Step 3: Analysing and Comparing Your Town
By now you will have lots of data about your town and its built environment, but what does it mean and how does your town compare to others?
In this step you will:
- Analyse the findings from your town study
- Compare your town to others
- Think about what makes your town distinctive
A simple way of bringing together and making sense of the information you have collected is to do a SWOT analysis. This is an easy method of evaluating your town under four headings:
- Strengths: the characteristics of your town that are successful and set it apart from others
- Weaknesses: things that are not successful or put your town at a disadvantage
- Opportunities: areas where there is chance for change or external factors that offer a chance to make improvements
- Threats: Conditions that are harmful to the success or character of your town or that could damage its chances to improve
In the next step, your SWOT analysis will help you develop a Plan for your Place. Think about these questions:
- How can we build on our strengths?
- How can we improve our weak areas?
- How can we take advantage of opportunities?
- How can we prevent each threat?
SWOT analysis should be carried out by your Town Team or another group of people rather than one individual. This will ensure that many opinions are collected, and creative responses to each are developed.
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Benchmarking offers a way of ranking a town against others around the country, assessing similarities and differences. It is a way of measuring the success of a town plan. There are several well known benchmarking schemes available for small towns:
Action for Market Towns (AMT) - Market Town Benchmarking - A nationally recognised toolkit scoring a town against 12 key indicators, including retail confidence, footfall, business confidence, town centre user surveys and shoppers origin. The survey is compared to the AMT database of towns, allowing simple comparisons to be made.
“Themed distinctiveness is understood as a characteristic that is constructed within local distinctiveness but which becomes a dominant element of local identity.” 
What makes your town unique? Is your town famous for anything? Distinctiveness comes from that one characteristic that stands out above all other features of a town, giving it an identity. It is often not the intention to create a brand or theme for a town, but one may emerge over time. Some successful distinctiveness strategies have grown from the physical environment of a town; such as at Hay-on-Wye and Machynlleth which have been successful, partly due to of their setting.
Themed distinctiveness can extend beyond the boundaries of a town to the national and international stage, creating a driving force for a vision that unites the community and provides economic benefits. However, to achieve this requires commitment, time and support.
The Hay Literary Festival has an international reputation and attracts speakers and visitors from around the world. The festival attracted over 200,000 attendees in 2010 and over the course of a year the town and festival attract half a million visitors.
In 1973 the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) was founded outside Machynlleth. Growing from a ‘green’ community to a centre for demonstration of eco-friendly research, sustainable development, environmental protection and social inclusion, the site now receives around 65,000 visitors per annum.
- Does your town have a distinctive identity or a theme?
- Is there a strength your town has that sets it apart from other places?
- Does your town have strong branding?
- Is your town promoted through the internet, print or social media? Do a search on the internet – What comes up?