In 2019, the Government identified 100 towns that qualified for additional support in four key areas: transport, broadband connectivity, skills, and culture. The latter three, in particular, are closely aligned. Culture, and the skills and digital connections necessary to develop, promote, and sustain it, help build the civic infrastructure to tackle urgent social and economic issues. Equally, a vibrant and diverse cultural life grows the creative economy, attracts and retains the young people who can revive depleted town centres, and bridges socially or fractured or divided semi-urban communities.
The need and means for civic and cultural regeneration has been transformed by the ongoing crisis of COVID-19. The behavioural and organisational adaptations by governments, businesses, and individuals have already created a seismic shift in our understanding of how rapidly we can effect change or rethink long-standing strategies, structures, and practices. The severe difficulties faced by SMEs, specifically in the cultural, creative and heritage industries, will need to be addressed with new kinds of support and resources. This will happen just as the new local and digital networks shaped by the social, mental, and economic challenges of the pandemic start to emerge.
These challenges will call for new, multidisciplinary research collaborations, partnerships and analyses. This scoping project brings together Humanities specialists with researchers and professionals in the Social Sciences based at the Centre for Towns Think Tank (CfT), as well as two core partners at the forefront of applied research, innovation and disruption in these areas: Historic England and NESTA’s Policy and Evidence Centre for the Creative Industries.