How culture can inspire Sheffield’s recovery – Dame Julie Kenny

SO many lives have been turned upside down by Covid-19. Beyond the heart-wrenching scenes we have seen in hospitals and care homes, communities have been left reeling by the impacts of the worst economic downturn in 300 years.

Culture is integral to Sheffield's recovery, a new blueprint says.

The culture sector has felt this more than most. Researchers from the University of Sheffield have identified that last year, in only a matter of months, Sheffield saw a drop of over two million visitors.

Many freelancers and small venues saw their collective income plummet by over £11m. Those simple figures mask the tremendous impact that fall has had on livelihoods, businesses and communities.

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As the vaccination programme is rolled out, our focus must be on building back a more productive and equitable economy that heals the scars left by the pandemic.

Dame Julie Kenny CBE is chair of Sheffield Culture Collective and Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust.

Sheffield Culture Collective has focused on how to shape that recovery. Drawing together representatives from the public, private, voluntary and cultural sectors we have developed a long-term plan that will put culture at the heart of Sheffield’s future strategic development.

Our strategy sets out a bold vision and ambitious action plan to ensure every individual and community in the city can thrive through culture and creativity. Creative activity shapes where we live, brings people together and empowers communities to address the challenges they face.

We need to address the assumption that culture is for the few not the many. Culture is not just about art and performers. Culture is about how we all live. Culture improves our quality of life, wellbeing and sense of place. Culture drives our economy.

Recent surveying found that 57 per cent of people in the UK think that taking place in cultural activity improves their sense of wellbeing. People who participate in the arts are 38 per cent more likely to report good health. In short, happy and healthier staff means a more successful economy.

Culture is said to be integral to Sheffield's recovery according to a new report.

Strengthening the link between culture, the economy and addressing inequalities must start in schools. Students from low-income families who engage in the arts at school are three times more likely to get a degree, twice as likely to volunteer and 20 per cent more likely to vote.

Addressing the skills challenge we face in our region and driving up aspiration in our communities requires investment in culture. For too long Sheffield has fallen behind other UK cities which benefit from higher levels of investment in arts and culture. For every person in Sheffield, the city received £9.50 in funding for culture. That compares to £48 in Manchester and £34 in Leeds. That reality is what underpins the Sheffield Culture Collective’s work. We need to reverse that trend. Funding for culture needs to be levelled up in Sheffield.

That reversal begins with the publication of the Culture Collective’s strategy that focuses on delivering the first of four capital projects that will be the city’s cultural crown jewels for decades to come.

S1 Artspace at the globally renowned Park Hill Estate will be a new national flagship for arts, culture and heritage at the largest listed structure in Europe. The Graves Gallery and Central Library, first opened in 1934, has the potential to be recognised as one of the UK’s leading art museums.

Harmony Works, a partnership of education and music organisations, led by Sheffield City Council, delivering music education to 176 schools and 74,000 children across Sheffield and the City Region, will be a permanent home for music education in the city.

Finally, but with no less potential, the Tinsley Art Project will be a public art trail inspired by Sheffield’s rich cultural heritage. Collectively these projects have the potential to begin to transform Sheffield’s cultural offering, make culture accessible to a new audience and support the economic recovery of our city.

We must also help local cultural organisations secure national funding. Despite the awful impacts of the pandemic, we have every opportunity to come out of this situation stronger.

Culture may not be the obvious priority of those thinking about levelling up and building back better but culture needs to be front and centre in what happens next. Sheffield Culture Collective knows this to be the case and it is supported by many academic reports.

Investing in culture is the shot in the arm that our communities and the economy needs. Sheffield Culture Collective’s strategy provides a blueprint to put culture and creativity at the heart of our city’s development.

Dame Julie Kenny CBE is chair of Sheffield Culture Collective and Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust.

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