Culture and creativity is a key component to building a cohesive community, and developing a thriving town with all the elements to attract people to live, work and play. Having recently attended the Creative Estuary Symposium and Kent Business Summit our Founder & Creative Director Tom Chown takes a look at the what’s happening across the South East and how creativity is helping society.
Published: January 2023
Earlier this month Creative Estuary held their inaugural Symposium in Gravesend, a whole day exploring the question of ‘Cultural Placemaking’. Supported by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, working with numerous public sector and cultural organisations, Creative Estuary was established in 2019 with a clear vision to strengthen creativity and economic growth across Essex & Kent.
We were treated to a keynote speech by Sadie Morgan OBE of dRMM Architects, who talked about the importance of planning for a robust transport infrastructure with a mixture of public, private and active travel for communities to access facilities with mixed cultural use.
It was Sadie Morgan’s architecture practice who re-designed Hastings’ fire ravaged Pier, through a charitable trust and a crowdfunding campaign, which I was happy to support many years ago. The pier was re-built and was awarded the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2017. Culturally it has led to a growth in events, attracting visitors to the town, boosting the economy and helping to put the seaside town on the map.
A panel of experts discussed how culture can be put at the heart of regeneration, acknowledging that culture is important to well-being. The question of whether cultural decision making could in the future be devolved to regional decision makers was discussed, and if the latest round of ‘Levelling up’ funds will make a positive difference.
The Symposium ended with a keynote from Adam Bryan, CEO of South East Local Enterprise Partnership (under which I sit on the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership Business Advisory Board), who also spoke at the Kent Business Summit. Adam shared how the creative and cultural industries capitalise on major projects and help shape the region.
CULTURAL PLANNING TOOLKIT
In partnership with Kent County Council, Creative Estuary have commissioned a new toolkit designed to offer a road map for organisations to fund, occupy and manage buildings and cultural facilities, due to be published in spring 2023. Compiled by TCPA and Urban Roots the toolkit will cover the critical components of valuing cultural visibility, the importance of a robust cultural strategy, having the right skills and partnerships in place to enable a development that embeds cultural infrastructure and wellbeing at the heart of an action plan. It’s key for planners to embrace cultural integration to economic town planning.
CASE STUDY: EBBSFLEET
How do you plan for culture with a blank canvas? This was the challenge facing the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, to build a new garden city in North Kent. Head of Strategy & Placemaking Kevin McGeough explained how so far 3,000 homes for 7,000 residents have been built, served by new primary schools and public buildings.
The corporation worked with AOC Architecture, whose Co-founder & Director Geoff Shearcroft explained the planning guidelines for such developments. He shared the design for the Alkerden Hub, a low carbon timber frame building incorporating a library, health and social care facilities. These combined facilities enable the broadest range of multi-purpose uses for the community, be it faith, social, cultural, arts etc.
It’s not just architects though, Laura Kavanagh from CIC Blueprint Arts, worked with residents of the new development and nearby Ebbsfleet town, to lead the creative exchange through community focused workshops to develop a stronger sense of identity for the garden city.
These learnings are now being shared with other new developments, both nationally and locally in nearby Folkestone’s proposed Otterpool Park.
LIVE, WORK & PLAY
How can the cultural and creative sector help economic development? This got me to thinking about the town we call home, Tunbridge Wells and how lucky we are to have culture so deep rooted in our community. Venues such as Trinity Theatre, The Forum, Assembly Hall Theatre and the recently opened Amelia Scott Cultural & Learning Hub (which I support as a Board Member of The Amelia Scott Cultural Trust) provide a rich tapestry of events, performances and music for all to enjoy.
In addition, there are also community events in public spaces organised by various third sector organistions such as Local & Live, Unfest, the Mela, Puppetry Festival, just to name a few, all of which help to attract local residents and visitors into the town centre.
Planning decisions need to be made with cultural placemaking in mind, to ensure we protect and strengthen our community’s cultural and creative spaces.