NORTHAMPTON – On 14th February 1968, 52 years ago, Northampton was designated a New Town as part of the government’s ‘masterplan’ for post-war revitalisation. 60 Miles by Road or Rail provides a unique opportunity to celebrate these New Town stories in an unprecedented way, during a period of county-wide political and financial uncertainty.
As thousands of families migrated to quickly expanding Northampton, a 1960s marketing campaign advertised the town as being only 60 miles from London, by road or rail. Now a new project, 60 Miles by Road or Rail, champions Northampton’s rarely heard New Town story through arts, heritage and community activities. These will include a theatre production, sharing its name with the project and campaign, supported by and staged at Royal & Derngate in October 2020.
Investigating the long-reaching ramifications of becoming a New Town, and the premature withdrawal of government funding, 60 Miles by Road or Rail will be led by local Northants artists and actors. The Northampton Borough Council (NBC) have recently set up their initiative ‘Northampton Forward’ and, similarly to the Northampton Development Corporation (NDC) in the 1970s, they have released a masterplan to redevelop the town centre. Just as 50 years ago, this has divided opinion with some arguing the town needs to be overhauled, whilst others fighting for the preservation of its identity.
Following its shattering financial collapse in 2018 and subsequent reduction of social services, Northamptonshire County Council voted to scrap itself and be restructured into unitary governments. 60 Miles by Road of Rail could not be more relevant, exploring the tensions between central and local government and the roles of local communities. In the lead up to this vital production there will be a series of events exploring Northampton’s heritage and its complicated history with the government over the last five decades. In addition to telling Northampton’s New Town story, the project will deliver activity in Corby, which itself was designated a New Town 70 years ago in 1950.
Local artists will work closely with groups in Northampton and Corby to capture residents’ unique relationships to their hometown and present a community-led response. Old Town New Town will include three events led by the New Town Heritage Research Network. Hometown will see community-led sessions resulting in presentations, and Your Story will be about recording and archiving personal stories of the New Town experience with oral histories, written stories, a digital photo gallery and filmed interviews.
The oral histories of members of the community will be archived at East Midlands Oral History Archive and the filmed interviews will be part of a documentary made in collaboration with award-winning production company Eight Engines, all of which will be documented at here. New Towns were designed to combat London’s overspill problem after World War II. Heralded as utopias, presenting affordable new lives, towns such as Northampton expanded rapidly with new houses and estates. A number of the new estates are now considered some of the most deprived parts of the town and Northamptonshire is currently struggling after the financial collapse of the County Council.
In 2020, there remain divided feelings about Northampton’s New Town designation, which offered invaluable fresh starts for many new families, but has left some Northampton natives claiming the town expanded too quickly and was unable to accommodate the change. 60 Miles shines a light on the largely untold stories of Northampton communities and gives local residents the vital opportunity to share their history.
Founder and director Andy Routledge has brought together a new collective of Northants artists for the project, interviewing over 100 local residents as part of the 2018 pilot project. Routledge comments: “It feels essential to be delivering an intergenerational project that places Northamptonian experiences at its heart. Our New Town heritage has played a complex yet fundamental role in the makeup of our town and its identity, yet we rarely talk about it. It was a period of sudden expansion, mass migration and political upheaval. As Northampton undergoes further financial adversity, political uncertainty, and new masterplans are unveiled for the regeneration of our town, it feels vital that we are coming together to question and strengthen our shared sense of civic identity in this unprecedented way.”
“We’re thrilled to also be hosting heritage and community events in Corby, which was designated a New Town 18 years before Northampton. Whilst the project unashamedly prioritises our local experiences, I believe it will capture the moods and rhythms of many large towns up and down the country.”
60 Miles by Road or Rail plays from 7th to 10th October 2020 at Royal & Derngate, 19-21 Guildhall Road, Northampton NN1 1DP. Tickets available here