Wigan joy as Arts Council pledges to target major funding at borough culture projects

Wigan’s dream of reinventing itself as a major cultural hub has been given a huge boost after being singled out in a three-year Arts Council masterplan.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 12:01 am
The Royal Court Theatre on King Street is undergoing refurbishment

The borough will be one of 54 "priority places" in the country where the funding body wants to “develop new opportunities for investment.”

With so many stores closing in recent years due to recession and the march of online retail, further compounded by a pandemic, Wigan Council and its partners have been eager to change the borough’s prospects in its main town centres by putting a greater emphasis on culture and hospitality.

Various projects have already caught the Arts Council’s eye, including the Old Courts, developments at Wigan Pier, the possibility of a new cultural use for Haigh Hall now it is no longer a hotel, successes at Leigh’s Turnpike Gallery, bringing back to life The Royal Court Theatre in King Street and the Fire Within displays at The Galleries.

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The Old Courts have been involved in numerous projects in the borough

During the pandemic Wigan has been awarded £2,219,062 investment from the Arts Council through the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

And now it is being targeted for special attention in the Arts Council delivery plan, it is hoped there will be plenty more money to come.

The plan, which forms part of the Government’s unprecedented £1.96bn Culture Recovery Fund, “recognises the need for cultural investment” in certain areas around the country including Wigan along with Kirkless, Barnsley and Blackpool in the North.

The Arts Council said Wigan’s new cultural strategy, The Fire Within, demonstrates “a significant ambition to maximise the benefits of culture and creativity to build upon the borough’s rich cultural history and sense of place. Although currently an area of low cultural engagement and investment, it is home to the Turnpike Gallery, The Old Courts, Wigan Pier, the Royal Court Theatre and Haigh Hall. It has the potential to continue the growth of the borough’s creative industries and increase opportunities for local communities to access a high-quality cultural offer.”

Artists Al and Al, who spearheaded the Fire Within displays at the Galleries, also want to speak to the public about future uses for Haigh Hall

Coun Chris Ready, portfolio holder for communities, public relations, corporate land, community assets and culture, said: “We are thrilled to be part of this new scheme from the Arts Council and welcome the new place-based approach.

“It is partnerships with the Arts Council, local organisations and communities that are key to us delivering on the ambitions of our Cultural Manifesto – The Fire Within. We look forward to working with the Arts Council to raise awareness of the vast cultural experiences available in Wigan and to develop new opportunities for investment.”

Council chief executive Alison Mckenzie-Folan said: “This is a really exciting opportunity for Wigan and I am thrilled the Arts Council has identified our Borough as one to work closely with to increase cultural investment.

“We have already laid out ambitious goals for enhancing Wigan’s cultural offering through our Cultural Manifesto, The Fire Within, and a partnership with the Arts Council is really valuable in helping us reach those goals.

“Cultural experiences connect people, improve health and wellbeing and encourage visitors to come to our town centres and learn about our heritage. We hope to make Wigan one of the most exciting places in the country for the arts and culture sector.”

Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, said: “Artists, arts organisations, museums and libraries have found creative new ways to serve their audiences and communities since the start of the pandemic. Our new Delivery Plan shows how we’ll work with them to build on that spirit of imagination and innovation as our society reopens.

“It’s particularly exciting to be focusing on our 54 priority places over the coming years, as part of the Arts Council’s commitment to play its part in delivering on the government’s programme of levelling up. We’re looking forward to nurturing dynamic new partnerships with local people and organisations in each of these locations.”

Jennifer Cleary, director, North, Arts Council England, said: “I am excited today to announce that Wigan is one of our 15 priority places across the North. The launch of our Delivery Plan, which sets out how we’ll implement our new 10-year strategy Let’s Create, and the announcement of our priority places will see us working closely with partners across Wigan to ensure that creativity and culture can play a key role in levelling up across the North.

“Public investment in the arts is vital and never more so than as we emerge from the pandemic. It has been fantastic to see the Government’s commitment to art and culture through the Culture Recovery Fund which has provided a lifeline to arts and cultural organisations. The launch of our Delivery Plan and announcement of a set of priority places affirms our commitment to investing in the sector to ensure everyone across the country can access art and culture no matter where they live.

“The growth of Wigan’s cultural ambition has been amazing over the past few years. I look forward to working with the local authority and the wider cultural sector across Wigan to support the continued expansion of their cultural infrastructure and offer.”

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