The After Coal team visited with Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation at the Ebbw Vale Steel Works in Wales. Two miles of buildings that once employed 10,000 people are now the site of a massive regeneration effort. A new hospital, college, and eco-friendly housing units are all part of the plan for the once bustling valley. Winckler explained that the Bevan Foundation seeks solutions to poverty and social exclusion through research, idea exchanges, and public policy recommendations. Her perspective on regeneration outlines the complex decision making that faces community leaders and policy makers in deindustrialized places.
Winckler: “Regeneration is one of those words that means a lot of different things depending on who you talk to. On one extreme, regeneration can be described as ethical property development. So, you would take a rundown area (very often an urban area) and provide a mixture of incentives and public sector support. You attract private investment, then and lo and behold, property values shoot up. It might look nice, but there is a big question mark about whether local people have actually benefited from that.
There’s then a kind of middle ground where the public sector might be trying to attract businesses to relocate to an area. This approach also uses the mixture of public incentives. It can actually be really important if you’ve got an area that has had massive decline, because it shows that these places do have potential and can be a decent place to do business.
And then there is the third element of regeneration, that is commonly used in Wales, and that’s community and social regeneration. We believe that regeneration, or any sort of change, only happens when people change. Our people have had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the process of deindustrialization. A lot of social relationships have been really damaged by that process, both within families but also between neighbors in communities. In Wales there is a widely held belief that the way you get social and economic change is if communities themselves argue for it and campaign for it. This means regeneration has to be a real bottom up movement.
If you have almost all of the community working in a coal mine, when the coal mine closes, there’s nothing. Our take on that is that it’s a matter of social justice. We don’t think that people should necessarily get up and move, or that the fact that they’re unemployed is because they’re lazy or work shy, or unskilled or stupid, or any of those things that are said about people who have lost their jobs. Our view is that the employers have taken jobs away in pursuit of bigger profits elsewhere, and that caring for people and making sure people have a decent quality of life is a collective responsibility and one that is a hallmark of a decent and civilized society.”