While successful regeneration may not always be about the money, it certainly helps. Currently, the Welsh government lends money to a small number of communities to find sustainable projects for empty sites and premises (1). But Wales as a whole has benefited hugely from EU funding towards regeneration, and it remains to be seen how the Brexited future will affect this (2).
Most of us will be able to think of regeneration schemes which have failed despite funding ... and the approach taken and people's thinking skills - or lack of - must contribute to this. So we thought it might be useful to analyse how creative thinking helps regeneration, and here's what we came up with:
ASK 'WHAT IS HERE ALREADY?'
Cardiff Uni researched regenerating Pontypool via community chats, which showed that there was a lack of understanding of what the town offers (3). This is a core question in creative thinking. What do we have here? What tools are available? What are our natural resources? and possibly most useful 'Who are our talented people and how can they contribute?'
For instance in Wales, we are rich in natural resources and many of us like to spend time close to water...
PULL TALENTED PEOPLE IN: THE BOLD AND RESOURCEFUL
Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway are designers who started the fashion brand Red Or Dead and who've gone on to be hugely influential in designing regeneration in the UK. So when Wayne wrote a critical article about the 'Wimpeyfication and Barretfication' of Britain, he was astonished when Wimpey housebuilders got in touch...and what ensued changed housebuilding and their careers (4). Every one of these affordable houses is unique in design, for instance.
MAKE ONGOING COMMUNICATION A TOP PRIORITY
Frome in Somerset has recently been named one of the best places to live in the UK. It has a totally independent town council, whose communication skills and creativity are exemplary. They recently launched the UK's first community fridge, for example. Their website is at the top of this post.
CREATE A DISTINCTIVE VISION
Based on research he did over a decade ago, Huw Williams, commercial manager for Coastal Housing is heading up the regeneration of Swansea High Street. His vision was to hand over lots of occupancy to the creative sector - and now this scheme has attracted much favourable media attention (6).
No doubt Huw's CV has helped this - he used to be lead singer in legendary Swansea indie band The Pooh Sticks and then became a rock band manager.
MAKE YOUR TOWN A CREATIVE LOCATION
Richard Florida wrote a book championing the role of the creative classes in urban regeneration. He now says that affordable housing, good transport and political strategy for 'inclusive prosperity' matter more. The Cardiff Uni research says:
'There are successful and vibrant towns centres and high streets in Wales, but they tend to be
in those locations that are more affluent, or are those that offer a vibrant mix of public
services, active retail management, and a range of transport options.'
This research champions what's called the 'Foundational Economy' making basics like social care, good schools and broadband provision top priorities, rather than attracting big companies to an area.
We've described previously on FYI the phenomenon of community book and writing festivals growing across Wales (7). This weekend just past, Llandeilo launched its first Litfest, holding low cost or free events for all ages across the community, and attracting widespread business support. Covering subjects from voodoo to Welsh quilts, and local food to dyslexia, the town buzzed with visitors seeking entertainment, enlightenment and food and drink.
Launching FYI in several different Welsh towns, we've seen that local leadership with business owners and council talent-spotting together seem to be a winning combo.The ability to identify what you DON'T know is as important as what you know. Getting talented people on board who wish to contribute to their community won't compensate for investment - but it can certainly pull people together in a creative direction to start to construct a future.
And isn't that uplifting to live with?