Statement on the Future High Streets Fund

The government has today announced that an additional 50 towns In England will benefit from the Future High Streets Fund. Fifty English towns were already shortlisted for support, bringing the total number of Future High Streets Fund towns to a hundred. Ever since we were founded in 2017, our high streets have been a priority area for us. This is because they are an issue of deep concern to people in our towns. A declining high street is a visible symbol of a town's relative prosperity and serves as a lightning rod for a raft of underlying problems our towns face. We have been pleased that many other organisations have joined our call for greater priority to be given to our high streets, including our partners at the Institute for Place Management.

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The power of small projects

This week, as part of our report with Hope Not Hate, we told the story of East Marsh United, a community group formed on an estate in Grimsby. Their story gives us hope. The power of their project is a symbol of what a huge difference people in communities can make, and we stand full square with them, but not just them. Across the country, in town after town, whether it be a church hall in the Cotswolds or the back of a community centre in Hartlepool, small projects punch above their weight every single day. Often staffed by committed volunteers, working on a shoestring but facing down such challenges and doing it anyway. The strength they exhibit, and their perseverance, is a beacon for our country. But there’s a problem.

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The data shed

officeWe will be dropping data into this blog from our data shed for users to download for themselves. Click the links provided to download the data you like.

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Small towns are the key to a stronger economy and a more cohesive nation

Subtley, in recent decades Britain has transformed. Our towns and cities have become, as the academics Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker put it, two England’s, with increasingly different views and priorities. This widening gulf was most starkly illustrated by Brexit but the differences go much wider on a range of social attitudes on issues from immigration to civil rights and political differences too.

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Announcement: Arts & Culture in our towns

We are delighted to announce a major new research project with Arts Council England. Many of you in towns have expressed to us the importance of arts and culture to your town’s identity and future prosperity. We agree. Which is why we are committed to providing the very best evidence on the status and strength of arts and culture in our towns.

England’s towns are often missed in debates about cultural opportunity. They can be lost in a discussion that has focused upon issues of north versus south, London versus the rest and urban versus rural. Yet, an increasing body of evidence is demonstrating that there are particular features of cultural life in our towns that impact significantly upon the lives of the people who live there. Now is a good time to undertake a review of the level and distribution of investment in, and engagement with, arts and culture in England’s towns.

The project will carry out a rigorous and thorough analysis of the patterns of spending on arts and culture in our towns in order to identify any gaps in existing investment. This in-depth analysis will also move beyond an analysis focused solely on Arts Council England spending to include investment by local government and other bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships. We want to present a detailed picture of the scale and geographical distribution of all arts and culture spending in our towns, not just that provided by the Arts Council.

We will also be investigating levels of engagement in arts and culture in our towns, together with an understanding of the physical infrastructure of arts and cultural institutions in our towns. We want to investigate levels of participation in, and engagement with, arts and culture in our towns. Is there, for example, less engagement with arts and culture in particular towns, and is this related to a lack of investment or a deeper problem? This analysis we will of course need to consider the socio-economic, demographic and governance characteristics of our towns in relation to the types and scale of investment they receive.

We want to explore the relationship between the socio-demographics of place and levels of engagement in arts and culture. This analysis will, amogst other things, seek to incorporate place-based measures of socio-economic decline and demographic change in order to draw out how historic processes impact upon levels of engagement in arts and culture. We will want to understand, for example, if those places with the highest levels of socio-economic decline are also places which struggle to capture funding in arts and culture.

Taken together, this analysis will provide a detailed portrait of the relationship between patterns of cultural engagement and the types of investment provided by Arts Council England, local government and other bodies in towns across England.

We will break our analysis down into the Centre For Towns typologies: ex-industrial towns, commuter towns, coastal towns, market towns, university towns and new towns. The remit of the work will cover all towns in England.

We will of course keep you updated on progress throughout and look forward to engaging with you to disseminate our findings.

Handing back power to towns

The EU Referendum result was a political earthquake that should have shaken Westminster and Whitehall out of its unthinking complacency. But instead of addressing the underlying conditions which have fuelled not only Brexit, but the rise of populist movements and the advent of strongman politics across the world, we have reverted to type, content to deepen our divisions rather than bring people together.

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Identity, power and influence in the towns of England

The Centre for Towns is interested in understanding how public attitudes differ in different places; the concerns, aspirations and expectations of citizens living in towns and cities across the UK. Britain’s political geography is changing – and towns are at the centre of this tilting of the political axis.

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Centre For Towns Launch Briefing

For far too long the ambitions, needs and values of nine million people in towns across Britain have not been heard.

Our economic model treats cities as engines of growth, which at best drag surrounding towns along in their wake, causing life to become harder, less secure and less hopeful for too many people in towns in recent decades.

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Budget

What do we want from the Budget?

In last year's Budget the Chancellor placed a large wager on our cities being able to deliver the growth he needs. His commitment to local growth was framed within a package of support for cities and city-regions and had an explicit purpose; to “increase the productivity of the five biggest city regions outside of London so that they matched UK average productivity", in turn leading to an apparent growth in UK GDP of £31 billion a year.

We should be careful not to bet the house purely on our cities. This is especially true in the light of an EU Referendum which saw our towns vote to Leave whilst cities voted to Remain. Economic models which fail to compute the social implications of such an approach should expect to continue to marginalise and anger the excluded. By the excluded, we of course mean the people of our towns. It’s a trend which we see regularly in our work, with our towns routinely described as left-behind or backward; its residents implicitly framed as ignorant or part of the problem.

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Unlocking Runcorn

Quite understandably, people look to us for solutions to the challenges faced by towns. We will have a lot to say on this, but let's start with two basic principles. First, that there are as many solutions to the challenges faced by towns as there are towns themselves. The naive belief that a one-size-fits-all suite of solutions can be imposed upon towns is part of the problem. Second, we are clear that any solutions should begin and end with the greatest resource those towns have; their people.

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Centre For Towns - In the News

Read articles written in online media and news columns, that relate to Centre For Town or where Centre For Towns has helped with providing crucial data.
Sign up to our mailing list below to keep informed of these articles & new data were adding.

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The unequal distribution of an aging population

In the last three decades, whilst the population of the United Kingdom has increased, this growth has not been evenly distributed. Cities and larger towns have in effect grown younger whilst towns and villages have aged. The table below shows the age and place distribution of population growth since 1981.

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