Hand made in Ebbw Vale…

“Made in Ebbw Vale” could be part of the future for the town, suggests Mark Barry

Just a quick thought on a possible future for Ebbw Vale…

It is disappointing that the Circuit of Wales now seems to have fallen by the wayside . Maybe this is the death knell for the superstar project to transform the economy (apart from the South Wales Metro of course!). Maybe we need to think big -and small. Technology is changing the world and many of the jobs we take for granted or aspire to, won’t exist in the future. AI and automation will make and deliver goods to more people, more efficiently and at lower cost to the consumer. But if the consumers have no work there is no money to buy these “goods”! We need to value different transactions in future to keep the “wheel” turning.

Much has been spoken of the foundational economy to help regenerate local communities and help create this value – but perhaps not enough real hard edge proposals that are economically sustainable. There is also much talk of a future where most people won’t work and be dependent on a Universal Basic Income (probably drawn from much higher corporation tax on organisations with far fewer employees as a result of AI & automation) – I think that maybe half right.

However, in reality, people do like doing things and most of us want our efforts to be valued. Very few people would be prepared to sit around and do nothing (well maybe some)

So here’s a thought. I suspect that in future, as automation and AI depersonalise most of our transactions, we will over time come to value far more those interactions and those products and services with a human touch – that have a human hand and intellect visible on the inside and the outside. So perhaps the artisan, the handmade, “front of house”, the local, that based on art, allotment agriculture, communities, heritage and environment will become more “valuable”.  In fact, we may be prepared to pay more for a watch just because it is made by hand just up the road or take a trip to a town that is full of local artists and producers. The growth of Shinola in Detroit and the transformation of Hebden Bridge since the 1970s perhaps provide some pointers?

We have also seen how craft beers have taken off even though they are more expensive – large impersonal chains are closing pubs at the same time smaller craft breweries are opening them. The same is happening in respect of bread – some parts of the country are now flooded with more expensive locally produced sourdough bread! People clearly value the local (even if at first it tastes a bit funny!)

So may be the intervention Ebbw Vale needs ( and perhaps more of the valleys) is to build the skills and infrastructure that can deliver this kind of future. Training in crafts, bread making, growing, weaving, watch making – in fact anything people might buy just because of how and where they were produced (not because of how efficiently they were made).

So why can’t we create a new brand , “Hand made in Ebbw Vale” and build a new “industry” that is local, viable and has global appeal. When one considers the unique physical and urban geography, and industrial heritage of the Valleys I think this is worthy of serious debate.  It also plays into my ongoing Metro narrative which is all about connecting more peoples to more places to help local and community regeneration as much as broader and more traditional economic development.

Like I said just an idea!


 All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer

Mark Barry is Professor of Practice in Connectivity at Cardiff University’s School of Geography and Planning. Mark also has his own consulting business M&G Barry Consulting. He led Metro Development for Welsh Government from December 2013 to January 2016 following the publication of his Metro Impact Study in 2013. He is also working with the MTR Corporation

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