CaVCA was delighted to host a roundtable discussion with Danny Kruger, expert adviser to HM Government's Department for Culture Media and Sport on Friday 25th January, as the first in a planned series of 'CaVCA Conversations' - the Future of Coastal Communities.

The challenges for Coastal Communities are well documented, and CaVCA is proactively working with partners from public, private and voluntary sectors to grapple with these issues, so we were excited to have the opportunity for a full and frank discussion with Danny Kruger here at the Street.

In advance of the meeting I had put together my thoughts on our challenges, and the opportunities that present themselves.  These are entirely my views, not in any way a 'representation' of the views of the social sector or our various partners, but I thought I would share some of them here.

Issues on the coast, in a nutshell, include deprivation, low achievement, poor health including mental health, seasonal / low paid employment, low numbers of large employers, many micro-enterprises with retail, health / care and tourism being the most obvious employment sectors when young people are thinking of employment opportunities.

Many young people see a lack of opportunity on the Coast and those that achieve tend to seek to move inland towards larger economic centres where there are more obvious and diverse opportunities.  Outer, large social housing estates and poor quality private rented housing does not present the best picture of the area and also has an impact on health, opportunity and quality of community life.  Isolation on the coast is a big issue with a questionable train service, low car ownership and the main access roads poor quality and particularly challenging in poor weather and high season.

The poor evening economy and perceptions of high crime and poor safety (which are not, in fact, reflected in the overall crime statistics) and perceptions of a limited cultural offer, do little to encourage people to stay or relocate to the Coast, although moves are underway to address this.  A new Town Centre Strategy will hopefully address the sprawling and incoherent town centre offer, and create new opportunity for our vibrant and diverse independent retail offer.  The Spa, Open Air Theatre and Stephen Joseph Theatre, along with the Museum and Art Gallery / Rotunda and Woodend, do in fact create a good cultural offer, but are disjointed and there is little comprehensive and coherent marketing of the full offer.

The impact of public sector spending cuts can be seen in the local voluntary sector as well as in public services, with services under pressure from increased demand but restricted resources, leading to creativity and innovation being hindered in order to focus on immediate pressing needs.  This leads to reactive rather than proactive interventions, dealing with symptoms rather than root causes.  The two tier local authority also creates its own challenges, with the administrative centre of the upper tier in Northallerton and therefore, to the minds of many, resulting in Scarborough and the Coast being 'forgotten' and its challenges misunderstood.  That said though, there is also a view that Scarborough gets more than its fair share, and if Scarborough were removed from the County statistics the whole County would perform better on paper.

There is not one single cause of the decline in fortunes of our coastal communities, but a myriad of challenges which have a real impact on our collective ability to think longer term and create sustainable and resilient solutions.

The statistical picture of the Borough is not particularly positive, although it is worth noting that the percentage of people reporting they are 'satisfied with their neighbourhood' is higher than the average across England, but there are clear advantages and opportunities to living on the North Yorkshire Coast.  Without a doubt our Coast presents a stunning environment, both physical and natural.  The history and heritage of our coastal towns provide beautiful period architecture and natural assets.  Because of the relatively poor performance of the local economy, house prices are low presenting an opportunity to attract new and younger professionals.  Many people that live here love it, and wouldn't wish to live elsewhere, but the poverty is stark and there is an increasing divide between those that have and those that have not.  Those that move to the town for employment reasons tend to feel positively about the area, whereas many that are underemployed or unemployed feel trapped by their situation, resulting in negative perceptions of the area.

There is a high level of commitment to the area with groups such as the Scarborough Business Ambassadors making intensive efforts to improve opportunity and awareness of opportunity amongst the local population, and the social sector is relatively strong, forward thinking and growing, in part due to organisations like CaVCA demonstrating their commitment to the area with high quality premises and interventions making a statement of belief in people and place.  This growing and entrepreneurial sector led to CaVCA successfully securing Social Enterprise Place designation for the Yorkshire Coast in 2017.

The relative deprivation of the Borough is recognised by Central Government, which has led to, amongst other things the area receiving Opportunity Area status and associated financial investment - this is enabling the intensive application of resources to efforts to improve social mobility in the area - however we all understand that the key is sustaining the legacy of programmes such as this, and facilitating culture change in our communities in order to raise individual and collective aspirations and ambition.  We have also recently successfully secured a Destination Business Improvement District and it is hoped that this will have a positive impact on the Coast, particularly when coupled with the emerging town centre, tourism and cultural strategies.

There are a number of larger employers in the locality, all of whom are committed to and actively engaged in the various strategies and initiatives aimed at improving skills and opportunity in order that local young people can develop their career options and achieve their potential, as well as drawing new professionals into the area.  These employers are heavily investing in the town, and Sirius Minerals has established a charitable foundation which will literally invest millions of pounds into sustainable initiatives supporting community change and resilience long into the future.

There are a number of measures that those committed to our coastal communities are taking:

  • building aspirations, through exposure to opportunity and building social and cultural capital
  • home-grown solutions - organisations like CaVCA present the challenge back to those who feel there are unmet needs and issues, endeavouring to provide the tools, skills and resources to self-create locally owned and embedded solutions
  • building on the commitment - creating positive role models, consistent reinforcing messages, and wrapping our arms around the challenges rather than casting blame
  • improving our schools to give our children the best start in life by facilitating community and parental engagement in schools, supporting school based social action, and encouraging business involvement in education and on governing bodies
  • broadening the traditional care and tourism sectors to create a comprehensive offer of cultural, environmental and fun opportunities to retain and attract people who believe in the area
  • improving and protecting the environment - volunteer led groups are involved in beach sweeps, recycling and reuse schemes, waste food initiatives and plastic-free town aspirations
  • raising awareness of and challenging systemic issues such as a lack of appropriate mental health services for children and adults, limited support for families of children with disabilities and additional needs, poor recognition of the valuable contributions of the many hundreds of unpaid carers, and the impact of loneliness and isolation on health and well being and the associated public services; and
  • encouraging positive social impact as a major consideration for all institutions and enterprises in the area through support for and promotion of local procurement, local recruitment, payment of living wage and social innovation

This undoubtedly 'quick and dirty' assessment of the issues and opportunities in the area helped to frame our conversation with Danny, and we had a remarkable turnout for the session with representation from local business, the public sector, VCS organisations, the culture and heritage sector, and funding bodies - all of which made for a lively and stimulating discussion.  It was overwhelmingly apparent that there is a lot of love for our coastal communities, and an absolute acknowledgement of the issues and challenges.  What was apparent too was a lack of blame - our issues have arisen from a plethora of circumstances, and we all feel a shared responsibility for and commitment to tackling them. 

A huge factor is that it is clear that the image of a predominantly tourist based economy is also an issue, one perhaps missed in my assessment but made abundantly clear by the voices of business - the general view is that the tourism and hospitality sector is about low paid, low skilled, seasonal employment - we need to work together to change this narrative - to make people see this huge economic contributor as something to be proud of and an employment sector of value and, for young people, worth aspiring towards and worth investing in developing and diversifying.

The overwhelming ask of Government appeared to be recognition and the chance to be heard, really heard.  The other thing that was apparent was the resilience of those agencies, organisations and institutions seeking to bring about change, and the independence that has been gained from the relative isolation from public sector decision makers.  As a sign of things to come, and the opportunity we have to reinvent ourselves and the image of coastal, predominantly tourism centred, communities, the mood was positive.  The strongest message to me as Chief Officer of CaVCA is that local people are up for the challenge, want to work together to resource and develop our own opportunities, and we need no permission, just the support, some financial, of Central Government, to do that.

As the first of our CaVCA Conversations, this was a great success.  We thank Danny for taking the time to visit and hear us, and we look forward to more such conversations in the future.