Community Forum, Corby, May 2019

On 14 May Executive Director Alex Brazier travelled to Corby in Northamptonshire to meet community members and charity leaders to discuss the challenges and successes of the town. Here are his reflections.

Over recent months I’ve focussed on spending a bit more time in different parts of the country (and a bit less time at my desk!).  All for a simple reason – because the Bank needs to ensure we hear from, and engage with, a wide range of voices if we are to build a full view of the economy.  And hosting events like a Community Forum helps us to achieve this. 

While we have our Agents spread across the UK, speaking to businesses on a daily basis, and we have reams of data and statistics telling us how the economy is doing, it can still be difficult to get the full picture. 

It’s only by speaking to a diverse range of people about their financial priorities, hearing what their concerns are and how they think the economy is performing, that we can get a full view.

That’s why last week I went to the Northamptonshire town of Corby. Once renowned for its iron and steel production, it hit on hard times in the 1980s. The closure of the town’s iconic steel works cost 6,000 jobs – a colossal number for a relatively small community to withstand. These effects are still felt by large sections of the community today, and it was something that came up throughout my meetings. 

We began with a visit to the Rooftop Art Gallery where I met the members of ‘The Eloquent Fold’, who create dynamic art projects for all members of the local community. The exhibition I saw was part of ‘’the just sew stories” project that has been running for a number of years. As well as being fantastic pieces of art, what really struck me was how the Gallery provided a real focal point for this group and support for its members.   

I also saw how much regeneration has taken place in the area. With the opening of the Willow Place shopping centre in 2007; Corby railway station and Corby International Pool in 2009; as well as the Corby Cube building in 2010, the town really has seen impressive investment. 

The Cube in particular, which is home to the Corby Borough Council offices, a 450-seat theatre and public library, was the venue for my Community Forum roundtable.  

The roundtable reinforced to me why increasing our engagement with a broader range of sectors, such as charities, is so valuable.  

Many issues, successes, concerns and insights were shared with me and a few themes seemed to resonate throughout all the conversations with those who came along.

The first of these themes was sustainability. Many organisations are focused on continuing and maintaining their current projects. With cuts being made to budgets, charities are finding it harder to gain access to grants and finance. They are trying to work long-term with short-term funding. It’s an unenviable challenge. 

The second theme was the vital role that charities play in Corby, a town where unemployment is higher than both the East Midlands and UK averages. I heard from a representative from the local food bank about how it helped 1,600 families in Corby last year. They emphasised the fact that circumstances can change instantly and that poverty can affect any of us, even those who work. 

Charities can make such a positive difference to the local economy – sometimes in quite unexpected ways. For example, who would have thought a skate park could spark economic regeneration?  Well Adrenaline Alley in Corby, which is the largest skate park in Europe, is doing just that. It attracts skaters from all over the world and provides revenue for many hotels and businesses in the area. They have many volunteering opportunities and are focused on helping young people locally.

Finally, community members would like to see more investment in leadership programmes to ensure they help the local youth grow into the leaders of tomorrow and continue to uphold the charitable, caring ethos Corby is proud to have. I hope they succeed.

A common question I was asked was what the Bank could actually do to help.  While we’re not in a position to solve some of these issues directly, I emphasised our work to avoid repeating the financial crash of ten years ago to protect households and businesses from being sideswiped. When the economy struggles, it is in fact groups like these that people rely on the most for support and to act as a safety net. I discussed what we have done to reform our financial system since 2008 in order to make it more resilient to future risks and ensure that it serves households and businesses in bad times as well as good.  

It really was an informative day and I’m keen to take part in another Community Forum as soon as possible. I’d also especially like to thank the Northamptonshire Community Foundation for arranging such an insightful visit, which has given me much to think about for the rest of the year.

Corby Community Forum reflections: Victoria Miles, Carole Miles and Phiona Richards

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  • The biggest take away for me today has been that I recognise that Corby Communities are really great in pulling together in partnerships, particularly when times are tough or in hardship or austerity.  They’re great at working together and I think the key thing for me is that Corby people have that sense of belonging, they want to make sure that they’re proud of where they live, where they work and where they play. 

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  • Carole Miles: When you’re looking at statistics on paper, things can look one way but when you come into a community and you find out what’s going on underneath, it’s not what the figures tell you. Because figures can always be massaged and statistics can always be made to say anything you want but, when you talk to local people who are dealing with the everyday problems then you’re going to get a more accurate picture of what the impact will be if you cut something. 

    Phiona Richards: To me, it just adds to the strength of Corby you know that, yeah, there’s a lot of community out there, they bond together they work together and make things happen, without money sometimes.

    Carole Miles: And I think for me, what was lovely is to have the work that we have done with our group appreciated and listened to by somebody from the Bank of England. It’s not something they would ever have imagined happening and they went away about ten foot taller and feeling really fantastic about themselves, and that’s priceless.

This page was last updated 31 January 2023