Levelling up through culture and heritage

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Although conceived years before the phrase became a central part of government policy, the achieved outcomes of Pioneering Places provide evidence of what Levelling Up might look like in practice, with the right focus, partners and ambition. 

With all four of the project locations based in local authorities identified as priority one areas in the Levelling Up Prospectus and specific sites such as the Folkestone gasworks and Ramsgate’s East Cliff in the top 10% most deprived wards in the country, there is a clear need to find new, innovative and creative ways to address the issues of our left-behind towns and smaller cities. 

This is exactly what Pioneering Places delivered, by leveraging the existing cultural infrastructure and expertise of East Kent’s leading arts organisations and targeting activity on disused heritage sites that had hitherto been unloved, unseen or unappreciated. 

Working closely with their host local authorities, communities, local creatives, artists and businesses, outcomes included: 

  • Greatly enhanced civic pride across all four sites, including three ‘left behind’ coastal towns
  • Communities developing stronger cohesion and a greater appreciation and understanding of their own localities
  • Local authority purchase of a disused brownfield site, abandoned for 18 years, for immediate development
  • More than 280 local businesses, artists, creatives and freelancers involved in the project supply chain
  • Disused heritage sites unlocked for use as new commercial venues, creative spaces, visitor sites and community spaces with an estimated development value in excess of £39m

“Investment in cultural assets can rejuvenate places, leading to positive economic and social outcomes at a local level … culture and heritage are things that up and down the country bring people together and strengthen communities.”

Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (formerly MHCLG)
Levelling Up Prospectus, March 2021

Pioneering Places outcomes

Pioneering Places outcomes


Brownfield site, abandoned for 18 years, reclaimed by local community and purchased by local council

Having first put a spotlight on the disused brownfield site of a former gasworks in Folkestone with the installation of a Triennial artwork in 2014, Creative Folkestone continued to champion the site through Pioneering Places, empowering the local community to take back control and say what the site meant to them. 

  • Continued activity and community engagement brought the site to the attention of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, who purchased the site for development in early 2021
  • The local council issued a call for proposals (CFP) to developers, with an estimated development value of £18m, for mixed-use development of the site “with a strong focus on design, sustainability and art in public spaces”
  • The Call for Proposals specifies the council’s intention for developers to continue working in partnership with Creative Folkestone and the local community to create a flagship model of urban redevelopment that benefits the local community for many years to come
  • Three new public artworks commissioned and installed as part of the Creative Folkestone Triennial 2021, fully opening the site to the public for the first time in decades and attracting over 17,500 visitors in less than eight weeks.


Developing a new learning centre and revitalising Canterbury as a visitor destination

Levelling Up Canterbury
The Marlowe’s interactive exhibition, Kent’s Remarkable Writers

The project gave The Marlowe the vital opportunity to trial and pilot new ways to develop The Kit building in Canterbury into a space for the community and young people.   

  • Learnings from what was achieved are now informing ambitions to transform The Kit into an innovative Learning Centre for young people and a new free to access heritage destination in the city.
  • The project has empowered young people to imagine the future of the building, influence the design, working with heritage professionals and architects and develop their advocacy skills, creating a powerful sense of ownership.
  • A wide-ranging programme of consultation has taken place with the local community on the future of The Kit, including an Open Day led by the young people who took part in the project.
    The creation of the Marlowe Learning Centre will see new investment in Canterbury
  • Further major development of the building, including the full restoration of the Great Hall and Chapel, forms a key part of the city’s bid to the Levelling Up Fund 2022, which will revitalise the city as a visitor destination.
    The project allowed The Marlowe to create new relationships and partnerships, particularly with the education sector and local government.


Financially sustainable, vibrant place for learning, events, local and visitor communities

Charles Holland Architects’ “Big Drawing” incorporates views and ideas for Fort Burgoyne from local schools and community groups

Whilst Fort Burgoyne’s architectural value is recognised through its status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Pioneering Places highlighted that the site has considerable value to help build local pride in Dover and create a space for both individuals and communities to enjoy. 

  • Increased community awareness of the site and strong desire to see regeneration.
  • 94% of participants surveyed following the large-scale Waking the Giant event strongly agreed that Fort Burgoyne makes Dover special and 100% agreed or strongly agreed that “it is important to save the Fort Burgoyne building and give it a new lease of life”
  • Proof of concept developed, demonstrating that heritage arts, crafts and creative uses could work in the space and that young people’s imagination can be captured through digital technology
  • New public artwork developed at the Fort’s West Wing, welcoming new community in neighbouring Homes England Connaught Barracks development to this new community space
  • Building on its heritage, The Land Trust will work with partners to conserve and seek to maximise delivery of Trust Charitable Objectives through transforming Fort Burgoyne into a financially sustainable, vibrant place for learning, events, business, the arts, and local and visitor communities
  • Evidence for local plan representation to Dover District Council relating to Fort Burgoyne together with helping to inform discussions with partners on planning matters


Beacons of child-led placemaking, civic pride and prosperity

Beacons, Conrad Shawcross (2021), Ramsgate
Ramsgate “Beacons”, Conrad Shawcross (2021)

Adjacent to a neglected Grade II listed bandstand, the Conrad Shawcross artwork, Beacons, will draw new visitors, footfall and attention to Ramsgate’s East Cliff – rich in heritage as a once popular coastal retreat for notable Victorians including Queen Victoria herself but now one of the top 10% most deprived wards in the country.

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