project . 2017 - 2020 . Closed

Bright futures: reinventing European industrial towns and challenging dominant post-industrial discourses

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: ES/R00031X/1
Funded under: ESRC Funder Contribution: 188,433 GBP
Status: Closed
22 Mar 2017 (Started) 21 Mar 2020 (Ended)

This research looks to understand how small industrial towns in the UK, and in other countries such as Finland and the Netherlands, have successfully built a degree of sustainability that is not yet well understood. We hope that this will challenge current dominant models or understandings of 'industrial and post-industrial decline'. One quarter of people living in Europe live in small industrial towns, yet there is very little evidence or policy development that specifically deals with them. Often they are characterised as being in post-industrial decline or with population shrinkage. This prevailing narrative also influences the policy development which affects them or the re-development strategies they undergo or are presented with, which tend to focus on promoting the service industry or creating regional hubs and which overlook the industrial nature and assets of towns. Recently it has become clear, especially through the latest global economic crisis, that this understanding of industrial towns as declining or deprived is limited. In particular, it overlooks what we believe is likely to be the importance of locality, and cultural and social relationships which exist in small industrial towns. It is not well understood why some towns buck the trends of decline or shrinkage and there are particular cases where towns form part of successful 'development corridors'. These have not been studied previously at this scale. This project argues that industrial towns are not inevitably associated with post-industrial shrinkage and that we need to understand the complex relationships between different aspects of their growth and development. We think that small industrial towns will be characterised by a range of factors that are as much social and cultural as they are economic. For example, overlooked areas and attributes which are likely to sustain town development include local industrial traditions and social relationships, and specific histories of development and growth. Size is also likely to be important to maintaining personal networks of cooperation and potentially underlying sustainability. We also think that towns will have different types of attributes that are often overlooked in policy terms but which would help us understand them better: socio-cultural, personal relationships, history and culture, as well as the ways people work and cooperate together. Our evidence collection will focus on different ways to find out about and understand these characteristics, one important aspect of which is locals' own narratives and understandings of what makes each town sustainable. We also plan to explore how these traditions, cultural relationships and ways of working might help them develop further as social innovations. Social innovation deals with the idea that we can find solutions to entrenched problems in ways which benefit society. We believe that if we apply the lens of social innovation to these places we would be able to view them in a new way which would have impact on policy and public services, because it would offer an alternative approach to development and ways of working in each town. This approach is likely to help create a pathway for 'bright futures' which build on these strengths. The project consortium is composed of a range of country partners carefully chosen for their regional diversification and coverage across different European development areas. This will enable the project team to make comparisons across different types of small industrial towns in difference places and contexts. From this, we will develop recommendations and guidance for understanding and working with particular types of small industrial towns in the future.

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