that ‘growing your own’ is possible if you know your story, use it to deliver differently and excite people to own it and tell it.
Director – Thinking Places & facilitator at the SOLACE Summit 2012
*This article first appeared in the LGC magazine on 13th September 2012.