Chair of STP, Professor Leigh Sparks reflects on the past 12 months and the opportunities and challenges ahead for 2021. The message was originally posted in STP's December e-newsletter.
Dear Friend of STP,
I’d like to take the opportunity of our final bulletin of the year to briefly reflect on the challenges that our towns have faced these past 12 months and our response to these – as well as looking forward to priorities and opportunities for 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unimaginable issues in all aspects of our society and economy, and this includes for our towns. Restrictions to curb the virus have impacted retail, hospitality and community and social life in our town centres and city districts to an unprecedented extent. At the same time, we have witnessed incredible acts of innovation and solidarity whereby local businesses have played a life-saving role helping communities to manage these circumstances. Many of us have also (re) discovered what we have on our doorsteps, perhaps appreciating what our local town centre, community or city neighbourhood has to offer like never before. This new awareness is a fabulous base on which to build.
In response to the onset of the pandemic, Scotland’s Towns Partnership pivoted from our normal activities and worked very closely with the Scottish Government, key agencies and partners, and our members on a variety of resilience programmes for towns. Our support role has included distributing almost £4 million in Scottish Government resilience and recovery funding for towns and improvement districts, running a series of advice webinars, and encouraging people to support local businesses via the Scotland Loves Local campaign. This campaign, backed by the Scottish Government and organisations across a range of sectors, reached millions of people across the country.
Next year, we look to build on heightened public awareness about the importance of localism. This will include a revamp of the strategic focus on towns via the publication of the Town Centre Action Plan Review, whose Expert Group I have been honoured to chair. We also anticipate the launch of a newly digitised Town Centre Toolkit, a fresh suite of support and networking events, a continuing focus on the ‘love local’ message, and new awards programmes to celebrate best practice. The common thread running through all of this activity will be to underline our common commitment to vibrant, inclusive and sustainable town centres as crucial to the country’s social and economic wellbeing and in addressing those inequalities which have been so exposed by the pandemic.
On behalf of all the team at Scotland’s Towns Partnership, can I thank you for all that you have done in 2020 under extreme pressure and may I wish you the very best this festive season, and a positive and successful 2021.
Chair, Scotland’s Towns Partnership