Antonia Stratford
11th November 2021

Last week, the City Nation Place conference took place with some fascinating and dynamic speakers.  So what were the key takeaways?  Here is a short summary:

Perceptions of the UK

The UK has more brand equity than perhaps many of us give it credit.  Tourism and foreign direct investment are rebounding strongly and the UK is seen as stable with a long history of doing things well. What is letting us down currently are perceptions of our cuisine and our response to the pandemic in 2020. 


Place makers need to identify what makes a place unique and authentic and use that to create a strong, bold and different brand.  Cornwall is a key example of a destination that has repositioned itself – away from its image as an alternative to the South of France and instead as a mecca for artists and naval history.  Stockton on Tees is another example of a destination that has identified its strengths – not as a retail destination trying to compete with its neighbours but instead using its large open spaces to hold and host events.

Get your placemaking principles right from the start and ensure that all new developments meet these principles and criteria set out in Local Plans.  Have a strategy for spaces – not just buildings.  If you start with buildings, you will get it wrong – start with people.  Carry out perception research amongst communities – but don’t be overwhelmed by the data.

Be true to the origins of a place. Look at how it works physically and tap into people’s emotions by telling the stories.  Over the years, the centre of Ipswich has become disconnected from its declining port and waterfront and physically separated by roads.  Plans are now underway to remove roads, improve routes and re-establish the connection between the town centre and historic waterfront.  If you have competing places within a destination – build a trail or a solution that will pull the places together.

Retail and Experiences

Town centres are no longer all about retail - consumers want change, vitality, dynamism.  Have a place for pop ups – don’t be afraid of change.  Use experiences to promote connectivity with family and friends and to meet new people.  Keep a strong regional approach.

Skills are now mobile and attractive places are more important than ever thanks to the pandemic.  Health and well being is also a huge priority – people want to walk down high streets and visit towns and places that make them feel good (less chippies and betting shops would be a good start!)

Don’t just create a tour based on a film or TV series – tap into the essence of why it’s a success and create a tour or experience based on this.  Cookie making Squid Game style is currently a highly rated experience in Korea!

What’s happening in 2022?

2022 looks set to be a bumper year for the UK with key events such as The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the UnBoxed Project - a £120 million initiative that will create a festival of innovation and creativity across the UK.  With core values of Open, Original and Optimistic – the festival will aim to bring people together and promote our creativity and strengths to the world.  The festival will showcase 10 projects and you can find out more here.  We loved the sound of ‘See Monster’ – a decommissioned North Sea offshore platform which will be regenerated as a major new installation in Somerset with the hope of inspiring conversations about sustainability.

 If your destination needs some help or advice with place making, place branding or destination development – get in touch with the Go To Places team