UCL Policy Lab


Lessons from Grimsby: the local coalitions fueling regional renewal

5 December 2023

Grimsby and Our Future are mobilising big ideas and everyday expertise to imagine a brighter future. Here are some lessons from a community doing the hard work of local renewal.

Jason Grimsby

Check out the earlier interview with Emily Bolton and Jason Stockwood in the UCL Policy Lab magazine. To find out more about Policy Lab and get the latest news events, sign up for their newsletter here

Here at the Lab, we talk about the need to bring together extraordinary ideas and everyday experiences. In Grimsby, this mantra is being put into action. Our Future is bringing together a community that has faced so much hardship and yet is wrestling back control of its future.

The two-day event brought together the community to look back on what they've achieved and, most importantly, think ahead to what can be built. The energy, ideas, and innovation on show provide lessons for how communities across the UK might get their future back.

Here are some top takeaways from Grimsby.

Collaboration is key to successful devolution

North Lincolnshire is close to becoming a combined authority; this will be central to making good on many of the ideas underpinning Our Future. Yet, people in Grimsby didn't wait for Whitehall to act – leaders have got on and started fixing the problems they see. Our Future has brought this community together, organising, imagining and collaborating in new ways, across sectors, to reimagine Grimsby's future. Perhaps the most striking outcome of this is the positive relationship between the local authority and the community. Our Future has created a collaborative ecosystem – enabling businesses to work with the public and community. In Grimsby, we see how collaboration and partnerships is both the starting point and the route to realising the potential of devolution.

Inequalities are local, and so are the solutions

Ask any regional leader or MP, and they will tell a more localised story than that of regional-level differences we hear from the centre. In Grimsby, a man born in one council borough will live, on average, 12 years less than a man who lives a few miles away. The inability to see these localised inequalities from Whitehall underlines the need for greater local control, enabling communities to focus, in some instances, on individual neighbourhoods. 

Relational approaches are transforming lives

Some of the most successful work in Grimsby has been in support of children and young people. Many families have been dealing with a fragmented system – but with the support of organisations like NSPCC and community support groups working in partnership with local government and schools, the town is pioneering a new approach to supporting vulnerable young people. It’s challenging work. As we heard from families and others, the multigenerational trauma which might lead a family into crisis has been generations in the making, and so the root out will also take time. But the relational approach is working – too often, a lack of willingness to revert to the old system leads to long-term impacts for communities. This frustration is also felt by those in Whitehall, as Paul Kissack wrote in his recent piece for Ordinary Hope. 

Respect for the everyday

There are big challenges that require significant action. Yet, in Grimsby, we saw how often the thing that was changing how people felt and engaged with the future was through extraordinary everyday changes, from the East Marsh street parties to the work to clean up the neighbourhood. These kinds of everyday experiences provide us with fuel for more significant change – and they also enable a kind of dialogue with the possible. This is also about placing trust in communities and one another, recognising the abilities we have and the need for control over our lives.

Understanding place matters

In a recent UCL Policy Lab Collaborative Conversation on levelling up, Professor Alan Renwick, Deptuaty Director, Constitution Unit spoke of the need for local buy-in if combined authorities are to succeed “The role of place in democracy is crucial - people want local boundaries to fit with their own sense of who they are and where they belong. Where the natural boundaries of a proposed combined authority aren't obvious, local conversations, such as in citizens' assemblies, could help choose between alternatives and give people a sense of local control and ownership.” 

This importance of aligning new political structures with place is proven to be true in Grimsby. There is genuine love and passion in being from Grimsby; harnessing this love of place is proving key to renewal and will be vital for other places. 

Grimsby is special, but it isn’t unique

No one community is the same, and each place in the UK comes with its own special characteristics. What makes us proud of our city, town or neighbourhood is rooted in its landscape, history and people. It’s seaside location and it’s sense of being at the end of the line - gives Grimsby a sense of a Pioneering frontier town. Yet what is also underlined by Emily Bolton and others is that the work being done in Grimsby has applicability across the UK - we should learn from Grimsby, not place it on a pedestal.