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Cara Pickering and Sarie Mairs Slee examine how place-based collaboration can support innovative, creative-led regeneration of our towns and cities.

Image of bridge across Tyne with Glasshouse International Centre for Music, Gateshead
The North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) includes Gateshead and Newcastle and is a member of the NP11

From supporting hyperlocal creativity, to driving national narratives and tackling global challenges, a collaborative approach to place regeneration is growing. As the UK moves towards greater regional and national devolution, the concept and potential of place has become more important.

Through the expansion of combined authorities, devolved powers are bringing more autonomy, more flexible resources and more focus to leaders in and across cities, regions and places. Our work evaluating place-based programmes shows culture is often at its most transformative where it connects people in a place, working as a catalyst for celebrating, animating and reimagining it. 

In a time of place and devolution, the potential for culture to connect leaders, sectors and communities is growing. But we can’t mention this potential without acknowledging the realities – and disparities – of local government funding and its impact on people and culture. 

Scarcity brings fear

In some parts of the country, funding for arts organisations is dropping low and fast. In others, combined authorities are making significant investment in creative freelancers, organisations and workforces to strengthen place-shaping work. 

For example, Birmingham City Council’s heart-breaking decision to cut all funding for the arts sits in counterpoint to Tees Valley Combined Authority’s decision to make the digital and creative industries the focus of its Investment Zone, building on long-standing investment in culture, the creative industries and the visitor/experience economy. 

Scarcity understandably brings fear, hesitation to experiment and resistance to change. It can prevent efforts reaching those who need it most. Investment sparks hope, hunger to innovate and focused work towards new or better models.

It can feel binary. Yet, new partnerships are springing up to develop local government’s potential to collaborate with cultural actors, driving place-based change with and for communities through culture. If culture is most transformative when it connects people, such partnerships give structure and guidance to make place-based change possible, even in these ‘impossible’, Hobson’s choice-defined times.

Collective hope

Innovative strides are being made in place-based, creative-led regeneration. There is collective hope. The Local Government Association's (LGA) publication, Cornerstones of Culture, December 2022, ignited a renewed focus on the evolving landscape of cultural devolution in the UK. 

Highlighting a blueprint for the future of cultural services, the report paved the way for innovative approaches to integrating culture into the fabric of local communities. In response to its recommendations, the National Alliance for Cultural Services has been established. It is tasked with transforming these insights into actionable strategies that reinforce the cultural sector's role in societal development and supporting local authorities to begin action.

This initiative builds on the foundational work of the AHRC Creative Communities programme, spearheaded by Professor Katy Shaw. The research examines “place-based, cross-sector R&D collaboration that brings together diverse partners with the shared objective to generate economic and social value through the delivery of new cultural activity”. 

This model represents a notable shift in how cultural projects are developed and implemented, creating an environment where diverse stakeholders come together for a common cause.

Partnerships bearing fruit

Further north, the NP11 - the business-led voice for the North that brings together 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships - and Northern Place and Culture Partnership have a deep and evolving role. The 2022 NP11 Place Strategy for the North positions culture alongside the creative and visitor economies, nature recovery, collaborating on health inequalities and inclusive growth to define place. 

The strength of this established partnership is bearing fruit, connecting with the RSA and Creative PEC’s Northern Creative Corridor initiative and featuring as a core focus at the recent 2024 Convention of the North

As a part of the UK with a strong and growing devolution, this partnership strengthens the potential for collaboration and innovation: in places, with people, working cross sectoral and geographic boundaries.  

Opportunities for collaborative action learning and research

At the start of this year, the Creative Industries Council launched a Place Forum. In partnership with them, we delivered the first online event for local and combined authority officers, place-based intermediaries, and other creative industry professionals interested in helping their local creative sector flourish. Hundreds joined.

At The Audience Agency, we have designed other initiatives that offer opportunities for collaborative action learning and research. The current Let’s Get Real programme is the first in a planned series. 

This one - Let’s Get Real: Using Digital to add Value - is an eight-month programme that focuses on the ways using digital can add value for cultural audiences, communities and organisations, supporting positive internal change and deepening engagement. These programmes are hybrid and are developed and delivered in partnership - this one with the Institute for Digital Culture at the University of Leicester. The 2024 cohort is underway.

We also support Audience Answers Networks nationwide to collaborate in an informed way – sharing insight, skills and resources among peers. Critically, we have seen how sharing audience data and trends can drive not just thinking but action, especially in terms of working as a collective to serve communities in a more joined up and resource-effective way.

People first 

In my new role as Head of Creative Places at The Audience Agency, I have a remit to support collaborative place-making. Place and culture matter profoundly because they are intertwined with identity, belonging and aspiration. Both can shape and share the narrative of our communities, define our stories, and influence the way we see the world.

Place is not just geography; it directly affects the way we feel. Culture is not just a performance; it reflects who we are. Together, culture and place provide the foundation on which our lives, our communities, and our future are built.

Place-based collaboration creates opportunities for a vibrant, sustainable landscape where innovative, creative-led approaches support the regeneration of every street, building and public space. To fully unlock this potential from grassroots initiatives to top-tier leadership, it must be inclusive. We must not be afraid to share our journeys to create better places: warts and all.

Cara Pickering is Head of Creative Places at The Audience Agency.
Sarie Mairs Slee is Executive Director of Here for Culture & Place and Associate Strategic Place Advisor at The Audience Agency. 


This article, sponsored and contributed by The Audience Agency, is part of a series sharing insights into the audiences for arts and culture.

Link to Author(s): 
Headshot of Cara Pickering
Headshot of Sarie Mairs Slee