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Shifting sands and sea change: How can our seaside towns respond to the productivity challenge?
With the summer holiday season just around the corner, coastal towns up and down the country will be hoping the sun comes out to tempt the great British public to the seaside. It can be easy to forget that many of these coastal communities are in desperate need of regeneration and economic revitalisation, suffering from ongoing decline of their core industries such as domestic tourism, fishing, shipbuilding and port activities, and the challenges of seasonality. Their location on the periphery of the country places them on the periphery of the economy, creating a host of socio-economic problems and in turn, barriers to economic prosperity for their communities. The recent publication of a House of Lords Select Committee report on “the future of seaside towns” provides a timely reminder of the scale and complexity of this challenge, and sets out a series of recommendations for how seaside towns can once again become prosperous and desirable places to live and visit. Reflecting the different stages of evolution of these places, the UK’s seaside economy is far from uniform. Some locations, like Bournemouth and Brighton on the south coast, have benefitted from a model of reinvention that is not available to all. Meanwhile, many smaller coastal towns have seen their unique selling point diminish. Their sense of isolation has left small town, seaside communities overlooked and facing profound economic and social challenges. Blackpool for instance, which tops the seaside destination ‘leader board’ in terms of visitor nights, faces some of the most acute deprivation in the country. The national imperative to drive up productivity and earning power of people across the country – as set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy – provides a further incentive and pertinent backdrop to the Select Committee’s recommendations. Last week saw the publication of a new Tourism Sector Deal setting out how the government will work in partnership with the tourism industry to boost productivity, develop skills and support destinations to enhance their visitor offer. It begs the question: how can Britain’s seaside towns respond to the UK’s productivity challenge and contribute towards national prosperity? The development of Local Industrial Strategies provides the most immediate opportunity for ensuring that the needs of coastal areas are better reflected in local plans to drive economic development, with most well underway via Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Combined Authorities. Framed in context of the Industrial Strategy’s five foundations of productivity (ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and place), there seem to be a number of key areas of opportunity to boost the economic prosperity of our seaside towns: Economic diversification: coastal communities increasingly need to recognise, promote and support diversification of their economies where a sole reliance on tourism is no longer a viable option. Much can be learned from places like Folkestone in Kent, where a new Creative Quarter has been delivered through a regeneration strategy based on the arts, the creative industries, and education. Transport connectivity: is holding back many coastal communities and hindering the realisation of their economic potential. Sub-optimal connections (such as inadequate rail connections and road access via single lane carriageways) can limit the potential for investment in economic diversification, and improvements to transport will be vital in supporting further economic development in isolated coastal communities quite literally at ‘the end of the line’. The forthcoming Shared Prosperity Fund is likely to provide a key source of funding in this regard, alongside the next round of the Coastal Communities Fund. Digital infrastructure: improved digital connectivity presents a significant opportunity to overcome the challenges of peripherality in coastal areas, and would help existing businesses, encourage new businesses, and enable people to work more flexibly from home to achieve the all-important work-life balance; a core part of the offer. Skills and aspirations: limited access to education, in particular to further education (FE) and higher education (HE) institutions, is severely restricting opportunities, denting aspirations for young people in some coastal areas and having a direct knock-on impact on local economic productivity and growth. Recognising that there is never going to be a ‘bricks-and-mortar offering’ of HE in every coastal town, this might necessitate greater scope for flexible access both to FE and HE, such as online, part-time and distance learning. Maximising unique assets: what makes coastal communities different is their unique asset: the coastal and marine environment that surrounds them. Seaside towns that have been most successful at reinventing themselves are those that have identified their own special character and USP. Key to this is a long-term, place-based vision that is supported by local leaders and grounded in each town’s unique assets, whether this be a combination of inherent geography, history, geology and ecology, or created features, such as attractions and culture. Examples of such assets include a university arts centre in Aberystwyth, The Stade historic fishing area in Hastings and a specialist university for the creative industries in Falmouth. The Stade historic fishing beach in Hastings, East Sussex Some of our recent work in the Lichfields economics team has focused on the huge growth potential of our seaside economies and making the case for targeted investment in infrastructure and associated projects to unlock this potential; in locations such as Gosport, Worthing, Southend-on-Sea and Eastbourne. With around half of all LEPs comprising coastal or estuarine areas, it will be interesting to see whether Local Industrial Strategies are embraced as an opportunity for renewed focus on addressing the skills gaps, low wage economies and aspiration challenges faced by many coastal communities. Whether by drawing on existing assets (such as historic infrastructure) or technologies of the future (such as emerging green industries that harness wind and wave power), it’s time for our much-loved seaside towns to play a more meaningful role in the UK’s plan to drive innovation and growth across the country.  

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How can placemakers help to reduce loneliness?

How can placemakers help to reduce loneliness?

Helen Ashby-Ridgway 21 Jun 2019
Last week was Loneliness Awareness Week, a week established by the Marmalade Trust to raise awareness of loneliness and social isolation, to reduce the stigma of loneliness and to help people connect. This will be its third year and the movement is growing. This isn’t surprising when studies have shown that in the UK more than 9 million people always or often feel lonely[1]. The Costa Book Award winning novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was written by its author Gail Honeyman after she had read an article on the subject of loneliness which reported on an interview with a young lady who said she would come home from work on a Friday and then wouldn’t speak to anyone again until Monday morning. Such a situation seems incredibly sad but worse yet, extensive research shows that loneliness poses a number of risks to physical and mental health, including: Increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke (Valtorta et al, 2016), Increased risk of high blood pressure (Hawkley et al, 2010) Greater risk of cognitive decline (James et al, 2011) Higher risk of the onset of disability (Lund et al, 2010) More prone to depression (Cacioppo et al, 2006) (Green et al, 1992) Predictive of suicide in older age (O’Connell et al, 2004); and, One study concludes that lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia (Holwerda et al, 2012). Some of the studies are more worrying. Not long ago a stark headline was being carried by a number of newspapers. A meta study (a study of studies) of some 3.4 million people by Professor of Psychology Julianne Holt-Lunstad and her research team[2] had concluded that weak social connection has the same risk of death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Moreover, according the findings it doesn’t matter whether the loneliness is perceived or actual the risk to health remains the same[3].The NHS ‘Behind the Headlines’ critique of this particular study concluded that the research ‘provided some evidence that the isolation was causing ill health, rather than the other way round, but we can't be certain[4]’. Whether or not this particular headline is as troubling as it appears the remaining evidence that suggests that loneliness and social isolation can have adverse impacts upon our health and well-being and upon the UK economy. Research reported by the Co-op suggests that loneliness costs UK employers £2.5 billion per year. Causes of loneliness The causes of loneliness are not surprising. They include but are not limited to: Changes in day-to-day routines (such as retirement), A lack of or loss of friends (such as through bereavement or divorce), Restricted mobility, cognitive and sensory impairment or other causes of poor physical health (which then create a vicious circle), Financial limitations (limiting ability to participate in activities), Personal characteristics (such as age, stage in life, ethnicity, sexual orientation); and, Neighbourhood characteristics (such as a lack of amenity, layout of streets, crime). Loneliness is not only restricted to those who are alone or are of a particular age group.  “Young or old, loneliness does not discriminate” said the late Jo Cox MP who, with her colleague Seema Kennedy MP, set up a cross-party Loneliness Commission in 2016. Source: ONS analysis of Community Life Survey August 2016 – March 2017 Creating spaces that reduce social isolation National and many local planning policies seek to ensure that developments create healthy and safe communities. Many of the recent call to action publications by a variety of respected organisations, charities and commissions focus on a wide range of measures to improve loneliness and to reduce social isolation. However, not as much has been written in these documents about how the built environment can contribute to tackling its causes. As place makers we can help to create places that encourage social connection and to create spaces that people want to use and are able to use that are safe and secure and that are accessible to all.  These are just a selection of ways that creating spaces and places can help to increase both formal and informal social interaction which may in turn help to reduce loneliness: Making dementia-friendly spaces that are designed to encourage people out of their homes, with connections and routes that are accessible and safe (The RTPI has published practice advice on this); Ensuring that amenities and facilities are in walking distance and the routes to these places are safe, legible and encourage more people to use them; Delivering a range of places for leisure activities and where people can meet - from community halls to bowling greens, and from public squares to public footpaths; Including facilities for physical activity such as formal parks and informal open spaces, playgrounds for children where parents can mingle, as well as allotments for all ages; Ensuring that the spaces to meet are safe, with excellent natural surveillance through active frontages and well-considered layouts; Creating jobs and educational opportunities with further enhancements by creating dedicated indoor and outdoor spaces for people to meet during lunch breaks (rather than eating a sandwich at a desk); and, Places for cultural activities through formal and informal spaces such as heritage assets, coastal paths and outdoor theatres. Understanding why places and spaces are important in helping to combat loneliness is a good starting point. Indeed, many of the measures are integral to high quality urban design decisions but can be easily missed although our experience, from working on health impact assessments for a number of projects, is that the measures can be simple and often not costly. Whilst we cannot solve the factors causing loneliness entirely, placemakers can be part of a range of measures that help.  [1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-commits-to-government-wide-drive-to-tackle-loneliness [2] https://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/SCA_Holt_04_27_17.pdf [3] https://www.ahsw.org.uk/userfiles/Research/Perspectives%20on%20Psychological%20Science-2015-Holt-Lunstad-227-37.pdf [4] https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/loneliness-increases-risk-of-premature-death/  

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