Today, Corby is the fastest-growing area in the UK outside of London, but they still struggle with two complex dominating development narratives: the town’s “phoenix-like” growth, and its prevailing social inequalities and high levels of poverty.
Country: England, UK
The town of Corby has gone through multiple periods of substantial transition in the past century. Following the opening of a steelworks in 1934, Corby experienced a massive influx of workers, transforming it from a small village with a population of around 1,500 people in 1931, to a ‘New Town’ with a population of 18,000 by 1950. Other industries joined the steelworks, attracting migrants from depressed areas of Scotland and Ireland, as well as Wales, other parts of England and Central Europe. However, with the steel industry in decline by the late 1970s, 11,000 jobs were cut in the years that followed, driving Corby’s unemployment rate to a staggering 30%.
In the following two decades, redevelopment schemes were introduced and incentives were put in place to draw business into Corby’s Enterprise Zone. Gradually, unemployment rates dropped back to the national average. The early 2000s saw a large wave of regeneration in Corby, as the town’s centre was reshaped entirely with a new shopping centre, transport links and the new civic hub and arts centre (the Corby Cube).
Today, Corby is the fastest-growing area in the UK outside of London and the local council has announced the aim of continuing this population growth to 100,000 residents by 2030. Two common narratives seem to dominate Corby’s post-industrial development: the town’s “phoenix-like” growth, and its prevailing social inequalities and high levels of poverty. The reality on the ground is, of course, far more complex. Corby’s community has responded to the specific challenges and needs of the area with an array of strategies and solutions – some more successful than others.
While the number of leisure facilities available to the general community of Corby has increased over the past years, there is little on offer for young people in the area. Youth centres have closed down and the night time economy is very small. Many children and young people in the area are attaining grades that are below the national averages, and some schools are not effectively supporting young people in their transition to employment. Young people seem disengaged from public life and there is an absence of youth voice in local governance. The lack of local education and high-skilled job opportunities means many young people move away. This out-migration of young people poses a key challenge for the town of Corby and its future.
In 2019, Corby was announced as one of the towns to receive investment as part of the UK government’s ‘Stronger Towns Fund’. This will see £1.6 billion of funding being distributed between 100 towns over the next 7 years “to create jobs, help train local people and boost growth”. Corby’s local council has emphasized its commitment to increasing engagement and improving opportunities for young people. Additionally, the planned 2021 merger of Corby Council with Kettering, Wellingborough and East Northamptonshire to create one unitary authority*, offers an exciting opportunity to re-evaluate local decision-making and delivery of youth services in the next years to come, but comes with a risk that local priorities will be subsumed within those of a wider region.