Creating your Local Future – Burnley has a success story to tell

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.

John Till

Director – Thinking Places & facilitator at the SOLACE Summit 2012

*This article first appeared in the LGC magazine on 13th September 2012.

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One response to “Creating your Local Future – Burnley has a success story to tell

  1. The response below has been received by Brian Whittle, the former Town Clerk and CEO of Burnley (1970-1993).

    I have read with interest the contribution by John Till on the response of Burnley to identifying and projecting forward the local community and economy. May I represent to you that this was nothing new even though the way of projecting it might have been different. In the 1930’s Harry Ploughman (later Town Clerk of Oxford) and Archie Glen (later Town Clerk of Southend) had to respond to high levels of unemployment in the depression by building one of the first advanced factories for a Canadian which later became a major employer Prestige for many years. They used local act powers much to the annoyance of central government who thought it was unlawful. After the war Viv Thornley who had come from war torn West Ham largely influenced over 25 years the inward investment of many employers with household names of Michelin, Lucas Aerospace and Electrical and Philips, building on the skills of the workforce from a background of textiles and mining and the local pioneering work on the jet engine in the last was. In my period as Town Clerk and CEO: from 1974 to 1993 onwards that drive for investment and diversification continued a pace, with new industrial estates and other household names in the newer technologies. The biggest single contributory factor in Burnley’s optimism was the construction of the Calder Valley Motorway (M65) between 1970 and 1990, which linked it into the national road network with easy access to the conurbations. Sometimes progress on the Motorway was achieved by local unity and cohesion in spite of Government and during two recessions. Alongside this was a massive programme for the clearnance of dereliction of former cotton mills and coal mines. Major progress was also made in providing new Educational, Recreational Housing and cultural facilites. The question of how this change was projected to the outside world was always difficult since many commentators had a conception of the grime and smoke of textiles and coal mines, or of clogs, shawls and witches. Journalists visiting Burnley FC after winning the then first division always started their piece with this Lowry image. To correct this impression to one of a new outward looking confident town has been a long and continuing process, which has been given a major impetus by the personal involvement of HRH The Prince of Wales and the work of his Trust from 1980, which was celebrated in this years Diamond Jubilee visit alongside Her Majesty the Queen and HRH Prince Philip, who had an iconic trip on the Leeds and Liverpool canal to view the rennaisance of the Weavers Triangle with provision for a New College of Technology. What I have described from the 1930’s is true localism inspired by a determination of local people and their leaders to make the change and respond in periods of recession. So take heart – local government has a lot to teach Central Government about the response to recessions and localism!

    Brian Whittle (former Town Clerk and CEO of Burnley 1970-1993).

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