Arts Council England
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Three-quarters of cultural buildings are located at the centre of local communities within a 5-minute walk of a high street

Arts Council England has today, Tuesday 15 September, published two new pieces of research that show the value of cultural organisations to our high streets, signalling the important role these spaces will play in reanimating local economies as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first of these publications is a data report analysing experimental high street data by Ordnance Survey (OS) and a survey of Arts Council funded cultural infrastructure across England, which shows that cultural buildings are located at the heart of our high streets:

  • Culture has a strong presence on high streets – 75% of buildings used by Arts Council funded organisations are either on or within a 5-minute walk of a high street
  • Culture helps support local economies by creating jobs – over 300 cultural venues and buildings are located in unemployment hotspots.
  • Cultural venues provide additional amenities for the public – nearly a quarter of cultural organisations have a café, bar or bookshop (or a combination of all three) onsite.

Alongside this research, another report commissioned by Arts Council England points to a growing body of evidence that demonstrates culture’s role in revitalising the high street by promoting social cohesion and supporting local economies in towns, cities and villages up and down the country, the Arts and Place Shaping: Evidence Review indicates that culture:

  • Supports community cohesion – cultural organisations can help build civic pride and create an increased sense of belonging in communities.
  • Increases footfall – libraries, theatres or museums can play a key role in hosting events and offering unique experiences that attract visitors to high streets.
  • Helps repurpose vacant buildings – arts and cultural organisations are helping fill the gap left by retailers as they move away from high streets, repurposing vacant properties left by retailers into cultural spaces.
  • Creates good jobs – culture-led regeneration and investment can drive local economic growth and help create employment.

(See notes to editor for a series of case studies from the Arts and Place Shaping: Evidence Review)

Dr Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England said: “An investment in culture is an investment in our high streets. Theatres, music venues, museums and libraries are the beating hearts of their communities. They’re central to the social fabric and civic pride of towns across England. As well as events and performances for audiences of all ages, they provide a raft of local amenities from bars to bookshops, helping to bring our high streets alive, providing jobs and boosting the economy.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “These reports prove what we already know to be true, that culture is at the heart of our towns and cities. It creates jobs and makes our local communities across the country better places to live, work and visit. That is why we are here for culture and investing an unprecedented £1.57 billion to ensure that these important institutions – both big and small – will be able to weather the storm of the coronavirus so the public can continue to enjoy them for years to come.”

Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor, said: “As we begin our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, it will be vital to protect and rebuild public spaces and encourage people to get back out to responsibly support our local businesses, town centres and creative industries. The work of Empty Shop, the Northern School of Art and Hartlepool Borough Council shows how the region is thinking creatively to support culture by bringing art to local people, backing our high streets and making the Tees Valley an even better place. Innovative projects such as this will boost consumer confidence and, ultimately, safeguard and grow jobs and the economy.”

The Arts Council is also supporting a four year country-wide cultural programme through the High Streets Heritage Action Zones scheme. The programme – run by Historic England, in partnership with National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England – is inviting artists, creatives and cultural organisations to help transform high streets and help people feel proud of where they live.

The programme funds local cultural consortia on each high street to programme their own cultural activities across the four years and a series of national commissions, run by Historic England, that celebrate the high street and its role in our lives. Details on the cultural programme will be announced later this week by Historic England.

Notes to editors

Download the Arts Council funded cultural infrastructure data report here.

Download the Arts and Place Shaping: Evidence Review here.

Case studies from the Wavehill Report:

  • Since 2016, the Manchester Business Improvement District delivered four consecutive Halloween in the City celebrations. Headlining 2018’s event were seven inflatable giant monsters, created by artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas, which took over the city’s rooftops and landmark buildings. Halloween in the City has helped to increase footfall by 15%, equating to an additional 30,000 visitors, and has also increased sales by 27% across the period and is now a fixture on the city’s civic event calendar.
  • As part of the Tees Valley Great Places programme, supported by the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority, the non-profit arts organisation Empty Shop undertook a residency in Hartlepool’s historic Church Street at the start of 2019. Working in partnership with Hartlepool Borough Council, Northern School of Art and Church Street Heritage Townscape project, the artists Nick Malyan and Carlo Viglianisi took over the former electrical goods shop (which had been vacant for 18 months). They launched a creative talking shop, a drop-in space to share ideas, tell stories and connect with creative people in Hartlepool, as well as establishing artists’ residencies, exhibitions and collaborations with the Northern Festival of Illustration.
  • Transported is a Creative People and Places (CPP) programmes funded by Arts Council England, covering Boston and South Holland in the Fens in South Lincolnshire, which aims engage people with high quality art but also to reach beyond arts participation to create social impact. Evaluation of the programme in 2016 highlighted Transported had orchestrated 900 events and 73,000 visits. It has enabled local people to develop new skills, supported everyday wellbeing and, through the provision of more social opportunities and bringing a new sense of local through art, built a greater sense of place and community.
  • FabLab Devon, an open access, not-for-profit, community resource, is based in Exeter Library alongside the Exeter Business and Intellectual Property (IP) Centre. Both support enterprise, entrepreneurship, and skills development. The FabLab is part of a national network of maker-spaces, providing access to new fabrication technology. FabLab Devon was the first FabLab in a UK public library (with a second FabLab opening in Barnstaple Library in 2018) and is aimed at anyone interested in crafts, engineering, and product design.

Arts Council England is the national development agency for creativity and culture. We have set out our strategic vision in Let’s Create that by 2030 we want England to be a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone of us has access to a remarkable range of high quality cultural experiences. We invest public money from Government and The National Lottery to help support the sector and to deliver this vision.

Following the Covid-19 crisis, the Arts Council developed a £160 million Emergency Response Package, with nearly 90% coming from the National Lottery, for organisations and individuals needing support. We are also one of the bodies administering the Government’s unprecedented £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Funds. Find out more at

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