Six towns and a vale in search of a future


Because I have a job to do and a life to live, and because I try to avoid anything which looks like I am speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, I find myself turning down many media invitations to comment on the unfolding election campaign. This is particularly true of this evening - but for a more specific reason. I will not be watching the leaders’ debate. Instead, I will be chairing an RSA supported event in mid-Wiltshire.

The event is titled ‘six towns and a vale in search of an economic future’ and has been organised by the Mid Wiltshire Economic Partnership. All of these towns, although very pleasant places in their own way, suffer from limited economic dynamism and social and cultural opportunities. The question is whether they can build their capacity through innovative forms of co-operation.

I have been reading about similar kinds of initiatives in other parts of the world. There is for example the North Carolina Small Towns Initiative to develop economic and leadership skills, or the Kansas Take Charge Challenge in which six towns compete to win prizes for the best efforts to save energy. There are also various sporting collaborations such as Waverley’s inter town sports competition. 

But although worthy, some of these initiatives strike me as being slightly one dimensional.  I am excited by the idea of designing a collaboration which covers multiple objectives:

• Building new capacity and markets for small and social enterprises

• Improving public service access and collaboration

• Developing cultural and sporting activities

• Fostering and strengthening social networks

• Developing a shared brand and marketing strategy for the promotion of the mid Wiltshire area    

The key ingredients to success will be collaboration, competition, innovation and engagement. There are two other discussion meetings after tonight’s, and then the plan is for a public engagement exercise focussed on designing new ways of working together across the towns.

I am really keen for the RSA to be a partner in the process, engaging local Fellows and drawing on the expertise and insight available in the broader Fellowship. If we could design and implement something powerful in mid Wiltshire it could be adapted and replicated in other areas.

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