For those of us living in, working in and passing through towns and cities, street art has become as familiar as road signage and commercial advertising. Usually taking the form of murals, street art has multiple purposes: it provides artists with a means of displaying their talents and expressing themselves; it can help a place tell a story about itself, highlighting the people and things that have made it what it is today; and it can contribute to the regeneration of a place, demonstrating that communities care about their environment.
Using images from Glasgow – a city with a strong tradition of street art – this photo essay highlights some of the historical, social and artistic elements that have helped to transform parts of the city. It also features extracts from articles and reports that have underlined the importance of street art.
“Artists have embraced the street and the built environment as integral to their work and practice, individual pieces reflecting context and location as surfaces become living canvases, rehumanizing the urban landscape.” – Asli Aktu: Shaping Places Through Art
“In the process of creating and searching for street art pieces, both the artist and the viewer often get to explore parts of the city they would rarely visit otherwise. Places such as alleys or empty lots, dead spaces below or around bridges and other infrastructures, even off-limits terrains such as abandoned tunnels.” – Javier Abarca: From street art to murals: what have we lost?
“According to a research on the effect of mural on personal crime and fear of crime conducted by Md. Sakip, R. et. al. (2016) in Ipoh, Malaysia, most … strongly agree that they are feeling safe when using back alleys with the art mural on a wall. A safe environment is achieved as there are better opportunities for public surveillance caused by the increase in tourists and local community’s awareness. If the environment continues to be safe, the more tourists will be attracted to visit the city.” – Siti Syamimi Oma: Bringing the New to the Old : Urban regeneration through public arts
“Murals are a reflection of the community. They can be historically significant because they serve as a reminder for a particular struggle or victory for the community. They can be beautiful and uplifting, generating a source of pride for residents of a particular neighborhood.” – Summit Learning & C3 Teachers: Does street art make communities better?
“Art can celebrate the qualities that make one place different from another. The best of public art can challenge, delight, educate and illuminate. Most of all, public art creates a sense of civic vitality in the cities, towns and communities we inhabit and visit.” Americans for the Arts: Public Art Network Council Green Paper
“With its ability to embrace multiple urban subcultures and visual styles in a globally distributed practice, street art provides a new dialogic configuration, a post-postmodern hybridity that will continue to generate many new kinds of works and genres.“ – Martin Irvine: The work on the street: street art and visual culture
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that over 1 billion people are living with some form of disability worldwide – that’s about 15% of the world’s total population. And, with trends in life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic health conditions on the rise, the number of disabled people living in cities is expected to only increase in the coming years.
Despite this, many cities remain unfriendly and widely inaccessible to their disabled populations.
Those with physical disabilities can be presented with barriers built into the smallest details of manoeuvring around the city, which could be seen as trivial and unobtrusive to the average able-bodied commuter.
From impassable steep kerbs, to sandwich board-cluttered streets, to shops and restaurants without lifts- – the makeup of the typical streetscape is lined with potential obstacles and restrictions. Moreover, for people who are neurodivergent or learning disabled, a bustling urban environment can cause harm through sensory overload, anxiety and stress.
Transport is another everyday aspect of city living where disabled people can feel excluded.
In many big cities, the metro is the most convenient way to travel. A recent study found that only 31% of London Underground stations are accessible by wheelchair or mobility scooter from street to platform. Considering that a number of those still require staff assistance and ramps to board trains, the number of fully accessible stations is even less. Another study found that similarly poor access exists across the world’s major metro systems.
Disabled people commonly report that accessibility worries can be a major deterrent to engaging in public spaces that are unfamiliar.
“I must always be thinking about accessibility in the back of my head” says Grace, in a Guardian article where readers with a disability share their experiences of city access. “The barriers start before a trip begins” adds Stef, talking about autistic-unfriendly travel.
Discussing New York, Lucy describes how accessibility barriers can make her feel excluded in her own city: “I often end up feeling like a second-class citizen who doesn’t even appear in the thoughts of city planners”.
Numerous studies have found that disabled people are less likely to work or socialise in areas with poor accessibility. Moreover, cities are losing out on economic benefits from inaccessibility-– the ‘purple pound’ (signifying the spending power of disabled tourists) was estimated to be worth around £250bn in the UK pre-pandemic.
Whilst disabled access is rising in prioritisation amongst city and transport planning, there is undoubtedly still a long way to go in many cities. But there are also some good examples of cities taking action to make their spaces accessible to all.
Opening up Chester’s ancient streets
The first British city to win the coveted European Access City Award, Chester is now regarded as the UK’s most accessible city. Famous for its Roman heritage, the city pledged to make its many tourist sites fully accessible for disabled people–a sizeable challenge, considering the city’s ancient streets and medieval walls.
Chester has implemented fully accessible, wide passageways with tactile paving and added handrails above the walls and famous Chester Rows, which were previously only accessible by steps. Narrow and secluded walkways have now been connected by 17 wheelchair access points. In addition, there are disabled access focused tours, access guides, signs and online information platforms.
Transport has been revamped, as council policy requires all public buses and licensed taxis to have wheelchair access, induction loops and colour-contrast handles. The council has also committed to including a specifically designed Changing Places toilet in all new developments, adding to the numerous facilities already deployed in busy spots.
The successful implementation of an extensive access plan has not been quick, but is rather the results of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s long-term commitment to improving disability inclusion. The council has had a designated access officer since 1991 and a disability forum of 16 organisations that actively promote accessibility in new developments – such as the multi-million pound Storyhouse arts centre that has received accolades for its standard of access.
Chester’s award has seen the city become a model to other city governments from across the world, who are now visiting the city for inspiration. “We’ve had them from Dublin to Israel, they want to see how it’s done”, says Graham Garnett, Chester’s previous access officer.
Accessible route mapping in Seattle
Primarily designed for commuters in vehicles, most online routing maps can be unhelpful for people with limited mobility, lacking detail on hills, steep kerbs and access points. Aiming to rectify this, however, is the University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, who have designed the AccessMap platform for the hilly city of Seattle.
AccessMap allows users to receive tailored routes dependent on customised preferences, such as only showing sloped pavements or limiting the incline of streets. As platforms such as Google Maps currently don’t take such factors into account, AccessMap will provide the user with an alternative route that is not based upon journey time or distance, but rather on safety and ease of access.
The map even uses recent data from the Seattle Department of Transportation to accommodate for real-world conditions on pedestrian pathways, such as a construction site or potentially hazardous surface conditions. In addition, the developers are aiming to turn the platform into an open street map, where users and volunteers can create up-to-date entries about the conditions they encounter.
The research team behind the project want to use their development to provide the toolkits and instructions to create similar maps in other cities. They have identified 10 urban areas in the US with the potential to replicate successful platforms, such as New York, Boston and San Francisco.
Chester’s motivation in becoming fully accessible is exemplary of a city that is leading the way in disability inclusion, ensuring that it is inherent to city government planning. Likewise, the mapping project in Seattle shows how alternative tools can enhance the experiences of disabled people.
But although these examples are encouraging, they are exceptions. As long as planners fail to acknowledge the needs of people with disabilities, most of our cities will remain, in effect, no-go areas for a substantial section of society.
Further reading: more on diversity and inclusion from The Knowledge Exchange Blog:
If 2020 was the year of the coronavirus, then 2021 was surely the year of the ‘coronacoaster’. From the highs of vaccine rollouts and loosening of social restrictions to the lows of fluctuating case numbers and a worrying new virus variation, we’ve all become unwilling passengers on what feels like an endless un-funfair ride.
But while the pandemic has never been far from our thoughts, it hasn’t taken over complete control of our lives. Research, evidence gathering, conferences and partnerships have continued in fields as diverse as education and housing, culture and the environment. Which is why, this year’s reflection on The Knowledge Exchange blog in 2021 focuses on some of the issues that we covered which looked beyond the pandemic.
Saving the planet
Until the emergence of Covid-19, many regarded climate change as the greatest threat facing humanity. That threat hasn’t gone away. Last summer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on the current state of the climate crisis, setting out the already devastating effects of climate change and warning of the deadly impacts, which will intensify as the planet gets hotter.
Throughout this year, our blog has focused on this issue, highlighting the dangers posed by climate change and the efforts to tackle the problem. In April, we looked at the monumental challenge of decarbonising the UK’s ageing housing stock, and highlighted a survey showing that two-thirds of housing associations have started planning to make their homes greener and warmer.
“However, the survey also reported that lack of finance and continuing policy uncertainty remain major obstacles to decarbonising homes. That’s important, particularly given the cost of decarbonisation of social housing – £104bn by 2050.”
We returned to the issue this month, with an overview of plans by government and industry to make the transition from gas boilers to greener ways of heating our homes.
In November, the landmark COP26 climate conference took place in Glasgow, and while the major talking points included protection of the world’s forests and reducing dependency on fossil fuels, our blog focused on how important the circular economy is to tackling global warming:
“…if we were able to double the current 8.6% global circularity figure to achieve 17% circularity, that move alone would achieve the targets on global warming set out by the Paris COP meeting in 2015.”
The cultural imperative
From community murals to television drama, from open-air concerts to singers entertaining neighbours from their balconies, culture and the arts have played a vital role in diverting us from the grim news of the past two years. And although the arts have taken a severe hit during lockdowns, artists across the globe have continued to create and share their work.
In January, we highlighted some of the ways in which creative people have found new ways to express themselves and to support the wellbeing of others:
In April, our blog reported on efforts by cultural communities to break down some of the barriers to digital engagement. It’s estimated that seven million people in the UK don’t’ have digital access, while 11.7 million don’t have the digital skills needed to engage online. In an increasingly ‘digital by default’ society, those numbers are troubling.
Our blog post described some of the ways in which arts and cultural organisations are tackling digital exclusion:
“One project managed by Birmingham Museums 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.”
Levelling up and the foundational economy
The economy is another recurring theme that we’ve highlighted in our blog. 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.
In May we reported from a webinar looking at the scope for charities to get involved. On the face of it, the fact that much of the focus is on capital spending could be challenging for charities whose work involves tackling problems such as addiction or homelessness. However, our blog explained that charities shouldn’t write off their chances of obtaining levelling up funding:
“… 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.”
In February, we shone a light on the foundational economy, which provides some of the essential services of everyday life, such as food, retailing and distribution, education, health and welfare. While these services are vital, many of the workers providing them are among the lowest paid in society. Our blog looked at the potential value of the foundational economy for the post-pandemic recovery:
“It has been widely agreed that a return to a business-as-usual approach following the pandemic is not the way forward, and that there needs to be a shift in economic policies in order to achieve a more socially and economically just society. Perhaps if such policy change is achieved, a more balanced economy that provides a good quality of life for all can eventually be realised.”
But we haven’t ignored the ongoing public health emergency. In November, we reported from a webinar on some of the lessons from the pandemic and the future role of public health; in July we looked at the important work of health librarians during the pandemic; and in May our blog reported on the role of behavioural insights, data analytics and “nudge” techniques in public health, and in particular during the vaccine roll-outs.
As we stand on the threshold of 2022, things look uncertain. But, as our blog posts have demonstrated throughout the past year, despite the anxieties and restrictions generated by the pandemic, great work can still be achieved by the public and private sectors, by charities, communities and individuals, for the benefit of society and the wider world.
All of us in The Knowledge Exchange team – Morwen, Donna, Heather, James, Rebecca, Hannah, Euan and Hollie – would like to wish all our readers a safe and peaceful festive season, and very happy new year.
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There has been no shortage of headlines sounding the death knell for our town centres over recent years as they continue to suffer from the effects of growth in online shopping, government policy and now the pandemic. But while concerns over the future of town centres is nothing new, neither are the changes that town centres are experiencing.
Changes that affect industries, technologies and the way land is used – which in turn impact on the economy – have impacted communities for decades, particularly in smaller towns. From the loss of manufacturing to new industries and ways of working, towns have had to adapt to survive. And some small towns have been leading the way in reinventing their economic bases by using other assets to spur on their local economies.
Culture as a catalyst
One such example is Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town. Following the loss of a distillery and a creamery in the 80s and 90s respectively, Wigtown secured its designation as National Book Town in 1998. This acted as a catalyst for regeneration and inspired the creation of the annual Wigtown Book Festival which now attracts more than 20,000 visitors to the area and brings more than £4 million to the local economy.
Other Scottish towns have also been bestowed with cultural accolades. West Kilbride in Ayrshire, a once thriving mill town, is Scotland’s first accredited Craft Town and winner of a Creative Place Award in 2012. Dumfries recently became home to a new National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling which aims to “establish itself as an international visitor attraction contributing to the regeneration of the town and region and providing Scotland with a world class tourism resource”. And Huntly in Aberdeenshire has attracted artists from all over the world for residents thanks to the Deveron Projects initiative set up in 1995 to connect artists, communities and places.
In England, Farnham recently became the country’s first World Craft Town and only the third region in Europe to receive World Craft City status. Recent research estimates that the value of craft to Farnham and the surrounding area is already in excess of £50 million.
With the aim of building on Wigtown’s success, plans are being drawn up for an open competition to create further National Towns of Culture across Scotland as proposed in the SNP’s manifesto. Suggestions include Scotland’s National Live Music Town, Folk and Trad Town, or Scotland’s Visual Art Town.
Numerous towns could be in the running to become a musical town. It has been suggested that Ullapool could be a frontrunner, after playing host to the Loopallu festival for 15 years, as could Stornoway, the host of the international Hebridean Celtic Festival (HebCelt). And of course, being home to Jimmy Shand and The Proclaimers, Auchtermuchty could equally be in with a shout.
Making the most of local assets
Now may be the ideal time for small towns to make the most of their local assets, whether that is cultural or otherwise. Research has shown that some smaller towns have actually fared much better than larger cities during the pandemic as the importance of local has been emphasised. They have experienced fewer reductions in overall footfall and there has been an increase in footfall in some small towns as consumers look to stay local and avoid using public transport.
A report from Sustrans has recommended capitalising on the increased use of smaller high streets as a way to economic recovery. It highlights that this presents an opportunity to invest in other elements unique to these areas, arguing that “re-establishing the role of a high street as a hub for social connection and reinforcing and celebrating its roots and unique character could go a long way to encourage people to stay local and spend their money where they live.”
Lessons from the US
Research from the US has also shown how small towns can succeed by reinventing themselves through emphasising their existing assets and distinctive resources. Following the loss of various industries, these communities have moved away from trying to attract major employers as a way of attracting talent. Many have moved towards investment in creative infrastructure rather than physical infrastructure to make their communities more attractive to residents and businesses.
Following increased suburbanisation and growth in out of town retail, Paducah in Kentucky, for example, changed its approach to economic development by focusing on developing and retaining the historic integrity of the Renaissance Area, which includes the LowerTown Arts District, the historic downtown, and the riverfront. Paducah’s approach aimed to develop a cohesive identity around its core assets: art, the Ohio River, and history. In 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Paducah the world’s seventh City of Crafts and Folk Art.
While all the case study towns in this research drew on different assets, several successful tactics were identified that other communities can use:
Identify and build on existing assets
Engage all members of the community to plan for the future
Take advantage of outside funding
Create incentives for redevelopment, and encourage investment in the community
Encourage cooperation within the community and across the region
Support a clean and healthy environment.
Small towns leading the way?
All these small towns are exemplars of community-led regeneration and illustrate how drawing on unique local assets can be a real catalyst for growth. Perhaps the bigger towns and cities should be looking to their smaller counterparts for lessons on how to succeed in an ever changing world.
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Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their landmark report on the current state of the climate crisis, setting out the already devastating impacts of climate change and warning of what is to come as global heating rapidly accelerates and climate disasters become increasingly frequent.
The message is clear that to avoid the worst environmental, social, and economic consequences of climate change and to protect humanity, all governments and sectors must act radically, and everyone has a part to play. A recent talk by Bridget McKenzie, Founding Director of Climate Museum UK (as part of the 2021 CILIPS Annual Conference) considered the role of the cultural sector in responding to the climate emergency, and advocated for the importance of creativity in fostering climate engagement and moving towards a more sustainable world.
Climate Museum UK is a mobile and digital museum delivering workshops and collecting public responses relating to the climate emergency. When it comes to engaging the public with the climate crisis, according to Bridget McKenzie, a level of positivity is key to help people feel empowered and able to act, and a creative approach to climate conversations is crucial to this.
Workshops and resources which encourage the production of art, games, stories and ideas relating to the climate crisis can help people to think openly and imaginatively about the future, and address the social consequences of the climate crisis by giving people space to express and process their thoughts, build community connections, and find common ground from which innovative ideas can develop.
Arts and cultural institutions therefore have a vital role to play in facilitating creative thinking. Libraries, museums, theatres, and other cultural and heritage organisations are already valuable places for people to come together, share ideas, and promote change, so they are well-positioned to be spaces for creative climate conversations and to contribute to the development of a sustainable future. Furthermore, as McKenzie suggests, cultural institutions like libraries and museums have a role to play in preserving histories of the climate crisis and helping people to discover and make sense of them.
How are the arts and cultural sectors responding?
There is growing recognition within the arts and cultural sectors about the urgency of the climate crisis and opportunities for change. Culture Declares Emergency is a movement of individuals and organisations in the sector who have declared a climate and ecological emergency, and are working to develop solutions and advocate for the value of culture in sustainable development.
Julie’s Bicycle is a UK-based charity working with organisations to deliver programmes and policy change to help the sector gain momentum in tackling the climate crisis. According to Julie’s Bicycle, ‘the climate crisis is a cultural crisis’, and addressing the climate issues creatively can create a sustainable cultural economy. They have identified seven trends in creative climate leadership to leverage new value for the sector and move towards sustainability.
Cultural and arts organisations have responded with events, performances and exhibitions which deal directly with climate issues. In Glasgow, an exhibition has been launched at the Science Centre which presents creative ideas and responses to the climate emergency from museums across the world. It is based on the idea that museums should be a trusted source of information on climate issues while also inspiring ideas about change. It is intended to run up until the COP26 meeting in Glasgow in November, to promote public awareness of the climate emergency ahead of the conference.
In the library sector, there is increasing discussion about how libraries can respond to the climate crisis and support users and communities while working across the rest of the cultural sector to generate practical change. CILIPS (representing Scotland’s library and information professionals) have launched a #CILIPSGoGreen campaign, creating a bank of environmental resources for library and information professionals to support decision-making and practice.
How are the UK’s Arts Councils responding?
In 2012, Arts Council England (ACE) teamed up with Julie’s Bicycle to develop a new environmental policy for the England’s arts sector. This has since required all ACE funded organisations to report their environmental data and submit an environmental action plan annually. In 2020, ACE reported that arts and cultural organisations were making increasingly sustainable energy choices, and the theme of climate and sustainability was increasingly present in creative work, raising awareness among audiences and facilitating valuable conversations.
Creative Scotland are in the process of developing a new and comprehensive climate and sustainability plan, led by Creative Carbon Scotland. The plan will be developed with experts in fields such as carbon reduction, sustainability, adaptation, and cultural practice, and is intended to focus on increasing inclusivity and engagement with climate issues through arts and culture.
Creative Scotland are also supporting creative initiatives relating to COP26, for example the Climate Beacons project which gathers resources from cultural and climate organisations and provides a space for discussion between artists, climate scientists, the public, and policymakers.
Arts Council of Wales recently made an open call for creative practitioners to develop projects to encourage bilingual communities across Wales to share their ideas and experiences around the climate crisis and think about how to mitigate its impact.
A 2019 report by the World Cities Culture Forum highlights trends in good practice for cities tackling climate change through culture. The report emphasises the importance of connecting cultural and environmental policy and recommends increased monitoring and reporting on the environmental impact data of cultural activities.
Similarly, a 2020 report by the Local Government Association (LGA) highlights the importance of environmental considerations in developing place-based cultural strategies. The report looks at Exeter as a case study, considering the city’s efforts to develop cultural practices and creative spaces that encourage increased interaction with the environment, to increase climate engagement.
Clearly, the value of culture and creativity in thinking about and responding to the climate crisis is being recognised and harnessed. However, as Climate Museum UK highlight, public arts funding remains low, and resources are stretched. For significant and tangible change to be fully realised, and for ideas to be translated into practice, investment and support is required at all levels.
Further reading: more from The Knowledge Exchange blog on the arts and culture:
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 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
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
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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 .
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.
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.