Place-Based Storytelling

This report by Carnegie UK Trust builds on research into towns that have significantly transformed their fortunes, in part by creating a clear place narrative. Find out how to (co)create effective stories to improve community wellbeing, local engagement, and attract people back into high streets and town centres, post-crisis.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

Carnegie UK Trust: Supporting Place-Based Storytelling

This accessible report presents findings from the Carnegie UK Trust’s Talk of the Town project, which builds on their prior research into towns that had significantly transformed their fortunes, as featured in a previous High Streets Task Force resource (see International Turnaround Towns). Those towns telling a clear narrative about the place were able to recover more effectively from challenges and crises, such as natural disasters and collapse of key industries. As the Institute of Place Management’s (IPM) Post-COVID19 Framework for Recovery suggests, clear communications are especially vital in the crisis and pre-recovery stages, with place storytelling important in aiding recovery. This resource can, therefore, help any place leader wishing to (co)create effective stories to improve community wellbeing, local engagement, and attract people back into high streets and town centres post-crisis.

Narratives are increasingly being adopted in policymaking around town centres; as the author Lauren Pennycook puts it: “Narratives are now being explored so that statistics are no longer people with the tears wiped away” (p. 4). Place branding research[1], however, is increasingly recognising the importance of considering the unique history and lived experiences of local communities in forming place narratives, rather than employing a more detached top-down branding approach. As the report similarly emphasises, place storytelling needs to be led by the local community to bring citizens together and inspire conversations to bring about change. Based on learnings from how the Trust helped individuals from Scarborough and Treorchy, several key reflections about effective place storytelling are offered:


  1. Time - enough time should be factored into the place storytelling process to enable a diverse range of residents’ voices and stories to be taken into account. Using opportunities when the community is already coming together can be a more effective use of time. Fully embedding the story into the place’s vision is a long-term process.

  2. Trust - wide-ranging and effective participation in crafting place-based narratives requires trust between members of the community. Open and transparent communication is essential, as is forming clear roles and responsibilities.

  3. Thought - a wide range of individuals and groups from the public, private, and voluntary sectors must be involved to ensure diversity of thought is captured in the place narrative created. A place’s story should incorporate both its past and potential future, meaning that intergenerational participation is also needed.

[1] Ntounis, N, and Kavaratzis, M. (2017). “Re-branding the High Street: the place branding process and reflections from three UK towns”. Journal of Place Management and Development”. 10(4). Accessible via: