Townscapes report argues museums and libraries are a vital part of reviving ‘left behind’ places 2 Jun 2021

A new report ‘Townscapes: The Value of Social Infrastructure’ argues that places where people can mix and engage are just as vital as physical infrastructure for ‘left behind’ towns – and that museums, libraries and other cultural spaces are a crucial in giving social opportunities and ‘pride in place’. Produced by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, it says there is an ‘ingrained assumption within government’ that large physical infrastructure – from roads to railways and digital are the crucial nuts and bolts of economic and social flourishing. It argues that a community’s social amenities need greater policy attention, and reviews disparate literature to begin to measure the value of social infrastructure. During Covid, towns like Tavistock, Truro and Mold, which have higher levels of ‘social infrastructure’ also generated a greater number of mutual aid groups to weather the crisis – a correlation that can be mapped across hundreds of towns. For example, the culture and community centre @TheGrange in Blackpool switched during lockdown to providing food parcels, growing kits and check-ins with vulnerable residents. Heritage can also generate ‘pride in place’ and social bonds – for example in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire where residents drew from Ramsey Rural Museum, a Victorian walled garden and remains of a WW2 training camp to revitalise the area. The authors propose a data repository, to help policymakers see the impact of ‘soft infrastructure’ more clearly, and understand how to make good interventions in ‘left-behind’ places. University of Cambridge