Dacorum: A place-based approach for Hemel Hempstead
Dacorum Borough Council is delivering a new place-led approach for Hemel Hempstead with local partners to set out a strategic plan to transform and promote the town. Hemel Hempstead, a product of the post-war New Town programme, has struggled to convey its inherent strengths. Instead, its external perception has been associated with low-value employment in logistics and a declining and dated high street. The reality is much different, with the town home to numerous high value businesses and a wealth of green and blue assets.
To mobilise local enthusiasm for change, the council has engaged with communities to identify what is unique about Hemel, to hear about the best assets and what is most important to people and businesses when looking to the future. Three themes became very clear from the engagement:
Health and wellbeing
Vibrant destination for enterprise
A statement of intent to ‘grow a fresh new future for Hemel’ underpins the themes. This has become the town’s strategic signature. This narrative is intended to resonate with residents but also central government, investors and potential businesses as the council seeks to grow the economy for the benefit of all.
The themes and big ideas have been translated into a set of colourful visuals that have been widely deployed in redefining place branding and providing opportunities to promote the town.
A new website (www.thinkhemel.com) has been launched targeted at investors, businesses, new and existing residents and those who want to find out about Hemel. The council launched the Hemel Place Board in November 2021, a partnership of key stakeholders from the public, private and third sectors which have a strong presence in the town.
The project also looks at the connections with other towns in the district (Berkhamsted and Tring) so that assets in all three towns complement each other. For example, the strong cultural offer in Tring and the vibrant high street in Berkhamsted combine with the theatre and business opportunities in Hemel Hempstead. This work has also prompted the council to look at Hemel Hempstead in a regional context with wider assets and an important role as a business hub for a larger area.
Ultimately, the whole town will benefit from raising the ambition for Hemel through development of the Place Strategy. Many residents, businesses and stakeholders already feel that the council is doing things differently. Many small businesses have been featured in the Hemel Story and all organisations can use it to promote themselves, support bids for investment and attract collaboration. All stakeholders can use the watermark of Hemel visuals alongside their brand. Businesses and organisations feel connected and welcomed to Hemel as a town and, importantly, they feel valued and engaged in shaping the future of the town. The council is working on three main outcomes for the town centre:
Meanwhile uses to attract people into the Town
Articulating opportunity sites and attracting investment for development
Celebrating assets in the town, improving civic pride and place branding
UK Shared Prosperity Funding will be allocated under the placemaking theme to meanwhile uses. The council is well positioned to deliver these with partners. The aim is to create a partnership steering group for partners to continue to deliver activities after the funding period ends.