What is it that makes a place great to live, work and play? How do we create places that provide all with an equal sense of opportunity? I had the pleasure of attending a panel event we held last wwek, in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University, which addressed some of these questions, examining the ‘secret’ of transforming place, and how our towns and cities across the UK can be (and are being) redefined by regeneration.

Mike Thomas, a Director here at Grant Thornton in the North West, opened the evening with a keynote speech. Whilst celebrating the dynamism and opportunity the North West region provides, with its boom in the last 20 years’ growing beyond expectation, Mike’s keynote reflected on the great changes the region has delivered on, whilst now expressing the need for regeneration to be truly inclusive and work for all.

Mike’s keynote then led into an interesting panel discussion where we heard from:

  • Nick Johnson – the entrepreneur who has transformed the experience of Altrincham, with a food market that is proud to be independent and offline
  • Ciara Keeling – whose company Bruntwood is delivering Circle Square, an entirely new neighbourhood in Manchester City Centre
  • Cathy Parker – Chair of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)
  • Pete Bradshaw – Director of Infrastructure and Estates at Manchester City Football Group.

Hearing the panellists speak about the change already created, the exciting projects in the pipeline, and the legacy they wish to leave behind, it struck me that the common thread amongst discussion was the importance of people in the places we wish to build upon and redefine. It was clear that viewing those who live, work and play within areas of regeneration as passive, rather than integral, would only lead to challenges. Pete Bradshaw of Manchester City Football Group summed this up perfectly, simply stating ‘We are doing this WITH the neighbourhood, not TO the neighbourhood’. Cathy Parker of Manchester Metropolitan University supported this view, commenting that if regeneration is to be sustainable, it must be ‘built and created’ with the community, harnessing their passion and knowledge of the place in which they live and work.

Challenging the mind-set of how the success of regeneration is measured, notably moving away from just using economic measures like GDP, was also a key theme of the evening. There was agreement amongst both the panel and the audience that for regeneration to be successful, it must provide value beyond the economics, and importantly the desired outcomes will vary town to town, city to city. Cathy Parker of MMU spoke of the limitations of providing a ‘one size fits all’ approach to regeneration, and how regeneration must respond, and adapt to, external changes and challenges. The challenges faced by the retail sector being a prime example of how place may have to redefine how to create a buzz.

On the evening, my colleague Mike also recorded a podcast with Ciara Keeling from Bruntwood on this very subject. To listen please visit https://www.grantthornton.co.uk/en/insights/redefining-our-towns-and-cities-secrets-to-transform-place/