- Largest town in England not connected to the rail network
- Life expectancy 7 years less that Cambridge 40 miles away
- High levels of smoking and other health issues relating to lifestyles
- Transient population - related housing issues
- Changing workforce requirement resulting in high levels of unemployment
- Ranked 6th worst on social mobility index across the whole country
- 4 out of 10 pensioners do not have access to a car, relying on public transport
- Empty, derelict property on the high street for over 30 years
- Educational attainment has been well below the national average.
- 35% of people do not have any qualifications
Wisbech is widely known as the Capital of the Fens and is home to a quarter of all Fenland's residents. It is renowned for its elegant Georgian architecture and its people are justly proud of its history and traditions. But today the town is also facing many tough challenges.
A national index that measures health, education, crime, income, employment and barriers to housing and services, shows this area in Cambridgeshire has four of the top eight most deprived areas in the top 10% nationally and these are all in Wisbech. Its traditional employment in the food sector has changed dramatically.
Rail transport links have been lost, road links suffer from underinvestment, leaving a population increasingly cut off from the economic & social networks communities depend upon.
Pride of Place: Learning from Wisbech
The Wisbech 2020 Vision was borne out of discussions between the political leaders of Fenland District Council & Cambridgeshire County Council, along with the MP for North East Cambridgeshire. All agreed that the challenges Wisbech faced were greater than those elsewhere in their constituencies. Public bodies and private sector partners needed to think differently about what to do united by ‘a passion to deliver a prosperous future’. The Vision was formally launched in January 2013 in a detailed Action Plan.
The role of Anglian Water and its supply chain model
Coming from a business that always takes a long-term view, Anglian Water took a novel approach, bringing together senior leaders from their tier 1 suppliers, “The @one Alliance”. Anglian Water decided to create a steering group to support their connector, underwrite a longer-term project & set their sights on working with the Wisbech community to seek transformational change. Anglian seconded a senior manager as a Wisbech Business Connector and that member of staff is still leading their engagement in the project today.
The most important first step was to listen to the views & needs of the local community then deliver some quick wins. These included;
- Working with a local charity The Ferry Project to secure a lease on a disused school & refurbish it to create a thriving and profitable community centre
- Employability skills were a key issue in the town, so the centre hosted a weekly job café & an annual Jobs & Skills Fair – 134 people obtained employment via the Jobs Café in 2017
- Working with Thomas Clarkson Academy & the College of West Anglia work has been done to raise aspiration and attainment. At the college two new courses were created for construction & engineering; 14 students from the first courses gained employment with Anglian or their Alliance.
The Wisbech 2020 vision
- Education and Skills - Equip schools in Wisbech to attract the very best teaching talent; place schools and libraries at the centre of community life; build better links between schools and regional businesses
- Health, Wellbeing and Cohesion - Deliver new initiatives and pilot new ideas to improve public health and wellbeing; shape new and improved health facilities in Wisbech; support the community to grow together and address areas where there is lack of cohesion
- Infrastructure and the Built Environment - Reduce journey times between Wisbech and Peterborough & Cambridge; redouble efforts to secure improved national road connectivity; accelerate development at existing allocations and underdeveloped sites; secure further investment in Wisbech’s built heritage
- The Local Economy - Position the agri-food cluster at the centre of the Wisbech economy; increase engagement with businesses to help them flourish and help grow the economy; restore the image of Wisbech as the proud economic and social capital of the Fens.
Progress to date
- Rail link now in the County Transport Plan & 3rd stage of Network Rail Assessment to commence
- Garden Town proposal supported by the Cambridge & Peterborough Combined Authority with £6.5m
- Innovative flood modelling proposal set to begin with financial support from the Dutch Government.
- Wisbech is now part of the national Healthy High Streets programme.