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On Tuesday 9th April we were honoured to open the doors of the Leisure Centre, Swansea, to almost 600 people and businesses, for the first major cross-sector conversation about the future of the city.

Our intention in organising this event was to champion all the people working hard to make positive things happen across our city, while creating space for everyone to have a voice and play a part in shaping what we want for the future.

Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re probably right.

Someone once said that “whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re probably right” – and we think that applies to creating a flourishing city.  

Collectively, we need to change the way people think and talk about Swansea, towards a more empowered and optimistic narrative, that says, if we work together we CAN create the city we all want.  

Swansea is by no means the only place that’s struggling to adapt to changing times, but sometimes we’re our own worst enemy when we talk our city down. Our goal, in showcasing some of the brilliant businesses, projects and initiatives doing great things in Swansea, and in championing a positive vision for the future, is to shift the conversation from what’s wrong and what’s broken, to what’s working and what’s possible.

FULL CONFERENCE REPORT

If you missed the Swansea City Centre Conference, or would like a full report of what what discussed and what the next actions are, you can access the PDF at the following link.

FOUR CONFERENCE & EXHIBITION ZONES

The format of the day was a Conference with a series of interactive panel conversations, and an Exhibition featuring four Zones relating to Swansea city centre’s key areas of focus – Development & Investment, Destination, Creative & Digital, and Energy & Environment.

Two thirds of the leisure centre’s main sports hall was given over to the Exhibition, which was as diverse and inclusive as we could make it.  Alongside a healthy mix of large and small businesses, major city institutions and public organisations, there was also a good amount of free exhibition space donated to enable third sector organisations, community initiatives and individual “changemakers” to be part of the showcase of great stuff happening in the city.  This unusual level of cross-sector diversity was part of the reason for the incredible buzz in the room that everyone commented on afterwards, and meant that new connections were made between people, organisations and ideas that aren’t usually in the same place at the same time.

Swansea Central Phase 1

Swansea Central Phase 2

A City Centre Workforce

Student Living

Day Time Strategy

Night Time Strategy

Independent Retail

City Centre Highlights

Kingsway Digital District

Enabling Entrepreneurs

Creative Regeneration

Culture / Events Noticeboard

Green Spaces & Built Environment

Circular Economy

Community Initiatives

Inclusion & Diversity

ON THE CONFERENCE STAGE

The back third of the sports hall was devoted to more formal conference seating and the conference stage.  We made a deliberate choice to keep everyone in one space for both the exhibition and the conference, but in future we might seek to separate the two activities, as it resulted in a very noisy event that made it difficult for some participants to hear all the speakers.

On the Conference stage, the goal was to spark positive and solution-focused conversations about what we all want for the future of the city.  Rather than lining up a series of keynote speeches, we designed the sessions as open discussions, with a number of short topic introductions from thought-leaders and those that are already DOING, followed by open-mic conversations with the goal of enabling as many people as possible to contribute their thoughts, questions and ideas.  This reflects our desire to move away from a system in which a few key decision-makers set policy and determine actions (and then tell us about it), towards a more collaborative and participatory approach to making change happen. And we’re keen to find a balance between the sharing of “insight” from the stage, and the “emergence” of wisdom from the room.  Both are of value, but the latter is much harder to deliver.

WHO WERE THE SPEAKERS?

We invited the following individuals to speak for 5 minutes each, to share their passion, vision, values, expertise and/or priorities for the future of Swansea, as a means of sparking debate and prompting discussion among attendees:

  • Paul Harwood, director of TechHub Swansea, who is already working hard to nurture the city’s digital and tech sector, and who knows a thing or two about what such entrepreneurs need in order to stay in Swansea and thrive.
  • Karen McKinnon, exhibitions curator at the Gylnn Vivian Art Gallery and former director of the Arte Mundi international art prize, who understands the importance of art in society, and the challenges facing Swansea’s creative and cultural sector.
  • David Bellis, co-founder of Refining Dining hospitality group, who is investing significantly in creating new, distinctive food & drink businesses in the city, and is one of those who is already capitalising on the potential spin-off opportunities of major Council investments (eg in the Arena).
  • Stacey Adamiec, serial entrepreneur and growth strategist, who is passionate about nurturing independent city centre start-ups, and emphasises the importance of “small” things we can do, as well as the need for “eco systems” and connectors that bridge the gaps between small and large players.
  • Gareth Davies, director of development at Coastal Housing Group, an organisation whose role in regenerating the high street has been transformative, and which remains committed to providing more housing in the city centre, while addressing social and economic inclusion.
  • Bruno Nunes, director of Creative Hospitality Group and BID board member, who has created several successful food & drink businesses in both Swansea and Cardiff city centres, and who has special interest in what’s needed to build our hospitality sector (food, drink, leisure, accommodation).
  • Ben Reynolds, creative regeneration specialist and director of Urban Foundry, who knows what makes places thrive, started the Uplands and Marina street markets, and takes on the challenges of vacant commercial space in the city through pop-up projects like Unit Nineteen.
  • Fran Rolfe, senior partnerships and influencing officer at Natural Resources Wales, who has been carrying out interviews with people across Swansea about Green Infrastructure, and who understands the benefits (economic, health, happiness etc) of creating more green space in the city.

Our speakers were almost exclusively local people with experience, insight and expertise related to the city centre.  The exceptions were the panel on the Swansea Central Phase 1 development – the Arena project – who were representatives of the companies the Council is working with to deliver that project.  We wanted to provide a platform for those professionals to tell people about their plans and intentions for the Arena, and also to ensure they were present to listen to the aspirations and priorities of local people in relation to it.

FULL CONFERENCE REPORT

If you missed the Swansea City Centre Conference, or would like a full report of what what discussed and what the next actions are, you can access the PDF at the following link.

EMERGING PROJECTS

On yellow Action Planning sheets, participants in the final session of the day were invited to rapidly outline potential projects and actions that could be taken forward following the Conference – particularly those that they were personally invested in and willing to help drive.  These are some of the ideas and initiatives that were put forward, and 4theRegion has contact details of those who want to move them forward. Our intention is to facilitate working groups that want to address specific ideas, and to keep this community involved and updated on progress.

  • Help and support for independents on the High Street – dedicated area / hub for start-ups and independents – Collaboration, coworking, start-up village
  • Community owned bus company
  • Management body for city centre green spaces
  • Implement a connection system between Council, visionaries, housing associations, planners and independent business owners, Eco-system to underpin a thriving city centre – Work with micro-experts that know how
  • Zero carbon homes – support for sustainable projects and retrofit of existing homes
  • Nature city – green infrastructure, protect / plant trees, vertical green space
  • In the arena: Basketball training / tournament – disabled sports, professional Swansea team
  • Big screen in castle square – put together a playlist for advertising local city centre businesses
  • Digital square – raising the profile of Swansea digital talent
  • Public transport interest or campaign group – Integrated public transport – leads to better connectivity, thriving economy, better health and well-being, less pollution
  • Swansea Market stained glass window – replace all the glass in the roof with stained glass panels
  • Create a Cultural Quarter – virtual and physical; cultural quarter newsletter, make the most of all the disparate yet brilliant activities that are going on in Swansea, joint promotion of events and facilities
  • One Planet Swansea – Swansea to lead the way in reducing environmental impact
  • Business mentor network – develop a network of successful business owners, opportunities to support each other

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

We were pleased that the Conference resulted in some very thought provoking conversations. It’s important to ensure the momentum from this event continues.  For our part, 4theRegion is collating all the notes from the Opportunity Areas and will shortly publish a full report of these. We have a raft of prospective projects and potential project teams to follow up with, and our intention is to support these individuals and groups in taking action on the projects that emerged from the event.  We can do this by facilitating further meetings, championing these initiatives, connecting project teams with key people and organisations that need to be involved, and helping to join the dots to ensure that the disparate mix of projects form part of a broader vision with a shared sense of purpose.

The idea of forming a collaboration to develop a Cultural Quarter has already been picked up by both Coastal Housing Group and University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and quite a number of people who attended the Conference have also expressed interest in being part of ongoing discussions around this idea.

In addition to the projects put forward on the day, almost 100 people have so far completed the event feedback form, which provided an opportunity to suggest “next actions” relating to any aspect of the Conference.  From these responses, a number of helpful suggestions have emerged.

One of these is the idea of developing a “People’s Regeneration Strategy” for Swansea, with the Council in a supportive role, to clarify the collective priorities emerging from the Conference and further meetings and events.  We are keen to talk to partners who might be interested in collaborating with us on such an undertaking.

Finally, there has been overwhelming interest in (and support for) the proposal that this Conference should become an annual event.  We will shortly be agreeing a date for the Swansea City Centre Conference 2020, by which time we hope to be able to report on significant positive outcomes from this year’s conversations.

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