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Great Places – Reading

The Great Place Scheme is a National Lottery-funded programme which responds to the government’s 2016 Culture White Paper. The Scheme aims to ensure that local investment in arts and culture has the greatest impact on local ecologies (the economy, jobs, education, community cohesion and health and wellbeing). Sixteen awards were made to Great Places across England. Faced with high levels of socio-economic deprivation and low levels of cultural activity, the awards – which ranged from £500k to £1.5 million – aimed to embed arts and culture into the heart of their communities.

The 16 Great Places are: Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council; Coventry City of Culture Trust; Craven District Council; Derbyshire County Council; Gloucester City Council; Great Yarmouth Borough Council; Greater Manchester Combined Authority; London Borough of Waltham Forest; Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation; Reading Borough Council; Rural Media Charity (Herefordshire); Sunderland Culture; Tees Valley Combined Authority; The Creative Foundation (East Kent); Torbay Economic Development Company Ltd; and Visit County Durham.

Guest Post: Lara Stavrinou introduces the Reading Great Place project

Reading Borough Council, Reading UK CIC and Reading University are jointly delivering ‘Reading, Place of Culture’ in order to put culture at the heart of planning for the future of the town. This programme aims to enhance Reading’s cultural offer, help drive economic growth and improve quality of life for people in Reading. This 3 year ‘Great Place Scheme’ is funded by a new and innovative collaboration between the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and Historic England and Reading is one of only 16 places in England selected to participate.  The aim is to make Reading a better place to live, work and visit, with a culture of collaboration across sectors, where caring for and engaging people is achieved in partnership between the public, private and voluntary sector.  

Reading, Place of Culture will enable arts, cultural and heritage organisations to make a step-change in how they work together, and with organisations in other sectors, so that they can collaboratively
contribute to meeting local social and economic objectives. In this regard, Reading as a place of “culture” is shorthand for the whole indivisible gamut of arts, culture and heritage, all intimately connected and related.

Reading, Place of Culture builds on Reading’s ‘Place-shaping’ 2050 Vision, in which culture plays a pivotal role. It embraces Reading’s multi-cultural demographic, its economic and business strengths
and its rich history. It is also fully aligned with Reading’s aspirational Culture and Heritage Strategy (developed through its Cultural Partnership).

Current cultural provision is accessed by many Reading residents, providing a range of health, educational and wellbeing benefits, as well as enriching lives. There is a need to ensure that the accessibility and quality of provision is enhanced, including ensuring that the needs of those who face barriers to access are addressed. Whilst generally prosperous, Reading is a place of marked extremes. There are pockets of deprivation, where patterns of inequality are complex and can lead to poor life outcomes. Culture has a role to play in addressing this and can do so in a multitude of ways, from community cohesion, to reduced social isolation, to improved employability and work place skills. The cultural and community sectors are already delivering some quality programmes, however, there is a need for greater partnership working and for a more robust articulation, monitoring and evaluation of outcomes. It is also essential that local communities are consulted and at the heart of decision making and the shaping of cultural offers.

Reading, Place of Culture has a focus on strategic partnership building across three core strands of work: with businesses; with a wider range of public services; and with local communities. There is also as drive to embed culture and heritage into economic development and business strategies. This will demonstrate the positive effects of culture in creating an environment that attracts and retains high skilled millennials and next generation z in the local workforce.

Year 1 of Reading, Place of Culture, is being delivered across three core strands:

  • Cultural Commissioning outreach programme for targeted communities – upskilling the cultural and community sectors to work together for social outcomes.

A new Cultural Commissioning programme is funding 3 programmes for £15,000 each per year. The successful projects work in cross-sector partnerships to engage marginalised or hard-to-reach
communities in arts, culture and/or heritage programmes for social outcomes. The year 2 priorities are: Mental health and wellbeing, elderly care and long term conditions, and short breaks provision for SEND (special educational needs and disability) young people. The Reading Cultural Commissioning programme aims to mainstream the commissioning of cultural activities for social outcomes. This will be done in two ways:

  • by making public service commissioners more aware of the potential for arts, culture and heritage organisations to deliver effective interventions around their priority outcomes
  • by enabling the arts, culture, heritage and voluntary sectors to better engage with public sector commissioning

Fit for purpose evaluation and monitoring tools will be developed to better evidence the value of culture in delivering social outcomes and a variety of best practice and networking events are on offer.
Other activities include smaller pilots (such as creative employment or mental health for young people), the formation of a community steering group, the creation of a new Ageing Well partnership.

  • Reading – on –Thames Festival – celebrating Reading’s unique identity and providing a platform of excellence for residents and visitors

Reading on Thames festival returned for a third year running on Thursday 26 to Sunday 29 September 2019 presenting new works from across the spectrum of performing arts, design, literature, moving image, visual arts and popular culture. The festival presents an engaging, participatory, multi sensory adventure for explorers of all ages. The programme responds to Reading’s unique environment and culture and brought together the rich tapestry of arts organisations, venues and outdoor sites across Reading to create exhilarating audience experiences and unexpected encounters, illuminating Reading as a city of parks and rivers and of culture and diversity.

  • Research and evaluation – developing best practice geared to the needs of Reading people

The University of Reading is co-producing a community-led research and evaluation programme with the Whitley Researchers to ensure that the needs of Reading’s diverse communities are central to Reading, Place of Culture. The Whitley Researchers are a participatory action research partnership between the Whitley Community Development Association, local residents and the University of Reading to engage and involve communities in conducting their own research. The team are piloting innovative ways of exploring local resident’s lived experiences of culture and heritage as well as understanding their views on health and wellbeing to inform the cultural commissioning/festival programmes and evaluation frameworks. A ‘Young Researchers’ team is also being developed at John Madejski Academy and other local schools. They will be creating visual methods and interactive community events to explore young people’s ideas around art, heritage and place. Community research is also an exercise in partnership and participation and the Whitley Researchers are working to enhance the sharing of knowledge and best practice across and beyond local communities, project partners and cultural/arts organisations in Reading.

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