HOW CULTURAL ACTION ZONES ARE REIMAGINING OUR TOWN CENTRES

With the Government’s Plan B now being rolled out the distant memory of various lockdowns is no doubt being resurrected. For those of us who could work from home, and will have to again, living spaces became places of work and our local neighbourhoods a much-needed escape from the blurred line between home and work. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Staying at home was the trigger for getting to know our local areas much better. Yes shops, restaurants and local community amenities were all closed, but if like me you embraced your trainers and reconnected with the outdoors – a whole new exploration of our, villages, neighbourhoods, towns and cities began.

With lockdown easing, it became clear that there was an appetite to keep this new relationship going especially by investing in our ‘local’ high streets, central areas and squares. Interestingly this wasn’t just a geographical desire to stay local, it was more than that, we retuned with our deep-rooted need to create a community around us.

Past generations have always had a greater affinity with their local communities, with many growing up, working, living and growing old in the same town, village or city.? Over the last 25 years our city centres have become the magnet for workers, entertainment and leisure –post-pandemic we are taking this a step further by reanimating and reimagining our town centres and local neighbourhoods. ?

This is at the heart of Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership’s (GBSLEP) work in creative, culture and placemaking. We’ve been delivering a Cultural Action Zone pilot programme in nine places across out patch. CAZs are a way of bringing together multiple agencies, funding and organisations to re-animate high streets and neighbourhoods. ?Our whole ethos is about bringing public, private and academic sectors to create interventions, allocate investment and deliver projects that create inclusive economic growth and improve the life of our residents. We’ve provided grants between £22K to £70K which, along with other funding, are supporting the recovery of local businesses, cultural organisations and communities.

Activities have included pop-up markets, street and public art trails, exhibitions, arts and craft workshops, engaging volunteers in green projects and much more. It’s not just been about delivering a cultural offer but also about rerouting traffic, pedestrianising areas, reconfiguring unused retail units into ‘meanwhile use’ spaces and developing tourism brands using artificial intelligence and virtual reality. It’s all about bringing footfall and opportunity back into our local communities.

In Northfield in Birmingham, the Making Spaces CAZ has been bringing people to their High Street through storytelling sessions, music, sewing crafts and dancing. Organisers have collaborated with Great Big Green Week and are now rolling out Christmas activities. Young people have developed their own programme of activities and work is also being done to test new ways of using empty high street retail spaces. There really is a great deal of excitement but also pride in contributing at such a local level. This, I believe has been turbo boosted by the pandemic and our realisation that we need to improve our local offerings.

This is just one example! In all, the Cultural Action Zone Programme has engaged hundreds of partners across multiple neighbourhoods and energised individuals and organisations, working together to create local areas that are appreciated and more importantly used by the people who live and work in them.

There’s been so much talk about ‘20min neighbourhood’ or ‘15min city’ which state that local places should offer more to all their residents. Our Cultural Action Zone Project is just one way in which we’re already delivering on this new way of reconnecting with people and places on our doorstep. It would be amazing if we could roll out such projects in every locality because quite clearly, they have an impact. ?

Originally posted on the GBSLEP website.

Webinar recording: building a sustainable future through fundraising

Charles Mesquita of Quilter Cheviot chairs a thought-provoking panel and is joined by Anita Bhalla, Chair of Trustees of the Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall, Robin Thomas, Chief Executive of Morgen Thomas, Catherine Rustomji of Browne Jacobson LLP and Dan Fletcher, Director (Fundraising) of Moore Kingston Smith Fundraising & Management. The panel discuss fundraising and sustainability – how can your charity become a more resilient organisation post pandemic.

Watch the webinar on our website.

This recording is the fifth webinar in a series brought to you by Moore Kingston Smith, Quilter Cheviot and Browne Jacobson.

GBSLEP Board Director, Anita Bhalla reflects on the region’s creative economy

My glass is always half full and despite the extraordinary times we find ourselves in, it remains so but now it needs topping up.  We all know too well that times are hard, but they have the potential to get even harder before getting better. This region has a fighting spirit, my parents came here as immigrants decades ago, times were tough, but their spirit, determination and hard work built a future for us. That same spirit in in abundance here and now.

In recent years we have invested in our creative economy, watched it grow, given it a regional and national voice to see it rise as one of the key areas of growth for the GBSLEP. Are we really going to give all this up without a fight?  I think not.

Last week artists, musicians and creative sector leaders gave a stark warning that the UK is in danger of becoming a cultural wasteland because of the economic damage done to the sector by Covid-19. The Creative Industries Federation is calling on the Chancellor and Culture Secretary to allocate urgent funding for creative organisations and professionals who are in danger of collapse. They point out that throughout this crisis artists have not stopped producing content online, so people’s lives continue to be enriched by cultural experiences. Arts Council England is going some way to support the organisations it already funds; while this is welcomed it is not enough. We know in our region that our creative economy is made up of freelancers and SMEs who are falling through the funding gaps.

While funding is crucial to getting the creative economy up and running again this is not enough. The coming months will require strong leadership –without barriers and boundaries. Never before have we needed collaboration and partnerships to go that extra mile – what great examples past weeks have shown us from health, care, retail, public services and community organisations. We applaud you all.

Going forward our creative economy must grow but goodwill is not going to be enough.  We need cross sector partnerships thinking outside the box, grabbing new opportunities the current landscape presents us. Emerging from this should be collaborative leadership, which also requires joint responsibility.

Strong partnerships are not accidental, and they do not arise out of goodwill or ad hoc projects – effective partnerships require new structures and activities, each institution re-thinking how it operates. It will require all our imagination and collaboration to build the confidence in our people to once again embrace our town and city streets, our amazing cultural venues, our bars and restaurants – to have the confidence again to walk and grow with pride.

Originally posted on GBSLEP

How the Creative sector brings benefits to everyone in the West Midlands

While the TV phenomenon starring the Shelby family has thrust Birmingham and the West Midlands into the global televisual spotlight over the last few years, the region’s creative industries have become one of Greater Birmingham and Solihull’s biggest success stories.

Creative thinking can spark our imagination when it comes to solving new challenges across different industries, while it also has a key role in helping meet the challenges our communities face every day. Mental health, physical wellbeing, education and community cohesion often benefit by embracing artistic, cultural and creative attitudes.

The huge impact the industry already has on the region combined with its exciting potential for further growth and collaboration with other sectors has made it one of GBSLEP’s key focuses, and something we will endeavour to support.

Almost 50,000 people across the nine local authority areas in the GBSLEP region are creatives, amounting to 5.6 per cent of the total workforce. The industry also generates £4.1 billion in GVA, almost nine per cent of the area’s total.

And while the statistics for our region’s creative and cultural offering are impressive enough, the sector provides additional intangible benefits, with the intrinsic value of creative thinking and expression encouraging innovation and collaboration in all walks of life and work.

We understand how important it is to continue to support our cultural offering in the region and we have therefore launched our Cultural Capacity Fund. Offered to cultural or creative organisations within the nine local authority areas in which we operate, it offers non-repayable grants of between £2,000 and £10,000.

The fund is designed to enable cultural organisations to move to the next level and undertake strategic planning, cultural collaboration, growth and profile raising, alongside bidding for funding and we are looking forward to announcing the successful applicants who will receive this fund in the coming weeks.

GBSLEP is working alongside neighbouring LEPs, from across the region and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to deliver a £1.3 million Creative Scale-Up Programme, a two-year scheme funded by central government with the aim of supporting up to 200 creative businesses across the region which have strong potential to grow.

A pilot with Film Birmingham has also been launched, with the aim of increasing film and TV production spend in the region from £11 million to £16.5 million per year. The additional support will improve the range and quality of its location services to film producers, increase promotional activities and target high profile productions including international streaming heavyweights such as Amazon, Netflix and Apple.

With events including the Commonwealth Games in 2022 on the horizon, and 5G technology unlocking new opportunities for content creators to work in different ways and produce ground-breaking productions, it is projected that there is potential to see the sector grow by up to 4,000 new businesses, creating 30,000 new jobs.

With a highly diverse talent pool and one of the youngest populations compared to major cities across Europe on the doorstep, businesses working in the industry have huge advantages when looking to expand their operations and produce world class work, whether it is in advertising, marketing, design, gaming, fashion, or film and performance.

The region’s creative network has been making huge strides in the last few years, and has endless potential to continue to put the region on the map as a forward-thinking, talent rich creative hub.

Posted on the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership website.

Making Responsible Leadership Everyone’s Business

Since the launch of the leadership report from the University of Birmingham, several groups and initiatives have sprung up to take forward the recommendations. Here is one such initiatives organised by Professor Kiran Trehan from the University of Birmingham calling for action not words. The only way we will shift the dial towards more diversity in leadership is through sustained action which is monitored and retuned to meet the needs of our changing demographics.

Making power look more like the people

Written by Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

How long will it be before power in Britain resembles the society that it serves? Achieving that should be an important fairness test for our increasingly diverse society. That was the prime minister’s thinking in commissioning the race disparity audit last Autumn, with a commitment to tackling “burning injustices” on race and opportunity, offering a snapshot of the scale of the challenge. National government will need to strengthen its leadership role to sustain momentum on addressing race inequalities, as a new select committee report from the Women’s and Equalities Committee notes today.

But not all of the changes that we need can be driven by Westminster and Whitehall.  It is just over a year since Andy Street was elected as Mayor of the West Midlands, one of six new metro-mayors elected last year. Today, he publishes the report of the West Midlands Leadership Commission, showing how new regional devolved institutions can try to drive this agenda forward too. The commission looked at all groups under-represented in leadership roles in the region — including the role of gender, social class, race and sexuality.

The initiative reflects the particular urgency in the West Midlands to unlock the leadership of the future.

The West Midlands is a young region. Birmingham has a good claim to be, demographically, the youngest city in Europe, with a median age of 36, four years below the national average. It is perhaps the place in Britain where it will matter most to show we can make our diversity work in a way that is fair to all.

The evidence gathered for the Commission shows a mixed picture of where we are now. The NHS in the West Midlands has an especially good record on women in leadership roles, for example. But there are stark gaps. In the thousand largest West Midlands companies, over half (56 per cent) have all-male boards, while two of the thousand have all female boards.

I was a member of the Commission, chaired by Anita Bhalla, alongside leaders from the West Midlands in business, education and the public sector. Their challenge was to identify what would need to change for them to shift from being an exception to reflecting a growing norm. One member, chief superintendent Bas Javid, saw his rise up the police ranks take on a much higher profile when his experiences became central to the speech his brother, the new Home Secretary, made to the Police Federation conference.

The Commission’s priority is to see the evidence used to create a sustained programme of practical interventions in the public, private and third sector in the West Midlands. Yet there are important lessons from the exercise that should be relevant for action in national policy and in other regions.

First, having an evidence base really matters but there are still some important gaps which make it harder to explore whether and why barriers exist. There is much patchier data, for example, on sexuality than on gender and ethnicity. On social class too, effort is needed to quantify class and to collate relevant data on a consistent basis. There is a strong argument that the best way out of a “competing grievances” frame is to look coherently across class, gender, race and other issues.

National government could also do more to ensure that national data reports the granular information — especially on geography, age and gender — that would enable localised strategies and competition across regions.

Second, the evidence is only useful if there are sustained plans to act on it.

At a national level, today’s select committee report rightly warns that the government is too hands-off, leaving the requirement to “explain or challenge” racial disparities almost entirely to individual government departments. Without a drive from the centre, the likely result is that action will come mainly from departments that would have acted anyway, such as education, missing the opportunity to get departments such as Transport to think seriously about disparities for the first time.

In the West Midlands, the Commissioners are clear that what will really matter is organisational and cultural change and ownership of that from the top. A key finding is that there are many initiatives from large firms, but very little evaluation of which interventions succeed or fail and why, to inform sustained strategies across key sectors.

The West Midlands will want to seize the opportunity to lead this debate. It is often felt that the West Midlands does not quite get its fair share of voice in our national conversations – caught between the self-centredness of the capital and the swagger of Manchester.  Yet the region has plenty of opportunities – with Coventry as the next city of culture and Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022 – to project its new story to the world.

A key challenge becomes how to ensure that this outward-facing story is owned by the people of the West Midlands themselves. An aspirational vision for what the region would like to be, at its best, will be much more powerful if it is linked to a sustained effort to catalyse the changes that could enable the next generation to realise its potential. If Britain’s youngest region can lead the way, that could also help to shape a national story that links the vision for a fair and inclusive society with action to make it happen.

Taken from Capx’s website

Building to the beat of a new foyer

Town Hall Symphony Hall is delighted to announce the appointment of Page \ Park Architects as Multi-Disciplinary Design Team lead for a proposed £12-million foyer development, opening the building onto a regenerated Centenary Square and reinforcing Symphony Hall’s place in Birmingham city life.

Widely considered one of the finest Concert Halls in the world, Symphony Hall sits in the bustling heart of Birmingham City Centre and as well as being home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra also hosts the best in jazz, world music, folk, rock, pop and stand-up comedy. Last year alone saw performances from Sir Van MorrisonTony BennettKraftwerkRobert Plant CBE and Idina Menzel.

Nick Reed, Chief Executive Officer for Town Hall Symphony Hall said:

This project will finally give Symphony Hall the foyers and public spaces to match its world class auditorium. Boasting a much improved audience experience and a dedicated entrance, this permeable space will be energised with new artistic adventures, creating a sustainable future for Symphony Hall, and developing an audience that looks like the city it serves: young, diverse and creative. Page \ Park have presented some inspiring ideas on how the building can help achieve our objectives and we look forward to now working with them to develop the detailed design. We are very grateful for the early encouragement offered by both the GBSLEP Local Growth Fund and the Arts Council of England and we are now preparing final funding bids with both bodies.

Nick Reed

Along with Town Hall, Symphony Hall plays an important role in the life of the region – connecting over 15,000 young people and adults to a world of music and performance through education, community and talent development projects – and is regularly used for community events, graduation ceremonies and conferences.

Page \ Park Architects are delighted to be appointed to work with Performances Birmingham Ltd. on the extension of the foyers to the Birmingham Symphony Hall.

David Page, Head of Architecture said:

Birmingham’s Centenary Square is being transformed into a remarkable heart of the city with its assembly of important civic cultural buildings. The new Symphony Hall frontage will provide a multi levelled balcony to that new setting and Page \ Park are delighted to be able to shape that contribution.

David Page

The project is conditionally supported through the Local Growth Fund by the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.

Roger Mendonca, Director, Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), said:

For more than 25 years, the Symphony Hall has been a major draw for Greater Birmingham and Solihull, entertaining audiences in one of the finest concert auditoriums in the world. GBSLEP’s contribution to the Symphony Hall is part of our commitment to sustaining the region’s cultural and tourism offer, coming hot on the heels of Birmingham’s 2022 Commonwealth Games prize and nearby Coventry’s 2021 City of Culture win. By supporting the venue’s extension, we are ensuring that the Symphony Hall transforms its commercial offer, generates new jobs and enhances the experience of its many visitors.

Roger Mendonca