Levelling up: can charities get a piece of the action?

The UK is one of the most geographically unequal countries in the developed world. It ranks near the top of the league table on most measures of regional economic inequality. Fixing this is a priority for a government elected in 2019 on a pledge to address inequalities in former industrial regions, and in coastal and isolated rural areas.

So far, over £8bn has been put aside by the government for additional investment in so-called ‘left behind’ areas. The policy also appears to enjoy public support. The recent success of the Conservative candidate in the Hartlepool by-election, and the election of mayors in Teesside and West Yorkshire show that voters will back politicians with strong levelling up messages.

Local authorities and businesses are eager to bid for the first pots of levelling up funding that are coming onstream. But is there room for charities to get involved, and is there still time for them to shape the levelling up agenda?

This was the focus of a webinar organised by NPC, the think tank and consultancy for the charity sector.

Defining levelling up

There are different views about what the phase ‘levelling up’ actually means. But Tom Collinge, policy manager at NPC explained that this has become clearer now that various initiatives under the government’s levelling up agenda have got under way:

The Levelling Up Fund is a £4.8bn fund to invest in infrastructure that will regenerate town centres, upgrade local transport and invest in cultural and heritage assets.

The Towns Fund is a £3.6bn fund to support the regeneration of towns.

The UK Community Renewal Fund will provide £220 million additional funding to help places across the UK prepare for the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (the UK’s replacement for structural funding from the European Union).

The Community Ownership Fund will provide £150 million to help community groups buy or take over local community assets at risk of being lost.

Levelling up funds: making the case for charities

Looking at this funding from a voluntary sector perspective, Tom acknowledged that charities may find it hard to see how they can fit into the kind of work that is eligible for funding. A lot of the focus is on capital spending – transport infrastructure, repairing buildings and creating new parks. An NPC analysis of the levelling up funds found that as much as 87% could go on capital investment. This could be challenging for charities whose work involves delivering services in areas such as youth provision, addiction or homelessness.

Even so, Tom suggested that charities shouldn’t write off their chances of accessing these funds. He explained that a lot of the language used in the funding documents is ambiguous – there are repeated  references to ‘community’ and ‘community assets’ without making clear what they mean. This ambiguity could work in charities’ favour. At the same time, many charities work under the banners of skills, employment, heritage and culture. It’s up to charities, therefore, to identify elements in the funding that match what they can offer.

Deadlines are tight: bids for the first funds must be submitted by June 18. So, the time has come, said Tom, for charities to be vocal and make an economic case for levelling up funding.  Collaboration with local authorities and metro mayors is likely to be crucial, and Tom suggested that charities with already good relations with local stakeholders are more likely to succeed in their bids.

Levelling up : the local perspective

Kim Shutler, Chair of Bradford District Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Assembly agreed that collaboration with local councils is key for charities looking to bid for levelling up funds. But although Bradford’s VCS has a strong relationship with local government, Kim explained that making the voluntary sector’s voice heard can be challenging.

While Kim has experience of partnering with statutory services in delivering mental health support to adults, bids for levelling up funds are handled differently. She was critical of the lack of clarity in how charities can influence the levelling up agenda in meaningful and sustainable ways, and suggested that the top-down nature of the process is detrimental to grass-roots charities.

Where charities can succeed, she suggested, is to demonstrate to local authorities and other partners that the voluntary sector has a compelling story to tell. Learning the language of the people with the money, making a good business case and articulating what charities can bring to the table means the voluntary sector can find a way into the levelling up process.

Shaping the levelling up agenda

As corporate director of children’s services at Barnardo’s, Lynn Perry is well placed to talk about levelling up. Much of what the charity does involves working at the heart of communities, in partnership with local agencies, young people and families. 

Charities like Barnardo’s have a unique understanding of the challenges facing the country’s poorest communities. Lynn believes that this perspective strengthens the voluntary sector’s offer, not just in terms of service delivery, but in designing policies and thinking about community assets.

Looking at the bias towards capital projects in the levelling up funds, Lynn argued that a broader definition of infrastructure is needed. Support for families, care for the elderly and improving the lives of disabled people is every bit as important as 5G and better transport. And with the right social infrastructure, young people who get early and continued support can grow up to be the nurses, engineers and climate scientists we’ll need in the years to come.

Lynn observed that this is a unique moment to recognise the value charities can bring to the levelling up agenda. During the pandemic, the voluntary sector has played a vital role in supporting communities in ways that some public services could not. She believes that the future of the levelling up agenda should be shaped by working with communities and the charities that support them. And, along with Kim Shulter, she stressed the need to make better use of the insights and social data collected by charities to demonstrate the real value of the voluntary sector.

Tom Collinge supported this, and suggested that while it might be too late for charities to influence the existing levelling up funds, they should be looking towards the Shared Prosperity Fund. The delay in its introduction may be beneficial, giving the voluntary sector time to think about making the case for revenue funding.

Raising the voice of the voluntary sector

The UK has a long road to follow before it can say the work of levelling up is done. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has observed,

“The differences between regions are rooted in history going back decades, even centuries. Having fundamental effects on them will require reallocating capital spending for sure, and a whole lot more — investment in skills, in health, in early years, and a coherent and long-term industrial strategy.”

Working with local stakeholders, charities can bring their insights, skills and experience to this process, both in terms of accessing funds and influencing future programmes. It’s now time for the voluntary sector to speak up on levelling up.


Further reading: more from The Knowledge Exchange on community development and regeneration

Could arts and culture hold the key to the digital divide?

The rapid shift to digital content creation, distribution, audience engagement and participation since the start of the pandemic has enabled the continued experience of arts and culture, despite cultural institutions having to shut their doors. But a significant proportion of the population still face barriers to digital engagement – 7 million people have no internet access at home, 9 million people struggle to use the internet independently and 17 million people only use the internet for limited purposes.

Previous research has shown that engagement with cultural institutions such as museums and galleries, both on-and off-line, “remains deeply unequal”. Perhaps more worrying was the finding that “the gaps between the haves and the have nots are even wider online than in the case of physical visits.”

During a recent webinar by the Digital Culture Network, presented in partnership with Google Arts & Culture and their Connected to Culture playbook, the scale of the digital divide was highlighted, as was the important role arts and culture can play in addressing it.

The discussion focused on three areas:

  • Digital inequalities, barriers and exclusion
  • Knowing your audience
  • Projects that have successfully increased inclusivity

Digital divide

Kicking off the discussion on the digital divide, Jane Mackey, Senior Research & Evaluation Manager at the Good Things Foundation highlighted three key areas when we think about the digital divide:

  • digital access (7million people in the UK are excluded on this basis)
  • digital skills (11.7million people in the UK don’t have digital skills needed to engage online)
  • motivation and confidence (people might have access and some skills but lack the motivation or confidence to use it)

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that a perceived lack of need, followed by a lack of digital skills are the main reasons given for not having household internet access.  The focus has mainly been on engaging and upskilling those who already have access to digital technology. But, as the discussion highlighted, the excluded 20% would be likely to benefit more from targeted action.

Jane noted that the digital divide is not static, but is more of a spectrum that people can move along throughout their lives. Based on its current research, the Good Things Foundation recommends that the arts and culture sector commits to be digitally inclusive by default. This will help to overcome barriers to digital by engaging directly with the digitally excluded and partnering with other organisations.

Zak Mensah, Co-CEO at the Birmingham Museums Trust, similarly highlighted barriers to digital, such as the infrastructural barriers depending on people’s location. Some rural areas, for example, do not have the digital infrastructure needed for access. Even in cities, which tend to have faster broadband, much of it is focused on the centre and businesses rather than individual households.

Zak also highlighted the importance of motivation, and giving people a reason to use technology.

Role of arts and culture

While some think the key is to get everyone to have the internet at home, Zak suggested that arts and cultural organisations can help people’s access by using their physical spaces better and also by taking the technology to the excluded.

Libraries have been successful over a number of years in providing space for people to access technology with free internet and support in using it. Similarly, arts and cultural organisations are in a position to do the same through their digital tools.

One suggestion was not switching off the Wi-Fi at close of business; another was potentially reducing restrictions on what people can access using their Wi-Fi (while obviously maintaining some control) so people can use it for wider purposes.

One project Birmingham Museums managed recently involved taking digital kit out to care homes for digital arts sessions. This was not only great for wellbeing; it also showed how digital technologies can be adapted to connect with people within communities. As Zac said “ultimately we have to go out more, we can’t always get people to come to you.”

Zak also explained that collaboration is key – sharing resources, ideas and skills – to reach as many people as possible.

Inclusive practice

Jenny Williams, Project Director at Revoluton Arts in Luton, also highlighted the importance of new partnerships.

She noted that when lockdown first started the staff wanted to keep engaging, so moved online with the help of Zoom. Because they didn’t really know about how it worked Revoluton called upon people within the community to help teach others.

They now have a suite of materials online that can help artists and others.

Revoluton has also worked with Marsh Farm Outreach who ran lounge sessions every night with live music, working with local artists and reaching huge audiences. One session titled The Creative History of Marsh Farm was about reminiscence, memory, sharing stories of place, and engaged 6000 people. While acknowledging that such online communication is great for international reach, Jenny noted that it can also make a big difference locally.

They have also used digital tech to create safe spaces online to attract members of the community that might not have otherwise engaged. One of their residency programmes, Touch Commission, was co-commissioned with Wellcome Collection which explored the theme of touch through arts and creativity. The project was centred on Bury Park, a predominantly Asian community in Luton. The dialogue and understanding that was shown helped to engage with those most excluded.

Another project highlighted by Jane was the Power Up initiative, a collaboration between the Good Things Foundation and JP Morgan Chase Foundation, which aims to drive economic inclusion through digital in communities.

Other partnerships showcasing inclusive practice include:

  • Engaging older audiences – Birmingham Museums Trust & Arts Council Collection partnership programme aimed at reaching the over 75s in care homes.
  • Dance and Time with the Museum – Presented in a partnership between University of Cambridge Museums and local sheltered housing and assisted living services; this blog outlines how the project was safely moved online.
  • Bussy – Prompted by Revoluton’s experiences of creating safe spaces for everyone online; this is an example of a creative organisation doing the same.

Way forward

There were a number of key takeaways from the discussion for arts and culture organisations. These include:

  • it’s about knowing your audience, knowing what their barriers to access are and planning an approach to these from the start;
  • empathy and understanding that happens as a result can be important; and
  • it’s about understanding the resources you have and how they can be used, particularly through partnerships.

There’s no quick fix for breaking down the barriers to digital engagement: as Zak eloquently put it, “it’s a marathon not a sprint”. But, as the many practices highlighted during this webinar demonstrate, the arts and culture sector has the tools to make a difference on the digital divide.


You may also like to read some of our previous blogs:

Follow us on Twitter to find out which topics are interesting our research team

Glasgow Green photo essay: a park for all seasons

For generations, urban public parks have been places for communities to meet, to connect with nature and to enjoy recreational activities. Parks have multiple benefits for biodiversity, human health and the environment. They can help with flood prevention and during the summer can help control temperatures and humidity.

One of the oldest public parks in the UK is Glasgow Green, a short walk from the centre of Scotland’s biggest city. In 1450, the Bishop of Glasgow gifted the common lands of Glasgow Green to the people, and for centuries it was the city’s only green public space. The park has witnessed some important moments in the city’s history, including demonstrations, sporting and cultural events.

During the early years of the industrial revolution, the park became an oasis for residents from unhealthy housing and working conditions. Similarly, in our own times, Glasgow Green has been an important refuge during the restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, Glasgow Green remains open 24 hours a day, with its 136 acres of lawns, flowerbeds, fountains and architectural monuments maintained by workers from Glasgow City Council’s Parks Department. This photo essay reflects on some of the sights and stories associated with Glasgow’s oldest public park.

Flora, fauna and the Glasgow Green geese

Glasgow Green is home to a variety of plants, flowers and trees, as well as a wide range of wildlife species, including birds, butterflies and red foxes. One of the more unexpected sights in the park is a flock of geese.

For more than 50 years, geese were deployed to guard the stocks of Ballantines whisky maturing in Dunbartonshire warehouses. Geese are famously territorial, and act as a vocal alarm against intruders. With the advent of CCTV in the 1990s, the “Ballantines Bodyguards” were retired to Glasgow Green, and placed in the care of the Glasgow Humane Society. Coincidentally, their new home looks onto a grain distillery, perhaps serving as a reminder of their past life.

A gathering place for sport and culture

In all weathers, Glasgow Green attracts walkers, cyclists and joggers, as well as offering open spaces for team sports. Rowers from both Glasgow and Strathclyde University boat clubs train on the River Clyde beside Glasgow Green.  The park also has strong historical sporting connections. Golf was played here as early as the 16th century, and Glasgow’s two famous football teams – Celtic and Rangers – were both established on Glasgow Green. In 2014, the Glasgow Green Hockey Centre was opened in time to host matches for the Commonwealth Games.

Glasgow Green has also played host to some of the biggest names in music, from Radiohead and Iggy Pop to Coldplay and Lewis Capaldi. In 1990, the park hosted a summer concert celebrating Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture, headlined by local heroes Deacon Blue. In the summer months, Glasgow Green also hosts the World Pipe Band Championships and Proms in the Park.  

Glasgow’s Arc de Triomphe

The McLennan Arch started life in 1796 as part of Robert and James Adams’ Assembly Rooms in the city centre. When these buildings were demolished, the arch was reconstructed at the northern edge of Glasgow Green. Since then it has been moved three more times, reaching its final resting place in 1991, a gateway to Glasgow Green’s western perimeter.

History matters: demonstrations, rallies and the birthplace of the industrial revolution

Glasgow Green has always been a focal point for popular demonstrations. In the 19th century, trade unionists and Chartists gathered in the park to campaign for workers’ civil rights. During the 1930s, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, thousands gathered in Glasgow Green to support the Spanish Republic against General Franco and his fascist allies. More recently, the park has seen rallies against war in Iraq and in support of Scottish independence.  

Close to the centre of the park, a statue of James Watt commemorates one of the driving forces of the industrial revolution. It’s believed that Watt came up with the idea for fixing the inefficiencies of the steam engine while taking a stroll on Glasgow Green. The moment of inspiration was the vital spark that would revolutionise Britain’s mining, iron, transport and manufacturing industries.

In the summer of 2020, a Black Lives Matter demonstration took place on Glasgow Green, and a notice was placed on the James Watt statue highlighting his role in the trafficking of enslaved people. History is being reassessed in Glasgow, a city that richly benefitted from the proceeds of the Virginia tobacco plantations and the slave trade.

A river runs through it

The River Clyde flows alongside Glasgow Green. In recent years, environmental protection regulations have cleaned up the river, and there are plans to make the Clyde a focal point of economic regeneration. However, the legacy of Glasgow’s industrial past continues to affect the river. A 2019 report by the Clyde Gateway regeneration agency revealed that toxic waste from a former chemicals factory was leaking into the river, posing risks to human health and the environment. Clyde Gateway and Glasgow City Council have been taking remedial action until a permanent solution can be found.

From carpets to cocktails

One of the most impressive architectural features of Glasgow Green is the Templeton Building. It was opened in 1892, and designed by William Leiper who modelled the building on the Doge’s Palace in Venice. The façade of the building reflects the exotic designs of the carpets that were made there for almost 100 years. The building has also been touched by tragedy. During construction, a gust of wind brought one of the walls down on a shed, where a large number of young women were weaving carpets. 29 of them died in the east end’s worst peacetime disaster.

Today, the Templeton building contains apartments, offices and a microbrewery. During the summer months of 2020, the bar extended its beer garden to create an open-air restaurant for visitors to meet together when the lockdown restrictions were relaxed.

A clean sheet

Almost from the start of its history in the 15th century, Glasgow Green was used for household washing and drying. The drying green, opposite the Templeton Building, was in regular use until 1977. The women of Glasgow washed their clothes in the nearby wash-houses (or “steamies”) and then chatted together while their weekly wash dried in the open air. Today, while the iron poles have been retained, they are rarely used for drying clothes.

On International Women’s Day in 2019, the drying green enjoyed a comeback when 30 bed sheets were hung to celebrate the work of women past and present. Local businesses sponsored each of the sheets, women gathered to celebrate their mothers and grandmothers, and the proceeds from the day went to charity.

The never-ending story

Glasgow Green is unique, but like so many other public parks around the UK, it is an important community resource, a gathering place and a link between the past and the present.

A study by the Social Market Foundation reported on research that estimated the wellbeing value of UK parks and green spaces at £32.4bn. A further 2020 report by NESTA highlighted the threat to parks as a result of budget cutbacks imposed on local authorities, noting that some councils have reduced spending on parks by as much as 87%.

But during the pandemic, the value of parks has suddenly become clearer, as individuals, families and communities have rediscovered the benefits of spending time in green open spaces. As visitor numbers have soared, councils have acknowledged the importance of parks. In March 2021, Liverpool City Council became the first UK local authority to legally protect the future of its parks and green spaces. As the council’s acting mayor observed:

“…the benefits aren’t just health related. Access to green spaces improves our neighbourhoods, tackles climate change, supports education and economic growth and they frequently become the stage on which we host many of our hugely popular cultural celebrations.”

That’s certainly true of Glasgow Green. More than 500 years after its establishment, the park continues to generate joy and jobs, stories and memories. Glasgow Green truly is a park for all seasons.


Further reading: more on parks from The Knowledge Exchange blog:

From rainbows to Banksy – have lockdowns created a new appreciation for the value of the arts?

Cultural and creative sectors are among the worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Recent analysis suggests that jobs at risk in the sector range from 0.8 to 5.5% of employment across OECD regions. In the UK, the arts, entertainment and recreation sector saw the second largest economic decline of all sectors of the economy during the pandemic.

While the negative impact of crises is justifiably focused on, there are often positive opportunities to arise from such shocks such as widespread collaboration and innovative behaviours to find solutions. Indeed, the current pandemic is no different. Amidst the myriad of reports of the dire economic impact emerges a much more colourful picture of a resurgence in arts and creativity across not only the country but the world.

Rising creativity

From the abundance of rainbows displayed in windows across the UK to singers and musicians entertaining their neighbours from their balconies in Italy and elsewhere, the global pandemic has led to many turning to the arts and creative activities in a bid to help each other’s wellbeing and to thank those on the frontline for their heroic efforts to protect us all.

Many young people found new ways to express themselves through creativity during lockdown, whether drawing or making things, creating music or videos to share on social media. Examples of what young people in England have been creating are presented in Arts Council England’s project The Way I See It .

All sorts of artists from across the globe have been sharing their coronavirus-inspired artwork via social media.

The infamous street artist Banksy has also been joining in, creating a variety of new work from rats encouraging people to wear face masks on the London Underground to a piece paying tribute to NHS workers in Southampton General Hospital.

And the industry itself has had to get creative finding new ways to reach people. Many cultural and creative organisations have moved to delivering digital content to keep audiences engaged, which has opened the door for many future innovations. Organisations and individuals have also been doing a variety of work to reach those most in need such as projects creating new programmes or adapting existing work to reach people who are shielding or vulnerable in their homes, overwhelmingly addressing loneliness and isolation. One participant described their experience:

“I found the process of drawing and painting both cathartic and healing at the most difficult time of my life.”

Economic and social value

While there has generally been a need to make the case for the value of arts and creative activity, whether in education or business, perhaps the impact of lockdowns has afforded the opportunity for everyone to recognise their value both at times of crisis and as part of recovery.

The sector is already an economic driver and source of innovation. In 2019, the economic output of arts and culture was equivalent to 0.5% of the whole UK economy. And despite the immediate economic impact of the pandemic, there is hope that the sector will recover quickly, albeit with significant government support. Recent research from the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) predicts that the sector’s Gross Value Added (GVA) will return to its pre-lockdown level of £13.5bn by 2022 with the help of the Culture Recovery Fund, a full year earlier than was anticipated without government intervention. The research also shows the sector is set to be worth £15.2 billion to the economy by 2025.   

As well as contributing to the economic recovery, the sector can also play a crucial role in the social recovery as indicated by the many examples highlighted above.

As non-educators, many home-schooling parents have moved towards cultural and creative enrichment for their children. It has been well-documented that arts and creative activities can help improve mental health and wellbeing and at a time when there are grave concerns about young people’s mental health, surely this can only be a good thing.

As previous pandemics and disasters have consistently shown, a major focus of recovery needs to be on mental health; something that the arts and creative industries can clearly help with.

Final thoughts

At time when we might all feel like social distancing from ourselves, the arts and creative activities can provide an escape for everyone. The value of arts and culture, both economically and socially, cannot be underestimated. Perhaps the most positive outcome of the current pandemic for these sectors, will be the newfound appreciation of them from all walks of life which will hopefully translate into decision-makers thinking twice before laying the brunt of budget cuts at their door.


Read some of our other posts on arts and culture:

Follow us on Twitter to find out what topic areas are interesting our research team.

The year of living differently: reviewing The Knowledge Exchange blog in 2020

2020 has been a year like no other. A microscopic virus – 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair – has dominated, disrupted and redefined the way we live and work.

Although the pandemic is primarily a public health emergency, its effects have been felt in all areas of public and social policy, from economic development and employment to transport and the environment. Throughout this year, our blog has reflected on the impacts of the coronavirus and the restrictions introduced to prevent its spread.

The COVID-19 knock-on

While the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the news headlines, it has also obscured the knock-on effects on the NHS. In October, we reported on the impacts of delays to preventative healthcare measures, such as screening and routine medical care in the form of pre-planned operations for long-term chronic and non-urgent conditions.

As the blog post noted, the impacts have been wide-ranging, including not only delays in care for case of physical ill health, but also for those seeking treatment for mental health conditions:

“Research suggests that incidence of mental illness during the coronavirus pandemic increased. However, the numbers of people accessing services and being referred for treatment have not increased proportionate to this.”

The ‘hidden epidemic’

Long before the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence had become known as a ‘hidden epidemic’ in the UK. In September, our blog highlighted the unintended consequences of quarantine for domestic abuse victims.

After the UK entered lockdown in March, calls and online enquiries to the UK’s National Domestic Abuse line increased by 25%. Three-quarters of victims told a BBC investigation that lockdown had made it harder for them to escape their abusers and in many cases had intensified the abuse they received.

Despite additional government funding, the local authorities and charities which support victims of domestic violence have been struggling with the financial fallout from the pandemic. Even so,  important partnerships have been formed between local government, educational institutions and third sector bodies to provide safe spaces for women and their children fleeing violence. Among these was an initiative at the University of Cambridge:

St Catherine’s College formed a partnership with Cambridge Women’s Aid to provide over 1000 nights of secure supported accommodation during the lockdown period.

‘Same storm, different boats’

As the recent Marmot review has stressed, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed and deepened many of the deep-rooted inequalities in our society, including gender, ethnicity and income.  It has also shone a light on more recent inequalities, such as the growth of precarious employment among sections of the population.

In July, we looked at the uneven economic impact of the pandemic, focusing on the heavy price being paid by young people, women, disabled people and Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.

Women often work in the frontline of care services and have had to juggle childcare during lockdown. BAME communities are over-represented in key-worker jobs, and so were particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.

And although there has been much talk about ‘building back better’, our blog post drew attention to the observations of Dr Sally Witcher, CEO of Inclusion Scotland during a Poverty Alliance webinar:

“She asks whether indeed we should want to build back, when the old normal didn’t work for a large proportion of people, particularly those with disabilities. Dr Witcher also questions ‘who’ is doing the building, and whether the people designing this new future will have the knowledge and lived experience of what really needs to change.”

The impacts of a pandemic

Many other aspects of the impact of COVID-19 have been covered in our blog:

  • How housing providers have embraced the fluidity of an emergency situation, including tackling homelessness, engaging effectively with tenants and addressing mental ill health.
  • Digital healthcare solutions for those with coronavirus and for the continuity of care and day-to-day running of the NHS.
  • Creating and managing a COVID-secure workplace.
  • How COVID-19 is changing public transport, including an acceleration towards contactless payment and mobile ticketing.
  • The additional challenges of the pandemic facing autistic children and young people.
  • The impact of the coronavirus restrictions on the arts.
  • The role of green new deals in tackling climate change and economic inequality as part of the post-Covid recovery.

Beyond the virus

Although the pandemic has been at the forefront of all our minds this year, The Knowledge Exchange blog has also taken the time to focus on other important issues in public and social policy:

We’ve also taken advantage of the ‘new normal’ experience of remote working to join a number of webinars, and to report back on the observations and ideas emerging from them. Most recently, our blogs have focused on a series of webinars organised by Partners in Planning, which included contributions on how the planning system can help address climate change.

Final thoughts

The health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic are likely to be long-lasting – restrictions on travel, work and socialising will continue into the spring, and insolvencies and unemployment numbers are likely to rise. And the continuing uncertainty over the UK’s new trading relationship with the European Union will generate additional challenges.   

But, as a frequently difficult, often challenging and sometimes distressing year draws to a close, there is cause for optimism about 2021. Vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus have been developed with lightning speed. Across the UK people are already being vaccinated, with greater numbers set to receive the jab in the coming months.

Here at The Knowledge Exchange, we’ll continue to highlight the key issues facing public and social policy and practice as we move towards the post-Covid era.

Season’s greetings

It’s with even greater meaning than ever before that we wish all our readers a happy Christmas, and a healthy, prosperous and happy new year.

Best wishes from everyone at The Knowledge Exchange: Morwen, Christine, Heather, Donna, Rebecca, Scott, Hannah and James.


Follow us on Twitter to find out what topic areas are interesting our research team.

Knowledge from a distance: recent webinars on public and social policy

During the national lockdown, it’s been impossible for most of us to attend conferences and seminars. But many organisations have been harnessing the power of technology to help people share their knowledge, ideas and experience in virtual seminars.

In the past few weeks, the research officers at The Knowledge Exchange have joined some of these webinars, and in today’s blog post we’d like to share with you some of the public and social policy issues that have been highlighted in these online events.

The liveable city

Organised by the Danish Embassy in the UK, this webinar brought together a range of speakers from Denmark and the UK to consider how our cities may change post COVID-19, including questions around green space, high street recovery, active travel and density and types of residential living accommodation in our towns and cities.

Speakers came from two London boroughs, architectural design and urban planning backgrounds and gave examples of experiences in Newham, Ealing and Copenhagen as well as other more general examples from across the UK and Denmark. The seminar’s website also includes links to presentations on previous Liveable City events in Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol and Glasgow.


What next for public health?

“Healthcare just had its 2008 banking crisis… COVID-19 has generated a real seismic shift within the sector and I don’t think we will ever go back”

This webinar brought together commentators and thought leaders from across the digital health and tech sectors to think about how public health may be transformed by our experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant shift to digital and online platforms to deliver care.

The speakers discussed data, privacy and trust and the need to recognise different levels of engagement with digital platforms to ensure that specific groups like older people don’t feel unable to access services. They also discussed the importance of not being driven by data, but using data to help us to make better decisions. The webinar was organised by BIMA, a community of businesses, charities and academia across the UK.


Green cities

This project, organised by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), included 3 webinars each looking at different elements of green infrastructure within cities, including designing and planning, assessing the quality of different types of green infrastructure and highlighting the positive impacts of incorporating more good quality green spaces for mental and physical health, as well as for environmental purposes.


Rough sleeping and homelessness during and after the coronavirus

Organised by the Centre for London, this webinar brought together speakers from across the homelessness sector within London, including St Mungos, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Croydon Council to explore how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting people who are homeless or sleeping rough in the city.

Each speaker brought insights from their own experiences supporting homeless people in the capital (so far) during the COVID 19-pandemic. They highlighted some of the challenges, as well as some of the more positive steps forward, particularly in relation to co-operation and partnership working across different levels of government and with other sectors such as health.

They also commended everyone involved for the speed at which they acted to support homeless people, particularly those who were vulnerable or at risk. However, concerns were also raised around future planning and the importance of not regressing back into old ways of working once the pandemic response tails off.


Poverty, health and Covid-19: emerging lessons in Scotland

This webinar was hosted by the Poverty Alliance as part of a wider series that they are hosting.  It looked at how to ‘build back better’ following the pandemic, with a particular focus upon addressing the long-standing inequalities that exist throughout society.

The event included presentations from Dr Gerry McCartney, Head of the Public Health Observatory at Public Health Scotland, Dr Anne Mullin, Chair of the Deep End GPs, and Professor Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at University of Edinburgh.

A key message throughout was that while the immediate health impacts of the pandemic have been huge, there is an urgent need to acknowledge and address the “long-term challenge” – the impact on health caused by the economic and social inequalities associated with the pandemic.

It is estimated that over 10 years, the impact of inequalities will be six times greater than that of an unmitigated pandemic. Therefore, ‘building back better’ is essential in order to ensure long-term population health.


Returning to work: addressing unemployment after Covid-19

This webinar was also hosted by the Poverty Alliance as part of their wider webinar series on the pandemic.

The focus here was how to address the inevitable rise in unemployment following the pandemic – the anticipated increase in jobless numbers is currently estimated to be over three million.

The event included presentations from Kathleen Henehan, Research and Policy Analyst at Resolution Foundation, Anna Ritchie Allan, Executive Director at Close the Gap, and Tony Wilson, Director of the Institute for Employment Studies.

The webinar highlighted the unprecedented scale of the problem – noting that more than half of the working population are currently not working due to the pandemic, being either unemployed, furloughed or in receipt of self-employment support.

A key theme of the presentation was that certain groups are likely to be disproportionately affected by unemployment as the support provided by the government’s support schemes draw to a close later this year.  This includes women – particularly those from BAME groups, the lower paid and migrants – and young people.  So it’s essential that the support provided by the government in the form of skills, training, job creation schemes etc addresses this, and is both gender-sensitive and intersectional.


Supporting the return to educational settings of autistic children and young people

The aim of this webinar, provided by the National Autism Implementation Team (NAIT), was to offer a useful overview of how to support autistic children and young people, and those with additional support needs, back into educational settings following the pandemic.

Currently around 25% of learners in mainstream schools have additional support needs, and it is generally accepted that good autism practice is beneficial for all children.

The webinar set out eight key messages for supporting a successful return, which included making anticipatory adjustments rather than ‘waiting and seeing’, using visual supports, providing predictability, planning for movement breaks and provision of a ‘safe space’ for each child.  The importance of listening to parents was also emphasised.


P1050381.JPG

Ellisland Farm, Dumfries. “P1050381.JPG” by ejbluefolds is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Burns at Ellisland

Our Research Officer, Donna Gardiner has also been following some cultural webinars, including one that focused on the links between Scotland’s national poet and the Ellisland Farm site. The webinar was led by Professor Gerard Carruthers, Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow and co-director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies.

Robert Burns lived at Ellisland Farm in Dumfriesshire between May 1788 and November 1791, and is where he produced a significant proportion of his work – 23% of his letters and 28% of his songs and poems, including the famous Tam O’Shanter and Auld Lang Syne.

The presentation looked at how Robert Burns was influenced by the farm itself and its location on the banks of the River Nith.  It also touched on his involvement with local politics and friends in the area, which too influenced his work.

It was suggested that the Ellisland farm site could be considered in many ways to be the birthplace of wider European Romanticism. The webinar also included contributions from Joan McAlpine MSP, who is chair of the newly formed Robert Burns Ellisland Trust. She discussed how to help promote and conserve this historic site, particularly given the impact of the coronavirus on tourism.


Follow us on Twitter to see which topics are interesting our research team.

Can the arts recover from coronavirus? (part 2)

The first part of this blog series looked at the impact the coronavirus has had on the arts sector so far, and at the help being offered to alleviate it.

In social isolation, many people turn to art for entertainment and comfort and as a means for connecting with others, and the importance of the arts for wellbeing becomes increasingly apparent. Despite the huge strain the sector is under, its organisations and professionals are finding innovative ways of overcoming the challenges they face, to continue creating and engaging with the public.

How is the sector responding?

With venues closed and in-person events cancelled, the arts have moved online, and the sector is essentially undergoing an imposed digital shift.

Galleries and museums across the world have digitised and moved online, allowing the public to explore their collections virtually, and often for free. Several galleries have been experimenting with virtual reality platforms, allowing them to arrange and display their collections as they would onsite. The Getty Museum in California has even made its collections available via “Animal Crossing”, allowing gamers to view and display artworks from the Getty on their own virtual islands.

Theatres and performing arts companies have responded to the crisis by making performances available for free via streaming platforms. London’s Royal Opera House have been streaming free opera and ballet performances, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre has made a large collection of its recorded stage productions available for free, the English National Ballet have been offering remote ballet lessons, and the National Theatre have made a collection of its productions available through YouTube.

Artists, like many people, are working from home. Well-known artists including Anthony Gormley, Grayson Perry, David Hockney and Tracey Emin have been sharing their work during lockdown using social media.

Musicians have also been using social media and streaming platforms to share performances and collaborate with one another. New music has been created in response to the pandemic, and many artists have participated in live stream events to raise money for music venues which are at risk because of the crisis. Major global broadcast events such as ‘Together at Home’ have included performances from well-known artists like Lady Gaga and Elton John, to raise funds for frontline workers and the World Health Organisation.

By going digital, the arts sector is successfully keeping the public engaged, but concerns have been raised about the sustainability of this new model where most content is being offered for free, and there is uncertainty about how the public will choose to consume arts and culture in a post-coronavirus world.

What is needed going forward?

Despite the funding efforts and the hard work of the arts sector, as social distancing continues, concerns are growing about how the sector will withstand the financial pressures as the crisis moves into its next phase. As the emergency funds offered by Arts Council England (ACE) are quickly running out, their CEO Darren Henley has emphasised that ACE simply do not have “the resources needed to secure the income of individuals or the future of shuttered organisations through an extended lockdown, nor the ability to support the costs of reopening”. He argues that finding a solution going forward will require close engagement between government and arts organisations.

A recent letter, written by the Creative Industries Federation (CEF) and signed by 400 of the UK’s leading artists, has warned that the UK is in serious danger of becoming a “cultural wasteland” despite the funding that has been offered so far, and called for urgent funding from the government to support creative industries.

The Culture 2030 Goal Campaign have argued that the arts and culture sectors are “too often compromised in budget allocations”, and have called on governments to take immediate action to protect the sector which will play a fundamental role in helping communities to recover from the crisis. This argument has been echoed by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), who have also emphasised the vital role of arts and culture in making sense of the world post-crisis.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of London’s Serpentine gallery, has argued that a multimillion-pound public arts fund is needed, similar to the programmes offered by Franklin D Roosevelt to support the arts during the Great Depression.

Final thoughts

The arts are finding ways to adapt, create, and innovate during the coronavirus crisis, despite serious financial strain. Arts professionals recognise that the sector has recovered from crises before and will find a way of doing so again. It has also been argued that the crisis has given the sector a chance to slow down, reset, and develop a more sustainable way of working together in the future. ACE have pointed out that, while the hardest part may be yet to come, they now have “an emerging sense of what the months ahead may look like and a chance to prepare”. Like most other sectors and areas of society, the arts will move into its own “new normal”, but just what that will look like remains to be seen.

Part one of this blog post was published on Monday 11 May.

Further posts on our blog concerning the arts and culture include:

Can the arts recover from coronavirus? (part 1)

antenna-jqh0GEvuNBY-unsplash

No part of society or the economy has been untouched by the coronavirus outbreak, but as the situation develops globally, it has emerged that the arts, culture, and heritage sectors may be among the hardest hit. Organisations and individuals are working hard to adapt and deliver art in more creative ways than ever, but there is real concern about the lasting effects the pandemic could have on the cultural and creative industries, and the extent to which they will manage to recover.

The impact of coronavirus on the arts, culture and heritage sectors

Back in March, the UK government’s implementation of lockdown and strict social distancing measures led to the sudden and indefinite closure of cultural spaces such as theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas, and the cancellation or postponement of pretty much all events, performances, and festivals across the country. This suspended the usual operations of most cultural institutions, leading to uncertainty and potentially devastating financial losses for those working in the sector, particularly freelancers.

Many involved in the creative industries have expressed concern about financial sustainability, and about how a crisis like this may deepen the sector’s existing inequalities. In the UK, the creative industries employ around two million people, and approximately a third of these are freelancers – the group likely to be the hardest hit by the cancellation of events and projects.

The cancellation of summer festivals and gigs has particularly affected freelance musicians, comedians and performers who often rely on the festival circuit for a substantial proportion of their income.

On top of the immediate financial concerns, artists have expressed worries about the effect of the coronavirus on their visibility, as long-planned projects grind to a halt.

A recent report published by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland estimated that the average loss of earnings for individuals in Northern Ireland’s arts sector was £3,756 between March and May 2020, and the total income loss for organisations was approximately £3.97 million during the same period. Arts Council England have been conducting similar research to gauge the impact of the crisis on the arts sector in England, and are expected to publish their findings soon.

A series of recent webinars delivered by OECD addressed the impact of the coronavirus crisis on museums, and the wider cultural and creative sectors. Museums are at immediate risk due to the dramatic reduction in revenue and charitable donations, and the livelihoods of their staff and freelance professionals are in jeopardy as a result. The loss of income across the wider arts sector has the potential to wipe out a significant proportion of its creative framework. In the longer term, museum ecosystems may be seriously damaged by the loss of smaller creative companies and professionals, on whom museums rely for creative outputs. OECD also warned that the sudden withdrawal of museums from local development projects could have a lasting negative impact on their local communities.

Similar concerns are raised in the Arts Council of Northern Ireland report, which emphasises that the suspension of public classes, workshops, community outreach initiatives and work within schools, usually provided by arts organisations, is likely to have a profound impact on Northern Ireland’s local communities and place vulnerable people at risk.

What is being done to help?

Across the UK, emergency funding programmes have been launched to support organisations and individuals at risk.

Arts Council England has offered £160 million of emergency funding (almost all of its reserves), to protect England’s arts, museums and libraries. The funding package aims to support individual creative practitioners, as well as organisations at risk. As part of this programme, they are continuing to fund their existing National Portfolio Organisations, even where agreed projects cannot go ahead.

Arts Council Wales has allocated an initial £7 million to an urgent response fund, with the hope that  funding will increase through collaboration with other trusts, foundations, and charities who are able to contribute. Arts Council for Northern Ireland has combined £500,000 of their own funds with £1 million from the Department of Communities to create an emergency fund for artists and creative organisations.

Creative Scotland have launched three new emergency funding programmes, as well as guaranteeing that all previously committed funding awards will be honoured regardless of event cancellation. They have also encouraged recipients of their funding to honour their pre-existing agreements with artists and freelance professionals.

Businesses and employees in the sector are receiving support from the government’s furlough scheme, and freelancers can apply for government grants as part of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

A variety of independent funding schemes have also been set up by charities and non-profit organisations across the UK to support organisations and individuals.

What next?

The arts sector is in serious danger as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The assistance on offer has the potential to help individuals and organisations to stay afloat for the time being, but as lockdown persists and social distancing measures seem set to continue for the foreseeable future, there are already concerns that the funding on offer at this stage is not going to be enough. The second part of this blog series will consider how the arts sector is responding to the crisis, and what is needed to help its recovery going forward.


Part two of this blog post will appear on Wednesday 13 May.

Further posts on our blog concerning the arts and culture include:

Guest post: Three things I’ve learned in my local coffee shop

By Steve MacDouell

If you were to walk into my neighbourhood coffee shop, you’d see the usual suspects: Joey, a body and mind professional, who would be talking to someone about Finnish saunas, metal music, and the human condition; Arielle, the local city councillor, who would be conversing with her constituents about their ideas and hopes for the neighbourhood; Alexis, a writer, who would be sipping an americano, plugging away at her book, and scrolling through funny dog gifs; and Brittney, Jen, and Emily, three friends who, on a weekly basis, come together to talk about the joys and complexities of life all the while trying to keep their pre-school aged children occupied. This coffee shop, like many others, is a place where people are invited to sit, to catch up on some email, and to, potentially, encounter a few of their neighbours — all while enjoying a hot, caffeinated beverage.

Third places — that is, places where people can enjoy the company of others outside of their workplaces and homes — are critical to the well-being of our neighbourhoods. From public parks and libraries to pubs and playgrounds, these places are impacting our localities in both subtle and significant ways. For our communities to thrive, we need third places where ideas can be shared, where everyone is welcome to belong, and where relationships, over time, can be fostered. Ray Oldenburg, urban sociologist and author of The Great Good Place, emphasizes the importance of these kinds of places in this way:

“Most needed are those ‘third places’ which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life…Though a radically different kind of setting from the home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy.”

After a few years of sitting in the same coffee shop, I’ve come to realize that third places have much to teach us about our neighbourhoods and the people we share them with.

In the spirit of celebrating the third places in our cities, here are three things that I’ve learned in my local coffee shop:

People want to linger in places where they can be seen, heard, and known

There is something about your local barista knowing your coffee order that grounds you in a place. It’s one of the small, subtle ways that I started to feel like a character in the story of my neighbourhood. This vague familiarity would go on to spark brief conversations between the staff and I, which led to more robust exchanges around our unique interests, our vocational endeavours, and our shared hopes for the neighbourhood. They began to introduce me to other locals in the shop which led to more conversations and to a broader network of connection. Additionally, the shop is small, so sharing tables with my neighbours became a normal practice. At times, these shared table experiences sparked meaningful interactions, and at other times, it just led to more spilt coffee. As weeks turned into months, strangers became friends, a sense of community started to be formed, and feelings of familiarity began to take root.

It’s often within the relational ecosystem of a local coffee shop that we encounter the people we’ve actually shared close proximity with for a long time. We start to put names to faces that we’ve seen in passing, and we begin to feel a little more noticed ourselves—which taps into our human longing to know others and be known by others. In this sense, coffee shops provide far more than local economic benefits and enjoyable products; they offer a space where trust can be formed — and where hospitality can be extended — between neighbours. While turning up, sipping coffee, and being open to connection seems like a small act, the cumulative impact of doing so can’t be quickly dismissed.

People long for places where contextual ideas—for the common good of the neighbourhood—can be inspired

The collision of humanity that occurs in a local coffee shop has a way of catalyzing ideas that, if leveraged well, can go on to improve the well-being of our neighbourhoods. This occurs, in part, because the individuals who spend time in these places will have some sense of the contextual opportunities that exist locally and because the social nature of a coffee shop can lend itself to a high concentration of neighbourly interactions. Over the years, spending time in my local coffee shop has opened up different collaborate engagements with my neighbours: from cocktail nights, dinner parties, and social clubs to playgroups, TED-style events, and tactical urbanism projects. The seeds of these ideas were planted and cultivated through ongoing conversations over lattes and laptops.

The local impact that can come out of a coffee shop is nothing new; historically, these places have played a key role in shaping the social, political, creative, and intellectual pursuits of cities. Take, for example, the coffeehouses of London in the 1670s. The open, political dialogue that occurred in these places was subversive enough that it caused nervousness in the powers that be, so much so that Charles II tried to have them shut down. If you were looking to be involved in political dialogue during the French Revolution, you could find it in a Parisian café, and if you were an anti-Communist dissident in Prague after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, you could conspire with kindred spirits at Café Slavia. Some, like German sociologist and philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, have even gone on to argue that the coffeehouses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries helped lay the foundation for the liberal Enlightenment.

While revolution might not break out in our local coffee shops, these important places still inspire dialogue, ideas, and collaboration, all of which can go on to make a tangible impact on neighbourhoods and cities.

People are attached to the places that they experience with all of their senses

Over the past few years, I’ve taken a number of road trips across the United States. Whenever I’m in a new city, I try to sit in a few local coffee spots to taste their product, to meet a few locals, and to get a sense of what’s happening in the neighbourhood. While I’ve enjoyed some great coffee and met some interesting people along the way, I’ve always felt like a visitor in these places—and this makes sense. The coffee tastes a little different than what I’m used to; the aesthetic, while often similar, is not quite the same as my local coffee shop; and the people are friendly, but I’m not connected to their stories in the same way that I am to those of my neighbours. Visiting these places is always a welcomed experience, but it never quite feels like home.

The hours I’ve spent in my local coffee shop have increased my level of attachment to my neighbourhood and the people who inhabit it—which, over time, has made me less likely to dream of being somewhere else. While I love to travel, being elsewhere has made me more appreciative of the people and the places that are familiar, reminding me of just how much I continue to receive within the ordinary rhythms of life in the places I call home.

Third places play a critical role in the strength, resilience, and interconnectedness of our cities. Whether your third place is a coffee shop, a community centre, or a local McDonald’s, spending time in these places can move us toward the people, the stories, and the opportunities that exist all around us. While these places will not solve all of the urgent problems that our cities face, the tangible benefits that they offer our communities should be celebrated.


Steve MacDouell is a professor at @FanshaweCollege in London, Ontario, and a senior community fellow at @TheGoodCityCo, a civic organisation that creates projects to help citizens take greater ownership over the places they call home. Steve also writes posts on community formation, place and neighbourliness. This post originally appeared on Steve’s own blog.