‘The Spirit of Corby’: a tale of diversity and strength, not decline

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Post-industrial towns like Corby in Northamptonshire have had many negative tales told about them over the years, but these tales often undermine their rich histories and renaissance. In this guest blog Eloise Robertson, Marketing Assistant for Made in Corby, tells us about her hometown.

Corby continues to tackle issues stemming from the collapse of its steelworks in 1981. It has previously been labelled as ‘Britain’s debt capital’ and ‘the worst place to live’, but many residents of Corby feel that these headlines do not reflect their experience of living in the town. Despite these negative labels, today Corby is also lauded for its “phoenix-like” rise from industrial decline; it was named the UK’s best town in 2017 and is the fastest-growing borough outside of London.

As part of our involvement in the Bright Futures research programme, a project focusing on the nature of post-industrial towns across Europe, we’ve been working with our partners Social Life and local people in Corby to better understand the town, looking at the hidden characteristics and dynamics of the town beyond the economic base. Industrial towns, like Corby, have rich histories contributing to their strength, resilience and spirit. However, these histories are often not well understood or celebrated enough.

So what is this ‘Spirit of Corby’? In this guest blog Eloise Robertson, Marketing Assistant for Made in Corby, tells us about her hometown and the work the organisation is doing to celebrate “the diversity and strength of character that is woven into the fabric of Corby’s community.”


As a young person living in Corby, like many of my contemporaries, I am proud to be of Scottish heritage. My granddad headed down from Glasgow with the sunny idea of working at Europe’s largest producer of steel: the Stewart & Lloyds’ Steel Works. Once he was settled in Corby, my family (including my mum) followed him down and built a life here.

I have grown up hearing negative opinions about Corby, with criticism usually directed at our buildings and perceived lack of ambition. After the Corby Steel Works went into decline and eventually closed down in the 1980s, Corby’s unemployment rate hit a high of over 30%. Corby’s architecture has always been a polarising point of conversation amongst both locals and visitors due to its brutalist designs from the 1970s. Forty years on and the dramatic design of the Corby Cube (opened in 2010) created further controversy, with some arguing that the design was too stark a contrast to the style of buildings already in Corby. Despite the many arguments surrounding the aesthetic value of the Corby Cube, I think it’s a wonderful asset to the town, providing a hub as our biggest theatre and arts venue.

There are many things that make me immensely proud to be from Corby, not least the recent Living Legends: Hidden Histories project that I have been involved in while working as an apprentice for Made in Corby. The project aimed to celebrate ordinary locals who do extraordinary things for the community. Being a part of Made in Corby’s Living Legends: Hidden Histories project has been a total eye-opener. Each Legend’s story is completely different and each one shows the diversity and strength of character that is woven into the fabric of our community. From my perspective, learning more about the stories of the Legends has been inspiring and uplifting for Corby’s reputation. One of our Living Legends John Parry, who worked on one of the first commercial computers, completely debunks the idea that Corby only ever accommodates low-skilled workers. And even though John Parry went on to work all over the world, he returned to Corby with his family; this shows that, contrary to popular belief, Corby is NOT a place of low ambition and an unskilled workforce, but a place that people of all levels are proud to call home.

As a result of the rail link to London reopening in 2009, Corby is enjoying the growth that comes with being a commuters’ town – thus increasing house prices. But for someone like me, who is currently hoping to get onto the property ladder and doesn’t earn a London salary, it’s definitely going to be harder for me to buy a house here. Despite this negative, it fills me with pride that people from other towns and cities want to come to Corby for a better life and to achieve great things.

Corby has a reputation for turning its fortunes around. Since the period of high unemployment, our town has since been rebuilt from the ground up as Corby became an Enterprise Zone, with the intention of attracting alternative industries and businesses. Combine this with the spirit and passion deeply rooted in our community and you uncover a unique identity that you would struggle to find elsewhere.

Because of all of this, I truly believe that Corby has a great future.

– Eloise Robertson, Marketing Assistant for Made in Corby

About Bright Futures

With our partners across Europe, Bright Futures is carrying out research aiming to better understand the hidden characteristics, dynamics and experiences of industrial and post-industrial towns in Europe. The towns included in the study are Velenje (Slovenia), Fieni (Romania), Kajaani (Finland), Corby (UK) and Heerlen (Netherlands).

In the UK the project is being funded by the ESRC in association with JPI Europe and we are delivering the project in partnership with Social Life. You can find out more about the project on our website.

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