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A lesson from Grimsby: data provides only part of the picture

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I’m heading home now after a couple of days in Grimsby together with other Centres in the What Works Network. After spending weeks looking at the data about Grimsby, I was happily surprised to find a town with lots of good news and positive energy. Another reminder that data can only provide part of the picture regarding a place.

There are a lot of things Grimsby is justly optimistic about: the award of a large investment through their Town Deal; major employers engaging in local life beyond the workplace; successful sixth form and vocational institutions; and innovative community groups and social services approaches.

I was most struck, however, by the near-universal belief in the power of a place-based approach. Everyone returns over and over to the importance of putting Grimsby at the centre of all their efforts. They are not major employers, they are Grimsby employers; not the NHS, but Grimsby’s CCG; not Academy chain secondaries, but Grimsby’s schools. This alignment of efforts around what is best for their place is clearly energising. And the enthusiasm and charismatic leadership of Rob Walsh is infectious.

That data, however, is sadly real. Some of the most deprived wards in the country are in Grimsby, with people and families dealing with a combination of poverty and the ‘toxic trio’ of substance abuse, poor mental health, and domestic violence. Finding ways to help these populations benefit from the opportunities which are on the horizon in Grimsby is a huge challenge.

The council and their partners are under no illusions about how difficult this will be, but they are committed to making it happen. The What Works Centres were left with a lot to think about. What evidence-based advice can we give Grimsby to improve their chances of making their vision of inclusive growth a reality? What lessons are there here for other places with persistent deprivation, but no large renewable energy investments or town deals in their immediate future?

I’m interested to find out what the data isn’t telling me about Wakefield when we visit there at the end of the month!