Culture as a Driver for Change


This is the Opposition Business speech I made as opposition portfolio for Community Engagement and Safety


We need to make Northampton a destination, a place where people want to visit and then work and stay. Somewhere residents are proud to live, to bring up their families and enjoy what the town has to offer. Work on this is already happening and I applaud the efforts of the officers. What I want to do is to emphasise the value of the role culture and the arts have to play in this.

Northampton is rated in the bottom 10% of the country for prosperity, defined as the wealth and happiness of residents. For unemployment, child poverty and average salary. For education, for safety and security, based on how safe people feel walking in the streets and levels of theft and violent crime.

Some of the reasons for this are given as the absence of opportunity and sense of despondency among residents. People earn less and say they are struggling, and are more likely to have health problems or no qualifications.

Since the turn of the Century the performance of GCSE students has lagged behind the national average and some schools have fallen below the Government' floor' target of at least 40% of pupils leaving school with 5 good grades. 

These statistics are alarming. Is this how we see the Borough and why is Northampton perceived in these terms?

Let's take a good look at where we are. This is the County Town set in lovely countryside and with a wealth of history going back hundreds of years. Many great people and events are associated with the town. The town centre is packed with architectural gems, reflecting Northampton's past prosperity. Northampton is ideally situated in the country with M1 corridor and access to other major road networks, rail links north and south.

The town is famous for the manufacture of high quality shoes and boots and high performance motor engineering. Three successful sports clubs, a University soon to relocate to a new campus, an award -winning theatre and a national shoe museum along with Charles Rennie Mackintosh's only domestic interior outside Scotland,78 Derngate.. A new railway station, there are wonderful parks and open spaces and it is rated as the best place to start a small business.

When we talk about the value of arts and culture to society, we always start with its intrinsic value - how arts and culture can illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world - how music, art, dance, drama, and literature can speak to us.

However, we also understand that the arts and culture have a wider, more measurable impact on our economy, health and wellbeing, society and education. It's important we also recognise this impact to help people think of our arts and culture for what they are, - a strategic local resource.

Most local authorities have an informed understanding of the benefits of investment in arts and culture. How they drive a better quality of life and wellbeing. How they can promote tourism and stimulate the creative industries. How they are essential to education and overall they know that arts and culture can build an area's reputation, creating a unique sense of place.

Nationally, between 2012- 2013 the creative industries grew 9.9%-more than any other industrial sector, including financial services.  Art and culture contributed £7.7 billion to the economy. The arts and culture sector had a turnover of £15.1 billion an increase of 26%since 2010.

Let me quote George Osborne, not something I would usually do, 'One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport.'

The South East Midlands LEP wants to grow its local creative businesses. Small and medium businesses are the corporations of the future. Investment in education and training to produce creative rounded citizens who think for themselves is the start of a move towards a high skill/ high pay economy.

The Royal and Derngate Theatres are an award winning example of how arts and culture can stimulate the local economy. Over the last ten years, £40 million from tickets sold, £24.5 million employing staff from the local area. The local economic impact has totalled £213 million.

Not only are there great performances of drama, music and entertainment but a Creative Learning Programme for participants of all ages.

The University produces graduates in fashion, textiles, fine art, photography, film and media, as well as drama and music. I've heard it said many times that these talented, creative graduates must be encouraged to stay in Northampton. So they must be supported and offered opportunities to develop their skills and talents. The economic case is sound, and it is more apparent than ever with the creative industries growing faster than any other sector of the economy.

The development of the museums and art gallery is key to this. The Turner contemporary Gallery in Margate has transformed the attitude of locals to their town, and after attracting 1.5 million visitors in three years, is having an effect on the local economy.

The bang from the cultural buck looks at worst respectable and at best, in some cases, quite outstanding.

So, are there other benefits form a vibrant cultural offer?

Northampton is a town enriched by many cultures. Art and culture make life better, help to build diverse communities and improve our quality of life. The understanding of other cultures is greatly enhanced by enjoyment and participation in their dance, music, literature and customs leading to greater social and cultural cohesion. Participation in the arts can reduce social exclusion and isolation, and make communities feel safer and stronger.  The arts transcend barriers of language, race, age, nationality and disabilities.  The arts are truly inclusive.

There are great cultural activities and events happening out in our communities. Festivals, choirs, performances, classes, projects. Frequent engagement in art and culture contributes to better health and wellbeing and can have a positive impact on conditions like dementia and depression. It can reduce loneliness, and anxiety. Engagement in structured art and culture improves the cognitive abilities of children and young people. There is increasing incidence of mental health problems in young people and engagement in creative activities can help make sense of their world and their place in it.

Today the creative subjects are being squeezed out of the school curriculum. But drama helps literacy. Music activities improve achievements in maths, languages and literacy. Art promotes imaginative problem solving and critical thinking - essential for the 4th Industrial Revolution with automation and artificial intelligence.

 A creative education plays a huge part in the ambitions and aspirations of young people. Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree, than children from low-income families who do not.  A school population with qualifications, skills and aspirations can open doors to better paid jobs. The virtuous circle of wealth creation is set in motion.

With educational attainment in Northampton below the national average it is essential that our art galleries, museums and theatres offer the experiences which will enhance the learning and understanding for all our school pupils. With clear health and wellbeing benefits for all, our cultural activities should be truly inclusive and accessible to all in our communities, and for the talented arts graduates there needs to be a thriving local creative economy .

I would like to see the visitors to our theatres, museums and galleries reflect our multi-cultural communities and I believe that every child, not just the privileged few, should have a chance to enjoy the arts as part of growing up. And that means making, seeing and doing both within our schools and in our galleries, museums, theatres and communities.

 We need to make sure that the cultural offer in Northampton continues to be fully supported. Funding for museums and theatres is discretionary, not statutory. Since 2010, local authority investment nationally in arts and culture has declined by 17%.

One way or another, the arts have always been a business, but it's not all about money before anything else, it's about ambition and excellence.  A true arts based education and experience for all will make our society more democratic and inclusive. It will make Northampton a destination, a place where people want to visit and then work and stay.


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