Where the streets are paved with gold

On Tuesday, I went to London for the first time since pre-pandemic. I was off to the inaugural Inspiring Futures Awards, organised by the Victoria Thornton Trust to recognise the work being done by organisations and individuals across the UK and beyond. We were thrilled to be shortlisted for two awards – Youth Engagement Programme and Best Organisation. It was a lovely event, and wonderful to meet a few of the people who share our vision and belief in the importance of inspiring young people about the built environment and the importance of youth voice.

What struck me, as it always does when I go to the big city, is how stark the difference between the ‘grim north’ and the big city really is. We all know it. It’s nothing new. I’m also not naïve enough to propose that London is all streets paved in gold and endless opportunity. Some of the most deprived places to live are within London. But what is incredibly clear to me is that if you live there, opportunities feel so much closer. Whether you can reach them is another matter.

The transport system benefits from incredibly disproportionate investment. Transport is integral to a functioning place to live and enabling access to opportunity. I imagine few up north will take the government’s latest announcements about investment in our rail infrastructure as going anywhere near enough to addressing the balance. We hear time and again politicians and economists argue why this imbalance of investment makes sense and is somehow fair. I distinctly remember a BBC programme explaining how Crossrail is great for us northerners even as our train systems creaks along, making our journey between Liverpool and Manchester incredibly arduous.

The museums are thriving, rich and numerous. Whilst we have seen big announcements of another Beatles museum in ours in the budget, is that really what we need? The employment opportunities are diverse, as the city continues to suck in as much talent as possible. And the list goes on…

The event on Tuesday reinforced something which has been bubbling away in my mind the last few weeks. We’re all working hard and delivering amazing things in our local communities. But if we’re to change our understanding of one another, to increase empathy, call for social change, and create built environment professionals and change-makers who can address this disparity, we need to do more now to bring young people across the country together to learn from one another.

The built environment has an incredible impact on our quality of life; our well-being, sense of self, life opportunities, safety… Our programmes with young people help to make those young people we work with in the northwest more informed about where they live and better equipped to share their views about what they want for their built environment. It brings young people from more diverse backgrounds together and opens up careers to those that may otherwise not have considered them, critical to creating better representation in the sector.

If we bring young people from across the UK together, we can together explore the challenges that we all face, such as climate change, and those which are unique to local areas. Whether they become designers, politicians, activists or environmentalists, we can help them to be better informed and more ready to accept that there are more experiences than just our own. By helping young people to understand and tackle some of these big issues early on, we can enable them to advocate for better equality of opportunity, quality of place and a country less starkly divided by the quality of place. A simple and idealistic view perhaps, but if you’d worked with some of those young voices that we have over the years, not unachievable.

So, perhaps PLACED needs to take the Academy national then. Who’s with us?

And the awards — we were thrilled to receive a Commendation in the Best Established Organisation.

Jo Harrop
PLACED Director & Founder

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