The Deep Place approach to sustainable communities

56 - Castle Street centre
The town clock in Tredegar in south Wales

Rejecting the ‘managed decline’ approach to post-industrial areas, Dr Mark Lang and Professor David Adamson developed the Deep Place study as a route map to sustainable communities.

In 2014 we published our report ‘Toward a New Settlement: A Deep Place Approach to Equitable and Sustainable Places’, which sought to address one core question: what type of economy and society do we need to create to achieve economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability by 2030?

Our concern was, and remains, a search for a solution to the seemingly intractable problems of continuing inequality and poor economic performance in some of our most disadvantaged communities.

Our inspiration for addressing this question was based on our frustration with what has become orthodox social and economic discourse, that there should be a process of ‘managed decline’ in post-industrial communities.

In this view dispersed industrial towns, such as those found across the south Wales valleys, can expect at best to provide dormitory locations from where middle to low earning workers commute to employment in agglomerated internationally competitive city economies, and where a residualised section of the population slips further away from economic activity. We completely reject this view, and our research has sought to find a different future for these undoubtedly disadvantaged communities.

Building the foundational economy in Tredegar

Based on our Deep Place methodology, we undertook our initial ‘Deep Place Study’ in Tredegar in Blaenau Gwent, and we have continued to further develop our approach since. The Tredegar report identified seventeen action points relating to the local economy, public service delivery and governance, that we argued would collectively provide a route map toward a more sustainable future for the local community.

Though we have developed our thinking and approach further since the Tredegar report, our approach continues to be influenced by the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change’s ‘foundational economy’ model. The foundational economy is the area of the economy where 40% of the UK workforce is employed in providing services such as social care, utilities, telecommunications and food. In Tredegar, therefore, we argued for more localised economic activity in the town, which we believe can both eradicate poverty and achieve sustainability. We identified four key local economic ‘sectors’ that are critical to the future success of a more localised economy in Tredegar: food; energy conservation and generation; the care sector; and, e-commerce and employment.

The foundational economy is not concentrated in high-tech

parks or business zones, but is distributed wherever the population actually live

Since the publication of the Tredegar report at a highly successful conference in Tredegar, Welsh Government has appointed a ‘place coordinator’ to attempt to build a delivery coalition in Blaenau Gwent to take the Deep Place Study and its recommendations forward. We have provided a series of briefings to ministers and officials in Welsh Government, Blaenau Gwent Council and local service delivery agencies, many of who were represented on the project steering group. A recent report of the National Assembly for Wales Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee has identified the Deep Place approach as an example of good practice.

Since the publication of the Tredegar report, having both now left the Centre for Regeneration in Wales (CREW), we have concentrated on further developing the Deep Place approach. One of us has been using the Deep Place approach working with communities in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, whilst the other continues to work in the UK.

Dr Mark Lang is a socio-economic and public policy researcher in Wales who has, over the last 15 years, held a number of key roles in the public, private and voluntary sectors.
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