Pride of Place through our Cultural Action Zones by GBSLEP Interim Chair, Anita Bhalla

Pride of Place – it’s one of the themes of Levelling Up but what does it look like and how can we deliver this?

Invigorating our cities, towns and local centres is a key driver to economic recovery. Following the release of the Levelling Up White Paper in February, it’s clear that the Government continues to recognise the importance of placemaking and cultural development to encourage pride of place – one of the four themes of the paper. Here at GBSLEP, we have been championing this for over a decade.

Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) has been committed to improving the lives of our communities by creating places that people want to live and work in. One way which we have been doing this is through our Cultural Action Zones (CAZ) pilot programme. We are delivering CAZ across 9 areas in our region. Our aim is to help create thriving and dynamic places. The programme brings together multiple agencies, funding, and organisations to re-animate our high streets and neighbourhoods.

So, what have we done? We’ve provided grants of between £22K to £70K which, along with other funding, are supporting the recovery of local businesses, cultural organisations and communities. We are seeing neighborhoods uniting to create cultural gatherings in retail spaces as well as community venues. Pop up festivals are taking place and street art is animating neighbourhoods. What’s more, the money is being used to improve public pathways and spaces to make places inviting. It’s all about bringing opportunity back into our local communities and in turn pride of place.

Cultural Action Zones are already making a difference with 480 local creatives involved and 40 creative workshops delivered. An example of a Cultural Action Zone ‘in action’ is Solihull’s Festival of Cultural Moments and Conversation Culture.

As Solihull emerges from the Covid pandemic, the cultural sector is rebooting itself thanks to the borough’s first ever Festival of Cultural Moments (FoCM). Through a combination of commissions and grants, the Council started the 7-month cultural programme last June. Different artistic, cultural and heritage events have taken place in a variety of locations across Solihull as well as pop-up theatre tours. It’s all about giving communities the chance to curate cultural activities and to enjoy artistic offerings on their doorstep. These tours are building Solihull’s cultural infrastructure and supporting the recovery of the cultural sector.

This funding is part of a wider package of funding that GBSLEP have invested across our geography for the development of our creative and cultural economy. Since 2017, GBSLEP has invested over £34m into cultural capital projects including Symphony Hall, the Birmingham REP and the National Memorial Arboretum to name a few. We have helped open up closed off spaces to creative organisations as well as new audiences.

GBSLEP has also invested £3m into the world class Creative Content Hub in Birmingham. The £18m facility based at The Bond in Digbeth is part of the city’s historic Creative Quarter and is due to open later this year. It’s a place for independent production companies, businesses and freelancers to explore the next generation of creative production, from virtual reality to new media.

By supporting screen and production works, we are ensuring that we have a joined-up sector supply chain where new talent and new ideas can be trialled and tested, and importantly, aspiring creatives can stay in our glorious region to pursue their careers. GBSLEP’s gap funding investment into the Creative Content Hub has been followed by the BBC’s announcement of a new Apprenticeship Hub and Master Chef moving to the city as well as the opening Steven Knight’s Digbeth Loc Studios – one thing leads to another!

We have also commissioned work for the region’s creative sector around low carbon adoption to become a model region and have a supply chain that implements low carbon production practices. Green recovery and clean growth are important themes and commitments for GBSLEP.

This fits in to our wider work as a Local Enterprise Partnership. Our unique triple helix structure brings together the public, private and academic sectors to make informed investment decisions that are underpinned by local insight. Our work in creative and culture is informed by what the industry needs. It’s also about instilling wellbeing into our communities and giving them pride in the places where they live and work. By supporting businesses, jobs will be created and by investing in places, wellbeing and quality of life will be raised – a core mission for GBSLEP and for the Government’s levelling up ambitions. GBSLEP has a track record of delivering and making a difference and we have so much more to do as part of ‘Team West Midlands’.

Originally posted on LinkedIn.