Mark Argent
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Politics:: articles from 2015 General Election Campaign
(More reasons) why Hugglescote and Snibston matter

3 May 2015
Mark Argent at Hugglescote

The campaigns to save Hugglescote Community Centre and Snibston Discovery Park Museum give a good sense of how much people value both.

It should have been obvious to Leicestershire County Council that threatening to demolish one and choosing to close the other was a bad idea. If there was any doubt, then the strength of the campaigns have made the point very clearly.

But there is an extra layer to this, which people involved in regeneration talk of as “Social Capital”. This is a really useful idea, that there are things which easily get expressed in monetary terms, as financial capital, but there are also social things which can be overlooked because they don’t involve pound signs, but are really important, especially for regeneration.

Social capital means connections and networks of people. It includes links with neighbours, clubs, societies, churches, political parties — a rich web of human links. The networks around saving Hugglescote and Snibston are examples of social capital. It is particularly significant when these sorts of things bring a wide range of people together. People working on regeneration get particularly interested in social capital because it makes sense of why some regeneration projects work and others don’t.

If you try to regenerate an area by pumping money in, the results are often mixed. The nightmare scenario is the hit-and-run development where (say) impressive new shops are built — people from outside rent the shops, travel in to work in them and travel in to use them, but the people who get left out are those living in the place needing regeneration. Investing instead in things that enable people to meet and do things together is a slower process, but it builds things more securely and means those living in the place are the main beneficiaries of regeneration. The physical side is then about building the facilities people need.

In terms of job-hunting, it is soul-destroying to look at job adverts, see few that are possible, and then fail even to get an interview. It feels very different to meet someone new at something that is not primarily about getting a job, pick up some new ideas, look in a slightly different way, and then be out of the rut and exploring new possibilities.

Effective regeneration in Coalville needs more facilities to develop these human connections — to build social capital. Physical things do matter, like re-opening the Ivanhoe line (with a decent station), the Bardon Bypass, getting the empty shops in the centre of Coalville filled, but what is even more important is the connectedness that means people feel they belong.

Outside Snibston Museum

If regeneration is to be more than a politician’s vanity project, it needs to start with people. It needs more things like Hugglescote and Snibston. The campaigns around both show that there is already significant social capital in them. Closing either would do significant damage to the human fabric of the town. Both would be hard to replace.

I think the Coalville regeneration agenda should be: