Taking Where We Live Now around the UK

The Where We Live Now project has been busy over the summer: holding roundtable discussions in Manchester, Truro and Cardiff to discuss place-based solutions to productivity challenges. Now that the final roundtable looking at London is on the horizon later this month, we thought you might want a flavour of what has been discussed so far.

Manchester

We started off in Manchester in April. As the starting point, this discussion really set the tone for the roadshow, and gave the team an idea of the kinds of questions people are working on. We asked whether we need a broader definition of productivity, something less economistic, which encompasses wellbeing, culture and the environment. We also asked how to incorporate environmental interaction into our understanding of ‘culture’, and whether culture is too narrowly defined.

There was strong agreement amongst participants that we have to consider carefully the circumstances in which we might implement place-based solutions, as there is a danger that truly localised interventions may weaken already fragmented national institutions, such as health services and welfare, which are vital to a lot of people. Whilst place-based policies can improve quality of life through better understanding, national standards should not be dispensed. Place-based solutions should not be an excuse for not meeting national standards.

ManchesterParticipants discussed work and the workplace, in particular the culture of this environment and how new organisations, such as charities, are filling the gap previously provided by the employer as the overall caretaker throughout people’s lives. This raised questions about what it means to be productive, how we define good work and the responsibility of employers to contribute to skills and employment policy. Employers must support people transitioning to different career paths or reintegrating into the working world, rather than looking at older workers with suspicion.

This begged the question about the broader understanding of the relationship between place, culture, health and wellbeing, and ultimately, how we measure success. Place could be the lens for the integration of services, investing in preventive initiatives rather than crisis-driven mechanisms, without erasing the individuality of different places. With this in mind, we cautiously agreed that planning – whilst still an unfashionable concept – is a vital component of this debate.

Cornwall

Echoed from Manchester to the following discussion in Truro is a sense that we need to recognise the rural spaces in between urban areas in their own right, in addition to the relationship between rural and urban areas. The geography of place – whether rural or suburban – has real consequences in terms of connectivity, relative isolation, and exposure to extreme weather conditions. Some areas are still waiting for transport and broadband infrastructure, long after they were promised.

Cornwall’s natural beauty and coastal locations are a huge boon for tourism and the service sector, however these are unstable industries and pay is low. Consequently, underemployment and inactivity are high. There is an employment and skills mismatch – compounded with the backdrop of unaffordable housing and lack of opportunity, young people choose instead to leave.

Cornwall.jpgThe flipside of this is tourism and Cornwall’s international reputation – there is need for a narrative focusing on the ‘specialness’ of Cornwall and using existing assets, rather than bemoaning that which it does not have. This way of thinking has already had positive results, with developments in hydroelectric energy and aerospace, capitalising on the coastal location and dark skies.

Those involved in research, business development and policy in Cornwall were keen on questioning traditional concepts of productivity as a linear economic model, instead looking at a tapestry of wellbeing measures such as environmental solutions against inequality, for example, the long-term positive effects of environmental interaction through park gyms, walks, gardening, and so on.

Wales

The push for connecting regional policy with academic research and industry in the proximity was mirrored in Truro and Cardiff. In Cornwall, we discussed transferable lessons learned from global environmental resilience research and long-term strategic vision based on research and enterprise collaboration, whilst in Cardiff we heard stark examples about the impact research can have when it finally reaches front-line service delivery professionals and providers, and how new theories of co-production are changing community relations.

Co-production means delivering services in collaboration with people using those services, making them equal stakeholders rather than feeling like they are part of a tickbox consultation exercise. In Cardiff we discussed health inequalities across Wales, and heard how Wales compares to the rest of UK. Possibly more important than the snapshot itself, we discussed underlying causes and how we can use health as a paradigm for the way we deliver things across services.

It is not easy to deliver health messages into communities where the message does not account for the strength (and often the insulating nature) of a community’s culture. We all agree that places are not homogeneous but that place is a useful lens for the integration of services and a person-centred approach, which builds confidence in the relationship between community workers and their charges. This means having good local data, but also informed professionals that understand that data.

Cardiff.jpgIt was also suggested that in post-Brexit Britain, now is an opportunity to start from a blank sheet of paper, do away with the Barnett formula, and push for the sort of reflexive governance that devolution should bring (but doesn’t). Assembly elections turnout has never been above 50%. This is an opportunity to give people a voice and agency, to re-connect the electorate with decision-makers, starting with the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015.

Lastly, returning to the focus of health in Wales, a fully comprehensive cultural barometer was recommended. This would measure the whole health system including resilience, individuals and communities, and care organisations, as a way to define the way of life of a society, in line with the ONS initiative on measuring what matters and understanding the nation’s wellbeing.

Next steps

We meet in London towards the end of September to discuss how place-based solutions can build an inclusive, prosperous London. We’ll be asking some of the same questions to see how London compares with other parts of the England and Wales, and also look at the unique features of why 40% of Londoners voted to leave the European Union – what does this say about people’s feelings on life in London, employment, housing and immigration?

The Where We Live Now publication – a collection of chapters from a variety of authors exploring place in different contexts – will also be out soon. If you’re signed up to the mailing list you’ll receive that, as well as the outcome of the London stakeholder event. To find out more about any of this work, visit the contacts page.

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Jamiesha Majevadia is Public Policy Adviser at the British Academy, and has been overseeing the Where We Live Now project since its inception. To find out more about the work of the Public Policy team, visit the Academy’s website: www.britac.ac.uk/policy