Market towns - creative hubs - RSA

Blog: Creative Hubs in our market towns should be part of the Northern Powerhouse plan

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  • Picture of Rod Hyde FRSA
    Rod Hyde FRSA
    Tech Director
  • Fellowship

Creative Hubs in our market towns should be part of the Northern Powerhouse plan. This was the major conclusion of the first of four round table discussions that form part of the RSA Fellowship’s initiative entitled “Northern Powerhouse: where do market towns fit in”. The group also focused on the benefit of improving public spaces in the town and generally how to retain its community spirit.

Creative Hubs

The first discussion was held in Todmorden which is well placed to host a creative hub to support and benefit from the Northern Powerhouse. A creative hub is managed workspace fronted by a coffee shop. Experience shows that these spaces facilitate business growth for knowledge workers from freelancer to employer.

A market town hub would actually be a spoke in a hub and spoke model with the main hubs being city centres like Manchester and Leeds. Our research has shown that the average value of housing stock in Todmorden is low in comparison to other market towns and this is attracting young creatives into the town. Todmorden also has good rail links with Manchester (4 trains per hour) and Leeds (3 trains per hour).

But it not just about house prices and rail links or community spirit. Each market town has its own individuality and a creative hub would reflect and benefit from the town’s culture. With the right atmosphere, a creative hub attracts creatives and other knowledge workers and the town would profit in a number of ways:

  • A hub brings people together who would not normally have met.  Many businesses have been launched and grown as a result of chance meetings in innovation, incubator and creative hubs. With a town hub, these businesses would be Todmorden based.
  • It would provide the opportunity for young people in the town to engage in meaningful work experience in knowledge-based businesses.  This is currently very difficult.
  • People can split their time between city and town leading to reduced commuting with the benefit of more time in town supporting local retail and engaging in the community.
  • A creative hub would become the natural focus for business advice and support for all SMEs. Some of this would be mutual as common interest would spur activity. In addition the local council could provide whatever support it thought appropriate in a very cost effective manner.

Physical Space

Todmorden does not have a town square or attractive areas around its waterways. There was a strong feeling that this is an opportunity lost. Just as serendipity works in a creative hub, public spaces bring people together and enhance community spirit. On the economic front, public spaces mean that people linger and will spend more in the town. Car parking is an issue and the wrong solution can block a town with commuter cars and detract visitors and residents who would support local businesses.


There is a strong community spirit in Todmorden and it was felt that the town had been lucky that circumstances had conspired to maintain this spirit during the downturn in the fortunes of the town.  The group was able to point to other towns in the area that had not faired as well and the town should not leave the future quality of life in the town to chance. With the good rail links to the city region and the lure of well-paid jobs, there is a danger that the town could become a dormitory town.  A creative hub and improvement in public physical spaces would be good counters to this trend. Filling the town’s spaces with commuter cars would not.

For more information, visit the Market Towns Initiative project page.

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  • Having had extensive experience with community innovation hubs I can't agree more. People in all stages of life need congenial community spaces to meet, learn, create and work, preferably close to home. In the quest for sustainability, there is potentially a natural synergy with progressive libraries genuinely collaborating with successful cafe entrepreneurs, professionals, community activists, the council, makers and other creatives.

  • Don't get too hung up on a Northern Powerhouse. Lots of flesh to put on the skeleton anyway - not least the funding for a proper Trans- Pennine rail link(s);  surely the essential glue to make it a reality. With Crossrail 2 emerging - ditto: extending the N Line to Battersea - pushing the issue sideways to the Infrastructure Commission of Lord Adonis might be seen as a cop-out. Meanwhile...

    ...Reviving and sustaining market towns, I agree, needs fresh thinking alongside second tier cities. I am impressed with the dynamism and civic engagement in some. Clearly bigger challenges in others. Call it the strong case for a partial northern rural revival.  Whatever.

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