For Nuneaton and Bedworth, the strategy aims to act as a guide for organisations and individuals engaged with culture across the borough. Each cultural strategy intends to create and ensure a shared vision for cultural activity and ambitions in the area, to offer a focused direction for development and to identify approaches that contribute towards a set of desired outcomes.
The proposed actions of these outcomes vary depending on the area the strategy is developed for, as each strategy needs to directly reflect on the communities, creative and cultural sectors of each location. An active consultation process allows these strategies to be embedded in local knowledge and ambitions. A strategy that features a wide range of research and consultation can then be used effectively by the institutions and deliverers of culture to increase local engagement.
A tailored cultural strategy can also contribute towards the revitalisation of local communities, boost levels of trust, improve health and well-being, and increase the possibility of a more positive future for individuals and the area that the strategy is developed for.
Having a cultural strategy in place as well as strategic partnerships further increases the likelihood of securing larger amounts of funding, such as from Arts Council England. This is because those councils are seen to demonstrate a strategic commitment to culture and the role it can play for society.
Defining the scope of a cultural strategy
The first thing to start with is to define the scope of the cultural strategy. Who is it for and what does “culture” include? These can vary from place to place. For the development of the Nuneaton and Bedworth Cultural Strategy, the scope of this specific Cultural Strategy was discussed in an inception meeting with the Borough Council. At this meeting, it was agreed that, for the purposes of the study, culture within Nuneaton and Bedworth was defined as inclusive of arts, heritage, creativity, and leisure activities including well-being and healthy activities.
After this first step of defining the scope of the strategy, key questions need to be identified that will steer the consultation phase. This is where a consultant can really help – an external person taking a look at a place can identify some key aspects that need interrogating, which helps to find a focus for the consultation.
Consultation is key
The consultation process is often an area that needs a fresh approach. Some places suffer from consultation fatigue, where people feel they have been asked for their opinions too many times and get tired of responding. In other places, the same few voices get heard again and again, and it can be a struggle to gain a diversity of opinions. This is where a new direction can help. Art Reach’s approach for example is to devise different methods of consultations to invite a variety of participants: In Nuneaton and Bedworth this included in-depth meetings with stakeholders, medium to large-scale cultural organisations, alongside interviews with prominent local artists and institutions, and focus group consultations for voluntary, community arts and heritage groups were held in local venues. Further, an online survey was promoted to the public and received a high rate of engagement, with over 300 members of the public submitting survey responses in just two months.
We’re also interested in using creative consultation tools to engage local people on their doorstep. So we attended two local summer fun day events with some attention-grabbing support. Collaborating with the team from The Bureau of Silly Ideas (BOSI), self-titled ‘creators of inspired madness and controlled chaos in the public realm’, we used some of BOSI’s creative contraptions to instigate consultations with families at these local events too.
From secret squirters to remote-controlled wheelie bins, the team at BOSI knows how to draw a crowd. Creative engagement focuses the children, leaving space to ask the parents a few questions about their creative and cultural habits, their community and future ambitions.
Context and opportunities
Cultural strategies need to be place-based, in other words sensitive to the particular characteristics of the place and its people and history. Though each strategy needs to reflect the ambitions of local organisations, communities and people, it must understand the context of each location too – historically, demographically and politically. An understanding of local initiatives is required to assess the cultural infrastructure and to develop a focused shared vision. The strategy needs to be positioned in a way that reacts to and acknowledges all of the elements that contribute to the areas and the communities’ different identities.
A particular piece of historical context we find crucial in our current study is that Nuneaton district was formed in 1972 when the Local Government Act merged the borough with the urban district of Bedworth including Bulkington. Local communities petitioned for 8 years to get the borough renamed Nuneaton and Bedworth, instead of the singular Nuneaton. This shows quite impressively – and is also reflected in the current consultations – that this is a borough that cares about its identity and local pride.
A firm understanding of development projects, whether based on infrastructure or long-term creative engagement initiatives, is needed in this process. A cultural strategy informs decisions locally for the next 5 to 10 years and to do so must also take on board key local developments in the foreseeable future. In Nuneaton and Bedworth, there is significant Levelling Up Fund investment to improve local leisure facilities in Bedworth and Grayson Place will soon offer Nuneaton town a myriad of leisure options with a cinema, open spaces for performances, restaurants and bars in a relaxed environment for local people to spend their free time. A good cultural strategy will incorporate and build around these developments for the imminent future too.
Routes and recommendations
In order for a strategy to make a useful assessment and to recommend actions that will contribute to the area, an in-depth understanding of funding and investments, cultural assets and institutions as well as public opinions and future ambitions must all strike a balance: On one hand, analysing data to clarify public consultations and on the other gaining a detailed understanding of local context and ambition. Between these two things, ambition and position, lies a route for people, places and organisations to achieve local, community and strategic improvements by working together. It is the cultural strategy’s ultimate goal to identify those routes.
The strategy then recommends actions that will enhance these opportunities, create more effective partnerships, utilise the beneficial elements of the local infrastructure that currently exist, and also recommend future actions that incorporate imminent developments.
Starting simple can create momentum
Some of the actions and recommendations from these strategies are long-term development schemes and require different resources – budget, patience, great partnerships and long-term planning. Fenland District Council, for example, have recently created a new Arts Development role in order to help deliver some of the agreed elements of their new cultural strategy, which requires expenditure other locations may take longer to identify or provide. There are quick wins that can create momentum which can be achieved with very few resources.
The cultural strategy needs to discover areas of long-term development, some might seem ambitious and require time in order to identify substantial funding and partnerships. At the same time, the strategy should identify opportunities that can take place in the more immediate future and will lay the foundations for longer-term success, and often these initiatives are not resource-heavy either. Creating new networks that bring people together in one place to learn from each other and exchange ideas can be hugely fruitful when you get the right people in the room. Regular conversations alone will instigate ideas and improve local connections. It can also support improving communication about culture in a place by sharing and coordinating marketing, boosting the visibility of culture in the area.
Recently, we’ve spent more time in Nuneaton and Bedworth to interview people for a film about the strategy and future plans. Three things seem resoundingly clear for the people of the borough:
- The community cares significantly – with several self-led creative initiatives in the area, there is a passion for improvement.
- Many local people and organisations think that an ambitious cultural future begins at home, by learning about and celebrating the different cultures and creative people that make up the local communities.
- There is a desire for development in local opportunities to create culture, to learn, to grow and to celebrate together.
Whilst the particular findings, priorities and recommended actions for Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council’s Cultural Strategy are yet to be released, the consultations contributed highly to the suggested actions, ensuring that the Strategy will be truly place-based.
Our consultancy team is experienced in providing new strategy approaches, looking at all aspects with fresh eyes and connecting the dots! We can support your cultural organisation or creative practice with strategic development, fundraising support, cultural strategies or programme evaluation.
Contact our Head of Consultancy, Jo Dacombe, to see how we can support your cultural ambitions and growth here: Jo@Artreach.org.uk