Wigan project to receive up to £1m from Arts Council England to get communities to inspire cultural creativity

Left to right: Colin Greenhalgh (Groundwork), Jess Rotherham (The Old Courts), Bernie Dalrymple (Lancashire Wildlife Trust) and Tom Flower (Wigan Athletic Community Trust)Left to right: Colin Greenhalgh (Groundwork), Jess Rotherham (The Old Courts), Bernie Dalrymple (Lancashire Wildlife Trust) and Tom Flower (Wigan Athletic Community Trust)
Left to right: Colin Greenhalgh (Groundwork), Jess Rotherham (The Old Courts), Bernie Dalrymple (Lancashire Wildlife Trust) and Tom Flower (Wigan Athletic Community Trust)
A new cultural project exploiting Wigan’s extraordinary natural assets and its well-known sense of humour and fun has received Arts Council funding.

Down To Earth will invite communities to shape and create local, national and international arts and culture that can happen within minutes, rather than hours, of homes, parks, schools and best-loved spaces.

The funding - which will be between £750k and £1m and confirmed in the spring - has been secured by a local consortium led by Arts At The Mill CIC and including Wigan Athletic Community Trust, Groundwork, Wigan Council and Lancashire Wildlife Trust - a partnership that brings together varied skills, knowledge and experience in community engagement, the natural environment, project management and artistic excellence.

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During community consultations, both a love for green spaces and the borough’s well-known “down to earth” attitude came across as very important to local people - giving the programme its name.

Down To Earth proposes to meet people’s cultural needs and appetites, no matter what their starting point, and develop new audiences that support the long-term sustainability of culture in Wigan borough in ways that are fun and open to all.

David Jenkins, managing director of Arts At The Mill CIC, said: “We are thrilled to hear that Down To Earth has been awarded funding and can soon become a reality!

“For people living in the borough, this is a powerful moment that represents an invitation to shape the cultural activities that happen here, and will result in creativity reaching and enriching many more lives across the borough.””

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Alison Mckenzie-Folan, chief executive of Wigan Council, said: “In 2019 we launched a new cultural manifesto, The Fire Within, with a five year plan to spark, ignite and fuel culture, arts and heritage activity for both residents and visitors to enjoy.

“We see “Down to Earth” as a major component in delivering our ambitions by ensuring that we place residents at the centre of shaping an offer that delivers excellent experiences for all.”

Up until 2021, there were over 7.4 million people engaging with Creative People and Places projects across England, 83% of which involved people that do not regularly engage with arts and culture.

The far-reaching impact of the programme continues through enabling over 17,404 volunteers and over 1,000 local partners to take part.

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Wigan borough holds the second largest population of Greater Manchester, but the lowest levels of cultural engagement.

This new round of funding from Arts Council England, means that every National Lottery ticket purchase contributes to more villages, towns, and cities up and down the country being able to thrive through a collaborative approach to culture - from Wigan to Walsall, from Rochdale to the New Forest, and from Boston to Basildon.

Jess Rotherham, from Arts At The Mill CIC, said: “If you grow up without regular opportunities to be creative, then it is very easy to feel that arts and culture are not for you.

“Having a Creative People and Places programme in Wigan Borough means so many more cultural activities for local people to discover and enjoy.

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“I am excited by this local consortium and its explosive potential to work together for the benefit of our borough over a long-term period, by the ambition of the project and its potential impact on our people and places.

“I am overwhelmed with the feeling that this is the right project, the right place and the right time for Wigan borough.”

Lesley O’Halloran Director of Customer and Culture Resources, Wigan Council said: “Wigan Council believe in and are a passionate advocate for the intrinsic benefits of culture on local economies, health and wellbeing, society and education.

“We understand that what we put our energy and efforts into now will affect what our future looks like and that this is a time to value our culture as it makes a difference in how we live our lives.

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“We are committed to generating positivity, appreciation and hope, and during difficult times for so many maximise the role of art and culture in amplifying important voices and messages.

“It is a key moment for Wigan, and the approach that Down To Earth is taking to engaging communities in shaping culture on their doorstep holds much potential for positive change.”

Colin Greenhalgh from Groundwork said: “Groundwork are really pleased to be involved in this fantastic consortium of organisations committed to making Wigan borough a better place to live, work and enjoy.”

Bernie Dalrymple from Lancashire Wildlife Trust said: “Down To Earth is an ambitious and exciting project that aligns with the values and ambitions of Lancashire Wildlife Trust.

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“It is unique in that the consortium are committed to environmental sustainability and the benefits of local people spending time in green spaces.

“We value the new people who may be brought into green spaces for the first time as a result of this activity and look forward to many years of collaboration with a group that is truly committed to making positive change in Wigan borough.”

Tom Flower from Wigan Athletic Community Trust said: “Wigan Athletic Community Trust is delighted to be supporting Creative People and Places fund and the Down to Earth project.

“The people of Wigan Borough have a great affinity for both sport and arts and as a community-based organisation that works with thousands of residents a year, we were pleased to be invited to join the project consortium.

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“We look forward to working with project partners to help more people across Wigan borough access arts activities through Down to Earth.”

The money has come from Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places programme and a total of £38.3m will be invested in Creative People and Places projects over the next three years, using money raised by the National Lottery.

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