What can we do to embed culture in our towns and cities?

18 June 2024

The creative industries add £124bn of value to the UK. One in five jobs in London are in the creative economy. Creative industries in the north could add £10bn to the UK economy through a cross-regional strategy.

If the next government is aiming for growth then surely at least part of the answer is culture.

Making space for culture is important. Embedding culture in our towns and cities takes care and effort, alongside broader strategies and collaboration.

So what can local authorities do to embed spaces for culture? How can we identify existing cultural spaces and communities in our towns and cities, and provide the infrastructure to support them? With the levelling up agenda stalling, could culture offer the economic and social boost our towns and cities so desperately need?

We gathered local authorities, public sector bodies and consultants, to delve into the opportunities, challenges and best practice of ensuring the cultural sector thrives. We then travelled across the UK to shine a light on examples of success and spoke to those at the forefront of making space for culture.

“We understand the power of culture. We understand that by investing in culture, we’re going to be creating opportunities, creating jobs, stimulating the economy.

And I think what needs to happen in terms of a national approach towards funding culture that we need a government that actually understands the power and the value of culture and arts and what that can do to transform lives and transform neighbours and areas and how that can also tackle some of the big issues of our time in terms of poverty, in terms of the climate agenda, all of these things.”
Luthfur Rahman OBE, Deputy Leader (2021-2024), Manchester City Council

What did we learn? At Aviva Studios Factory International in Manchester, we saw how cities can invest in culture effectively. We followed grassroots support enabling creative communities at Altogether Otherwise and Turf Projects in Croydon. We heard about the necessity of cultural production spaces to drive opportunities and support skills at a neighbourhood level in Poplar Works, Tower Hamlets, and in responding to sector growth with The Bond, Digbeth.

But we also know that near-term challenges need to be overcome to ensure that cultural provision is accessible and inclusive.

“I think the components for a successful cultural strategy for the West Midlands is a strong collaboration between the sector and other partners. I also think it’s thinking about things, skills, education, workforce, inclusivity, but also really talking about the distinctiveness of our region.”
Erica Love, CEO, Culture Central

Film by Dion Barrett

With thanks to Aviva Studios, Manchester, Altogether Otherwise, Manchester, Turf Projects, Croydon, HARRI and Making For Change, Poplar Works, London, The Bond Digbeth, Birmingham, Luthfur Rahman, Erica Love, wider panellists and ING Media.