Inspiration and practical help in abundance at Towns Conference
“The conference was fantastic...we can only do this together and it's everyone coming together like this, with thoughts and ideas and opportunities to support each other, that will take us on to the next level."
Positivity and creativity were the watchwords when placemakers gathered at the Warwickshire Towns Network Conference to discuss how to energise the county’s diverse and delightful array of towns.
Warwickshire truly came together as towns and villages from all over the county attended the event at Warwick Racecourse.
A series of speakers offered honest and challenging views from their own perspectives, each planting ideas for the attendees to consider moving forward with. Perhaps the greatest value of the event, organised by Warwickshire County Council, however was the networking opportunity it afforded as place practitioners and activists were brought together to swap information and ideas.
The speakers were carefully chosen to provide inspiration, transferable concepts, and practical solutions. Chaired by Ojay McDonald from The Association of Town and City Management, who is regularly linked into strategic policy making discussions, the event provided a chance for all specialist speakers to offer their expertise to delegates within the very local frame of pride in place. Presentations from these speakers are usually offered at major events in London, Birmingham, and Manchester and are not always accessible to Warwickshire's towns.
Overall satisfaction with the event was extremely high indeed with 91% of delegates stating they were extremely or very satisfied.
When asked what people liked most about the event, responses can be broadly grouped into:
- Positive speakers
- Interaction and networking.
Morning speakers included Ojay McDonald, Iain Nicholson (Tackling Vacant Shops Challenges) and Joe Barratt (Institute of Place Management). The afternoon brought a fascinating workshop to discuss how community power contributes to thriving towns and then some information-packed Elevator pitches about skills, transport, tourism and local food and drink.
Ojay McDonald said: "The conference was extremely enjoyable, full of energy and as insightful as ever with great speakers, a broad range of delegates and participants and excellent hosts. Events like these can be the breeding ground for the partnerships and collaboration that help our towns to thrive."
Feedback from the sell-out event was hugely positive with delegates from all over the county taking home much to digest.
Elisabeth Uggerlose, Clerk to Bidford-on-Avon Parish Council in the south of the county, said: “It was very useful and positive and exactly the type of event that is needed. It was great to talk about the challenges we all face and how to deal with them.
“I found the event very informative and focused. All the speakers were impressive and, while it was valuable to hear about what is going on across the county, it was also really useful in terms of specifics. A few days after the conference a small business in Bidford said to me they wanted support to spruce up their shop front and improve their profile and I could give them exactly the right contact at Warwickshire County Council!”
From further north, Jo Williams, owner of Joco Interiors, in Nuneaton, said: “I really enjoyed the conference, just as I did the previous one. It was a great mix of people and there was real positivity in the room. We all know town centres have to change but this conference showed how much there is going on to make them change for the better.
“It was so useful to hear about what other towns have done. The idea of the teenage market is fantastic and we are already speaking with people who could put that in motion in Nuneaton.”
The conference could not have been held at a more appropriate location. Warwick Racecourse was opened in 1707 to attract people back to the town following the Great Fire of Warwick. That same sense of adventure and resilience filled the room 316 years later as the county’s towns community squared up to the challenges of 2023.
Warwickshire County Council leader, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said: "It was a great event, full of ideas and with a real sense of togetherness.
“We are very fortunate in Warwickshire to have such a diverse array of towns each with their own unique history and sense of place. They are all special and we should celebrate that individuality because that's what people really value. But alongside that are problems common to all and everyone attended the conference to tackle those. How do we address the changing face of retail and the changing ways that residents want to use their town centres?
“For us as councils, BIDS and other organisations, it's about being ‘can do’ and imaginative about how we bring footfall into places and make people see our lovely towns as ones to visits – some amazing history, some great shops and some of the culture of each individual town.
“The conference was fantastic because no-one can do this individually. We can only do this together and it's everyone coming together like this, with thoughts and ideas and opportunities to support each other, that will take us on to the next level."