If someone mentioned Scarborough to us, we’d probably think of holidays by the seaside, Simon & Garfunkel (via Scarborough Fair) and maybe Alan Ayckbourn (if we were feeling highbrow). However, that just shows how far behind the times we are, because Scarborough’s main claim to fame these days is apparently as a thriving hub of entrepreneurial activity. After winning the 'Enterprising Britain' competition last year, this small coastal town in Yorkshire (population 50,000) has just been named as Europe’s most enterprising place...
Scarborough was the proud winner of the Grand Jury prize at this week’s European Enterprise Awards (part of European SME Week), in recognition of its work in encouraging people to start businesses and create jobs – no doubt rather to the bemusement of Helsinki, Valencia and Liege, the (much larger) cities that made up the rest of this year’s top four. Apparently the jury called the town the ‘most creative and inspiring entrepreneurship initiative in Europe’. Maybe legendary Scarborough resident Sir Jimmy Savile fixed it for them?
So what exactly has Scarborough done to merit such high praise? Well, it’s all down to the work of the Scarborough Renaissance Partnership, a 1,000-strong coalition of local entrepreneurs, politicians and townsfolk. Since 2002, the SRP has pushed through £30m of regeneration projects that have in turn attracted about £200m of private sector investment - the near-derelict harbour is now a swanky marina with lots of continental-style coffee shops, cafes have teamed up with local fisherman to create high-end seafood restaurants, and there's an incubator near the seafront housing about 70 creative and digital small businesses (from photography to web design). All in all, this has created something like 2,000 jobs.
It’s all the more remarkable because Scarborough’s economy, like most seaside towns, has long relied on fishing and tourism. Admittedly cash-strapped holiday-makers may be more likely to spend their summer holidays in England this year, but it’s clear that both of these industries are in long-term decline – and without drastic action, seaside towns will decline along with them. Fortunately for Scarborough, it seems to have cottoned on to this earlier than most; it's actually managed to wipe out seasonal unemployment. ‘The whole town has embraced the enterprise cause’, beams the SRP’s Tony Peers (a great name for a guy who lives in a seaside town with two bays).
At a time when Britain is crying out for entrepreneurs with the will, the ideas and the talent to drag us out of recession, let’s hope a few more towns follow Scarborough’s example...
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