Baroness Kay Andrews argues the importance of culture and heritage in successful communities
Wales already has many great places; and a great sense of place – whether that is in the valleys of South Wales, the coastal villages of West Wales, the wild landscapes of Snowdonia, or the border towns of North East Wales. We love the diversity of our rural and urban landscapes and the different communities, different cultures and languages that make Wales as a whole. At Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) we celebrate that diversity through our support for programmes which extend from landscape partnerships to townscape heritage.
Our newest grant programme, The Great Place, was launched in England last year and takes HLF in a different direction – but here in Wales we can claim it to be a familiar concept – not least because we have pioneered something very similar. The concept behind Great Place is to put culture at the heart of the local vision and ambition for the community by enabling strong new partnerships between the arts and heritage and other local agencies, to help create better places to live and work: in short to put culture and heritage at the heart of regeneration and successful communities.
It recognises what we all know instinctively, that what makes people and communities thrive is a sense of involvement, identity and belonging. From experience we know that those connections often grow most powerfully when people take part in local arts activities (whether that is through theatre, film, music, painting, poetry or craft work) and when they relate confidently to their own culture, history and heritage – whether that is found in language and customs or by cherishing and caring for familiar historic landscapes, landmarks, parks or streetscapes.
What we also know is that involvement in the arts can make a vital difference to health and wellbeing, to a richer education and better career opportunities, to developing local skills, jobs and economies, and – in short – to making a whole locality – a ‘place’ feel better, work better and look better.
Of the 16 projects being developed in England one for example, will be based in the urban areas of Barnsley and Rotherham – a very deprived area, where they plan to develop their heritage stories to ‘increase levels of engagement and tackle social issues through the arts and heritage’ and thereby ‘reigniting local pride and ambition. In other places, like rural Derbyshire, the project is focused on using new partnerships between the arts and industrial heritage to develop the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site as a compelling tourist attraction.
As we prepare to launch the Great Place scheme in Wales, it is heartening to note we already have a head start. Two years ago, the Welsh Government decided to invest in a series of place based projects which are now called ‘Fusion’. From six in the first year, there are now ten across the country.
On a personal note this is very pleasing as the original purpose was set out in the report I was privileged to write for the Welsh Government in 2013 on ways in which culture and heritage can promote greater equality and opportunity, and indeed reduce poverty. It focussed on how we should harness the power of our arts and cultural sectors to promote social justice.
The result has been to bring together people working to support families in poverty, ill health and unemployment, areas in Newport, Swansea, Wrexham and Caernarfon, for example, with people working in local (and national) cultural and heritage organisations. These include bodies such as the National Museum and CADW and it has enabled both community and cultural agencies to draw on their different but complementary resources to enrich the community. The nature of the projects have been varied with some using film or theatre; others working around local archaeology and digital skills. It is about taking advantage of the richness of resources within those local communities.
The evaluation published at the end of the first year showed that not only had local people responded warmly to the new opportunities, but had grown in confidence and improved skills such as literacy and numeracy, while also acquiring new technical and digital skills. All this makes for better health, better jobs, and a better environment.
With Wales already pioneering some of the basic principles of the Great Place scheme, as well as developing new local partnerships, we want people across Wales, and certainly beyond the Fusion areas, to take part. Indeed, we hope the Great Place scheme will inspire communities across Wales to think about what they want for their communities, and how arts and heritage – working together and supported by other local development, will lay great foundations for the future.