Reinventing European industrial towns and challenging dominant post-industrial discourses

Existing ways of thinking and talking about industrial towns in the UK (and Europe more widely) tend to put forward a ‘post-industrial’ narrative: one of decline. This concept is often translated into policy or redevelopment plans which push industrial towns into creative sector or service industry solutions. Despite the fact that 1 in 5 people in the EU lives in a small-to-medium industrial town, and the fact that a significant number of small-to-medium industrial towns sustain their productive economic base, there is very little research or policy which looks to understand them. Especially those which are bucking the decline trend or going ‘off the beaten path’.

Our project aims to understand them better, looking at the hidden characteristics and dynamics of towns beyond the economic base. We will explore ways in which sociocultural attributes and realities can help a small town survive and thrive. We think that industrial towns are likely to have a set of historical and social narratives, behaviours and practices, aligned with strong and compelling work-people relationships (like a tradition of labour organising or worker clubs) that are not well understood but which create resilience and strengthen the economic base. By better understanding them we will be able to develop policy, and support sustainable urban and human development goals, that align both with their realities, and suggest new ideas for manufacturing.

Challenging dominant discourses:

Bright Futures is conducting participatory, transdisciplinary research to investigate the locally embedded, hidden socio-cultural qualities and spatial specificities in a selection of case study towns from across Europe. This will result in a comparative analysis of small industrial towns in different developmental contexts which will help challenge and reframe both small to medium industrial towns and suggest new ways of exploring town and place characteristics.

Supporting social innovations:

We will work with local people in each town to identify, explore and translate these uncovered qualities into social and institutional innovations aimed at supporting positive practices in industrial towns and creating alternative development strategies that are sustainable and locally rooted.

Impacting on urban policy:

We aim to influence urban policies to appreciate the particularities of the small European industrial town and alternative modes of urban development. It will provide a set of policy and research recommendations to urban governance and practitioners on industrial place, alternative manufacturing bases and the sociocultural aspects of work and economics.

The European towns included in the study are:

  1. Velenje, Slovenia
  2. Fieni, Romania
  3. Kajaani, Finland
  4. Corby, UK
  5. Heerlen, Netherlands

Further information about the project:

The project is funded by the ESRC ENSUF fund in the UK. In the UK the Project is led by The Young Foundation. The consortium is in partnership with the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, University of Eastern Finland, University of Bucharest, University of Amsterdam and Social Life Limited. Please contact Dr. Mary Hodgson, Principal Investigator, for more information or to contribute to the study



Sun behind cloud

Bright Futures – Understanding the reinvention of post-industrial towns


Our CEO, Helen Goulden, looks at how it is vital to turn back the tide on how we view towns, with a particular focus on ... Find out more