Place: Wisbech

Wisbech in Cambridgeshire in black and white

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.

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

Anglian Water joined the partnership and became a driving force at an early stage. They established a rural Business Connector in Wisbech in 2013; the CEO being inspired to act when he saw the positive impact that connectors could make at a Prince of Wales’ Seeing is Believing visit.

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.
To deliver  long-lasting change the real issue was the need for a longer-term vision & particularly the transport infrastructure connecting Wisbech to the growth areas of Peterborough and Cambridge. This became the major focus of Anglian Water’s input in recent years. They established an Infrastructure for a Growth group to support the Vision team. This group investigated and supported proposals for the reconnection of Wisbech to the rail network and to improve road infrastructure. This lead to a consultation with the community about the vision for Wisbech beyond 2020.
With the assistance of David Rudlin the exciting potential for a Garden Town proposal was born to deliver up to 12,000 homes. Anglian is supporting a ground-breaking approach to new flood modelling, investigating how a Garden Town can be created to be climate resilient, with blue and green infrastructure at its heart to support the new development & the existing town. 

The Wisbech 2020 vision

In October 2017 Fenland District Council and the Vision Team refreshed the Wisbech 2020 Vision, with a focus on Education and Skills, Health and Wellbeing and Cohesion, Infrastructure and Built Environment and The Local Economy. A programme of work is now underway with the long-term ambition to improve transport, build local skills, increase tourism and boost retail, create new jobs and more homes. 
  • 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

This collaborative approach between the public, private, charitable and community sectors has been instrumental in delivering such great progress:
  • 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.
Four years on, as this unique partnership with environmental sustainability at its heart develops, we are delighted that it will join the Pride of Place initiative to ensure we can share their experience, ideas and challenges with others and develop and grow the numbers of places involved. 

Key contact

Andy Melia
Place Director

Learn more about the challenges faced by Wisbech

During the Business in the Community AGM a panel, hosted by Oli Barrett MBE, co-founder of StartUp Britain, discussed the issues Wisbech faces and the work being undertaken to address these challenges. 
Meet the panel: 

  • Peter Simpson Chief Executive, Anglian Water
  • Anne Hill Principal, Thomas Clarkson Academy 
  • Keith Smith Director, The Ferry Project

Watch the video by clicking the image to enjoy the conversation. 
Image of panel discussion at BITC AGM