With their penchant for Amazon shopping and big city lights, you could be forgiven for thinking that young people couldn’t care less about the fading charms of Britain’s small towns.
But 22-year-old Rachel Bebby has other ideas.
The LJMU Master’s student is an advocate of localism and believes lockdown has opened a new door for high streets, which can be exploited by community action. Indeed, she says the lockdown restrictions have made people more aware of the value of their local stores and amenities.
Rachel is among the first people to sit on the ‘panel of brilliant people’ for the Government’s £1bn flagship levelling-up programme – the Towns Fund. The Fund, announced by the Chancellor in his March budget, targets extra funding for 45 towns, mostly in the North West, Yorkshire and the Midlands.
Shift to localism
A MA Cities, Culture and Creativity student and a first-class Geography graduate, Rachel hopes to make a contribution with her voice and build her knowledge of how towns thrive through civic vision.
“I think as we come out of the Covid-19 crisis there is a chance to use the current shift and greater emphasis on ‘localism’,” she says.
For her postgraduate dissertation, she is exploring processes of regeneration, particularly through community action and a civic vision for the high street.
Among the Towns chosen in the Fund is Southport: “Southport is somewhere I frequently visited from my younger years. I think it is visible to see the deterioration of Southport’s town centre through the closure of shops and services.
"My Masters has taught me about cultural distinctiveness and how policy fits within broader strategies for re-imagining and regenerating places and cities. My hope for the TownsFund is to see a real change, and to revitalise and support towns like Southport to gain back their ‘atmosphere’ and ‘buzz’
“I am very excited to start. I got my acceptance letter yesterday so it’s very much in the early stages.”