New Cultural Strategy

  In the next couple of months the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will be launching proposals for a new, far-reaching cultural strategy, the first in 50 years, that reflects the world today. We welcome the initiative and the Minister’s vision and ambition; as such Vice-Chair Polly Hamilton has recently co-ordinated a response on behalf of cCLOA.

Value of Culture

The cultural sector, including directly-delivered local government cultural services, has become increasingly adept at developing multiple revenue streams for its work and investment from the public sector has been shown to lever significant return, beyond its cultural and social benefits.   In addition, Arts Council England and Creative Industries Federation have evidenced the economic value of culture and the creative industries. 

Whilst in recent years there has rightly been an emphasis on the engagement of the private sector and individual philanthropy, there are significant challenges for smaller cultural organisations and those outside London and the main metropolitan centres.  These challenges are twofold:  the limited numbers of businesses and individuals with the means to invest, which means that those who can tend to be very selective and are often unwilling to develop philanthropic relationships with new partners; and the capacity of smaller organisations to pursue and maintain a meaningful relationship with prospective funders.

Meanwhile, more and more local government cultural services are developing new financial models and ways of working to create a more sustainable funding base.

Case Study: Financial Good Practice

In Blackpool, the Council has purchased has a former guesthouse on behalf of the  LeftCoast (Creative People and Places partnership )with a view to redeveloping it through artist commissions.  LeftCoast has established a new CIC to re-establish the guesthouse as a boutique B&B.   As well as providing a bespoke service for visiting artists and performers playing local theatres, the B&B will serve the discerning cultural tourist.  Profits will be used to repay the loan and provide a sustainable programme of small-scale arts events, talent development and commissioning.

Social Impact of Culture 

The social impact of culture has been well-researched and much evidence is in the public domain already. 

In recognition of the vital role culture and leisure play in improving the health and wellbeing of local communities, cCLOA have published a series of case studies to highlight how culture can help to tackle unhealthy lifestyles, address the social determinants of health, offer cost effective approaches, bring creative solutions and engage communities, families and individuals in managing their well-being. 

Culture has a particularly important role to play in addressing social isolation and encouraging community cohesion.  ACE has recently produced an excellent study on the value of cultural engagement with older people.  Other examples include:

Case Studies: Social Impact

Creative People and Places, funded by Arts Council England, is a great example of the power of partnerships to unlock new resources and talent in support of a strategic approach to building arts engagement in places of low participation.  Successful partnerships have included representatives from the private, voluntary and public sectors, including unexpected partners such as a haulage firm, a rugby club, a housing association and a multinational leisure provider. Where local government has been involved, the role of the local authority has varied from delivery partner to guarantor to ‘co-commissioner’.  The scale of the funding available has enabled the CPP partnerships to have an influence at a local level, to draw in new resources (for example, from the private sector) and to take risks with a view to enabling long-term financial sustainability.  Over 21 partnerships are currently in place across England.

Time To Read is a partnership of 22 different library authorities in the North West. The purpose of the network is to develop the adult reading audience (16 years+) through sharing good practice and ideas and developing joint projects and promotional activities.  A part-time post co-ordinates the network and is managed by the Society of Chief Librarians NW.  The initiative recognises the importance of reading for pleasure as a means of improving literacy: poor literacy has a profound impact on educational achievement, employability, health and life expectancy. 

Dance for Parkinson’s Oxford City Council was the first regional Hub in 2013 to work in partnership with English National Ballet to deliver the Dance for Parkinson’s programme locally. Together both are committed to raising the public profile of Parkinson’s, giving access to, and advocating for the benefits of dance and cultural activities for people with Parkinson’s. (With a national remit ENB is currently delivering the programme across the UK with five regional Hub partners).  The Dance for Parkinson’s programme provides opportunities for people with Parkinson’s, their carers, friends and family members to engage in high quality artistic dance activity. Since the pilot in 2013, the Oxford programme has become well-established with currently between 25-30 participants weekly. In 2011, English National Ballet commissioned a mixed-methods research study to evidence impact, led by Dr. Sara Houston, University of Roehampton and Ashley McGill MSc. The research findings evidenced that the main benefits of dancing with Parkinson’s are in the mental activity it provides and in emotional and social health and well-being. Dancing is a good and challenging mental workout for people with Parkinson’s and allows some participants to cope better with symptoms and disability. It offers a positive environment where there is a community of support through dance, allowing participants to nurture positive attitudes to the future and a sense of independence.

My Cambridge is the first cross sector partnership to develop out of Cambridge Arts and Cultural Leaders and the new Cambridge City Council Arts Plan. The partnership proposition is that by supporting all children and young people, particularly those not engaged, to develop rich cultural lives, their life chances will be significantly improved, both in terms of education and employment, and their overall quality of life. Improving educational attainment and positive outcomes for children and young. People living in low income families are a key issue for Cambridge. The partnership focus is on greatly improved collaboration and alignment of existing resources, rather than simply looking for additional funds, and has brought together arts and cultural organisations, schools and youth service providers, local authorities, and businesses.  The Kite Teaching School Alliance and Norfolk and Norwich Festival Bridge have been instrumental in its development, working closely with the City Council arts team. 


  • Ensuring that other sectors are encouraged to embed cultural programmes within new Lottery-funded initiatives for neighbourhood development, health, education, employability etc. can ensure that at a local level other agencies and departments are incentivised to engage locally.  An example would be the recent Coastal Communities Fund which encouraged partnerships which included the heritage and arts sector.
  • Developing the EBacc to include Arts subjects would also ensure that we widen the talent pool for the creative industries as well as help to build young people’s creativity as a core skill which is transferable (and essential) to other sectors.

Economic Impact of Culture

Culture has a particularly important role to play in developing economic growth, place identity and distinctiveness.  As places increasingly compete for visitors, retail and private sector investment, culture has been an important way to improve the public realm through quality design, architecture, public art and the conservation of historic buildings.  Festivals and events also have value in developing skills and talent, encouraging civic pride, building visitor numbers and town centre footfall.  The Creative Industries Federation have recently highlighted that the Creative Industries are outstripping most other sectors in terms of their contribution to the nation’s GDP. 

Challenges and Opportunities for Economic Growth and Place-making

Places of disadvantage or beyond the Core Cities often suffer from low social capital as well as constrained levels of leadership within the cultural sector.  Where cultural capital is limited, those who work locally need access to networks of people and organisations who can help to raise aspirations, develop quality standards, provide critical friendship and help to  ‘shoulder the burden’ of transformation.  There is sometimes limited understanding of the role and value of culture in economic growth and place-making, and a great deal of time can be spent educating Elected Members and non-cultural-professionals on the value of the creative and cultural industries. 

The engagement of all parts of local government in the place-making process is important, as is engagement from the voluntary sector, and crucially, the private sector.  Often it is local government which leads the way and provides an example for others to follow. 

Case Studies:

Folkestone, through its Creative Foundation, initiated and supported by the philanthropist Roger de Haan, has transformed the fortunes of the town through an asset-development programme which has enabled a sustainable annual revenue base for a range of arts activities, including the acclaimed Folkestone Triennial.  The work of the Foundation has contributed to the physical regeneration of the town centre and a reinvigoration of the town’s visitor economy.

The ‘Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle’ brings together 4 leading venues across Leeds and Wakefield:   Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Hepworth Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Study Centre.  The initiative is supported by Leeds City Council, Wakefield MBC and Welcome to Yorkshire.  It successfully builds on the distinctive artistic heritage of Leeds and Wakefield as a way to encourage more visitors to these important venues. 

Blackpool is in the process of reimagining its extraordinary entertainment and seaside heritage to build its significance as a world leader in popular culture.  This includes the creation of a new museum to tell the Blackpool story and the story of British popular culture, the reimagining of the Illuminations and reinvented festivals such as Showzam!, building on the developments at the iconic Tower and Winter Gardens.  This provides a shared vision with which to engage the town’s creative industries, tourist attractions and cultural organisations with a view to stimulating growth in the visitor economy.   Integral to these programmes is engagement with local communities to contribute to harnessing local talent, developing skills and strengthening resilience.

HLF Townscape Heritage has been a great way for Heritage Lottery Fund and local government to jointly encourage engagement from the private sector in the improvement of the public realm. Townscape Heritage schemes help to reverse the decline of our best-loved historic townscapes. Local, regional and national organisations work together to repair buildings in conservation areas and bring them back to life.  Schemes don’t just help to create attractive, vibrant places that people want to live, work, visit and invest in. They also inspire communities to find out more about their townscape heritage, and give local people the chance to learn new skills. The predecessor of this grant programme is Townscape Heritage Initiative.  There are many great examples across England of successful TH programmes, including Blackpool, Bedford and Keighley.


How Government Can Assist

  • The responsibility to proactively assist, support and invest in quality, (non-patronising) partnerships with people and organisations in places of disadvantage should be a core condition of government funding to national organisations, particularly major players such as Royal Opera House, V&A, Tate, etc.  This could also be scalable for Major Partner Museums and National Portfolio Organisations. 
  • The creation of a national mentoring scheme, to match cultural leaders in areas of disadvantage or beyond the Core Cities with key players in all major cultural organisations (or even better, within the wider creative industries).  This would help to address the deficits in networks and capacity faced by those working in places which are less well-served by public investment. 
  • Increased awareness and understanding of the role and value of culture in BIS, DCLG, DoH and other government departments would help to facilitate more joined-up working at a local level.  Where Central Government leads, local government tends to follow, and a stronger steer about the importance of culture would help drive improvement and investment at a local level. 

Alternative Funding Sources

  • Encouraging local government to embed culture within wider Government initiatives, where appropriate, such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, Enterprise Action Zones, Business Improvement Districts would help to drive growth, particularly in areas where culture and the creative industries have a strong role to play. 

Role of culture in representing the UK to the rest of the world

The British Council, Visit Britain, Arts Council England and many others have set out the case for the role and value of culture in representing the UK abroad.  Cultural exchanges and exports are often a precursor to trade, and an important part of future inward investment, both in terms of finance and knowledge, to the UK.  

Case Study:

The Blackpool Dance Festival has become one of the world’s most prestigious annual dance tournaments attracting in excess of 20,000 competitors & spectators from 60+ countries over the 9 day festival.  Over the past 20 years Ballroom dancing has been a fast growing business in China and formed part of the governments drive for citizens to lead a heathier lifestyle, with over 50 million people now registered as ballroom dancers with official Chinese bodies. The rise in popularity has also seen an increase in participants at the Blackpool Festival who now regularly visiting from the Asia Pacific region to compete each year.  The expansion into China, in collaboration with International Special Attractions, will allow more people from across the globe to compete in the world renowned event but will  also raise the profile of our own Festival held each May, providing an invaluable opportunity to introduce Blackpool across East Asia.  It has also created a new revenue stream for Blackpool Entertainments Company who runs the Winter Gardens (and the Blackpool Dance Festival) on behalf of Blackpool Council.

Polly Hamilton, Head of Culture, Heritage, Libraries and Arts Services in Blackpool & cCLOA Executive Member