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Pioneering places: 10 hotspots of positive change in 2021

A new year is nearly upon us, but there’s still just enough time for a whistle-stop tour of the UK and Irish places that made Positive News’ headlines in 2021. Buckle up and enjoy the ride

A new year is nearly upon us, but there’s still just enough time for a whistle-stop tour of the UK and Irish places that made Positive News’ headlines in 2021. Buckle up and enjoy the ride

1. Derby – for its ambitious rewilding project

This former crucible of the industrial revolution is going full steam ahead with the UK’s first large-scale urban rewilding project. Plans were given the green light by Derby city council in November. A public consultation will help shape the proposal, but ideas for the 320-acre Allestree Park (pictured) mooted by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust include new habitats and the reintroduction of key species such as water vole and harvest mouse.

Image: Derby city council 

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2. Bristol – for saying ‘yes’ to more inspiring forms of advertising

Part of a global push-back against the intrusive brouhaha of street advertising, activists from Bristol-based group Adblock have been arming city dwellers with the skills to oppose billboard planning proposals, then helping them reimagine the freed-up space for a brighter, ad-free future. Trees, climbing walls and community-led art projects in place of a noisy barrage touting junk food and chain stores? They get the thumbs-up from us.

Image: Colin Moody/Rising Arts Agency

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3. Ireland – for introducing a basic income for artists

Some 2,000 Irish creatives can expect a very happy new year following the announcement of a novel scheme– the first of its kind in the world to support arts sector workers – which will pay a basic income of around €325 (£275) per week. Applications open next month, with a rollout planned for the spring. €25m (£21.2m) has been set aside for the first 12 months of the three-year pilot project.

Image: Melanie Van Leeuwen

Best places in UK and Ireland for positive change
4. Scotland – for exploring a minimum income plan

Although still very much at the ideas stage, Holyrood is mooting plans to introduce a ‘minimum income guarantee’ (MIG) scheme by the year 2030. Rather than a universal basic income, which is given to everyone regardless of means, the MIG would target people on low incomes. Welfare payments would be supplemented through employment and other support services. The concept isn’t supported by everyone, but The Scottish National Party is already delivering on election promises by setting up a MIG steering group.

Image: Nicholas Chester Adams

5. Birmingham – for its commitment to a car-free future

Once the heart of Britain’s automotive industry, Birmingham has performed a spectacular U-turn by approving plans to drive out cars for good. The Midlands city – Britain’s second largest – will be transformed into a large-scale low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN), with zero-emission buses and many roads closed to motorised traffic. Zoning the city into ‘traffic cells’ will give priority to walking, cycling and public transport.

Image: Emilio Georgiou

6. Dublin – for protecting its traditional music heritage

Ireland’s capital lay scene to a David and Goliath battle for the heart and soul of its musical heritage in recent weeks. Property developers unveiled plans to demolish much of the city’s iconic Cobblestone pub and Irish Music School, replacing it with a hotel. Following a spirited campaign and street demos, the city council told them: ‘No’. Dublin’s Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe branded the proposed development: “An over-scaled, crude, and soulless monument to greed”. Buy that man a pint of Guinness.

Image: William Murphy

7. Northern England – for its plans to create a new forest

The Northern Forest Initiative got a welcome £15m boost from the UK government in September, furthering plans to plant a leafy, coast-to-coast corridor of 50m trees linking Liverpool with Hull, via Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. The area is one of the most denuded in the UK, with just 8 per cent tree cover. The money will enable the planting of 1m trees over the coming year, adding to the 3m already planted under the guidance of the Woodland Trust.

Image: Johannes Plenio

8. London – for its cargo bike scheme and bicycle library

Two new schemes championing pedal power rolled out in the capital this year. In Hackney, a rental scheme for e-cargo bikes has enabled residents to swerve the high cost of forking out for one – and make light work of shuttling goods across a busy city. Meanwhile in Tower Hamlets, London’s most deprived borough, a pop-up bicycle library began loaning bikes to locals for free, as well as providing expert cycling advice.

Image: Jon Bewley/Sustrans

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9. Scotland (again!) – for rewilding (again!)

Another high five to Scotland, this time for its commitment to rewilding. Trees for Life broke ground on the world’s first rewilding centre, located on the Dundreggan estate near Loch Ness. The attraction will act as a gateway to the estate’s 10,000 acres, where a decade of reforestation has seen the return of golden eagles for the first time in 40 years. Meanwhile, the Affric Highlands initiative will see peat bogs, wildlife habitats and river corridors restored across 500,000 acres, making it one of the largest rewilding projects in Europe.

Image: Grant Willoughby

Best places in UK
10. Cardiff – for edible playgrounds and leading the way on Future Generations

Edible playgrounds may sound like settings for a dystopian take on Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but environmental charity Trees for Cities began making them a reality in 10 Cardiff schools, giving kids access to greener playground spaces. In another case of thinking ahead, Wales’ flagship Future Generations programme gained international recognition, with the UN announcing plans to adopt the Welsh approach. Plans are afoot to create a UN Special Envoy for Future Generations.

Image: Trees For Cities
Main image: Jon Bewley/Sustrans

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