Twin Towns UK
Short Description and Goal
Twin Towns UK aimed to reinvigorate local towns through a process of learning and collaboration. By pairing towns across the UK that had similar characteristics and socio-economic challenges, the towns were encouraged to think differently about what they could do to improve their local places. From September 2017 until November 2018, 3 twinning partnerships worked together to jointly develop projects that tackle priorities in their towns, supported by the knowledge and experience of their twins.
Twin Towns UK is a domestic twinning scheme, which takes a fresh approach to the well-established ‘twinning’ concept by pairing towns across the UK with similar characteristics or socio-economic challenges, to consider how to make positive change happen in their communities.
Improving towns includes, but is about far more than, improving the retail offering on the high street. It is about supporting people to come together and make the changes they know their local places need.
The 3 partnerships were:
Broughshane in Northern Ireland & Wooler in England
Whitburn in Scotland & Oswaldtwistle in England
Merthyr Tydfil in Wales and North Shields in England.
A mix of organisations lead the partnerships including a Community Development Trust, a Business Improvement District, and a Chamber of Commerce. The project enabled exchange of information across the UK, promoting collaborative and co-operative programmes at grass roots level between towns.
Towns have gained from the twinning through:
- direct improvements in their digital offering with increased marketing and social media activity.
- opportunities for individuals to share learning and improve skills, knowledge and understanding.
- new cycle routes, walking lunches, town trails, and heritage trails.
- In one town (Mertyr Tydfill) speciality Christmas and Pop Up Vegan markets trialled; with the Vegan market generating a 20% increase in shopping centre footfall.
- Leveraging other funding to refurbish Harrison Hall in Whitburn, which is now open and being used by a variety of community groups.
- Town clean ups, with wide community involvement that are anticipated to become regular events.
Resources This Project Needed
Budget: A total of £22,500 per twinning – £11,250 per town – throughout the 18-month programme
Time: 14 months of the project execution and about a year for planning and preparation.
One of the early successes of the programme was the effort made by some town lead organisations to ensure adequate representation of their place- based community’s stakeholders, developing a project team with a wide range of (sometimes competing) grassroots community groups and local democratic representation. Whitburn’s team, for example, brought together the Community Council with the local Community Development Trust, Community Education Centre (voluntary management committee) and Whitburn Traders Group working in partnership with West Lothian Council’s regeneration manager. The ‘Whitburn Together’ brand they created as a result of the Twin Towns programme features in all their work and is at the heart of their developing website.
However, other community-based organisations participating in the programme and attempting similar partnership brokering with parish or borough councils and their elected representatives encountered more resistance.
In several towns, there was a perception that
the ‘voice of the town’ should only be heard through the democratic structures in place, with even ‘Town teams’ struggling due to a territorial approach by the individual stakeholders involved. In one town, a lack of engagement with the town’s project appeared to be due to its low priority in local regeneration plans (there was no development plan for the participating town, nor any plans to implement one).
If you were to have asked each town how it perceived its ‘matched’ pairing at the outset, an answer of anything from ‘unlikely’ to ‘bemusing’ would undoubtedly have been the response, largely due to the geographical distance and distinctive economies of the participants. However, exploration of data, exchange visits and semi-structed reflections on what had been learnt for each participant did lead to the identification of common challenges and most often a realisation of what their places held in common.
Check other learnings in the report:
- Carnegie UK Trust
Social Media Link(s)
Level / Project Complexity /
- Merthyr Tydfil
- North Shields
Sizes of Participating Cities
• 5.000 - 20.000
- United Kingdom
Cover Picture: unsplash.com