Helping make Warwickshire a great place to work and live...
Recent years have presented town centres, the tourism sector and local high streets with one of the most challenging eras ever. Already under pressure from the rise in online shopping and changing consumer habits, the high streets were hammered by the pandemic. Still dealing with the fallout from that, they then faced the pressure of rising costs.
The resilience and quality of Warwickshire’s small businesses means the county has weathered the turbulence better than most. But those challenges remain - and the sector has a resolute and resourceful ally in the battle to overcome them in Warwickshire County Council’s Town Centres, Rural and Tourism Team.
Through its many connections, the five-strong team works with partners to enable town centres, high streets and rural hub locations to take positive action to bring constructive change. Their work provides support and guidance to enable Warwickshire’s remarkably diverse range of towns to enhance their local offer and remain prosperous and vibrant places. Projects include Our Spaces which began as a mainly government-funded Covid recovery scheme and has advanced to offer many opportunities including Poems for Polesworth and the Atherstone bus station enhancement.
A key delivery mechanism within the team is the Warwickshire Towns Network, which enables best practice and sharing of ideas across the County involving as many key stakeholders as possible. This network, and the team as a whole, strives to bring together as many factors as possible to support our ‘Warwickshire Place.’ Warwickshire's towns have community assets of all types and each has a unique place-based offer, whether green spaces, businesses, or community action.
The recent 2023 Towns Network Conference, attended by a full house at Warwick Racecourse, was a resounding success, further extending the boundaries of the network. The event explored best practice in place management and showed how other places have been able to pool resources with positive collective action to do more with less. Speakers and delegates heard and delivered so many positive stories, in many of which WCC’s Town Centres, Rural and Tourism team has been deeply involved. Each member of the team brings with them a solution-focused and ‘can do’ attitude to match the innovation and enterprise found so impressively all around the towns and communities of Warwickshire.
Aaron Corsi, who heads up the Town Centres, Rural and Tourism team, said: “I’m really proud to lead the team and the great work they do - work which can only be successful when we all pull together as partners and communities across this wonderful county. Our core aims are aligned to the County Council’s aims to promote inclusive, sustainable economic growth, nurture successful business, and future skills and create vibrant places with safe and inclusive communities.
“Over the last couple of years, the tourism sector and our local high streets in particular have suffered greatly from the impact of the pandemic and we are not out of the woods yet. Future challenges lie ahead for the sector with uncertainties about energy prices while the cost of living increases are inevitably influencing customer behaviour. These challenges remain, but Warwickshire's towns understand that change is necessary and they are finding new ways to innovate and to reach customers and focus on certainty of Warwickshire's tremendous offer. The resilience, innovation and partnership attitude shown by local businesses will help our towns stay strong and become stronger – I have no doubt about that.”
Warwickshire County Council’s Town Centres, Rural and Tourism Team
Aaron, who heads the team, was bought up around Meriden and surrounding villages before moving to Warwick. He worked in hospitality and the service industry before joining the County Council in 2015 in the Network Management team utilising highway-related skills he acquired while managing the Central Region for a traffic data collection company. Since December 2016, he has worked in, and thoroughly enjoyed, a number of roles supporting the towns and high streets of Warwickshire.
When not at work, Aaron spends his time walking golden lab ‘Rufus’ who was a constant companion at the Commonwealth Games live site last summer. A keen amateur fashion model, Aaron has performed in countless charity fashion shows in the Spa Centre, Leamington. When life allows, he looks forward to getting back on the river and sculling along the Avon under Warwick Castle - or it might be more frantic paddling down the Avon at Tiddington. captaining the County Dragon Boat Team in the Corporate Games.
Julia Aratoon – Sustaining Communities and Places Officer
Julia’s role at Warwickshire County Council, which she took up in 2021, is the perfect fit as it brings together elements of her previous jobs. “I absolutely love being out and about in Warwickshire’s towns and villages, meeting new people and noticing new details of our wonderfully varied county” she says.
Julia grew up in Kent, spent much of her childhood holidays in Suffolk and subsequently lived in Chester and Manchester before studying in South Wales. After graduating with a BSc Econ Hons degree in Sociology and Anthropology, she took a role in the Civil Service based in Manchester. When a job opportunity came up on the Isle of Wight, Julia relocated with her young family and spent several years living in Godshill and Bonchurch where she fell in love with yet another place. However, Warwickshire offers wonderful cultural and educational opportunities, so the family returned.
Julia has worked for town, district and county councils in various roles in Warwickshire, Isle of Wight and Oxfordshire including legal services, community development, economic development and market towns project management.
“Although so very different, each role has given me a great insight into place. I like to get to know details of place and build relationships with local people who are there every day as we work on specific projects. It is these place-based projects which provide the springboard into working relationships which connect the council with the county.”
Outside work, Julia likes to do more of the same – spending time ferreting around places, walking cycling and spending time with friends in places all over the county. Favourites including Compton Verney, Stratford Upon Avon and Coventry for the arts and culture scene.
Audrey Brown – Commissioning Officer, Place, Projects and Partnerships
Having a passion for place, Audrey has been with the County Council for 18 years, starting out with the Inward Investment Team before seconding to Regeneration and is now the Place Projects and Partnership. She pretty much ‘does what is says on the tin’ and will be found enabling, co-creating or leading projects which support the Council's place agenda through partnership working.
After falling in love with Glasgow during the City of Culture in 1990 and studying Business and Consumer Services there, her early career started with English Partnerships promoting projects such as the Coalfields Regeneration Programme and Greenwich Peninsula, before moving to Deloitte to deliver their FTSE350 Financial Controllers' Club and Boardroom Briefings.
Home life is always a happy busy for Audrey, usually involving a building project or two plus the general taxi services that come with three lively kids. Weekends include outdoor adventures, exploring Warwickshire's amazing places accompanied by kids, dogs or the local cubs scouts where she is a leader. She also enjoys a cheeky half (or three) and is happy to sample and support the county’s finest hospitality venues when time allows!
Alex Holmes - Visitor Economy Officer
Alex joined Warwickshire County Council in 2015 and works part time as the Visitor Economy Officer. He has always loved the role because of its endless variety.
“My role is to provide the glue that keeps our tourism businesses and stakeholders all working in partnership for the benefit of the wider area – to grow jobs, prosperity and make Warwickshire a great place to visit and live” he says.
A long time fan of Warwickshire. and the County’s wonderful tourism offer in particular, Alex has lived in Leamington Spa and raised a family with four children here since 1997. He grew up by the seaside in Somerset, so has always had a passion for travel and tourism. Tourism gave him his first experience of work, and he earned his first wages making miniature Minehead deckchairs for the local souvenir trade.
After graduating from the University of Wales with a BA Hons degree in Romance Languages, he did postgraduate studies in tourism marketing at Surrey University. Alex then worked in a variety of management roles in the private and public sector in Leicestershire, Cheshire and ultimately Warwickshire where he established the area’s first tourist board.
When not at work, Alex spends his time writing songs, singing and playing guitar. He’s also a keen amateur thespian having performed in countless plays and musicals at local theatres and the Spa Centre, Leamington. He is a bon viveur with a passion for life, love, and Liverpool Football Club!
Abi Culley - Rural Policy and Commissioning Officer
Warwickshire born and bred, Abi studied Rural Environment Protection, at Harper Adams University in Shropshire.
Her covers all things rural, from supporting food and drink producers to collaborating with rural partners such as the Canal and River Trusts, Warwickshire Rural Community Council, Warwickshire Rural Hub and the National Farmers Union to add value to economic activity.
Rural life is Abi’s passion and she loves it with all its joys and challenges. She love growing her own food and her favourite ways to spend time are beekeeping, gardening and walking in Warwickshire.
Abi started with WCC as Community development Officer in Bedworth 19 years ago, in regeneration team, where her role expanded into community energy saving, supporting community waste management projects and in recent years, mainly focusing on rural work streams.