Reflections on the Commission on Culture and Local Government

Following the publication of the Commission on Culture and Local Government’s final report, Cornerstones of Culture, Veda Harrison, Esmée’s Director of Creative, Confident Communities and A Fairer Future, shares her reflections.

Earlier this year, I was invited by the Local Government Association to act as a commissioner examining the role culture plays in the UK’s future prosperity and wellbeing. As the (then) new Director of Creative, Confident Communities and A Fairer Future, it presented a great opportunity to collaborate with colleagues across the creative and cultural sector and funding landscape on key issues that impact communities and culture in a place. For Esmée’s work, it was also an exciting opportunity that could help inform one of our three main aims: Creative, Confident Communities.

Esmée’s support for creative, confident communities

At Esmée, we believe local people should be at the heart of change in a place. And through our work, we understand the role of culture and creativity in releasing potential, strengthening community relationships, and bringing people together. For instance, we launched three place-led pilots with Participatory City, Plymouth Octopus Project and Every One, Every Day, which helped to shape our strategy for Creative, Confident Communities. We shared what we’ve learned from five years of place-led funding in an Insights report.

We’ve also collaborated with other funders on place-led initiative including LocalMotion and Creative Civic Change. Creativity and culture consistently plays an important role in how Esmée has supported creative and cultural organisations, recognising their pivotal place in responding to local needs, empowering communities, and catalysing change for residents and businesses.

Findings from the Commission on Culture and Local Government

Chaired by Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, I and the other fifteen commissioners have spent the past 9 months hearing and reading evidence from a range of cultural organisations. With 18 organisations giving oral evidence, over 80 organisations involved in wider focus groups and interviews, and over 50 case studies received as oral evidence – the Commission was wide-ranging and led by the voices of those from the sector.

While communities and local authorities continue to recover from the pandemic and cope with financial challenges made worse by the cost-of-living crisis alongside ongoing and new austerity measures, the Commission concluded that culture was even more important than ever in helping to tackle the personal, social, health and economic impacts of national and global decisions. Despite the challenging forecast, it is important to take an asset-based approach to the value of art and culture - building civic pride and resilient places, addressing social mobility and skills inequity, tackling health inequality and contributing to the national economic recovery.

With an additional £1.23 turnover to every £1 invested in arts and culture, the case is clear for continued support for arts and culture in our places and communities.

The critical role local authorities play in this was demonstrated the day after the report launch; I visited Tramshed (formerly GLYPT) in Woolwich, South East London, who we’ve supported for a number of years. They held a ‘homecoming’ event for their newly refurbished building which was paid for by the Royal Borough of Greenwich as part of a larger leisure and culture development in the town centre.

Regularly funded by Greenwich, Tramshed work in partnership with communities across the borough and provide a range of cultural and community activities: a Muslim Nativity in 2022, music nights out for the ALD (Adults with Learning Differences and Disabilities) community and their carers, spaces for West Indian elders to connect at the Caribbean Forum, children’s arts festival, comedy nights with high profile and emerging comedians, and delivering work in partnership with the local CAHMS for young people with mental health challenges. It’s clear that the relationship between the local authority and Tramshed has proved to be important to the wellbeing and economy for communities in the borough.

Next steps

So, what next for the report and Commission? With over 70 recommendations there is much for local authorities, creative, cultural, civil society organisations, and businesses to digest and explore opportunities to collaborate and put in practice.

For trusts and foundations, the recommendation that local authorities can learn from our place-led approach to empowering communities to shape their places through art and culture is an important one. Whatever the outcome for the report, the opportunity to continue to highlight how culture and creativity are the driving force for a healthy society and economic prosperity is one we welcome.

More from the Commission on Culture and Local Government

Learn more


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