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Sailing round Britain, reflecting on what enables places to thrive

For six months I’m circumnavigating Britain, celebrating the people and places of these islands. Already I’m looking back at a succession of historic ports in the East and North. What’s their story? Many of these places have experienced the decline of the industries that made them. Dover has seen its ferry services cut. Ipswich no longer dominates the manufacture of agricultural machinery. Hull suffered 95% damage in WW2, then in the

1970s the ‘cod war’ with Iceland put paid to their successful trawling fleet. In Scotland, globalisation ended Dundee’s dominance in Jute, Jam & Journalism. Further north, Orkney’s dependence on north sea oil cannot last.

The cycles of decline and reinvention will seem familiar not only to other towns and cities but also to organisations, and the individuals who work in them. What defines those who recover?   

Dover’s tourism is on the rise, but can it fill the gap? In Ipswich the waterfront has been developed and it’s a great town but what’s going on? Some cities have diversified, and won big contracts that justify their ambitions – in Hull’s case this includes Siemens’ investment in ‘Green Port Hull’. Others like Dundee have focused their identity – theirs is ‘design’.

Ultimately no regeneration is possible unless people and communities take a positive attitude to change. We find career development can help individuals to adopt a more enterprising approach to life and work. In Hull I met Tim Rix (of JR Rix) who encourages staff to think ‘nothing is forever’. His fifth-generation family business continues to reinvent itself, now manufacturing caravans, and diversifying into renewables.

The ‘remote’ island group of Orkney is perhaps the most surprising example. Everywhere we saw enterprising and often successful efforts to build on people and available resources. Are you facing rapid change, and needing reinvention? Eat Orkney cheese and be inspired.

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