Congratulations to the winners of our Blachere Christmas Lights Competition 2017, Combe Christmas, who finally saw their prize light up Ilfracombe at the end of November.
Charmain Lovatt, who entered the competition on behalf of the Combe Christmas Committee said that it seemed that most of north Devon turned up to see the lights being switched on!
She added that “once again, the whole event was fundraised and led by volunteers, so we are so chuffed at how fantastically it went and the new lights look amazing! We want to try and tackle the harbour area next so everyone is asking if we can enter the competition again next year! We can’t thank you guys and Blachere enough as the prize pot has really made such a huge difference to us.”
Charmain also said that the town has an incredible bunch of volunteer electricians who not only installed all of the Christmas lights for free, but they also took on the mammoth job of replacing all the existing “permanent” lights which belong to the town council. The town council couldn’t afford to do it, so a local group raised the money for the equipment and the team gave their time for free, going out in all weathers and times to complete the work in time for the light switch on. It is estimated that they saved the town somewhere in the region of £55,000!
According to PPS, placemaking is both a process and philosophy, strengthening the connection between people and the places they share. It capitalises on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential with the intention of creating public spaces that promote health happiness and well-being. Stimulating public artworks play a key role because they offer more than just passive observation. Culture is the perfect vehicle to engage communities and promote conversation about heritage, identity and sense of belonging. Great art makes great places, great places attract great talent, and great talent creates great jobs!
How UK BIDs can work with cultural organisations
Improving Places, a new report produced by Arts Council England, examines how culture is key to the success of UK BIDs. By collaborating with cultural organisations, they can drive economic growth and help local communities thrive. In the uncertainty of post-Brexit Britain, they can also offer a potential solution to falling public funding and rising business rates. BIDs and cultural organisations that are positively connected can share information and plan joint marketing campaigns for maximum reach and impact. The report identifies six ways in which they can work together:
Placemaking, by using local knowledge to help develop innovative neighbourhoods.
Place branding, by promoting an area as distinctive and attractive for locals and visitors.
Business development, by helping industry professionals and entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Providing affordable spaces.
Involving local people will build stronger communities.
Design a programme of creative activities to highlight a location’s unique offer and raise the public profile.
Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and local challenges will require local responses. But, to ensure coherent policies there needs to be an element of joined-up thinking with private enterprise, local government, BIDs, and cultural organisations all involved at the early planning stages.
Commissioning public artworks
The Great Places conference last month, launched a year-long programme of initiatives from the BFP (British Property Federation) to examine the dynamics of successful places. The project aims to showcase the real estate industry’s collective role and social impact across the UK to clients, communities and government. Coinciding with the conference was the joint publication of A Guide to Commissioning Public Art by BPF and Contemporary Art Society which highlights how art contributes to a sense of place and identity.
Ian Fletcher, Director of Real Estate Policy at the BPF said:
“The real estate industry provides value to society beyond its economic contribution, but it needs to communicate the benefits that flow from long-term investment if it’s to win the hearts and minds of the people it serves. We hope our Great Places campaign hardwires placemaking into the real estate industry’s contribution to the nation’s social well-being.”
Fabienne Nicholas, Head of Art Consultancy at the Contemporary Art Society said:
“Truly ambitious public art is now a key component of cultural placemaking, animating public realm and creating encounters that humanise and create meaning for places. It is often the art that contributes the most to that unique sense of place, supporting the identity and visibility of new developments and creating thriving sustainable communities.”
Cities of Culture
An example of how the arts can shape modern placemaking. Inspired by Liverpool’s 2008 European Capital of Culture status, the concept continues in the UK and in 2013 Derry/Londonderry reported that for every £1 of the £100m investment, £5 was earned for the city.
The University of Hull is about to release statistics on its tenure as 2017 City of Culture and the benefits to the economy. Key findings from the first 3 months include:
90% of Hull residents attended or experienced a cultural event or activity as part of the UK’s City of Culture.
70% of resident agreed it had a positive impact on the lives of local people.
342,000 visitors came to ‘Made in Hull’ during opening week and 94% of the audience agreed the event made them feel more connected to the city, the stories of its people, the history and heritage.
Of the 1.1m people passing through Queen Victoria Square during the Blade installation, over 420,000 interacted with the artwork. 50% said it was the main influential reason for their visit that day and 46% said they would not have come if the Blade wasn’t there.
Last month, Manchester joined a network of 180 world cities recognised by UNESCO for their commitment to the arts. With over 10 UK cities already accredited by the organisation, Manchester follows Nottingham, Norwich and Edinburgh in becoming a UNESCO Creative City of Literature. Winning is a real accolade and not just a title for one year, that reflects the depth of community involvement. Cities must have plans in place that continually improve access and participation in cultural life, especially for marginalised or vulnerable groups and individuals.
Earlier this week, at STC2017, I met Jean Cameron, Project Director for Paisley’s BID to be UK City of Culture 2021. A town of contrasts, Paisley’s heritage is stunning, thanks to its transformation into a textile hub during the industrial revolution, it is home to the largest concentration of listed buildings outside of Edinburgh. World-class business and international talent sit side by side with some of Scotland’s most deprived communities. Winning UK City of Culture 20121 is a chance to change that by reinventing the place and transforming the lives of locals.
Investment in culture has the power to do all that.
‘The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow’, according to Bill Gates.
But while it is true that digital spaces can contribute to informal support systems in our online relationships with family and friends, and increasingly, formal support systems in digital public services, they cannot provide us with the physical places that contribute to our wellbeing. Digital spaces alone cannot provide us with the same unique sense of place, identity, and shared history as the physical places of where we call home – from small rural settlements to large urban cities, to upland, lowland, and coastal communities.
And a town is where millions of us across the UK and Ireland call home. What our towns are ‘known for’ – an industry, a prominent historical figure, or renowned architecture – forms part of the local, positive story about where we live. But in direct contrast to this, in national policy the narrative is largely negative and one of decline. Our towns are defined in relation to the nearest city – as ‘commuter’, ‘satellite’ or ‘dormitory’ – or by their past – as ‘former-coal’ or ‘post-industrial’ – in need of regeneration, resilience or future-proofing.
Has such a framing of towns at the national level influenced the priorities, funding, and focus of our governments in developing place-based policies?
The Carnegie UK Trust’s new report provides an overview of the main policies and initiatives designed to improve economic, social, environmental, and democratic outcomes in places across the jurisdictions. At the regional level, the impact of City Deals and related cities policy is rendering the regions surrounding powerhouse cities, and their composite towns, as the secondary focus for investment. Equally dominant in the place-based approach taken by governments across the jurisdictions is investment in rural areas, which includes surrounding towns on the basis that they are in fact vital, if only for the economic development of rural areas. Integrating towns into rural policy assumes that supporting rural areas with a range of goods and services is the primary function of nearby towns, but there is very little data available to support this expectation.
The operating assumption appears to be that investment in nearby cities and rural hinterlands will inevitably lead to improved outcomes for their surrounding towns, despite towns being fundamentally different socio-economic geographies which require their own dedicated policy solutions to improve their performance.
While at the local level, whether the focus is on town centre regeneration, as in Scotland; in heritage, as seen in Ireland; or general urban regeneration, as in Northern Ireland, policies are operating at a sub-town level – focusing on physical parts of a town or individual communities with it – to the detriment of the wider town in which they sit. But austerity means that this approach is piecemeal – never translating into anything more than the sum of its parts to consider the town in its totality.
This dual focus – on the external city or surrounding rural hinterland and internal sub-town community or part of a town – means that towns are a neglected area of public policy. They are rarely taken as the starting point for formal policymaking, or have the policy levers available to them to influence their fortunes.
So what can be done to address this policy gap?
The rhetoric of devolution and decentralisation needs to be matched with the reality of more decision-making powers for towns; more data about towns and evidence about what works; and more opportunities for towns to work together. From international initiatives such as the World Towns Framework, to the UK cross-border such as the Borderlands Initiative, to the more immediately local such as the South of Scotland Alliance, there are opportunities for towns to share skills, knowledge and resources. These must be built upon to share successes, and challenges, to improving our places. Only through greater collaboration will towns and their practitioners have the strength in numbers to hold their own in the national policy arena with the well-resourced organisations advocating for the interests of cities and rural areas. Only through greater collaboration will it be time for towns.