Mersey Dee Alliance business plan 2008- 2011:

“ To jointly agree and outline the sub-region’s unique selling points to ensure its attractiveness as a place to invest, work, live and play”

“Review current and potential opportunities for joint marketing of the regional offer to a range of audiences including tourists and inward investors, seeking to improve links and synergies between bordering initiatives”

The sub regional strategy consistently states that one of its main aims is to create a clear identity for the sub region. The aim is to forge and enhance closer cultural cross border links between North East Wales and the North West of England to create this distinct identity. The links that they are attempting to create are artificial but there is a clear agenda behind this thinking. In order to market places like Wrecsam as a retail centre and as a ‘Cheshire location’ for potential new residents and those who want to set up business, the sub regional strategy and the Mersey Dee Alliance have identified a need to change perceptions of North East Wales. This change of perception essentially revolves around reinventing the image of strategic sites identified in the plan (Wrecsam being one and the example we will discuss here).

Welsh identity is identified in draft versions of the plan as being a ‘threat’. It is seen as a barrier to the implementation of the plan. Draft versions of the plan also make reference to the fact that people in North East Wales are very ‘attached’ to their welsh identity and heritage. This is not conducive to the economic expansion that is planned and therefore why it is identified as a threat, this is also a possible reason why the plans have been kept from the public.

As can be seen from the research done by marketing companies such as Thinking Place (see the information below), consultations on the image of Wrecsam in particular were sought from people from the North West of England. The results were that the image of Wrecsam (in the opinion of people from the North West of England), was that it wasn’t a desirable place to come and live or to set up business. What is desirable is a Cheshire address and image. The image of Wrecsam presented by Thinking Place is based on absolute ignorance, is highly stereotypical and even prejudicial. It is certainly not based on any genuine knowledge of the local area.

The aim of place marketing is to create a new vision for towns like Wrecsam, ignoring their historical situation and creating something new that is easier and more appealing to market as part of Cheshire. Place marketing is a key aim of the Mersey Dee Alliance (MDA), the organisation implementing the plan. They aim to do this by deploying something called a ‘coherence of place marketing’ (joint marketing strategy) across the new sub region.

In Wrecsam, this aim materialised late last year via a branding/Place marketing strategy to create a new vision for the town, put forward from an English consultancy firm called Thinking Place. Costing £26,000 of public money and with proposals for a further £14,000 in the future, the strategy was presented to local councillors in October 2008.

The aim of the branding exercise was solely to import businesses and people into Wrecsam from the North West of England, rather than to create business opportunities for local people or to even address local needs. The tag lines to front the strategy were ‘no borders’ and ‘no compromise’. The strategy proposed changing the identity of Wrecsam in order to make it more acceptable for investment by a middle class business culture.

To use an examples from the presentation itself, it firstly sets out the justification for its commissioning:
 “Research was commissioned to understand current perceptions of Wrexham, with a view towards formulating a brand identity for Wrexham that will drive economic development of the area.”

The presentation ‘personified’ Wrecsam with the following description:

Middle aged
Dressed for comfort rather than for style
Working class
Friendly and gregarious
Laid back
For entertainment, goes to the pub or does outdoor activities
But lacks refinement, sophistication, and dynamism
Not interested in cultural pursuits
A little stuck in his ways
To use some more quotes from the presentation itself, the aim of the new branding exercise is described as follows:

To ‘Improve the image, reputation and experience of Wrexham”. It identified ‘a need to raise aspirations‘, ‘raise expectations‘ and to ‘raise quality and standards”.

In the presentation Thinking Place state that “Wrecsam could be either English or welsh, it is sometimes welsh, sometimes English“. As stated earlier, one of the key tag lines for the strategy is ‘no borders’. Thinking Place go on to explain the reasoning for their choice “ No borders – about our nationality, our geography, our reach’. They state that Wrexham is a place with no borders, mentally or geographically.

Two local councillors present at the meeting made their views on Wrecsams new vision very clear at the time:

“ We have much to be proud of in Wrecsam but this presentation was completely negative, I‘m extremely concerned about it. This ‘vision’ actually divorces the people from the place and cannot be seen as the way forward. At some points in the presentation I could not believe what I was hearing. They need a major shift in attitude to turn this vision into something positive for Wrecsam. As a local person I was quite offended by the whole thing. If we‘re going to have a vision for Wrecsam it needs to be based on local aspirations. After being presented with this strategy, I have to wonder where we as the local people of Wrecsam fit into the equation”

Coucillor Keith Gregory, October 2008

“ Many councillors who attended the presentation called ‘Wrexham the Place’ were extremely offended by the conclusions of this consultancy firm. They stated that Wrecsam could be either English or Welsh and that there was no ‘consistency’ with the name of the place, I assume that to be because many of us choose to spell it the welsh way. They also claimed that Wrecsam had no identity, culture or character and were extremely negative about the town and its people. In my view, the message from the strategy was that what we are is not good enough. When we voiced our concerns, one officer even demanded to know what ‘all this welsh stuff’ was about. The whole thing was a complete disgrace, even more so when you consider the amount of public money spent on it.”

Councillor Carrie Harper, October 2008
The idea of creating a vision for Wrecsam has been discussed before. In February 2007, Wrecsam council published another study called ‘Developing Wrexham‘s Sense of Place‘, this time prepared by Angharad Wynne marketing and communications. After discovering this piece of work, the people’s council are amazed to learn that this much more positive and locally distinct vision is still sat on a shelf. Instead if implemented a branding vision actually based on the town and its people, it was instead dropped and a new vision commissioned in line with the West Cheshire plan. Angharad Wynnes work focuses on Wrecsams Welsh identity, character and uniqueness, assets the MDA and sub regional strategy apparently do not consider useful to market.

Please take a look for yourselves and make up your own minds about which of the two strategies puts forward a positive, forward thinking vision for Wrecsams future: