Taunton Transformed Conference Update

Taunton Transformed Conference


the role of the arts and culture sponsored by ArtsTaunton

To launch the process of the Taunton Garden Town Cultural Strategy TDBC held a conference on 22 November at Hestercombe House, organised by Ann Jones, hosted by Tom Mayberry and supported by ArtsTaunton.

The audience of over 100, made up of artists, arts professionals and others from local government, community groups, environment and health, participated with energy in the Q&A’s and afternoon debate.

Below are the notes and advice taken from each speaker’s presentation, along with the ideas that flowed from the breakout sessions led by arts leaders.

“Old Town, New Town - a focus for creativity”   Marie Kirbyshaw, CEO

Luton Culture since 2015 has been instrumental in attracting £6m of new investment to develop three historic buildings and a new build at the heart of what was Luton’s hat industry district. Bringing creative people and business together, by 2022 Luton Creative plans to have created 133 new jobs and 25,000 sq ft of new creative workspace in the heart of the town. Before joining Luton Culture, Marie was Cultural Services Manager at Milton Keynes Council having spent six years as the Director of Milton Keynes Arts Centre during a £2m expansion. In her presentation she considered her differing experiences in Milton Keynes and Luton.

  • The creation of MK on the basis of a grid means navigating can be confusing. Deliberately built without a central place/focus and that has tended to be at odds with human expectations.
  • The Parks Trust at MK has been important in greening and MK is regarded as a ‘forest’. Neil Higson created a green cathedral based on the ground plan of Norwich Cathedral.
  • Art interventions have been fundamental to the developing character of the new town. Thomas Heatherwick Studio was appointed lead artist.
  • The interventions along the ‘spine’ have improved the navigability of the town.
  • The MK Rose in Campbell Park, commissioned from Gordon Young, provides a focus for people to commemorate special days for MK irrespective of beliefs or background.
  • “If somebody creates something incredibly ambitious, how can anyone not follow?” – Jude Kelly on Milton Keynes - it’s great to have a high profile champion
The Beacon, Luton. Mark Titchner

The Beacon, Luton 
Mark Titchner

The people of Luton wanted and needed a positive message.

  • Mark Titchner was commissioned to provide an illuminated work for the gable end wall of The Hat Factory Arts Centre. It has become a visible beacon and recognisable icon for Luton. It reads ‘If you can dream it, you must do it’.
  • Grab space and start doing stuff.
  • Investment has been levered to develop The Hat Factory, The Hat Works and Hat House.
  • The local LEP (SEMLEP) has been incredibly helpful and has made £3.9m available to Luton Culture Trust.
  • Luton Culture Trust has a turnover of £5.5m. It is an arts and cultural charity responsible for arts and cultural activity at Stockwood Discovery Centre, Wardown House Museum and Gallery and The Hat Factory Arts Centre. It also delivers library services and arts in the public realm. It receives funding from Luton Borough Council and London Luton Airport Ltd.
  • Use models that would allow market rents to subsidise art rents.
  • Make sure your vision is truly place-based. The vision should reflect local distinction/distinctiveness (take the word Taunton out to ensure the statement is distinct).
  • People will find money if you’ve got a big and persuasive vision.
  • Find ways of engaging with artists. They help you to see things differently.
  • Look at an area of activity that’s achievable, eg art interventions along the ‘spine’ in Milton Keynes, or four specific buildings in Luton.
  • Build momentum for staged improvements.
  • You have to assume that not everything is going to happen in the geographical centre of a place.
  • Percent-for-Art had been helpful in the past and levering significant funding

"Place Making with historic examples"

Brita von Schoenaich is Principal Partner at Bradley-Hole Schoenaich Landscape. 

Brita and her team have developed special expertise in urban vegetation strategies across a number of continents.

International commissions include the British Embassy grounds in Warsaw, roof terraces at Hamburg’s international conference centre and masterplan development for Khartoum’s International Airport.

Brita lectures and adjudicates at various UK universities. She has been running the landscape design course at Kew Gardens for over a decade and is a frequent speaker at international conferences.

In her presentation she referred to work undertaken in Winchester, Bristol, Cambridge, London sharing her experiences with us:

  • Visionary design guides are essential to creating a sense of place, but they are hugely difficult to implement because of commercial pressures.
  • Design guides are usually architecture-driven and fail to integrate green spaces and trees. They don’t enshrine green infrastructure. That’s what happened at Hengrove Park, Bristol, where the green spaces were not integrated into the architectural scheme and there was no strategy to look after them.
  • Local communities should be involved in creating design guides. 25% of CIL can be spent for the local wishes.
  • Navigation of spaces and surface design is incredibly important for accessibility.
  • Trumpington Meadows, Cambridge, had a brilliant design guide, but the problems began at the delivery stage.
  • Small green interventions, such as pocket parks, can be extremely effective.
  • Individuals should realise how important their contributions to public consultation exercises can be. Participation is usually low so a powerful argument counts.
  • Too much signage and too many cars are the usual blights of urban landscapes.
  • She referred to the ‘shockingly ugly car park’ proposed at Taunton Station and asked what would be its use in 10 years time when cars would be less predominant?
  • Planning for trees is incredibly complex and difficult.
  • Opportunities for tree planting are most easily realised on public land with no services.
  • Future-proofing a planting scheme is very important.
  • We need to be providing spaces for big trees and letting trees into our urban fabric.
  • Working with Land Trusts is important for long term care of green space.

It is hard work finding distinctiveness .....”the whole town is beautifully wooded...” Keats on Winchester

Live Music Now - Southmead Hospital, Bristol

Live Music Now - Southmead Hospital, Bristol

“Place, Wellbeing and Culture in Policy and Practice”

Alexandra Coulter has been director of Arts & Health South West since 2010 and working in arts and health since 1998. 

Arts & Health South West is a regional networking, advocacy and support organisation with over 2,000 members. It is the lead organisation for the new Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance – an Arts Council Sector Support Organisation launched this year. Alex provides the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing on behalf of the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance and she project-managed a two-year Inquiry into Arts, Health and Wellbeing. The inquiry report 'Creative Health' was launched in Parliament in July 2017.

Read the report >>

‘Creative Health’ has three key messages:

  1. The arts can help keep us well, aid our recovery and support longer lives better lived.
  2. The arts can help meet major challenges facing health and social care: aging, long-term conditions, loneliness and mental health.
  3. The arts can help save money in the health service and social care.

There is evidence on an unprecedented scale of the benefits that the arts contribute to health and wellbeing:

  • Green spaces have a powerful impact on wellbeing.
  • Anxiety, stress and depression are the main reasons for absence from work.
  • ‘If I can paint, I can cope’ (participant in Artlift, Gloucestershire)
  • A third of GP visits are around social isolation. Community capacity building and mobilisation in Frome and Croydon have had a very significant impact on reducing hospital admissions.
  • The Government recognises the need to address social isolation in its recently-published strategy paper HERE 
  • The creation of Health and Wellbeing boards was also a recognition of the health-related issues facing individuals and communities 
  • ‘Art for Life’ at Musgrove Park Hospital is one of the longest-established hospital-based arts programmes in the region.
  • People-powered grassroots projects also yield remarkable benefits for health and wellbeing.
  • It’s about valuing the whole person and addressing what it is to be human.
  • We need to develop a shared language between health and the arts.

“Art helps us access and express parts of ourselves that are often unavailable to other forms of human interaction. It flies below the radar, delivering nourishment for our soul and returning with stories from the unconscious. A world without art is an inhuman world. Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane. Art, like science and religion, helps us make meaning from our lives, and to make meaning is to make us feel better.” Grayson Perry

Commemorative art on the beaches

Murlough - Danny Boyle

“1418-NOW people, arts and heritage”

Nigel Hinds is Associate Director of Festivals and Events International.

Over the last few years he has been on assignment to 14-18 NOW as Executive Producer for the major cultural programme marking the centenary of the First World War. As a senior member of the LOCOG Culture team he worked on the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival. He was Executive Director of The Place, London, and Arts Programming Director of Sadler’s Wells, London. He is an expert in the performing arts with particular skills in venue and company management, creating artistic programmes and developing organisations.

14-18 NOW was divided into three seasons, respectively in 2014 (outbreak of the war in 1914),
2016 (Battle of the Somme in 1916) and 2018 (the Armistice in 1918).

It had three aims:
  1. To commission new artworks
  2. To engage with as broad a range of audiences as possible
  3. To engage with arts and heritage organisations across the UK.
  • The programme aimed to reached 10 million people, but in fact reached more than 30 million.
  • There was a focus on young people and those less likely to be touched by formal commemoration.
  • The demographic profile of those reached by the programme was much nearer the national average than is usual in the arts.
  • The importance of working in partnership was central as were healthy relationships with the cultural sector.
  • Partners brought their own strengths and their own audiences.
  • There were important issues of chemistry and culture in brokering partnerships, and a need for honesty. Would they get on?
  • Don’t try to do too much too soon in partnerships.
  • Trust the artist.
  • The programme in 2014 included the ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier’ (21,000 people wrote letters), the ‘Dazzle Ships’ series, and ‘Lights Out’ (16 million people participated).
  • The projects were nearly all led by artists.
  • The scale of public interest in 2014 was much bigger than had been anticipated, as was the scale of the opportunity. It was concluded that there was a need for greater focus, more ambition and smarter working with partners.
  • The programme in 2016 included ‘Dr Blighty’, ‘Fashion and Freedom’, and ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’, the latter based on the unannounced appearance of First World War Soldiers in public places. It was kept entirely secret before it happened and was very powerful. It was done in collaboration with the National Theatre and a web of 28 other theatres.
  • The programme concluded in 2018 with ‘Processions’ (a celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage), Peter Jackson’s film ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, and the very powerful and participative ‘Pages of the Sea’ project held on beaches around the country.
  • The programme overall  demonstrated the huge benefits of heritage and the contemporary arts working together.

Following on from Nigel Hind’s presentation the film Tipping Point was screened. Tipping Point (below) was made by Somerset Film and commissioned from Taunton Deane Borough Council with support from Arts Taunton, this short film presents Taunton’s cultural context and showcases some of our most talented young people ...

Breakout sessions followed led by Sam Astill, Carol Carey and Beccy Swain, Matt Cox, John Lee, Mark Heylar and Phil Shepherd.

These  explored two important questions presented below with the feedback received from the groups.

Q1 How can the arts underpin the delivery of the Taunton Garden Town vision?

  1. The ‘Vision’ needs more work in terms of clarity, wording and drawing out Taunton’s distinctiveness.
  2. As a Garden Town the environment must be central - start utilising the river and green spaces.
  3. Garden Town can be the umbrella for health, wellbeing and culture - a vision that individuals can buy
  4. TDBC could involve artists in making that vision (artists think outside the box and lift ideas above the
    mundane). The artistic community can help find the ‘identity’ and the spine of Taunton - make artists
    part of the decision making and visioning process.
  5. Artists can express that uniqueness. Programmes, projects and commissions can help branding and
    bring out the distinct, create animated physical space and focal points (public art).
  6. Find those specific identities (Kingston Black Apple; Trams; Silk Mills; Judge Jeffries; barges and industrial heritage; worsted mills; cricket, first electric street lamps, churches, Huish textile industry,
    involve all communities in development of heritage themes).
  7. Share the SWOT analysis for Taunton.
  8. We’re not starting from scratch, we must utlise the assets we already have, build on what’s happening and condense to grow. Use the spaces we already have but better and with more impact
    (Goodlands Gardens, French Weir, riverside, Victoria and Vivary Park/flower show). Arts Taunton’s role might be to create a directory of arts organisations.
  9. It’s important to acknowledge and credit the talent already here.
  10. There needs to be a provision of space for creatives - places to make and perform, regeneration of existing buildings, permanent hoardings for organisational graffitti.
  11. The Arts must be visible across the town and accessible to anybody: art should become part of everyday life and be a catalyst for engaging everybody; arts can stitch things together. Engagement
    with artists needs to be easy.
  12. The architecture must be right and a design code must be enforced - embed cultural ideas in design briefs.
  13. Create a strong context for the arts to celebrate the green environment and perhaps a town council to support the arts - this can draw art and artists to Taunton.
  14. Coalesce around/find funding for projects - what can we do easily and what can we do big? Set long term goals and quick wins - 2027 canal and river, affordable activities: socially engaged projects.
    TDBC can advocate and enable collaboration to create events - think bigger than Taunton!
  15. An action plan needs to be developed. 
  16. What will be the impact of the merging of the two councils and what can the arts bring to that?
  17. There needs to be greater connectivity across sectors - can ArtsTaunton support this?
  18. NPO’s should play a key role.

Q2. What kind of leadership and partnership relationships would enable the arts to take an active role in the delivery of Taunton's Garden Town vision?

  1. Include artists in decision making meetings (artists think outside the box and lift ideas above the mundane) - must have artists at the table.
  2. Artists should contribute across policy areas: housing (affordable, social housing for young eople, traffic/navigation systems, retail (empty shops), arts on prescription etc....
  3. Create decision making processes that are horizontal not top down and that include steering groups led by young people, who bring freshness of vision (drawn from colleges / schools).
  4. Needs a leader to facilitate and independent champion to drive forward the Big Idea together with the political will/leadership to work with artists and arts organisations.
  5. Enable communities to have their say, review the civic society, make information public. Would the creation of a town council help mitigate the potential of LG merger to slow things up?
  6. Set policy and stick to it (otherwise erodes local confidence) - adhere to professional advice.
  7. Consultation is vital.
  8. Identify funding to promote effective partnerships - could this be the role of Arts Taunton in finding funding and support partnerships through HNW individuals (Angels).
  9. Good communication necessary for partnerships use digital to communicate - as art - interconnect.
  10. TDBC facilitation/enablement would secure buildings and make the case with LEP and developers and help involve communities with CIL. Look at Luton and the mix of commercial elements to
    subsidise emerging creative practitioners.
  11. There needs to be a mix of local and national partnerships.

Next Steps

  • Taunton Garden Town Cultural Strategy outline approved.

    4 Jan 2019

  • Strategic Advisory Panel (cross sector) established

    26 Jan 2019

  • Arts Advisory Panel established

    26 Jan 2019

  • TDBC to identify Cllr ‘champions’

    26 Jan 2019

  • Channels established for regular information and consultation

    22 Feb 2019

  • TDBC to identify ways of involving artists in decision making panels

    22 Feb 2019

  • Strategy complete for consultation/feedback

    25 Oct 2019

Approved outline:

Taunton Garden Town Cultural Strategy will pave the way to developing a resilient cultural
infrastructure that can deliver a meaningful and sustainable cultural programme in line with the
Garden Town vision and objectives of this strategy. Our strategy will:

  • Give the context of why the plan is being written.
  • Define the urban catchment and its immediate hinterland.
  • Define “culture” for the purpose of the cultural strategy.
  • Outline the current state of creative and cultural provision across the Taunton Garden Town.
  • Reflect the needs of people who will live and work in Taunton Garden Town.
  • Consider the Town’s regional, national and international position and look to how this can be developed to increase Taunton Garden Town’s offer as a cultural destination.
  • Describe a clear vision for arts and culture in Taunton Garden Town for the coming 10 years.
  • Identify priority objectives resulting from this vision.
  • Identify how Taunton Garden Town will deliver this vision and its objectives in collaboration with necessary partners.
  • Identify key projects (short term, mid term and longer term) to take forward immediately assessing
    resources to ensure delivery.
  • Outline process of measuring success (KPI’s).

Report compiled by Ann Jones