Anthony Hilton, a well known columnist and economics journalist, opened the 10th Thames Valley Property Forum (TVPF) with a bang last week. He saw great opportunity for the Thames Valley economy, over other peripheral regions to the capital, only constrained by a potential reliance upon knowledge - ‘essentially history’ - when it needs to thrive on imagination. As the rate of change seems to continue to increase, it is clear that we all, no matter what profession, need to utilise our imagination, our ideas and our ambition more and more, if we are to ensure we as individuals and our businesses keep pace and remain relevant.
Anthony’s thoughts on perception also hit home. On the back of Brexit the world is judging the UK, and the perceptions of who we are and what we stand for/offer are being tested. This perception, if it changes, could have a profound impact on our economic future, that we are unlikely to ever be able to quantify or understand fully. Eddie Curzon of the CBI confirmed that business decisions have already been made on the back of the Brexit vote across many of the Thames Valley’s international companies. As such, perceptions of us as a nation, a region and as towns within this region, need to be carefully understood and challenged. It is perception that we have been tackling through the Reading 2050 programme, and it is a challenge which faces all the towns across our region for varying reasons.
The investors, developers and local authority for Slough advanced their discussion on this very topic for the town in the third session, discussing the importance of Slough understanding who it is and building on its assets in a cooperative way, to inform its future evolution and brand. How can they build on their strikingly successful economic base to become a place that is aspirational and attracts/retains people, businesses and communities?
Despite our frequent anguishing over the needs of Generation X, Y or Z, surely everyone aspires to a place where they feel they belong. Where they can participate to whatever degree they want, in the activities and lifestyle they choose. Suddenly the Cheers soundtrack comes to mind. A bar where everyone knows your name, could be applied to a town, a street or even a conference like the TVPF. Successful perception change and placemaking is informed by so many factors, but the built environment is critical to success. It supplies the places to play, to collaborate, to celebrate, to concentrate. Couple this with our need to belong and be recognised within a ‘community’, it is clear that places need to provide opportunities for us to be intimate and public, formulaic and instantaneous; our offices, our parks, our streets, our shopping centres need to flexibly facilitate all this.
It's a lot to ask from any town or city, but there is a sense that as we understand the challenge, the answers will come more readily, and maybe by leading with our imaginations and not consistently reacting to knowledge, we can deliver something standout. And if we are at any point unsure, Scott Witchalls of PBA shared another vital lesson – ‘An idea is never going to be 100% right. But if its 90% right it’s still better than not doing it at all.’
The opportunities are there. The Thames Valley just needs to grab them!
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Thames Valley, Regeneration, Reading 2050