Resilient Towns: The role of place
Last month HOPE not hate Charitable Trust ran the first online session in our What Works series. Focused around preventative and practical steps, this webinar was all about the far right threat itself.
We heard from politicians, officers, and organisers in Bradford, Luton, and Barking and Dagenham. A particular theme was the importance of narrative, engagement and local leadership in rebuilding afterwards. You can check out a learning note from the session here.
Our second What Works webinar, builds on this to look into how a strong, local place identity and culture can foster resilient communities.
The event is this Thursday (18th February), at 11am. You can sign up for it by clicking here.
To understand how this links back to issues discussed in our first session, it’s worth looking at this infographic. Published online in 2019, it shows the most Wikipedia-ed person from every place in Britain. The name ‘Tommy Robinson’ – aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, far-right leader of the English Defence League (EDL) – hovers over Luton.
The EDL’s activities in the town have long since petered out, and much has changed since their heyday. In our latest report, Level Best, Luton was a success story, where rising diversity in the 2010s had gone hand in hand with improvements in economic outcomes – with GDP, pay, house prices and employment rates all increasing faster than for the average town authority.
Yet still, for outsiders, the name ‘Tommy Robinson’ remains associated with Luton. This illustrates the role that history and branding can have on a town community – and the reputational damage which the far right can do, even after they’ve ceased, in large part, to be active.
This case also stresses the importance of thinking seriously about place narrative and how you can influence it. Those who spoke to us at the event last month from Luton described their efforts to use the EDL era as a spur for more positive narratives about inclusion. The desire to ward off the far right threat, they said, had unified different communities and fostered a determination to not be defined by the past. The resolve to not go back had become an asset for cohesion.
Place identities are central to creating confident, welcoming and optimistic communities. Our Towns index report last year found, for example, that even with other things being equal the existence of City or County Town status could reduce hostility to migration and multiculturalism. So too other factors which feed into place identity – such as the presence of a successful football team.
The implication of all this is clear. If a town has a defined and inclusive sense of who it is then it’s far harder for those looking to promote decline and division. This clearly needs to go beyond surface level branding – reflecting the authentic identity and character of the town. And it can never make up for genuine investment in jobs and opportunities; deprivation remains the starkest corollary with hostility to difference and change. But the more an area knows what it is and is not – the more it knows what it stands for – the more resilient it is likely to be.
We are really looking forward to hearing from experts and practitioners at the event this Thursday. If you would like to come along you can sign up here. To join our towns leadership network and hear more about events like this, please add your details to this simple online form.