Culture and Place in Britain – a recent report from Key Cities and Arts Council England

February 21, 2023

“Culture…is something that Britain already does well. What’s not to like?” – Gordon Seabright

Culture and Place in Britain is a very welcome report from Key Cities (who represent 27 of the UK’s cities) and Arts Council England. You wouldn’t think that any more evidence was needed that art and culture create healthier and happier places for people to live and work, but the report is a valuable resource for anyone trying to persuade national or local government to make use of the way culture enriches lives.

A study of 27 cities inevitably illustrates how diverse the cultural make-up of Britain is, yet a number of unifying themes emerge. As a starting point, it remains necessary to point to the wealth of evidence for the wider benefits of culture for society, the economy, education and health & wellbeing. Surely only the most blinkered still regard art and culture as luxuries?

It follows that regeneration without the incorporation of culture is doomed to fail because there won’t be a sense of pride (or even interest) in the places people live. And that culture needs to be rooted in the needs and experiences of communities; in other words, bringing working artists and makers into the places where people live is far more meaningful than plonking down a sculpture and calling it culture-led regeneration.

Culture will create a million new jobs this decade. It is a massively important driver of growth. It requires partnerships, so it causes people and organisations to come together. It fits the devolution agenda, with local decision making clearly more likely to win local affection and participation. And it’s something that Britain already does well. What’s not to like?

The report looks at cities all over Britain, but the lessons apply equally well in London. Collaboration between public authorities, the private sector and the arts community is absolutely essential to gain benefits like inclusive growth in disadvantaged areas, new opportunities and ambitions for young people, and a sense of pride in the places where people live. Clusters of arts activity are key, to get up a head of steam, and they grow from microclusters of creative industries. A wealth of case studies from cities who are passionate about their culture – Portsmouth, Norwich, Coventry and so on – is hugely relevant to areas like London’s Creative Enterprise Zones, some of which have well established arts communities but other of which are putting creativity at the centre of building new places where people will want to live and work.

About the author

Gordon Seabright, Creative Land Trust

Gordon Seabright is Chief Executive of Creative Land Trust, a charity tackling the loss of creative workspace for artists and makers in the UK. Before that he led environmental charities for a decade, most recently as CEO of the Eden Project, following periods at the helm of the national cycling charity and the Royal Horticultural Society.

Along with extensive experience in philanthropic fundraising, Gordon secured private and public funding for the launch of Eden Geothermal Ltd.

Outside work he is a trustee of parkrun Global and a development charity operating in East Africa, and NED of a community orchard in Cornwall. Gordon holds an MBA from Henley Business School and is an Honorary Fellow of Exeter Business School.