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View of a typical UK town highstreet with shop fronts and bunting

Unearthing pandemic insights to help towns level up

Published: 2 March 2022

A think tank formed to help communities struggling with economic regeneration is keeping the impact of COVID-19 on the agenda

The Centre for Towns, founded in collaboration with Professor Will Jennings - Southampton expert in political science and public policy - has identified the UK towns most affected by the short and long-term economic effects of the pandemic.

In 2020 the Centre published the ‘COVID-19 and our Towns’ report which gives a wealth of insights about the towns most impacted by:

  • economic exposure as a result of the government shutdown
  • socio-economic resilience to the effects of the pandemic

Will observes: “It became clear that places with a certain economic mix would be especially badly hit. Economically, the pandemic will not impact the country evenly.”

Highlighting economic imbalances

The report finds that coastal and ex-industrial towns were particularly vulnerable with 4 sectors highlighted:

  • accommodation
  • non-food retail
  • pubs and restaurants
  • arts and leisure

Will said: "We want to remind people of the fundamental issues raised by our country’s social and economic geography, rather than letting electoral politics dictate the agenda on the places that matter.”

‘Levelling up’ is a government policy to reduce the economic imbalances of regions outside South East England. The dynamics of this have shifted substantially during the pandemic because of the huge growth in working from home. It may also mean more people choosing to live outside major cities.

Will says that in some ways, levelling up is revisiting a traditional set of political debates around regional inequality:

It isn’t fully addressing the reasons for the huge gap between towns and cities, or the huge gap between London and the rest. Levelling up needs to attend to the fact that many peripheral areas have experienced decline over many decades and how we're going to help these places turn a new page.
Associate Dean Research & Enterprise