The District Councils’ Network (DCN) has launched a collection of essays sharing learning from their recent Study Tour to Roeselare, Belgium, which focussed on achievements to be detailed in person by the IHBC 2020 Brighton School second keynote speaker, its Mayor, Dr Kris Declercq.
District Councils’ Network writes:
The high streets and market places of our towns and cities evolved and grew over centuries providing places to trade, places to meet and, yes, places to gossip and to enjoy some of the pleasures of life. Things move on but the need for places to exchange goods and for people to come together will never fade away. But as society changes and technology allows us to pursue ever more personalised and bespoke interests, our high streets need to adapt to new realities. But how? There isn’t a single solution. In a country with 1,186 towns, with their populations varying between 5,000 and 225,0001, covering over half the population in England and Wales – there are no silver bullets.
Each of these areas has different needs, challenges and opportunities. But if each is to remain relevant and vital, local leadership is needed to shape and to develop each space. A delegation from the District Councils’ Network, which represents many of those 1,186 towns and smaller cities, visited Roeselare, in Flanders, Belgium where an inspirational leader Mayor Kris Declercq and his team have made it their mission to reimagine how a town can be transformed to be fit for the twenty-first century whilst remaining true to the purpose of providing places to live, meet and trade.
Our Study Tour, led by Bill Grimsey, former Chief Executive of Iceland plc and a Senior Executive at Tesco plc, provided a blueprint of principles for change. This pamphlet of short articles from the delegation members seeks to capture the essence of the progress made in Roeselare and to learn lessons that can be applied to our own places as they strive to remain relevant in a digital age. As the lead authorities in areas granted Stronger Towns Funding and High Streets Funding, we know that districts must drive the change necessary to save our struggling towns. We have many of the tools for transformation, through our responsibilities covering housing, planning and growth, but we know that solutions lie not just in the bricks and mortar – but in the communities we serve and we must champion what makes our towns different to deliver real change.
This pamphlet and the articles within provide an important contribution to the debate about how our towns are reborn and repurposed. Not all the lessons will apply equally in all places. But the crux of what they are trying to achieve will have universal application and I commend this to you.
For more background on the 2020 School‘s principal sponsor, Heritage Collective, a member of the IHBC’s quality assured HESPR Community, see the NewsBlog and HESPR and Heritage Collective’s HESPR entry
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