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.